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12 Howling Facts About The Wolf Man

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It wasn’t the first werewolf movie ever made, but it was the first to become a blockbuster. One of Universal’s classic monster films, The Wolf Man paved the way for an entire genre, ushering in such lupine favorites as 1981's duo of The Howling and John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London. Here are some hair-raising facts about the transformative masterpiece.

1. THE WORKING TITLE WAS DESTINY.

Riding high on the success of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931), Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931), and Claude Rains’s The Invisible Man (1933), Universal Studios gave audiences a fresh look at another famous monster in 1935. That year, they released Werewolf of London, starring Broadway crowd-pleaser Henry Hull. Unlike many of the studio's previous horror flicks, this lupine picture tanked at the box office. Still, six years later, Universal was ready to give the lycanthrope genre one more try. Novelist and screenwriter Curt Siodmak was tapped to pen a new script. In just seven weeks’ time, Siodmak put together a thrilling story about an American named Lawrence Talbot who travels to his family’s ancestral home in Wales, where he’s bitten by a werewolf. Originally, the movie was titled Destiny, but this was changed to The Wolf Man by the time it premiered.

2. REAL-LIFE ATROCITIES HELPED CURT SIODMAK EMPATHIZE WITH THE MONSTER.

Lawrence Talbot’s struggle in The Wolf Man was influenced by Siodmak’s own experiences. A Jewish man of Polish descent, the writer was born in Dresden, Germany on August 10, 1902. Even as a boy, Siodmak’s literary talents were readily apparent: At age nine, his first short story was published in a children’s magazine. Bowing to his father’s wishes, the young man went on to earn degrees in engineering and mathematics, but writing always remained his true passion. By the late 1920s, he’d found work as a journalist and emerged as one of Berlin’s most prominent authors. Siodmak also made a name for himself within the German film industry—until Hitler’s Third Reich came to power. The spread of Nazism drove him to France and then to the UK. Finally, in 1937, Siodmak left Europe altogether.

In The Wolf Man, there’s a degree to which art subtly imitates reality. During a 1999 interview with the Writer’s Guild of America, Siodmak shed some light on the film’s dark subtexts. “I am the wolf man,” he said. “I was forced into a fate I didn’t want.” The parallels are noticeable. As movie historian Constantine Nasr once observed, Siodmak saw this picture as “the story of an outsider whose destiny was cursed by forces he could not control.”

3. BELA LUGOSI WANTED TO PLAY THE MAIN CHARACTER.

Lugosi lost the role to Lon Chaney Jr, whose performance in The Wolf Man propelled him into stardom. Nevertheless, the former Count Dracula didn’t get left out. Universal cast Lugosi as a mustachioed Gypsy fortuneteller named “Bela.” This character is later revealed to be a werewolf who gets the plot rolling by biting our friend, Mr. Talbot.

4. THAT SUPPOSEDLY ANCIENT POEM WAS MADE UP BY SIODMAK.

“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” Over the course of the film, this spooky verse is recited on several occasions—usually by a character who claims that it’s some sort of ancient rhyme. But the poem was really authored by Siodmak himself. In 1989, he told journalist Tom Weaver “nowadays, film historians think it’s from German folklore. It isn’t. I made it up.” Authentic or not, the poem was repeated verbatim in 2004’s Van Helsing.

5. THERE WAS SOME TENSION BETWEEN THE TWO LEADS.

Nicknamed “Queen of the B’s,” Evelyn Ankers appeared in numerous horror films, usually as some love interest or damsel in distress.  In The Wolf Man, she plays Gwen Conliffe, a storeowner’s daughter who falls for Talbot. Although their characters had great chemistry, Chaney and Ankers didn’t always get along behind the scenes. Trouble started brewing when the actress was given Chaney’s dressing room. To get even, he subjected Ankers to numerous pranks—none of which she found all that funny. On many occasions, the six-foot, 220-pound Chaney snuck up behind her in full werewolf makeup. Once she turned around, he would seize her shoulders and growl. “He had to hold me, or I would have ended up in the rafters!” Ankers later said.

6. ANOTHER PROBLEM? A DANGEROUS FOG MACHINE.

Billowing, man-made fog greatly enhanced the movie’s climax. It also turned into a real safety hazard. Toward the end of The Wolf Man, Gwen rushes through a murky forest to escape Talbot’s lupine form. Just after he grabs her, Talbot is attacked by his own father, Sir John (played by Claude Rains). As they fight, Gwen faints, disappearing beneath a thick blanket of fog. 

Director George Waggner had instructed Ankers to lie still until somebody screamed “Cut!” However, things didn’t go according to plan. After Ankers fell, she never heard anyone shout the agreed-upon safety word. “They started to prepare for Lon to finish the fight scene with Claude Rains. Well, they forgot me in all the hustle and bustle,” she later explained. While she waited, Ankers inhaled a copious amount of noxious fumes from the fog machine. Before long, she passed out. “Fortunately, someone in the crew nearly tripped over me and I was saved,” Ankers recalled.

