|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 43, October 2002. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.|
By Andy Aliffe
Few people know more about the portrayal of Jack in the arts than Andy Aliffe, who here provides a fascinating overview of Jack, waxworks and the movies.
I’m not sure whether it is an enviable or unenviable task to walk in the early morning each day along smelly, cobbled streets, past the ‘Ten Bells’ on one side and the ‘unfortunate’ Mary Kelly on the other, only to be greeted in the murky shadows ahead by the eviscerated body of Catharine Eddowes.
Around each corner I stumble across serial killers and murderers like Christie and Crippen and finally pass the severed and spiked heads of Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, and Louis XVI, originally plaster cast and created by the founder of my present employer, the famous wax modeller Madame Tussaud.
At the height of the Ripper murders in 1888 a travelling waxworks had set up in the Whitechapel Road opposite the London Hospital, in the same building that had earlier displayed the Elephant Man. It included a half-hearted attempt to depict one of Jack’s victims in order to make a few quick pennies from the morbid curiosity of the East End population.
At the same time, in the fashionable West End Madame Tussaud was running her famous Wax Museum in the Marylebone Road. Here she displayed life-size and life-like figures of the famous and infamous of history, including, together in the same room Sir Charles Warren and Prince ‘Eddy’, Albert Victor.
Madame Tussaud was born Marie Grosholtz, in Strasbourg. Her father died before her birth and her widowed mother became the housekeeper to Philippe Curtius, a Swiss doctor who had abandoned his medical career in order to model in wax. In 1767 Marie joined Curtius, the man she was to call ‘Uncle’, in Paris where, he was to run two highly successful exhibitions of wax figures and tableaux’s, which were to attract not only Parisians but also visiting Royalty. From an early age Marie acted firstly as studio assistant and subsequently as pupil and collaborator with her ‘uncle’. By 1778 she was competent enough to model both Voltaire and Rousseau and two years later she entered the household of Louis XIV’s sister, Madame Elizabeth, at Versailles, as a tutor in art. Here she remained until recalled by Curtius on the eve of the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.
Danger struck suddenly, at a time when Curtius was away; Marie, her mother and her aunt were all arrested and taken to prison. They didn’t know why. People could be arrested just for sympathising with a victim of the guillotine. While in prison, Marie met Josephine de Beauharnais, who later became Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, both of whom would eventually sit for Marie, who would sculpt their likenesses.
The three women were set free in about a week. Again they didn’t know why. Too frightened to go home, they stayed with friends until the Doctor returned to Paris.
One of Marie’s main tasks during the ‘Terror’ was to search through the cemeteries taking guillotined death masks of leading victims of the Revolution, many of whom Marie had once known as friends. They were then moulded into heads and displayed by the ‘revolutionaries’.
In 1794 Dr. Curtius died leaving Marie the sole heir to his estate. She continued to run the exhibition on the same principal of updating the figures as the regime changed. By then she had married civil engineer Francois Tussaud and given birth to two sons, Joseph and Francois. By 1802, however, when the Peace of Amiens brought a momentary lull in the Napoleonic wars, business flagged. As far as the French were concerned the ‘Salon de Curtius’ was decidedly unfashionable and the forty-year-old Marie, now in her more celebrated guise of Madame Tussaud moved across the channel, never to see her husband again.
In order to reach England, Madame Tussaud had entered into a partnership she quickly regretted with an old showman friend of Dr. Curtius, Philipstal. The two combined to offer alternative attractions for a six-month season at the Lyceum Theatre in London under the name ‘The Great Curtius of Paris’. She arrived with thirty figures, which included models from the revolutionary period, besides a resurrection of those from the Versailles years.
In an age where the events of the noble, famous and infamous were not generally known, Madame Tussaud’s exhibition presented an opportunity for the general populace to see first hand the people they knew only by name or reputation and the exhibition became an instant success.
By 1809 the collection was showing under her own name and travelled the highways and byways of England, Scotland and Ireland. The exhibition had survived a shipwreck in the Irish Sea and fire during the Bristol riots of 1831.
