by Dana Shaw
Since the classic 1886 story first hit the stands, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has enthralled readers. The idea of one body containing two identities, one good and one evil, has since woven its way into the public consciousness. If ever we see two minds residing in a single person, we immediately think “That’s just like Jekyll and Hyde!”, though in the 120 years since they first appeared, Jekyll and Hyde have taken on many other forms.
Cartoons illustrate a great example of Jekyll and Hyde in the modern world. A person struggles internally with doing the right, but boring, thing or the fun, but evil, thing. This struggle is represented by an angel and a devil who whisper suggestions in the person’s ears. This physical manifestation of good and evil as different parts of the same personality stems directly from Jekyll and Hyde. Other adaptations of the characters may be seen throughout popular culture today: the Hulk, a calm physicist who transforms into a gigantic and strong monster when he is angered; Dorian Gray, whose outer beauty belies his ugly inner nature, shown only on the portrait that grows older and more hideous with time; Two-Face, the Batman villain obsessed with duality and the nature of good and evil. Different aspects of the characters Jekyll and Hyde have formed the basis for many characters with similar natures.
But it is not only the characters of Jekyll and Hyde that have gone through these adaptations. The story itself has inspired hundreds of films and plays. Following are a few of the best-known and the most unusual among them.
1886: Robert Louis Stevenson published the original novella.
1887: The first stage adaptation, written by Thomas Russell Sullivan and Richard Mansfield, was performed a year-and-a-half after the release of the novella and is now considered to be a classic. Mansfield played the titular roles, transforming himself onstage from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde with no more than lighting effects, posture shifts, and differing expressions. Mansfield briefly became a suspect in the case of Jack the Ripper because he could so convincingly shift himself from a respectable person to a monster in a matter of seconds. From the beginning, adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde have included female roles, even though women were conspicuously absent from Stevenson’s original story. Mansfield continued to perform in this role until his death in 1907.
1910: The first film adaptation, Den Skaebnesv Angre Opfindelse, opened in theatres in Denmark. Jekyll wakes at the end to discover all of his interactions with Hyde were merely a dream.
1915: Vitagraph produced the first of many gender-bending Jekyll and Hyde films, titled Dr. Jekyll and Madame Hyde.
1920: The most famous silent film version was released in the United States. Starring John Barrymore, it was the first to feature Jekyll as a medical doctor rather than as the chemical researcher that he had been in the original. It established Jekyll as the archetype of the Nice Guy who does not deserve the horrible things happening to him. Hyde was a spindly spidery monster.
1925: Stan Laurel presented Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde, the first parody of Jekyll and Hyde in film. With the help of Dr. Pyckle’s 58th Variety potion, Pyckle transforms into Pryde, who commits such vile acts as stealing an ice cream cone. The transformations are spoofed by featuring them in rapid succession and with comic quickness.
1931: This was the film starring Fredric March that implanted the modern view of Jekyll and Hyde in the public consciousness. Hyde became an overly sexualized character, portrayed as a predator. Also, Hyde’s appearance was that of a human being gone backwards through evolution, a digression into an ape-like monster. It is considered by many to be the most faithful film adaptation to both Stevenson’s novella and Stevenson’s thematic intent.
1941: Richard Abbot’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde displayed a concern about modern science that was common to the era – World War II instilled a sense of distrust that hailed from the production of nuclear weaponry. This was one of the last major stage adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde for the next few decades.
Also in 1941, the 1931 film version was remade starring Spencer Tracy. This was the first time Jekyll’s name was pronounced as it is now, rather than the “JEE-kill” that Stevenson would have used. Like Abbot’s play, the film displays a distrust of the nature of science, asserting that it was science that ruined Henry Jekyll’s life. Tracy played both Jekyll and Hyde, though there was little visual distinction between the two roles in the film.
1953: Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was produced by Universal Studios. Abbott and Costello played two American policemen who travel to England to research the techniques of the British police and, in the process, stumble across Jekyll and Hyde.
Shenanigans include a chase scene through a wax museum, a potion that turns Costello into a mouse, and numerous Hyde monsters who give chase to Abbott and Costello toward the end of the film.
1963: The film The Nutty Professor premiered. Though it was not the first of the many post-World War II comedic adaptations of the Jekyll and Hyde story, it remains the best known. It features nerdy Professor Julius Kelp transforming into the attractive smooth operator Buddy Love in order to woo the woman of his dreams. (In 1996, a remake featuring Eddie Murphy was released, changing Julius Kelp’s character into the obese Dr. Sherman Klump.)
1972: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde was produced, the first film since Dr. Jekyll and Madame Hyde to present Hyde as a woman. In addition to exploring the usual theme of good and evil in a single person, the film explores the idea of one person’s bisexuality as Jekyll and Hyde pursue, respectively, female and male lovers.
1976: Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde was one of many blaxploitation horror films released in this era. Jekyll’s potion turns dark animals white and the working title of the film was Dr. Black and Mr. White.
1988: Anthony Perkins of Psycho fame played Jekyll and Hyde in another film adaptation called Edge of Sanity. The transforming agent is no longer the potion, but a mixture involving large amounts of crack cocaine.
1990: The first two musical stage adaptations appear within a few months of one another. Jekyll and Hyde the musical opened in New Brunswick, NJ. John Cullum played the titular roles. Another Jekyll and Hyde musical opened in the Promenade Theatre in New York City, very loosely based on the story of Jekyll and Hyde.
1996: The film Mary Reilly showed the story of Jekyll and Hyde through the eyes of an Irish maid, a minor character in the novella. It was praised for its dark look at both the life of Mary Reilly and the Jekyll and Hyde story.
1997: The best-known musical adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde opened on Broadway. It features two leading ladies: Jekyll’s fiancee Emma Carew, daughter of Sir Danvers Carew, and Hyde’s love interest Lucy Harris, a prostitute at the local club. It ran for over 1,500 performances and attracted a large following of self-proclaimed “Jekkies.” The show was nominated for four Tony Awards and won a Theatre World Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and two Drama Desk Awards.
2009: Abel Ferrara began shooting a new adaptation of the Jekyll and Hyde story, starring Forrest Whitaker and 50 Cent.
2009: Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde opened in a co-production with the Arizona Theatre Company and the San Jose Repertory Theatre. It is now playing at the City Theatre in Pittsburgh from October 17 through November 8.
This list does not begin to cover all of the adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde that have surfaced over the years. There are over 200 versions of Stevenson’s original story, and we can be certain that there will be even more in the future.