March 11, 2014

"Mummy will make it all better": Boo-boos on Mummy Movie Sets

What can you say about Tutankhamun (King Tut to friends and fans)? He became ruler of Egypt at the age of 9, married his half-sister, erected a bunch of monuments (as Pharaohs liked to do back then), reinstated the god Amun to the top of the divine hierarchy, restored friendly relations with some nearby kingdoms, and then promptly died at the ripe old age of 19. He was buried in a relatively economy-sized tomb (probably because he inconveniently kicked off before something grander was ready) and was promptly forgotten, even by the ancient Egyptians, until he was unearthed by archaeologist Howard Carter and moneyman and English Lord George Herbert in 1922.

Tutankhamun, ruled ca. 1332 BC – 1323 BC
Tutankhamun, King of the Mummies!
Given that we live in a society where the vast majority of us don't know much about history and couldn't find Egypt on a map to save our couch potato lives, it's hard to imagine that the discovery created much of a stir... but it did. It was in all the papers (thanks Egypt, for giving us papyrus!), and artifacts from Tut's tomb have pretty much been traveling around the globe ever since. For those who think about these things, Tutankhamun's spectacular mummy mask is one of the most iconic, recognizable images of ancient Egypt in the world, and will probably stay that way. Pretty good for a skinny boy-king who was the product of incest and suffered from, among other things, Marfan syndrome, Wilson-Turner X-linked mental retardation syndrome, Fröhlich syndrome (adiposogenital dystrophy), Klinefelter syndrome, androgen insensitivity syndrome, aromatase excess syndrome in conjunction with sagittal craniosynostosis syndrome, Antley–Bixler syndrome or one of its variants and temporal lobe epilepsy. (Holy cow!)

But better yet, the frail boy-king is directly responsible for the classic mummy movies that horror film mavens like you and me enjoy to this very day (and no, I'm not talking about those despicable Brendon Fraser CGI abominations). It's pretty much guaranteed that when you put a Pharaonic curse on your tomb, and thousands of years later defilers of that tomb seem to drop like flies not long after raiding it, Hollywood will jump on the story faster than jackals on fresh meat.

For skeptics, here's what happened to the "flies" who defied King Tut's curse (from Wikipedia)
  • Lord Carnarvon, financial backer of the excavation team who was present at the tomb's opening, died on 5 April 1923 after a mosquito bite became infected; he died 4 months and 7 days after the opening of the tomb.
  • George Jay Gould I, a visitor to the tomb, died in the French Riviera on 16 May 1923 after he developed a fever following his visit.
  • Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey of Egypt died 10 July 1923: shot dead by his wife.
  • Colonel The Hon. Aubrey Herbert, MP, Carnarvon's half-brother, became nearly blind and died on 26 September 1923 from blood poisoning related to a dental procedure intended to restore his eyesight.
  • Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid, a radiologist who x-rayed Tutankhamun's mummy, died on 15 January 1924 from a mysterious illness.
  • Alexander King, an American promoter and exhibitor of some of the more valuable artifacts from the tomb, died on 18 October 1924 after being thrown down a flight of steps by a mysterious intruder.
  • Sir Lee Stack, Governor-General of Sudan, died on 19 November 1924: assassinated while driving through Cairo.
  • A. C. Mace, a member of Carter's excavation team, died in 1928 from arsenic poisoning
  • The Hon. Mervyn Herbert, Carnarvon's half brother and the aforementioned Aubrey Herbert's full brother, died on 26 May 1929, reportedly from "malarial pneumonia".
  • Captain The Hon. Richard Bethell, Carter's personal secretary, died on 15 November 1929: found smothered in his bed.
  • Richard Luttrell Pilkington Bethell, 3rd Baron Westbury, father of the above, died on 20 February 1930; he supposedly threw himself off his seventh floor apartment.
  • Howard Carter opened the tomb on 16 February 1923, and died well over a decade later on 2 March 1939; however, some have still attributed his death to the "curse".
Okay, so I embellished the list with a rip-off from Hammer's The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964; know which one?), but it's still impressive in an avenging-bony-spectral-hand-of-death-reaches-out-from-the-tomb kind of way. As they say, truth is often stranger than fiction. Tutankhamun's curse clearly precipitated some of the more enjoyable Universal and Hammer horrors of the 20th century's mid-section. I'm not prepared to say that it's responsible for the mummy movie mishaps listed here, but are you 100% sure it's not?

"He nearly killed me! He took my breath away!"

Poster - The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
Poor Creighton Tull Chaney! The son of the Man of a Thousand faces had big shoes to fill. Born into a tumultuous and fractured show business family, he spent his boyhood years living in an assortment of homes and boarding schools until his remarried (not to mention cold and distant) father could provide a stable home life. Led to believe as a child that his mother was dead, he discovered years later that she was still alive when Lon Sr. died in 1930. Quickly typecast by Universal in monster roles and dubbed Lon Chaney Jr. to take advantage of his father's mystique, Junior rode the long Hollywood slide from celebrated character and leading roles (Of Mice and Men, The Wolf Man) to such micro-budget quickies as Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964) and Al Adamson's execrable Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) at the end. His legendary drinking on the set didn't help.

