Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Late Great Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman, the photographer who took the cover photos for five of The Beatles' albums, died on November 6 2019 at the age of 82. The cause was pneumonia.

Robert Freeman was born on December 5 1936 in London. During World War II he was evacuated to Yorkshire for one year. He became interested in photography while at Clare College at the University of Cambridge. Following his graduation he served in the British Army and started working for The Sunday Times and various other publications. He also provided photographs for the first Pirelli calendar. He also photographed John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and various other jazz musicians. These photographs impressed The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein enough that he asked him to shoot the cover for The Beatles' second album, With The Beatles.

Robert Freeman would go onto shoot the covers for The Beatles' albums Beatles for Sale, A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Rubber Soul. He also joined The Beatles on their 1964 tour of the United States. He provided the titles for The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), as well as The Knack...and How to Get It (1965). Mr. Freeman directed two movies of his own, The Touchables (1968) and La promesse (1969--known in English as The Secret World).

Robert Freeman would continue to photograph celebrities after his association with The Beatles ended. Over the years he photographed Sophia Loren, Andy Warhol, Jimmy Cliff, Pedro Almodóvar, and Penélope Cruz.

There can be no doubt of Robert Freeman's talent as a photographer. Not only did the covers he shot for The Beatles' early albums help shape the band's image, but they were starkly modern when compared to other album covers of the time. Quite simply, he helped bring album covers into the Sixties, elevating them to an art all their own.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Frank Faylen: More Than a Cab Driver

Many, perhaps most, characters actors found themselves typecast in a particular sort of role. Although he was capable of playing many other sorts of roles, Charles Lane found himself playing a succession of no-nonsense, hard-nosed, white collar workers throughout his long career. While Guy Kibbee could play other roles, he was most often cast as jovial, but scatter-brained characters. An exception to this rule was talented character Frank Faylen. It is true that he played taxi cab drivers in such films as Four's a Crowd (1938), Saturday's Children (1940), The Palm Beach Story (1942), and The Well Groomed Bride (1946). In fact, one of his most famous roles is a cabbie, that of Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life (1947). That having been said, he played much more than cab drivers. And while Frank Faylen specialised in playing average guys, there was a good deal of variety in those roles, everything from sympathetic characters to downright villainous. Indeed, one need only look at Frank Faylen's two most famous roles to see proof of his versatility. Not only did he play good-natured, laid-back cabbie Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life, but he also played hard-working, but high-strung storekeeper Herbert T. Gillis on the classic sitcom Dobie Gillis.

It should be little wonder that Frank Faylen would become a character actor of note, as entertainment was in his blood. He was born Frank Ruf on December 8 1905 in St. Louis, Missouri to the vaudeville team of Ruf and Cusik. He made his first appearance on stage while he was only a baby. He attended St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Kirkwood, Missouri before beginning a career in vaudeville and on the stage. It was in 1928 that he married Carol Hughes, who would later play opposite both Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. The two of them formed a vaudeville act known as Faylen and Hughes, with Carol Hughes playing a scatter-brained, Gracie Allen type and Frank Faylen playing the straight man. The two would remain married for 57 years and had two children

In 1935 Faylen and Hughes arrived in Hollywood in pursuit of film careers. Carol Hughes would appear as a chorine in George White's Scandals (1935) and a similarly small role in Ceiling Zero (1936) before being signed to Warner Bros. Like his wife, Frank Faylen would also be signed to Warner Bros. He made his film debut in 1936 as a police radio dispatcher in Road Gang. While at Warner Bros. he played primarily bit parts.  Often the parts were so small that  Mr. Faylen would later remark, "If you sneezed, you missed me." Among the few Warner Bros. movies made in the Thirties to feature Frank Faylen for more than a few seconds is Dance Charlie Dance (1937) in which he played arrogant choreographer Ted Parks.

Frank Faylen's fortunes would improve after he left Warner Bros. and went freelance. In Curtain Call (1940) he played Spike Malone, the press agent for a pair of theatrical producers plotting to get even with a demanding actress by casting her in an absolutely terrible play. Poverty Row studio Monogram would team Frank Faylen with long-time Laurel & Hardy foil Charlie Hall for two of Mr. Faylen's most substantial early roles. In Father Steps Out (1941) CEO of the Bay Shore Railroad J.B. Matthews (played by Jed Prouty) jumps off a train and winds up spending time with a pair of hoboes played by Frank Faylen and Charlie Hall. In Top Sergeant Mulligan (1941) Frank Faylen and Charlie Hall would have even bigger roles. They play a pair of ne'er-do-wells (Pat Dolan and Budd Doolittle) who join the army to escape an overly aggressive bill collector named Mulligan (played by Nat Pendleton). Unfortunately, their sergeant at boot camp turns out to be Mulligan himself.

Over the next few years Frank Faylen would continue to play bit parts and somewhat more substantial roles, appearing in such films as A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), The Palm Beach Story (1942), Good Morning, Judge (1943), and The Canterville Ghost (1944). What would be his big break would come with The Lost Weekend in 1945. In the film  Mr. Faylen played a role as far removed from Ernie Bishop or Herbert T. Gillis as one could get, the sadistic male nurse "Bim" Nolan in the alcoholic ward in which writer Don Birnam (played by Ray Milland) finds himself. Not only does Bim have very little sympathy for the patients in the ward, but he actually mocks them. At one point he even taunts Birnam with a graphic description of delirium tremens. While Ernie Bishop is the cabbie everyone wants when he or she gets into a taxi, Bim Nolan is the nurse one never wants to see when he or she is in hospital.

Following The Lost Weekend the quality of Frank Faylen's roles improved dramatically. Indeed, it was the following year that he played Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life. Ernie is no mere bit part, playing a major role in It's a Wonderful Life. Along with Mr. Martini (played by William Edmunds), Ernie represents the sort of ordinary guy that the Bailey Building and Loan helps out. Ernie is about as far from Bim in The Lost Weekend as one can get. He is among the many residents of Bedford Falls who prays for George Bailey in his time of crisis. He acts as the doorman on George and Mary's wedding night at the old Granville house (later their home). It is Ernie who reads the telegram from Sam Wainwright in which Sam instructs his office to advance George up to twenty-five thousand dollars. Even in the timeline in which George is never born, in which Ernie has lost his wife and kids and lives in a shack in Potter's Field, Ernie is still warm-hearted, showing concern for Bert the Cop (who appears to be his best friend in both timelines).

Given the impression Frank Faylen makes in both The Lost Weekend and It's a Wonderful Life, it should come as no surprise that he rarely played bit parts afterwards. In fact, from the late Forties into the Fifties, he would regularly appear in various Westerns. Among these was Whispering Smith (1947), in which he played  Whitey Du Sang, a gunslinger for hire and a sworn enemy of Whispering Smith (played by Alan Ladd).  Not only does Whitey have no qualms about committing murder, but he has no problem about betraying those who trust him either. In Blood on the Moon (1948) Frank Faylen played crooked Indian agent Jake Pindalest. Not every character Mr. Faylen played in Westerns was a bad guy. In The Lone Gun (1954) he played Fairweather, a charismatic gambler who also happens to be one of the few friends of the film's protagonist, town marshal Cruze (played by George Montgomery).

Not only would Frank Faylen appear frequently in Westerns, but in film noirs as well. In Race Street (1948) he played Phil Dixon, the operator of a gambling syndicate. Curiously, while Frank Faylen played a lot of heavies in Westerns, he played quite a few fairly upright characters in his film noirs. Most notable of these is Stan Hogan in 99 River Street (1953), a taxi cab company dispatcher who is as good-hearted as Ernie Bishop ever was. In film noirs Mr. Faylen sometimes found himself in law enforcement. He was Det. Gallagher in Detective Story (1951), Police Inspector Anderson in The Sniper (1952), and Commissioner Haskell in Riot on Cell Block 11 (1954).

