Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Frankenstein’s Lab

Kenneth Strickfaden is not a household name, but everyone who has ever enjoyed the old Boris Karloff movies is familiar with his work, and he has a Montana connection. Strickfaden was born in 1896 in Deer Lodge where his father was in the real estate business. Strickfaden served overseas during World War I, and by the 1920s he worked as a studio electrician in California.  He was an electrical genius and had a knack for creating special effects. In 1931, he brought his unique skills to the set of the movie Frankenstein. Strickfaden was tasked with equipping Dr. Frankenstein’s tower laboratory. He was asked to create the lightning-powered engines that would jolt actor Boris Karloff to life. The first set designs called for a simple, modern laboratory. But Strickfaden was a master of science fiction contraptions. His elaborate spark-blasting machines whirred, chugged, cracked, and smoked from way too much voltage. You could almost smell the scorched metal. Levers, machines, and jars of electrical arcs set the standard for a mad scientist’s laboratory.

Courtesy Frankensteinia
Strickfaden resurrected the laboratory, stored in his garage, many more times for films including the Flash Gordon serials, The Munsters TV series in the mid-1960s, and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein in 1974. Strickfaden himself once even stepped in for Boris Karloff during a scene in MGM’s The Mask of Fu-Manchu. It was a good thing too. Strickfaden held a large sword with a streaming arc of lightning. The electrical blast threw him clear across the room. He was shaken, but fortunately not barbecued.

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