As I stated in the days or yore, I have traveled to blogspot after many moons of posting on wordpress.com! Thus doth the Lone Fan decree, my older work should not be neglected the fair fields of blogspot.com! This shall be the first in a series of reposts! Today I do herein present two interviews once taken from mystery writer Dwight Kemper! The first of these I posted on June 7, 2010! Enoy!!!
DWIGHT KEMPER FRAMED BORIS KARLOFF
by Mark Morgan Jr.
Boris Karloff is a figure who certainly needs no introduction.As the man in the monster makeup from Universal Studio’s classic horror film ‘Frankenstein’, Karloff made a name for himself, and continued to play monsters, mummies, and mad scientists throughout the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and beyond.However, I wonder how many of us have heard of Dwight Kemper?
I first met Dwight many years ago in the darkest wilds of the internet.Already an accomplished playwright and film critic, Dwight had founded a fan fiction page based on a popular cartoon series called “The Powerpuff Girls”.It was a site where aspiring authors could submit stories for review.The established series gave each writer a familiar cast of characters to work from and unlike so many other fan fiction pages, which post stories at random, Dwight read each one and only the best efforts were allowed in his online library.This screening process taught each member what it was like to write under an editor, and through constructive criticism, he helped them identify their weaknesses and improve their strengths.
Almost five years have past since I first communicated with Dwight.He’s become a teacher and a friend, as well as one of my favorite writers.During this time, he’s added another credit to his name, with the publication of a mystery book entitled ‘Who Framed Boris Karloff?’.
The book takes place during the filming of “Son of Frankenstein”, which was the third installment of the Frankenstein series and the last with Boris as the monster.As the plot unfolds, Boris Karloff is framed for murder.The crime is quickly covered up by the studio producers, who don’t want to lose one of their premier stars.Boris realizes that the killer must have counted on that fact and framed him to cover his tracks.Now Boris is hot on the case; aided by fellow co-stars Bela Lugosi (of Dracula fame) and Basil Rathbone (famous for playing Sherlock Holmes).The book is a mix of comedy and suspense, with enough true Hollywood facts and scandals to satisfy even the most ravenous film buff.
The book was released last year by Midnight Marquee Press (http://www.midmar.com).Since that time Mr. Kemper has been busy and now he has two new books slated for release sometime in late 2008/early 2009.One is entitled ‘Bela Lugosi and The House of Doom’, and serves as a sequel to his first novel.The other is entitled ‘Bela Lugosi’s Final Curtain’ and it is a standalone project that centers on the death of Hollywood’s first, best Count Dracula.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Kemper last week and got a chance to talk to him about these three books as well as another upcoming project that will be mentioned later on.I hope you enjoy this talk as much as I did.
Mark:Good Morning, Dwight.
Mark: I think I’d like to start off with a straightforward question.What gave you the idea for “Who Framed Boris Karloff”?
Dwight:What gave me the idea was the same photograph I have in the first chapter of my book; a picture of Boris Karloff in full monster makeup, cutting a birthday cake on the set of ‘Son of Frankenstein’.Some people might have looked at that and said, “Oh very cute.Boris Karloff in a monster costume and Bela Lugosi as Ygor, and Basil Rathbone and the director and they’re having a little party on the set of ‘Son of Frankenstein.’”But to me, it looked like something very awful had happened on that set.They’re about to discover something.No, this is just the calm before the storm.So that got my twisted imagination going and thinking about somebody being murdered on the set and Boris being blamed for the crime.As for the format of taking real people and putting them into a mystery setting, there were actually a bunch of books published back in the forties by MGM and they took their starlets, people like Judy Garland and Alice Faye put them in these, not murder mystery, but mystery books similar to the Nancy Drew books.There was something like “Alice Faye and The Case of The Haunted Stair Case” and others titles like that. So I decided to take that idea and put it into a murder mystery setting.As an old Hollywood nut, I tried to get as many real people into a fictional story as I could.
Mark:You’ve actually answered my next question.I was going to ask you why you chose Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Basil Rathbone in particular, but the photograph was your main inspiration for that cast, I would assume.
Dwight:Oh yes, because what’s great is that it not only gave me the people, it also gave me the setting.And when you have the setting, you have your time period and you have your suspects and it pretty much writes itself almost.All you have to do is find a publisher who’ll go along with it.The only problem that I faced is that ‘Son of Frankenstein’ is not that well documented as far as production notes.I tried to get them from the UCLA film library and I got no response.The only source material I had was watching the DVD a hundred times and studying every single frame of it, trying to figure our where would this be, where would that be. There’s also a book by Gregory William Mink.It’s part of the Universal Film Scripts series, concerning ‘Son of Frankenstein’. It has the script that was abandoned as well as different production photographs, little articles and things like that.So that was really the only source that I had for writing my book.
Mark:Let me ask you about Sara Karloff.I know that she wrote the introduction to the book and she really seemed to like the novel.I know Bela Lugosi has a son who’s still living.Did you make any effort to contact him and let him look over your material?