While Frank Faylen appeared in plenty of Westerns and film noirs in the Forties an Fifties, he also continued to appear in comedies. In Road to Rio (1947), Mr. Faylen played the hit man Trigger, who along with Tony (played by Joseph Vitale), is hired to deal with Sweeney and Barton (played by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope respectively). Fortunately for Sweeney and Barton, neither Trigger nor Tony are particularly competent. Frank Faylen also appeared with Bob Hope in My Favourite Spy (1951), making a brief appearance as Newton, a drunk casino patron. He also had the role of Sgt. Chillingbacker in Francis (1950), the first of the  Francis the Talking Mule movies.

Of course, like many character actors, Frank Faylen would have a career in television. He made his television debut in an episode of Racket Squad in 1951. He made guest appearances on such shows as Maverick, The Ann Sothern Show, Wanted: Dead or Alive, and Whirlybirds before being cast as Herbert T. Gillis on the sitcom Dobie Gillis (originally titled The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis). Dobie Gillis would prove to be a hit and would have a long, successful run in syndication, so that ultimately Herbert T. Gillis could well be Frank Faylen's best known role besides Ernie Bishop. Herbert T. Gillis was the father of the title character, who was always exacerbated by his son's antics. Herbert T. Gillis owned a grocery and was a veteran of World War II, both of which he was very proud. Not only was Herbert a hard worker, but he also tended to pinch pennies. As a result he constantly found himself frustrated by the fact that Dobie was interested only in girls and money, and would only work hard with regards to the former. In the first season, before a sponsor complained, it was not unusual for Herbert to exclaim, "I gotta kill that boy. I just gotta..."As aggravated as Herbert could sometimes be at Dobie's behaviour, it was still clear that he loved his son and only wanted the best for him. Frank Faylen would reprise his role as Herbert T. Gillis in the 1977 unsold television pilot Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?.

After Dobie Gillis ended its run Frank Faylen continued to appear in movies and television shows. Perhaps because of his association with Dobie Gillis, in his later career he primarily appeared in comedies. In The Monkey's Uncle (1965) he had a memorable turn as school board member Mr. Dearborne. He also appeared in the comedies Fluffy (1965) and When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965). On television Frank Faylen guest starred on such shows as My Mother the Car, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction. He had a notable guest shot on That Girl in the two part episode "There Sure Are a Bunch of Cards in St. Louis." He played Bert Hollinger, the father of Ann Marie's boyfriend Donald (Ann Marie being played by Marlo Thomas and Donald being played by Ted Bessell). Frank Faylen's last appearance on film would be as Mr. Keeney in Funny Girl in 1968. His last television appearance would be on an episode of Quincy M.E. in 1978.

Frank Faylen died on August 2 1985 at the age of 79 from pneumonia. He left behind a remarkable career. Even as a bit player, Frank Faylen appeared in such legendary films as They Won't Forget (1937), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), They Drive by Night (1940), and The Reluctant Dragon (1941). As his career progressed his roles became more substantial, so that he would have significant parts in films from Hangman's Knot (1952) to Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).

While other character actors were known for a specific type of role, Frank Faylen managed to escape typecasting and played a wide variety of roles. Indeed, it must be pointed out that his three best known roles are very different from each other. Bim in The Lost Weekend is sadistic and actually takes joy in his taunting of the patients in his charge. Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life is respected in his community and would do anything for his community. He truly has a heart of gold. Herbert Gillis is a bit of a curmudgeon, particularly with regards to his son Dobie, but in the end he is only looking out for his son's best interests. The three characters couldn't be more different, and yet they were all played by the same man. In many ways they are Frank Faylen's career in a microcosm. He played everything from heavies to good-hearted characters and everything in between.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Aniki Bóbó (1942)

( This post is part of the Luso World Cinema Blogathon hosted by Crítica Retrô and Spellbound By Movies)

Manoel de Oliveira had one of the longest careers of any film director in history. His first documentary short, "Douro, Faina Fluvial," was released in 1931. His final work, the segment "O Conquistador Conquistado" in Centro Histórico, came out in 2012. What is more, Manoel de Oliveira may have been the most celebrated Portuguese director of all time, regularly being nominated for or winning various awards at film festivals. What is more, he displayed a mastery of filmmaking from the very beginning. His first feature film, Aniki Bóbó (1942), is widely regarded as a classic.

On the surface, Aniki Bóbó does not appear to be a complex film. It centres on a group of kids in Mr. de Oliveira's hometown of Porto. One of the kids is Carlitos (played by Horácio Silva), a shy, introspective boy. Another is Eduardo (played by António Santos), an extroverted bully who acts as the group's leader. The two of them are rivals for the heart of the only girl in the group, Terezinha (played by Fernanda Matos), a situation which gives the film one of its central conflicts.

Aniki Bóbó was very loosely based on the short story "Meninos Milionários," in English "Millionaire Boys." The story centres on a group of boys who only experience freedom after they leave the oppressive confines of their school. Manoel de Oliveira took the bare bones of the story and expanded upon it, adding to it the romantic rivalry between Carlitos and Eduardo. The title, Aniki Bóbó, comes from a children's counting rhyme similar to "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" in English.

While Aniki Bóbó is today regarded as a classic, it was not well received upon its initial release in Portugal in 1942. The film received negative reviews from critics. Worse yet, it did badly at the box office. Ultimately, the reception for Aniki Bóbó was so poor that Manoeul de Oliveira would not make another film until the documentary short "O Pintor e a Cidade," released in 1956. 

As to why Aniki Bóbó was so poorly received upon its initial release, much of it may well have been the fact that it was different from any other films being made in Portugal at the time. The year 1933 saw the beginning of Estado Novo, the period of authoritarian rule in Portugal that lasted until 1974. It was for that reason that most movies did not take much in the way of chances. In fact, most films released in Portugal in the Thirties and Forties belonged only to a few genres, namely comedies and historical dramas. Aniki Bóbó was neither of these. What is more, in some ways it contradicted the ideology of the Portuguese regime at the time. Indeed, Aniki Bóbó deals with children who lie, cheat, and steal, this at a time when most Portuguese movies placed emphasis upon conventional morality. What is more, none of the adults in the film have names and the only significant adult character treated with sympathy is the kindly Shopkeeper (played by Nascimento Fernandes), owner of the Loja das Tentações (Shop of Temptations). One can imagine how Portuguese critics at the time might have reacted to Aniki Bóbó.

Of course, it probably did not help that not only was Aniki Bóbó different from movies being made in Portugal at the time, but anywhere else for that matter. Aniki Bóbó is often cited as a predecessor to Italian neorealism. After all, the film was shot on the streets of Porto with non-professional actors. None of the children had ever acted before. What is more, it is shot almost entirely using natural lighting. Keep in mind that Aniki Bóbó was released a year before Luchino Visconti's Ossessione and three years before Roberto Rossellini's Roma città aperta.

While Aniki Bóbó shares some things in common with the Italian neorealist films, it also differs from them a good deal. In Aniki Bóbó no effort is taken to portray everyday life in Porto. The children run around streets that are largely empty of people. Except for Carlitos, we are never really shown any of the children's home lives, and even then we never see Carlitos's mother's face. Although Aniki Bóbó shares things in common with Italian neorealism, ultimately it isn't a neorealist film. In fact, it plays out more as a morality play than it does an attempt to reproduce everyday life in a Portuguese town in 1942.

Indeed, while Aniki Bóbó departs to a degree from other Portuguese films of the time, it shares in common with them a plot involving crossing traditional moral boundaries and then making amends for doing so. At the core of Aniki Bóbó is guilt as experienced by its lead character Carlitos. While Portuguese critics at the time may have been critical of the behaviour of the children in the film, in the end most of them make up for any wrongs they might have done.

That having been said, while Aniki Bóbó does conform to traditional morality to a large degree, it also displays defiance to something held to be important by the Portuguese authoritarian regime at the time. Quite simply, authority does not come off well in Aniki Bóbó. The school is not presented as an enjoyable place of learning, but rather a restrictive space in which the children have no freedom. The scenes in the classroom are a sharp contrast to the freedom the children enjoy on the streets of Porto. To make matters worse, the local policeman in the film is presented as a sinister presence. Quite simply, the children are scared of him. In fact, the only adults presented sympathetically are a street singer and the Shopkeeper (who in some ways serves as the film's moral compass).

