Emma Jensen braved an empty theater to watch "Bride of Frankenstein"
A promotional event surrounding the 1935 fright film left one Rochester woman $5 richer.
A midnight showing of “The Bride of Frankenstein” promised to be a scary time for Emma Jensen, of Rochester.
Especially since Emma was destined to be the only person in the darkened Chateau Theatre on a July night in 1935.
Her lonely adventure in the seats of the Chateau was by design. In fact, Emma, who was listed in the city directory as a waitress at a local hotel, had been the winner of a promotional contest.
She was “selected from over 100 brave Rochester ladies, defying the fears and scares of sitting alone in this vast 1,700-seat theater, surrounded only by empty seats,” proclaimed Ray L. Niles, Chateau manager. “And when the lights go up, if she is still there, a crisp $5 bill is her reward.”
“The Bride of Frankenstein,” a sequel to the 1931 hit “Frankenstein,” had been released in April 1935. The movie starred Boris Karloff as the monster, with Elsa Lancaster as his bride.
Karloff suffered a broken hip on the first day of filming. Still, by keeping to a tight shooting schedule and a not-so-strict financial plan, “The Bride of Frankenstein” was completed in 46 days at a cost of $397,000, about $100,000 over the original budget.
Audiences and critics loved the movie. Although it was banned in some locales, “The Bride of Frankenstein” eventually brought in several times its production costs in ticket revenue.
At the height of the Great Depression, movies were a major form of affordable escape. With tickets locally priced at 15 cents, the movies promised romance, action, fright and larger-than-life characters.
Audiences anxiously looked forward to new releases, and advance publicity for “The Bride of Frankenstein” didn’t disappoint. “If you have a weak heart, better leave now,” declared the official trailer for the movie.
To accentuate the imagined potential danger to the health of easily frightened movie-goers, the Chateau assured in newspaper ads that there would be a “first aid room during the showing of this picture.”
So it was likely with some trepidation that Emma Jensen, of Fifth Street Southwest in Rochester, prepared to see the debut screening of the year’s most anticipated scary movie.
“Miss Jensen will be surrounded by empty seats as she watches this horror picture unfold on the screen, as no other person, except the operator who will be locked in his booth too far away to interfere or be of aid, will be allowed in the theater,” the Post-Bulletin reported.
As July 11 turned to July 12 at the stroke of midnight, the lights in the Chateau went down, and the frightful film flickered on the screen. For the next 75 minutes, the era’s most famous monster came to life.
“I took a good grip of the arms of the chair and I didn’t dare think about being all alone,” Emma told the Post-Bulletin the next morning. The movie, she said, provided “a real thrill.”
That might have served as an endorsement for anyone trying to make up their mind about seeing the movie at its regular showings the coming weekend at the Chateau.
As for Emma, although she was $5 richer, she said of her solo movie going experience, “I’d never do it again.”
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.