My Friends and Famous Monsters…Cortlandt Hull -A Life in Wax or Which Way to The Witch’s Dungeon?
Above: Aug 1974 I recreated this make -up for Halloween and the costume, even the hat — scared the heck out of my next door neighbors daughter.
My Friends and Famous Monsters….a first in a series of articles/interviews with friends and colleagues within the entertainment industry including Cortlandt Hull, David Shecter and Daniel Griffith all who have gone on from their childhood dreams and fantasies to making them a reality. All the while never losing sight of one thing- a magazine, a very special one at that. It was and still is near and dear to our hearts and I say our hearts because not only was it a “boyhood” tradition but especially for those of you fortunate enough to have grown up in the late 50’s,60’s and 70’s for it was the age of monsters, Horror Hosts, Drive-Ins, Creepy Crawlers, Trading Cards, Comic Books, Grape Ne-Hi — A & W, Snyder Dutch Pretzels, Bubs Daddy gum(sour apple) and that most influential of all.
Below: a vintage Snyder Pretzel storage tin…just need a little root beer…ahhhh
Above: if you remember Creepy Crawlers, well here is the companion piece -Fright Factory where a kid could create scars, stitches and shrunken heads. And then show up at the dinner table …growling and drooling.
This was a magazine that was kept under your bed and pulled out at night when everyone else was asleep and no I’m not talking about Playboy although… This one was bound and with non-glossy paper filled with fantastic frightful images, serving up news and editorials devoted to creatures- both big and small, slimey or oozing — that was the splendor of horror and science fiction celluloid- the legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland this is what they all have in common and I am no exception.
Below-right: notice the price a whopping 50 cents, these were the days when a dollar stretched a lot farther.
Before delving into the aforementioned conversations with my friends I wanted to provide some additional information regarding Famous Monsters and just how important this magazine was. It debuted in 1958 and had a run that lasted 25 years. Published by James(Jim) Warren of Warren Publishing and affectionately edited by Forrest J Ackerman or as everyone knew him-Forrey. It was the love of these 2 men that would have a long and reaching influence over 3 generations of “monster kids” including the likes of Joe Dante, John Landis, even the very inspiration for an iconic-80’s cult favorite Monster Squad directed by Fred Dekker. And furthering careers of Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Roger Corman, the Big G himself-Godzilla and more… their on-screen adventures were covered between the pages of this endearing fan magazine…making instant fans of every reader while helping us discover the classics that we missed during the initial releases such as The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, It Came From Outer Space and Earth vs The Flying Saucers…every issue was loaded with not only pics featuring behind the scenes and my favorites- the film book-the complete plot synopsis and in depth coverage of a highlighted movie within issue. Also up and coming releases, TV and the far and few fan events that existed at the time.
First up is …
Cortlandt Hull: A Conversation In Wax
A lifetime of classic movie monsters!
Curator of The Witches Dungeon.
Cortlandt was born in the early 50's- 1953 and has spent the majority of his time in Bristol, Conn. And he was not your typical kid, when it came time for family vacations instead of heading to the beach or camping he would head to places known more for their attractions, however when the family was settled in at the hotel he would be always be searching for a monster movie on TV or a wax museum near-by, but when it came to the wax museums he was never satisfied because none of them had a decent section devoted to movie monsters … in fact no wax museums had anything even closely resembling anything from the movies- what they did have was a dungeon or chamber of horrors … statues of Jack the Ripper …wax figures mainly based in reality and not fantasy… that was about all you got. This is something that would always be in the back of Cortlandt’s mind into his early teens. This would prove to be a driving force later on. Now like most kids his age that grew up during the 50’s and 60’s there were horror hosts showing that latest collection of Shock Theater packaging from Universal Studios on TV and the above mentioned Famous Monsters as driving forces for those creating and at the same time satisfying those cravings a late nite dose of werewolves and vampires along with the Aurora model kits that hit in the 60’s. Now kids to build models of their favorite monsters and what were some of my favorites during this time period the Mad Scientist Lab.
Below: here is a prime example of a little boy growing up in the 50’s,60’s and 70’s with his stash of monster magazines and comic books sitting in front of the TV . His models on top of the TV set and Zacherley the horror host image beckoning on the small screen. Something that happened every weekend across the nation during those good ol’ days.