While the plot of Aniki Bóbó is easily described, in many respects it is a very complicated film that examines moral transgressions, guilt, forgiveness, and authority. What makes it even more powerful is the fact that it combines beautiful cinematography with some sterling performances from its cast with a well written script. While Aniki Bóbó may not have been well received in Portugal upon its initial release, it is easy to see why it would come to be regarded as a classic.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Godspeed Bernard Slade

Bernard Slade, the creator of the TV shows The Partridge Family and The Flying Nun as well as the author of the play Same Time, Next Year, died on October 30 2019 at the age of 89. The cause was complications from Lewy body dementia.

Bernard Slade was born Bernard Slade Newbound on May 2 1930 in St. Catharines, Ontario. In 1935 his British parents returned to England. During World War II the family frequently moved due to evacuations caused by German bombing. He returned to Canada when he was 18. In Toronto, he took a job as an air steward before he answered an ad for summer stock actors. After several appearances on the Canadian stage, he made his television debut in 1955 in an episode of CBS Summer Theatre. He guest starred on such shows as First Performance, On Camera, General Motors Presents, and First Person. He broke into writing for television with an episode of the show On Camera in 1957. In the late Fifties he wrote episodes of the shows Matinee Theatre, One of a Kind, General Motors Presents, and Festival.

Bernard Slade began the Sixties writing episodes of Quest and Playdate. In 1964 he moved to Los Angeles where he began working for Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures' television subsidiary. He provided dialogue on an episode of My Living Doll and served briefly as the script consultant on the show. Mr. Slade was also the script consultant on Bewitched, writing 17 episodes of the show as well. He left Bewitched in 1966 to create the sitcom Love on a Rooftop with Harry Ackerman. The series ran only one season from September 1966 to August 1967. He developed the sitcom The Flying Nun from the book The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios. He left Screen Gems to serve as the script consultant on The Courtship of Eddie's Father during its first season. Afterwards he returned to Screen Gems where he created The Partridge Family. He drew upon real-life family pop group The Cowsills for inspiration. The Partridge Family proved to be a success, running for four seasons.

In the Seventies Bernard Slade created the short-lived sitcoms Bridget Loves Bernie and The Girl with Something Extra. He also wrote an episode of Good Heavens. He wrote the screenplay for the movie Stand Up and Be Counted (1972). Having grown frustrated with the television industry, he turned attention back to the stage and wrote the play Same Time, Next Year. Same Time, Next Year proved to be a success, with a long run on Broadway. Mr. Slade followed it with two more Broadway plays in the late Seventies: Tribute and Romantic Comedy. Same Time, Next Year was adapted as the 1978 movie of the same name, for which Mr. Slade wrote the screenplay. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Tribute was adapted as the 1980 movie of the same name, for which Bernard Slade also wrote the screenplay.

In the Eighties he wrote the play Special Occasions, which closed on its opening night on Broadway. He wrote the screenplay for the 1983 adaptation of Romantic Comedy. He also wrote an episode of the TV show Trying Times. Bernard Slade would continue writing plays, including An Act of the Imagination, Fatal Attraction (not to be confused with the movie of the same name), Fling!, I Remember You, and You Say Tomatoes.

Quite simply, Bernard Slade was one of the most talented writers of Sixties sitcoms. He wrote some of the best episodes of Bewitched, including "The Witches Are Out" and "Aunt Clara's Old Flame." In addition to creating the show, he also wrote some of the best episodes of The Partridge Family. Of course, he also displayed his talent as a playwright. Some Time, Next Year was nominated for several Tony Awards and won the Tony for Best Actress. He certainly left a lasting impact, between his work in television and on Broadway.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

John Witherspoon Passes On

Actor and comedian John Witherspoon, who appeared in such TV shows as The Wayan Bros. and such movies as Hollywood Shuffle (1987), died on October 29 2019 at the age of 77.

John Witherspoon was born John Weatherspoon on January 27 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. His older brother, William Weatherspoon, would become a songwriter known for his work with Motown. He began his career as a stand-up comic at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles in 1974. The owner, Mitzi Shore, eventually made him a master of ceremonies. He made his television debut as a regular on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. In the late Seventies he guest starred on the shows The Incredible Hulk, What's Happening!, Good Times, and Barnaby Jones. He made his film debut in The Jazz Singer in 1980.

In the Eighties Mr. Witherspoon guest starred on such shows as WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, You Again?, 227, What's Happening Now!, Frank's Place, Amen, and L.A. Law. He appeared in the movies Ratboy (1986), Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Kidnapped (1987), Bird (1988), I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), and House Party (1990).

In the Nineties John Witherspoon was a regular on the TV shows Townsend Television and The Wayan Bros. He guest starred on the shows Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Waynehead, Living Single, and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. He appeared in the movies Friday (1995) and its sequel Next Friday (2000). He also appeared in the movies The Five Heartbeats (1991), Talkin' Dirty After Dark (1991), Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1991), Boomerang (1992), Bébé's Kids (1992), The Meteor Man (1993), Fatal Instinct (1993), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Killin' Me Softly (1996), Sprung (1997), Fakin' Da Funk (1997), Ride (1998), Bulworth (1998), I Got the Hook Up (1998), High Freakquency (1998), The Ladies Man (2000), and Little Nicky (2000).

In the Naughts John Witherspoon was a regular on the TV shows The Tracy Morgan Show and The Boondocks. He guest starred on such shows as The Proud Family, Kim Possible, and Weekends at the DL. He appeared in the movies Friday After Next (2002), Soul Plane (2004), Little Man (2006), After Sex (2007), and The Hustle (2008). In the Teens he continued as a voice on The Boondocks and continued to appear on The First Family. He was a regular on Black Jesus. He guest starred on the shows Tosh.0, Anger Management, Black Dynamite, Animals, Black-ish, DashieXP, White Famous, and BoJack Horseman. He appeared in the films A Thousand Words (2012), I Got the Hook Up 2 (2019), and Reality Queen! (2019).

He continued to play comedy dates throughout his career, right up to his death.

There can be no doubt that John Witherspoon was very funny. He was certainly outrageous, and at times his comedy could be considered "bathroom humour," but he did in such a way that it was hard to be offended. He was simply that funny. Of course, as over the top and even crude as his humour could often be, John Witherspoon was capable of subtlety. He played plenty of curmudgeons, nearly all of them with soft hearts. He played characters who could be tough, but at the same time tender. Not every one of John Witherspoon's movies were classics. For every Hollywood Shuffle there were movies like Vampire in Brooklyn and Fatal Instinct. That having been said, each one of his movies was better for having him in it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Godspeed Robert Evans

Robert Evans, former head of Paramount Pictures as well as an actor and producer, died on October 26 2019 at the age of 89.

Robert Evans was born Robert J. Shapera on June 29 1930 in New York City. While still a teenager he carved out a niche for himself as an actor on radio. He appeared on such shows as Young Widder Brown, The Aldrich Family, and Let's Pretend. After graduating from high school, he joined Evan-Picone, a women's clothing company co-founded by his older brother Charles. It was while he was at the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel that he was spotted by Norma Shearer, who got him cast as her late husband Irving Thalberg in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces. Robert Evans would appear in three more movies in the late Fifties: The Sun Also Rises (1957), The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958), and The Best of Everything  (1959).

Robert Evans was unhappy as an actor and decided to become a producer instead. He bought the rights to the novel The Detective by Roderick Thorp, meaning to produce its film adaptation. Before he could, Mr. Evans came to the attention of Gulf+Western head Charles Bluhdorn, who appointed him as head of Paramount Pictures. At the time Paramount Pictures was a shadow of what it had been during the Golden Age of Hollywood, losing money every year. Robert Evans broke away from the traditional Hollywood films Paramount had been producing to release more daring films. Some, such as The President's Analyst (1967) and Catch-22 (1970), while well regraded today, did not particularly well at the box office. Others, such as Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Odd Couple (1968), The Italian Job (1969), The Godfather (1972), and Chinatown (1974) proved to be hits. In all, Robert Evans held his position at Paramount Pictures for eight years.

