Making Freaks

DRACULA AND FRANKENSTEIN THEATER AND CROWD IN FILMS FRAME 2

In 1931 Tod Browning’s “Dracula” and James Whale’s “Frankenstein” rose from the gloom of The Great Depression and saved Universal Pictures from a grave financial crisis. Not to be outdone, MGM production supervisor Irving Thalberg planned to out-monster Universal with a shocker of his own.

MGM was soon invaded by troupes of strange looking people, sending staff and stars running. Suddenly, instead of famed directors, actors and actresses, MGM commissary diners found themselves elbow-to-elbow with pinheads, a half-boy, a bearded lady and any of the other new visitors who had just arrived.

FITZGERALD PROFILE - LEFT

HILTON SISTERS

It’s reported that famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald fled the commissary with his hand pressed to his mouth after Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton sat down beside him for lunch.

VECTOR - TRADE BLURB - MGM FINDS ITSELF IN UPROAR OVER STRANGE NEW PICTURE

To quash a staff revolt, studio chief Louis B. Mayer banished Browning’s “human oddities” from the commissary and relegated them to a mess hall all their own.

MAYER LOOKING EVIL

RARE PHOTO - DETAIL - CAST DINING IN MESS TENT - Freaks#12Scan300dpi

On November 9, 1931 a secretive production began on Sound Stage 16. Opposition grew to alarming proportions from Mayer on down.

But Thalberg’s “Freaks” couldn’t be stopped.

FREAKS CAST SHAKING FISTS AT CLEO - COLOR

On January 28, 1932, three reels of Browning’s original 90-minute cut of “Freaks” was secretly sandwiched between the evening’s double feature in two Southern California theaters to gauge unwitting audience reactions. What they got was pandemonium. Minutes into the film, patrons evacuated the theaters.

Thalberg immediately carved over 20 minutes out of his passion project, cutting key scenes that presented the sideshow characters as human beings — complete with relationship problems, deep feelings and a sense of humor.

THALBERG - PORTRAIT - HAND TO CHIN - B&W

By doing so Thalberg only elevated the horrific elements that sent audiences clamoring for the theater exit in the first place.

FREAKS - CRITERION THEATER - NEWSPAPER AD

On February 10th the truncated “Freaks” premiered at the Fox Criterion in Los Angeles, California.

Despite some positive reviews it suffered a painful two-week death.

FREAKS - ROOSEVELT THEATER - NEWSPAPER AD

FREAKS - BROADWAY THEATER - NEWSPAPER AD

FREAKS - PARAMOUNT THEATER THEATER - NEWSPAPER AD

FREAKS - GRAND THEATER - NEWSPAPER AD

FREAKS - MILLER THEATER - NEWSPAPER AD

FREAKS - FRENCH POSTER BARNUM

FREAKS GERMAN POSTER

FREAKS AMERICAN POSTER

FREAKS AMERICAN  YOU'LL BE AMAZED BANNER

Freaks” opened across the United States and internationally on February 20th, 1932.

TRADE BLURB - FREAKS POOR BUSINESS IN PORTLAND

TRADE HEADLINE - ATLANTA BARS FREAKS

It did well in some theaters while others pulled the picture – – or had it pulled by local authorities.

THE NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW

THE DETROIT NEWS REVIEW

THE KANSAS CITY STAR REVIEW

For the most part, “Freaks” bombed territory after territory. It was banned outright in Great Britain where it wouldn’t be seen for 30 years.

BROWNING - HAND TO HEAD

Tod Browning, the pioneering director who helped create the horror film genre, was not able to live down the controversy and his career was ruined.

ACTUAL FREAKS SLATE

Anyone who knows the history of “Freaks” asks the same questions: How did this movie get made? Would there have been broader acceptance had MGM not taken a hatchet to Browning’s story and its message?

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 6.06.19 PM

And how did “Freaks” go from being the most reviled film of all-time to one of the most respected?

BROWNING ORCHESTRATES WEDDING COLORIZED

The details of the behind-the-scenes battles are lost to the ages, leaving us to imagine. So imagine is what MakingFreaks.com will do.

Michael Kriegsman, author of the upcoming graphic novel “One of Us: The Making of Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ – Reimagined,” created this website as his thank you to the film that literally changed his life.

Check out Kriegsman’s FreaksBlog where he’ll be sharing some rare revelations and never-before-published production discoveries.

JERRY MAREN HOLDING PIC OF HARRY EARLES - 72 dpi

Kriegsman consulted with actor Jerry Maren who worked closely with Harry Earles in “The Wizard of Oz”.

That’s our Jerry in the middle in the two photos below.

Jerry Maren and Harry Earles - Test Shot

color jerry maren harry earles

Kriegsman also consulted with the late Verne Langdon, Don Post monster mask maker, award-winning film & television makeup artist and Grammy-nominated song writer.

VERNE LANGDON, KONG, MK - CROPPED

Langdon knew Schlitzie personally, so expect some very surprising stories. No, Verne is not pointing to Schlitze in the photo above!  That’s “One of Us” author Michael Kriegsman!

Verne’s hauntingly beautiful “Carnival of Souls” graced the soundtrack of the “American Horror Story – Freak Show” episode titled “Monsters Among Us” and was reprised in the series finale. Verne may be gone but he’s certainly not forgotten. We miss him.

Thank you for stopping by! Please sign up for the One of Us Mailing List In the sidebar to the right so we can stay in touch with other “Freaks” freaks.

Note: We will never share your email address. You can remove your name at any time from a handy link at the bottom of every message…