Professor Kinema (Jim Knusch) shares his ghoul-times growing up as a Dr. Denton's attired Monsterkid, his discovery of Shock Theater, and his ongoing passion for fantastic cinema, horror hosts, and monster magazines. Along the way, he picks some bones to rattle in the closet, contributes to the first Horror-Thon in New Jersey, and talks about the Zacherley fan clubs. (Those rattling noises you hear may sound familiar.)
Copies of what’s housed in Professor Kinema's Archives, whether they be DVDs of video material, CDs of audio material, or reproductions of any and all printed material (stored on discs, flash drives or hard copy printouts) can be made available to the serious researcher. Specific listings can be provided along with proper arrangements.
A strong early childhood memory of mine is lying in bed, wide awake, listening to the muted sounds of the TV set in the living room. Dim light patterns were visible on the hallway wall just outside of my bedroom door, changing with the muted sounds. Naturally I wondered what these sounds and shadow plays looked like after my bed time.
Earlier in the day, up until bed time, I was allowed to view what one of my teachers referred to as ‘the one-eyed monster.’ This consisted of kid’s and family programming I could identify with. What was being broadcast after I was sent to bed became very mysterious. I posited that one of the acquired privileges of being a ‘grown-up’ meant that one could stay up as late as they wanted and watch TV.
Eventually, on Friday and Saturday nights, I was allowed to stay up late and see what the tube had to offer. Sitting there in my Dr. Denton's (yes, one button was always undone) I discovered that what I was imagining to come over the TV airwaves was a bit different from what I was viewing. It was ‘grown-up stuff’ that I found I didn’t really understand and wasn’t interested in. But wait! Later at night, after the news and weather, came something unique…vintage monster movies. My two younger brothers usually bailed out by this time and went to bed. The only light in the living room came from the TV. Now the shadows were happening all around me. The sounds were low, but sharper. No one else in the household found such fare interesting so my next strong childhood memories consist of sitting by myself, enjoying the exploits of all sorts of grotesqueries that included Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Mummy. Here in the late 1950s a Monsterkid was born.
This Monsterkid still sits up late at night, alone, watching vintage monster movies.
In the household, I was the one, albeit self-appointed, who was mainly responsible for getting the best signal on the TV. Cable, or ‘pay TV,’ was an entity not even heard of at this time. The roof antenna was of a bargain basement variety type, made of cheesy, easily breakable aluminum. Pointed in one direction, the airwaves from the west, from New York City, came in the strongest. Pointed more toward the North, the few stations from the nether regions of Connecticut, ‘across the pond (the Long Island Sound)’ from our residence on Long Island, came in stronger. Late Friday and Saturday nights, the horror films permeated the airwaves, beaming in from Connecticut.
Naturally, I was the only one willing to climb up on the roof to position the antenna. My kid brother, by no real fault of his own, was very little help in determining what the best signal was. He would yell back to me, “Yea, that’s the best picture!” But when I climbed back down he would announce, “It was really better before,’ and so on…ad nauseum. To be able to settle in and enjoy a late night’s fare of grainy B&W, flickering iconoscopic fantasma, and be an accomplished Monsterkid, I had to shift for myself.
By the 5th grade it was ‘cool’ to discuss what we were watching on TV, as well as what we went to see in the movies. Monster movies usually dominated the conversation. The exploits of the current monster movies (the ones that parents let their kids see, or simply didn‘t care) were usually culled from Saturday afternoon ‘kiddie matinees.’ The topics of the more vintage ones was from the fare I discovered late on Saturday and (sometimes) Friday nights.
One day a classmate said to me, “You ought to check out this man who just started on TV on Saturday night. He looks like a monster, but he’s funny.” This piqued my interest. That next Saturday night I tuned in and discovered Shock Theater (marketed as Shock!) and it’s bizarre host…Zacherley. Yes, he definitely looked like a monster, but he was most assuredly funny. For the remainder of 5th grade, talk always included the most recent TV escapades of Zacherley.
Shock! had existed in the New York area in the 1957-58 season, but sans host. By the beginning of the 1958-59 season (Son of Shock!) , scores of horror host fan clubs had materialized around the country. Zacherley, who had been hosting Shock! on WCAU in Philadelphia as ‘Roland’ (accent on the second syllable), had the most fan clubs of all the Horror Hosts who were haunting the airwaves. Because of this popularity he was invited, with an increase in salary, to haunt the airwaves of New York City (on WABC).
Fading in with an accompanying wolf howl, the show would begin, framed on some close-up section of the set. This was often a flickering candle, hypodermic needle, or skull--usually covered with cobwebs. To our sensibilities this was the ‘house of Zacherley.’ Strange things were hanging on the walls and occasional strange sounds were coming from somewhere off screen.
The camera would pan either right or left to frame Zacherley actively involved in some sort of bizarre activity. At this time he would then notice the viewer and speak directly to the camera with a cheery, “Hello! Zacherley here!” and give some sort of explanation as to what he was up to. One got the impression that he lived in these surroundings with cameras all around, poised and ready to go 24/7. At this particular time of the week these cameras would suddenly turn on to catch whatever he was doing at that time. Accordingly, when the show ended, he would continue with his bizarre activities until next week, when the cameras would reactivate and we, the viewers, would again visit via the magical realm of TV.
When the week’s movie began, the anticipation became high: when was he going to be briefly seen during the movie’s run? Eyes were glued to the screen, eagerly awaiting that moment. He didn’t disappoint. After the commercial break he was back in his usual surroundings, making a few off-the-cuff comments about the movie and continuing with the bizarre activity. His standard closing at the end of every show was the memorable, “Goodnight, whatever you are!” I, as well as tens of thousands of other viewers, had never seen anything like him. He was unique, he was bizarre, he was funny, he was entertaining. Therein is the essence of his cult status.