While he was the head of Paramount Pictures, Robert Evans struck a deal with the studio so that he could operate as an independent producer. He produced Chinatown (1974) and then stepped down as Paramount's studio head thereafter. In the Seventies he produced such films as Marathon Man (1976), Black Sunday (1977), Players (1979), Urban Cowboy (1980), and Popeye (1980). His career would be derailed in 1980 when he was convicted of cocaine trafficking. Robert Evans would continue to deny the charges for the rest of his life, maintaining he was only a user. The misdemeanour charge of drug trafficking would later be wiped from his record.

A more serious scandal would occur in 1983 when theatrical impresario Roy Radin was murdered. Having been worked with Mr. Radin on a potential movie about The Cotton Club, Mr. Evans became a material witness in his murder. Here it must be point out that there is no substantial evidence that Robert Evans had any knowledge of the murder, let alone any connection to it.

Regardless, The Cotton Club, produced by Robert Evans, was released in 1984. Along with The Two Jakes (1990), it was the only movie he produced in the Eighties. From the Nineties into the Naughts, Robert Evans produced the movies Sliver (1993), Jade (1995), The Phantom (1996), The Saint (1997), The Out-of-Towners (1999), and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003).

Robert Evans would have cameos in the films Superfights (1995), An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997), and The Girl from Nagasaki (2013). On television he guest starred on The Simpsons and Just Shoot Me. As the lead voice actor on the animated series Kid Notorious, Robert Evans played himself. He also produced Kid Notorious. For television he also produced a TV movie version of Urban Cowboy.

Robert Evans certainly lived an interesting life, one that was in many ways more outlandish than any melodrama produced by Hollywood. He admitted to being a cocaine addict and had been married multiple times. Regardless of his various problems, such was Robert Evans's personality and creative talent as a producer that many in Hollywood recognised his passing. Even director Francis Ford Coppola, with whom Mr. Evans didn't always get along, paid tribute to him following his death. Documentarian Brett Morgan, who co-directed The Kid Stays in the Picture, a documentary on Mr. Evans, wrote, "He was funnier, sweeter and more charming than the character he created."

There was certainly no denying Robert Evans's talent as a studio head and producer. He turned Paramount Pictures around, saving it with a series of financially successful, now classic films. Even when a particular movie produced on Mr. Evans's watch was not initially successful, such as The President's Analyst, it might eventually develop a following and the respect of critics. Later in his career Robert Evans would not have quite as much luck as a producer, although he would still produce such films as The Two Jakes (1990). Robert Evans was certainly larger than life and he is certainly one of the most legendary characters in the history of Hollywood.

Monday, November 4, 2019

TCM Announces Its First Films at the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival

Today Turner Classic Movies announced its first few movies that will be shown at the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival. I am sure that many TCM fans are excited by this news, particularly given some of the movies showing this year. In my case, I am excited because two of the films have had a personal impact on me. Of course, one of them has probably had a personal impact on most Gen Xers. I am sure that The Wizard of Oz (1939) was the first classic movie ever seen by most Gen Xers. I know it was the fist classic movie I ever saw. As to the other movie that had a personal impact on me, that would be Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which was the first movie I can ever remember seeing all the way through. As to why The Wizard of Oz was the first classic movie I ever saw even though I had seen Jason and the Argonauts first, well, keep in mind I saw Jason and the Argonauts when I was only four years old. I don't think it could be considered a classic yet, although it most certainly is now.

I am excited about many of the other movies as well. There will be a 70th anniversary presentation of Harvey (1950), which is my second favourite Jimmy Stewart movie (after It's a Wonderful Life). There will also be the classics The Bishop's Wife (1947) and Lost Horizon (1937), both of which I love. Somewhere in Time (1980) is also being shown. I do love the film, although given the subject matter (writer falls in love with actress), I am not sure I am ready to watch it any time soon! About the only film announced today that I am not excited about is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I never have liked that film.

As to passes for the festival, there will be a pre-sale for Citi members on Tuesday, November 19. Public passes for the festival go on sale on November 21. I have to warn you that the passes are expensive this year! The cheapest pass is the Palace Pass, which is $349. If you want to at least get access to Club TCM, the panels, and poolside screenings, you will want to get the Classic Pass, which is a whopping $749. Here I must point out that if you run a blog, you can always request media credentials (better known as a press pass). Media credentials will be made available in early 2020.

Anyway, I am sure many are looking forward to the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival. I am hoping that I can go for the first time this year!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween 2019

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts I realise that many people might appreciate some cheesecake with their Halloween candy. It is for that reason that every Halloween I post classic pinups. Without further ado, then, here is this year's collection of pinups!

First up is June Knight, who is apparently riding a broom to a Halloween shindig!

Next up is one of the prettiest witches you'll ever see, Janet Leigh!

Witch Kathleen Case is communing with her black cat among the corn shalks and jack o' lanterns.

Anita Page is cradling a jack o' lantern.

The lovely Ann Rutherford and a jack o' lantern.

 June Haver amongst her Halloween decorations.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Halloween (or any other holiday, for that matter) without Ann Miller!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

My Five Favourite Foreign Horror Movies

This past Sunday, October 27, the talented Alicia Malone of TCM tweeted that each day she was going to tell us one of her five favourite foreign horror films. She also encouraged her followers to chime in with their favourites. To this end, then here are my five favourite foreign horror movies. Here I must stress that I am defining "foreign" as any movie not made by an Anglophone country. For that reason horror movies made in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand don't qualify!

Nosferatu (1922): The first and arguably the best adaptation of Dracula. It was also an unauthorized version. Bram Stoker's widow won a successful plagiarism suit against the makers of Nosferatu, one of the conditions of which was that all copies of the movie be destroyed! Fortunately for future generations, some copies escaped destruction. By the way, to show you how influential Nosferatu was, the idea that sunlight destroys vampires originated with this movie, not from folklore! While in folkore vampires were creatures of the night, they were never particularly photosensitive prior to Nosferatu.

Gojira (1954): Today when Americans think of Godzilla movies they are apt to think of campy movies from the Sixties and the Seventies in which Godzilla defends humanity against other giant monsters and even aliens. It wasn't always that way. The movie that started the franchise, Gojia, is a deeply philosophical film that capitalized upon a fear the Japanese were all too familiar with, the fear of nuclear destruction. Because of this, the movie is not only genuinely frightening, but disturbing as well.

Les diaboliques (1955): Before Peeping Tom (1960) and Psycho (1960), there was Les diaboliques, better known simply as Diabolique in many Anglophone countries. Les diaboliques is genuinely frightening and would inspire a whole slough of similar movies in the Sixties, Psycho merely being the most famous of them.

Sei donne per l'assassino (1964) Known as Blood and Black Lace in English speaking countries, along with Peeping Tom, Sei donne per l'assassino was a forerunner of the slasher movies of the late Seventies and early Eighties. It not only has a high body count, but was graphic in a way that no other films at the time were. The film was so influential that, along with Mario Bava's earlier film Black Sunday, the entire subgenre of giallo exists because of it.

El laberinto del fauno (2006): Know as  Pan's Labyrinth in Anglophone countries, El laberinto del fauno is set during the early years of the Francisco Franco regime in Spain. Because of this, the terrors of reality are sometimes more frightening than the film's fantasy elements. El laberinto del fauno blends elements of mythology, fairy tales, folklore, and history to create a wholly unsettling film.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Witch's Tale

Old Time Radio is remembered for many of its suspense/horror programs, including such classics as Lights Out, Inner Sanctum Mystery, and Suspense. Not so well remembered is a radio show that debuted before all of them. The Witch's Tale was quite possibly the first ever horror radio show. What is more, it was successful in its time. In fact, it ran for seven years.

The Witch's Tale debuted on WOR in New York City on May 21 1931. The show as not a large affair by any measure. Its creator, Alonzo Deen Cole, also wrote and directed the show. His wife, Marie O'Flynn, played the female characters on the show. Its supporting cast consisted only of Mark Smith and Alan Devitte. The undisputed star of the show was its host, Old Nancy, the Witch of Salem. It was Alonzo Deen Cole himself who provided the sounds of her cat, Salem.

