Hey remember that famous movie starring Bela Lugosi as the Werewolf? No? That’s because Bela the gypsy fortune teller isn’t onscreen very long before he wolfs out and chomps on Lon Chaney, turning him into The Werewolf of the 1941 movie “The Wolfman.”
This was one of the few Universal monster movies not based on a book, and writer Curt Siodmak invented quite a few of the things we now think of as werewolf canon — like silver bullets, the bite of the werewolf transferring the curse, and even the idea of the full moon bringing on the transformation. (He also penned the folk poem quoted in the movie: “Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” It’s in every Universal werewolf movie that followed, tho’ they changed the last line to “the moon is full and bright.”) Missing entirely from the movie is the scripted scene were the Wolfman was supposed to wrestle a bear. (Yes, one of the lesser known inhabitants of Wales that.. um.. no one has ever seen there.) Apparently the bear had trouble finding his motivation that day (or maybe he thought a bear turning up in Wales was not believable) and chased leading lady Evelyn Ankers right off the set, which pretty much scrapped the scene.
The Wolfman, as played by Lon Chaney, was a perfect candidate for the Monster Martyr paintings I was working on — talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time! Larry Talbot (Chaney) had the extreme bad luck of rescuing a girl being attacked by a werewolf (transforming gypsy Bela Lugosi). Talbot was able to defeat and even kill the creature because of the nifty silver wolf’s head cane he’d just bought from a cute gal he was flirting with at the local antique shop (the aforementioned bear-bait, Ankers).
Chaney did a terrific job of conveying the torment of a man who realizes he’s become something else. His misery may have been informed a bit by the real life torture of his yak-fur make-up, which apparently took hours and hours to apply. (He also claims they used tiny flooring nails in his wolf paws, but he was known to exaggerate.) Later, he attacks his lady love and Talbot’s own father beats him to death with — you guessed it — his very own silver wolf-topped cane. (His dad then watches horrified as the creature he just killed transforms into his son — he had no idea. Need a hanky yet?)
If you missed the last couple posts about Monster Martyrs, you can catch up: Who Are The Real Monsters? and Of Brides & Breaking Wheels. The idea I was playing with is that it’s not the monsters who are truly monstrous — it’s the people. After all, we’re the ones who came up with things like this —
And this —
Aaaand this —
Larry Talbot/Chaney wasn’t a monster of his own making or choice — he wasn’t experimenting with powers beyond his understanding or pushing the boundaries of science or dabbling in witchcraft — he became afflicted with something he couldn’t control, and was put to death for it. In my painting “Song of the Owl”, the Wolfman is carrying the object of his martyrdom, the silver wolf’s head cane that killed him, and has as his companion an owl. Sacred to the Greek goddess Athena, the owl has long been associated with wisdom but because it’s nocturnal (plus that very unnatural head swiveling thing) it also has a long history of creeping people out and is considered a funereal bird and bad omen. (In the Holy Scriptures, Joel lists the owl among the “impure animals.” What bunk.) I absolutely adore owls (as evidenced right here) and in my painting the owl is a messenger bird, capable of traveling between the worlds of the living and the dead.
If you want to bring a little of this wolfie goodness into your home, you can snag yourself something plush and yummy right here: “Song of the Owl Throw Pillow” — promise he wont scratch up your furniture! Happy Howloween!
And finally, I leave you with this. I miss Lux. The Cramps’ Halloween shows at the Fillmore were so fantastic…