After nearly thirty-three years on the road it was time to find a more permanent home for the exhibition. Marie could not have guessed that the railways were about to provide her with a constant supply of patronage.
Madame Tussaud moved her collection to the Baker Street Bazaar in 1835, two years before Victoria became Queen. By 1846 the catalogue sales exceeded 8,000 a year, the Throne Room was used as a background for elegant fashion plates and the first political cartoon had taken for it’s theme a confrontation between wax politicians.
Marie continued to make wax portraits until she was 81 and sit at her table collecting the entrance fee almost to the year of her death in 1850.
Charles Dickens in All the Year Round wrote: ‘Madame Tussaud’s is something more than an exhibition, it is an institution’ and in 1873 the Morning Post was quoted as saying ‘Foreigners of all nations, more especially Americans, seldom come to London without first visiting Madame Tussauds’ - which is still true today.
In 1884, under the leadership and management of Marie’s children and grandchildren the Exhibition transferred its 400 wax figures northwards from ‘The Bazaar’ at the corner of Portman Square and Baker Street, to a new building on the site of the present attraction. Financing the move and the new building proved more than the Tussaud family could manage and Madame Tussauds became in 1889 a joint stock company.
The world famous ‘Chamber of Horrors’ came into being during the many years in which Marie toured Britain. Perhaps it really started in Manchester in 1822, where one part of the exhibition was advertised as the ‘Peculiarity Room’. Later this became known as the ‘Separate Room’, described as ‘inadvisable for ladies to visit’.
When Madame Tussaud brought her collection to England, the fascination of British visitors for the portraits of the French Revolutionaries was tempered by their concern at seeing effigies of men like Robespierre in the same room as George the Third.
Accordingly Madame Tussaud took the precaution of installing the ‘Separate Room’ to which she could consign those that were not comfortably compatible with the portraits of the establishment, but who were none the less interesting. Not until 1846 did the ‘Separate Room’ become know as the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ after a lampooning article and cartoon appeared in Punch. Despite various attempts by Madame Tussaud to introduce a politer euphemism, such as the ‘Chamber of Physiognomy’, it has remained the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ ever since.
Madame Tussaud exhibited her death masks from the beginning with a working model of Dr. Guillotine’s engine, which had been designed to decapitate its victims quickly, without prolonging the pain. In 1846 shortly before her death, Marie’s son traced the actual blade which did such dreadful work in 1793 and 1794, to Sanson, grandson of the Executioner in Paris during the ‘Terror’. As part of the purchase price, Sanson provided drawings for the construction of a full sized working guillotine. During a visit to the Exhibition in 1873 the Shah of Persia was so anxious to have a demonstration that he selected one of his retinue for the purpose!
Madame Tussauds’ have always enhanced their tableaux’s and displays with relics, artefacts, and clothing of the actual people and events. Indeed, they even have their own ‘Black Museum’ to equal that of Scotland Yard. Items belonging to Burke and Hare, the phials of William Palmer the poisoner and the bath in which George Smith did away with his well-insured brides. In 1891 the pram, sitting room and kitchen furniture of the Murderess Mrs. Pearcey was purchased as well as personal items connected to Crippen and Christie and a whole array of torture devices, weapons, gallows and hang-man’s nooses.
Crowds of thousands gathered to see men hanged. Later when executions took place in a closed prison yard, popular interest was transferred to the installation of the condemned person’s effigy in the Chamber of Horrors. On a cold December day in 1890, 31,000 people blocked the road outside Madame Tussauds’s to try to see Mrs. Pearcy’s portrait and the relics of her crime, a repeat of a situation that had occurred a year earlier in 1889 when the alleged poisoner Florence Maybrick was put on display, modelled by John Theodore Tussaud, the chief sculptor during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The figure was placed in one of the small rooms outside the Chamber of Horrors and stood in a framework of black and red drapery, dressed in black, with a Russian cloak decorated in black crepe and wearing a transparent veil.
It was stated that the excellent likeness with golden brown hair and brown eyes had been rapidly modelled because John Theodore didn’t believe that she would be found guilty and didn’t start work until the verdict was actually pronounced. It was claimed by the New York Herald that he had descriptions of Mrs Maybrick wired to him by an agent in Liverpool and also went to a great deal of trouble to obtain an ‘admirable’ photograph. The portrait was set up in the exhibition on 11th August and drew an enormous crowd ‘..like a Bank Holiday..’ John Theodore described.
