Theft Accusation Sparks L.A. vs. London Battle for Frankenstein’s Monster

The discovery of a missing, nearly century-old Frankenstein dummy in the U.K. has electrified transatlantic tensions among scholars
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In an international crisis sure to bring Anglo-American tensions to a boiling point, authorities from both nations have clashed over rightful ownership of an object of inestimable cultural value: a life-sized dummy of Boris Karloff’s monster from James Whale’s definitive 1931 masterpiece, Frankenstein, The Daily Mail reports.

Making the item perhaps exponentially more valuable than its cultural currency, the dummy was created for the 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein—which many believe is the superior of two films, and which is regularly rated among the greatest horror movies of all time—and the dummy is also dressed in Karloff’s costume from the sequel.

Having clearly learned nothing from scores of fright flicks in which supernatural calamity befalls acquisitive relic hunters, representatives of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHM) have demanded that the seven-foot, suited and booted mannequin be released from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), where it’s being detained, and repatriated to what they claim is its rightful home at the NHM. Officials at the V&A dispute this claim, the latest in a decades-long chain of grants, donations, transfers, and reported thefts that may reflect the film’s hybrid origins.

Made by a British director, from a British playwright’s adaptation of a British author’s book, and starring two British actors, Frankenstein was nonetheless shot and produced in Hollywood and released by Universal Pictures in 1931. In 1935, Universal donated the mannequin in its apparel to NHM which, in 1949, loaned it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, per research by the V&A.

NHM documents recorded both the dummy and costume as destroyed in 1967. That is, until it was more recently sighted on the V&A premises, mere blocks from that repository of world-historic pillaging, the British Museum, which held the priceless Elgin marbles and a trove of other treasures Englishmen boosted from original sites in the late Victorian era.

Last week, London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens became the first such government-funded institution to return artifacts that were looted in the 1899s, sending 72 Benin treasures back to Nigeria. Perhaps emboldened by this turn of events, the NHM has sought its own restorative justice.

The V&A countered by claiming legal acquisition of the neck-bolted dummy and clothing, citing a UK law that prohibits its release to foreign owners. The museum also shared plans to display its ill-gotten prize in its Young V&A (formerly, Museum of Childhood.)

Perhaps aware of the perils in global brinkmanship, the NHM issued a statement seeking “dialogue with the V&A to see if a cultural exchange that benefits both our visitors can be achieved.”


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