The Black Cat

1934

Honeymooning in Hungary, Joan and Peter Allison share their train compartment with Dr. Vitus Verdegast, a courtly but tragic man who is returning to the remains of the town he defended before becoming a prisoner of war for fifteen years. When their hotel-bound bus crashes in a mountain storm and Joan is injured, the travellers seek refuge in the home, built fortress-like upon the site of a bloody battlefield, of famed architect Hjalmar Poelzig. There, cat-phobic Verdegast learns his wife's fate, grieves for his lost daughter, and must play a game of chess for Allison's life.

Cast:
Boris Karloff .... Hjalmar Poelzig (as Karloff)
Bela Lugosi .... Dr. Vitus Werdegast
David Manners .... Peter Alison
Julie Bishop.... Joan Alison (as Jacqueline Wells)
Lucille Lund .... Karen Werdegast Poelzig
Egon Brecher .... The Majordomo
Harry Cording .... Thamal, Werdegast's Servant
Henry Armetta .... Police Sergeant
Albert Conti .... Police Lieutenant
John Carradine .... Cult Organist (uncredited)

 

Julie Bishop/Jacqueline Wells /Diane Duval

Leading lady Julie Bishop, who also acted under her birth name of Jacqueline Wells and the name Diane Duval. The daughter of a wealthy banker and oilman, she was Colorado-born, raised in Texas and moved to Los Angeles in the early 1920s. Jacqueline started off as a silent movie child actress, working with such legends as Clara Bow and Mary Pickford. The youngster appeared in about a dozen films including the silent serial, THE BAR-C MYSTERY (Pathe, 1926), before taking several years off to attend high school and study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. She returned to films as a teenager, and in the early 1930s, worked in a half dozen or so Hal Roach shorts at MGM with Charley Chase, Laurel & Hardy and the 'Boy Friends' series. She did a trio of early sound cliffhangers: in HEROES OF THE WEST (Universal, 1932), she was billed as Diane DuVal. As Jacqueline Wells, she did CLANCY OF THE MOUNTED (Universal, 1932) with Tom Tyler and TARZAN THE FEARLESS (Principal, 1933) with Buster Crabbe. She worked with W. C. Fields in TILLIE AND GUS (Paramount, 1933), and was the object of Bela Lugosi's creepy affection in Universal's THE BLACK CAT (1934), which also starred Boris Karloff. And she was featured with Laurel & Hardy in THE BOHEMIAN GIRL (MGM, 1936). The WAMPAS Baby Stars was an annual event that spotlighted up and coming new starlets and the event began in the early 1920s. The sponsor was The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers. Wells was among the 1934 winners, which was the final year for the WAMPAS awards. Around 1935 --- and still using the Jacqueline Wells name --- she became a contract player at Columbia, and over the next five years or so, she did bits, supporting roles, and leads in various films including her first B western, SQUARE SHOOTER (1935) with Tim McCoy. She then signed with Warner Bros. and became Julie Bishop. There, she was the female lead in WILD BILL HICKOK RIDES (1942) with Bruce Cabot, NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943) with Errol Flynn, and ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC (1943) with Humphrey Bogart. She had lesser roles in other Warners films such as RHAPSODY IN BLUE (1945), the screen bio of George Gershwin which starred Robert Alda, Alexis Smith and Joan Leslie. In between Columbia and Warners, she did heroine duty in a quartet of Republic oaters: The Three Mesquiteers adventure THE KANSAS TERRORS (1939), BACK IN THE SADDLE (1941) with Gene Autry, and a pair with Roy Rogers, THE RANGER AND THE LADY (1940) and YOUNG BILL HICKOK (1940). Bishop's career slowed after her 1944 marriage to Air Force officer Clarence Shoop and the birth of their two children. She and former Tarzan Buster Crabbe were re-united in LAST OF THE REDMEN (Columbia, 1947), another Hollywood version of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Crabbe was the bad Indian Magua and Bishop portrayed Cora Munro. You can spot her with John Wayne in SANDS OF IWO JIMA (Republic, 1949) and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (Warners, 1954), and with Alan Ladd in THE BIG LAND (Warners, 1957), which was her last film. Bishop was also one of the many ladies trekkin' west with Robert Taylor in WESTWARD THE WOMEN (MGM, 1954). In addition to the name change, Bishop also went through several hair colors. In some of her early roles (such as TARZAN THE FEARLESS), she's a blonde. But most of us tend to remember her with dark hair. In the early 1950s, Julie Bishop was the love interest to Bob Cummings in his first TV series, MY HERO. She officially retired around 1957 but did some plays at the Pasadena Playhouse and was involved in various charitable functions. Bishop was married three times; to wealthy Walter Booth Brooks III from 1936 to 1939; to Major General Clarence A. Shoop from 1944 until his death in 1968; and her third marriage was to Beverly Hills surgeon William F. Bergin. The Shoops had two children; son Stephen and daughter Pamela. Pamela got the acting bug and has done a significant amount of TV and film work. Clarence Shoop participated in the D Day Invasion, became base commander at Muroc Army Air Field (Edwards Air Force Base) in 1945, and as Major General Shoop, he became commander of the California Air National Guard in 1957. Shoop was a military advisor on several films, and after retirement from the Air Force, was an executive with Hughes Aircraft. In a film career that spanned 30+ years, from 1920s silents through Cinemascope of the 1950s, Julie Bishop did about 75 sound films plus some kid roles in silents. She passed away from pneumonia on her 87th birthday, August 30, 2001.

