Friday, July 19, 2013


Your download below is a peculiar musical moment from an exhibit at the World's Fair of 1964.

Held in Queens, New York, which at the time was a calm, spacious middle-class "suburb" of Manhattan, the '64 Fair was on enough acreage to make for a full weekend of activity. Just walking around the grounds, looking at the Unisphere, the futuristic buildings and the plentiful park areas would take hours. Being a "world" fair meant that you could wander along and pass mini-versions of exotic countries and other tourist locales. The Hawaii exhibit had open-air exhibits of exotic flora and fauna and some very live hula girls.

The corporate exhibits and "World of Tomorrow" type buildings, and Disney "automatronic" historical displays were a mixed bag, some charging admission, some free and designed as thinly veiled promotion. Some of the entertainment was set up just to give families a place to sit and watch a movie or a show, and one of those was Sid and Marty Krofts'"Les Poupées de Paris." One number in the show featured musical puppet versions of Lugosi's Dracula and Karloff's Frankenstein singing a song.

The "Poupees" flashed back to mind when, a few nights ago, I grabbed the easy-read of James Bacon's "Hollywood is a Four Letter Town," to put myself to sleep. I figured I'd read a random bunch of the late gossip columnist's anecdotes about the great stars he knew. Or did he? On page 241:

"When Bela Lugosi died, I met Peter Lorre for a few drinks before going to the funeral. At the funeral we met Boris Karloff. At the conclusion of the services, the mourners were invited to view the body of Count Dracula. Boris, Peter and I were together in the line. As I watched Boris and Peter looking down on Bela's remains - and what a picture that would have made - I heard Peter say, "Come now, Bela, quit putting us on."

A lie. NONE of them were at the funeral. (In some versions, Vincent Price is with Lorre, not Karloff. In most tellings, Karloff gives the unlikely hipster punchline.) The guest-book for Bela's funeral still exists:

Various writers have interviewed the mourners and all confirmed that the only "celebrities" there were Tor Johnson (who played "Lobo" in "Bride of the Monster" and a cop in "Plan 9") and the director of those two Lugosi films, Ed Wood.

Gregory Mank in his book "Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff," even takes pains to list co-stars who were still alive, worked with Bela, but didn't attend what was an obscure and sad affair. The list of actresses, for example, included Julie Bishop, Lucille Lund, Irene Ware, Frances Drake, Josephine Hutchinson, Anne Nagel, Anne Gwynne, Helen Parrish and Rita Corday…'None came to the funeral." The dedicated author also mentions that Carroll Borland, "who did know, failed to come to the funeral, although she later felt compelled to fib that she had attended."

Back to the Bacon fib. He writes he had drinks with Lorre and then went to the funeral? I can't excuse this as the writer having the DT's so bad he was hallucinating. The prick probably heard this jokey anecdote from some fool, and decided to insert himself into the story. What a stupid thing to do. It reduces the credibility of everything else he ever wrote and there was no reason to do it. He legitimately rubbed elbows with enough stars to simply write, "I once heard this great story…." Except, did anyone reviewing his book catch him on it? No. That's what gossip writing has always been about; a momentary chuckle, smirk or lurid gasp, and then it's forgotten. But unfortunately gossip can become part of "Hollywood Babylon" legend and taken as the truth...and some made-up stories are pretty nasty and hurtful. This one is just stupid, and annoying to hear time and time again...usually by somebody doing a horrible impression of Karloff or Lorre.

Don't believe all you read in the papers. Writers routinely make shit up, sometimes even in collusion with a star's publicist. I've had editors pointedly tell me to just make stuff up if it would "help" make the story juicier. "Who cares?" they shrug. When I was a freelance photographer with one of the big photo agencies, I was told, "Be sure to bring in unflattering pictures…like if a celebrity blinks and her eyes are closed..." which could then be sold to a tabloid that needs a picture to go with a fake "star passed out drunk at party" tale. As Lily Tomlin said, no matter how cynical you are, it's hard to keep up.

Who knows how often someone came up to Vincent Price or Karloff laughing about that funny "Bela, quit putting us on," line. Or, in case you heard this one too, Peter Lorre quipping "Why don't we put a stake through his heart to make sure he's dead?"

Quite dead are Poupees parodists Guy Marks (as Karloff) and Joey Forman (as Lugosi). You might remember Guy Marks for his eccentric semi-hit "Loving You Has Made me Bananas," his single doing "Volare" as an Indian chief, or his album where he does impressions of movie stars singing old time tunes. Maybe in the silent film era Joey Forman could've been another Harry Langdon or Larry Semon, with his sad baby face. Sitcom fans might know him from silly roles he played on sitcoms including "Bewitched" and "Get Smart" (on the latter, as Oriental sleuth "Harry Hoo"). Vinyl addicts can find Joey on Bill Dana's "Maharishi" parody album from A&M as well as the UA soundtrack of moments from "Get Smart."

Guy Marks and Joey Forman Let's Be FRANK Mr. FRANKENSTEIN


Cheryl Morris said...

Thank you so much for posting this! As a long-time Peter Lorre fan who has heard this "funeral story" ad nauseum, I am pleased you have thoroughly debunked it. Thanks again!

Chang said...