Old Nancy claimed to be well over one hundred years old, although her exact age would vary from episode to episode. Originally Old Nancy was played by stage actress Adelaide Fitz-Allen. Miss Fitz-Allen died at age 79 in 1935. She was replaced by Miriam Wolfe, who was only 13 years old. While Miss Wolfe was only 13, she had already had plenty of experience on radio, having appeared on the CBS children's show Let's Pretend. On that show she had played plenty of witches.

Most of the episodes of The Witch's Tale were original, although the show did feature some adaptations of classic horror stories and novels over the years, including "La Vénus d'Ille" by Prosper Mérimée (as "The Bronze Venus") in 1931, "The Bottle Imp" by Robert Louis Stevenson (adapted as "The Wonderful Bottle") in 1934, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in 1935.

The Witch's Tale was popular enough to have a pulp magazine based upon it. The Witch's Tales was published by Carwood Publishing Co. It would not repeat the show's success, lasting only two issues. Much of the reason for the failure of The Witch's Tales may have been because, with the exception of one original story by Alonzo Deen Cole in each of the two issues, the stories were entirely reprints from the American version of Pearson's Magazine.

Originally aired on WOR, The Witch's Tale would receive nationwide exposure when it was aired on the Mutual Radio Network starting in 1934. The show ended its run on June 13 1938. That is not to say that The Witch's Tale was gone. An Australian version of the show with a different cast and crew was syndicated to Australian radio stations from 1939 to 1943. The Australian version of The Witch's Tale adapted scripts from the original, American version.

Sadly, very little in the way of The Witch's Tale has survived. In 1961 Alonzo Deen Cole destroyed much of the show's episodes when he moved from New York to California, convinced that there was no market for old radio shows. Fortunately some episodes have survived, as have the 332 scripts for the show.

In On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, author John Dunning wrote of The Witch's Tale, "The effects were crude by later standards, and the stories were one-dimensional affairs, calculated for a single effect." Regardless, The Witch's Tale must have been effective to have run seven years. What is more, it was influential. Old Nancy was the first of many hosts of horror-suspense radio shows, predating Raymond of Inner Sanctum Mystery and the Mysterious Traveller of the radio show of the same name. The Witch's Tale may only be remembered by fans of Old Time Radio today, but it would leave a lasting impact on radio shows to come.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Crow (1994): Putting the Wrong Things Right

(This blog post is part of Dark and Deep: The Gothic Horror Blogathon, hosted by Pale Writer)

"People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right." (Sarah in the movie The Crow)

In 1989 the movie Batman proved to be a smash hit. Its success led to a a whole cycle of superhero movies that lasted through the early to mid Nineties. It was a little over twenty five years ago, on May 13 1994, that a superhero movie was released that differed from any other superhero movies of the time. Fist, it was darker than even the movie Batman and its sequels proved to be. Second, it was much more violent. Third, it was nearly as much a work of Gothic horror as it was superheroics. The Crow (1994) drew upon folklore, superhero comic books, and Gothic horror movies to create a tale of revenge that was different from any other films out at the time. Not surprisingly, it would also prove to be a cult film.

The Crow centred on rock musician Eric Draven (played by Brandon Lee in his final role). Eric and his fiancée Shelley planned on getting married on Halloween. Unfortunately, on the previous night (known as Devil's Night) a gang breaks into their apartment, assaults Shelly, and murders Eric. Shelly later dies at the hospital. This was not the end of the story, as a year later a crow brings Eric back from the grave to exact his revenge on the gang. 

The Crow was based on the comic book of the same name by James O'Barr. Mr. O'Barr was only 18 years old when his fiancée Beverly was killed by a drunk driver. As a means of dealing with his grief he began working on The Crow, taking further inspiration from a story he had seen in a Detroit newspaper about a young couple murdered for a $30 engagement ring. It would take James O'Barr nearly ten years to find a publisher for The Crow. It was finally published in 1989 by Caliber Press. It has since become possibly the best selling independent comic book of all time.

It was only as the third issue of The Crow came out that James O'Barr was approached by writer John Shirley and producer Jeff Most about adapting The Crow as a movie.  Impressed by their enthusiasm and retaining the copyright to The Crow, Mr. O'Barr decided to sell them the film rights even though their offer was less than some previous ones he had received. John Shirley began work on the screenplay while Jeff Most shopped the film treatment around to various producers. Ultimately it was independent producer Edward R. Pressman, who had worked on films from Phantom of the Paradise (1974) to Talk Radio (1990), who signed onto the film. He worked out a distribution deal with Paramount Pictures. It was also Mr. Pressman who brought director Alex Proyas, who had directed the Australian film Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1989), on to the project. 

The screenplay for The Crow would see some changes from the comic book. Chief among these was setting the film at Devil's Night. The screenplay also centred more upon the love story between Eric and Shelley than the comic book had. One major change is that in the movie Eric is a rock musician, while in the comic book his profession is never actually specified. Not all of the changes would remain in the screenplay. At one point James O'Barr thought too many changes were being made and so he wrote a 10-page outline that explained Eric Draven's motivations. Eventually David J. Schow was brought in to rewrite the screenplay. It was Mr. Schow who reduced the number of villains in the film and also gave them a central motivation beyond murder and mayhem.

In casting Eric Draven, the producers wanted someone who had both acting talent and athletic ability. It was for that reason that Brandon Lee was ultimately cast. Brandon Lee read the comic book and made several suggestions, the biggest of which was the removal of an Asian character trying to steal Eric's power that Mr. Lee felt was a stereotype. 

As to casting the crow that appears in the film, the bird is not actually a crow, but instead a raven. What is more, multiple ravens were used in the film. The movie did present animal trainer Larry Madrid with some problems. Ravens are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night. Since The Crow was shot at night, he had to accustom the birds to staying awake when they would otherwise be asleep. He also had to train them to fly in both the rain and in a wind tunnel. Fortunately, ravens are very intelligent birds and easily trained.

Unfortunately, filming on The Crow would not go smoothly. In fact, the movie would experience accidents from the first day of shooting. That day, February 1 1993, a carpenter received burns to his face, chest, and arms when the crane on which he was working hit live power lines. It was that same day that an equipment truck caught fire. Still later a construction worker accidentally drove a screwdriver through his hand. It was then on March 13 1993 that a storm destroyed some of the sets for The Crow, as well as some of the sets of The Hudsucker Proxy (1994).

Sadly, the most famous accident on the set was yet to occur. It was on March 31 1993, with only a few days of shooting left, that a flashback scene portraying Eric Draven's death was filmed. The scene called for Eric to be shot at close range. The gun was loaded with dummy cartridges for close-up shots of the weapon. Unfortunately, once the close-up shots were finished, a prop assistant failed to check the gun's barrel for any obstructions before loading it with blanks. As it turned out, a dummy cartridge had lodged in the barrel. Worse yet, there was still enough percussion primer at the rear of the dummy cartridge that when the gun was fired, it was propelled out of the barrel. The round struck Brandon Lee in the abdomen, wounding him severely. He was rushed to the hospital where he underwent six hours of surgery. He died at 1:03 PM Eastern Time on March 31 1993. 

Brandon Lee's death presented the producers with the decision of whether to continue production on The Crow or not. With only three days of shooting left, it was ultimately decided to complete the film. The screenplay was reworked and ultimately one whole character, the Skull Cowboy (who acts as a spirit guide for Eric Draven) was cut. Any uncompleted scenes using Brandon Lee were completed using doubles, CGI, and scenes that had been shot already using Brandon Lee. Despite claims otherwise, the footage of Brandon Lee's death was reportedly destroyed. Mr. Lee's death was determined to be accidental. Brandon Lee's mother and Bruce Lee's widow Linda Lee Caldwell did file a wrongful death lawsuit, and it was settled out of court.

Because of the delays in shooting, the producers would not be able to deliver The Crow in time for its then scheduled August 1993 release date. If the producers could not meet the delivery schedule, then Paramount had the right not to accept the film. After viewing an early cut of the film, Paramount ultimately decided not to take The Crow. That having been said, Edward R. Pressman suspects that Paramount may have been "scared off" by a possible public relations nightmare. 

