When Elsa Lanchester played The Bride of Frankenstein, she became the first female to play a Universal Monster.
Whenever an anniversary approaches, we often look back at the years that we are celebrating. UMU is coming upon its first anniversary so in the days leading up, we will be looking back at our “Meet The Monsters” series which profiled the original monsters actors and actresses. Join us as we feature Elsa Lanchester.
*This article first appeared on UMU on March 6, 2016.*
Universal Studios is well-known for its Monsters franchise and when it was announced that the franchise was being rebooted, we here at Universal Monsters Universe couldn’t help but scream…in delight. Sofia Boutella has been named in The Mummy, due out in 2017, making her the first female name linked to the new generation of Monsters movies but not the only one. Angelina Jolie has been linked to a reboot of The Bride of Frankenstein. While it is not official, Jolie will have a big wig to wear, succeeding the great Elsa Lanchester, the subject of this latest installment of “Meet the Monsters.”
Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born in Lewisham, London, England on October 28, 1902 to James “Shamus” Sullivan and Edith “Bibby” Lanchester who were never legally married. Her older brother, Waldo Sullivan Lanchester, was a puppeteer who had his own marionette company. She was interested in dancing and studied in Paris under the famous Isadora Duncan but returned to Britain when World War I broke out. At 12 years old, she began teaching other children how to dance using what she learned of Duncan’s style. After the war ended, she opened the Children’s Theatre and not long after, the Cave of Harmony nightclub where she performed regularly. Columbia invited her to record four songs she performed to be relased on a 78 rpm record, “Please Sell No More Drink to My Father,” “He Didn’t Oughter,” “Don’t tell My Mother I’m Living in Sin” and “The Ladies Bar.” She went to perform in stage productions where she met her eventual husband, Charles Laughton.
Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton would marry in 1929, staying married until his death in 1962, and when he went to Hollywood in 1935, she followed him and landed her first American role in that year’s David Copperfield. Laughton and Lanchester would go on to star in several films together and be nominated for numerous film awards. Her extensive filmography landed her the title role of The Bride of Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, which would make her a household name in the Monsters movie universe. After her role as the Bride, she did not appear in another movie until 1941’s Ladies in Retirement which led to many more on-screen roles throughout the following decades including a run of Disney films such as Marry Poppins, That Darn Cat! and Blackbeard’s Ghost . She even sang a duet with Elvis in his 1967 movie Easy Come, Easy Go.
Elsa Lanchester would go on to star in such TV shows as The Wonderful World of Disney, I Love Lucy and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By this time, her health was failing and would go on to suffer two strokes, rendering her incapacitated and bed-ridden before she passed away on December 26, 1986 at the age of 84. She and Charles never had children and she never re-married after his death. They both became U.S. citizens in 1950. Elsa Lanchester was more than just a pretty face covered in makeup and a wig. She was a multi-talented entertainer who was a constant on the stage and screen until she was so ill she could not move. She was a picture of dedication to one’s craft.
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)