Thursday, November 29, 2007

The art of Universal Monster Army's LINDA MILLER

Linda Miller is an artist by talent, training and pluck.

She's also a natural wit, and a librarian by trade. Like me, a member of the Universal Monster Army. At the UMA she impresses everyone with her watercolor renderings of classic horror scenes.

Her freehand black and white watercolors, which capture the mysterious shadow-world quality of glorious black and white films perfectly.

She's also someone I am proud to count as a friend. She's generous, gentle and thoughtful. Not huggy, loud and effusive like the the drunken severed head (well, 'huggy' when I had arms) -- Linda is a low-key, dependable, considerate sort of person we all wish there were more of in this world.

Other LM facts:
  • She collects vintage figurines of hunchbacks.
  • Her cat's name is "Ralphie Scissorpaws".
  • She calls herself "Meek" after her hero, T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"), who was the original "Private Meek" in George Bernard Shaw's play "Too True To Be Good", and because she is shy by nature.
  • She sends out homemade cards to friends on holidays.
  • She paints in spite of painful corneal dystrophy in her right eye and blurred vision in her left due to an injury.
Here is her face:

And below are photos of the progeny of her talent, followed by an interview Linda gave me. (It's supplemented by the incorporation of a few quotes taken from the UMA message board. They were too good to pass up, and Linda gave me her okay.)

Spend some time in the company of this funny, gifted lady.

From the film The Man Who Laughs:

From the 1931 Dracula:

From the 1931 Frankenstein:

From The Bride of Frankenstein:

(Linda uses her paintings for the cards she sends to friends at holidays. Her 2002 Valentine had the above art on the front, with the interior caption ""From the look on Pretorious' face, Karl could tell that he would not be allowed to attend the local "Sweetheart's Dance" in order to shop for spare parts.")

Here's another Frye/Bride of Frankenstein Valentine:

Son of Frankenstein:

Karloff and Lugosi from The Black Cat:

The kings of horror in the 1935 The Raven:

Lugosi from Chandu the Magician:

White Zombie:

Mark of the Vampire:

Murders in the Rue Morgue:

Bela Lugosi out of costume:

Actor Dwight Frye out of character:

A candid Colin Clive:

Edgar Allan Poe:

Jane and I are proud parents of one of Linda's hideous progeny, one "Erik" of the Parisian catacombs:

Another portrait of Erik, now proudly owned by author Ray Bradbury:

When Michael Crawford was playing the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical on Broadway, Linda sent the actor the portrait below, which was done in ink in a pointalistic style with a Rapidograph pen on illustration board:

Creature From the Black Lagoon:

The tallest and darkest Hollywood star of all time:

A broken and toppled sleeping angel sculpture found in London's Highgate Cemetery:

Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff from a TV production of Arsenic and Old Lace:

Her hero, T. E. Lawrence:

Linda far prefers working in B&W, but occasionally paints in color. Below is her portrait of Klaus Kinski from Aguirre, Wrath of God.

Her portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec:

Miniature of Sir Robert Cecil:

Her hand-painted 4 " figure of Hitler's would-be assassin, Claus Stauffenberg:

A coat of arms she designed for a friend who is a Catholic priest:

A restored and re-painted vintage figurine of Quasimodo:

And now the interview, done the day after Thanksgiving, 2007.

Max: Who are your favorite artists, and do you think they have influenced your style?

LM: In no particular order: Albrecht Durer, Henri de Toulous-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, N.C.Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Eric Kennington and on and on.

Of all the above mentioned I'd have to say that Albrecht Durer was THE influence; in the house where I grew up, there was a framed print of Durer's "Hare"--a rabbit rendered so life-like in watercolor that you waited to see if his nose & whiskers would twitch. My Mum would point to this print and say "Now, when you can paint like that THEN you'll be an artist."

Max: You were told in college that you were more of an illustrator than a painter and to consider a career in medical illustration.

LM: When I asked what that entailed and was told I had to watch surgeries, etc. I said "Not for me, thanks." I have an aversion to blood, real blood not stage blood---I can tell the difference by sight & smell.

After some years of trying to please others in trying to guess what sort of paintings they wanted I said to myself "Bugger 'em all, I'll just paint to please myself." and got a semi-steady job working as a clerk in a library. So now, when I have the time and am in love with a subject---I paint.