If in the space of a few short years you'd traded in your dapper leading man's suit and wolf's head cane for the tattered, Fuller's earth-splattered bandages of the mute, shuffling bottom-of-the-bill Mummy, you might have been driven to drink too. And you might even have taken it out on your fellow cast members:
Still from The Mummy's Curse (1944)
"Okay Lon, you can stop now... Lon? Lon!!!"
"In shooting the scene where the Mummy strangles Prof. Norman, Chaney seized actor Frank Reicher's throat 'and squeezed so forcefully that Reicher nearly fainted,' [Director Reginald] LeBorg told us. 'Reicher was an old man and frail, and Chaney got carried away.' Reicher cried out, 'He nearly killed me! He took my breath away!' There is evidence of this in the film itself [The Mummy's Ghost, 1944]: In the few frames where Reicher's face is visible as Chaney chokes him, the pinched expression on the older actor's face looks uncomfortably real.

LeBorg told Greg Mank in Cinefantastique: 'Reicher very nearly was unconscious! He was moaning on the floor... Chaney had just become carried away-- he was putting everything he had into the monster. Luckily, Reicher didn't complain. ... We massaged his neck and gave him some water. But the next day, when I saw him again, I spied a look at Reicher's neck, and you could see he had spots there, from the strangling!'" [Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas, Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946, 2nd. Ed., McFarland, 2007]

Where to find it:
Available on DVD

"Don't worry, it won't hurt your skin..."

Poster - The Mummy's Curse (1944)
Does the name Virginia Christine mean anything to you? (Virginia who?) Well, I'm a big fan, because Virginia represents two of my very favorite things -- mummy movies and coffee. She not only had the privilege of being in one of the creepiest scenes in all of classic horror, but she became the patron saint of coffee drinkers everywhere during her 21 year stint as the kindly Mrs. Olson in Folgers commercials. She was a newly minted starlet in 1944 when she played the revivified Princess Ananka in The Mummy's Curse. And what a way to come back from the dead-- deep in the muck of the Louisiana bayous! I hope there was lots of coffee and other amenities on the set, because few actresses would have put up with what she had to go through:
"We shot the film, and then came the last day of shooting when I change from a mummy to a lovely Egyptian princess. All through the picture, [makeup artist] Jack [Pierce] kept coming on the set, saying, 'I'm using something new on you, Virginia. It's going to be terrific! Don't worry, it won't hurt your skin.' I was very young and 'It won't hurt your skin' began to ring in my ears. I was a basket case the night before shooting. ... I was there at four or five in the morning, and sat in the makeup chair for five-and-one-half hours. He started with pieces of cotton dipped in witch hazel to fill in all the youthful lines. Then, he lined it with an orange stick to make the wrinkles. That had to be dried. And then came the Denver mudpack, and that had to be dried. He worked a little patch at a time. Unfortunately, we made a mistake in wardrobe because we left the arms bare, which meant that the arms had to be done, too, and the hands... every place the skin was exposed. It was a tedious, long process. And, of course the natural thing happened... I had to go to the bathroom.  ...  I couldn't smile, I couldn't laugh. I couldn't talk. And I got the giggles in the john. It was so ridiculous! ...
Virgina Christine as Ananka in The Mummy's Curse (1944)
After 3000 years, Princess Ananka is done with her
mudpack and is ready for a stone massage.
After the full session, they put me in a cart and took me out to the back lot. Very carefully, they dug a hole, my height, right in the dirt. For any big star, they would have sifted the sand and done it on the stage, and had it cleaned. They laid me down in the thing and covered me with burnt cork which photographs like dirt. They turned the hose on so the dried cork got wet and looked like the earth around it. I laid there with this much of me exposed and thought, 'Oh God, how many creepy, crawly things are in this with me?'" [Ibid.]

Where to find it:
Available on DVD

And he never played the Mummy again.

Poster - The Mummy (1959)
If you're a regular reader of this blog (and I hope you are), then you know that Christopher Lee's resume extends far beyond his work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, ol' Chris' film resume is very, very lengthy, extending all the way back to the late 1940s. This man does not know the meaning of the word 'retirement.' Discriminating film buffs are OK with that LOTR CGI-fest stuff, but really appreciate Lee's contributions as the greatest technicolor Dracula of all-time. Like Lon Chaney Jr., who played the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy and Dracula for Universal, Lee was the go-to guy and master of monsters for Hammer's Universal horror reboots, playing the Frankenstein monster and the Mummy for Hammer as well as the immortal Count. Unlike poor Lon Jr., he only played the Mummy once, and that was enough, thank you very much:
Still - Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in The Mummy, 1959
Getting impaled was the least of Christopher Lee's
worries on the set of The Mummy (1959).
"In one sequence, Lee, in Mummy garb, smashes through a door which the production crew had mistakenly locked and bolted. Lee broke through the almost unforgiving door, but the impact dislocated his shoulder. This was not the end of his discomfort. Lee later broke through a window with real glass substituted for the commonly used, and relatively safe, sugar glass. The glass slivers from the collision pierced through his mummy bandages like needles. Lee also had some problems in a scene in which he carried actress Yvonne Furneaux over 80 yards at night. In a Scarlet Street (#8) interview, Lee described the incident.

'That was one of the toughest things, physically, I think I've ever had to do. I did things in that film that Mr. Schwarzenegger might have found difficult to do. I wouldn't have believed that I could literally bend down and lift somebody off the ground, but I did it when somebody said, action! Of course, I pulled all the muscles in my neck and shoulders...' " [John 'J.J.' Johnson, Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties, McFarland, 1996]

Where to find it:
Available on DVD

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