Lucille Lund

A natural born beauty whose career in Hollywood was much too brief, Lucille Lund was born June 3, 1912 in Buckley, Washington. She came to the attention of Universal Pictures through College Humor magazine's All-American Girl Contest. The Northwestern University student was named the winner, and subsequently placed under contract by Universal in 1933.

Her first feature work for the studio was in the Slim Summerville comedy "Horseplay" that same year. The cast included Andy Devine, Una O'Connor and Ethel Griffes. She also joined Robert Young and Johnny Mack Brown in "Saturday's Millions," a drama about a self-serving football player which was also released in 1933. Brown had, of course, been a football hero in real life during his college days at the University of Alabama. Lund's portrayal of Karen Werdegast Poelzig in the 1934 classic "The Black Cat" produced the role that has given the actress cinematic immortality. The film boasts the most sordid plot of any of the Universal horror films of the golden age. It opens with Dr. Vitas Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) on his way to confront the sadist Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff), who he believes has eloped with his wife and child. Poelzig had in fact taken Werdegast's wife as his own, having convinced her of his demise. Upon her death, he subsequently wed her child. Lund performed both parts, appearing as the encased body of the dead mother, as well as the daughter. When Werdegast discovers his child's dead body, murdered by Poelzig for an act of disobedience, he fastens his host to his own embalming rack and flails the skin from his body. Pretty strong stuff indeed! Effective in spite of the fact that she had very little screen time, Lund's beauty was most haunting in this nightmarish film. While Lund remembered working with the screen's two premiere bogeymen most favorably, and has said that both Karloff and Lugosi were true gentlemen, her recollections of director Edgar G. Ulmer were much less flattering. Reportedly, after she rebuffed his amorous advances, he made her remaining days on the picture a true horror. Due to Ulmer's harassment, making "The Black Cat" would become her worst movie experience. It was during this period that her career should have experienced a major upswing. Lund was one of thirteen aspiring young actresses named by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers as one of their WAMPUS Baby Stars that same year. The honor, annually bestowed on a bevy of screen beauties, brought with it an impressive amount of publicity. The most notable of the group, in addition to Lund, were Jean Carmen (aka Julia Thayer) and her co-star from "The Black Cat," Jacqueline Wells (aka Julie Bishop and Diane Duval). Although Lund was pegged to appear in a couple of pictures due to the award, most notably Paramount's "Kiss and Make Up" with Cary Grant, her home studio chose to utilize her talents in a serial rather than follow up with more prestigious faire.

That assignment would be Universal's twelve episode chapterplay "Pirate Treasure" opposite actor/stuntman Richard Talmadge. In spite of Lund's reservations about performing serial duty, the picture was quite entertaining, thanks to the outstanding stunt work of Talmadge and his three brothers. The aspiring actress then departed Universal, and would freelance for a time. According to Greg Mank's well-researched volume on 1930's horror film actresses, her release came about because she refused the romantic interest of Carl Laemmle, Jr. Lund next worked in some poverty row productions, most notably two westerns for Kent featuring fellow Northwestern alumni Reb Russell. The pair appeared together in "Fighting Through" in 1934 and "Range Warfare" the following year. In the former production, Lund and Russell portrayed themselves, and even engaged in dialog that mentioned their college days at Northwestern. Also in 1935, she appeared opposite Kermit Maynard in Ambassador's "Timber War." Based on a James Oliver Curwood story, the film also features Robert Warwick and Lawrence Gray. Lund did serial duty again in 1937, appearing in Victory's "Blake of Scotland Yard" as the female menace. This serial was produced by Sam Katzman, a low budget filmmaker whose cost cutting measures are now legendary. Katzman was so cheap that he often used furniture from his own home in an effort to save money. Requiring players to provide their own wardrobe was also standard procedure on one of his sets. Also that year, Lund joined her former co-star from "The Black Cat," Jacqueline Wells, along with Charles Quigley and a young Rita Hayworth in Columbia's "Girls Can Play," concerning a murder on an all-girl softball team. It was directed by Lambert Hillyer, well known to horror fans for helming "The Invisible Ray" and "Dracula's Daughter" at Universal the previous year. 1937 was an important year for Lund on a more personal level as well. On August 21st she married Kenneth Higgins, a former beau from her Northwestern days, and began a union that would endure until his death in 1973. The pair had two daughters, Terry and Kim. Columbia began utilizing Lund's talent in several of their two reel comedies as the decade wound down. She was cast alongside funnyman Charley Chase in "Calling All Doctors," "The Big Squirt," and "The Awful Goof." Of course, the resident comedy team at Columbia, and the personal favorites of studio head Harry Cohn, were The Three Stooges. Lund joined them in "Three Dumb Clucks" and "Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb." Ultimately, the security of married life won out over her Hollywood ambitions. Her final film was released in 1939. Except for an appearance in the biographical "I Used to Be in Pictures" in 2000 with such long retired players as Peggy Moran, she never appeared in another motion picture. A delightful and charming person, Lund surfaced at the Memphis Film Festival in 1992. It was there that she found, to her delight and astonishment, that her career was remembered fondly by a whole new legion of fans. Her kindness and sense of humor made her a popular guest star at such events. It is ironic that the films that she viewed as being detrimental to her career, would ultimately be the titles she is best remembered for. At the time, she considered the Stooge comedies a comedown, yet in the mid 1990's she received a standing ovation from 2,000 fans at a Three Stooges film festival, an event that made her most proud.

On February 15, 2002, Lucille Lund Higgins passed away at age 89. She was survived by her two daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. In her obituary published by the L.A. Times, she is quoted as having told an appreciative audience of fans at a 1995 festival why she thinks that she was so fondly remembered. "I really think that the reason you all remember me is because I went to bed with Boris Karloff," she said.

 

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