A few years ago, Bill Edwards did an article about my work based on classic horror films in "Scary Monsters" and somehow a copy of the article made its way to my former art instructor, Mr. Williams; out of the blue I got an brief e-mail saying something to the effect of "I always knew you'd make it." This from the man who told me that I couldn't use watercolor the way that I now do (little did he know that in saying this he awakened the stubborn German part of my personality which doesn't like to be told such things).

Max: You do black and white watercolors on parchment paper using acrylic paint. I've never seen any other examples of this technique. How do you create your pictures?

LM: I use the black paint as a thin wash and then build layer on layer for contrast in greys and then sometimes add just a touch of white as highlights where needed.

Max: Why do you believe you were attracted to monsters and the macabre?

LM: Monsters are usually on the fringe of society and for the most part, not of their own choosing----I've always been the odd one out so monsters have always had my sympathies. Being raised on the Brothers Grimm, mythology and a healthy dose of superstition can turn a person slightly, too. As for the macabre, my great-grandmother in Germany was the little old lady dressed in black who served as the village undertaker; when someone died, they'd call her and she'd come over to the house, give the departed their final scrub-up and lay them out in their shroud until the carpenter made the coffin. I heard all sorts of stories about Little Oma's adventures in undertaking.

Max: Did your love of monsters ever get you into trouble as a kid?

LM: No, not really. I did have a spell of sleepwalking for a few years between the ages of 8 & 12 which my Mum was positive that the cause was watching too many old horror films and "Dark Shadows"--- then the horror ban was imposed at home but it didn't last because my Father saw no harm in it and used to watch the movies with us and we had our secret stash of "Famous Monsters".

Max: What are your favorite monsters from Universal's movies? Or from other studios? What do you like about them?

LM: I don't think that I have one favorite Universal monster above all the others---they all equally occupy a very warm spot in my flinty heart. I am overly fond of "Fritz" and "Renfield", both little men caught in circumstances way beyond their control or comprehension and have often wondered what sort of lives they led before the story-lines in the movies pick them up at that point in time. Renfield attended Oxford which is a famous spawing ground for England's eccentrics---as for Fritz, I suspect that he was really related to Henry due to the Baron having a bit of a fling with one of the maids in the household staff (that sounds better than a troll who came with the castle). Non-Universal monster? Gotta be King Kong---the old boy really has a personality courtesy of his animator. The older I get the harder it is for me to watch the end of Kong because my glasses fog over and my eyes begin to leak.

Max: Your 3 or 4 favorite classic monster films and/or favorite horror films are...

LM: In no particular order:
  • "Dracula"
  • "Frankenstein"
  • "The Bride of Frankenstein" (oh, the graveyard humor gets me everytime)
  • "The Mummy", etc.
  • Honorable Mention: "Death Takes a Holiday."
Max: Describe one scary memory connected with a classic monster or horror star.

LM: Universal monsters never frightened me but one partial viewing of "The Frozen Dead" unnerved me--so much in fact that I've never bothered to try and watch this film again---it was the scene with the dead German soldiers hanging in the freezer that did it 40 years ago. At least that's a sound fright and not a weenie one like being scared of the Flying Monkeys in
"The Wizard of Oz".

I have memories of being in the 3rd Grade and our teacher would always have us bring in newspaper clippings for current events to put up on the bulletin board and someone brought in Karloff's obituary which had a rather large photo of him from "Son of Frankenstein" accompanying it. I can also remember feeling like I'd lost a relative because Boris Karloff was so much a part of my childhood up to that point in time.

Max: What surprises or opportunities has the Universal Monster Army brought you?

LM: Ah, the UMA is a refuge for Monster Kids to feel at home in and I've acquired a few new friends as well. Oh, yes---the twisted sense of humor is most appealing to me as well. Pun-ishment, Thy name is UMA.

Max: The best monster items ever made are...

LM: I'm a poor judge of this topic but the Aurora plastic monster model kits of the 1960's, the plastic Marx figures of the Universal monsters (I carried around the blue Frankenstein's Monster wrapped in a hunk of blanket when rather small) and the Soakies---always wondered why the Mummy's eye was bloody.

Max: Have you ever repainted your toys or collectables?

LM: Yes. I've repainted some of my Sideshow figures---both Fritz & Renfield have had make-overs; they now both have [the correct] blue eyes instead of brown. Fritz has a whole new set of clothes that look more like what he wore in "Frankenstein"---and dirty fingernails.