My first exposure to monster magazines, Famous Monsters of Filmland in particular, was at a cousin’s house in the late 1950s. His father, my uncle, had littered his (to us, uniquely mysterious and verboten) bedroom with various men’s, humor, and monster magazines. The men’s magazines never left the bedroom (although we poked through them anyway), but the humor and monster magazines eventually were passed on to my cousins.
The humor magazines were casually perused, invoking a few minor laughs and tossed aside. The monster magazines met the fate that such material of the time went--the photos were cut out and attached to the walls of my cousin’s bedroom. Several tossed aside remnants remained strewn about. Having never possessed or even seen a monster magazine before, I vainly made the attempt to piece one back together. What I ended up with was a combination of the remains of several different issues of FM. These included mutilated pages of FMs #5 through #7. Even in this haphazard way of perusing the pages of these magazines, I felt that FM was unique. It offered information that seemed to be written just for me. By this time Shock! on TV had come and gone, leaving an indelible stamp on my (cauliflower?) brain. I was continuing to get regular fixes of Horror and Science Fiction from TV, movies and the limited amount of literature available on the newsstands.
One day I noticed a copy of Famous Monsters #7 - one of my cousin’s cut up issues - still being offered on a magazine rack. I invested 35 cents in my first complete issue. On the cover was ‘the man who looked like a monster, but was funny: Zacherley. The combination of the Zacherley cover, my still fresh memories of Shock!, and the newly discovered essence of FM all gelled perfectly with me. Contentment came with seeing what at least one disassembled and cut-up FM looked like all together. I also became acquainted with the name of FM’s editor, Forrest J Ackerman.
Eventually, I bought copies of the few other monster magazines that were also materializing on the stands: Spacemen (more from editor Ackerman); Castle of Frankenstein (CoF) the only magazine of this genre to come close to the appeal of FM); Modern Monsters, Monsters & Heroes; and the 'jokey' mags, Horror Monsters, Mad Monsters, Monster Madness, and Monster Parade. These did not match the esoteric charm that FM had, but were read with interest. Most eventually became expendable and suffered the fate of my cousin’s magazines, adorning the walls of the bedroom I shared with my brother. He didn’t mind. The FMs, CoFs and Spacemens were elevated to the status of not to be destroyed and did not suffer the scissor.
During this period my interest in the cinema, in general, was instilled by repeated viewings of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. With the mega-influence of this truly magical film, I began to delve into how movies were made and who made them. I am pursuing this quest as a cinema historian to this day. Yet this could not have begun without the existence of FM. Through the pages of subsequent FMs I first learned of the existence of Ray Harryhausen, his involvement with Sinbad and…well the rest is, as some say, history.
For a few years in the early 60s, the coming of spring meant the coming of a rash of new monster magazines. Sometime they were the next issues of existing magazines and sometimes they were one-shots. As a pre-teen and then teenager, I was growing out of comic books and occasionally dipping into Mad magazine. ‘Girlie’ magazines inevitably passed through my hands, but that was because they were generally verboten. As a kid I could waltz in to a stationery store and plunk down 35 cents for FM and 35 cents for CoF without the slightest pang of guilt. Comic book stores, per se, were a few years in the future.
Not being old enough to have started reading--and collecting--monster magazines from their beginning, my collecting was initiated with later numbers. The ‘back issues’ ads in the magazines always intrigued me. How drastically could they have differed in content from what was currently on the racks? I eventually managed to procure a few back issues. I couldn’t order them all, my meager allowance couldn’t cover it. After perusing it, I noticed that the titles of the films in these issues that were reported as being current in theaters, were now turning up late Fridays and Saturdays.
In those days I made a standard mistake with my yet-to-be-more-careful-with magazines. Yes, they were precious, but a few were loaned out to my so-called friends. Some often came back in varying degrees of mutilation. Some simply vanished into the ether. Whenever I confronted the borrower, he would simply give me a shit-eating grin and say, “What magazine? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” If asked if I could at least be reimbursed for the cost of the magazine, I usually got a terse, “Yea? Try and collect it.”
One time I made another mistake of bringing a few issues to school, mainly to read during study hall. A few subsequently were passed around the classroom, to those who really convinced me that they would be careful with them. They came back with mustaches (and other semi-obscene caricatures) drawn on the photos of the monsters as well as comments written across the printed text. On occasion, a teacher would confiscate them and they were never to be seen again, presumably joining the ones already absorbed in the ether. I’ve occasionally wondered if they were simply ‘tossed’ or if they became part of the teacher’s private collection. The best bet was that they were ‘tossed.’ I persevered. When some of these monster magazines ceased to be, I would buy another copy…as long as the particular issue was still on the racks. I was an additional 35 cents poorer, but assuredly wiser and definitely more guarded. I rationalized by convincing myself that I was making an ‘investment’ of sorts.
Back issues of other monster magazines, ones that I had never seen on the rack, would occasionally turn up in a truly unique place of the not-too-distant past called the Farmer’s Market. These magazines, particularly Fantastic Monsters of the Films, went for the very reasonable sum (for a kid’s budget) of a nickel per copy…even cheaper with multiple purchases. There was one catch. The tops of the front covers were sliced off. I later learned that this was done so that the cut top piece, containing the title of the magazine, could be sent back to the distributor for a credit. The rest of the magazine was sold in bulk (probably by weight), relegated to the bargain bins and resold to eager kids at those reasonable prices.
Other items available in this particular section of the Farmer’s Market included; 3D comic books, trading cards, monster masks and other monster related toys.