It was only three months later after Paramount had rejected The Crow that Miramax picked the film up for distribution. Miramax also provided $8 million to complete production of the film. When The Crow was released to 1200 theatres on May 13 1994 it became the largest release at that point in the history of Miramax. The film ended with the dedication "For Brandon and Eliza" (Eliza being Mr. Lee's fiancée).

Regardless of the controversy over Brandon Lee's death, The Crow proved to be a success. It opened as no. 1 at the box office in the United States. In the end it grossed $50,693,129 in the United States and £1,245,403 in the United Kingdom. It also did well in Europe and Asia. The Crow also received generally positive reviews. 

The success of The Crow led to three sequels, The Crow: City of Angels (1996), The Crow: Salvation (2000), and The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005).  The latter two sequels were both released direct-to-video. None of them were well received. In 1998 a TV show inspired by the movie, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, debuted. While the show received relatively good ratings, it ended after one season following the sale of Polygram Television to Universal.

The Crow would prove to be influential. Certainly the look of the film drew upon both the neo-noir look of Blade Runner (1982) and the superhero Gothic look of Batman (1989). That having been said, what set The Crow apart from both Blade Runner and Batman (1989) was that Detroit as portrayed in the film could actually exist. This combination of Gothic and realism in The Crow would prove to have a lasting impact, influencing such films as Spawn (1997), the Blade Trilogy, Sin City (2005), and even The Dark Knight Trilogy. Not only did The Crow bring a sense of Gothic to superhero films, but it also brought violence and rawness to them as well. Most comic book and comic strip movies of the early Nineties were generally family friendly affairs, such as Dick Tracy (1990) and The Rocketeer (1991). The Crow paved the way for superhero films that were grittier and more violent.

Of course, The Crow is as much Gothic horror as it is a superhero film. What makes it unique as a Gothic horror film is that it takes the well-used trope of the newly returned dead and flips it on its head. It is not Eric Draven who is the source of horror, but instead his flesh and blood opponents. The villains of The Crow are particularly brutal and quite capable of senseless violence. To give an example of how terrifying they are, they murder Eric and Shelly in their own apartment, a place one would generally feel safe. This is in sharp contrast to Eric, who metes out vengeance to those who have wronged him while genuinely caring for truly good people. In The Crow it is not the undead who is the monster. It is the living.

It is perhaps because The Crow was a decidedly different superhero film and a decidedly different Gothic film upon its release that it would become so successful. That having been said, its appeal goes far beyond the film's look and atmosphere. The comic book The Crow grew out of James O'Barr's grief over his fiancée's death. Central to both the comic book and the movie is not only grief and death, but also the idea that love is eternal. In interviews James O'Barr has said that over the years many fans have told them how reading the comic book has helped them deal with their own grief. Having experienced my own personal tragedy last year, I certainly think that is true of the movie as well. Last October I watched The Crow as I am usually inclined to around Halloween and it was an entirely different experience for me. For the first time in my life I fully knew how Eric Draven felt. As a result The Crow acted as a catharsis for my grief, if only temporarily. It also reminded me that good can defeat evil. Of course, perhaps more than anything else I appreciated its message that love transcends death. In Sarah's last bit of narration in The Crow, she remarks, "If the people we love are stolen from us, the way they live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever." 

The Crow has proven to be a lasting success, exerting an influence on films to this day. And while The Crow has stunning visuals, its appeal goes well beyond its look. Despite being a Gothic tale of revenge from beyond the grave, it is ultimately a tale of the victory of good over evil and of love over death. That sets it apart from many superhero movies released today.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Five Movies for Halloween

When people think of movies to watch around Halloween, they generally think of horror movies. That having been said, there are movies in which Halloween does play a significant role. One could think of these films as "Halloween movies," much as one might think of It's a Wonderful Life (1946), The Bishop's Wife (1947), or Holiday Affair (1949) as Christmas movies. Here are five movies that are perfectly suitable for viewing on Halloween.

1. Boy Friend (1939): This delightful comedy starring Jane Withers climaxes at Halloween. In the movie Jane Withers plays Sally Murphy, whose older brother Jimmy is a police officer. When one of Sally's friends is murdered, she decides to solve the murder herself. Ultimately she finds herself at the Golden Parrot Club with gangsters on Halloween. As might be expected, even with gangsters involved, the Halloween party has all the traditional trappings. This makes it quite suitable to watch on the holiday.

2. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): In my humble opinion, Arsenic and Old Lace is to Halloween what It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street (1947) are to Christmas. The movie is set at Halloween. It features what is the first scene of trick or treating in a mainstream film. It centres on two maiden aunts with a disturbing secret. It also features a serial killer in the form of Jonathan Brewster (played by Raymond Massey), who looks a lot like Boris Karloff. Arsenic and Old Lace is one of those films that is both funny and frightening at the same time. Quite simply, it is perfect Halloween viewing.

3. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): Perhaps because of the iconic scene involving the classic song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" sung by Judy Garland, many people think of Meet Me in St. Louis as a Christmas movie. That having been said, the Halloween sequence is actually longer than the Christmas sequence and in some ways more significant to the plot. Set in St. Louis in 1903, it also features some interesting Halloween customs from the start of the 20th Century. While there are those who think of Meet Me in St. Louis as a Christmas movie, there are also those of us who think of it as a Halloween movie!

4. Halloween (1978): I suppose that this would be an obvious one for many. It was certainly influential, starting a cycle towards slasher movies that lasted for much of the Eighties. Despite its title, there are those who have argued that the movie does not have that much to do with the holiday. This is not quite the case. Many of the trappings of the holiday appear in Halloween, including trick-or-treaters and jack o'lanterns. As a horror movie set on the holiday, Halloween then makes perfect Halloween viewing.

5. The Crow (1994): Let's face it, regardless of when it was set, The Crow would be suitable viewing in October. The movie centres on Eric Draven (played by Brandon Lee), a musician who, along with his girlfriend, is murdered by a gang. This is not the end of Eric's story, however, as he returns from the dead to wreak vengeance on the thugs who killed him and his girlfriend As if being a macabre superhero movie wasn't enough to make it suitable for viewing on Halloween, it set on October 30--Devil's Night in Detroit. Given the roots of Halloween go back to the Celtic pagan festival called Samhain in Irish Gaelic and and Samhainn in Scottish Gaelic, a festival in which it might have been believed the dead return to the world of the living, The Crow is then very suitable to watch at Halloween.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Horror Hosts

Joe Bob Briggs, John Stanley,
Zacherley, Elvira, and Ghoulardi
From the Fifties to the Eighties, local television stations around the United States were filled with horror hosts, individuals who hosted programs that aired horror movies and related B movies. The horror host usually adopted a horror-themed persona, often one that was humorous in nature. At their height, there were only a few television markets that did not have at least one horror host, sometimes more. What is more, some horror hosts, such as Vampira and Zacherley, achieved fame well beyond their local area. While horror hosts would go into decline in the Eighties, they have never completely gone away. They remain a fond childhood memory for many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

Although horror hosts today are associated with movie anthologies shown on television, they actually originated on Old Time Radio. It is difficult to say who the first horror host on radio was, but it could well have been Old Nancy on The Witch's Tale, which debuted in 1931. Each week Old Nancy, the Witch of Salem, would introduce another tale of terror on the show. The Witch's Tale would be followed by The Hermit's Cave in 1937, which was hosted by the Hermit. Perhaps the most famous horror host in radio was Raymond of Inner Sanctum Mystery (often known simply as Inner Sanctum). Raymond (played by Raymond Edward Johnson) introduced episodes of Inner Sanctum Mystery in a sardonic voice complete with dark jokes and puns. He would close the show with the phrase, "Pleasant dreeeeaams, hmmmmm?" Raymond left the show in 1945 to join the United States Army, but his successors kept his darkly humorous tone. Raymond would leave his imprint on all horror hosts to come. Debuting in 1941, Inner Sanctum Mystery inspired imitators with their own horror hosts, including The Mysterious Traveller, The Strange Dr. Weird, and Quiet Please.

