Here's the last installment of Zacher-Lore, Issue 1 (1988). But have no fear! Issue 2 of Professor Kinema's (that's Jim Knusch, natch) Zacherley fanzine, is arriving by bat-courier next week. And Vampirawaits patiently in the wings--just for you, darlings.
"Jim Knusch's articles on film and TV history have appeared in numerous
magazines including FilmFax,Scarlet Street,Psychotronic Video,Screem and Scary Monsters. He is also the co-editor (with Dennis Daniel) of a superb book called The Famous Monsters Chronicles, detailing the life and times of the legendary original monsterzine and its creators." (E-gor's Chamber of Horror Hosts)
In the 'golden age'- the late 1950s and early 1960s- of monster fandom a lot was happening. A generation weaned on television and made fearful of the evils of communism and the reality of nuclear war was coming of age. That is, they were into their teens. Both the USA and Great Britain began to resurrect (in more ways than one) and breathe a new life into many of these classic monsters in updated productions for the big screen. These new offerings were embellished with color and gore. Life magazine of Nov 11, 1957 featured a two page spread promoting new and upcoming horror and sci-fi releases from American-International Pictures. Big screen horror and monsters were in. Vintage horror movies, especially of the 1930s, were finding a welcome audience on the tube. This acceptance was so strong that it led to a repackaging of select titles being syndicated and offered weekly under the title of SHOCK! The SHOCK! TV package was seen in some areas as SHOCK THEATRE, NIGHTMARE and HOUSE OF HORROR. As was suggested by the SHOCK! promo book, some of these were hosted locally by bizarre personalities. These personalities in themselves became phenomenally popular. This was evidenced by major pictorial articles in national magazines, hundreds of fan clubs, the marketing of premiums and-most importantly-high TV ratings. To the teenage fan caught up in all of this a trip to the local newsstand would result in the purchase of a comic book, a humor magazine or an occasional 'Tales of the Crypt'- type of periodical that was somewhere in between a comic book and pulp magazine. By 1958 something new was added to the racks; the Monster Magazine.
These days, it is hard to pin the popular Mr. Lobo down. What with his involvement in one of the upcoming Plan 9 From Outer Space remakes (believe it or not, there are two remakes in the works), hosting of the documentary Virginia Creepers: The Horror Host Tradition of the Old Dominion, and his incessant verve as he guides us through all those bad movies we just misunderstand on Cinema Insomnia, I was lucky to get a few questions in edgewise. Of course, the first thing I had to know was how Miss Mittens, his houseplant, was doing...
I must ask you, how is Miss Mittens doing these days?
She's working with a private gardener and her leaves have "filled out"...she's looking better.
She's was transferred to a new planter after getting out of rehab. She also still has some personal problems that she's working out. She blames me for a lot of it. We're spending some "time apart". We almost thought she wasn't coming back to the show as my co-host. She wants to come back to work. To her credit she's willing to set that aside our differences for the sake of the show. She doesn't want to negatively effect the 10th Anniversary stuff and the new syndicated season.
Helena, Hussy of Horror has launched her new monthly web series with Drinks with the Swamp Thing, a brief look at finding the perfect cocktail for your spring party as well as a review of the 1982 cult classic, Swamp Thing.
Originally done as a one shot for last fall’s Miss Horrorfest contest, Helena soon found new life by shooting an introduction for the festival run of the upcoming Anthem Pictures DVD release, Deadlands 2, Trapped. New Videos will be posted monthly. On the docket are shows about the original Friday the 13th and Jaws 3.
Dick Dyszel's undying alter-ego, Count Gore De Vol, haunted Washington DC's television screens from 1973 to 1987 as TV horror host for station WDCA. Beginning as the character M.T. Graves on the Bozo the Clown show, he parlayed his monstrous likability into hosting his own popular program, Creature Feature. His satirical approach to politics and the sexual revolution kept his show fresh and on the air until all local programming was canceled by the new owners of the station.
The unstoppable count rose from the grave once more, becoming the first Internet Horror Host to haunt the flickering computer screens, entertaining his devoted, and now international, fans every week.
