Cover image for Women in horror films, 1940s
Women in horror films, 1940s
Mank, Gregory W.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jefferson, NC : McFarland & Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 393 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1995.9.W6 M355 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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They had more in common than just a scream, whether they faced Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, King Kong, the Wolf Man, or any of the other legendary Hollywood monsters. Some were even monsters themselves, such as Elsa Lanchester as the Bride, and Gloria Holden as Dracula's Daughter. And while evading the Strangler of the Swamp , former Miss America Rosemary La Planche is allowed to rescue her leading man. This book provides details about the lives and careers of 21 of these cinematic leading ladies, femmes fatales, monsters, and misfits, putting into perspective their contributions to the films and folklore of Hollywood terror--and also the sexual harassment, exploitation, and genuine danger they faced on the job. Veteran actress Virginia Christine recalls Universal burying her alive in a backlot swamp in full "mummy" makeup for the resurrection scene in The Mummy's Curse --and how the studio saved that scene for the last day in case she suffocated. Filled with anecdotes and recollections, many of the entries are based on original interviews, and there are numerous old photographs and movie stills.

Author Notes

Gregory William Mank, a Delta, Pennsylvania, freelance writer, has acted in more than 100 stage productions. He has written numerous books on classic horror films.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Mank has written several books about horror films, demonstrating a love for the genre. In these two volumes he treats the women who appear in these films in both starring and supporting roles. These actresses, such as Helen Chandler, Elsa Lanchester, and Fay Wray, portrayed heroines, femme fatales, misfits, and even monsters. They came from different backgrounds and achieved different levels of fame. The format of both books is identical. Twenty-one actresses are covered in each volume, for a total of 42. The method of arranging the entries is not clear; it is neither alphabetical nor chronological. Photographs, both glamour shots and movie stills along with some posters, are included. Entries, which can be as long as 25 pages, cover the actress's life and work, with extended coverage of her career in films. Some of these women, such as Miriam Hopkins, made only one or two horror films, and others became typecast and appeared mainly in this genre, often in "B" pictures. The author interviewed the actresses if possible, friends and relatives if not. Each entry concludes with a complete filmography. Each volume ends with an appendix listing outstanding performances, based upon a poll of directors, writers, and producers. Categories include best performance by an actress as a horror heroine (Zita Johann in The Mummy in the 1930s volume, Evelyn Ankers in The Wolf Man in the 1940s volume), best monster, best supporting actress, best "voluptuary," most beautiful, and Mank's all-time favorite performance. An index of names, films, and so forth completes each volume. Biographical information on these movie stars can be found in other sources, especially film biographies. What makes these volumes unique is the author's approach. Mank concentrates on the horror films and reports anecdotes, news stories, gossip, and the actresses' own memories of working on these films. Certain themes emerge. The women were underpaid in comparison to the male actors. Almost everyone loved Boris Karloff and respected Bela Lugosi. Sexual harassment was definitely a problem for many of these women, and some left the business because no redress was possible. Mank has done a wonderful job of bringing these actresses to life for the reader. These two volumes are recommended for film reference collections in academic and large public libraries.

Library Journal Review

The author of a number of books on horror films (e.g., Karloff and Lugosi, McFarland, 1990), Mank here turns the spotlight on two decades of filmdom's damsels in distress. Observing that these roles may be categorized into three types ("monsters," e.g., the title role in The Bride of Frankenstein; "femme fatales," e.g., Ivy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; and "misfits," e.g., Panther Woman in Island of Lost Souls), Mank chronicles the life and times of 42 actresses who played variations on these themes and more. Each book presents chapters ranging in length from ten to more than 20 pages on each of 21 actresses in each decade. Beginning with a studio portrait or a publicity still, the narration often includes an account of a personal interview the author conducted with the subject. Also included are other portraits and stills as well as some candid shots and, in a few cases, shots of the subject with the author. The richly detailed chapters conclude with a filmography, but while the sources are attributed, a bibliography or a separate list of sources would have enhanced the presentation. Each volume ends with the results of a poll asking assorted film industry professionals and others for their personal choices for outstanding performances in various categories. Many of the actresses in these volumes, e.g., Evelyn Ankers, Ilona Massey, and Valerie Hobson, may be familiar only to horror film fans. In addition, TV fans may be surprised to learn that Elena Verdugo of Marcus Welby, M.D., Anna Lee of General Hospital, and even Virginia Christine (Mrs. Olson of the coffee commercials) were once screamers on the silver screen. First-rate additions to film, performing arts, women's studies, and popular culture reference collections, these volumes should also be featured in smaller circulating collections for film and horror buffs to peruse.ÄCarolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

More than two score ingenues and mavens of the horror film are coifed and costumed with loving detail in Mank's two-volume treatment. Each decade parades a bevy of fainting, swooning, screaming, and scheming ladies down a path of affectionate memories, showcasing their personal lives as well as their filmographies. Culling original biographical data from personal interviews and Hollywood folklore, Mank scripts a charming and poetic series of thumbnail sketches, magically drawing out many enchanting personalities and weaving a romantic vision of Hollywood's "Golden Years." The tiny biographies spell out the tragic lives of actresses like Helen Chanldler (Dracula, 1931) and the shining legend of such an enduring star as Gloria Stuart (The Old Dark House, 1932), who won an Academy Award for Titanic (1997). Of particular interest are perennial favorites like Mae Clarke (Frankenstein, 1931);"beauty who killed the beast" Fay Wray (King Kong, 1933); "most beautiful horror star" Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man, 1941); sultry and difficult Simone Simon (Cat People, 1942); and blacklisted Oscar winner Gale Sondergaard (The Black Cat, 1941). Although Mank's two-volume set does not offer the critical insights of works like Rhona Berenstein's Attack of the Leading Ladies (CH, Apr'96), it does compensate for a lack of attention on horror-genre actresses in earlier works--e.g., John Brosnan's classic but chauvinistic The Horror People (1976) and Calvin Beck's Heroes of the Horrors (1975), which both focus almost exclusively on male monsters. These sly fan books offer a friendly, chatty series of reminiscences and victorious secrets of feisty, spirited women who inhabited the sanguine B-films of the 1930s and '40s. Mank doubles the reader's pleasure with a stunning set of publicity photographs and film stills illustrating his labor of unabashed gallant love for these neglected "scream queens." Undergraduates and general readers. T. Lindvall Regent University