And I've repainted my "Werewolf of London"---he looked like he had lip gloss on which bothered the Hell out of me---such a nice sculpt ruined by a bad paint job. When young, my brother & I painted and repainted out plastic Marx monsters. I repainted the little plastic monster figures from "Dollar Tree" for a friend last year.

Max: You live in Iowa, where both the political campaign season and the holiday season are in full force. Any comments?

LM: My holiday funk has kicked in but I'm attempting to keep the black dog at bay by keeping my hands busy with projects.

If I could talk to the candidates, I'd tell them all to go away. It's the caucus race in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. They only care about us once every four years. Buggers.

Max: Thank you for taking time out on "Black Friday" to do this e-mail interview.

LM: Lucky for you I had much time to sit in the car in parking lots today and avoid the rutting of the American Buck.

February 2010: More photos of Linda's work added.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sale at VCI

VCI Entertainment ( recently had a 40% off DVD sale that did not work as planned due to technical glitches. To make it up to people, now they are having a 50% off sale on everything!

With Christmas coming, I recommend their release of the 1951 SCROOGE, and any of their horror releases, such as CITY OF THE DEAD ( a complete version of the film known in the U.S. as HORROR HOTEL.) The DSH is also getting SHOWTIME USA, a collection of forgotten color musicals, some of which feature odd variety acts, and MAN IN THE ATTIC, with Jack Palance. The Voodoo Queen is ordering YOUNG HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES. (All these queens of the night tend to support each other's work.)

I received an e-mail from Christopher Rowe of VCI, (and spoke with him on the phone.) He wants customers to know that coupon code XDNIVM will give you 50% off your order. From the e-mail: "Just copy and paste this into your shopping cart at the end on your purchase where it asks for you to apply a coupon code. I have set the coupon up to expire on Sunday December 2nd at 11:59 pm (central time). You can use it right now or till the end of that day. This is coupon is good for anything on our website (clearance, sale, etc.)"

Thanks, VCI!

Universal Monster Army's RAYMOND CASTILE

Continuing to put the spotlight on some of the notable members of the Universal Monster Army group at Yahoo, I present an interview with Raymond Castile. Raymond is the "second in command" guy at the UMA, and this year he won the classic horror community's Rondo Award as "Monster Kid of the Year" for his spearheading of the Universal Monster Army vintage toy exhibit, which appeared at conventions in 2006 and 2007, and for the amazing story of how he came to be chosen to play the young version of Brazilian horror character "Coffin Joe" in an upcoming movie. (I had a small hand in that series of events, which you can read about here.)

Raymond, a very good friend from my days living in St. Louis, is a journalist and the creator/owner of the website THE GALLERY OF MONSTER TOYS . (See my links section). The site, which has been very popular, showcases vintage monster toys of the 20th century.

Max: What is the first monster toy that you remember seeing?

RC: I have a vivid memory of my first monster toy sighting. It was the Aurora glow-in-the-dark Creature from the Black Lagoon model kit. I saw it on the bottom shelf of a drug store toy aisle. (I think the store was Standard Drug.) I had already been watching Creature Feature every Saturday night on Channel 11 for at least a year. My reading skills were limited, but I recognized the word "creature." I had never heard of the Gillman character or seen the movie, but he vaguely resembled the monster seen in the Creature Feature opening. I ran to my dad and said, "Creature Feature toys! They have Creature Feature toys!" I could not believe my eyes. Monsters still had an air of the forbidden. It blew my mind to think that someone actually made a monster toy and here it was on a store shelf for all to see. Wasn't someone going to get in trouble for this? It would be like walking into a grocery store and finding an endcap of marijuana cigarettes and commercially packaged cocaine. You would wonder if a cop was about to walk up behind you and arrest you just for looking at it. In this day of R-rated, blood-soaked McFarlane torture toys, it is hard to appreciate just how transgressive and dangerous those early monster toys seemed.

Max: What is your favorite Universal monster, and your favorite non-Universal monster? What do you like about them?

