by Art Chantry ( email@example.com)
this is a sort of ‘update’ to the essay i wrote a while back about the history of the ‘vampire chick’ in popular culture. (if you go into my photo files and click on the old airplane image, it’ll take you to a catalog of all the essay i’ve written up to this point. look for the photo of dracula and click on that and you’ll find the original essay).
the popular image of the ‘vampire chick’ can be traced from sheridan le fanu’s short story (the first vampire in fiction) called “carmilla” (loosely based on the legend of elizabeth bathory.) the next time a vampire chick image showed up was in bram stoker’s “dracula” (mina harker and also drac’s various ‘wives’). on stage, the figure of theda bara often took on a ‘gypsy’ or ‘vampire chick persona. and there were the vampire chicks (played by uncredited actresses) in tod browning’s most famous film ‘dracula’ (with bela lugosi recreating his stage role).
after that enormous success came tod browning’s “mark of the vampire” and introduced carroll borland’s character called “luna.” carroll’s pale complexion, exotic looks and long straight waist-length hair set the new standard for ‘vampire chick’ that was so carefully cultivated afterwards. starting with charles addams’ ghoulish 1940′s cartoon character (dubbed ‘morticia’ addams for the later tv show in the 1960′s) and then so beautifully realized and finalized by the first horror movie hostess (with the mostess), maila nurmi (aka “vampira”). after that came the tv version of morticia addams (played by carolyn jones), followed by lily munster (yvonne de carlo) and then all the hammer horror film’s ‘lesbian vampires’ ( ingrid pitt). ultimately came cassandra peterson’s ‘elvira’ – and she’s the perfect send-up of all the previous incarnations. today the ‘vampire chick’ is as much a part of american pop culture as dracula himself.
i recently finished re-reading david j. skals’ and elias savada’s book on the life of enigmatic (even mysterious) director, tod browning, titled “Dark Carnival: the secret world of tod browning, hollywood’s master of the macabre.” (anchor books, 1995). tod browning virtually created modern psychological and morbid gothic cinema. beginning with the silent career of lon chaney (he work so much with chaney that their careers became virtually inseparable) and continuing with the bela lugosi’s classic “dracula” and then imploding with his bizarre cinema tour de force, ‘freaks’, browning’s career is such an odd and weird story that his life may be his most macabre creation of all. and it was tod browning who created the full-blown ‘vampire chick’ in our pop consciousness.
the tod browing silent film called “london after midnight’ (now considered lost. no complete copies are known to exist any more) was a bootlegged rendering of the dracula story (copied loosely from the copyright restricted ‘dracula’ novel and the ‘banned-in-america’ dracula bootleg german film ‘nosferatu”.) “london after midnight’ starred lon chaney as a dracula-like vampire (with lots of teeth and a top hat.) in the film, there was the first depiction of a vampire chick in cinema. here name was “lunette” (played by actress edna tichenor, seen in the photo above with browning and chaney). the name ‘lunette’ is not an actual formal name from anywhere. but is, in reality, the french word for that yoke-like harness that hold the prisoner by the neck on the guillotine.
‘lunette’ was the first classic silent film vampire chick, but not the one we’ve all come to know and love (the luna/morticia/vampira model). lunette was still sporting stylish ‘conked’ hair curls (so popular during the 1920′s era). so, the important factor of the long lank dark flowing hair was missing. the same holds true for the three vampire wives in the movie ‘dracula” (played by mccarthy-era blacklisted stage actress dorothy tree, greta garbo’s stand-in actress geraldine dvorak and an actress named strangely, mildred pierce(!), who used the stage name of cornelia thaw.) all three of them were classic quiet vampire chicks, but all had tightly curled ‘conked’ hair-do’s. just not quite there yet, ya know?
in 1932, tod browning made a talkie re-make of his silent success ‘london after midnight’. he changed the name to ‘mark of the vampire’ and cast a young carroll borland – president of the bela lugosi fanclub (and rumored groupie). browning tried to have borland’s long waist-length black hair cut into a ‘bob’, but carroll protested, so they tried her with the long hair. it was perfect.
thus was born a legendary stereotype we still adore to this day.