The heyday of condemned murderers in Tussauds Chamber was at a time when executions were no longer public shows - Between 1868, when the Newgate shoemaker and public executioner Calcraft officiated in public for the last time, and 1965 when capital punishment was abolished.
Included together in the Chamber of Horrors up until the mid 1960s were one time alleged Ripper suspects, Frederick Deeming, Thomas Neill Cream and George Chapman/Klosowski.
Frederick Deeming was executed in Melbourne, Australia in May 1892 for the murder of his second wife. It was subsequently discovered that he had murdered his first wife and four children and buried their bodies under the floor of his house at Rainhill, near Liverpool. After his conviction in Australia he is reported to have confessed to the ‘last two’ Ripper murders.
Thomas Neill Cream, ‘The Lambeth Poisoner’, was executed at Newgate in August 1892 for the murder of three women within twelve months by means of strychnine pills. He was allegedly overheard on the scaffold by the hangman Billington to say ‘I’m Jack the…’ as the trap door opened.
And lastly George Chapman, real name Severin Klosowski, was executed at Wandsworth Gaol in March 1903 for the murder of three barmaids, each of whom he married and poisoned with antimony. Chief Inspector Abberline, who led the day-to-day investigations of the Whitechapel Murders, was heard to have said on Chapman’s arrest, ‘You’ve got Jack the Ripper at last’.
Chilling to think that these alleged suspects stood next to each other in the same room for over sixty years.
All three had been modelled in life by the same sculptor of Florence Maybrick, John Theodore Tussaud. As today, in Victorian and Edwardian court rooms only sketches were allowed to be made of those on trial, but John Theodore, who was by then well known at criminal proceedings went to great lengths to get the best pictures, using the latest photographic technology at his disposal, suggested to him by a friendly police sergeant: A camera hidden inside a bowler hat!
Guy Thorne’s 1912 description of the murderers in the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ is still true today: ‘Row upon row of faces which differ in every way one from another and yet are dreadfully alike. For these great sinister dolls, so unreal and so real, have all a likeness. The smirk of cruelty and cunning seems to lie upon their waxen masks. Colder than life, far colder than death they give forth emanations which strike the very heart with woe and desolation’.
The ‘Chamber of Horrors’ continued popularity is a vivid reflection of mans’ fascination for a safe experience of the macabre, whether in the theatre, film or world of wax.
The first association with the Chamber of Horrors, a mysterious Ripperesque figure and Madame Tussaud’s can be traced back to the turn of the 20th Century when in 1911 the American monthly McClure’s Magazine published a sixteen page short story called The Lodger by Mrs. Marie Belloc Lowndes.
The events of the story reach a climax when Daisy, the stepdaughter of Mrs. Bunting the landlady, comes to stay. Mr. Sleuth the ‘Lodger’ and Ripper suspect invites them both to escort him around Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks Exhibition. ‘Ladies always likes ‘horrors’ says the turnstile keeper; ‘that’s our experience here. Oh take me to the Chamber of Horrors, that’s what they say the minute they gets in the building’.
The three descend to the chamber where, at the same time, the Commissioner of Police and his French counterpart are engaged in a conducted tour. Mistakenly concluding that Mrs. Bunting has betrayed him, the lodger makes his escape by a side exit only to be found some days later drowned in the nearby Regent Canal.
And so began a connection between Jack and Wax Museums that continued over the decades through the then new medium of cinema photography.
By 1915, twenty seven years after the Whitechapel Murders, the celluloid image of Jack could be seen on screen for the first time, making an appearance in Farmer Spudd and His Missus Take A Trip to Town. Described as having humour of an old fashioned type, this silent short was made by British Gaumont and partly filmed inside Madame Tussaud’s . The Spudd’s visit Tussaud’s, only to fall asleep in the Chamber of Horrors where they dream that Jack and other wax figures come to life. The Farmer was played by the films director, J.V. Leigh who four years later went onto produce and direct an adaptation of H.G.Wells’ science fiction classic The First Men in the Moon.