While not putting together his weekly show, you can find him at conventions, hosting horror film festivals, and doing movies. He is featured in American Scary, a documentary devoted to the horror host phenomenon, and appears as The Narrator in Midnight Syndicate's The Dead Matter.
We got a hold of Dick Dyszel and didn't let go until he answered a few questions for your edification pleasure.
What keeps you going after all these wonderful years of horror hosting on television and the Internet?
EGO! I must be the center of the universe....or at least the center of my own modest web program. I, like most actors, love the attention.....particularly when you can do it your way.
Tell us about your early days in the television industry. What was it like?
I could write a book about this...and actually got one started before I lost interest. I was very fortunate in starting my TV career at a brand new UHF station in Paducah, Kentucky. Because we had a small staff, but great facilities, everyone got to do everything. I took advantage of the situation, which led to many 100 hour work weeks. But I also came away with a huge amount of practical knowledge. This allowed me to get off to a fast start in Washington. You have to understand that the 70's and 80’s were the last years of creative local entertainment programming on TV. It was a great time to be alive and in the business.
How did M.T. Graves evolve into Count Gore De Vol?
The general manager wanted a name change, or he wouldn’t approve the show. He said he wanted something “gory” so that’s what we gave him.
How much of Dick Dyszel's personality is part of the Count's?
I’ve been told that Gore is a secret extension of Dick’s personality. Who am I to argue with that?
You are the first horror host to bring his show to the Internet, back in 1998. Can you tell us what inspired you to do that?
In 1987, when I left Channel 20 in Washington, I was really burned out. I took ten years off, moved to Chicago and discovered the Internet. After a couple of years of people finding me through my DJ site, and encouraging me to bring Gore back, I got the itch to become the first horror host of the Internet. I learned how to do HTML, put the first weekly show on July 11, 1998 and the rest is history. So, I guess it’s the fans that inspired me!
Do you find you have much more creative freedom doing shows on the Internet as opposed to television?
The difference is not as much as you might suspect. At Channel 20 I had a tremendous amount of creative freedom. Heck, my program director used to say, “I don’t want to know what you’re doing!” So, I honored his request! But I did have to deal with other folks picking movies, scheduling production sessions and such. Now, I do all that. It’s a bit more freedom, but a whole lot more responsibility.
What trials, tribulations, and triumphs did you encounter when doing your Internet horror show?
The biggest trials have to do with evolving the program as technology evolves. When we first started we couldn’t stream video because everyone had 28.8 dial-up connections, so we streamed audio. Then came small screen video, then larger and larger and now certain video is streamed at full screen! Next will be high definition. But the worry is timing. When is the technology matured enough and wide enough spread to justify the change.
The triumphs include continued support from a great group of contributors! I could NOT do this weekly web program without their contributions. My longest running contributor is J.L. Comeau, The TombKeeper, who interviews authors and reviews books.
My newest contributor is Duncan Meerod, our paranormal investigator. Other triumphs include a Rondo Award win in 2004 and runner up finishes in 2005 and 2006. But the biggest triumphs have to deal with fan support from not only around the country....but around the world!
Speaking of the paranormal, do you believe in it? and if so, any firsthand experiences?
I have never had a paranormal experience and that really bothers me. I've been in one situation that supposedly was "real" but I quickly saw through the hoax. I someday hope to have such an experience...maybe even on video tape!
How do you keep coming up with ideas for your shows?
Magic! And I’m serious....I have no idea where most of the ideas come from. I do look at the films, the stars, the plots, the recent headlines, Washington politics and how I feel that day! Somehow it all comes together once the camera starts recording.....most of the time.
What advice can you give us on becoming a successful horror host and staying that way?
The best advice it to keep your expectations reasonable and don’t be afraid of new things. It also helps to love what you do! Right now the biggest decision most new hosts have to make is whether to go cable access or Internet! They both have advantages, but if you’re totally new to TV, I think it’s incredibly valuable to get that experience at a cable access studio, but not be afraid to make the leap to Internet.
You've done quite a few interviews with notable personalities: which interviews did you enjoy doing the most and why?
