Wish I had kept all of my early Star Wars toys and action figures. Kick me now, please. I deserve it. In the 1980s I came across a comic book shop that had all the original boxed toys, sealed, for 5 dollars each. Grabbed all of them. Then later I came across a collector who had the first issue action figures, and I paid around 200 bucks for them. Of course today all of it is worth much more; but the memories are still priceless.
You've seen him. You know his face. You've come to expect seeing him in every Hammer Horror you love. Derek Pykett in Michael Ripper Unmasked reveals the man behind that face, and the unforgettable character actor behind the horror. After reading about his career you will wish he had appeared more often. That's the greatest strength Pykett brings to this straightforward, uncomplicated biography of Ripper's career on stage, in movies, and, most importantly for us Hammer Horror fans, his involvement with those horrors. In 224 pages, which includes filmography, theatrical and television appearances, and letters from fans, Pykett briskly moves us through Ripper's entire career. Of course you probably want to know most about his work with Hammer so let's cut to the chase, shall we?
In Quatermass II, it was “bloody freezing” during filming and Ripper relates the adventure with Brian Donlevy—who did enjoy his whiskey—and Donlevy’s toupee as it squared off against the wind machines. Brief comedic turns followed in other Hammer films such as Up the Creek and Further Up the Creek but the beefier parts in Camp on Blood Island and Secret of Blood Island are singled out. Ripper recalls Bernard Robinson’s attention to set design and detail as being the real stars of the movies, and notes some incredulity at being cast as a Japanese officer with, as Bill Owen, who appeared alongside him in Secret of Blood Island, puts it, “a suitable North Finchley Japanese accent.” Owen goes on to relate a funny observation made by Ripper to the director on the first day of shooting. While the extras playing the “other” POWs looked the part, the principal actors didn’t. “Turning to the director he [Ripper] inquired, ‘Please, what is my attitude towards these fat prisoners of war?’”
Such cheeky playfulness springs up again and again in Ripper’s career, in his performances, and in his attitude to it all. Given his physical stature, his facial features—that roundish head and those expressive, roundish eyes—and his acting style honed through theatrical performances, this attitude proved immensely useful across his greater and lesser roles. Ripper recalls how Jimmy Sangster had him in mind and “was responsible for that lovely little part I played in The Mummy.” The Mummy is the first movie to have Ripper appear with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It’s interesting that Ripper says of Lee “He always makes me laugh,” and Lee says of Ripper, in the foreword, “He is the only actor who consistently made me laugh uncontrollably.”
Given Ripper’s unhappy childhood, due to his oddly belligerent but still supportive father, who alternated between thrashing him for reasons Ripper never understood while pushing him toward an acting career, one wonders how such a testy family dynamic shaped Ripper’s talent, which was vetted through repertory, the Gate Theater, his hope then reluctance to test the Hollywood waters, and the conversations that Ripper would listen in on between his father and Alastair Sim, who visited often, helping to diffuse the tension between father and son if only for a brief time. There seems much more to be written here, and Pykett, being a close friend, may not have delved as deeply or asked more pointedly for explanations as he could or should have.
The wealth of Ripper’s reminiscences and the coverage of his acting career easily make up for that. From his good reason for looking absolutely horrified when locked in the cell with Ollie Reed in The Curse of the Werewolf (“He was a very gutsy actor, and you were never quite sure what he would do next.”), to a God awful scene in The Pirates of Blood River (“It was a swamp scene we were filming. Hell it was dreadful.”), not once do you ever feel Ripper was not having a hell of a good time, or looking for any opportunity to cut up the production tedium through his humorous eye.
The most fascinating revelation for me comes when Ripper remembers Sammy Davis Jr’s visit to The Pirates of Blood River set. You don’t often hear about Sammy Davis Jr’s monsterkid passion for Hammer Horror, or that he was a close friend of both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Sadly, he died before he could realize his dream of playing Erik in the broadway production of Phantom of the Opera. Brook Williams, who played opposite Ripper in Plague of the Zombies recalls meeting Sammy Davis Jr on another set and how he could recite, line for line, everyone’s dialog from Plague.
There’s more of course, much more, about his movies and a lot more about his television roles when studios didn’t seem all that interested and Hollywood was not all that appealing; but you can read it for yourself. Pykett and Ripper share a knack for making it seem all so practical and inevitable, but we know that, through it all, it takes more than just talent to be the face people remember, but just can’t place the name. And while we may forget the name, we’ll never forget his characters and the face of Michael Ripper, the man unmasked to the delight of the generations of horror fans to come.