Dwight: Sara was the one I contacted, because I already knew her.We had actually met on the internet.She has a site called Karloff.com.It’s a place where you can find Boris Karloff merchandise, and if you have an idea for merchandising and so forth you can contact Karloff Enterprises to discuss it.I had a tape that someone gave me; in fact it was one of our Powerpuff Girl associates, Rhodescholar.(Rhodescholar is the pen name of a fan fiction writer who is a member of Dwight’s fan fiction page)She had sent me a tape of both the Jack Benny and Spike Jones radio shows where Boris Karloff was a guest and I noticed on a list of radio shows that were on Sara Karloff’s website, they didn’t have these episodes on them.So I contacted her and said I have these radio shows on tape and I’ll make you a copy.She asked how much I wanted for them and I said, “Well I don’t want anything for them.First of all it’s just a copy that someone gave to me.It’s just a copy of a copy and I have no property ownership of them.And secondly your father gave me so much entertainment over the years, as far as I’m concern it’s paid in full.”I gave Sara Karloff the tape and she sent me a thank you card and then we started corresponding and then I had this idea for the book.I wrote to her and I told her what my idea was, and she got really enthusiastic about it, and the next thing I knew I started writing it and sending her chaptersSara was sort of convalescing at the time because she had just had gallbladder surgery, and she was laid up.It was sort of a way to keep her entertained, and while she read my chapters, she would give me feedback about anything that went on at the time that she was told about, and she helped me with her Dad’s character.For instance, there’s a scene where Boris is puttering in his garden and he’s kind of preoccupied because of the problems in the book.But when I originally wrote it he was extremely angry, but Sara told me that he wouldn’t really be angry, because he tended to brood.So I rewrote it to reflect that.Her input made the book more realistic.And she also told me something I didn’t know, that her mother was actually laid up in the hospital for one or two weeks with an infection after giving birth and that became an important plot point of the book, and also brought in Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital which is where Sara’s mother, Dorothy Karloff would actually be at this time.
Mark:Where did you get your research material for personality information?You’ve told me where you got your feedback on Boris, but what about Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi?Where did you go to get an idea of what they were like and how they would react?
Dwight: Bela Lugosi has filmed interviews, some very early interviews that showed up as extras on some DVDs of his movies.These were from 1932 or 1933.Then there are several that were filmed in his later life.These along with a number of biographies which I mention at the end of the book, are the source material for his personality.I don’t know if he was really as sarcastic or as quick with a comeback as I made him, but he seemed to want to be that way, and he became my favorite character.
Mark:He was actually my favorite character too.I loved the fact that you made him as gutsy as he was.
Dwight:He was a very proud man and I wanted to show that and do it in a way that would be very ‘Old World’.According to several of his ex-wives, he was very controlling and domineering, so I figured he would be that way if the situation called for it.
Mark:I want to ask you one more question before we go on to Rathbone.In the book you made Lugosi sort of a lecher.Were there any famous affairs or scandals where any of his marriages were concerned?
Dwight:Oh yes!Oh my god, yes.As a matter of fact, as I mentioned in the book he had a big painting of a nude Clara Bow on his wall that Clara had posed for and had presented to him.One of the actors from the stage play “Dracula” said that Bela came into his dressing room, took off his shirt, and showed him all the bite marks on his back, and he would say, “They’re from Clara.”So, Clara Bow was his big hot number. Then there was a recollection by one of the young ladies who worked with him, you can see her interview on the DVD “Lugosi: Hollywood’s Dracula,” when Bela was with the Road Company production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” She said that she was getting into her costume and at one point she could feel Bela Lugosi’s lips on her back, and he said to her, “I would like you to tour with me, but of course, you would have to be my baby.”He was quite a character.There were a number of affairs that he had had.In fact, one of his female co-stars from the stage version of “Dracula” said that he hugged her so hard that he broke her ribs.
Mark:Wow.We can move on to Basil Rathbone now?Where did you get your information for his personality and moods?
Dwight:Basil Rathbone has an autobiography called “In and Out of Character” and that was my key source of information.In some ways, in order to make him more Sherlockian, I sort of glossed over the fact that in his later life he actually became quite superstitious and believe in psychic phenomena.The next book I’ll be working on, “Basil Rathbone and the Curse of Conan Doyle,” will actually touch on that more.Aside from “In And Out Of Character” there are some DVD extras in “Robin Hood” where he played Sir Guy of Gisborne. It shows some behind-the-scene stuff where he seems very serious.There’s actually one point where he’s trying on different helmets for a costume change and looking rather vexed while he’s doing it.I derived some of his character from the behind the scenes shots.
Mark:I know from things that I’ve read that he later came to regret his association with the Sherlock Holmes movies.Is any of that going to factor into the “Curse of Conan Doyle”?
Dwight:Oh yeah.That’s why it’s called the curse of Conan Doyle, because he considers there’s something of a curse in it.It’s going to take place during a disastrous attempt to bring Sherlock Holmes to the stage.Basil actually did a stage production of Sherlock Holmes that his wife wrote with the assistance of the Conan Doyle estate and Adrian Conan Doyle, the son of Arthur Conan Doyle.By the way, I didn’t know this, but apparently Basil Rathbone’s father and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually fought together and knew each other in the service.So you never know about these things.Maybe they were destined to be entwined in one way or another.
Mark:I’m a huge Holmes fan.I’ve read every single short story, novel or essay I can get my hands on from Conan Doyle concerning Holmes.There are times, particularly at the end of the book when Rathbone is racing through Billie Bennett’s brothel in hunt of the killer that I really got this Sherlockian thrill, where you could see that character taking over.Was that intentional or was that something that just happened?
Dwight:It was intentional because at the time of the book, he’s only just played Sherlock Holmes the one time, in the “Hound of the Baskervilles”.And he had just finished it.So it would have been very fresh in his mind and it would not have been something that he had grown tired of.So as an actor in a situation where he has to perform as a real detective, the character of Sherlock Holmes would naturally be what Basil would draw upon.
Mark:Moving on to a somewhat more technical question, Frank Dietz painted the cover for your book.I understand he’s something of a name where covers are concerned.Were you familiar with his work prior to the novel?
Dwight:Yes, I was.I have visited his website many times and drooled over his paintings.I wanted to get one, one day.Now I have one and it’s my book cover.How he came to be involved happened through my publisher and through the Monster Kids Message Board on yuku.When we did the press release for the book, Frank Dietz, a member of the Monster Kids Message Board, said, “Gee, I’d like to do a book cover for or illustrate something like that.”So my publisher got in touch with him.Next thing you know, Frank Dietz is doing the cover of ‘Who Framed Boris Karloff?’.