I always enjoy interviewing Dee Wallace Stone...she’s just wonderful. In that same category I would put Brinke Stevens, Reggie Bannister, Bruce Campbell, Lynn Lowery and author David Weber. The reason they are so wonderful is that they are willing to open up to questions based on their own answers. You never know where that will take you, but it breaks the standard response interview.
Tell us about your work on The Dead Matter. What was the experience like being "The Narrator?"
When Edward Douglas of Midnight Syndicate fame asked me to be in the film...not as Gore, but acting as another character, I couldn't say no. After I read the script, I became excited. "The Narrator" is actually a small role that's part of a dream-like sequence. I do both narration and portray a sinister teacher on camera. The experience of shooting on film with a full professional crew was fabulous. I've known Edward through a number of interviews for about 6 years. I knew there was a movie concept perking on the back burner and was thrilled to be part of it. Now we just need for it to be a huge financial success.
What are your favorite and least favorite horror films?
Among my favorites are “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Thing from Another Planet,” “Alien,” “30 Days of Night,” and “Fright Night.” I’m not a big fan of “Beast of Yucca Flats,” “Hostel 2,” or “The Village.”
What's the one question you would love to be asked, and what's your answer?
I used to ask this question and never got any good answers, but on some significant thought, I don’t have a good answer (or question) either.
The year is 1954. It's midnight on a KABC-TV Saturday night. A striking, impossibly wasp-waisted woman in a torn black dress glides down a long, dry ice misty, cobwebbed corridor toward the camera, past unlit candelabras. She stops. Suddenly she screams, then looks at the camera with a devilish gleam in her eyes and says "Screaming relaxes me so."
Vampira's short-lived television show--where, in-between showing gems like White Zombie and forgettable B-fare, she would mix a foaming cocktail to "absolutely kill you," or search for her always lost pet spider, Rollo--opened the door for the many male and female horror hosts that followed, and set the tongue-in-cheek, ghoul-cool standard for hosting still seen today. With her phallic-looking nails, plunging v-neck exposed bosom, and sardonic wit, she presented quite the picture of the succubus every straight guy would love to meet in a darkened room.
Kevin Sean Michaels, in his documentary, Vampira: The Movie, introduces us to Maila Nurmi, Vampira's more normal alter ego. In her eighties now, this succubus may have faded with time, but her wit remains as Nurmi talks about the creation of her influential character, still celebrated by horrorheads everywhere.
The most striking revelation, at least for me, is that she didn't start out the way she ended up. While many of us tend to do that, we, generally, have an inkling as to where we want to end up and aim accordingly. For Nurmi, all she wanted was to be an evangelist. How she missed that path--thank you God from us horror fans--is an interesting mix of plan and chance. Her plan was to make enough money so she could pitch a tent and start preaching. The chance came when she appeared at a costume ball, gets spotted by a producer looking for a good reason people would lose sleep for, and is hired to host a bunch of shlock horror movies that any sane person wouldn't watch in the daytime, let alone midnight on a Saturday night.
Using her love for comics, cartoonist Charles Addams, and bondage photographer and artist John Willie, Nurmi set about to create a "glamor ghoul." She mixed the sensual power of Terry and the Pirates' Dragon Lady, the ghoulish, bizarre charm of the Addams Family, and the fetishistic allure of Willie's tightly-bound leather ladies in ecstasy (or distress) to create the first Goth chick on the television screen.
In-between the testimonials and remembrances from notable horror personalities like Forrest J. Ackerman, Zacherley, Sid Haig, Lloyd Kaufman, Jerry Only of the Misfits, and many others, Nurmi recalls her sudden fame and subsequent Hollywood blacklisting,, and her associations with Marlon Brando and James Dean. While Vampira may have been a sexy, liberated ghoul, Nurmi shied away from acting because she disliked its competitive nature, and professed to be not as sexually-emancipated as her more seductive twin.