Dreaming of a ‘Wax Jack’ was the part inspiration behind Paul Leni’s 1924 German made film Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett). In this silent film a young man is asked to write narrative tales to accompany three wax exhibits in a fairground side show. The three, Haroun al-Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper are each then dramatised to form individual episodes. In the case of the Ripper however he is mentioned on caption cards throughout out as ‘Spring-Heeled Jack, the most amazing character of all time’, although he is clearly based on the Whitechapel Murderer. The Ripper is played by Werner Krauss wearing a long overcoat and homburg hat, with a white scarf thrown over his shoulder and clutching a knife in his hand. Mentioned in the narrative at the beginning of the film, Jack’s only other appearance is limited to a few scenes in the closing minutes. After finishing his stories the young writer falls asleep in front of the wax portrait of Jack and dreams the figure comes to life and pursues both him and the daughter of the exhibit owner around the fairground. The closing shot is effective as Jack turns to the camera in the background while the lovers embrace and ends with the writer being stabbed by Jack. Waking to find he has jabbed himself with his own pen, the caption card reads ‘I dreamed that Spring-Heeled Jack stole you from me’.
Jack appears in name only in the 1932 movie Mystery of the Wax Museum.
WORTH - ‘Whose fault is it that no one comes here? The museum at Walston Lane does well enough, and why? They’ve got Jack the Ripper, Burke and Hare, the Mad Butcher, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, things people pay to see.’
IGOR - ‘And they are welcome to them. To perpetuate such creatures is to celebrate their crimes.’
During a violent thunderstorm in London of 1921, wax sculptor Ivan Igor, (Lionel Atwill) is visited by two dignitaries who are promising to admit his work to the Royal Academy. As soon as they leave, Igor’s business partner, Worth, decides on an easy way to increase their revenue at the wax museum by simply burning the place to the ground and collecting the £10,000 insurance money. As the fire grows, Igor tries desperately to rescue his treasured effigies, but they melt and Igor seemingly dies. Twelve years later Igor’s wax museum makes its grand opening in America. Now confined to a wheelchair, Igor is unable to sculpt with his fire-ravaged hands, but he instructs others who create the works of art for him.
When the mysterious death of Joan Gale hits the newspapers, the police arrest a millionaire playboy as their chief suspect, but a fast-talking, wisecracking female reporter, investigates further into the case and discovers that Joan Gale’s body has strangely disappeared from the morgue. After a visit to see the wax museum’s new life like Joan of Arc exhibit, she begins to piece the mystery together.
Igor is later introduced to Charlotte Duncan, (Fay Wray), who he instantly sees as Marie Antoinette, his prized waxwork lost to him in the original museum. Slowly the evidence mounts as more bodies disappear from the morgue and new life like exhibits open in the famed wax museum. The final scenes end as Igor rises from his wheel chair and advances towards Charlotte, who hammers with fists on his face, which crumbles away to reveal the hideously scarred features behind the lifelike wax mask.
Igor proceeds to undress Charlotte and places her on the slab to receive the boiling wax, but alerted by her screams the police arrive to rescue her in the nick of time, while Igor meets his demise when he falls into a vat of melted wax.
The film’s director Michael Curtiz, found that he had to use actors to stand-in as the wax figures because the hot lights kept melting the originals. Subsequently, you can see Fay Wray struggling to remain motionless as she doubles for ‘Marie Antoinette’ in the opening scenes.
House of Wax
Although it doesn’t feature Jack the Ripper, House Of Wax, released in 1953, has a Ripperesque motif in many of the scenes and uses a silhouetted Jack-like figure in much of it’s advertising and promotional material. The House of Wax is a polished ‘3D’ remake of Mystery Of The Wax Museum. House of Wax starred Vincent Price as Professor Jarrod and the story, and scenes follow the original Mystery of the Wax Museum almost plot for plot.
Price performs his part superbly while a young Charles Bronson can be spotted as Jarrod’s mute assistant Igor.
Interestingly, the director, André De Toth had only one eye, which meant he had no three-dimensional sense whatsoever!