Mark:He’ll also be doing the cover for your forthcoming release, “Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom” correct?
Dwight:Yes he will.He’s busy working on a movie right now, but he assures me that the cover is going to be something I’ll really be crazy about.As it happens, the book takes place during the shooting of “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein”, and that is one of his favorite movies.It seems to be a perfect blending of cover artist and story.
Mark: Let’s talk a little bit about the photographs in ‘Who Framed Boris Karloff?’.Where did they come from?There are some wonderful, wonderful pictures scattered all throughout your book.
Dwight:Those were made by Susan Svehla, and basically what they are, are Photoshop photo collages.Some of them are real pictures, like the photo of Boris in his monster makeup cutting the birthday cake, but others are complete constructs.What we’re doing with the next book, there’s an artists who’s supposed to be illustrating it.
Mark: I’m assuming your title was inspired by “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”Was that meant as an homage to the movie or the book?
Dwight:Well, the book was called “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?”.
Mark:That’s correct.I’m sorry, I forgot about that.
Dwight:Which I’ve read, by the way.The reason that the title came about, originally “Who Framed Boris Karloff?” started out as a Halloween murder mystery show at the Sherwood Inn.It was being done through Broome Community College and in the college catalogue I wanted a really catchy title.It seemed best to name it something pun-inspired like “Who Framed Boris Karloff?” (So, the short answer is, yes, it’s a play on the Roger Rabbit movie title).When it came time to convert it from a 90 minute crime scene murder mystery to a novel, the two stories were completely differentThe only thing that remained was the fact that Boris Karloff was the murder suspect.I told my publisher, “It’s kind of a joke title. Do you still want it, or do you want me to come up with something else?”He said, “No, ‘Who Framed Boris Karloff?’ sounds great.”
Mark:Let’s talk about your next book.You’ve written two books about Bela Lugosi, which are “Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom” and “Bela Lugosi’s Final Curtain”.Are they both still scheduled to come out some time in the next year?
Dwight:Yes.In fact, I’m sitting here, right now, with a box that contains the manuscript to “Bela Lugosi’s Final Curtain”.I’ll tell you how this happened.I wrote “Who Framed Boris Karloff?” and then I started working on “Final Curtain”, which when I first wrote it was titled “Dead Wood”, which was again based on a mystery play that I did for Halloween.It took place at Bela Lugosi’s funeral and I called it “Dead Wood” because he had been working with Ed Wood at the time.“Dead Wood” for a murdered Ed Wood, it just seemed like a funny title.Unfortunately since then, HBO started a series that was also called Deadwood, so I had to change it. Anyway, I was writing “Final Curtain” as a standalone book because I had no idea if “Who Framed Boris Karloff?” would ever be published. It was still a manuscript collecting rejection slips that my former literary agent was shopping around. Since then, I’ve added hints in “Final Curtain” that allude to things that keep continuity without outright mentioning incidents from the other books, mostly so I don’t write myself into a corner when it comes time to begin work on “Curse of Conan Doyle.”
Mark:There’s a story I’ve heard about Lugosi’s funeral. I was wondering if you included it in your book.Lugosi had requested to be buried in his Dracula cape, and apparently, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price were in the crowd at the funeral.When they approached the coffin, Peter leaned over to Vincent and said, “Hey, Vincent.Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart, just to be sure?”
Dwight:I’ve heard that story.It gets retold a variety of different ways.In one scenario it’s Boris Karloff and Vincent Price or it’s Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, or it’s Peter and Vincent or it’s all three of them together.It never happened.I do mention it in my book.If you’d like, I can read you the passage.
Mark:Really?That would be great!
Dwight:This is from Chapter 17 and it starts with, “The Curtain rose at 1:30 pm.A long line formed down the street as mourners arrived for the final viewing hours.A popular anecdote claimed that Boris Karloff had attended a showing with fellow boogeyman Peter Lorre.As they passed Lugosi’s body, Lorre was said to have joked, ‘Come on now, Bela.You’re putting us on.’Actually neither Mr. Karloff nor Mr. Lorre was in attendance, which was a pity because they missed a hell of a show.”So that’s how I actually allude to that.
Mark:As I understand it, the story in “Final Curtain” is being told by Criswell, the television psychic, who was, among other things, famous for appearing in Ed Wood’s films.Most notably, he was the narrator in ‘Plan Nine from Outer Space’.
Dwight:Criswell, full name Charles Criswell King, is in fact the detective in this story with Forrest J Ackerman, who at the time was a literary agent, but later became the publisher of “Famous Monsters of Film Land” magazine.He’s in it and so is Ray Bradbury.
Dwight:It’s because Bradbury and Ackerman were buddies and they hung out together, so it only seemed natural that Ray Bradbury would be in my book too.There are a lot of people from Ed Wood’s collection of friends, plus Lugosi’s family and his ex-wife who was the widow at the time.This book basically takes all of the legends and myths and facts and puts them all into a blender and then puts a murder mystery in it as well.So everything that’s become folklore about the funeral, including that the funeral procession inexplicably detoured by way of Hollywood and Vine, which was in the opposite direction of where they had to go for the burial, is made part of the plot and in my book there’s actually a reason for it.That’s in “Bela Lugosi’s Final Curtain”.Now, talking about my other book, “Bela Lugosi and The House of Doom,” it’s going to be a lot more accurate. Whereas before with “Who Framed Boris Karloff?” I did not have a lot of background information to work with except for a couple of books, this time I had access to all of Universal Studios production reports, thanks to Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo, who were the authors of “Abbott and Costello In Hollywood”.They heard about my book, again through the Monster Kids Message Board, and Bob Furmanek invited me to his house and he let me have a look at all of his files as well as seeing raw footage from all of the outtakes from “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and he let me flip through all of his still photos and things like that.So this book is going to be as bulletproof and authentic as humanly, conceivably possible.Ron Palumbo was able to get me production reports so that I would know exactly who was late on what day, at what time, and how many takes they did, and what the take numbers were, and what stages were used for what sets at what time.It was great!They gave me so much information that now my publisher thinks maybe I’ve got too many facts crowded in the story.