Cassandra Peterson discusses the lawsuit regarding her Elvira, Mistress of the Dark character, whom Nurmi felt looked too much like Vampira, and a good portion of the documentary focuses on Vampira's appearance in Plan 9 From Outer Space, in which Nurmi gives her initial impression of Edward D. Wood Jr. as a "low-born idiot." Unfortunately, little remains of Vampira's KABC-TV show, so Wood's legendary train wreck of a movie is her most-remembered appearance. After reading the script and complaining about her dialog, she and Wood agreed to make her character in the film silent.
The documentary is a welcome and long overdue tribute to an influential figure in the annals of cinematic horror, but it does have its minor faults. Background music is used when silence would have been golden, and too much time is spent on Plan 9 From Outer Space and Wood. The special features play more like "we've got to find something to add" instead of more note-worthy content, though, from the director's commentary it appears there's just not much material available. Nurmi led a hermit-like existence after James Dean's death, and it is quite an accomplishment to get her talking at all. But one pines for more clips from her show, and more personal recollections from those closest to her. But hearing and seeing Maila Nurmi, even after all this time, is to die for. Thanks to her devoted fans that helped make this documentary, we don't have to go that far.
As Vampira would say at the close of her show, "Bad dreams, darling."
But most of all, for kids born under the bomb and black-and-white TV, the revolution that was the 1960s began with Zacherley. (David Colton, Preface to Goodnight, Whatever You Are)
We take a lot of things for granted. I don't mean all those little inconsequential things that we siphon from our daily wake through the great white waters of life, but the really important things like our relationships with people, the places we go, and the history we take part in. Living our lives takes so much effort, so much involvement, that we scarcely get a chance to look back and reflect before it's all, suddenly, too late.
Richard Scrivani did look back, and his reflections on those things he didn't take for granted back in the 1950s and 1960s are the stuff of history, and childhood culture, and all those really important things many of us, who grew up in those churning and yearning years, have tucked deeply, and absent-mindedly, into our back soul-pockets.
Now I know it would be narrow-minded of me to say that the '50s and '60s were a wonderful time for everyone who grew up then, but I can say with certainty that there was one wonderful part of it that anyone could share in, whatever you were: Zacherley. In Richard's book, Goodnight, Whatever You Are!: My Journey with Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul, he reminds us of a time when monsters ruled the nascent airwaves, and Zacherley reigned as the TV horror host with the most, and flaunted it to the horror of many parents and authoritarians.
Zacherley came on the scene when Screen Gems opened the cinematic vaults in 1957 to release the Shock! Theater and Son of Shock! films, unleashing many classic—and many spastic—horror and suspense movies onto the little screen, awakening the monster-lust in many a young fan with their arcane terrors. In the middle '50s, the first lady of terror, Vampire, helped open the crypt door to future horror hosts who put their bite on the jocular vein, in welcome contrast to their show's more traditional, or just plain godawful, fright offerings.
As TV stations around the country scrambled to market their Shock! package of films, Philadelphia's WCAU-TV came up with a creepy character named Roland to play host for their show. John Zacherle, already acting in a western aired by the station, was asked to play the surly, acerbic-witted, but humorous crypt-kicker.
Richard Scrivani documents Roland's creation, and the ghastly business-side antics that led to Zacherle's eventual move to ABC-TV in New York to become the nationally known ghoulish gagster, Zacherley. With lots of photos, and a clever interview format that continues throughout the book, this look at Zacherley's rise to notoriety provides a revealing look at early television, which was a roll-up-your-sleeves time when local stations created much of their own programming and broadcast live entertainment.
Scrivani pays close attention to the progression of Zacherley's career across TV stations up to and including the move to UHF and WNJU-TV 47, where pop-music and pop-horror meet in a broadcast-live dance show called Disc O-Teen, aired every weekday at 6 P.M. from the Mosque Theater in Newark, New Jersey, starting in 1965. He attributes his first meeting with Zacherley to luck; the cute girl he danced with, Sami, caught the attention of the camera men and Zach. His luck would lead to a return visit for a Halloween show, and many more visits that spanned the three years Disc O-Teen was on the air.
Notable rock bands and their music in this era of social transition, and the dancers that made Disc O-Teen a happening show week after week, along with Zacherley's uniquely wacky sense of "grumor," are vividly told. Against this backdrop, Scrivani writes about the friendship that grew between him, a shy kid from New Jersey, and the palid punster whose iconic persona became the eternal poster child for monsterkids everywhere, whatever they were.