It was because of the horror hosts of Old Time Radio that EC Comics' famous line of horror comic books would feature their own hosts. The first of these was the Crypt-Keeper, the host of The Crypt of Terror and Tales from the Crypt. The success of The Crypt of Terror would lead to two more EC horror titles, each with its own host. The Vault of Horror was hosted by the Vault-Keeper. The Haunt of Fear was hosted by the Old Witch. EC Comics' horror titles proved popular. Unfortunately, they would also find themselves the target of the moral panic over comic books that lasted from around 1947 to around 1954. To avoid censorship from outside the industry, several publishers banded together to form a self-regulatory organization called the Comics Magazine Association of America, complete with its own Comics Code. If anything, the Comics Code was even stricter than the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code of the Thirties and Forties, and effectively put an end to horror titles of the sort published by EC Comics.

Television's first horror host would come about even as EC Comics' horror titles were coming to an end. In 1953 actress Maila Nurmi attended the annual Bal Caribe Masquerade held by choreographer Lester Horton in a costume inspired by the as-of-yet unnamed lady of the house in Charles Addams's cartoons, later named Morticia Addams for the TV series The Addams Family. Miss Nurmi's costume caught the attention of producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr., then program director for KABC in Los Angeles, who was looking for a host for horror movies aired on the station. It took Mr. Stromberg several months to track Maila Nurmi down. Together the two of them would create the character of Vampira.

Vampira was inspired in part by the character later known as Morticia Addams, silent film vamps such as Theda Bara, the Evil Queen from the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Dragon Lady from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, and the artwork of John Willie in the fetish magazine Bizarre. It was Maila Nurmi's then husband Dean Riesner who came up with the name "Vampira." Vampira followed the tradition of such horror hosts of radio in introducing films with sardonic remarks and a dark sense of humour.

A preview of Vampira's new show, titled Dig Me Later, Vampira, debuted on April 30 1954 on KABC. The Vampira Show itself debuted the next night, on May 1 1954. Although Vampira was television's first horror host, she introduced more than just horror movies. The first official episode of The Vampira Show featured the Italian crime thriller Atto di accusa (1950).  Over the course of the show Vampira would introduce an eclectic mix of movies, including White Zombie (1932), The Flying Serpent (1946), The Man with Two Lives (1942), and Murder by Invitation (1941). The Vampira Show proved popular, to the point that Maila Nurmi appeared on national television programs. She made appearances on such shows as The Red Skelton Show, The George Gobel Show, and Playhouse 90.

Despite the popularity of The Vampira Show, it was cancelled in 1955 when Maila Nurmi refused to sell the rights to the character to ABC. The show was briefly revived as Vampira Returns in 1956 on Los Angeles station KHJ-TV (now KCAL).

While The Vampira Show was successful and would have a lasting impact, it would be another event that would spur the creation of horror hosts on television across the United States. In 1957 Screen Gems began syndicating a package of old Universal horror movies to local stations under the title Shock!. Shock! proved very popular with television stations and viewers alike, with many stations electing to air the movies in the package under the title Shock Theatre. In many instances stations elected to use a horror host on their airings of the movies in the Shock! package. By the late Fifties horror hosts were a common sight on television sets throughout the United States. Like Vampira before them, many of these horror hosts would become famous beyond their local areas.

Here it must be pointed out that most horror hosts were not hired specifically to host scary movies. Most were already part of the existing staff of a television station, such as an announcer, weatherman, or floor manager. It was not unusual for a horror host to host a local station's kids show as a different character entirely or, at least, to have hosted the local kids show. Regardless of what position in which they had started at a television station, most horror hosts found themselves to be local celebrities (at least as their character) and a very few would actually turn being a horror host into a career.

Among those who obtained national fame was John Zacherle, who would turn his character Zacherley into a career. Mr. Zacherle began his career at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, where he appeared as a Coroner in the station's live Western Action in the Afternoon. When WCAU purchased the Shock! Package in 1957, the station hired him as their host of Shock Theatre. He played a character called "Roland," who lived in a crypt in which his unseen wife ("My Dear") who rested in a coffin. In 1958 CBS bought WCAU and as a result John Zacherle moved to WABC in New York City. He continued as Roland for a time there, but it was in October 1959 that he became known as "Zacherley" (WABC having added a "y" to his surname) and his show was renamed Zacherley at Large.

Dubbed "the Cool Ghoul" by friend Dick Clark, Zacherley proved very popular. He even released novelty records. In 1958, while still playing Roland, he released "I Was a Teenage Caveman", "Dinner with Drac," and "Eighty-Two Tombstones." In 1960, as Zacherley, he released "Ring-A-Ding Orangoutang". In 1962 he released "Hurry Bury Baby". He released several albums including including Spook Along With Zacherley (1960), Monster Mash (1962), Scary Tales Featuring John Zacherley ‎(1962), and Zacherle's Monster Gallery (1963). Over the years he hosted programs on WABC, WOR, and WPIX. In 1986 as Zacherley he was the host of a series of VHS tapes called Horrible Horror, which featured sci-fi and horror films in the public domain. He also continued to make public appearances as Zacherley nearly until his death in 2016. Ultimately, Zacherley would become one of the most famous horror hosts of all time.

While Morgus the Magnificent would not attain the fame that Zacherley did, he would have a long career. Sidney Noel Rideau was a disc jockey at New Orleans radio station WWL (AM) when he auditioned to become the host of television station WWL's new horror movie anthology House of Shock. For the show he created the character of Dr. Morgus, also known as Morgus the Magnificent, a mad scientist with an IQ in the 300s. House of Shock debuted on October 3 1959 and the show proved to be a success. It ran until 1962. In 1964 Mr. Rideau moved to Detroit where he hosted Morgus Presents on WJBK. The show moved back to New Orleans in 1965 where it aired on WJBK  and afterwards returned to WWL. Over the years Morgus Presents would return from time to time. There was a brief run on WDSU from 1970 to 1971. Morgus Presents returned in 1987, airing on WGNO. In 2005 Morgus Presents entered syndication. One curious thing about Morgus the Magnificent is that, unlike other horror hosts, Sidney Noel Rideau tried to keep the fact that he was Morgus secret for over fifty years. He didn't even tell his own children that he was Morgus.

If anything, there may have been even more horror hosts on television in the Sixties. Much of this may well have been the release of several film packages following Shock!. In 1958 Screen Gems followed Shock! with another horror movie package, Son of Shock. In 1958 Associated Artists Productions released its own horror movie package. Well into the Sixties such movie packages as Thrills and Chills (1961), Creeping Terrors (multiple volumes), and Thrillers from Another World (1965) were released to television. The end result is that much more product became available to local stations throughout the Sixties and into the Seventies. By the Seventies not only could local stations broadcast the Universal horrors and other Hollywood horror movies of the Thirties and Forties, but a wide array of science fiction movies, Japanese kaiju movies, and even some Hammer Films.

Among the significant horror hosts to emerge in the Sixties was Ghoulardi, who hosted Shock Theatre on WJW in Cleveland from 1963 to 1966. Played by Ernie Anderson, Ghoulardi was a hispter dressed in a long coat and wearing a Van Dyke beard and moustache. Ghoulardi was characterised by his Beat patter and a tendency to irreverence, particularly with regards to individuals Ghoulardi regarded as not being hip. Lawrence Welk, then Cleveland mayor Ralph Locher,  talk show host Mike Douglas (then a local Cleveland TV personality), and others were frequent targets of Ghoulardi's humour. A frequent target of Ghoulardi's jokes was Parma, Ohio. Ernie Anderson abruptly retired as Ghoulardi in 1966, although he would be well remembered in the Cleveland area.

While Ernie Anderson retired Ghoulardi in 1966, his legacy would survive in another horror host. Ron Sweed had served as a production assistant on Ghoulardi's show. In 1970 he approached Ernie Anderson about reviving Ghoulardi. While Ernie Anderson had no interest in reviving the character, he gave Ron Sweed his blessing to revive the character on his own. Since Mr. Sweed could not use the name "Ghoulardi" (which was owned by Storer Broadcasting), he created the character of "The Ghoul." The Ghoul made his debut on Cleveland station WKBF-TV in 1971. While inspired by Ghoulardi, The Ghoul had his own personality. He blew up models and vehicles with firecrackers. He inserted his own dialogue into movies. In contrast to these often juvenile antics, he would also perform often mature skits.