Cortlandt was blessed with 2 other factors in his life that would forever drive him in the direction of a lifetime of creating and being surrounded by Classic Movie Monsters- his great uncle, Henry Hull-one of the greatest and the first on screen werewolf. His movie days predate the Werewolf of London by several years including work on a DW Griffith film One Exciting Night 1922-a precursor to the Old Dark House films of the later 20’s and 30’s. A little known bit of trivia concerning this particular film inolves a scene with a storm and Griffith was one to spare no expense when it came to getting a shot the way he wanted it to go. This movie was no exception. To create the intensity of the storm 2 airplane propellers were brought onto the set which made for some pretty realistic footage and at times dangerous working conditions.
Below: Henry Hull-maybe have been a studio shot. A handsome chap as they say and very much in demand on stage and screen at an early age and known for his distinct voice.
Above: a re-release poster for Werewolf of London
Henry appeared in 76 films between 1917 and 1966-his last in The Chase starring Marlon Brando and very young Robert Redford. Always surrounded by other stellar cast members. Uncle Henry made numerous guest appearnces on Television many were in western TV series including Bonanza with a record 4 times… no one else ever appeared more than once as a guest. Cortlandt really enjoyed his Uncle, who would tell Cortlandt many stories over the years about his days in Hollywood, including what it was like to sit in the make-up chair under the supervision of the legendary Jack Pierce as well as working with Vincent Price on the set of Master of the World 1961. Henry Hull also a well known performer of the stage … gave an amazing potrayal of Edgar Alan Poe and Mark Twain on Broadway in one man performances and he did his own make-up. In fact most performers and actors did here own make-up until the mid 30’s when that became unionized.
Below: a french quad for Master of the World. Recently remastered in HD and available from Kino Lorber…
Cortlandt speaks about uncle Henry’s starring in Tod Browning’s(Freaks and London After Midnight) last film Miracles for Sale-Tod Browning’s last film which also starred Robert Young as the lead, The Amazing Morgan -the story actually derived from a book written by Clayton Rawson-Death From a Top Hat one of four novels which featured The Great Merlini the character’s original name changed in this screen adaptation. Supporting actors William Demarest(My Three Sons) and Gloria Anne Holden(Dracula’s Daughter)…Cortlandt mentioned that he actually has the skull- a prop that is prominent in the story with eyes that light up. And still works today. During the interview Cortalandt ask me to include some information that would clear up a rumor that has been circulating since the filming of The Werewolf of London.Something that has bothered him and his family for years.
For more than 1/2 a century the thought has been that Henry Hull refused to let Jack Pierce apply the full make-up for the werewolf either because he did not want to cover himself completely with all the facial hair required and that he was a difficult person to work with which more than farther from the truth. Now it is true that Pierce wanted to use the full make-up for a werewolf appearance something similar to the Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney. However the reason behind Henry refusing to have the full facial application was due to the script.There are 2 scenes where Uncle Henry’s character is recognized by his wife and would not have made sense for Henry to have been filmed any other way than a version that allowed several of his human features to appear noticable to friends and family. Especially since there is a line where the wife spoken by Hull’s wife indicating that she knows he is the werewolf thru his distinct features. So case closed and a rumor quelled. Henry Hull was being most professional and loyal to the script. The Werewolf Filmography (2017) McFarland Publishing (see my review in an upcoming edition of Weng’s Chop) written by Bryan Senn also confirms this as told to Cortlandt by Uncle Henry.
Below: cast for Arsenic and Old Lace — the film version with Cary Grant, Ptere Lorre and Aunt Josephine
The one other introduction to the limelight was via his aunt, Josephine Hull -who appeared with Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace as one of Cary’s not all together aunts. Josephine was not only an actress but a director of plays- a very successful career that spanned 50 years and she was groundbreaking as a female in what during that time was very much a male dominated business. She won a Best-Supporting Oscar for her role Harvey- a role she had played for 10 years on Broadway. It is one of my favorite films as she appears alongside Jimmy Stewart as his aunt. Jimmy starred as Elwood P. Dowd. Elwood had an “imaginary” friend-a 6 ft tall pooka- rabbit in shape and form. Some of the characters she created, 2 in particular each took up 10 years of her life. Now that is commitment and dedication. Something that is a trait that runs in Cortlandt’s family and one that is evident in himself.