It's hard to describe a time in American culture when the word "plastic" was confined to model kits, and not used pejoratively, but Scrivani manages to capture the innocence, the angst, and the harsh reality of the black and white TV age. Along the way in this personal journey, his friendship with Zacherley hits its idle periods, but picks up as John Zacherle moves from horror icon to radio announcer and back again.
I was lucky to meet Richard at a little private soiree thrown by the Drunken Severed Head at the 2007 Monster Bash Convention. While I didn't have a cute girl like Sami to grab his attention, we were wedged in tight enough--small hotel room, many notable guests--that he couldn't escape my asking a few questions.
How did your friendship with TV horror host Zacherley get started?
It started with a visit to Zach's dancing show, Disc-O-Teen, in August, 1965. My younger brother's band, Herald Square, was competing in a contest on the show and the winning group was to be awarded a recording contract with World Artist Records. My dance partner and I were invited back for the upcoming Halloween show. That was the very beginning of what would become a friendship with Zach.
In your book, Good Night, Whatever You Are, you write about an era of television and culture that, sadly, no longer exists. Why is that?
Because there are no longer any local TV personalities like Zach, Chuck McCann and Soupy Sales to host live programming. Everything is tightly scheduled and sent out like mass-produced cookies. Videotape is also becoming a thing of the past because stations are now broadcasting with hard drives.
The days when you could walk into a studio where a show was being taped (like sneaking under the circus tent), sadly, have long disappeared.
What's your first monsterkid memory?
My very first "monster kid memory" has to have been the first time I saw THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS in the movies with my father and younger brother in 1953. I remember the picture had a slight greenish tint to it!
What other monsterkid memories can you share with us?
I remember my first experience with a vampire film. I was about 10 years old and THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE was being shown on a local TV station long before the "Shock!" package was released. It was the scene where Nina Foch kisses her fiance and the camera swings over to reveal Lugosi as Armand Tesla hiding in the shadows. The female vampire was obviously following his command and it terrified me to think that a vampire could pretend to kiss you and instead drink your blood.
Also (probably on the same station around the same period) Glenn Strange changing into a werewolf and stalking an old man in THE MAD MONSTER scared the life out of me. But the most intense memory was Bramwell Fletcher's abbreviated scream in THE MUMMY after coming face to face with Karloff's reanimated Imhotep, followed by that insane laughter. I watched the rest of the film with the sound so low it was barely audible; I wasn't going to be frightened like THAT again!
Having grown up on the early horror movies, what's your impression of the current crop of movies?
Every once in a while I see one I really like, such as THE OTHERS or the remake of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. For the most part, though, I'm not a big fan of current horror movies. I did actually like M. Night Shyamalan's THE SIXTH SENSE and THE VILLAGE, and I don't know if this qualifies as horror, more likely fantasy, but I thought PAN'S LABYRINTH was one of the best genre films of all time.
What's the one question you'd love to be asked, and what's your answer?
The question would be: "What makes Zacherley so unique and appealing?"
My answer: To a kid my age (12) in the uptight, conservative, tow-the-line 1950s, there were no TV personalities who broke the rules by poking fun at the stations' programming and even their bosses. When Zach came on the scene he seemed to be speaking just to us and it felt like he was one of us. He also wasn't afraid to make himself a filthy, disheveled mess while doing his crazy "experiments" and that was very much like the behavior of another kid! I think radio personality Pete Fornatale, who calls Zach a "televisionary", sums it up best - it was like Zach was telling one big joke and we were all in on it.
Goodnight, Whatever You Are is a terrific trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up as a monsterkid. For everyone else, it will make you envious that you missed out on all the fun. But remember, it's never too late, whatever you are.
Yeah, sure, I'll tell you what you want to know. The whole...gasp...ungodly thing: I was a TV horror host. Yeah, me. The ordinary guy without a monster suit. I was one of those who introduced monster flicks on Saturday night. Horror classics and non-classics sixty minutes before the arrival of the Witching Hour. Yeah, let the truth be heard throughout the dungeon, throughout the castle of madmen: I was a "Creature Features" man. John Stanley, I Was a TV Horror Host: Memoirs of a Creature Features Man.