Mark:There’s no such thing as too many facts for a film buff, I mean come on.
Dwight:I know.They’re reading it now, and I’ve got things like street names for the studio, which I could only allude to before, but now I’ve found maps to the old Universal Studios which by the way, if you use new Universal Studios maps they have no bearing on old Universal Studios maps.The place has been rebuilt several times.Only the very first few buildings and stages on the lot are from the old days, and all the stages have since been renumbered. But an article that Ron gave me, one he had written for the A & C Fan Club Newsletter, gave me all the pertinent details about that. This book is as authentic as its going to get.
Mark:This is my biggest question concerning your book.Unlike “Bela Lugosi’s Final Curtain” which is a standalone, ‘House Of Doom’ is the sequel to “Who Framed Boris Karloff?”.I know that Lugosi will be back, I mean obviously his name is in the title, but will we see Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in this one, as well?
Dwight:Yes, but the situation is going to be that Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone are up to something, but they won’t let Bela in on it.Which tee’s off Bela Lugosi incredibly, and causes him to investigate what they are trying to keep from him, which involves all manner of things including kidnapping, murder, and espionage.It’s going to be quite a juicy mystery for Bela Lugosi to solve, with Lou Costello as his Watson.
Mark:If Lou Costello is a main player, I’m not only going to buy it, I’m probably going to buy two or three copies.
Dwight:Lou Costello is a main player.So’s Bud Abbott.Much of the information I uncovered on them is not only from years of watching Abbott and Costello stuff, but I had to actually get to know the real Abbott and Costello.So watching documentaries and reading books helped me; particularly “Lou’s On First” by Chris Costello which gives you a very intimate portrait of Lou Costello.I had this problem of balancing the real Lou Costello with his comedy persona.The comedy persona that you see on screen and the comedy persona that you see in outtakes, because despite what people have said to the contrary, Lou could get very crass if he wanted to.In several takes he’s obviously trying to do and say things to shock his female co-stars.At the time this book is taking place, I also had to deal with the real life tragedy of the drowning of Lou Costello’s only son, Butch.This was a very delicate thing to do, but my publisher thinks that the scenes that I’ve written involving the discussion of Butch are some of the best work I’ve ever done.
Mark:That’s a very high compliment.I’m a huge fan of yours, going back to your fan fictions on the Powerpuff Girls Fan Fic Page.Particularly the story ‘Bubble Duty’, which was both a Superman crossover and tribute to Christopher Reeve. It was very respectful of him and very well written, and as it turned out, very funny at the same time.
Dwight:Thank you.That was one of the ones that just sort of flowed out of me.In regard to “House of Doom”,my publisher says that I’ve obviously improved with my skills as a novelist, hopefully not implying that my first novel was crap.He said that my characterizations in this novel were some of the most spot on characterizations that he’s ever seen.He particularly likes what I’ve done with Bela Lugosi.At this time, Bela is in the throes of his addiction to morphine, his marriage is kind of shaky, he’s having tantrums on the set, and he’s also very weary of the outbreaks of pie fights and seltzer fights that are likely to happen on an Abbott and Costello picture.For fans of “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” the opening scene of Chapter One in “House of Doom” takes place during the filming of one of my favorite bloopers.Bela Lugosi is coming down a staircase, and he’s supposed to be saying “How careless.You should be careful.A person could get killed that way.”And as he’s saying this line, a figure is skulking behind him in a cape and a Mr. Hyde mask.It’s comic Bobby Barber.As it turned out from my research, this was the first take after Bela Lugosi was an hour late getting to the studio.After having an hour of rehearsal, this was the first take and it really upset him and there were like seven or eight takes after this and it kind of threw him off and apparently it took quiet a while to get this one simple shot.While Bela was an hour late on this day, two of his co-stars, Lenore Aubert and Jane Randolph, were half an hour late, and in this book I have an explanation for why they were late.
Mark:One of the best features in “Who Framed Boris Karloff?”, in my mind at least, was “A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating or Separating Fact From Fiction” which was the appendix you had in the back, where you told the reader what was real and what was just made up for the novel.Will we have something similar to that in “House of Doom”?
Dwight:Yes, it will be called, “Who’s On First: Separating Fact from Fiction on the Way to Third Base”.
Mark:I’m assuming Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone won’t play as big a part in the sequel as they did in your first book.Is that a good assumption or am I way off?
Dwight:As it’s written right now, they’re kind of background characters.If my publisher wants me to bring them to the fore, I’ll have to write some chapters to show what they’re doing.I’d like to keep them in the background, because I think it’s better if you discover what’s really going on along with Bela Lugosi.It really depends on what my publisher wants to do.(NOTE: Since this interview, the publisher has decided to leave things as is). The whole gist of my idea is, what if you had a James Bond story, but not from James Bond’s point of view.Bela’s looking for his kidnapped wife and son and keeps coming across other things which lead to a very Bondian style climax.
Mark:Is there anything else you can tell me about the book?
Dwight:I will also say this.In “Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom”, we are going to meet a member of Boris Karloff’s family.In fact, the research for this was provided to me by a chap named Stephen Jacobs who has a book coming out called, “Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster”.It’s going to be put out by Tomahawk Press.He’s doing a biography of Boris Karloff, including all six of his brothers.He gave me a lot of research material about some of Boris Karloff’s brothers in the consul service; which will figure prominently in this upcoming story.
Mark:I really just have one more question:I know this is several years in the future, but when we finally get the third installment of your series, “Basil Rathbone and The Curse of Conan Doyle” will we actually see Karloff and Lugosi in that novel or will you go into a completely different cast?