While engrossed in perusing these treasures I have a strong recollection of another, younger, kid walking past, escorted by his (I deduced) grandparents. He spotted the monster magazines and blurted out, “Can I get some monster magazines?” His grandmother responded with, “Monster magazines! Surely not! You’re scared of your own shadow!” I’ve occasionally thought of that hapless (never to become a Monster-)kid. If such (grand) parental subjugation continued would he have turned out to be: 1-a monster magazine editor?, 2-a serial killer?, 3-a lawyer? I considered myself fortunate. No one told me I couldn’t buy monster magazines.
Whether or not I was scared of my shadow was a question that would never come up.
Through the pages of these (what was referred to me by unenlightened others as) ‘juvenile works,’ I was first exposed to such esoteric classic horror, science fiction and other diverse fanta-films as well as the works and passions of such people as Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Willis O’Brien, George Pal, Jack Pierce, Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth. On the other side of the coin, I was introduced to the efforts of such people as Bert I (The Cyclops) Gordon, Robert (Psycho) Bloch, William (13 Ghosts) Castle, Roger (Day the World Ended) Corman, Ray Dennis (The Incredibly Strange Creatures…etc) Steckler, David (They Saved Hitler’s Brain) Bradley and, of course, Ed (Plan 9 From Outer Space) Wood.
Select articles by true literary scholars like Carlos Clarens and William K Everson also turned up on the pages of these esoteric periodicals. This led to seeking out and obtaining books like An Illustrated History of the Horror Film, The Haunted Screen and Classics of the Horror Film (vols I & II). This in turn led to other books on film history and magazines like Sight & Sound, Film Comment and Cahiers du Cinema. Joe (Matinee) Dante’s Dante’s Inferno article in FM #18 featured the first listing of fanta-film ‘turkeys’ I had ever read. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 was prominently featured years before the Medved Brothers ‘rediscovered’ it.
At Unkka Forry’s 75th birthday party I was seated next to Joe Dante and discussed this article with him. During the many testimonies given at the birthday party, Mr Dante related the story of how his ‘fan letter from a teenager’ to editor Forry became the major article in FM. This was all caught on video and included in Mark Carducci’s documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: the Plan Nine Companion, which I also contributed to. We, in turn, discussed his entry I had edited for the Famous Monsters Chronicles. William K Everson was my Film History professor in college in NYC for three years. I maintained a regular friendly association with him right up until his passing in 1996.
At various times, at various conventions, I have encountered Bert I (Amazing Colossal Man) Gordon (and daughter Susan), Robert (Psycho) Bloch (I never met him face-to-face, but rather had many fun phone conversations), Roger (King of the ‘Bs’) Corman, Bob (the Mad Mummy) Burns, Yvette (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) Vickers, Barbara (Black Sunday) Steele, Martine (Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde) Beswicke, Candace (Carnival of Souls) Hilligoss, Betsy (Last Woman on Earth) Jones-Moreland, Betsy (Friday the 13th) Palmer (plus several hugs & kisses), Bobbie (Masoleum) Bresee (also several hugs and kisses), Barbara (Vampirella) Leigh, Paul (House of Wax) Picerni, Mel Welles, Jonathan Haze & Jackie Joseph--all of the original Little Shop of Horrors and Michelle (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) Bauer--who looked directly into my camcorder lens as her sensual mouth formed the words, “I love you.”
Many who were in some way connected with Ed Wood I have been associated with include makeup artist Harry Thomas (a subject of one Professor Kinema show), Delores (Mrs (?) Ed Wood) Fuller, Maila (Vampira) Nurmi (mainly snail-mail correspondence) and my buddy Conrad Brooks (a subject of a two-part Professor Kinema show and frequent house guest). Other convention encounters include; Janet (Psycho) Leigh, Kevin (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) McCarthy, Dave (Darth (himself) Vader) Prowse, Bela Lugosi, Jr, Sarah Karloff, Michael (The Hills Have Eyes) Berryman and Jane (House of Dracula) Adams. Adding to this are; Bill Hinzman, John Russo, Kyra Schon, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman--all of Night of the Living Dead. All above mentioned were also first introduced to me on the pages of monster magazines, mainly FM and CoF.
A true friendship that came about with ‘Unkka’ Forry’s direct intervention is my Amie Parisienne, Jean-Claude Romer. Just before one of our regular trips to Paris, Forry called and recommended that I get together with, “…someone who’s a kindred spirit, with the same interests as ours.” In past issues of FM, Jean-Claude was listed as a ‘foreign correspondent.’ He was a contributor to and occasional editor of a periodical that could be considered a French equivalent to FM: Midi Minuit Fantastique. I contacted him and definitely did get together.
This friendship has been ongoing for more than two decades. My one acquaintance connected exclusively to the enigmatically ethereal world of Calvin Beck and CoF was Rich Bojarski. I first met ‘Boj’ (or as Beck called him, ‘Bojak the Bojar’) in NYC in the early 80s and unavoidably maintained an exchange of materials and collectibles with him up until his passing in 2009. As payment, of sorts, for much of the material and photographic copy services I provided for him, in the Kinema Archives are inscribed copies of his two books; The Films of Boris Karloff (co-written with Kenneth Beals) and The Films of Bela Lugosi. However, it was the few brief encounters that I had with his sister Roxanne that led to my ‘inheriting’ some of what was left of his collection. She remembered me as one of his ‘less crazy’ associates. This led to the donation of a few cartons from his own ‘pile of junque’ to the Kinema Archives. A complete listing of encounters, so far, would take an essay in itself.
The snowballing continues to the present time.
Irradiating my brain, monster magazines also set me on the path to many other items and areas of later scholarly study. Shortened 8mm versions of classic horror films could be obtained through mail order. These monster magazine mail order marketing sections, especially FM’s Captain Company, are also part of this nostalgic affection. Fun plastic models of classic (mostly Universal) monsters were available to the developing Monsterkid.