The Ghoul would develop a good deal of popularity, and the show would be syndicated to Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles in the late Seventies. The show was cancelled in 1975, but the following year Ron Sweed revived it on independent station WXON and later on WCLQ. For the next several decades The Ghoul would be on and off television stations in Cleveland.

Late in the Sixties a horror host would emerge in Chicago whose legacy would also prove to be a lasting one. The original Svengoolie was Jerry G. Bishop, and he hosted Screaming Yellow Theatre on WFLD from 1970 to 1973. The original Svengoolie was a guitar strumming hippie with a green beard and green hair. He slept in a psychedelic coffin and during commercial breaks told jokes that dated back to vaudeville, although with a dark edge. In 1973 Field Communications sold WFLD-TV to Kaiser Broadcasting, who replaced Screaming Yellow Theatre with The Ghoul Show. Because of this The Ghoul Show never proved particularly popular in Chicago (the city resented losing Svengoolie).

It was in 1979, with Jerry G. Bishop's blessing that Rich Koz revived the show as Son of Svengoolie on WFLD-TV. Son of Svengoolie would also prove popular, and for a time it would even be syndicated to Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, and San Francisco. Son of Svengoolie ended in 1986 when WFLD was sold to the News Corporation. In 1995 the show was revived on independent station WCIU. This time Rich Koz assumed the mantle of Svengoolie, as Jerry G. Bishop told him that "he was all grown up now." Svengoolie would prove to be very successful. In 2011 MeTV began airing the show, so that it now reaches a nationwide audience.

Horror hosts were still a common sight on television sets throughout the United States in the Seventies. Among those that would have some longevity was Count Gore de Vol.  Played by Dick Dyszel, Count Gore de Vol was the host of Creature Feature on WDCA in Washington, D.C. Creature Feature ran until 1978 on WDCA. It returned on WDCA in 1984 and would run again until 1987. Since then Dick Dyzel has never quite stopped playing Count Gore de Vol, becoming the first horror host to have a weekly show on the Internet in 1998. Count Gore de Vol has hosted a show as recently as 2018.

Another long time horror host to emerge in the Seventies was Doctor Madblood. Doctor Madblood is the creation of Jerry Harrell, who started working at WAVY in Tidewater, Virgnia in 1974. He noticed that there were no local TV programs that were genuinely creative, and so he set about creating a horror host character. He thought vampires had been done too often and so he came up with the mad scientist Doctor Madblood. Doctor Madblood's Movie debuted in 1975. The show is notable in that it has considerable mythos built around its horror host, with several different characters appearing throughout the show's run. The show ran on WAVY until 1982, when it moved to PBS station WHRO. There it was renamed Doctor Madblood's Nightvision. Doctor Madblood's Nightvision ran on WHRO until 1989, when it moved to WTVZ and was once more titled Doctor Madblood's Movie. Doctor Madblood's Movie lasted until 2002. It then moved to WSKY and was renamed Doctor Madblood Presents. In this incarnation it served as a wraparound for reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller, and later Night Gallery. Doctor Madblood Presents lasted until 2007.

While horror hosts were still relatively common in the Seventies, events would occur in the decade that would lead to their decline. The broadcast networks began expanding into late night programming, taking up time slots which had been occupied by shows hosted by horror hosts. CBS had historically had little luck with late night programming, but in 1982 the network introduced its CBS Late Movie that aired each weeknight. It proved to be a success. In 1975 NBC began airing Saturday Night Live late on Saturday night. As a result stations affiliated with either CBS or NBC had fewer time slots in which they could air horror movie anthologies. Of course, this would naturally lead to fewer horror hosts.

The Eighties would see yet other problems for horror hosts. The growth in cable channels during the decade meant more competition for local television stations. The growth of cable channels also meant that costs for movies began to rise dramatically. Many local stations would then find themselves priced out of the market when it came to movies for which they had originally paid very little. The end result of the networks' expansion into late night programming and the growth of cable channels is that many horror hosts would find themselves out of work as the Eighties progressed.

This is not to say that there were no horror hosts of note to emerge in the Eighties. In 1981 KHJ wanted to bring back its late night horror anthology Fright Night. To this end they approached Maila Nurmi about bringing Vampira back. KHJ and Miss Nurmi eventually came to have creative differences, and so she left the project. The station then held auditions and it was actress Cassandra Peterson who won the role of the station's new horror host. It was Miss Peterson and her friend Robert Redding who came up with the idea of a sexy punk rock vampire. Further setting Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, apart from previous horror hosts was a notable Valley Girl accent. Elvira's Movie Macabre debuted on September 26 1981 and soon became very popular.

Unfortunately, Elvira's Movie Macabre did not sit well with Maila Nurmi, who maintained the character plagiarised Vampira. Miss Nurmi filed a lawsuit, but the court would decide in favour of Cassandra Peterson. The lawsuit did nothing to harm Elvira's popularity, as in 1982 Elvira's Movie Macabre was being syndicated to stations across the United States. So popular was Elvira that in 1988 a feature film based around the character, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was released. Elvira's Movie Macabre lasted for five seasons. Elvira would also serve as the host of a home video series called ThrillerVideo in 1985 and later another home video series called Elvira's Midnight Madness. In 2010 there would be a short lived revival of Elvira's Movie Macabre. Another new series streamed on Hulu in 2013, titled 13 Nights of Elvira. Over the years Elvira has appeared in comic books, calendars, books, and a variety of other merchandise.

Another famous horror host to emerge from the Eighties was Joe Bob Briggs. Joe Bob Briggs differed from most horror hosts in that instead of being a vampire, mad scientist, or some other horror figure, he was simply a Texas redneck who loved drive-in movies. John Irving Bloom had created the character of Joe Bob Briggs while working as a movie critic as the Dallas Times Herald. His stage show, An Evening with Joe Bob Briggs, would lead to him being signed to host Drive-In Theatre on The Movie Channel in 1986. Joe Bob's Drive-In Theatre proved popular and ran nearly a decade, showing a variety of drive-in fare, including horror movies. After the show went off the air in 1996, he moved to TNT where he hosted MonsterVision. The show lasted four years. More recently, in 2018, he hosted The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on the video on demand service Shudder.

While the Eighties would see a decline in horror hosts, they never completely went away. The Nineties would see new horror hosts emerge and the 21st Century would see the reinvigoration of the format. Among the most successful of the new generation of horror hosts has been Dr. Gangrene. Dr. Gangrene was created by Larry Underwood and first appeared in 1999 in a half-hour public access cable show titled Chiller Theatre in Hendersonville, Tennessee. It was not long before Chiller Theatre was airing in Nashville on Community Access Channel 19 and later on other public-access television stations throughout the nation. In 2005 Dr. Gangrene moved to Nashville station WNAB, where he hosted The WB58 Creature Feature. While the show ended in 2010, Dr. Gangrene has continued to be active. He has his own YouTube channel, as well as his own blog. He is also a regular columnist for Scary Monsters Magazine.

Another one of the new generation of horror hosts to see success is Mr. Lobo. Mr. Lobo is the creation of Erik Lobo. Unlike many horror hosts, his persona is that of someone wearing glasses, a black tie and suit, and a haircut that is decades out of date. He hosts Cinema Insomnia, a movie anthology series that is still in syndication. Cinema Insomnia began on Sacramento, California television station KXTV in 2001. It ran until 2002. A new version of the show would emerge on the public access channel Access Sacramento, and would also be distributed to other public access channels across the nation. This version lasted a year, after which Cinema Insomnia was syndicated nationwide. This version ended in 2008 when Apprehensive Films signed an exclusive contract with Cinema Insomnia for a series of DVDs. The show returned to television in 2009 and has never left the air since.

Since 1957 there have been literally hundreds of horror hosts on American television. Not only have there been so many that I have only been able to mention a few here, but there have been so many that entire books have been written about them. There have probably only been a few television markets in the United States, if any at all, that have never had a horror host. And while horror hosts would go into decline in the 1980s, their continued success in the 21st Century makes it clear that they will be around for a long time to come.