For promotional purposes Price ‘stood-in’ for his own wax image at Buena Park Wax Museum and squirted visitors with water from his syringe. He also paid an unscheduled visit to a cinema featuring the House Of Wax and sat behind two women who almost fainted when he asked them if they enjoyed the film.
Jack appeared again as an actual wax figure in a 1963 episode of the Twilight Zone entitled “The New Exhibit”.
The plot again is derived partly from Mystery of the Wax Museum and centres on the threatened closure of ‘Fergusons’s Wax Museum.
‘Now here we have another soul in torment, Jack the Ripper. Who was he? and which of all the faces that moved about London’s Whitechapel district, which one was he? Why did he feel driven to kill those pathetic drabs with one sweep of the knife you see here? I’m afraid we’ll never know’. So says Martin Senescu the museum’s curator.
Senescu decides to store in his own home the occupants of ‘Murderer’s Row’ for safekeeping. He becomes obsessed with the wax killers and when his wife, brother-in-law and former employer try to intervene, they are subsequently found dead. It seems that the wax effigy of Jack is responsible for the first killing, the murder of Senescu’s wife.
The Ripper played by David Bond, is similarly made up as in Leni’s film Waxwork, wearing a long scarf and with a knife clutching hand. ‘You sure these ain’t alive?’ asks the gasman ‘Not altogether,’ Senescu replies, but in typical Twilight Zone style it’s revealed that Sensecu himself is the murderer. The epilogue shows the model killers housed in another museum, where the wax figure of Senescu is now displayed as the newest exhibit of ‘Murderers Row’.
A spoof of a spoof best describes the House of Max, a double episode of Get Smart broadcast in January 1970. These two programmes follow Secret Agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) and his partner ‘Agent 99’ (Barbara Feldon) to London. The series was created by Mel Brooks and was itself a spoof of The Man From UNCLE, with elements of James Bond thrown in for good measure, and the plot and title of this waxy episode, written by Chris Hayward – they were first broadcast in January 1970 - is a spoof of the House of Wax mentioned earlier.
In London, Chief Inspector Sparrow tells Smart he believes Jack the Ripper is responsible for the recent outbreak of a series of murders. Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), who is waiting for Max in Hyde Park, is being stalked by the killer. Ex-scientist Fluval, who now operates a wax museum in London, is their prime suspect, killing in the guise of the wax figure of Jack.
1973 saw the release of Terror in the Wax Museum and borrows much from the House of Wax and The New Exhibit. Set in London in the late 1800s, it starred Ray Milland as Harry Plexner. It was Milland’s second encounter with the Whitechapel Murderer, having directed in 1961 an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s story Yours Truly Jack the Ripper for the TV series Thriller.
‘And there he stands, Jack the Ripper, this fiend with the skill of a surgeon, who has committed at least 20 murders in the city of London and only this morning, another foul murder was committed in this very museum’ says Plexner as his public introduction to the wax model of the Ripper, played by Don Herbert.
The plot is extremely straightforward. Claude Dupree (John Carradine) owner of Dupree’s Wax Museum in London is murdered with a knife that is clutched in the hand of a wax figure of Jack the Ripper. A prospective buyer of the museum’s exhibits is also killed. Dupree’s niece, now living on the premises, imagines that she sees the figure of the Ripper come alive. The police are called to investigate, but the solution to the story is quite simple. Tim Fowley, one time bit-part actor and now landlord of the pub next door, enters the museum at night dressed as the shadowy hat-and-cloaked bogeyman, Jack the Ripper, in order to look for Dupree’s hidden treasure, and murders for real as he continues to search.
In 1979, David Warner embodied ‘Jack’ as Doctor John Stevenson in a leap into the future with the Ripper-inspired film Time After Time. Twenty years on he would play Inspector Harold Longford in ‘Ripper’ the episode title of a new series of The Outer Limits. In the Ripper centenary year, 1988, he had his second of three associations with ‘Jack’, playing a lead role in the film Waxwork.