Other items, like monster wallets, rubber spiders, monster themed records and even rubber monster feet were also available. My collection of 8mm films, rubber masks, plastic monster models, monster record albums, a make-up kit, 3D comics, a phony hypodermic needle, model skeleton and other items too numerous to mention first came to me from these pages. I always wanted to order, but never had the funds for, the ‘actual’ astronaut spacesuit, the parachute, the live monkey, and the venus flytrap.
Whatever I ordered, especially the 8mm films, always arrived without fail. Once, thinking I was saving a few cents, I ordered a few 8mm films through Calvin Beck’s Castle of Frankenstein Gothic Castle. My money order was cashed, but the items never arrived. My inquiries were never answered. Later I learned that Beck ripped off many others in such a manner.
The mailing address of the Captain Company, as was FM’s publication address, was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Editor Forry (aka; 4E, 4sJ, EEEE, Dr Acula, Weaver Wright), as indicated in his writings, resided in a memorabilia filled ‘Ackermansion’ in the hills above ‘Horrorwood, Karloffornia.’ This seemed very natural for being in the midst of and proverbially on top of any and all Tinseltown horrors that may cinematically be ‘on the slab, in the lab.’ When caricatures of FJA appeared in FM he was called the ‘Ackermonster.‘ Beck’s Gothic Castle address was North Bergen, New Jersey. CoF’s executive editor and publisher was someone mysteriously named ‘Charles Foster (later Orson) Kane.’ The editor was Baron Victor Frankenstein III. When caricatures of Beck appeared in CoF (by ‘Boj’) he was called ‘Orson Kane.’ This all seemed more appropriate for an enigmatic milieu of all things creepy and bizarre that may be ‘on a real slab…in a real lab.’
Into the early 60s Shock! ended, but Zach moved over to another NYC TV station; WOR Channel 9 with Zacherley At Large. He fondly remembers the season’s run even though of all of the films that were presented, only 4 titles could be considered anywhere near horror films.
The bulk of the films were garnered from the RKO library, since RKO owned WOR. All that his fans could be concerned with was that he was there doing his bizarre activities and making his ‘jump-ins’ during the film’s showing. The subject matter of the films were of the least importance. His show was also recorded on videotape. He considered having personal copies of his shows made, but the cost was prohibitive.
Zacherley at Large was also seen in the Los Angeles area, evidenced by some fan mail that made it’s way to him (information not provided by anyone from WOR). The show continued occasionally for the next year in reruns, without a penny of residuals for Zach.
A few years after the WOR shows Zach turned up on weekday afternoons hosting the cartoon show The Mighty Hercules at WPIX channel 11. This was during a time when the three local stations; WPIX, WOR channel 9, and WNEW channel 5 were in competition for the afternoon/after school ‘kiddie’ audiences. Tuning in to Zach’s in-between antics was the only interesting element of the show. Zach considered this period as his lowest, professionally and personally. After a few weeks of afternoon appearances, someone came to their senses and put Zach on Saturday evenings hosting Chiller.
For a while he was back in his element, greeting audiences, engaging in bizarre activities before and after the commercials, and, ‘jumping in’ to segments of the movie. This precious run, alas, ended. Accounting got involved. Production costs could be reduced, with little or no loss of revenue if the Saturday night Chiller show was aired without a host. Soon after was being shown the B&W montage of film clips and then the memorable claymation six fingered hand.
Zach went on to fully deserved bigger and better pursuits; DJ-ing at NYC FM radio stations. At this time Zach felt that he was at his most fulfilling, artistically and personally. A distinctly familiar, yet mellower, FM DJ voice on the airwaves often announced himself as, “Zach, here.” To all who fondly remembered him, he was still out there - somewhere - in the ether. But for the time being, the ‘cool ghoul’ seemed lost to the ages.
In the shuffle between the late 60s and the late 70s I had been through a stint in the armed forces, attended 3 ½ years of college and was trying to establish some sort of professional career. My meager collection of monster magazines went missing. I didn’t seem to miss them--that is until the early 80s. By this time I was also feeling the loss of important shards of my childhood (such as they were). I searched for my back issues of FM as well as the other few monster mags I didn’t toss. I did manage to buy the last issues that were still being published. A few of my vintage issues did turn up, discovered by my preteen son who knew I was searching for them. Through several sources, including ‘Unkka’ Forry Ackerman himself, I managed to buy and trade for a complete collection up to issue #40. Other than a few miscellaneous issues up to the last of the original run of FM, #191, it was these early numbers that I felt any nostalgic attachment to.
Along the way, through my ongoing friendship with monster magazine collector and dealer Steve Dolnick, I also managed to replenish the lost and missing back numbers of most of the other monster magazines I had. This all was morphing into the larval stage of my ‘arcane pile of junque.’
From the mid 70s to the present I have been actively building up my own personal archives of all sorts of motion picture books, stills, promotional material, audio and video materials and…replenishing my once collection of monster magazines. Facsimiles (mostly loving tributes) of these classic monster magazines were coming into being. I have contributed to, on occasion, Scary Monsters, Screem, Horror Biz, and other periodicals. Faux additional editions of The Journal of Frankenstein, Fantastic Monsters of the Films, and Spacemen have cropped up. They’re really hanging in there.
Recently I became aware of yet another incarnation of Famous Monsters of Filmland, taken out of the damaging hands of Ray Ferry. It is now handled by more competent people who reportedly contacted and received the blessing of Forry, before he was ‘taken by Prince Sirki.’ This promises to keep the legend and spirit of editor Ackerman alive (screaming) and kicking. It is all something we Monsterkids need to feed our manias. For a while, it looked like the classic monster magazines were going the way of the farmer’s market. Incidentally, where the farmer’s market once stood in days past, a comic book store exists nearby…appropriately.
