November 29, 2004



The lovely lady is Zita Johann, who starred opposite Boris Karloff in the classic 1932 film The Mummy (classic, that is, for those of us who have a fondness for early horror movies). The linked DVD set (which contains all of the regrettable sequels that starred Lon Chaney Jr.) also features a brief documentary called "Mummy Dearest," which spends more time on Johann, a Hungarian born Broadway actress (she was a big star when a nobody named Clark Gable played opposite her in a 1928 play) than on the incomparable Karloff, or director Karl Freund (who worked with F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, and was the cinematographer of Dracula). It's easy to understand why. Johann thought Hollywood films were for the most part rubbish and wasn't afraid to say so, had a host of odd spiritual notions and occult inclinations, and retired to a rambling, vaguely haunted house somewhere in upstate New York. The tales about her are by far the most engaging part of the documentary.

In The Mummy, Johann plays a dual role, the princess Anckesen-Amon and her 20th doppelganger, Helen Grosvenor. The film hints at metempsychosis as an explanation, and apparently the idea fit nicely with Johann's own eclectic beliefs. In any case, her character/s is/are the woman for whom the undead Imhotep pines over millennia; the picture above can probably explain why better than I can.

This site, maintained by a relation of Johann's, has some lovely photos of her, including the one above and the one below, which shows the actress with Karloff, of whom she was apparently very fond and about whom, she said, there was an air of ineffable sadness...


Posted by Ideofact at November 29, 2004 10:08 PM

I saw The Mummy on TV a few years ago and was surprised by how good it was. A lot of movies since have ripped off the "searching for a reincarnated love" idea, but only The Mummy really got it right. Mostly in the sense that it understood it to be a bad thing.

Posted by: Camassia at November 30, 2004 11:41 AM