Batman or the Munsters: That is the question?
Above: The Munsters won out in Cortlansdt’s house… as you can see why.
Now in my household it was Batman who won out on both nights during its initial run between 1966–1968,but over at the Hull household it was The Munsters, as a result Cortlandt was catching only the second part of Batman. — keep in mind that this was when he was starting the museum and The Munsters were perfect for keeping his mind open and forever expanding his vision of classic monsters, plus the makeup was superb and accentuated by the choice of filming in black and white. It would be a few years before he ever saw the beginning to those Batman, not until Batman surfaced again( in syndication).
Above:June Foray- an early photo
Monsters were not the only things Cortanldt was interested in -Cartoons were another. His favorites included Warner Bros -Bugs Bunny and Hanna Barbera’s Tom and Jerry…being friends with Chuck Jones- Cortlandt asked Chuck once “did you think the kids would accept the Road Runner cartoons?” …Chuck stated kids were not a consideration since these were shown in the theaters for adults, playing with A pictures …adults wanted laffs too and Walt Disney alraedy offered a softer option for younger kids…which speaking of Disney- two of Cortlandt’s favs are The Lonesome Ghosts and Trick or Treat showcasing Donald Duck and his nephews vs a witch on Halloween night…the voiced by the quin-essential female voice artist June Foray ( Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Witch Hazel from the Warner Bros)..June would later provide the voice of Zenobia the Witch who presides over Cortlandt’s very own Wax Museum…on a sad note before this article was finshed June passed away at the age of 99. She would have been 100 years young in September. A marvelous person, but also she bacame a very dear friend to Cortlandt..she will be missed and leaves behind a tremendous body of work …
Above: Monster Rally art by the hand of the very talented Cortlandt Hull
Over the years he developed an amazing array of artistic talents including drawing, painting and sculpture. But these skills that developed were cultivated thanks to Cortlandt contacting some well renowned make -up artists at 20th Century Fox and organizing the family vacations to California to visit the movie studios all with the support of his parents. These trips gave Cortlandt the very foundation to establish his very own wax museum at the age of 13-The Witches Dungeon in 1966 and this October marks 51 years in operation. Imagine at the ages of 13–16 being tutored by the likes of Dick Smith, Don Post Sr, Verne Langdon(huge influence in the creation of the Magic Castle in LA) and John Chambers (Planet of the Apes 1968/Wild Wild West TV series make-up) all had a hand in Cortlandt’s continuing education in what today many consider almost a lost art …it was this tutoring that would lead to life-long friendships the likes of which probably would not be possible today between so many policy’s that studios have today and even the security that has been put in place at studios and that is an unfortunate reality … one of the key things that was “driven home” was that you can make a statue but if you want to bring “life” to your creation you have to master make-up for that is the essence of being, it’s soul so to speak.
Through the various years -50 + the museum has grown in size and stature. It pre-dates Disney’s The Haunted Mansion by 3 years and is the longest running Halloween attraction in the country. The “monsters” take over the Bristol Historical Society, 98 Summer Street in Bristol, Conn during the last part of September and thru the month of October. It boasts over 25 statues featuring classic monsters of the movies all in settings taken right out of the very films that featured these endearing and erie characters. Some of the statue’s include The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the Werewolf of London, the Frankenstein Monster, The Fly and new this year a prop from This Island Earth of the Metaluna mutant. What makes this gathering of ghouls and goblins unique is that it is the last museum with live hosts to escort you victims…I mean guests of course…who would want to see any mysterious circumstances befall you especially before dinner. The hosts are in black and white including makeup and the monsters and the sets are in glorious color reminiscent of the Aurora model kits from the 60’s and early seventies adorned by the artwork of John Bama. Speaking of color one only has to look to the late, great Basil Gogos who recently passed away. Known for his artwork that adorned many a cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland. He became a very good friend of Cortlandts thru attending several monster movie oriented events and most often shared a booth next store to each other. Cortlandts choices of decor along with the lighting used for the monsters’ domain owes much to the coloring technique of Basil as to those Aurora models. The sets have an eerie almost type of glow to them thanks not just to the colors but the hues within those colors and unique lighting that emphasizes the dressings and the statues making them very much “alive”.
