A more in depth look at the Crestwood Monster series…


By Shawn Robare

I’ve mentioned my love for a set of elementary school library books called the Crestwood House Monster Series on the site before, but I figured it would be fun to delve into one for the Halloween countdown this month. Probably referred to as those ‘Orange Monster Books’ (because of their deep orange back cover and spine) by kids like me who weren’t astute enough to notice the publisher’s name, these relatively short (at around 50 pages) hardback books were a treasure trove of monster related trivia and information for a generation of kids in the 70s and 80s.

There were at least 15 books in the series including Frankenstein, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Dracula, The Mummy, The Blob, The Wolf Man, Godzilla, Mad Scientists, King Kong, The Phantom of the Opera, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, The Invisible Man, It Came From Outer Space, and The Deadly Mantis as you can see on the back cover of my tattered copy of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman…

I’m not positive, but I think some of the later editions had a purple back cover and spine.

Now, growing up in the 80s I wasn’t inundated with monsters to the degree that the generations before me were, at least not the more classic monsters, though we did have our fare share of newer creations, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Filmation villains and horror movie slasher icons. Fangoria had supplanted Famous Monster of Filmland by that time, and merchandising for the classic monsters (like monster models and the like) had become few and far between. My only real introduction to the Universal stable of monsters was through watching a couple of the films with my parents, the one time that one of our local channels teamed with 7-Eleven to broadcast Revenge of the Creature in 3-D (you could pick up a free pair of 3-D glasses at the stores), and the Crestwood House series.

So what’s in these books you ask? Well, why don’t we take a look at my copy of Frankenstein and see…

I’m not sure if that’s the Glen Strange or Bela Lugosi incarnation of the monster on the cover there (I prefer Karloff.)

**UPDATE**  As has been pointed out many times in the comments thread, The above picture is of Lon Chaney Jr. under the make-up.  That is all…

On the title page we can see that the book was first written in 1977 by Ian Thorne, though I believe that Thorne is a pseudonym for Julian May an active science fiction writer who published these Crestwood books with her husband in the 70s and 80s…

The book begins with a summation of the events in the first Universal Frankenstein movie, along with some really gorgeous still photos (Forrest J. Ackerman actually provided photos for the Crestwood series) including this one of Fritz terrifying the monster with a torch.

Now honestly, most children’s books on Frankenstein would probably stop there (though it would also probably have a short section about Mary Shelly and her novel), and this is where this series really shines. Not only does it include a bit on Shelly, but it also goes into the history of Frankenstein on film, going so far as to mention Edison’s version of the film from 1910.  Luckily a print of Edison’s 15 minute film was found, though I think it’s sort of being held hostage by the guy who discovered it (here’s the story), but thanks to the internet you can now watch it for free here.

There’s also a close-up on Boris Karloff and some of the other Universal incarnations…

…as well as a bit on The Munsters.

Though there’s a little bit of unneeded criticism on I Was a Teenage Frankenstein by Thorne/May, it still amazes me that it was brought up at all, as well as her invocation of the Hammer version of the monster as portrayed by Christopher Lee…

There’s even a bit at the end about a made for TV version of the story.

Though I’m sure the content of this book isn’t nearly as revolutionary as I’m making it out to be, I can’t help but feel that it is. I’ve read a few books on horror and monsters, and it wasn’t until I picked up David J. Skal’s The Monster Show as an adult that I read about all the various incarnations of Shelly monster on film, and to think that it was all (mostly) in this children’s book just amazes me. I guess this also points to how much I think I missed out on growing up without magazines like Famous Monsters, and not really getting all that much on TV (at least in central Florida where I lived at the time.) Here’s a question for all you monster kid parents out there, are there books out there for children that are this well versed in monsters?

Here’s a nicer (less damaged) version of the back cover (though it’s also an earlier copy without the full set of books listed)…

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  • Jay

    Shawn, this is a fantastic line of books that I have tons of fond memories of. My libraray had almost the entire series when I was a kid.

  • Nat

    THANK YOU for this trip down memory lane! These books were easily the most coveted in the Charles Barnum Elementary School library! Much like you, these books were my introduction to Karloff, Lugosi, et al.. However, there was also Remco’s line of action figures! Now, I’m off to Ebay to snag one of these treasures…

  • Nat

    P.S. The cover shot is definately Glenn Strange in Ghost of Frankenstein. It’s actually credited somewhere in the book, if memory serves.

  • Monster Maniac

    Thanks for posting this great stuff!

  • Pierre

    Please note: That cover is from The Ghost of Frankenstein, but it’s not Karloff, Lugosi or Glenn Strange. That’s Lon Chaney, Jr. Wonderful post, Shawn. I’ll be referring to it later this week on my blog about Frankenstein: frankensteinia.blogspot.com

  • The Retropolitan

    awwww I remember those!

  • Richard

    Hi- Found your “”Crestwood House”" posting just by chance tonight. The Frankenstein cover IS Lon Chaney Jr. as has been stated. Julian May used the name “”Ian Thorne”" for her contributions to this series but she had NO part in the creation/publishing of the Crestwood House monster books. There were 15 of the “”orange”" titles (“”Monster Series”") in both hardcover and softcover…then 12 titles of the “”purple”" books, hardcover only. The very first 6 titles also offered read-along audio cassettes. Two types of promotional fold out posters are known to exist. Also, a Wisconsin publisher bought softcover titles of the first series and made them into hardcovers to confuse the issue further. I wrote a lengthy article on the Crestwood House monster books in 2 parts which was published in Richard Stoner’s “”Monster Mayhem”" newsletter out of Lansing, Michigan around 1998 or so. As I lived in Mankato, Minnesota at the time, I knew Mr. Daryl Jacobsen (the publisher) and had him to my home to tour my monster collection and conduct interviews. You have a cool site, Shawn! Best regards, Richard

  • Stu

    Your photo of the frankenstein monster where you said glenn strange or belah lugosi is wrong … the man who is in the make-up is lon chaney jr. reserch is always the better part of writing.

  • HEATH

    THAT’S LON CHANEY JR AS THE MONSTER ON THE COVER OF THAT BOOK FROM 1942′S GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN

  • Grimm Reaper

    That’s Lon Chaney Jr. on the cover. Not as good as Boris Karloff or Glenn Strange. Karloff was great, but Glenn Strange really brought terror to the role. He was more imposing than Karloff. Although Karloff had wonderful presence and was more fluid in motion. Strange was just flat out creepy in his appearance as the monster. Although he only played the monster three times. As for Chaney Jr. He played it only once. While Karloff played the monster only three times. Lugosi only once.

  • Michael Bean

    Ahh, memories…

  • Jim

    the one above isnt glenn strange or lugosi; is lon chaney jr.

  • Mlton

    these were amazing. i read these many times over as a kid, and probably didn’t even get to see most of these movies until within the last 10 years or so. don’t know why they didn’t go Karloff on the cover. was there a rights dispute or something? also, the picture from the hammer film always grossed me out as a kid. so creepy.