Creature Features was a popular syndicated horror show that began in the 1960's. Each local TV show usually had its own horror host, the person responsible for introducing the classic Universal Studios horror movie, Roger Corman B-movie, Japanese horror and sci-fi movie, British horror movie, and just about any horror movie not nailed down under a coffin-lid.
In New York City, one horror host was The Creep (Lou Steele) on Channel 5. Except for his sunglasses and sinister attitude, Steele played The Creep without a dungeon backdrop or creepy make-up. I fondly recall spending a lot of time with The Creep and I'm a better person for it.
I probably would be a much better person had I been lucky enough to watch John Stanley's Creature Features on KTVU in Oakland, California. Although he sported the usual horror host trappings of a tomb-like set and outrageous throne chair, Stanley appeared as a normal guy who knew way too much (insert jealousy here) about the movies he presented. He also had the most wonderful and interesting celebrity guests to chat with (insert more jealousy here).
He's written an informative and very enjoyable book about his experiences on Creature Features called I Was a TV Horror Host. After I started reading it, I knew I had to ask him to step into the closet for a little chat; and find out all his secrets, hehe.
Just how does a long-standing journalist like you land the respected role of TV Horror Host for six popular years on Creature Features?
While I deal with this on pages 54-55, let me add that I would never have become a TV personality had I not personally known Bob Wilkins for more than 10 years. Through his program we had become good friends. Bob had always considered me an important contact at the San Francisco Chronicle and I believe that once he knew he was leaving the show, he saw no reason why he shouldn’t suggest me for the job. In all honesty, it caught me totally by surprise. If I harbored it within me, it was a deeply disguised secret. And yet, once Bob had suggested it, I must have decided, "Why not."
Actually, what few people know is that Bob was leaving Creature Features to work for George Lucas as his merchandising guru. George and Bob had met in the early days of STAR WARS and a friendship had been struck, which later led to the job offer to Bob. However, there had not been a clear meeting of the minds. Bob thought he would be working in the San Francisco-Bay Area — but it turned out Lucas, who was then living in Marin County, wanted him to move to Los Angeles to take over marketing there.
Bob, who had his own advertising agency, didn’t want to give it up and finally had to turn down the Lucas offer.
Even with that pitcher of water, filling Bob Wilkins shoes must have presented some daunting challenges: how did you surmount them?
The "daunting challenges" were formidable. I think I succeeded because, like Bob, I was not a professional in the usual sense. We did look alike in some ways (we both wore glasses, and I wore suits and ties on occasional, just as Bob did) and we both had a sense of humor about the show. I was also very knowledgeable about the movies, and I think that came across from the very beginning.
As difficult as it was in the beginning, I kept going back week after week, not afraid to try new stuff and to be "myself" whatever the hell that was going to be. I remember in June, six months after starting, that while I was doing a Chuck Norris-related show, I felt very good about things for the first time, and decided I was beginning to settle in. Yes, like all beginners I made my share of mistakes, but I corrected them quickly and kept moving ahead, not looking back.
You grew up reading EC Horror Comics, pulps, and novels of every kind. What drew you to them, and how have they influenced you (beyond being a noted TV Horror Host, that is)?
I started reading comics when I was around 6 years old. By the time I was eight I was heavily into the Hardy Boys juvenile mystery novels and by the time I was nine I was reading pulp magazines I found in the comic book store I always frequented. Ten and eleven were exciting years — I discovered Ray Bradbury and other science-fiction / fantasy writers. I started becoming more sophisticated when I bought Astonishing Science Fiction, although I refused to give up Planet Stories. The E.C.s hit me around ten, and definitely drove me to read more and more. MAD had a terrific impact on me, as did the imitation comics.
From Christopher Lee, who almost walked out on you, to the casts of Star Wars and Star Trek, how did you manage to get so many fabulous celebrities on Creature Features?
