Birth Name Tor Johansson
Born October 19, 1903
Died May 12, 1971
Like Rondo Hatton, Tor Johnson needed little makeup to play monsters. Johnson was not deformed like Hatton, but was possessed of a 300-pound-plus frame which lent itself well to the portrayal of superhuman monsters, roles that Tor Johnson played in a number of films in the 1950s. Usually the actor appeared with a shaved head and little other makeup in fashioning a series of bizarre brainless giants in films like Bride of the Monster (1955), The Black Sleep (1956), The Unearthly (1957), and The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961).
While not an actor of great ability, Johnson certainly was a memorable performer, and his appearance on films was enough to send shivers down the back of many a filmgoer, even when he was not playing monsters - in such films as The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), The San Francisco Story (1952), The Lady in the Iron Mask (1952), and Journey to Freedom (1957).
Tor Johnson was born in Sweden around the turn of the century, and by the early 1930s he was barnstorming the United States as a professional wrestler, usually under the name of the "Super Swedish Angel." In 1935 he appeared as a wrestler in the W.C. Fields' comedy The Man on the Flying Trapeze. For the next two decades, he would continue to make fleeting film appearances while remaining one of the most popular attractions in the wrestling world.
By the mid 1950's, Tor had retired from wrestling and settled into a new career as a movie monster. In 1944 he had his first brush with fantasy films with a bit in the Universal comedy The Ghost Catchers, starring the comedy team of Olsen and Johnson. In 1955 he kicked off his starring career in the genre by creating the role of "Lobo" in Bride of the Monster, the final starring film for Bela Lugosi. Johnson, in fact, would appear in Lugosi's final three films and was a friend of the horror film great in the final years of his life.
Bride of the Monster was a shoddy effort detailing how a crazed scientist (Lugosi) used atomic energy to create a human monster (Johnson), whom he planned to mate with a young girl (Loretta King) to create a super race. Johnson had a great deal of footage as the lumbering Lobo, and he soon became a favorite of horror film fans and the part became closely associated with him. Next, he was featured as the mindless giant Curry in The Black Sleep (1956), an all-star horror outing which had him as the lobotomy victim of a mad scientist (Basil Rathbone). The film also featured Bela Lugosi as the doctor's mute servant. Johnson worked with Bela one last time on Grave Robbers From Outer Space, an Edward D. Wood Jr. production about aliens landing on earth and using resurrected corpses to aid them in taking over the world. Lugosi died after filming only a few scenes as Ghoul Man, a resurrected corpse who murders a policeman (Johnson) and turns him into a zombie. It was not until 1959 that the film was finally nationally issued as Plan Nine From Outer Space.
In 1956 Tor Johnson also had a small part in the musical fantasy Carousel at 20th Century Fox. The next year, he was Lobo again in The Unearthly, one of the last films released by Republic. Here, Lobo was the servant of a mad scientist (John Carradine) whose gland experiments had turned him into a brainless giant. The film did give Tor a few lines of dialogue, and in the end he aided the heroine (Allison Hayes) in escaping the fate he had befallen. In 1959, Tor again repeated the part of Lobo in Night of the Ghouls, a sequel to Bride of the Monster. This time, Lobo is resurrected and becomes involved with two ghosts and a fake spiritualist (Kenne Duncan). Although completed, the film was never issued. Tor had his last starring role in the 1961 Crown International release The Beast of Yucca Flats. Here he played a defecting Russian scientist who is caught in an atomic blast in the Yucca Flats area and is turned in a radioactive rampaging monster. In the early 1970s, the film resurfaced as Atomic Monster: The Beast of Yucca Flats.
During the 1960s, Tor Johnson made occasional television appearances on such programs as "People's Court", "You Bet Your Life" (with Groucho Marx), and "The Red Skelton Show". He also made a few television commercials. In the late 1960s he recreated the role of Lobo for a series of personal appearances in Southern California.
Tor was noted as a friendly man who was easy to work with. Actress Valda Hansen, who appeared with Tor in the 1959 film Night of the Ghouls described Tor as being "like a big sugar bun." Tor's wife Greta reportedly disliked the monsters he was being cast as because they didn't portray Tor as he actually was.
Tor Johnson died May 12, 1971, in a Los Angeles hospital after a brief illness. He was survived by his wife and son.
- The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935)
- Under Two Flags (1936)
- The Meanest Man in the World (1943)
- Ghost Catchers (1944)
- Road to Rio (1947)
- Behind Locked Doors (1948)
- State of the Union (1948)
- Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950)
- The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
- The San Francisco Story (1952)
- The Lady in the Iron Mask (1952)
- Bride of the Monster (1956)
- Black Sleep (1956)
- Carousel (1956)
- The Man Who Turned To Stone (1957)
- The Unearthly (1957)
- Journey to Freedom (1957)
- Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
- Night of the Ghouls (1960)
- The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
- Head (1968)