Somewhere in this shuffle my alter ego/nom de plume Professor Kinema came into being.
The arcane pile of junque became the now more substantial Kinema Archives. Prominently included are the issues 1 through 40 of Famous Monsters and all issues of Castle of Frankenstein (with one particular issue missing the coupon I cut for the 8mm film order that never got to me). Other monster magazines, ie, Horror Monsters, Mad Monsters, Modern Monsters, Monsters to Laugh With, Spacemen, Monsters & Heroes, Fantastic Monsters (with un-mutilated covers), as well as Midi Minuit Fantastique and the collectible single issue of Cinema 57 are well represented.
All now sit snugly inside of acid free plastic bags neatly arranged in filing cabinets. Still, perusing them with (relatively) more adult sensibilities, I reaffirmed that none of these other monster mags came close to the infinite esoteric charm of FM. However, it was fun rounding out my collection.
I was able to make the acquaintance of and become friends with ‘Unkka’ Forry Ackerman, the original editor of FM. With the friendship of ‘Unkka’ Forry, I became an honorary ‘bat packer’ (third generation, no less) and on several occasions visited the infamous Ackermansion. One particular visit led to an on-camera interview and walk around, resulting in a two-part Public Access TV show I was now producing titled (what else?) the Professor Kinema Show. On several occasions at various cons I met with Ray Harryhausen, and thanked him for instilling my interest in the cinema (via The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad). At one con, of which I was a staff member of, he kindly consented to an on-camera interview. This resulted in the only three-part Professor Kinema Show, with enough material to form two additional themed shows. Although the Monsterkid morphed into a Cinema Historian and Folklorist, the undying Monsterkid hasn’t gone away.
After finishing a three year program of Film School in NYC in the early 1970s, I accepted an invitation from some fellow students. These friends were relocating to Los Angeles and wanted me with them. Although I would only spend about a year there, my first actual encounter with a bona fide TV Horror Hostess happened during this time.
On TV (Saturday nights, naturally) were two Horror Movie Hosts. Earlier in the evening was Sinister Seymour. As entertaining as he was, we enjoyed watching his show. We couldn’t help being reminded of Shock! and the antics of Zacherley. He would introduce the films, appear in-between commercials, and occasionally appear in a square superimposed over the film’s action with some sort of off-the-wall comment. We, warped on Shock!, felt his ‘schtick’ was “…close, but no cigar.”
However, on another channel later at night was a TV Horror Hostess very different and very unique; Moona Lisa. For the show’s opening she would ‘fly in’ on a comet to the tune of the ‘Lord of Lights.’ From a mist filled set she would then greet the viewer and introduce the show’s film, occasionally sipping from a ‘Moona Lisa cocktail.’ Her mannerisms were alluring and exotic with more than a touch of the mysterious. Often her in-between antics would be visually associated with the theme of the film.
For The Invasion of the Body Snatchers her head was superimposed over the end of a large seed pod. A few other duplicate pods would be visible behind her, one blowing out a party blowout. For the Attack of the Mushroom People she would be casually munching on mushrooms.
One night appeared the announcement that she would be appearing the next weekend at someplace called Johnnie’s TV in El Monte. Guided by a map, my roommate and I made the jaunt. We located Johnnie’s TV and outside of the building was a platform where she was sitting in her ornate chair, distributing autographed postcards of herself. My roommate and I, seemingly the only two ‘adults’ in attendance, gladly accepted one each. She then mixed up a ‘Moona Lisa cocktail,’ consisting of “…two parts moon juice and one part moon dust,” posed for a few photo ops and then went inside. Being totally unprepared, I didn’t have a camera with me. To add further personal insult to injury, those autographed postcards have since been lost to time.
By the mid 1980s I was attending nostalgia conventions on a semi-regular basis. An ad came to me in the mail concerning an upcoming Creation convention. One of the guests listed was, none other then Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul himself. When it was his time to appear, he came out (tossing little bits of cauliflower ‘brain’ to the audience), said his piece and then set up at a table for autographs and to pose for fan photos.
I patiently waited on line. For me he autographed a few photos, a few of his record albums and graciously posed for a few photos. I even re-entered the line and snapped a few more photos. He remembered me. I sent a few prints, including the one photo of him posing with one of my copies of the Monster Mash Featuring John Zacherle LP record, plus a letter to him via the Creation address. They graciously forwarded it to his NYC address. He called me to personally thank me.
We became friends. Soon, I visited him in his home. These were rare experiences. During other visits we had nostalgic chats, traded vintage collectibles and on occasion I had ‘lunch with Zach.’ He even repaid the favor, of sorts, by making the trek out to the uncharted wastes of Long Island and visited the Kinema Archives. Being an avid, albeit professional, photographer, many photos of him were taken in his home. I told him of the popular film society I was part of at Dowling College, a small, private, college where I was an adjunct at the time. He gleefully accepted an invitation to attend, paid for by the college. He made an appearance in the Fall of 1985 and the Fall of 1986. Video recordings of these two appearances were made and are now kept in a special corner of the cave of the Kinema Archives. He declined in the fall of 1987 because this year he was invited back to WCAU. This was for a 30th anniversary of Shock! with a TV special titled The Return of Roland. By the following year, he again agreed to a return visit to our Film Society. This proved to be the most memorable (and sadly, final) of the Dowling Film Society/Zacher-visits.
For some oddball reason local newspapers picked up on and promoted this particular visit of Zacherley. We had sent out the same promo material and info for the 1985 and 1986 visits, but now the media ran a photo (that I had taken, with an appropriate ‘photo by’ credit) along with the announcement. Channel 12 News was doing brief spots involving community affairs. I often appeared, announcing the films we were offering at the Dowling Film Society.
