John Barrymore whips up a potent cocktail

John Barrymore whips up a potent cocktail

My first exposure to John Barrymore was during the second episode of Fractured Flickers when it aired on August 8, 1963. In the episode, Christopher Hayward, who later gave us The Munsters, turned the transformation sequence in the 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into Do Me a Flavor in which Dr. Al K. Seltzer invents Double Chocolate Seltzer.

While Barrymore, as Seltzer, flailed about in the laboratory, he uttered these unforgettable words:

Over the lips

Over the gums

Look out stomach

Here it comes

That same year, my grandmother took me to the Alameda Theatre to see Jerry Lewis go through similar gyrations as the meek Professor Kelp became the sex crazed Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor. The colorful chemicals and Stella Stevens left a vivid impression on me.

Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens

Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens

Between 1965 and 1971, Vincent Price was my go to mad scientist guy. In Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, he was making fembots long before anyone heard of Austin Powers. In The Abominable Dr. Phibes, he was whipping out the old colorful chemistry kit to challenge Joseph Cotton’s surgical skills in a campy climax to end all campy climaxes.

Joseph Cotton and Vincent Price

Joseph Cotton and Vincent Price

With these role models deeply embedded in my cinematic psyche, it wasn’t surprising that I would find myself gyrating Barrymore style to the tune of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s “Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet” in an 8mm freakout called Intolerable.

I read Lillian Gish’s autobiography, The Movies, D. W. Griffith, and Me, when it came out in paperback in 1969. I also read several Griffith related books in the Davis Senior High School library, including works by Iris Barry and Karl Brown.

Griffith’s response to the controversy surrounding his film, The Birth of a Nation, based on the theatrical version of Thomas Dixon’s novel, The Clansman was to sidestep the outrage regarding the portrayal of blacks in the film, including the attempts of the NAACP to ban the film completely from ever being seen again, and to focus on freedom of speech and censorship.

Intolerance, and man’s inhumanity to man, would become the theme of Griffith’s next film, Intolerance, where he would weave together four stories, each one set in a different time period. Lillian Gish would be seen as a mother, rocking her baby in a cradle, linking the stories together.

Lillian Gish in Intolerance

Lillian Gish in Intolerance

Before Coppola (The Godfather: Part Two) and Altman (Nashville, Short Cuts) rediscovered and resuscitated Griffith’s cinematic story telling techniques, two high school kids decided to take on the Master, creating a monster of their own from stuff that they shot during weekend sleepovers and choice clips from silent films, their link to the pioneers of cinematic art and commerce.

About mikemaginot

Mike Maginot is a writer and photographer. He currently lives in Grass Valley, California.
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