The Oklahoma Kid Meets Frankenstein

by Christopher Dow

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 black cowboy hat.

The color was no random choice, but I wasn’t trying to play the bad guy. James Garner, who portrayed one of my favorite TV characters, Bret Maverick, on the TV series Maverick, wore a black hat. It so happened that Garner’s brother was the principal of my elementary school. One year, on the annual Wild West Day, all the Mavericks came to school dressed in costume. I got to touch Bret’s gun. Not only that, my first-grade teacher was the niece of Gene Autry.

Living in Oklahoma with all those Western influences, it seemed like my cowboy future was assured, but fate intervened. My friends and I went to see a Saturday morning matinee featuring The Revenge of Frankenstein in a double-feature with Night of the Demon, a nifty supernatural thriller marred by uninspired producers. The Revenge of Frankenstein was the second of Hammer Production’s Frankenstein movies, and as with the first, Peter Cushing played the baron. It was a kiddy matinee, but I came out a lot older than I went in. I was so completely captivated that I accidentally left 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 creative drive in 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 as he single-mindedly kept trying to make that one being that wasn’t a shambling parody of humanity—that one creation that might possess a soul. He was even willing to die to see his obsession come to fruition. Unrealized by me at the time, it was a parable of artistic endeavor.

So 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.