Interview: Julian David Stone on “It’s Alive,” the Novel About the Making of “Frankenstein”

Posted on May 17, 2022 at 8:00 am

Copyright Universal 1931
The 1931 James Whale film about Dr. Frankenstein’s re-animated monster still thrills us today. In It’s Alive, a new novel with a title taken from one of the film’s most memorable lines, author Julian David Stone takes us behind the scenes as producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. struggles, negotiates, manipulates, and promises to get the film made. The stores behind the iconic details that have inspired dozens of remakes and spin-offs are told with as much suspense as you might hope to find in a movie. In an interview, Stone talked about doing enojugh research to immerse himself in the era, about Laemmle’s conflicts with his father, the founder of Universal Studios, and about how “Dracula” and “Frankenstein became the foundation for the genre of horror movies.

Frankenstein has been one of the most re-told stories in movie history. Why do we keep coming back to it?

I think the theme of bringing the dead back to life is one of the most universal, if not the most universal, that you find in every culture. And the theme is just as prescient today as it was 200 years ago when the original book of Frankenstein was first written. Separately, the 1931 film adaptation explores other themes that are also still very relevant today — man’s relationship to technology, the concept of ‘just because we have the ability to do something, should we do it?’, The unexpected consequences of our actions in the blind pursuit of technological advance, etc.

Copyright 2022 Greenleaf

Tell me about your research. First, where did you go to find out about all of the day-by-day details and the thoughts of the key figures.

Research is one of my absolute favorite parts of writing. I particularly love doing research from sources from the actual time period that the story takes place — contemporaneous magazines, newspapers, books, etc. This is where a lot of the great details about the lives of the three main characters in my novel were found — scouring any and all media sources from the early 1930s. Additionally, interviews with the main characters were also very helpful. In the case of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, they were both famous for a very good portion of their lives, so there are many great interviews with them and they were very helpful.

Junior Laemmle was another story. There are a lot of interviews with him up to 1936, when the Laemmle family lost the studio. After that, almost nothing. So a lot of Junior’s story was pieced together from whatever tidbits I could find. Researching him was a great detective story on its own!

I’m particularly interested in some of the 1930s slang. Where did you find it and how did you balance the authenticity with the need to make it accessible?

Once again, it was all the contemporaneous media sources that were very helpful. Also, since my story takes place in 1931, I was fortunate that the sound era of motion pictures was in full swing, so watching them — and particularly newsreels with interviews — were a great source of slang and the vernacular of the time.

You have a lot of very clever metaphors that feel true to the period. How did you think about them?

Research, research, research. As I said, I love to research and I like to say, “I want to be able to ‘wear’ an era” before I start writing about it. In the case of It’s Alive! I was well into my research, but I was still struggling with the story when I realized I was making a big mistake. I was focusing my research to specifically on the Universal Monster movies and Universal itself. That’s when I forced myself to take a step back and dive into all of Hollywood in 1931. I started watching as many films as possible from the era — not just Universal’s films — and I read as many of the trade publications as I could get my hands on sequentially, staring in January, 1931. This was so valuable as you could watch the progression of trends in the movie business, as well as the rise and fall of certain stars. After about a year of deep research into the period was when the story really started to fall into place.

Copyright Universal 1931

A lot of the suspense in the story comes from who would play the monster. What would the movie have been like with Bela Lugosi in the role?

That’s one of the great questions that fans of the Universal Monsters, and classic film fans in general, endlessly bandy about. I think Karloff’s performance in Frankenstein is one of the greatest and most iconic in cinema history, so I truly can’t imagine anyone else in the role. But interestingly, Lugosi did eventually play the Monster years later in one of the later films of the Universal Monster cycle and his performance is quite different — to say the least — than Karloff’s. But I don’t think it’s really fair to compare the two as it was many, many years after Karloff, and the way the Monster acted had already been established, and had gone through a lot of changes as different writers and directors tackled the material.

As an interesting side note, before the original 1931 Frankensteinfilm was made and well before Karloff was cast as the Monster, a screen test was shot of Lugosi in the role. Sadly, it has been lost, as it would be an absolutely fascinating piece of film to see — How Lugosi approached the role before there were any preconceived notions of how the Monster should look or act. One can only hope and dream that someday this footage may be discovered!

