TV, Monsters and Me

Ad for Shock!

Ad for Shock!

In 1957, Universal Studios gave leave to allow their films to be shown on national television stations distributed in their Shock! package which included sixty odd films from their archives, including such classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, et al. as well as their respective sequels. Thus began the monster craze of the 60’s, which has never died out completely ever since.

The Chiller Theater opening segment. The hand would rise from the pool of blood and drop the letters spelling "Chiller".

The Chiller Theater opening segment. The hand would rise from the pool of blood and drop the letters spelling “Chiller”.

When I grew up in the 70’s, I lived for monsters. I didn’t care about sports athletes or super heroes, I lived and breathed monsters. My cousin Jason and I would watch shows like Chiller Theater and Creature Feature, which featured movies from the aforementioned Shock package along with some other monster movies like the Toho Kaijū films (i.e., “Godzilla” and “Mothra”) from Japan, but I always preferred the Gothics. Creature Feature was hosted by Dr Paul Bearer, who started my interest in Horror Hosts and whose bad puns and macabre humor can be found in my current stage persona.

Dr Paul Bearer host of Creature Feature on WTOG St Petersburg, Florida from 1973-1995.

Dr Paul Bearer host of Creature Feature on WTOG St Petersburg, Florida from 1973-1995.

My cousin was obsessed with Dracula and I, Frankenstein. We ate Count Chocula and Frankenberry cereal, watched Scooby Doo and the Groovie Ghoulies and collected anything and everything monster related, especially if it featured one of our two favorite monsters.

Monster trading card from the You'll Die Laughing series featuring Lon Chaney Sr in the Phantom of the Opera (1925). Notice that Mary Philbin's face has been replaced witn an unknown. I have read that this was done for copyright reasons, but it only seems to be on this run of cards from the 70's, as the later versions did not seem to do this.

Monster trading card from the You’ll Die Laughing series featuring Lon Chaney Sr in the Phantom of the Opera (1925). Notice that Mary Philbin’s face has been replaced with that of an unknown. I have read that this was done for copyright reasons, but it only seems to be on this run of cards from the 70’s, as the later versions did not seem to do this.

When I rediscovered “Dark Shadows” in the 90’s, my mother informed me that I used to watch the original show with her back in the day and even had a thing for a witch, whom I can only assume must have been the character Angelique, played by the lovely Lara Parker.

The lovely and mysterious Angelique, as portrayed by Lara Parker on the original Dark Shadows series.

The lovely and mysterious Angelique, as portrayed by Lara Parker on the original Dark Shadows series.

One crush I do recall, however is Morticia Addams, as portrayed by the exquisite Carolyn Jones. Even before I knew what sex was, I found her mesmerizing. Morticia Addams paved the way for my infatuations for Vampira, and Elvira, and, to this day, I hold her directly responsible for my fixation with Goth Girls.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, circa 1964.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, circa 1964.

Aside from my obsession with it’s matriarch, the “Addams Family” show was also a lot of fun, better than the broader comedy of “The Munsters”, which I also liked to some extent, and I really took to heart the Addams Family message of acceptance; it was okay to be eccentric and to walk on the dark side without being outright evil. Herman Munster always tried to get his family to fit in with their neighbors, whereas the Addams Family embraced their weirdness.

Along with my dark interests and fetishes, I can trace my entire creative persona to one children’s show. On my return visit to my beloved Boston in 2010 to record the vocal tracks for the long overdue sequel to the debut album by my old band, the Dark Young, our drummer, my good friend Geoff Chase, showed me a video of a Canadian children’s show called “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”. The main premise was that the Count, a vampire, and his trusty servant, Igor, had been banished from Transylvania, and could only return when the Count revived Bruce, a Frankenstein monster. Every show they would try, to no avail, and every show I would pray that they would.

What is significant about the show are two featured segments. Now anyone who knows what I do, or more importantly, what I’ve done, is aware that since the late 1980’s I have been creating what I call, my Black Light Verse; essentially, light verse on dark topics and have honed my craft as a performer, mostly during my tenure with the Dark Young, doling out these dark ditties with servings of dry humor and droll anecdotes. During my stint with the Dark Young, I created an onstage persona, a sort of Gothic Alistair Cooke, with my long hair spilling out over my velvet burgundy smoking jacket, sporting a cravat and a pentacle, I would sit in a chair with a cloth-bound tome, the Grimorium Iuvenis Oscurum (the Grimoire of the Dark Young), from which I would read my poetry and tell my stories.

Me onstage with the Dark Young, circa 1994.

Me onstage with the Dark Young, circa 1994.

Well, as I watched the show, I was surprised to find that I was already familiar with it. Memories of watching it as a child flooded back very quickly. Then came shocker number one, when Vincent Price came on (his spot was a regular feature on the show) and recited a bunch of spooky poems in his usual witty and urbane manner, the possible progenitor to my Black Light Verse, then came shock number two, when “the Librarian” came on.

Billy Van as the Librarian from the show "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein".

Billy Van as the Librarian from the show “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”.

Played by Billy Van, who also played the Count as well as various other characters on the show, the Librarian was an old man with a shock of long white hair, and a mustache, who wore a suit and sat in a chair to read cute little nursery rhymes and fables in a dreadful tone. The joke being that he found them terrifying, and couldn’t understand why no one else was moved by them. So there on this children’s show, which I had all but forgotten, was the template for my adult stage persona; it was alternately a blow for my ego and a piece of the puzzle put in pace.

Over the years, I have continued in my love for monsters, graduating from the iconic Universal Monsters to the Hammer Gothic exploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s, but it wasn’t all monsters and femmes fatales for me. For instance, Monty Python’s Flying Circus is mostly responsible for my love of wordplay and mixing high brow culture and low brow humor. Even so, if it weren’t for television in general, I might not have become the black bard that you all know and loathe today.

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On January 16th, 2015, I read this entry to an audience at the First Studio in downtown Phoenix. It was for an event called “Don’t Touch That Dial”, which tied in with the art exhibit “Under Television Skies”. Host Richard Bledsoe and several local poets and performers read works and performed pieces which celebrated the early days of Television.  Below is a picture taken by Mr Bledsoe during my set, and next is a photo of me helping out with artist Trish Justrish.

Me, stressing a point.

Me, stressing a point.

Trish Justrish and Me

Trish Justrish and Me

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One Response to “TV, Monsters and Me”

  1. Awesome piece! I too had a crush on Morticia.

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