One time in particular I appeared accompanied with a clip of Zach from the Horrible Horror video, emphasizing his third visit (count ‘em, three) to the Dowling Film Society. My friend Joel Martin was more than excited about having the Cool Ghoul as a guest on the cable show he was hosting in those days on Viacom. An entire show was devoted to him. Joel and I were on the phone a few days earlier as I was prepping him with many little facts and trivia tid bits on him so he could keep the show flowing. It was a rare occasion for Joel to devote an entire Joel Martin Show to anything or any one, but Zach was such a rare entity indeed.
In the end, this particular show proved to be one of Viacom’s most popular as well as one of Joel’s favorite shows. It generated a plethora of interest and was repeated many times until the end of the series’ run. Reminiscent of the media-induced frenzy of a bygone day in 1958, in Philadelphia (where thousands of fans turned up to meet Roland), such a heavy turnout of eager locals descended upon the Dowling appearance that we had to add a second show. Needless to say, Zach was paid his guest fee, plus the entire take of what was collected for the second show. Both shows’ performances were caught on video and form the basis of my independently produced video, Zacherley Live.
The ambiance of both shows consisted of a once in a lifetime culmination of nostalgia, admiration and just plain fun. All who attended were paying a loving tribute to someone who “…was a part of their childhood.” In the introduction to his Zacher-tribute book, Goodnight Whatever You Are, author Richard Scrivani goes into detail about that night at Dowling College. He describes the enthusiastic gala right down to the film that was playing that night in between Zach’s live appearances, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. The point was how it all affected one particular attendee and how thrilled he was to finally meet ‘…one of his childhood idols in person.’ He describes Zach’s antics with the jell-o amoeba and even how the room full of second show fans overwhelmingly voted to forego the movie in favor of seeing him in his element. Curiously, he neglects to mention the one person who put this vote to the crowd, the one person who was singularly responsible for setting up, coordinating, and MC-ing the whole affair - myself. If he had bothered to ask, I would have gladly contributed information and material to his book.
Zach’s fond memory of this particular show is what he would often refer to as, “The first true Zach convention.” Years later at his table in the Celeb tent at a Chiller Con he commented to me that I was responsible for the fond memory he has always had about that particular appearance, at least two years before the first ‘Horror Thon’ (which morphed into Chiller). He then made me a present of one of the Zacherley Archives DVDs he was selling.
One particularly memorable Zacher-visit involved an extensive one-on-one interview/casual chat filled with reminiscences, anecdotes, fond memories and general friendly conversation. Filling a few hours on audiocassettes, this session formed the basis for my FilmFax article on him and other TV Horror Hosts and Hostesses in issues #13 & #14 (Dec 1988 & March/April 1989). For an entire afternoon in his upper Manhattan studio apartment (which bore little resemblance to the Shock! on camera residence of memory), he related to me the genesis of his TV horror host ‘Cool Ghoul’ character and all that came after.
An early prototype occurred back during the days of Philadelphia’s WCAU with a show titled Action in the Afternoon. He worked regularly in this 5 day a week, vintage Western themed afternoon soap opera. One particular week he played a traveling undertaker, having much fun ‘camping up’ the character. The station eventually decided to carry the Shock! offerings in syndication. Ed White, the then station manager, approached Zach with a proposition. The very elaborately designed promo package for Shock! suggested (but it was not absolutely necessary) the involvement of some sort of host to introduce the week’s films. White thought of Zach and his undertaker characterization. He also thought up the name of the character: Roland - with the accent on the second syllable.
As Shock!'s popularity skyrocketed he was subsequently featured, with many other bizarre hosts and hostesses, in articles in major national publications such as TV Guide, Life, and Look. FM #1 featured an article with an entire page listing stations around the country where and when Shock! could be viewed. FM #2 continued with a follow-up article emphasizing the various hosts. Zach’s image makes its first appearance in FM identifying him as ‘Roland.’ Beck’s Castle of Frankenstein, as well as his earlier one-shot, Journal of Frankenstein, featured items about Zach and Shock!. The FilmFax articles generated much interest. Some of this interest manifested in a major venture for Zacherley…a venture that I was earmarked to also be a part of.
Two calls came to me from a production company called Schiaffo/Bianchi Productions. Another call came from Zach himself. They all invited me to be a guest on the set of something they were enthusiastically hoping would become a popular cable TV show. It would involve the Cool Ghoul himself, several personalities involved in the current horror/sci-fi movie scene, several in-house characters and general fun-filled mayhem.
The setting was the projection room in a movie theater Zach had inherited. Recurring characters involved ‘Doc’ the gremlin, whose blood contained nitroglycerin, and the ‘Space Lady.’ Whenever Doc was tossed off screen, an explosion occurred. The Space Lady would stop in from ‘upstairs (outer space?).’ Drop-in visitors to add to the fun were actor Brion (The Horror Show) James, Gore makeup maestro Tom (Dawn of the Dead) Savini, and the Toxic (The Toxic Avenger) Avenger (affectionately referred to as ‘Toxie’). Brion James swore to Zach that he would “…be back to tear your world apart!”
Tom Savini displayed a few of his grisly creations while Toxie stopped by with a grocery bag filled with (what else?) toxic, polluting household items. Of course, Zach’s wife ‘My Dear’ was there in a newly refurbished box in the center of it all. Two other characters who were planned to be added eventually were two puppets who would offer individual film reviews (a la Siskel & Ebert). The title of all of this? ZTV, subtitled Sneak Previews. This was the pilot show. If it was sold, I would have a job with it all, as a consultant.