Copyright 1931 Universal

What were the biggest differences of perspective and between Laemmle senior and junior? How did that reflect the changes in culture and technology and the difference between creating the business and keeping an established business vital? Do you see any parallel conflicts today?

The relationship between Laemmle Senior and Junior was one of the main things that drew me to the story in the first place. It had some very typical elements with the father being more conservative in his approach to business and the type of material he wanted to put on the screen, and the son being more liberal and daring in what films he wanted the studio to make. But then there were some very unusual elements in that their conflict centered around the operations of a movie studio, and that Junior had a dark side that went well beyond the desire to present new and forward leaning material on screen.

How did you find out about the turn of events in filming The Guilty Generation that made it possible for Karloff to play the monster?

That particular detail came up in a couple of different sources and interviews. If you watch The Guilty Generation, Karloff has a big part in the beginning of the film and then sort of disappears until the end. And the way his final scene is shot — a very simple single close-up of Karloff talking into a phone — very much leans into the idea that the director, Rowland Lee, was trying to help Karloff finish his work early. And an interesting bit of trivia is, the very same Rowland Lee would go on to direct Karloff in Son of Frankenstein almost ten years later — Karloff’s third and last appearance as Frankenstein’s Monster.

How were the father/son conflicts between the Laemmles reflected in the Frankenstein story?

Ultimately the movie Frankenstein is a father and son story. Dr. Frankenstein, in the end, is disappointed by his creation — The Monster. To a similar extant, Carl Laemmle, Sr. was disappointed in his son, his creation, Junior Laemmle. And the two fought quite a bit over the direction of Universal Studious after Junior was made Head of Production and wanted to make very different films than his father made. Frankenstein — and the entire Universal Monster Cycle for that matter — being chief among them.

Was Karloff’s name really misspelled on the studio’s entry list?

It may have happened, but there was no specific incident that I was referencing. It was more a nod to where Karloff was in his career before the role of the Monster made him a huge star. He was a working actor, getting by, but it was still a day to day struggle. To give you an example, the first film to be released after he shot Frankenstein — but filmed before Frankenstein was made — in the credits his role is “Waiter”. His character didn’t even have a name.

What do the struggles over Whale’s Frankenstein tell us?

That it is important to stay true to your original vision.

The 1931 film Frankenstein is a great film and an absolute classic because it is the combined effort of several great artists. But it would never have existed in the first place if not for the drive and desire of one man: Junior Laemmle, who, despite no one else wanting to make the film, or for him to make it, stayed true to his vision and pushed the project forward. And all of Hollywood was never the same.

One of the ways I like to put it is: I would never claim that Junior invented the horror film, but I think you can make a pretty strong argument that he is the single person most responsible for it becoming a genre. When no one else in the entire movie business wanted to make Frankenstein, and Dracula before it, he did. And he made sure they got made. From there the entire Universal cycle of horror films was launched and all of what we call horror today grew out of these classics from the 1930s.

What are you going to write about next?

I have my next novel about half written. It’s about the 1960s space race and the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to land the first man on the moon. The era and the Apollo program specially are big passions of mine, so I am very excited about this story — as well as immensely enjoying doing the research!

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WWII Books for Veterans Day

Posted on November 9, 2021 at 6:45 pm

Copyright 2019 Miniver Press

To honor those who fought for freedom, two WWII books by men who were there: WWII in the South Pacific is the story of my uncle, Stanley Frankel, including his experiences with Rodger Young, whose heroism was honored with a song by Frank Loesser.

Based on his diaries and letters, it has Frankel’s recollections of his time in the 37th Infantry Division, including The Luzon Beachhead, the battle of Balintawak, and the rescue of Bilibid Prison. It’s available on Amazon and The full text of the book is online.

Copyright 2013 Miniver Press

The Deadly Skies: The Air War in Europe 1940-45 is a comprehensive history from my friend Bernard Nolan.

