The Oklahoma Kid Meets Frankenstein
In my childhood in Oklahoma, I was on my way to becoming the Oklahoma Kid—an Oklahoma cowboy with red clay on his boots and eyes the color of dust on the horizon. I loved the red clay and the dust storms and the flat rivers and the wide sky. I had a Mattel Fanner 50 in a real leather holster and a brand-new cowboy hat. I went for black, not because I wanted to be a bad guy but because Bart Maverick wore a black hat.
The color was no random choice—James Garner played Bart Maverick, and his brother was the principal at my elementary school. One year, on the annual Wild West Day, all the Mavericks came to school dressed in costume. I got to touch Bart’s gun. Gene Autry’s niece was my first grade teacher, and one of the Rawhide drovers was an uncle of a classmate.
It seemed like my future was assured, but fate intervened. My friends and I went to see Revenge of Frankenstein with Peter Cushing playing the baron. It was a kiddy matinee, but I came out a lot older than I went in. I was so completely captivated, in fact, that I forgot my brand-new cowboy hat in the theater and never saw it again.
My sorrow at its loss was surprisingly brief. The range rider’s laconic life may have been punctuated by exciting gunfire, but it paled next to Baron Frankenstein’s maniacal drive to create life anew amidst all those bubbling vats and sparking machines. Maybe I was just feeling the beginnings of the drive to create myself. Little did I know what a personally maddening journey it would be—and how provincial villagers love to chase after creators, torches in their hands and charges of blasphemy on their lips.
But Peter Cushing didn’t care. His portrayal was convincing and incredibly intense, and he just kept on trying to make that one being that wasn’t a shambling parody of humanity—that one who might possess a soul. He was even willing to die to see his obsession realized.
I guess it’s all Peter Cushing’s fault that I am who I am today—that I left the Oklahoma Kid back there in the red dust to follow Frankenstein’s dream.