Jerry Garcia Explains How Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Changed His Life (1995)

If you’re look­ing for a clas­sic mon­ster movie to watch this Hal­loween, and one that will also give you a few non-iron­ic laughs along the way, you’d do well to put on Abbott and Costel­lo Meet Franken­stein. But don’t take this rec­om­men­da­tion from me: take it from the Grate­ful Dead­’s own Jer­ry Gar­cia, who recalls his own for­ma­tive view­ing expe­ri­ence in the clip above from a 1995 broad­cast of AMC’s The Movie that Changed My Life. When Abbott and Costel­lo Meet Franken­stein came out, in 1948, he was just six years old: too ten­der an age, it seems, to appre­ci­ate the mon­strous spec­ta­cle to which his moth­er had tak­en him. “I most­ly hid behind the seats,” he remem­bers. “It was just pure pan­ic.”

Unaware even of who Abbott and Costel­lo were, the young Gar­cia could hard­ly have per­ceived the out­ward­ly hor­rif­ic pic­ture’s light­heart­ed com­ic inten­tions. Yet it com­pelled him nev­er­the­less, and even res­onat­ed with him on oth­er emo­tion­al lev­els not hav­ing to do with fear.

“My father had died the pre­vi­ous year, in ’47, so that also made it kind of a heavy time in my life, emo­tion­al­ly,” he says, and one that per­haps gave him a cer­tain recep­tive­ness to the notion of “a dead thing brought to life.” Abbott and Costel­lo Meet Franken­stein fea­tures not just the tit­u­lar doc­tor’s mon­ster, played by Glenn Strange, but also Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man and Bela Lugosi as Drac­u­la. “This was a juicy cast, and it was the last time these char­ac­ters had dig­ni­ty.”

For Gar­cia, these Hol­ly­wood mon­sters “became fig­ures of tremen­dous fas­ci­na­tion,” which led him to dis­cov­er cul­tur­al move­ments like Ger­man expres­sion­ist the­ater and film. While they cast a spell of pri­mal fear — “I think there was some desire on my part to embrace that, to not let that con­trol me” — Abbott and Costel­lo, for their part, sug­gest­ed to him the great promise of com­e­dy: “It’s a smart strat­e­gy to get by in life. If you’re not pow­er­ful, if you’re not huge, if you’re not mus­cu­lar, if intim­i­da­tion is too much work for you, it works good at dis­arm­ing pow­er­ful adver­saries.” Gar­ci­a’s “gen­er­al fas­ci­na­tion with the bizarre” also orig­i­nat­ed with Abbott and Costel­lo Meet Franken­stein, which showed him that “there are things in this world that are real­ly weird” — a fact of which we could all stand to remind our­selves each and every Hal­loween.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Very First Film Adap­ta­tion of Mary Shelley’s Franken­stein, a Thomas Edi­son Pro­duc­tion (1910)

New Jer­ry Gar­cia Web Site Fea­tures 5,000 Hours of Free Music, Plus Some Fan­tas­tic Archival Mate­r­i­al

Read­ing Mary Shelley’s Franken­stein on Its 200th Anniver­sary: An Ani­mat­ed Primer to the Great Mon­ster Sto­ry & Tech­nol­o­gy Cau­tion­ary Tale

Jer­ry Gar­cia Talks About the Birth of the Grate­ful Dead & Play­ing Kesey’s Acid Tests in New Ani­mat­ed Video

Bela Lugosi Dis­cuss­es His Drug Habit as He Leaves the Hos­pi­tal in 1955

Stream a Mas­sive Archive of Grate­ful Dead Con­certs from 1965–1995

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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