Spooky Season

Women in Horror!

Nothing says Halloween quite like a  scary story. While it’s easy to think of the world of horror as a boys club, many women have contributed to our favorite terrifying literature, films, and TV shows. Over the years, several of these women and their ancestors passed through Ellis Island and the port of New York.

Adrienne Barbeau (b.1945)

Adrienne Barbeau has appeared in several horror and sci-fi films. She began her career on Broadway, then became a household name on television on Maude, playing the title character’s daughter. Barbeau entered the horror film genre in the late 1970s when her then-husband, legendary horror director John Carpenter, cast her in The Fog. With that film’s great success, Barbeau became an instant horror star, going on to star in Swamp Thing (1982) and Creepshow (1982), among other scary movies. Barbeau is of Armenian ancestry on her mother’s side. Her grandfather, Simon Nalbandian, arrived in New York on the La Savoie in July 1910.

Rosalind Cash (1938-1995)

Rosalind Cash began her acting career in the Broadway revival of the musical Fiorello! in 1962. In the late 1960s, she was a founding member of the Negro Ensemble Company, an influential theater company dedicated to producing and promoting new theatrical works that focused on the Black experience both in America and around the world. Among her film roles, Cash is best known for the 1971 post-apocalyptic thriller The Omega Man, an adaptation of the 1954 novel I Am Legend. Her final film appearance was in the horror anthology Tales from the Hood (1995). In June 1909, Cash’s grandmother Edith arrived on the Segurnaca from Nassau in the Bahamas with her son.

Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968)

This movie industry pioneer began her career as a secretary at a camera production company. In 1895, Guy-Blaché attended a screening by the Lumiere brothers in Paris, the first public demonstration of film projection technology. Inspired, she immediately asked her employer, Leon Gaumont, for permission to make her own films. Sadly, Guy-Blaché’s first film, La Fee aux Choux (1896), has been lost to time. In 1910, she co-founded her own production company, Solax Studios, which operated out of Flushing, New York. Guy-Blaché is widely considered to be the first woman to direct a horror film. Some consider her film Turn of the Century Surgery (1900) an early example of body horror, while Faust and Mephistopheles (1903) is a more classic horror tale. In March 1907, Guy-Blaché and her husband, Herbert Blaché, traveled to New York from France on the La Touraine.

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965)

Author Shirley Jackson was best known for her stories of suspense and horror. Among her most famous works are The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and the short story “The Lottery.” Jackson’s writing often focuses on themes of social isolation and fear of societal judgment. In 2007, the first Shirley Jackson Awards were held to recognize literary achievements in suspense, horror, and dark fantasy. The Haunting of Hill House, published in 1959, has been adapted for the screen twice, in 1963 and 1999, and was made into a popular Netflix series in 2018. Among several other adaptations for theatre, radio, film, and television, a fictionalized version of Jackson’s own life served as the inspiration for the 2020 film Shirley, based on a 2014 novel of the same name. Jackson’s father, Leslie, was born in England and came to the United States with his mother and sisters in July 1904 on the Oceanic.

Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986)

This Academy Award-nominated actress is perhaps best known for her portrayal of the Bride of Frankenstein in the 1935 movie. Born in England in 1902, Elsa Lanchester got her start acting on stage and made her film debut in 1925. In Bride of Frankenstein, Lanchester played both the titular bride and Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. While listed in the credits as playing Shelley, the “monster’s mate” is only credited as being played by “?.” This is a nod to how actor Boris Karloff was credited in the original 1931 film. In September 1931, Lanchester and her husband, fellow actor Charles Laughton, arrived in New York on the Olympic to costar in the play Payment Deferred on Broadway. Lanchester would travel back and forth between England and America several times before applying for US citizenship in 1942.

Milicent Patrick (1915-1998)

The multi-talented Milicent Patrick was a special effects artist, animator, and actress who created one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time. Born Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia di Rossi, she lived in El Paso, Texas, before moving to California as a child. After studying illustration and drawing at school, Patrick began her career in the ink and paint department at Walt Disney Productions. By the mid-1950s, she had joined the makeup department at Universal Studios. There, Patrick designed the look of creatures for several horror films, including It Came From Outer Space (1953) and The Mole People (1956). She crafted her most famous creation in 1953 when she designed the Gill-man, more famously known as the title character from Creature from the Black Lagoon. In July 1920, Patrick arrived in New York on the Santa Luisa with her parents and siblings after an extended stay in South America.

Winona Ryder (b. 1971)

A household name since her teens, Winona Ryder was introduced to a new generation of viewers with her work as Joyce Byers on the sci-fi horror hit Stranger Things. Throughout her career, Ryder has performed in several horror movies and Halloween classics, including Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997). Born Winona Laura Horowitz, Ryder grew up traveling to Brooklyn to spend Passover with her paternal grandparents, Solomon “Sol” and Ethel Horowitz. In July 1906, Sol arrived in New York from Minsk, Russia (modern-day Belarus) on the Kroonland with his mother, sister, and brother. The family was traveling under the last name Tomschin, which they changed to Horowitz sometime after they settled in the US.

Sigourney Weaver (b. 1949)

This award-winning actress rose to fame in the sci-fi horror classic Alien (1979). Born Susan Alexandra Weaver to a family of entertainers, she developed an interest in acting at an early age and went on to study acting at the Yale School of Drama. In addition to the Alien franchise, Weaver has acted in many horror and Halloween favorites, including the original Ghostbusters films (1984, 1989), The Village (2004), and The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Weaver’s mother was English actress Elizabeth Inglis who performed in several films in England and the United States in the 1930s and ’40s. In September 1938, Inglis arrived in New York on the Normandie, traveling under her birth name, Desiree Mary Lucy Hawkins.