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Friday, May 08, 2009

For Monsters Only!

For those that grew up monster maggish, Richard Bojarski was every bit the celebrity equal of movie stars (his alter ego, Bojak The Bojar, always seemed to me a swinging nickname). He drew comics and wrote articles for Castle Of Frankenstein (Bojarski’s Baron Von Bungle strip, above, was a welcome staple of C.O.F. during the mid-sixties). Dick knew more about Lon Chaney, Jr. than any man (then) living. For me at eleven, that was worthy of major props. Word came recently of Bojarski’s death. I hadn’t spoken to him since a paper show years ago in New York. Dick set up at mostly local tables as they accessed easier from his residence in Flushing. He was a guy I always imagined riding subways from borough to borough seeking rare collectibles as he’d done since the early fifties. Dick used to call when I was still living with my parents in the seventies, and always in the middle of the night, which only fueled my image of him as a real-life Gothic Castle dweller. We’d talk for hours about Castle Of Frankenstein and what Calvin Beck was really like. Dick offered 16mm prints which amounted to no more than him reading ads from the same Big Reel I’d received in that week’s mail. His was a mellifluous rendering of features available. Son Of Frankenstein, he’d say, starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. I’d interrupt and assure him I knew who was in Son Of Frankenstein, and that this was, after all, a toll call. He’d pause, acknowledge, then go to the next title … Werewolf Of London, starring Henry Hull and Warner Oland. Guess he just liked saying those names. Maybe I liked hearing them, because I eventually gave up trying to abbreviate his recitals. Dick once sold me a print of The Raven, appropriately splice-ridden and shot through with cue marks from a dozen stations that had run it since 1957 when the pic was first released to TV. That now seems an ideal artifact to have come from Dick, and frankly I wish I’d kept it.

Curiosity to meet Bojak The Bojar was finally sated in July 1978 when friend Dan Mercer (he of the 8mm Doctor X attic showing fame) accompanied me to Flushing environs of the man himself. I’d not attempt retracing our pilgrimage today. Memory suggests it was in Queens. There were row houses for endless blocks. You’d have expected to see Archie Bunker sitting on a porch or William Bendix waiting for a bus. We parked and saw a lone figure coming down the street that just had to be Dick. He carried groceries and seemed to shrink inside his clothes when we approached him with perhaps unseemly enthusiasm. Hey, Dick! He probably thought we were loan sharks coming to collect or disgruntled buyers still waiting for Werewolf Of London’s delivery. There was something about Dick’s pallor that suggested a man who’d seen little of the sun. He was gray and fallow after that unmistakable fashion of collectors. We went in the house and quickly realized there was virtually no furniture. Just filing cabinets. They were even in the kitchen. Dick opened a drawer and there were folders jammed with original images of Dracula and Frankenstein and every other totem I cherished (and yes, I’d have traded my refrigerator for but a fraction of these). He showed us a snapshot of Boris Karloff signing an autograph at what Dick said was a Brooklyn opening of The Strange Door … taken, of course, with Dick’s own Brownie. That moment captured for eternity made its eventual way to Bojarski’s lush pictorial album, The Films Of Boris Karloff, published in 1974. He showed us another faded shot of himself and several guys on a tattered sofa at Calvin Beck’s house one night in 1964 to watch all twelve chapters of a silent jungle serial in which Karloff played a minor part. I wondered what conversation had gone on amongst such an august gathering.

