Frankenstein terrifies Brisbane
"To have seen Frankenstein is to wear a badge of courage! Do you dare?" tempted advertisements in Brisbane newspapers in the build-up to the premiere of Hollywood's latest horror film on June 10, 1932.
Cunning film distributors had carefully planned their campaign with the promise that Brisbane audiences who attended screenings at the Tivoli Theatre in the CBD would be covered by £1000 death insurance should they expire from terror. People's curiosity was further titillated by the promise that a nurse would be in attendance to attend anyone who succumbed to their nerves.
Just before the premiere, a rather scrawny Frankenstein's monster stepped from a train at South Brisbane railway station. The 21-year-old, 6 foot 11 inch (211cm) Lance Robartson was on contract to travel Australia and attend premieres made up as Frankenstein's monster to give people a scare and garner some publicity.
Newspapers reported that Robartson had a tough time of it. During his train journey from Sydney he was unable to fit into the bed in the sleeping car and had to make do sleeping in the corridor. The Tivoli also had difficulty finding a sufficientsized hotel bed. Fortunately a local firm offered to construct a special bed.
To celebrate the premiere, a "monster" event was held at the Carlton Cabaret in the city on June 9, with dancing until 1am, vaudeville acts, and of course Robartson appearing as the monster.
Were Queenslanders terrified by Frankenstein? The Telegraph newspaper on 10 June, 1932 reported three women and one man fainted during the morning screening at the Tivoli and had to be carried out into the foyer for treatment by a nurse. Another four people retreated to the first aid station "for a glass of water and a sniff of smelling salts". Whether this was a publicity stunt devised by the theatre we may never know. The manager of the Tivoli was keen to point out that all of the casualties insisted upon returning to finish the film.
For conservative voters attending the evening screening on June 11, it was an even more terrifying experience as updates on Labor's victory in the state election were announced during the intervals.