The San Francisco-Bay Area is a major television market and hence drew more than its share of celebrities for the purposes of promoting books, new movies and TV series. I had been interviewing celebrities for the Chronicle for 15 years when I joined KTVU-TV, so I had many contacts in the Bay Area and in Hollywood. I could reach key players at the movie studios and at the TV networks.
In most cases they were calling me. George Takei would call on Monday to ask if he could be on the show that week, knowing my taping was always Friday, and knowing I would never say no. Just one example of the tail wagging the dog.
There was never a shortage of important people and faces. And many came from the surrounding cities, a haven for sci-fi and fantasy and mystery writers. And let’s not forget that by my days on TV, George Lucas was an active force in nearby Marin County. Special effects guys and wanna be special effects guys were everywhere in those days.
How do you prepare for an interview?
Interviewing is an art onto itself. There are two basic kinds of questions one should have: the specific queries about an individual’s life and career, and a generic list that you can fall back on if needed. Let me elaborate. I would always try to pick up esoteric info on the subject, little known facts that I could casually drop. This always impressed the individual and let them know that I had done my home work and was ready for the conversation. This put them at ease and ready to open up to everything I asked. Call it a matter of trust, because there are some actors who distrust the media.
I was never caught groping for a question. Of course, many questions were geared to the moment: why did you make your latest movie and tell me why you chose to play the character the way you did? Keep it very specific for the latest info you can print about somebody.
On the other hand, the generic questions are good for filler, especially if someone isn’t too responsive and you start to run out of material, or directions in which to move the interview. That’s when the generic questions come in handy: such as, what do you attribute your success too? What other artists inspired you? What would you like written on your gravestone? What is it like to be 86 years ago? In some cases, as with George Burns, I found that both sets of questions evoked great answers.
One weaves in and out of as many subjects as possible, covering past present and future. I always carried a notebook in my coat pocket and was ready to interview anyone anywhere, sitting down or standing up. Sometimes I used a tape recorder if I felt it was going to be a long interview.
I remember one time I was interviewing Glenn Ford but had not place to put down the recorder, so he volunteered to hold it while we spoke. Another time I interviewed Peter Graves of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE but discovered when I got home the tape was blank. So I made up a story where I was given the "assignment" of tracking down Graves and "sneaked" into the studio to carry out my "mission." It became a satire of the TV show. So I ended up writing a story with no exchange of dialogue. The studio loved it because it was different. When I interviewed Adam West for BATMAN I wrote the final story in the form of a screenplay.
Which interview was the most memorable, and which was the most difficult?
Among the memorable interviews were Jimmy Stewart, Fred MacMurray, Mae West, Robert Mitchum and other larger-than-life entertainment figures of a now-bygone movie age. I remember meeting Harrison Ford one time and tensing up: My God, I was standing in front of Indiana Jones! But usually I kept my cool and was as professional as I could be.
A hard but fascinating interview was Irwin Allen, who is not in I WAS A TV HORROR HOST. He is definitely going to be in the sequel book. After 15 minutes he asked me to leave his office. He apparently was offended because I was asking harder questions than he wanted asked. I didn’t think they were hard or rude or embarrassing at all. The chemistry just didn’t work. That was the only time anything like that happened to me. Most celebrities are looking for the publicity and if you have a good reputation that precedes you, everything should go off without a hitch.
How did your memorable and witty minimovies come about? What did it take to produce them?
I had made 8mm movies when I was a kid – a Western, a war movie, a crime drama, etc. Then I advanced to 16mm short subjects, and finally made one feature film NIGHTMARE IN BLOOD, which was made in 35mm and distributed to theaters. So I had a movie-making background when I started Creature Features.
I simply brought what I had learned to the idea of making short 16mm (later tape) "minimovies" to promote a new location (wax museum) or movie (Christine), in which a "killer car" pursues me. It started when I drove through a graveyard in a hearse with Angus Scrimm and Don Coscarelli as I interviewed them. I wish I could have made more but time was limited for these little gems. The oddest was CASABLANCA, shot in a Moroccan restaurant.
Why are TV Horror Hosts still revered by fans of the genre?