A group of six American college students, invited by Mr Lincoln (Warner) to the midnight premiere of his Waxworks, are a bit perplexed by the museum which seems to have appeared in the suburbs out of nowhere. They’re greeted by a midget butler who seats them in a waiting room. After a few minutes the entrance to the waxworks mysteriously opens on its own and they make their way in. Inside they go off in different directions looking at the exhibits which are frighteningly realistic, are all morbid and each one dealing with some kind of death or hideous monster, including a short sequence of a realistic Victorian cobbled street tableaux with a ‘Wax Jack’ poised over his next victim and ready to kill. Step by step, each of the teenagers make the mistake of entering one of the roped off scenes, which instantly transports them into the actual event which comes to life. When two of the party realise their friends are missing, they head home thinking their friends have ditched them.
Quickly realising something is wrong, they discover that Mr. Lincoln is a disciple of Satan trying to resurrect eighteen of the most evil beings to ever to walk the earth. By recreating a waxwork exhibit for each evil person and the environment they lived in, and then feeding them the soul of a living human, Mr. Lincoln can bring them back to life.
They don’t have much time - only two exhibits are without souls and once the souls are provided all eighteen will return to life. The heroes must burn the waxwork before Mr. Lincoln succeeds with his plans. But when they return, burning it proves to be more than difficult as each of them is thrown into an exhibit, one full of zombies, the other full of torturers. ‘Can they escape the exhibits? Or are they destined to be the two that complete the cycle?
That closing question could only be suggestive of a sequel, which was indeed made in 1992 under the title of Waxwork 2 - Lost in Time. It featured Alex Butler as a now ambling ‘Wax Jack’ playing the Ripper in a brief staged re-enactment of a murder, into which one of the heroes from the original 1988 version now finds himself and who narrowly escapes the blade of Jack’s cut throat razor before encountering Dracula on the silent movie set of Nosferatu!
1988 and a hundred years on from the original murders, a rekindled interest in the Whitechapel Atrocities saw Madame Tussaud’s open in the Chamber of Horrors, amid a blaze of publicity, their new attraction ‘Jack the Ripper Street’, an authentic and atmospheric looking - and smelling - cobbled lane with gas lamps, pub and life like figures and victim, hidden in the shadows. However this met with an equal amount of bad press from protesters who had also demonstrated outside the ‘Ten Bells’ pub renamed as the ‘Jack the Ripper’.
The ‘Women Against Violence Against Women’ picketed the queue outside the exhibition in Marylebone Road protesting against the increasing commercialisation marking the hundredth anniversary of the East End crimes. Unaffected by such matters the ‘Ripper Street’ remains today as popular as ever - and lucky or not for me it plays an important part of my daily working environment as one Madame Tussaud’s team of Guest Service Managers.
It has often been written that amongst the artefacts owned by Madame Tussauds is a ‘Jack the Ripper Letter’. A check in their archives reveals that this is actually an original Metropolitan Police poster displaying the facsimile of the ‘Dear Boss’ Letter, and Postcard received by the Central News Agency. But what of Jack himself as an exhibit? Well according to Pauline Chapman in her book Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors - Two Hundred Years of Crime:
‘There was one notorious murderer who claimed five victims in a short period of three months in 1888 whose portrait figure was never modelled. This was Jack the Ripper. Madame Tussaud’s descendants refused to depart from her original policy of only creating portraits’ from known images and likeness. Any likeness of Jack the Ripper would be completely imaginary. No one had caught a glimpse of his figure, or even a likely figure, let alone a face. Even today, though one of his victims stands waiting for a client, Jack the Ripper is not there’.
References and Sources
Many thanks to Susanne Lamb, Madame Tussaud’s Archivist. Much has been quoted with the kind permission of Denis Meikle from his well-researched and profusely illustrated book Jack the Ripper - The Murders and the Movies, a must for any Ripper collection.
Pauline Chapman: Madame Tussaud’s - Chamber of Horrors. The Story of Madame Tussaud a Ladybird Publication. Various Tussaud’s brochures and catalogues, and Internet film review sites.
NB The fictional TV Victorian Police Sergeants Cork and Cribb had episodes filmed at Madame Tussaud’s in 1965 and 1981 respectively.