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Jack Smith

Hyde-and-Seek Games With 'Jekyll' Fans

February 16, 1988|Jack Smith

If only as a diversion from the presidential campaign, I would like to take one last shot at the question of whether the unfortunate Dr. Jekyll, as played by Fredric March in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," was truly a werewolf or merely a victim of psychological delusions, as several readers insist.

Compelling evidence that Jekyll was a true werewolf, as I contend, comes from the well-known Hollywood writer and historian Maurice Zolotow.

"I stand squarely with you," he writes. "Rouben Mamoulian, that great director of films and musical productions, directed and conceived this masterpiece. Mamoulian recently died. He was a friend of mine.

"I once wrote a very long article about him for the old Saturday Evening Post and he then told me that he deliberately modelled the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into an animalistic monster after the medieval notions of werewolves."

Zolotow adds that Mamoulian never revealed the makeup and camera secrets by which March was transformed before our very eyes from "a genteel physician into a monster." He concludes: "It was the most intense moment of sheer horror I've ever experienced in a long life of movie watching."

Zolotow also recalls that in a later movie version of the story (1941) Spencer Tracy made the transformation from Jekyll to Hyde without turning into a wolf. "If anything, my feeling is that Spencer, his director (Victor Fleming), cinematographer and makeup (artist) went more for a simian effect--for I recall Tracy's Mr. Hyde climbing trees and swinging from branch to branch like a gorilla."

On the other side, it is only fair to point out that Tom Triman of Santa Ana recalls several interviews in which Mamoulian described the monstrous Mr. Hyde as "our common ancestor, the Neanderthal man." Triman says this statement is quoted in Harry M. Geduld's book, "The Definitive Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Companion," and may be heard on the videotape of the PBS production, "The Horror of It All."

Triman notes that "a close examination of stills from the film will confirm (this perception) as well. March's Hyde is no werewolf. Try were-ape."

Teri Karshner supports this view from her memory of the film, which she saw at the Bing Theater in the early 1970s, though she describes Mamoulian's conception of Hyde as an "ape-man" as the director's "comic invention."

Karshner says, "March did not sport long black hair as you mentioned; it was quite short. His makeup was designed to resemble gorilla-like features. As I recall there was a scene in which he swung around the fixtures of his room.

"Remember that the controversy over the theory of evolution was still fresh in the public mind at the time of this production. The Scopes Trial media circus was less than seven years in the past. . . ."

Well, at least an ape is a true bestial creature, not merely a psychological delusion.

I save for the last a document that has only recently been discovered among some long-lost papers of the late Dr. Jekyll and made available to me through an intermediary whose name I am not at liberty to disclose. It is a poem in Dr. Jekyll's distinguished hand, evidently written by the tormented physician in a lucid moment, when he realized that his chemical concoctions had lost their power to return him to his true identity. It follows:

\o7 Who will rid me of this lupine curse? / Who stab the evil heart inside me? / What doctor, alchemist, what gentle nurse / Dare face the horror and abide me? / Is that Jekyll who slinks down London streets / Howling in the yellow light, fangs bared, / Who sweet maidens heinously greets, / Innocents, modestly unprepared, / With bloody claws and fetid breath, / And leaves them mangled on the walk? / Who will rid me of this wolfman face / And give me back to wine and gentle talk?

\f7 Though Jekyll was an indifferent poet, as you may divine from this melodramatic effort, the poem is written in a style that might easily have been achieved by a young man of Jekyll's late-19th-Century cultural upbringing. In any case, it reveals dramatically the torment endured by that unfortunate young man, and also his remarkable insight into his own condition.

As for the authenticity of the poem, I can only say that it was procured for me by a man whose truth and integrity I hold in the highest regard, though he is also, alas, an abominable poet.

I trust I have brought this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

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