Above: some “live: hosts appealing to your couriosity-one of the true human vulnerabilities-we just can’t say no to a beckoning figure coaxing us onward. I always thought a light bulb would go immediately after seeing some old*** stirring a cauldron with who knows what but what do I know.
Lending a bit of the macabre and other wordly dimensions to The Witchs’ Dungeon I had mentioned that June Foray provides the voice of Zenobia- The Gypsy witch. She welcomes those who choose or dare to enter this enchanted realm of fantasy, all with the hopes to return on the other side. However she is not the only celebrity to lend their voice to the spreading of doom and gloom on this journey into werewolves and vampires, Dracula and The Frankenstein Monster. No, there have been others including one of my all time favorites-the very King of Horror, Vincent Price and good ol’ Luke Skywalker- Mark Hamill. Past celebrity stop overs include the likes of Forrey J Ackerman, John Bama, Ron Chaney, Sara Karloff , Bela Lugosi Jr. and even the lady of horror herself-Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Above: Two from the cast of The Creature From the Black Lagoon-Julie Adams and Ben Chapman (he played the creature when on land) pictured here with Cortlandt.
Below: a link to 2 videos that highlight The Wich’s Dungeon- a short documentary with June Foray,Elvira and the voice of Dick Smith make-up artist extrodinaire and a segment from one of my favorite horror host Svengoolie who can be seen on ME-TV 8 pm et Saturday nights- http://www.preservehollywood.org/videos.html
The museum has had it’s fill of publicity from the Entertainment Tonight(ET) in the guise of Leonard Maltin not once but twice covering the wax figures and there surroundings. This led to the beginning of a close friendship with Leonard and when it came time for help with Leonards book on disney’s animation one of his sources was none other than Cortlandt. Cortlandt and The Witch’s Dungeon mentioned in Famous Monsters in one way or another in several issues. Cortlandt also made an apearance on Tell the Truth (a series that has been on the air since 1956) back in the early 70’s. He was guest on one segment. For those who are not familar with the show, it consisted of a host — Gary Moore/ narrator- the legendary Johnny Olson with a celebrity panel of 4. Generally the panel featured regulars Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, Bill Cullen, Gene Rayburn and special guest Rita Moreno, Jack Cassidy, Nipsey Russell would alternate with the regular panelists. During the episode the panelist are given clues by the guest and 2 imposters or challengers is how they were referred to. … the panelists have to weed out the false clues to determine who is the real person of interest, someone with an unusual occupation or expierence. The challengers are allowed to lie except for the one has that said occupation- he or she has to tell the truth. To make this segment more interesting Cortlandt thru alot of lobbying won out on being able to not only appear in make up of his design but also was allowed to make up the other 2 contestants. This was no easy feat considering that everything is unionized and normally this against union rules. But what he proposed made sense to all since he was invited based on his skills in make-up and for the The Witch’s Dungeon. Ironically I was a guest audience member during that time period and got a whole $1.00 for clapping the hardest but to a 8–10 year old that was pretty good change in those days.
Below: an episode of To Tell The Truth-this one featuring Gene Roddeberry as the challenger.
The Witches Dungeon became a reality not only based on Cortlandt’s talents, but due to help from a very supportive father who was in the construction business. He designed and built for his son a Swiss Chalet to house the creations that would be brought to life thanks not only to him, but his mom who was a gifted artist in her own right and a designer of costumes. She also worked for the local playhouse and that is a whole other story…many an actor spent nights dining and watching movies at Cortlandt’s house- one because it was the best food in town and after long days and nights rehearsing and performing it was a home away from home and this is where everyone would relax and watch a good old movie. It was nothing to find say George Chakiras of West Side Story kicking back on the sofa watching cartoons and eating popcorn-waiting for the main feature to start.