By the time this last issue of Cracked's For Monsters Only magazine appeared on the shelves, more earnest coverage of classic and contemporary horror, along with the usual joking (or attempts at joking) photographs, filled the magazine, replacing the cartoons and humorous illustrations that overran earlier issues. With issue 9, "Cracked's" was dropped from the title, perhaps in an attempt to attract the more serious horror fan. It didn't work. But among the many cartoons, illustrations, and abundance of cheeky photographs in this magazine's run, some articles, which focused on the classic horror stars, do stand out. In this last issue, Basil Rathbone is so honored.
A pox on the little terror (or maybe it was a big terror) that ran his or her errant pen across this battered copy of Cracked's For Monsters Only, issue 5. Cheeky little bastard. What, no one worried about collectibility back in 1967? Wait a mo, no one did, actually. Okay, nevermind that. So the little bastard who marked up the cover of this issue wasn't so cheeky or terrible. It does give it some monsterkid flavor, though, don't you think? More jokes (actually some good ones in this issue, see The Nightmares of Monsters), and two thoughtful articles, Richard Bojarski's The Man Behind the Monsters: The Story of Jack Pierce (for you newbies,Jack Pierce was the genius makeup artist who created the Universal Classic Monster look), and The Horror Hits of Peter Lorre, also by Bojarski, make this issue a memorable read. I did meet film historian Mr. Bojarski way back when, but that's a story for another post.
It's that time of year again, when thoughts turn to gift-giving, gift-receiving, and envy and annoyance and WTF moments captured on cell phones everywhere. Don't be envious, or leave others envious. Try one of these gifts for that special someone in your life who's as batty and off the trail as you. You don't want to wind up as a WTF trending moment, do you? You can thank me later. With a fruit basket. Or better yet one of these nifty gifts.
Spotted at ThinkGeek come these Doctor Who gifts that say "yes, I know, I'm stellar."
Weeping Angel Tree Topper
Tired of the same old pretty angel lauding over your Christmas tree? Or maybe you're just fed up with trying to reach, reach, reach up and pop it on without taking the blasted tree and glass ornaments for a tumble as you fall on your rump in failure. At least this Weeping Angel will make the fall worthwhile.
Tardis Door Cling
Perfect for that special companion in your life, this Tardis door cling exudes a sense of adventure when placed on your bedroom door, conveying that oh, so subtle hint that "it's" bigger on the inside. Or have your holiday visitors become flushed with adventure by adding this to your bathroom door. Either way, a sense of adventure will be had by all.
Doctor Who Bathrobes
Finally, a bathrobe that is worthy to be worn. Keep toasty warm in one of these spiffy terry cloth bathrobes. I lean towards the Tardis, but I love Tom Baker, too. Maybe I'll just get both!
Doctor Who Pajama Pants
What better to go with the Doctor Who t-shirts and bathrobes than these cool looking pajama bottoms? I can easily see anyone on the Big Bang Theory wearing these. Okay, maybe not Penny, but anyone else.
An all-star cast couldn't generate enough buzz for this Irwin Allen disaster movie to survive its box office, but this oversized, 32 page, pressbook for The Swarm is still killer. Irwin Allen, by the way, added all those spiffy aliens to his television shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea because he felt it boosted ratings. Known as the Master of Disaster, his disaster movies could be rather disastrous financially, but The Towering Inferno is a good flick.
In this second part to Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea movie pressbook we see the ad mat pages (newsprint and poster advertisements), the coloring page (a subject I will explore in a future post), the theater displays such as banners, flags, etc., and the always interesting exploitation ideas.
The previous owner of this copy of Cracked's For Monsters Only magazine must have treated it monstrously. I bet he read it, over and over again, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, with a flimsy flashlight held precariously in one hand as he flipped through the pages with the other. And when the pages started tearing away from the spine, due to so many page turnings, he taped them back in place. Maybe his name was Freddy Meyer, the person who wrote the same on the back cover's ECCH certificate. Or maybe Freddy was just one owner among many along the way. Or maybe this issue was owned by a girl who knew Freddy, and she borrowed it from him--Monsterkids stick together like slime and muck, you know--and she taped it for posterity because she liked Freddy, a lot, not knowing that iPad's and ebook readers would eventually eliminate the need for taping worn pages, and holding flashlights precariously under bedsheets in the wee hours of the morning.