Dwight:I definitely know Lugosi’s going to be in it.This is still in the very early stages.You know sometimes you have a book and you don’t have a title, and sometimes you have a title and you don’t have a book?At first, I had a really cool title and a vague idea.I now have a very solid idea of what that book is about.Right now I know definitely that Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi are going to be involved in it.I don’t know about Boris Karloff.Maybe, but I’m not sure.I really like the antagonism that Bela and Basil seem to have for each other that figures prominently in “Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom”.I have different ideas for scenes and I don’t know if I’ll use them in “The Curse of Conan Doyle” or another book.I have this vision of an opening scene that takes place at Holy Cross Cemetery where an aged Boris Karloff and an aged Basil Rathbone have been asked to open a letter at the grave of Bela Lugosi.I don’t know if I’m going to use it in “Curse of Conan Doyle” or not.I’m not really sure yet.
Mark:Dwight, I want to thank you for talking with me today.You’ve given me some great tidbits about your upcoming projects and I look forward to reading them in the future.
For those interested, ‘Who Framed Boris Karloff?” can be purchased at:
Dwight Kemper’s fanfic page is located at:
The Monster Kids Message Board can be accessed at:
And please feel free to visit Karloff.com at, well, where else?
And once again, Stephen Jacobs book “Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster” can be found at:
Dwight Kemper is a mystery writer, critic, and playwright living in New York.
My Second meeting with Mr. Kemper yeilded many more facts! By all means enjoy this next reposted article:
THE HOUSE (OF DOOM) THAT DWIGHT KEMPER BUILT
by Mark Morgan
Mystery Author and Playwright Dwight Kemper speaks about his new book
Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom
In August of 2008 I was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with Dwight Kemper about his new book, a star studded murder mystery featuring some of the biggest names of Hollywood as its sleuths, called Who Framed Boris Karloff.
Back then, Mr. Kemper mentioned he was already working on a sequel which would feature Bela Lugosi in a prominent role. A year has passed and Dwight's new book Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom is here. Mr. Kemper has kindly consented to answer a few of my questions.
Mark: Good evening Dwight. How are you?
Dwight: Typing on a computer at 2:30 in the morning, thank you.
Mark: Let’s talk about your new book Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom. You mentioned this project to me when I interviewed you last year. Now that I’ve had a chance to actually read it, I have to say I’m rather impressed. To get things started, let’s go right for the jugular, as it were. Why Bela Lugosi? This is a sequel to your first book Who Framed Boris Karloff, which starred Boris Karloff, of course, with Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone as his helpers. So why shift the focus onto Bela and away from Karloff? And for that matter, if you were going to shift the focus, what made you choose Bela Lugosi over Basil Rathbone?
Dwight: Firstly, when I was writing Who Framed Boris Karloff, I found that Bela Lugosi as a character was fun to write for. He was funny and angry and the loose cannon detective of the partnership. So when it came time to write the next book, Lugosi was my first choice. Secondly, the setting of the mystery, the making of Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, it seemed like a great opportunity to go deeper into his character. Also, while I was writing the Karloff book, I was working on a second book dealing with Lugosi’s death and his time with Ed Wood and company. So Lugosi was definitely on my mind.
Mark: This story fits in nicely as a sequel to your first book Who Framed Boris Karloff , despite that it’s a very different type of story all together. WFBK felt a lot like a Universal Horror picture in terms of its mood and subject matter. At the time the story takes place Karloff was still making Universal Pictures. Your new book, however, reflects the over- the-top narrative of the types of Poverty Row science fiction films that Bela was making during the period this tale takes place. Was that always a goal to have your books reflect the kind of stories that the main stars of your series were engaged in at the time?
Dwight: Exactly! Each book will reflect the times and the works of the protagonists. In the case of House of Doom, we have Lugosi’s Poverty Row pictures, his Universal serial pictures, as well as the films and careers of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. There are moments that reflect not only their Universal comedies, but their Burlesque and Vaudeville days. My next novel, “Bela Lugosi and the Final Curtain,” deals with 1950’s Hollywood and the world of filmmakers who never achieved mainstream success. It’s a grittier novel, and in many ways reflects the kind of sex and violence potboilers Ed Wood wrote in his later career. It’s also pretty damn funny in spots, sad in others.
Mark: What were the challenges presented in taking such a drastic jump in subject matter? Not only that, was it easy to maintain the same characterization of the main characters following the change of subject matter?
Dwight: Well, as far as characterization, you have to realize that Lugosi in this book is older, he’s had many, many career disappointments, he’s deep into his drug addiction to pain killers, his marriage is heading for the rocks, it’s a time of desperation and stormy emotions. I was challenged to reflect that and show character development, while at the same time making sure the story was entertaining. The other challenge was getting all the details right, and that’s where Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo, the authors of Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, came in. They heard that I was writing this book and they very generously offered to help. Bob invited me to his home and gave me access to all of his files dealing with the making of Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. He also had all the outtakes from that film on DVD. Ron had scene reports and told me when and where all of the scenes were shot. I knew who was paid what, what costumes were worn, who was late, who was on time, everything I needed to write the book. He also wrote an article for the Abbott and Costello Fan Club Newsletter about which soundstages were used to shoot what scenes. I can safely say that without Bob and Ron’s help, the book probably couldn’t have been written.
Mark: Taking a step back from the book itself, I know you’re a huge Universal fan. Do you have the same love for the lesser known movies of the Poverty Row circuit?
Dwight: Well, yes and no. Some of those films are in the so bad they’re good category. Some of them make no bloody sense whatsoever, things just happen. There’s even a movie where some guy warns people not to go down certain streets to keep them from getting killed, and when the hero asks who he is, he replies that he’s the writer of the movie! Lugosi starred in a movie called Bowery At Midnight, a crazy mix of crime drama and zombies. Yes, Lugosi plays a racketeer with zombies in his basement. Tom Weaver wrote a great book called Poverty Row Horrors! and it was one of the first things I read to prepare for a Lugosi centric story. I was originally going to set the story at the making of one of these low budget thrillers, but felt more at home at Universal Studios. Like they say, “write what you know.” But my research didn’t go to waste, I was able to refer to the Poverty Row AND set my story on a Universal film.
