In honor of Halloween, here’s the first horror film, Georges Méliès’ The Haunted Castle. Originally released in 1896, the year before Dracula was published, it had been thought to be lost until 1988, when a copy was discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive.
Though it’s full of horrific trappings, in general Méliès intended it to amuse and astonish rather than to shock. The filmmaker himself appears as Mephistopheles, and the woman conjured from the cauldron is Jehanne d’Alcy, who would become his second wife.
The Art Institute of Chicago has an actual picture of Dorian Gray — Ivan Le Lorraine Albright painted it for the 1946 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel. Working with his twin brother Malvin, Albright started with a pleasant portrait of star Hurd Hatfield and prepared three further canvases reflecting his character’s moral decay.
“For research for these paintings,” reported LIFE, “the twins made the rounds of the local insane asylums, alcoholic wards and hospitals for the incurably diseased.” Even the props in the background were corrupted — the Egyptian cat grows gray and mangy, and Ivan tore the rug and soaked it with acid.
Interestingly, though most of the film was shot in black and white, the portrait was shown in Technicolor — which may have helped the film win its Oscar for best cinematography.
Played by Japanese priests in the 16th century, taikyoku shogi may be the largest variant of chess ever devised. Each player deploys 402 pieces of 209 types on a board of 1,296 squares to try to capture his opponent’s king(s) and prince(s).
It’s not clear precisely how it was played, but Wikipedia takes more than 10,000 words to describe one likely set of rules.
The birdhouse at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch is a replica of the 50,000-foot main house. Working from the original blueprints, architect Thomas Burke produced the structure in four months and installed it in April 2011. Roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, it has four levels and 50 individual compartments, each with a separate entry made of PVC piping.
(Via Anne Schmauss, Birdhouses of the World, 2014.)
Here’s a macabre fad from Victorian Britain: headless portraits, in which sitters held their severed heads in their hands, on platters, or by the hair, occasionally even displaying the weapons by which they’d freed them.
Photographer Samuel Kay Balbirnie ran advertisements in the Brighton Daily News offering “HEADLESS PHOTOGRAPHS – Ladies and Gentlemen Taken Showing Their Heads Floating in the Air or in Their Laps.”
In the first James Bond novel, 1953’s Casino Royale, Bond orders a drink of his own invention:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’
‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’
‘Certainly monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
‘Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter.
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.’
The name he thinks of is the Vesper, ostensibly inspired by the character Vesper Lynd. But in fact the recipe wasn’t original to Bond — Fleming had first received the drink from the butler of an elderly couple in Jamaica — it was named after vespers, a service of evening prayer. Bond says, “It sounds perfect and it’s very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world.” He’d have trouble getting one today — Kina Lillet was discontinued in 1986, and the strength of Gordon’s Gin was reduced in 1992.
In her 1929 autobiography Cradle of the Deep, silent film star Joan Lowell revealed a dramatic childhood aboard her father’s trading vessel: She’d seen a man eaten by sharks, performed an amputation, and, when the ship caught fire and sank, swum three miles to the Australian coast with “drenched kittens” clinging to her shoulders:
I was conscious of only the pain caused by the salt water on my bleeding cuts and scratches. Each stroke I took was like a knife cut, and I couldn’t shake the drowning kittens off. Perhaps to those cats I owe my life, for the pain made me so mad I fought on and on, toward the lightship which seemed to go farther away instead of closer.
When it was published, sailing writer Lincoln Colcord identified 50 inaccuracies and called her to account. It turned out she’d made the whole thing up: Her father had worked on the boat for about a year, and she’d made one trip on it. Simon & Schuster reclassified the book as fiction and released a statement saying it had been “published in good faith, not as a literal autobiography but as a teeming yarn, fundamentally a true narrative but inevitably … embroidered with some romanticized threads.”
In 2002, Melbourne friends Hoss Siegel and Ross Koger were battling with pool noodles and imagined a war fought in the same style. Months later they witnessed two kids beating each other up with cardboard boxes, and they married the two ideas.
The result is Box Wars, an annual free-for-all among combatants bearing weapons and armor made of cardboard. The pastime is now international, with extensions in Japan, the United States, Scotland, the Netherlands, Russia, and Canada.
“The suits,” says Koger, “have gotten more elaborate, as have the crowds, and it’s funny that something which spawned from a stupid idea at a party has become so big.”