Soon after the pilot show was produced I received an invite to the ‘premier screening’ of it in NYC. My GF (and constant travel companion) Elena accompanied me where we met Zach’s friend, actor Earl (The Blob) Rowe. Being a professional photographer, and, due to the fact that no one had arranged for a photographer, I was more than pleased to cover the event. The pilot looked good and hopes were high that it would be sold and develop into a regular series. As a favor and thank you for taking photos, I was sent a package of the palmcorder video footage that was being shot on the set. This small camera was being passed from hand to hand, capturing what was going on during production. I was both part of what was being lensed, and I shot most of the last half of it. A cheque covering the ‘time plus materials’ for the photos I provided was included in a package mailed to me with the raw video footage. A copy of the finished ZTV pilot was promised, but never materialized. Eventually (or so it seemed) Schiaffo/Bianchi Productions ceased to be and the ZTV pilot faded into obscurity. Zach mentioned it during the 3rd Dowling show. He also occasionally mentioned it whenever he was doing his ‘schtick’ at Chiller, but wouldn’t elaborate on whatever happened to it. He claimed to have a good quality video copy of it in his own personal Zacher-archive, but wasn’t showing it. About 15 years later I acquired a copy of the finished pilot. This was through the generosity of my buddy, actor Michael (Ygor) Thomas. Along with two high quality copies of the on-set camera footage as well as the on-set and premier screening photos, this copy of the ZTV pilot resides in the Kinema Archives.
Around this time an authoress named Elena Watson was soliciting material and info for a book that was to be titled Television Horror Movie Hosts: 68 Vampires, Mad Scientists and Other Denizens of the Late-Night Airwaves Examined and Interviewed (McFarland, first printing 1991). I contacted her and we became pen pals, resulting in a major exchanging of info and material. She helped beef up the burgeoning Kinema Archives with copies of photos, premiums, personal interviews (on audiocassette and in print), various clippings as well as video and audio material. I, in turn, supplied her with much the same, including on the set photos of the unsold ZTV pilot, unedited video taken of the pilot being shot, the home phone number of the Cool Ghoul himself (with his permission, of course) as well as info and material about a few TV Horror Hosts she hadn’t even heard of. This consequently increased the original number to the 68 of the book’s subtitle. Any illos, including one of Zach and Tom Savini on the set of the ZTV pilot, appearing in her book that were submitted by me are acknowledged. My name, spelled correctly, is the first one listed on the contributors page. In a special place in the Kinema Archives there is a lovingly inscribed first edition of this book.
Just before the last Dowling appearance and on the heels of the FilmFax articles, I was contacted by Lou Antonicello. He had just started up another contemporary Zacherley Fan Club, Zacherley Fans at Large. Along with this was a spanking brand new newsletter which he wanted me to contribute to. He graciously consented to my advertising copies of my Zacherley Live video for sale. Along with this I contributed brief articles and photos, including updates (as few as there were) on the ZTV pilot and possible series. My ZacherLore fanzines came into being throughout all this.
Another active Zacherley fan club, Zacherley at Large, also contacted me. The one responsible for this club was Linda Bramberger, who also had a newsletter in circulation. In all fairness to fandom we all pooled and shared info, illos and even helped to distribute the fanzine. In an ideal world, this all seemed to be the way true fandom should be. Eventually, because of job commitments and other personal-related factors, Lou Antonicello relinquished the maintenance of the ZFatL fan club and newsletter to someone else. I contacted this someone else, who I had several dealings with in the past, and inquired whether or not I could continue contributing and maybe keep running my mail order/trade ad for the Zacherley Live video as well as other TV Horror Host & Hostess footage. In response I got a terse, ‘If you want to continue receiving the newsletter, send a self addressed, stamped envelope plus a dollar.’ The note went on to inform me the he ‘…didn’t like my business ethics.’ I responded by telling him that he would never get an envelope or a dollar from me.
After perusing one of his revamped newsletters, passed on to me by a friend, I caught a hint as to the real reason why he didn’t want my involvement. He was including one entire page for the selling of dupes of Zacherley video footage. Many of the titles of the particular programs offered, I surmised, were dubs of material he got in trade from none other than me. One particular title I knew I never traded to him. Checking back it had to be from a copy of a copy of something I traded to someone else. This would make it a copy, of a copy, of a copy (and so on). His description of the material was, ‘It’s all variable quality, but all viewable.’ In other words, again I surmised, ‘Generally shit quality all around, but to the non-discerning viewer…viewable.’
Soon thereafter, needless to say, the fanzine disappeared and he stopped attending Chiller cons (rumor had it that ‘his wife wouldn’t let him attend anymore‘). His name appeared in the first ZacherLore fanzine as a contributor, then was eliminated from subsequent printings. He told me of problems he had with the Dark Shadows fan club/conventions because of illegally selling xeroxed copies of the TV show’s scripts. He was officially ordered to ‘cease and desist.‘ But alas, as he gleefully told me, he continued. I never dealt with him again. In the real world, this, unfortunately, is how fandom usually ends up being.
As an indirect result of all the hoopla surrounding the third and final Dowling appearance of Zacherley, I was contacted by Kevin Clement who was planning the first Horror-Thon. This eventually morphed into the (Chiller Theatre Presents) the Toy, Model and Film Expo, (as it eventually became, because of legal difficulties), commonly referred to as the Chiller Con. I traded stills and other material as well as cinechains of 16mm prints he sent to me in exchange for copies of obscure horror films. I was even invited to sit on a panel (of sorts) and generally discuss the monster fandom scene.