Dick’s basement was our ultimate destination; again the inevitable one for pack rats who gather film to the exclusion of most else. Going down those stairs, I was reminded of John Wayne’s line in True Grit ... By God, he reminds me of me! There was darkness of the most extreme sort and a single light bulb hung from its ceiling. Did I mention that Dick had a mother? At least I think he did. We never met or even glimpsed her. There were sounds from an adjoining room upstairs and a woman's call from the landing that interrupted our sublevel viewing of Night Monster, which Dick answered impatiently. Yes, we watched Night Monster. No, let me put it this way. We watched Night Monster with Richard Bojarski, the man who all but channeled the spirit of Bela Lugosi and wrote a book about him as well. Dick showed us a reel of gamy outtake footage from Glen Or Glenda with near naked women undulating as a decrepit Lugosi looked on. Maybe he’d gotten it during those three days he spent interviewing Ed Wood at the director’s auto court of last resort shortly before his death. Bojarski had made that visit but recently with events still fresh in his memory. He and Ed got drunk together while hashing Bela-data. Dick’s reminiscence was accompaniment to a grinding 16mm projector and the rumble of an old furnace that sounded like the opening reel of The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse. Our visit concluded at a diner up the street, which I hardly remember because maybe it was too much like normal living after the afternoon we’d spent in Dick’s basement. This idol of my youth was at all times cordial and friendly and responsive to questions I’m sure fans had asked him repeatedly since glory days of C.O.F. I would see Dick again selling parts of his collection at varied Manhattan swap meets during the late eighties and nineties. There’d be a behind-the-scenes still from House Of Dracula I remembered from C.O.F. that Dick priced at an astronomical $400 sitting beside a near-mint Foreign Correspondent pressbook he’d practically be giving away. Maybe value was based upon presence of monsters therein. Dick continued writing for small horror mags and was even (briefly) listed as guest for last year’s Classic Movie Monster Con that I attended in Knoxville (he didn’t make it). Bojarski should have got a lot more recognition for pioneering work he did researching the genre. I admired him always, still do, and am saddened by the fact that he’s gone. Dick would always address younger enthusiasts, including me, as My Boy … A lot of us were indeed his boys and will remain so.


Blogger Uncle Gustav said...

Thank you for writing this, John. I didn't know he'd passed away. I fell out of touch with Bojarski many years ago, but he was always kind, warm and inviting. And a fan without peer.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Booksteve said...

Truly interesting memories. Somehow I never made the connection that those little cartoons were by the same guy who did the Lugosi book! Share more stories like this one.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous R. Krauss said...

Thanks for sharing this. I always enjoyed those cartoons in COF, but didn't know anything about the artist.

8:23 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

October 10, 2021

Dan Mercer and I were talking about CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN and Dick Bojarski yesterday. He then followed up our conversation with further memories of the day we spent with Dick:

Dear John--

I loved Castle and Frankenstein then and still do. As you say, it was not written at the level of children or adolescents, as other magazines were, such as Famous Monsters of Filmland were, but was the very expression of what its publisher, Calvin T. Beck found interesting. So he would provide a vehicle for enthusiasts of like mind to write about science fiction and fantasy films, personalities, literary antecedents, or anything else betaking the odd and bizarre.

There was so much to it, crammed into the pages with type sometimes of a font so small as to strain the eyes. It was immense. I would pour over it, then come back again and again, always seeming to find some new insight or provocation when I did, but always opening a door to a world that scarcely existed for me, outside of my imagination and the pages of this magazine.

One its special writers, of course, was Richard Bojarski or "Bojack the Bojar." I do remember the trip we took to visit him. Indeed, it is fresher to my memory than whatever I might have done a week or two ago. It suggests how alive I was to that moment and how often I have returned to it since them. I can still see the shabby street of row homes in the dim morning light as we waited outside, the sight of the figure of a man approaching us, and hear your shout of "Hey, Dick!" Immediately, he seemed to shrivel within his worn leather jacket, like Bob Steele being gunned down by Bogie in "The Big Sleep." I suddenly realized that he might have many visitors in his life--bill collectors, FBI agents, dissatisfied customers--who would be less welcome than we were.

How wonderful it was to have that day, however, and to have such a boon companion in adventure as you were. Thanks for opening that door again.


11:38 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Another 10/10/2021 postscript from Dan Mercer re Dick Bojarski:

I ran into Richard Bojarski a couple of times in later years at shows, always going out of my way to let him know how much I appreciated his writing, asking what he was working on now and whether he had given any thought to having a collection of his pieces published. He seemed glad for the praise but somewhat sheepish as to the rest. Possibly he wasn't doing much writing then and hadn't any real prospects for changing that.

8:28 PM  

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