Archive for Kenneth Strickfaden

Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician (Biography)

Posted in Horror, Karloff & Lugosi, Weird Science with tags , , on September 13, 2013 by MONSTERMINIONS

Kenneth Strickfaden’s (1896-1984) career as an electrical technician in movies and television spanned over 50 years. Surprisingly, there is only one biography written about his fascinating life and contributions to cinema, television and construction of electrical apparatus. Kenneth Strickfaden: Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician (Harry Goldman, McFarland & Co., 224 pages) is a fascinating celebration of an enigmatic man who self-taught himself during an era dominated by apprenticeship and mentor-pupil relationships. Strickfaden essentially pioneered and monopolized electrical special effects during the 1930’s and was the go-to-man for several decades. Author Harry Goldman even makes note of Disney engineers consulting with Strickfaden on ways to synch audio with talking automatons used at a Disney theme park.

Strickfaden’s resume of films was impressive, but generally spanned from Frankenstein (Universal, 1931) to Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein (1974). Author Harry Goldman notes he made contributions to over 80 films, including Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), War of the Worlds (1953), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Munsters Dr. Shrimperstein episode (1966) and many others. He also helped with silents before and some television and film consulting afterwards. Mel Brooks called the man a genius. Strickfaden’s talents have become a bit of a lost art in cinema. It is safer and typically more cost-effective to render lightning effects using computer-aided graphics. The next time you watch one of these old horror films try and spot one of Strickfaden’s devices.

Kenneth Strickfaden: Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician is essential horror film reading that will also appeal to Nikola Tesla fans. The book consists of 19 Chapters and 4 Appendices. Several of Strickfaden’s sketches and notes are included in Appendix B. Also check out a few screen captures and images I have presented below.

Here’s the opening shot of Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). That’s Strickfaden’s Nebularium, although it also looks a bit like another mirrored device he called the Scintillarium. In any event, the distorted gargoyle-like mug of Fu Manchu is appropriately distorted by Strickfaden’s device and DOP Tony Gaudio’s striking cinematography.

Fu Manchu_Nebularium

Dr. Fu Manchu tests a soon-to-be debunked sword of Genghis Khan using a Tesla coil (conical apparatus with an orb on top).

Fu Manchu_Tesla Coil

Boris Karloff as the nefarious (“three times a doctor”) Fu Manchu. That’s Strickfaden’s Multistributor behind Karloff.

Fu Manchu_Multistributor

Kenneth Strickfaden in Fu Manchu makeup, by Cecil Holland, standing in for a voltage-shy Boris Karloff. In an earlier take, Strickfaden took a nasty arc due to an improper ground, but he returned to finish the shot.

Fu Manchu_Kenneth Strickfaden

Kenneth Strickfaden, age 85 with the giant primary Meg Sr., used during educational exhibitions and in several films, including Young Frankenstein (1974).

Ken Strickfaden_Meg Sr_Bill Wysock Image

Here’s a shot from 1975 with Kenneth Strickfaden (center) and friends with the Nebularium electrical device seen in several Golden Age horror films, including The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Richard Aurandt_Ken Strickfadden_Bill Wysock, 1975_Nebularium

A Night to Remember

Harry Goldman’s Book


Nikola Tesla on Film?

Posted in Weird Science with tags , , , on June 12, 2012 by MONSTERMINIONS

I’ve been researching Nikola Tesla since 1982. I keep my eyes open for historical references to Tesla and his inventions. The low-budget independent sci-fi film Unknown World (1951, dir. Terrell O’ Morse) contains stock footage from 1:46 to 1:52 showing a group of 7 scientists or technicians assembling large discharge coils. These appear to be Tesla coils (you can see the primary and secondary coils in the screen-capture, below).

For a brief 2 seconds a well-dressed man with a distinct jawline is shown behind a control panel operating a disc-shaped switch. The fellow looks a bit like a young Nikola Tesla.

The final sequences show Tesla coils firing off massive bolts of electrical discharges.

Could this be Tesla? I ran the footage back several times. No clear shot is given of the man. He appears to be wearing glasses and 25 to 40 year’s old. It’s hard to say how old the stock footage is. Giving it a rough date of approximately 1940 (11 years before the movie) places Tesla at age 84 (born 1856). Here’s a pic of Tesla in 1942 with King Peter II of Yugoslavia. Tesla would have been too old. Obviously, the aging Tesla was not actively working in a lab setting at this time, and Tesla did not wear glasses. Almost certainly the Unknown World footage does not show Tesla. However, where did the footage come from and who does it show?

I thought perhaps it might be an electrical crew working with Kenneth Strickfaden, who designed the electrical apparatus in several early Universal, MGM and other studio productions. However, I think this is stock government footage, but I’m not certain of any high-frequency research being performed after Tesla’s death in 1943 and before 1951.

Could this be evidence of weapons research and if so how did it end up on a grade-z low budget production from 1951? The footage certainly suggests that a 1940’s team of scientists were using Tesla discharge coils for experimental or applied use! I don’t think this footage was created for the film. The film stock also appears too clean to have originated from an earlier date when Tesla was younger.

Any input on this?

Here’s the actual footage beginning 1:46. POST-SCRIPT 06/18/12. VIDEO REMOVED. SORRY -BH