The reason Creature Features is still so fondly remembered today by the generations that grew up watching the show is that it evokes pleasant and nostalgic memories of childhood. Each individual I meet at a convention or personal appearance recounts a different set of circumstances, but each story is rooted in the same kind of memory: at home with other members of the family, eating and drinking something, perhaps tucked into bed – watching Creature Features.
I was surprised to read that one of your cherished collections is comprised of Arkham House books. Who’s your favorite horror author, and non-horror author, and why?
August Derleth started Arkham House, a specialty book outlet that started with H. P. Lovecraft novels. I discovered these books in the 1960s and started buying up as many editions as I could. I don’t have some of the more valuable ones, but those that I do have continue to grow in value. This is where I also discovered Robert Bloch, who is one of my all-time favorite writers. Ray Bradbury remains the king of all the writers. He so inspired me when I was becoming a teenager.
On a personal note, Something Wicked This Way Comes is my favorite horror novel. I was greatly disappointed by the filmed version as it failed to capture the beauty and terror of the novel on many levels. May I ask what your impression of the film is?
Yes, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES never lived up to the novel, although it’s an interesting attempt. A couple of publicists for Disney told me the production was troubled from the outset, and was one of the last Disney efforts before the studio was sold and "remodeled" to accommodate a changing world. Too bad.
What are your favorite horror films?
My favorite horror films would include THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and Howard Hawks’ THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD). I grew up in a different time and place, where graphic horror was not yet permissible on the screen. Special effects were limited in those days, so story and character often dominated. For later in life I think ALIEN is a classic turning point for movies. War movies have had a profound impact on me. I think Sam Fuller’s THE STEEL HELMET and FIXED BAYONETS are classics for their time and place.
Why didn’t you ever hold a cigar during the show?
I have never touched a cigarette or cigar or "joint" my entire life and never will. When I was a kid my mother used to crush her cigarette butts into ashtrays, and it was the most sickening sight I had ever seen. I was even afraid to walk barefoot on a beach, lest I step on a discarded butt. Call it a phobia or obsession. The cigar, in Bob Wilkins’ case, was merely a prop, something to hold on to to help him alleviate his tension.
What’s the one question you would love to be asked, and what’s your answer?
Ask me about Ray Bradbury’s "Sense of Wonder." I love to describe to my Elderhostel classes that we are all born with a sleeping child within us and as we mature, and discover all the great things of life (sex, food, drink, movies, music, art, books, etc.) parts of that child come awake, until finally we have thriving within us our "Sense of Wonder." John, be certain yours never falls asleep. (ZC Note: There is a wonderful and revealing tribute to Ray Bradbury in I Was a TV Horror Host.)
What else do you have up your sleeve for the future?
For the future, I hope to write the seventh edition of THE CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE. I stopped a few years ago to begin teaching Elderhostel classes, but now want to go back and start seeing one or two movies a day again, like I used to. I also have a sequel planned, RETURN OF THE TV HORROR HOST, because there are still so many untold stories and exclusive interviews I would like to bring together into another anthology like the current one.
I have interviews with Christopher Reeve, Noel Neill, Kirk Allyn for SUPERMAN, I have a chapter on the horrors of war in the movies, and so much more I could go on endlessly. Then I would like to do a book about the super-stars I have met and some of the lesser-super stars who still made their impact on movies and TV. The book would consist only of my exclusive material in an historical context. Time will tell.
I do enjoy the challenge of writing and editing and laying out books, even though the business aspects are sometimes overwhelming. I’ve always managed to come out in one piece. Knock on wood.
I enjoyed my years as a horror host, and I especially enjoyed writing for a major newspaper for 33 years. It was a childhood dream come true. (I knew from the time I was nine or ten that I wanted to be a writer of some kind.) My movie-making aspirations didn’t quite come to full fruition, but I’m still glad I had an opportunity to make a few shorts and one feature. That’s more than some folks can say who harbor similar dreams. I guess I've always been willing to take some career rest to take a new step into a new creative area.
Thanks John for joining us in the closet! You can order I Was a TV Horror Host: Memoirs of a Creature Features Man at John's site, http://www.stanleybooks.net/.