The doctor’s name was Frankenstein. Always good to remember that when speaking of homages, parodies and tributes to Mary Shelley’s original novel. Cast a glance around the history of television and you will eventually come the realization that TV writers do love Mrs. Shelley. Frankenstein and his unnamed creature provide fuel for inspiration as well as a very convenient shorthand to get you quickly where you need to be when they frame an episode or special around one of the all-time great monster stories.
The Danny Kaye Show
Frankenstein spoofs and homages go way back on TV. Way back in 1965 an episode of “The Danny Kaye Show” did a Carol Burnett-esque sketch about Frankenstein with special guest Vincent Price. I mention Carol Burnett because another member of this particular appearance by Frankenstein on TV was Harvey Korman.
Not just a Frankenstein story, but a Frankenstein story filmed in black and white. After watching “The Post-Modern Prometheus” you will be tempted to ask why “The X-Files” didn’t shoot every episode in glorious black and white. The guy with the great voice who played Peterman on “Seinfeld” is a contemporary geneticist with the throwback name of Dr. Polidori who tampering with God’s domain. Ultimately, the Creature of Dr. Polidori is revealed to be an even greater figure of tragic sympathy than Boris Karloff’s analogue in the Universal Studios films.
Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr. play themselves in the extremely weirdly titled “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” episode of “Route 66.” They discuss whether their own Universal Studios monster costumes and makeup could possibly be horrifying enough to scare people in the early 1960s. Fortunately, the arrival of some hot “Mad Men” type secretaries at the hotel they are staying at make for the perfect test group. Thirty years after first putting on the bolts, Boris Karloff appears in full Frankenstein’s creature regalia.
Frankenstein: The True Story
Well, of course, this legendary two-part made-for-TV spectacular is wildly mistitled, but that’s part of its charm. Part Two of “Frankenstein: The True Story” introduces James Mason as Dr. Polidori. Yeah, I told you it was a great throwback name. The real John Polidori was part of that group that spent a few nights coming up with stories to scare each other. Mary Shelley produced the novel upon which this TV Frankenstein is based while Polidori produced “The Vampyre.” Mind you, this was more than half a century before Bram Stoker published “Dracula.” The most striking element of this TV version of Frankenstein is that the Creature is created with beauty and only becomes fearful in appearance as his story progresses.
Everything could and just about did happen on Mr. Roarke’s island. One Saturday night viewers witnessed an urban cowboy discovering that his fantasy of the Old West did not quite jibe with the reality. The other story featured a contemporary blonde Dr. Frankenstein finding out that the stories of her ancestor’s crazed experiments were a bit more real than the wild west fantasies of her fellow traveler to “Fantasy Island.”
A failed pilot for a prospective TV series that never was is “Dr. Franken.” The setting is updated to modern times and Dr. Arno Franken is determined to use spare body parts from the hospital where he works to build his creature. The most interesting thing about this particular appearance of Frankenstein on TV is the inclusion of Teri Garr just a few years after making her mark in “Young Frankenstein.”