RC: For my favorite Uni-monster, it is a tossup between Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I like dark, brooding antiheroes like the Phantom, but I also like nonhuman monsters like the Creature. So many classic monsters are little more than deformed or sinister-looking humans. But the Creature actually looks like a monster. I love the Phantom's complexity, his tortured soul, his elegant villainy. But I also love the Creature's animalistic simplicity. He just is what he is: no back story, no dualism or emotional turmoil. He's just a big, bad monster who lives in murky swamp and he'll get you if you invade his home. So stay out! The only thing Phantom and Creature have in common is their subtle approach to wooing the opposite sex. Pretty much the grab 'em-and-run plan.

I guess my favorite non-Universal monster is Bigfoot. I've been fascinated with Bigfoot since childhood. I've also been scared of Bigfoot since childhood! It is the ultimate primal representation of the Boogey Man. I was always sure Bigfoot was hiding in my closet or lurking just outside my bedroom window. Anytime I heard the floor creak at night, I was sure it was Bigfoot.

Max: And how big are your feet?

RC: Depending on the manufacturer, I range between 7 and 8.5. I usually try on an 8 first and then see if I need to go up or down a size. If I had to buy a shoe without trying it on, I'd pick a size 8.

Max: Where do you rank in Coffin Joe in your monster mania?

RC: Of course, I love Coffin Joe. But I don't really think of him as a "monster." I'm not sure if I really consider horror characters like Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter to be "monsters." Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't depending on what mood I'm in. Today, I don't consider I don't consider them monsters. Tomorrow, I might change my mind.

Max: Did your love of the subject ever get you into trouble as a kid?

RC: Heck yes. I had teacher-parent conferences to discuss my disturbing fascination with monsters. At the school's behest, my parents sent me to a child psychiatrist to find out what was wrong. My parents threw away all my monster drawings and quarantined my monster toys for about a year. Yes, the fact that I liked monsters (gasp) got me into loads of trouble growing up.

Max: Your 3 or 4 favorite classic monster films and/or favorite horror films are...

RC: I love Coffin Joe films, especially the first two - "At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul" and "This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse." My favorite monster movie is "King Kong." Second favorite is probably "Bride of Frankenstein." I also love "Night of the Living Dead" and a lot of 70s grindhouse and Euro-horror, such as "The Wicker Man," "The Abominable Dr. Phibes," "Horror Express" and "Squirm."

Max: Have you ever dreamed up a scenario where Coffin Joe encounters American monsters? If so, what happened? If not, could it be done creditably?

RC: I would not want to see Coffin Joe ruined by Hollywood. He and his adversaries should remain Brazilian. No, I have not dreamed of him fighting American monsters. But I have imagined him fighting Mexican and Spanish horror characters such as the Crying Woman and the Brainiac. Santo vs. Coffin Joe would be a great drive-in extravaganza. Paul Naschy's wolf man would be a good opponent for Coffin Joe. But Brazilian popular culture is rich enough to provide many opportunities for Coffin Joe to do battle without having to issue any monster passports.

Max: Top 3 or 4 favorite monster toys, and do you have them? How did you acquire them?

RC: My favorite monster toy is the AHI "male" Creature from the Black Lagoon action figure from 1973. I still have my childhood AHI Creature. He's got plenty of battle scars, but he's still alive and swimming. I had plenty of great adventures with my little green buddy. In addition to my loose one from childhood, I also have a carded AHI male Creature. I had to trade a bunch of Megos and kick in some cash to get him in 1993. I call him the "male" Creature because AHI also made a skinny version with a narrow waist and wide hips that collectors refer to as the "female" AHI Creature. [AHI: the initials for toy company Azrak-Hamway, Int.]

I like the Marx battery-operated Yeti from the 1960s. He is adorable. I love the way he walks, raises his arms and shrieks. I especially appreciate the fact that he shrieks instead of roars. It shows that Marx understood the legend of the Yeti. A lesser company would have presented him simply as a white gorilla, growling and beating its chest. But Marx produced a bona fide Yeti toy, probably the coolest toy representation of the Yeti/Bigfoot character ever made. The box artwork is also great, as is usually the case with Marx. I bought my boxed Yeti from a Los Angeles antique store many years ago, circa 1993-95. The box has some damage, but in those pre-eBay days, it was the best example I had seen of that toy. I've seen better ones since then, but they always sell for more than I can afford. So I'll just stick with "my" Yeti, flaws and all.