Mark: What are your feelings and views on Poverty Row pictures in general? What do like and/or dislike about them?
Dwight: I pretty much answered that. They’re like the little girl with a curl on her forehead, when they’re good they’re very good like Bluebeard and The Lady and the Monster and when they’re bad, they’re horrid; Spooks Run Wild.
Mark: Would you mind listing a few of your favorite Poverty movies as well as a few of your least favorite? Why are they?
Dwight: Favorites: John Carradine in Bluebeard. It’s a great role and a well written script. I really liked Eric Von Stroheim in The Lady and the Monster, the Poverty Row’s adaptation of Donavan’s Brain. Least favorite, that would have to be Spooks Run Wild, a terribly un-funny Bowery Boys comedy with a slumming Bela Lugosi. The jokes fall flat and the pace is awful.
Mark: Another plot point I wanted to ask you about was the Ice Machine. One of the characters in your book, a former Nazi no less, invents an icemaker. Is there any truth to this? I mean, did you throw that in for effect, or did you research the development of that appliance and incorporate it into your book?
Dwight: Lou Costello really did invest a lot of money in an ice machine, but it wasn’t the invention of a Nazi scientist. I remember once seeing a short on TCM where Costello was demonstrating the ice maker. There is a story in Chris Costello’s book, Lou’s On First that alleges during one demonstration the ice machine shot ice cubes out like a machine gun. I find that story somewhat apocryphal since the mechanism Lou Costello demonstrated in the documentary used a small conveyor belt of ice trays to make the ice and there was no actual way the cubes could have shot out anywhere. But it’s a good story. That was my inspiration for the ice maker.
Mark: One of the things I really loved about this book was your inclusion of Lou Costello as Bela’s sidekick and your use of Bud Abbott as a secondary character. Why did you choose them for this book? What was the draw?
Dwight: Well, they’re my favorite comedy team next to Laurel and Hardy and an outtake from Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein inspired the opening scene to Chapter One, the scene where Lugosi comes down the stairs and his scene is interrupted by Bobby Barber.
Mark: Did you have any difficulties writing either Bud or Lou?
Dwight: It took a lot of research. I know Bud and Lou as their characters. But off stage they were very different people. Bud was very quiet and an alcoholic, no doubt drinking to deal with his epilepsy, and Lou could be very volatile, especially since the death of his only son Butch. And when he wasn’t raging at someone he was very quiet and reserved. I could see this part of his personality on Ralph Edward’s This Is Your Life. Lou looks like a deer caught in headlights. Still, he manages to sink a basket on the first try. I had to find a balance between the real people and their comedy personas. I think I managed to do that. Chris Costello herself said I was spot on when it came to my portrayal of her dad in his more impish as well as his angry moments.
Mark: What made you decided to give Lou Costello a starring role and regulate his partner, Bud Abbott, to a supporting role?
Dwight: Lou was easier to give a lead role to. Bud Abbott, as I already said, is kind of quiet. He’s a natural straight man, the best in the business, but he does the set up. Lou does the follow through. Duos are easier to write for than trios, and I liked the early scenes I wrote with Lugosi and Costello.
Mark: One of the main subplots of your book was about the real life death of Lou Costello’s infant son, Butch. How did you conduct your research into this real life tragedy?
Dwight: Chris Costello went into great detail about it in Lou’s on First. She brought up the mystery of Butch’s knees not being scraped and how it haunted the family that if the baby crawled out of his crib and drowned in the swimming pool, why weren’t they scraped? I think my solution is the most logical and straightforward explanation. And really, You can’t deal with Lou Costello and his motivations during that period without bringing up the baby’s drowning. It consumed Lou Costello and the family.
Mark: At the end, Bela Lugosi offers a possible explanation for Butch’s mysterious death. How did you arrive at the conclusion Bela offered and had that theory ever been suggested before the publication of this book?
Dwight: I haven’t read anyone else coming up with that explanation, but when you factor in the sock found near the pool, the fact that Anne Costello was buying a stroller for Butch, which in that period, a stroller was a rig to hold a baby upright so he can learn to walk sooner, and that there were no scrapes on Butch’s knees, well the conclusion that I arrived at was rather obvious, don’t you think?
Mark: You dealt a lot with Communism in Hollywood or suspected communism at any rate. You wrote Lou Costello, in particular, to be a patriotic firebrand. Was any of that based on actual fact, or did you just decide to play him that way?
Dwight: Yes, that was based on actual fact. Chris Costello deals with it in her book. During a recent radio interview we did for my local NPR, she said that if her dad had lived long enough, he probably would have been embarrassed by his behavior when it came to his McCarthyism. She made mention that while she was writing her book Lucille Ball told her that when she was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee and blacklisted, Lou Costello came to her door and gave her his full support, telling her that he didn’t believe a word of it. He was the only one in Hollywood with the guts to do that. Now that took guts.
Mark: Let’s talk about Bobby Barber. He’s mentioned in your book as a sort of prankster that Lou Costello hired to keep from getting bored. How did you research Mr. Barber’s character, and did you exaggerate him for the novel?
Dwight I didn't have to exaggerate anything about Bobby. Chris Costello's portrayal of Bobby in her father's biography, "Lou's On First" was my main reference source. As far as I know, he never gave an interview. At least, I couldn't dig up any. There were also various "Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein" outtakes of Bobby as well as several production stills with Bobby, including one with Lou introducing him to his doghouse. He also made appearances on The Abbott and Costello Show. Using these various sources it was pretty easy to piece together Bobby's character. He also has a cameo in Meet Frankenstein. He's the waiter that Lon Chaney asks if he's seen Chick Young or Wilbur Gray. "Seen them? I don't even know them," was Bobby's line. He and Lou were friends until the end of Lou's life.