Of the several photos I provided to him for promotion, two (of four) stills made it to the cover of that premier Horror-Thon brochure. Quickly perusing the ‘thanks to’ section of the brochure, I couldn’t find my name listed as a contributor anywhere. For future attendance of the Chiller cons, I was always allowed entry, gratis. This, however, was always accompanied with a pseudo-annoyed expression as I was handed my complimentary shirt sticker (or wristband).
In 1998 a special edition of the Chiller Theatre publication was printed. It was a ‘special limited edition’ titled Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul. My friend, and former Zacherley Fans at Large exec, Lou Antonicello told me about it’s upcoming publication. He told me that he was contacted by Kevin Clement concerning the many Zacherley illos that were to be included in the magazine. Many had been acquired from me, one way or the other. For some reason discernable only to himself, Kevin wasn’t contacting me, the interim source of this material. Lou, gave an OK and provided many more illos and material, with the strict stipulation that I be given some sort of credit. This in fact did happen (again, without any contact from me) since I am listed in the photo credits as well as ‘dedicated to’ (mercifully, with the name spelled correctly).
Several photos I recognize as being provided as well as taken by me were included, with proper credits. I am even shown and identified in a photo with Zach (out of makeup) on page 6. Repros of an entry ticket to the second show of Zach’s 3rd Dowling appearance, as well as the cover graphic to my Zacherley Live video appear on page 23. Other small oddball illos, obviously lifted from my ZacherLore fanzines, were distributed around the pages. At the particular Chiller Con I attended where this issue made its ‘debut,’ my collector/dealer friend Steve Dolnick acquired several copies from Kevin to offer at his dealer’s table. He mentioned that since I was a contributor to the magazine, I should get a complimentary copy. The copy came, accompanied with Kevin's usual pseudo-annoyed attitude.
As the Chiller Cons continued, an ‘official’ Zacherley fan club materialized, usually occupying a table of it’s own. One time I was perusing the collection of items that went with a (paid) membership. Immediately, something about the illo of Zach within the graphic design on the official fan club card struck my curiosity. I recognized it as a high contrast B&W cropping from my original color photo of Zach holding up his Monster Mash with John Zacherle LP that I had snapped at that Creation con, where I initially met him. B&W repros of this particular full photo appear on page 37 in FilmFax #14 (along with 3 of 4 other photos I had taken) as well as in the Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul magazine on page 43. The cropping on the fan club card was tight on his face.
The woman manning the fan club Chiller desk was a young goth-ish girl. I inquired if anyone officially connected with the fan club was around. The answer was a bored, “I don’t know.” I casually mentioned that the illo of Zach that graced the ‘official fan club’ membership card was from a photo that I had initially taken, once upon a time. There was no ‘credit to’ or ‘thanks to’ mention anywhere. She, pseudo-annoyed, asked, “Well did you copyright it? Do you want money for it?” I said, “No, not really, but maybe a complimentary membership package would be a nice gesture.” She gave a shrug of the shoulders and indicated that it wasn’t up to her.
Several other people whom I had exchanged photos, materials and encouragement with, subsequently mentioned that they had recognized the Zach fan club card illo as from one of my photos. Also for sale at the ‘Official’ Zach fan club table was a CD titled Zacherle’s Monster Mash Party. The cover was a repro of the Jack Davis cover for the vinyl LP Zacherle’s Monster Gallery. On the disc itself were two b&w images of Zach. The one on the left looked familiar. It was taken from a color print of a photo I had taken during Zach’s first appearance at Dowling. The disc was labeled Monster Mash Party with Zacherley (spelled with the ’y’ ending). It also had the credits’ Produced by Gasport, a Transylvania Production, All Rights Reserved by Mi-Dear & Mfg in Rumania.’ An actual credit for the creator of one of the photographs was nowhere to be found. So much for any mutual respect connected with modern fandom.
One may think this could be an issue I can be a bit too sensitive about. After all, when I’m not being a cinema historian, archivist and Monsterkid, I do actively work as a professional photographer. Occasionally I get a request to submit a photo to someone’s web page. I gladly comply. On other occasions, people who have traded for and/or actually purchased copies of specific photos will post them somewhere and acknowledge myself as the creator. On even other occasions copies of my photos have turned up for sale on eBay. One particular seller has been offering an autographed color print of a photo I lensed of Zach, out of makeup, in his home holding up the two early FMs (#‘s 7 & 15). This is one of the photo repros on page 37 in FilmFax #14, mentioned above. One print carries a ‘buy now’ price of $9.95 while the other is $99. I haven’t a clue as to how the less expensive one could differ from the more expensive one. Sometimes I’m credited, and sometimes I’m not. I contacted these sellers, mentioned that it’s a good thing that something or someone I have photographed is deemed valuable for sale, but, it would be nice if I were given a credit. They respectfully complied with a ‘Photo by Jim Knusch/Professor Kinema.’ On occasion sellers carry the credit ‘Photo by Jim Knusch/Kinema Archives.’
The Kinema Archives have been professionally involved with and have exchanged information and material with; the Berkeley Film Archive of California, the Film Library of the city of New York, the Pordenone Film Festival of Pordenone Italy. It has been recognized by the Cinemateque of Paris. Donations, mainly as gifts, have been received from several universities and as ’inheritances’ from private collectors.
Professor Kinema, the actual person as well as the entity, is listed (#300, no less) in E-Gor’s Chamber of TV Horror Hosts and Hostesses. My good buddy Michael (Ygor) Thomas was added along with me as #301. This was something coming full circle, of sorts. My initial encounter with E-Gor (aka, George Chastain) was at an early Monster Bash con where he was just beginning to amass his own archive of TV HH&H material. Much of his early acquisitions were from the Kinema Archives.
Parts of this article first appeared in the book The Famous Monsters Chronicles, the magazines Scary Monsters and Screem, and in Monsters & Stories fanzine.