Cher Public

Come to the unstable

lancesterThirty years ago today, Elsa Lanchester left this planet.  While she is best remembered as the titular Bride of Frankenstein, in her 60+ year career she contributed much more than an unforgettable shriek and a lightning bolt in her beehive.  Let’s celebrate the coming of 2017 with a peek at her cabaret act consisting of bawdy Cockney songs. 

Born to “Bohemian” patents in London in 1902, her life included dance studies with Isadora Duncan, marriage to Charles Laughton, and Oscar nominations for Come to the Stable and Witness for the Prosecution.

Aside from her extensive stage and cabaret career, she contributed memorably to many other films such as The Razor’s Edge, The Bishop’s Wife, The Big Clock, The Inspector General, Bell, Book and Candle, Mary Poppins, Willard, and Murder by Death.

The majority of these songs – initially recorded by Lanchester as early as 1926 – were conceived as serious parlor songs from the Victorian Era, but her naughty interpretations create comic masterpieces of the likes of “Please Sell No More Drink to My Father,” “Mrs. Badger-Butts,” “When a Lady has a Piazza,” and “If You Peek in My Gazebo.”

In the 1950s, clad in a green satin gown contrasting wildly with her hair, she gave a cabaret performance about which The New Yorker stated, “A breath of fresh air in our smoky night life, Elsa Lanchester, with her abstract face and thicket of apricot hair, was oddly diverting, funny, fantastic, wistful, and wayward.  There is a desperate quality about her art: in some curious way, she takes her listeners out of a close, tidy world and into a disquieting place filled with sharp winds and unsteady laughter”

My personal favorite remains “The Yashmak Song,” which was once dedicated to me by an accordionist at an East Village bar in the early 1990s.

Many thanks to all of my dedicated listeners and followers, and I wish you all the best for 2017!

  • abel

    Thanks, JML, that was enormously enjoyable! Unable to sleep Christmas morning, I watched “Bell, Book and Candle” on TCM. Lanchester is wonderful in that, charming, fey, and slightly addled. A unique talent.

  • Dave Yaney

    Many, many thanks for this and for all of the “Mondays”!
    My favorite is “Faith, Hope, and Charity.” What a strange voice she conjures up to sing this: it’s like the purest extract of Victorian false virtue. Eerie and wonderful!