Mark: In your book, you said Eddie Mannix had a portable radio telephone in the trunk of his car. Was this a real device and was he really one of the first people to test this product?
Dwight: The product is real; the bit about Mannix being one of the first to test it is fiction. You’d be surprised how old many of our “modern” devices really are. Frankly, I originally introduced the radio telephone because I was getting tired of inventing ways of getting people to a convenient telephone booth. And as it turned out, the device came in handy for a very important plot point or two.
Mark: You wrote a lot about a portion of the Universal back lot being put up for sale. Did that ever happen, or was it just something you used for your book?
Dwight: Oh yes, they really did try to sell off some of the property. That was the fate of the M-G-M back lot. If it hadn’t been for studio tours, Universal would probably have followed suit.
Mark: Concerning Lon Chaney Jr. in your book, he makes a rather disgruntled statement to the effect Abbott and Costello are making laughing stocks of the monsters. Did he feel that way in real life?
Dwight: Yes he did. He thought the Abbott and Costello comedies turned the monsters into buffoons and ruined the franchise.
Mark: You introduced your readers to real life relative of Boris Karloff: his brother Richard Septimus Pratt. What sort of research did you do on him for the book?
Dwight: Sara Karloff, Boris’s daughter, introduced me to a writer in England named Stephen Jacobs who is writing a book for Tomahawk Press entitled Boris Karloff, More Than a Monster. He had newspaper clippings, photos, and other information about Boris’s siblings that became vital to my research. I told him why I needed a brother (there were six brothers) and who did he think would best suit my purpose. Jacobs came up with Richard Septimus. He was named Septimus for being the seventh son. And I thought the name was cool, it was allegedly the first name of Dr. Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein.
Mark: Will Richard be showing up in any of your future books?
Dwight: I’d like to do something with him again at some point. He was fun to write for. He’s not in my latest finished manuscript, though. It would have to be a special story. Maybe he’ll make an appearance in Basil Rathbone and the Curse of Conan Doyle. We’ll have to see. So far I haven’t gotten any fan letters about him. They’re all about Lugosi and Costello.
Mark: Do you have plans to include any other members of Mr. Karloff’s family in any future projects?
Dwight: I asked Sara if she wouldn’t mind taking on a Nancy Drew role in my next book. The plot of Curse of Conan Doyle takes place in the sixties, when Boris and Basil are elderly and may need younger helpers to do the footwork for them, similar to Nero Wolfe, where Archie Goodwin did all the footwork for the obese detective.
Mark: I think probably the most interesting original character in the book was the lady spy Madame Z. Do you have any future plans for her as well?
Dwight: That depends on the readers. Personally, I would love to do more stories with her. She was fun to write for.
Mark: I was pleasantly surprised to see that D.W. Griffith made a cameo. What made you decide to include him?
Dwight: Because he really did live at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel and he also represented Old Hollywood. There were echoes of Old Hollywood all through the book, referring of course to the silent film days. Lon Chaney, Sr. is mentioned, as well as director Eric Von Stroheim.
Mark: Out of curiosity, what are your views on Griffith, his life and works?
Dwight: He was brilliant. He invented most of the camera moves and set ups that are still used to this day. Before Griffith, movies were shot as photographed stage plays. He took cinematography to the next level. And despite the obvious racisms of Birth of a Nation, making the KKK heroes, Griffith was a Southerner who was a product of his time. It’s still a brilliant film.
Mark: I was literally surprised and quite amused with the villain of your book when he was finally revealed. What made you decide to cast Erich Von Stroheim as the story’s heavy?
Dwight: His career and Lugosi’s were quite parallel to each other. They both had meteoric early careers and their personalities and circumstances led to their downfall. In the case of Von Stroheim, it was his extravagance as a director that nearly bankrupted the studio. He was a tyrant as a director and he loved to make up stories about himself, like that he slept on black silk sheets. He was a genius at publicity that way.
Mark: Let’s talk about the illustrations in your novel for a moment. You drew all of them yourself, correct?
Dwight: Everything but the cover. That was drawn by Frank Dietz. But all the inside illustrations are mine.
Mark: Why did you decide to go with original artwork instead of the photo collages that were used to illustrate Who Framed Boris Karloff?
Dwight: Honestly, because Susan Svelah, one of the owners of Midnight Marquee was too busy to do them. She did the photo collages for the first book. Besides, I felt that my original inspiration for doing these books required pen and ink illustrations. Back in the day they used to take Hollywood movie stars and write them into Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew style mysteries. Gregory Peck, Dorothy Lamore, and even Judy Garland starred in these mysteries. The only weird part was, they named after these people but they weren’t really them. The book I have with Dorothy Lamore has a secretary named Dorothy Lamore, the illustrations are of Dorothy Lamore, but there is no mention of her film career! It’s as if they took a mystery manuscript and changed the heroine’s name to Dorothy Lamore! Obviously my books don’t do that, but I wanted to do illustrations like the ones they used to do for these books.
Mark: How did you come to be the illustrator as well as the author of this piece?
Dwight: There’s a long story about that. But the short version is, I always wanted to draw the pictures, then another artist was suggested to do it, then he lost his day job and only delivered one sketch after a month of my trying to get in touch with him about the illustrations, then I decided it would be best to do what I originally wanted to do and draw the illustrations myself.
Mark: The cover of your new book was painted once again by Frank Dietz, who did the cover of your first book. Frank’s career is rich in experience, not only as an artist and a Disney Animator, but as a screenwriter and actor as well. How closely did you work with him on the cover? Did he consult you prior to painting it, or did he simply look over the book and act on his own?
