Friday, December 12, 2014

A File of a Few Faithful Frankenstein Fables

Having previously composed lists of Old-Time Radio shows featuring werewolves and vampires, it seems only right to complete the unholy trinity with the Frankenstein Monster!

However, the Frankenstein Monster is - by definition - a particular creature adapted from Mary Shelley's novel, unlike the generic werewolves & vampires who came from legend & folklore. To be sure, Frankenstein has inspired many tales of men making creatures/monsters/robots, but for the sake of this list I'm only collecting those which acknowledge their debt to Shelley's novel; hence - adaptations (and some fun stuff)!


Appropriately, we begin again with the grandmother of Old-Time Radio horror, the Witch's Tale and their 1935 adaptation of the novel. For a half-hour program, it actually does a decent job of compressing the story to fit its run time, although in this version Frankenstein refuses to build the creature a mate.

Right-click here to download the Witch's Tale's version of "Frankenstein" from

I don't normally involve international radio in these lists, but it would be an injustice to omit this 1938 Australian serial which adapts the novel into 13 chapters; it's very faithful and quite well-done!

Right-click here to download part 1 of the Frankenstein serial from part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13

In 1944, the Weird Circle got in on the act with a half-hour adaptation. Their real strength lay in adapting short stories; here, they make numerous changes from characters to locales and cut the story off short from the novel's finale.

Right-click here to download the Weird Circle's version of "Frankenstein" from

In 1947, Ronald Colman hosted an adaptation on his program Favorite Story wherein comedian Fred Allen chose the novel as his favourite story! The adaptation does its best to cover the novel, but again runs out of time and ends on a cliffhanger. For what it does cover, it's quite good.

Right-click here to download the Favorite Story version of "Frankenstein" from

In 1951, NBC Short Story presented an adaptation designed for students who would listen in as part of their courses. This version does include some good background information on Mary Shelley, but the story itself is an uncredited rebroadcast of the Weird Circle version! Considering how many liberties that program took with the novel, I hope those students didn't write up their book reports with this as their primary source!

Right-click here to download the NBC Short Story version of "Frankenstein" from

Finally, radio's outstanding theater of thrills Suspense adapted the novel in 1952; this version has the highest profile of any of the adaptations, given Suspense's prestige and the presence of Herbert Marshall as its star! However, it's the least faithful version on this list. It barely feels like Mary Shelley's story, instead departing so far from the novel that one wonders if someone authored a script about a man making a monster and was told, "Frankenstein is in the public domain and has a great reputation, why don't we simply call your script that?" Marshall's Frankenstein has wildly inconsistent characterization (such that co-star Joseph Kearns twice notes how quickly Frankenstein's motivations swing) and rather than a tale about a man who made a monster and how it destroyed his life, it's the story of a scientist who has a pretty bad afternoon one day. They performed this script again in 1955.

Right-click here to download Suspense's first version of "Frankenstein" from Right-click here to download the second version from


I don't want to become too frivolous in how I connect programs to Frankenstein, but I think it's worth noting in 1941 Boris Karloff appeared on Eddie Cantor's show It's Time to Smile and much was made there of his history playing the monster; Karloff even performs the monster's growl a few times! Unfortunately, Cantor's humour hasn't aged gracefully.

Click here to listen to Boris Karloff on It's Time to Smile at Youtube

The link here is even more tenuous - but in 1943, Bela Lugosi appeared on Fred Allen's Texaco Star Theater and celebrated Easter with a horror skit (huh?) which name-checked Frankenstein and involved Lugosi attempting to build a monster. Lugosi seems much more at ease in this show than in either of those I posted in my vampire list; although Allen has a reputation as a comedian too topical to be funny for today's audiences, I think this show works very well.

Click here to listen to Bela Lugosi on the Texaco Star Theatre at Youtube

Also worth noting: in a 1943 appearance on Information Please, Karloff is one of the guests and uses his monster's growl to alert host Clifton Fadiman when he'd like to answer questions; it's always very interesting to hear Karloff on Information Please to discover more about his personal interests; the man's knowledge of nursery rhymes and fairy tales is quite impressive (but not surprising to those of us who grew up with cassette tapes of Karloff reading Hans Christian Andersen).

Right-click here to download Boris Karloff on Information Please from

Karloff appeared on a 1945 episode of Duffy's Tavern to help sell war bonds; he performs a Frankenstein sketch with Duffy (Ed Gardner) at the end of the show.

Right-click here to download Boris Karloff on Duffy's Tavern from

Finally, Quiet, Please - a series created by Wyllis Cooper, the screenwriter of Son of Frankenstein - offered a horror tale directly drawn from Frankenstein about a scientist designing a robot which - like the film version of the creature - needs a human brain!

Right-click here to download Quiet, Please's "Is This Murder?" from

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