7. THE MONSTER’S DESIGN WAS RECYCLED FROM A DIFFERENT MOVIE.

The creature’s appearance was the brainchild of makeup artist Jack Pierce. An unbelievable talent, Pierce is best remembered for creating the signature look of another classic movie monster in Universal’s Frankenstein. In 1935, he’d lent his expertise to Werewolf of London. For that film, Pierce created the very lycanthrope facial design that would later be used in The Wolf Man. However, he had to go back to the drawing board when Howard Hull refused to wear it. Apparently, the Broadway star complained that he wouldn’t be recognized under the thick coat of hair. A less extreme design was ultimately used instead.  

Lon Chaney Jr. didn’t share Hull’s reservations. Once The Wolf Man came along, Pierce recreated the makeup style that had been cast aside six years earlier.  

8. CHANEY’S WOLF GETUP TOOK HOURS TO PUT ON.

His (off-camera) transformation from man to beast was a long, tedious, and sometimes agonizing process. Pierce once revealed that the whole ordeal would usually consume two and a half hours. “I put all of the hair on a little row at a time,” he said. This involved quite a long time commitment, as Chaney’s werewolf ensemble consisted of a mask, a furry chest plate, and two clawed gloves. After the hair had been arranged, Pierce would curl and singe it, which made the creature “look like it had been out in the woods.”

Removing this material was even more wearisome. “What gets me,” Chaney vented, “is after work when I’m all hot and itchy and tired… [I’ve still] got to sit in that chair for forty-five minutes while Pierce just about kills me, ripping off all the stuff he put on me in the morning.” In Frankenstein, Boris Karloff took to sleeping with his makeup on in order to skip the next day’s application ritual. Chaney considered following suit, but worried that his eyelids might get stuck together while he dozed. 

9. A LIVE BEAR ONCE RAMPAGED THROUGH THE SET.

In one deleted scene, Talbot wrestles a 600-pound ursine. The sequence was shot on a sound stage, wherein the bear spent most of its time chained to a pole. At one point, it broke free—and immediately charged towards Ankers! “I never ran so fast in all my life,” she said in retrospect. Fueled by adrenaline, Ankers bolted up a ladder and into the studio rafters. An electrician who happened to be up there hauled her onto a platform. Down below, the bear was eventually brought under control by its trainer.

10. CHANEY’S BELOVED DOG MAKES A CAMEO APPEARANCE.

When Bela bites Talbot, he does so in canine form. For that scene, Waggner recruited a German shepherd named “Moose.” As it happens, Moose was Chaney’s pet. By all accounts, the two were inseparable and the Wolf Man star could often be seen walking the canine around the Universal lots. Tragically, Moose was killed by a car in 1944.

11. THE MOVIE’S RELEASE DATE WAS MET WITH SOME CONTROVERSY.

From the get-go, Universal had planned to release The Wolf Man in December, 1941. However, the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor made the studio think twice about the premiere date. With the attack still casting a shadow over the American public, Universal worried that audiences wouldn’t find The Wolf Man—or any other monster picture—the least bit frightening. The country had just been propelled into World War II, so why would anybody be afraid of a big, bad wolf?

Nonetheless, Universal stuck to its schedule. The Wolf Man was previewed in Hollywood on December 9 and opened nationwide three days later. Some critics felt that, given recent events, the studio’s decision to unveil a new creature feature was in poor taste. To cite but one example, Variety’s review of The Wolf Man called it “dubious entertainment at this time.” And yet, against all expectations, the movie turned into a monster hit, grossing a then-spectacular $1 million domestically.

12. THE WOLF MAN WAS CHANEY’S ALL-TIME FAVORITE ROLE.

The film’s success secured Chaney’s place alongside Lugosi, Karloff, and Rains on the Mount Rushmore of horror icons. Over the next few years, he’d more or less become Universal’s go-to guy whenever a new monster role became available. Between 1941 and 1949, the rising star played a mummy, the vampiric son of Dracula, and Frankenstein’s monster. Still, the role of the Wolf Man always held a special place in his heart. Later in life, Chaney wrote “Of all the character’s I’ve been, I liked Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf Man, the best.” Like Siodmak, Chaney regarded him as a tragic figure. “He never wanted to hurt anyone,” noted the actor. “During his period of sanity, in between full moons, he begged to be confined, chained, even killed to avoid the horrible consequences of his curse. He was a classic product of misunderstanding."

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

A display of tools.
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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

A stack of bed linens.
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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Rows of holiday gnomes.
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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

Searching for flights online.
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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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Food
The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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