Thursday, October 19, 2006

The 'Super Swedish Angel'

It was sometimes said that Rondo Hatton was the only horror film star who didn't need any make-up, but with the entry of Tor Johnson into the genre, that simply wasn't true anymore. With his startlingly large shoulders, bull-neck, shaved head and fearsome grimaces, Johnson cut a wide and visually memorable swath through a number of mediocre films. In the 1930s he barnstormed the U.S. as a professional wrestler, billed as the "Super Swedish Angel," as distinct from Phil Olafsson, the "Swedish Angel," who actually bore more of a resemblance to Rondo Hatton.

In 1935, he played a wrestler in a W.C. Fields movie, The Man on the Flying Trapeze, and followed that with brief appearances in other Hollywood movies. His horror movie career took off in earnest when he was invited by B-movie director Ed Wood to play "Lobo," the atomic monster-creation of "Dr. Vornoff" (played by Bela Lugosi) in Bride of the Monster (1955). With a thick Swedish accent and unfocused thespian style, Johnson was no Olivier, but he did play a key role in Wood's classic of bad cinema, Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), and made a career of replaying "Lobo" in subsequent B movies and public appearances around southern California.

Now a cult figure of sorts, his face was used as the model for a popular Halloween mask, he was portrayed by wrestler George "The Animal" Steele in Tim Burton's 1995 film Ed Wood, and he even showed up as a character in an underground comic book, Tor Love Betty, as a "Lobo"-like, ardent admirer of pin-up girl Bettie Page.

Johnson was born on this day in 1903, and died on May 12, 1971 in Los Angeles.



Anonymous Thomas Thompson said...

Excellent coverage of one of the greats. What do you mean a "mediocre" actor? Sure he was no Olivier, but Olivier was no Tor Johnson or even Stephen Segal for that matter.

I happen to own a copy of the Tor Loves Betty comic as well as an death mask of the great man. Glad to see others recognize one of the giants -- both physically and talent-wise.

Tom Thompson

12:05 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

I met him as a little girl, thru my grandfather. My mom was afraid He would scare me, but he was so nice...Buffalo, NY

11:33 AM  
Blogger torpedo said...

My grandad was a big man, but very sweet and kind to everyone.

Tor Johnson 3rd

5:23 PM  

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