Back ] Home ] Up ] Next ]

Part Three: 1949 – 1959, Hollywood Studios
Lon Chaney Jr. Broadcast Live on TV in Frankenstein

The topper of them all, and I wasn’t even involved, had to do with a half hour version that CBS Television decided to do of Frankenstein. For the monster they hired Lon Chaney, Jr.  By some accounts, he was known to finish a fifth of vodka by lunch, another by evening, and then drink his way through dinner. Of course, rehearsals most often finished by five o’clock, so nobody had seen Chaney at his drunkest.

The last ten minutes of the show were all Lon Chaney's. He was to run amok and take down doors, smash furniture, etc. All with impunity since everything to be destroyed was made of balsa wood stained to look like oak. At the tech and dress rehearsals, he was reminded not to break anything, since there were no duplicates. He was only to raise his arm at the big "oak" doors and remind himself to break them later, on the show. He had a huge carved wooden armchair to pick up and crash to the floor, and again he would be reminded to do it later at airtime, on and on, destroying the entire set. [...]

At broadcast time, the show was coming together fine. It was all going superbly. Lon Chaney, Jr. had no trouble with the dialogue, he had none. Shortly after the second commercial, the moment arrived. Chaney clumped into the castle hall, clumped over to the giant doors, raised his arms to pound them to oblivion and said, "Break later." He then turned and picked up the gigantic chair, that weighed all of maybe five pounds, held it high over his head, put it gently to the floor and said, "Break later!" He finished Frankenstein in this manner while the tech crew and director in the booth were going out of their minds with nothing to cut to.

I had a friend, William Dozier, who was a top executive at CBS. Immediately after the show, when I was able to stop laughing, I called him and asked if I could buy a kinescope of Frankenstein.

"Don’t be funny," he said and hung up. CBS had no sense of history. I understand they had all the prints destroyed.

Back ] Home ] Up ] Next ]