Godmother of English feminism and mother of ‘Frankenstein’ author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, grew up on a farm in Barking and Dagenham from 1765.
Mary’s imagination and strong sense of connection to the Universe (though not a Christian, in later life Mary refused to rule out the existence of a Creator) can be traced back to her “reveries”: long walks on the flats around Dagenham’s marshes to get away from an alcoholic and violent father.
The cast of Dudley-born James Whale’s ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’, loosely based on the novel by her daughter, was a collection of expat British actors in Hollywood: Anglo Indian Boris Karloff, from Honour Oak, as The Creature; French-born Sandhurst graduate Colin Glenn Clive-Greig as Henry Frankenstein; Welshman E E Clive as the Burgomaster; Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Pretorius; and Valerie Hobson as Elizabeth Lavenza, Henry’s fiancée.
Hobson stars in several films on the Underground film map: she plays the adult Estella in David Lean’s 1946 ‘Great Expectations‘ (Chancery Lane), and is the prim and virtuous Edith D’Ascoyne in ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets‘ (West Acton). In real life, Hobson’s second marriage was to British politician John Profumo, the focus of the scandal which rocked Macmillan’s government in 1963 when – as a Minister – Profumo admitted lying to the House of Commons about his affair with Christine Keeler. After the scandal ended his political career (‘Scandal‘ is at Lancaster Gate), Hobson stood by her man much as she stands by Henry in ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ despite his dalliance with Pretorius’s “experiments”. The couple dedicated their lives to charity, in Profumo’s case becoming a trustee of Toynbee Hall in the East End in the 1980s.
The Bride was played by Elsa Lanchester, who grew up south of the River in Clapham. Born to unconventional socialist parents who never married, in early adult life Elsa trained as a dancer in Paris under Isadora Duncan, whom she disliked. When the school closed due to the outbreak of World War One she returned to England and became a star in London’s cabaret scene. Elsa performed old Victorian music hall songs, and several were recorded by Colombia Records in 1926 including her rendition of ‘Don’t Tell My Mother I’m Living in Sin‘.
Becoming a darling of the bohemian Bright Young Things, Evelyn Waugh made a home movie with her in. In 1928, H G Wells wrote several short silent films in which Elsa starred. She met Charles Laughton and eventually moved to Hollywood with him, where they married and became US citizens. Elsa had a long career even though her few moments on screen as The Bride have eclipsed all her other acting roles, including appearing in ‘Mary Poppins’, on TV in ‘The Man From UNCLE’, singing a duet with Elvis Presley in ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ and playing the mother in the original ‘Willard’.
She also continued to do her vaudeville and marionette show, including off-colour songs, which she recorded on LP in the Fifties, and as a co-founder of the tiny Turnabout Theatre (referring to the way streetcars could travel in both directions) along with a gay truple, The Yale Puppeteers. They performed satirical marionette shows to an appreciative audience of polysexual Hollywood royalty, who often saw themselves sent-up affectionately in puppet form.
The exact nature of her relationship with Laughton, who it’s often claimed was gay, was never clear to the public but they remained together from 1929 till his death in 1962.