In 1966 the original "WITCH'S DUNGEON CLASSIC MOVIE MUSEUM" had a documented opening in Bristol, Connecticut. It is a tribute to the actors & effects artists who've contributed to the legacy of classic fantasy films. The Witch's Dungeon features highly accurate life size figures based on the classic films of Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price and others from the golden age of horror & sci-fi cinema. The museum is considered the longest running exhibit of its kind in the country (stated by "Entertainment Tonight" in 1996 during our 30th anniversary).
It began with a 13 year old, CORTLANDT HULL. Being ill during most of childhood, he occupied some of his time by building the Aurora monster model kits, inspired by the vivid color artwork of JAMES BAMA on the box covers. Cortlandt was fascinated with the art of movie makeup, and how an actor could be transformed into a fearsome creature. After visiting several wax museums, as a kid, he was disappointed by their "Chamber Of Horrors" lacking the classic movie monsters. At that point, Hull's monster models were not enough. He began creating his own life-size character, "ZENOBIA THE GYPSY WITCH" as a hostess for his own "Horror Museum". She was named "Zenobia The Gypsy Witch" in honor of a former obnoxious classmate of Hull's mom named Zenobia. She felt Zenobia was a name "fit for a witch!". It's wrongly mistaken that the name originates from the character of "Zenobia the Witch" in "Sinbad & The Eye Of The Tiger" (1977) by Ray Harryhausen, but the film was released 12 years after the creation and press documentation of our elder "Zenobia".
Her voice was originally to be done by MAE QUESTEL, best known as the voice of "Betty Boop", she was also the voice of the "Sea Hag" in the "Popeye" cartoons. But Mae believed her friend, JUNE FORAY did a far better "witch voice", as June had done it for Disney, Warner Bros. and other cartoon studios. June has been highly supportive of the museum ever since, and a great friend.
In 1966, Cortlandt's dad, ROBERT HULL helped him build a swiss chalet-style building to house Cortlandt's full size versions of his favorite classic creatures, which became "The Witch's Dungeon". Being a painter and decorating contractor, Hull's dad helped him build all the background sets. Hull's mom, DOROTHEA HULL, was a costume designer, she re-created many of the elaborate costumes & capes. Hull's uncle, LOUIS GAGNON, became the electrical engineer, and with Cortlandt designed & wired unusual laboratory gadgets for the sets. At the time, there were no Halloween attractions, except for neighborhood costume parties, yet Hull's concept was supported and encouraged by his childhood heroes DON POST SR. VERNE LANGDON, & "Famous Monsters" magazine editor, FORREST J. ACKERMAN.
As Hull's artistic abilities developed through college, and his career in art, so did his accuracy in re-creating life size figures for "The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum". Thanks to Oscar winning makeup artists: JOHN CHAMBERS ("The Planet Of The Apes") and DICK SMITH ("The Exorcist"& “Dark Shadows”), Cortlandt learned some of their techniques, and due to their generosity, acquired life casts of the actors to work from.
By the 1970's, into the 1980's the small museum had doubled it's size. It was beginning to achieve national attention, due to articles in THE NEW YORK TIMES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! and even "PLAYBOY". Network TV shows - TO TELL THE TRUTH, KIDS ARE PEOPLE TOO, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, GOOD MORNING AMERICA and others, featured the museum. Actors VINCENT PRICE, JOHN AGAR & MARK HAMILL provided special recordings for the "Dungeon" tour. Leading voice actress for many Warner Bros. & Disney cartoons, JUNE FORAY became the voice of "ZENOBIA THE GYPSY WITCH" - the official hostess for the museum.
Visitors to "The Witch's Dungeon", beginning in the 1990's were greeted by very special hosts, such as SARA KARLOFF (daughter of actor Boris Karloff), BELA G. LUGOSI (son of actor Bela Lugosi), RON CHANEY (grandson of Lon Chaney Jr.), Oscar & Emmy award winning makeup artist DICK SMITH and several others from the film community, who donated their time to support the exhibit. In 1992 with the support and help of VINCENT PRICE, MARK HAMILL and the families of BORIS KARLOFF, BELA LUGOSI and LON CHANEY The Witch's Dungeon was granted rights from Universal Studios to the likenesses of their classic movie monsters.
In the years that followed, the museum became involved with the U.S. Postal Service - promoting their "Classic Movie Monster Stamps", featuring portraits of Karloff, Chaney & Lugosi in 1997. The museum figures were displayed at several post offices in the New England area. Plus a special screening of Lon Chaney Sr's "Phantom Of The Opera" with a live orchestra performing the original 1925 music score, hosted by RON CHANEY, co-sponsored by "The Witch's Dungeon" and the U.S. Postal Service.
Soon after, the life-size monsters began to travel - as many major film conventions requested displays of our classic chillers and original movie props at shows and conventions across the country. Locally, the renown "HARTFORD STAGE COMPANY" requested a major lobby display in connection with their stage production of "The Mystery Of Irma Vep". Plus each year, the Connecticut State Tourism has asked "The Witch's Dungeon" to have a major display in the Connecticut Building at "THE BIG E" in West Springfield, MA. in September.
Due to the success of the "Dungeon" and the accuracy of the figures, UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA commissioned Cortlandt to create a figure of Lon Chaney Jr. as "The Wolf Man" for their "Classic Monsters Cafe" in Orlando. The project was a combined effort, involving two of Hull's talented colleagues PAUL DAY CLEMENS and DANTE RENTA.
Shortly after Cortlandt's mom, Dorothea, passed away in 2004, it was decided we should honor everyone involved with the museum, including the actors & makeup artists which had inspired it's creation. Plus in 2006 we were approaching the 40th anniversary. A very visual two hour documentary was produced by the museum and it's talented volunteers - "The Witch's Dungeon 40 Years Of Chills". Not merely about the creation of the museum, but a history of classic horror, told directly by those that were involved in creating these films with exclusive interviews.
Hull maintains an immense respect for the movie making arts, which was the inspiration for creating the museum. Many people he knew in the film industry had given him original props or makeup appliances, from various films, which he has preserved. These pieces are not only part of movie history, but are fine art, and American icons. Like film itself, it is important to preserve them in a new museum for future generations.