This is where we conclude the first part 1 of our feature story regarding Cortlandt Hull. One who has lead a charmed life and most deservedly so. If you ask Cortlandt he will only be more than glad to convey that thought as he has said so often” I may not be overflowing in the green stuff but I lead what I would say is a life rich in friends, memories and experience.” And I’m sure he would trade it for the world or anything else for that matter. Cortlandt is a very humble person. And what is refreshing is he has never changed in that department. And I am very fortrunate and proud to consider Corlandt my friend.
So next time when we catch up with our monster maker we will delve deeper into his amazing stories of celebrity friends, the Oscars and a talent for restoring vintage carousels which is something of a lost art…until then always keep looking over your shoulder. Remember tis the season of witch’s and goblins and things that go bump in the night and if you do happen to run into one or two.. just tell them Doc sent ya. They just might let you off the hook literally. I cook with a lot of garlic and if they think for even a moment you were at my place for dinner. Well there are a certain variety of those creatures of the night that tend to shy away from that particular herb…but ummm ummm good for us.
The Witch’s Dungeon is now opened year round 6pm–9 pm by appoinment (except the month of October when there is no appoinment nescesary). Hours Fri. thru Sun.New location at: 103 East Main St, Plainville, CT. Tel. 860–583–8306. …and this year you get two for the price of one and that means there will be not one but two wax statues of Vincent Price one featuring him as the hideously disfigured owner of the wax museum from classic House of Wax, the other as the infamous Dr Phibes or is that Abominable. Plus you’ll never know who might just be dropping by-including Vincent Prices lovely daughter Victoria .You will not want to miss this opportunity. Victoria is simply one of the nicest people you will ever meet. I have had that pleasure myself. She is the genuine article.
Link to The Witch’s Dungeon: Open now year roundby appt and every October (Each Year) Weekends 6–9 pm No Appointment Neccessary.( 2–5 people per group/tour. “)Live” Ghost Hosts.(Only Museum offering Live Hosts).
The Witch's Dungeon
Home page of The Witch's Dungeon. The longest running Horror attraction in the USA.
Link to McFarland Books: Catch one of their more recent books- Exploring “Wax Museum Movies” by George Higham…a dripping good time!!!!
McFarland - A Leading Independent Publisher of Academic & Nonfiction Books
"Purcell is an intelligent, articulate and concerned fan, and she lets that come through. Some might argue that…
Kino Lorber & The Vincent Price Collection-
Master of the World loaded with matte shots through out the film and the Bluray has all the bells and wistles one is accustomed to from Kino including audio commentaries featuring Tom Weaver, David Schecter and actor David Frankham, trailers and interviews. Plus a score by Les Baxter. Co starring Charles Bronson and Henry Hull. The Diretcor -Willaim Witney also directed one of the best movie serials ..ever! Daredevils of the Red Circle(Also avaialble from Kino Lorber).
Master of the World (Special Edition)
Directed by William Witney From action-adventure ace William Witney, the director of Daredevils of the Red Circle…
June Foray as Witch Hazel in Disney’s Trick or Treat(1952).
You can stream this on Disney Plus in HD along with The Black Cauldron … plus a whole bagful of Halloween treats.
Bubbling up with classic cartoons and movies along with some new delicously sweet concoctions like Muppets Haunted Mansion with a brew full of special guest and your Ghost Host Will Arnett. Holiday episodes of your favorites from Best Friends Whenever, Fineas and Ferb. And did some one say fresh haunts.
Well I highly recommend The Ghost and Molly McGee. Complete with a wisecracking, sassy -full of spunk teen with an undending supply of optimism. So much so she actually ends up reversing a from “the beoynd” curse on one obnoxious-super grumpy ghost. Filled with a candy bowl full of laughs and modern take on retro animated cartoons from the ’60s. And this ghost-he aint no Casper…Molly is multicultural back ground…hailing from Scotch and Thai ancestry. Which lends itself very well to the storyline. Especially when it comes to our spectral characters. So enjoy!!!!
Disney+ | Stream the best of Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, National Geographic, and more.
Sign up now and get endless access to new releases, exclusive Originals, your favorite classics, and tons of TV shows.
And if your not scared and your a brave…very brave mortal than takes this trip back to 1983 in this spooky fun video put out by Disney’s educational media division…boo!!! I dare you foolish Earthling!!!