The history of air combat in Europe during WWII is grippingly described by a man who was there and who has had decades of experience and research to put his experiences in perspective. Focusing on the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force and the Luftwaffe, the book covers how the WW II air campaign in Western Europe unfolded, how it ended, and its cost in terms of human life – not only for the aircrews in those unfriendly skies, but the innumerable innocents who suffered through the carnage in European cities caused by bombing. The aircraft and equipment, the battles, the strategy, and the people are all described by Bernard Nolan with the insight of an insider and the expertise of a scholar, and with detailed illustrations from aviation artist Matt Holness. From Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain to D-Day, B-17s, B-24s, P-47s, P-51s, and Spitfires, this book takes the reader inside the air battles that played a decisive role in WWII. Chapters sections include: The Bomber Will Always Get Through, The Schneider Trophy , The Messerschmitt Bf 109, Dunkirk, Unternehmen Seeloeven (Operation Sea Lion), Adlerangriff (Eagle Offensive), Chain Home Radar System, Adlertag (Eagle Day), Bombs Fall On London, Goering Blinks, The Hardest Day, Blitzkrieg, Hitler “Postpones” The Invasion The Battle Of Britain Ends, RAF Bomber Command, The Butt Study, The Casablanca Conference, Happy Valley, The Dam Busters, The Battle Of Berlin, Dresden, The Norden Bombsight, Superchargers, The B-24, The Fw 190, Regensburg-Schweinfurt

Copyright 2020 Miniver Press
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New Book About Hallmark Christmas Movies!

Posted on November 1, 2021 at 8:00 am

Copyright Running Press 2021
If Halloween is over, it’s time for Hallmark Christmas movies! And a new book gives you something to look at while the many, many commercials are interrupting them. It is a delightful guide to the best produced so far, from how the Deck the Hallmark podcast hosts and best friends Brandon Gray, Daniel “Panda” Pandolph, and Dan Thompson. They unabashedly love these movies while fully aware of their formulas and other issues. Also, they are very funny.

In I’ll be Home for Christmas Movies, they share reviews that make you feel like you’re watching these holiday favorites with your best buds, discussing warm Christmas feelings and absolutely bonkers plot twists with equal enthusiasm. And thanks to original interviews with the movies’ stars and creators, fans will find out insider information on the making of the movies and learn answers to pressing questions: Why do the lead characters keep coming down with amnesia? Why do so many female stock brokers and lawyers find themselves forced to plan parties? And do all of the stories take place within something called the “Kennyverse”?

To complete the perfect Christmas package, the book is also chock-full of ideas for hosting your own holiday movie-watching party, complete with delicious recipes and it features dozens of full-color photos.

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Best Movie Fathers Book — Free for Father’s Day June 17-21

Posted on June 17, 2021 at 12:05 am

In honor of Father’s Day, my eBook, 50 Must-See Movies: Fathers is FREE today through Father’s Day, this weekend, June 17-21, 2020.

What do “Wall Street” and the “Star Wars” saga and, seemingly, about half the movies ever made have in common? They are about fathers. In “Wall Street,” Charlie Sheen plays the ambitious Bud, who respects the integrity of his blue-collar father, played by his real-life father, Martin Sheen. But Bud is dazzled by the money and power and energy of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The movie will up the ante with Bud’s father’s heart attack as we see him struggle between the examples and guidance of these two male role models.

Copyright 20th Century Fox 1977

In “Star Wars,” Luke (Mark Hamill) does not know until halfway through the original trilogy that (spoiler alert) the evil Darth Vader is his father. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who are killed very early in the first film, but the father figures who are most meaningful in his life are the Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Like Bud in “Wall Street,” Luke must choose between the good and bad father figures. Like Luke, Harry Potter is raised by an aunt and uncle, but he finds a true father figure later. For Harry, it is headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In opposition is He Who Must Not Be Named. Like Luke, Harry has the opportunity for great power on the dark side, but he lives up to the example set for him by Dumbledore.

The first stories ever recorded are about fathers. The central human struggle to reconcile the need for a father’s approval and the need to out-do him is reflected in the “hero of a thousand faces” myths that occur in every culture. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of a god who swallowed his children to prevent them from besting him. Zeus, hidden by his mother, grows up to defeat his father and become the king of the gods. Ancient Greece also produced the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and The Odyssey, whose narrator tells us “it is a wise man who knows his own father.”