I also like Marx's battery-operated Whistling Spooky Kooky Tree from the 60s. I first saw this pictured in Brian Moran's 1984 hardcover book "Battery Operated Toys." There were two loose trees (spring and fall versions) on the cover and a boxed one inside. From what I read, these toys sounded incredible. They are huge 17-inch monster trees like the ones in "The Wizard of Oz." The trees scuttle around, waving their arms and rolling their eyes as their mouths open and close, emitting an ear-piercing whistle. And that creepy box art really transported me into a trick-or-treat Neverland. I searched years for a boxed one. Finally, one turned up on ebay. It was one of the first boxed Marx Spooky Trees listed on ebay, if not the first. It failed to meet its reserve, so I took a chance and e-mailed the seller after the auction. He sold it to me off ebay at a fair price. I was happy that it was the darker, scarier "fall" version instead of the more benign-looking "spring" tree. When I received it, something seemed strange. I couldn't put my finger on it. I compared the toy to the one pictured in the Moran book. I realized that it was the very same one used in the book. Every mark of wear on the box matched the one in the photo exactly. It was the same toy I had stared at for so many years.

There is a '60s foam rubber Frankenstein doll that I like very much. They were probably carnival prizes. The doll stands about 14 inches tall and has real hair and clothes. He's cute! Unfortunately, I do not own one. I know two collectors who do, but those dolls are never leaving their collections. If another one ever hits ebay, I'm sure it will sell in the 4-figure price range, which means I won't be buying one.

Generally, I prefer '70s toys over '60s. But when I pick my favorite individual pieces, most of them are from the '60s. I think it's because a lot of '60s monster toys stand alone, while the '70s toys tend to be part of a set. My favorite monster toys of all time are definitely the '70s AHI Super Monsters action figures, bend 'ems, jigglers, windups, squirt guns and flashlights. The AHI stuff just screams "monster" louder than any other toys.

Max: Any non-toy monster items that especially appeal to you? (Books, mags, records, clothing, etc.)

RC: I collect Topstone rubber Halloween masks and Ben Cooper boxed costumes, but I think of those as toys. I collect Gurley Halloween candles, but those seem like toys, too. I dabble in collecting cult movie one-sheets. I have a nice collection of '70s Bigfoot movie one-sheets. I also have several Mexican horror and a couple of Coffin Joe one-sheets. I'd like to get more into movie paper, but the titles I want are so expensive. I've never been into collecting books, magazines or records. I have a Famous Monsters #1, but that is the only significant magazine I own. I do have dozens of LPs, but they were all purchased new during my childhood and teen years. Once CDs came along, I ditched vinyl and never looked back. I have a nice horror/cult film DVD collection, about 550 titles. But I don't really consider that "collecting." I guess it is, but in my mind, collecting = vintage. Purchasing new products that you intend to use is simply being a consumer. Without the antique element, it is hard for me to think of it as collecting.

Max: Ever written your own horror story or script? (If so, please describe it.)

RC: When I was younger, I wrote plenty of short stories and scripts. I can describe them with one word - rubbish! I don't know where they are now and I don't care. But lately I have thought a lot about getting back into writing fiction. I have years of journalism experience that I didn't have back then, not to mention life experience. Perhaps this maturity would result in some viable work.

Max: What hobby after monster toy collecting appeals to you most?

RC: I used to be into making music. I have several synthesizers and an old multi-track recording setup. I've hardly touched it in months, if not years. I think it's because I realized no one was ever going to hear the music I was making. If there's no audience, why bother? I don't want to be a tree falling in an empty forest. If the goal is to express myself, I'm not accomplishing that unless someone actually listens to my performance. No one was listening, no one was ever going to listen, so I just said the heck with it. I'll find more effective ways to express myself.

Max: Why do you believe you were attracted to monsters and the macabre?

RC: They were cool. Any deeper analysis would just be a load of B.S.

Max: I asked the question half-expecting an answer about compensating for feelings of powerlessness and feelings of being an outsider. You surprised me, as you do from time to time! (But I like it!)

RC: I could have given the stock answer about the outsider jazz, but that has become so cliche. I'm sick of hearing it. If someone's fascination with horror began in adulthood (as is the case with some goths), that would make sense. But it is less credible when talking about kids. All kids feel powerless, but they don't all like monsters. The outsider element starts to emerge as they get older, especially in high school. But I was into monsters practically since birth. Trying to remember how I really felt when I was 6 years old and playing with my AHIs, the most honest assessment of my motivations is "monsters are cool."

Max: They certainly are! Thank you for the interview.


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