Dwight: He acted on his own. He dealt mostly with Gary and Sue on the first book. On the second, I said I’d pay him myself if I got to keep the artwork. He charged me a really fair price that wouldn’t break me and he did the illustration, again sending it to the publisher. The first time around I tried to make suggestions but Gary and Sue never relayed them to Frank. The second time I thought I’d just let them handle it, and then I heard that Frank thought I didn’t like the cover because I didn’t say anything about it! For the third book, I sent him the manuscript that was still a work in progress and he asked me what I envisioned as the cover since he wasn’t sure how to proceed. I gave him some ideas, but I haven’t heard anything since. I’m assuming because the third book was in doubt because of book sales of the last two.
Mark: What’s Frank like?
Dwight: I’ve never met him, but he writes a nice email.
Mark: Who Framed Boris Karloff was an obvious nod to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Was the title for Bela Lugosi and the House of Doom in any way inspired by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?
Dwight: Actually, no. House of Doom was the European title for The Black Cat, so it was a nod to that great Karloff and Lugosi classic.
Mark: Has the publication of this book renewed interest in Who Framed Boris Karloff?
Dwight: So it would seem. It’s in the top 100 at Oldies.com. House of Doom was number 7 when the Rue Morgue Magazine article first appeared. Now Who Framed Boris Karloff? is number 73.
Mark: Based on your interactions at book signings and convention appearances, how would you gage the reception for House of Doom by your readers?
Dwight: Some people think it’s better than the first, some like the first better, but all seem to like them both for different reasons. One of the best compliments I ever got was from Donnie Dunagan, who played Peter von Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein, who read both books and said how well I captured the feeling on the set of Son and, how well I captured the espionage aspects in House of Doom. Donnie is an ex-Marine and a former Intelligence Agent. You can’t get a better review from a reader than that.
Mark: I understand this book has gotten you a lot of publicity as well. You’ve appeared on a few radio programs and had more than one article written about you. Would you care to comment on those experiences and how they made you feel?
Dwight: They made me feel great. But they didn’t just happen. I made them happen by acting as my own PR representative. For instance, I wrote to Rue Morgue, who did a nice side bar review of my first book and asked if they wanted to review the second one. I expected the same mention, but they wrote me back and asked if it was okay to do a full page article. I said, YES! At first the writer wanted to do something more extensive and actually apologized to me for having to reduce it to one page. I told him I expected to be just a side bar review, so I was more than satisfied with one page. It was like that with all the articles and interviews, me making an inquiry to see if they were interested and then sending them a book to review. That’s what you have to do when you’re with a small publishing house.
Mark: How are things coming with your new book, Bela Lugosi’s Final Curtain?
Dwight: The title is now Bela Lugosi and the Final Curtain, to go along with the previous book title. It was finished just this afternoon and now in the hands of my new literary agent.
Mark: Do you have any idea when we might expect a release date for that title?
Dwight: Don’t know for sure. Midnight Marquee is skittish about publishing it and said I could shop it around to other publishers, and Sara Karloff put me in contact with a literary agent with some great contacts, so we’ll have to see what happens. I’ve been working on Final Curtain for about four years now and recently got people who knew Forrest J Ackerman involved to help me with my characterization of him. 4SJ is the Watson to Criswell’s Holmes and I wanted to make sure I had all my ducks in a row. Ackerman’s caretaker, Joe Moe gave me a lot of great feedback on his dialogue and facts about his personal life. Eric L. Hoffman, who used to write for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine as Professor Gruebeard is also getting me some much needed feedback and photo material when it comes time for me to illustrate it.
Mark: We covered the basics of this book in our interview last year. Has anything dramatically changed in the story during that time?
Dwight: There are some interesting twists added to the book. A nice resolution was added. I can’t say too much right now. I will say that my new agent knew Forry Ackerman and he said I got him right. So it pays to know the right people.
Mark: Are you still planning to write Basil Rathbone and the Curse of Conan Doyle?
Dwight: Yes, although I haven’t thought too much about the plot beyond knowing who did it and why. It’s a hell of a story. I just need to figure out exactly when it’s taking place. I was going to do it during a disastrous revival of Sherlock Holmes on Broadway. But that’s a play and my books are about movies, so I’m thinking of setting the story on the set of Roger Corman’s The Raven and involving Peter Lorre and Vincent Price.
Mark: Would you like to discuss any of the particulars about that project?
Dwight: I don’t have any particulars at this time to discuss beyond what I’ve just told you. I have scenes in my head but I don’t know what they mean yet. That’s how these things come to me. I see Boris and Basil in the back of a limousine with Bela Lugosi, Jr. There’s a letter addressed to them from Bela, Sr. that has to be opened at Lugosi’s gravesite, but they don’t know why. And frankly, neither do I at this point. That’s how I write. It’s as big a surprise to me as it is to everyone else.
Mark: I understand you’re also planning a book on Truman Capote. Would you care to give us a few insights into what that story might entail?
Dwight: I’d rather not say just yet, although I did pitch the story to my agent. He was intrigued.
Mark: Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
Dwight: I have a mystery cruise coming up in October 23-28, 2010 with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. It’s called Killing Karloff and Sara Karloff will be starring with me in a mystery cruise to Bermuda. Chris Costello is doing the booking for Excel Travel. Here’s the link for more information: http://www.exceltravel.com/packages/murder-mystery-cruise/
Mark: Thank you, Dwight. I greatly appreciate the time you took to speak with me.
(And for the record I also appreciate the time anyone reading this might have taken to do so.)
Mr. Kemper's new book can be purchased from:
Or directly from the publisher at:
Thank you all for reading and have a very good night.
So it was written. So it is written still. Gaze upon the wonder of ages past with more to come, both the old revisited and the new revealed! I am as I shall ever be, A Lone Fan Crying In The Wilderness!