These themes continue to be reflected in contemporary storytelling, including films that explore every aspect of the relationship between fathers and their children. There are kind, understanding fathers whose guidance and example is foundation for the way their children see the world. There are cruel, withholding fathers who leave scars and pain that their children spend the rest of their lives trying to heal. There are movies that reflect the off-screen real-life father-child relationships. Martin Sheen not only played his son’s father in “Wall Street;” he played the father of his other son, Emilio Estevez, in “The Way,” which was written and directed by Estevez, and which is about a father’s loss of his son. Will Smith has appeared with his son Jaden in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “After Earth.” John Mills appeared with his daughter Hayley in “Tiger Bay,” “The Truth About Spring,” and “The Chalk Garden.” Ryan and Tatum O’Neill memorably appeared together in “Paper Moon.” Jane Fonda produced and starred in “On Golden Pond” and cast her father Henry as the estranged father of her character. Jon Voight played the father of his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” And Mario Van Peebles, whose father cast him as the younger version of the character he played in “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” made a movie about the making of that film when he grew up. It is called “Badasssss!” In the role of Melvin Van Peebles he cast himself.

Director John Huston deserves some sort of Father’s Day award. He directed both his father and his daughter in Oscar-winning performances, Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Anjelica Huston in “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Some actors known for very non-paternal roles have delivered very touching performances as fathers. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for playing tough guys, but in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” he gave a beautiful performance as a farmer who loves his daughter (Margaret O’Brien) deeply. Cary Grant, known for sophisticated romance, played loving – if often frustrated — fathers in “Houseboat” and “Room for One More.” “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” star Michael Keaton was also “Mr. Mom.” Comedian Albert Brooks is a devoted father in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”

There are memorable movie fathers in comedies (“Austin Powers,” “A Christmas Story”) and dramas (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Boyz N the Hood”), in classics (“Gone With the Wind”), documentaries (“Chimpanzee,” “The Other F Word”), and animation (“The Lion King,” “The Incredibles”). There are great fathers (“Andy Hardy,” “Call Me By Your Name”) and terrible fathers (“The Shining,” “Winter’s Bone,” “The Spectacular Now,” “The Barretts of Wimpole Street”). There are fathers who take care of us, as well as they can (“John Q,” “Toni Erdnmann,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “Leave No Trace,” “The Road,” “Extraordinary Measures”) and fathers we have to take care of (“I Never Sang for My Father,” “Nothing in Common”). All of these stories are ways to try to understand, to reconcile, and to pay tribute to the men who, for better or worse, set our first example of how to decide who we are and what we will mean in the world.

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Free for Memorial Day Weekend: Oral History of Black Soldiers in the Korean War

Posted on May 28, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2015 Miniver Press
Copyright 2015 Miniver Press

To honor our veterans this weekend, John Holway’s oral history ebook, Bloody Ground: Black Rifles in Korea, is available at no cost all weekend.

Korea is “the forgotten war.” But to those who fought in it, it was the “unforgettable war.” If the names of all those killed were put on a wall, it would be larger than the Vietnam Wall. And Korea lasted only three years, Vietnam about ten. The agony of the winter of 1950-51 is an epic to compare with Valley Forge and the Bulge. Holway writes:

Korea was also our last segregated war. This is the story of the black 24th Infantry Regiment, told in the words of the men themselves. Like all black troops since the Civil War, they were reviled by whites and their own commander for “bugging out” – running before the enemy. The charge can still be read in the Army’s own official histories. Yet the 24th left more blood on the field than their white comrades – if they did bug out, they must have been running the wrong way.

It’s a good thing we weren’t with Custer,” one black GI muttered – “they’d have blamed the whole thing on us.”

The 24th won the first battle of the war, won its division’s first Medal of Honor, and guarded the shortest and most vulnerable road to Pusan. If the port had fallen, the war would have been lost, leaving a red dagger pointed at Japan. It did not fall.

That winter, after the Chinese attacked, the entire American army bugged out in perhaps the worst military disaster in American history. “That,” said another black veteran, “was when I learned that whites could run as fast as blacks.”

This is the story of those unsung heroes, who helped turn the Communist tide for the first time. The men bring that forgotten war and their own unsung bravery to life in their own sometimes funny, often heart-breaking, and always exciting words.

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