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 1972 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.

Friday, October 25, 2019

An Overview of Halloween Part Two

Early Halloween Traditions

While Pope Gregory I set November 1 as the date of All Saints' Day in the 8th Century CE, it is not until much later that various customs connected to Halloween are attested. In fact, our word Halloween is actually of rather recent vintage. Halloween can ultimately be traced back to the word All Hallows' Eve (also rendered All Hallows' Even). All Hallows Eve itself did not appear in print until about 1556. In Scottish English All Hallows Even would eventually be abbreviated to All Hallowe'en. By about 1745 All Hallowe'en would become simply Hallowe'en. Of course, since then the word has lost the apostrophe. 

Regardless, among the earliest customs mentioned with regards to Halloween is the ringing of bells throughout Allhallowtide. In a sermon at Blanford Forum in 1570, William Kethe mentioned that "...there was a custom, in the Papal times, to ring bells at Allhallow-tide for all Christian souls." During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I an injunction was actually made against the "...superfluous ringing of bells at Allhallowtide and at All Souls' Day, with the two nights next before and after..." 

Bonfires were another early custom mentioned with regards to Halloween. Of course, in Northern Europe bonfires had a long association with various holidays. The Third Council of Constantinople in  680 CE actually attempted to ban bonfires, "Those fires that are kindled by certain people on new moons before their shops and houses, over which also they use ridiculously and foolishly to leap, by a certain ancient custom...." The Third Council of Constantinople was apparently not successful, as bonfires continued to lit at such holidays as May Day and Midsummer (St. John's Day). Indeed, among the expenses listed of King Henry VII of England were those for making the bonfire for Midsummer Eve.

Just as bonfires were lit on May Day and Midsummer Eve in England, so too were bonfires lit on Halloween in Scotland. In 1772 Welsh naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant wrote of the people of the Maylin, near Pitlochrie in Scotland, "Hallow Eve is also kept sacred; as soon as it is dark, a person sets fire to a bush of broom fastened round a pole, and, attended with a crowd, runs about the village. He then flings it down, heaps great quantity of combustible matters on it, and makes a great bonfire.” It is notable that Robert Burns's famous poem "Halloween" (which dates to 1785) is filled with fiery imagery. 

While bells and bonfires at Halloween have more or less fallen by the wayside, the wearing of costumes at Halloween is a custom that continues to be popular. At least from 16th Century Scotland there was the custom of guising, whereby young men would go in disguise from house to house singing songs or reciting verses in exchange for gifts of food. While the custom sounds like it could be the direct ancestor of trick or treating, it must be stressed that there is no direct link between the two customs. 

Another custom that would persist into modern times is that of Halloween pranks. One of the earliest references to pranks being pulled at Halloween occurs in John Mayne's poem "Halloween" (published in 1780), "What fearfu' pranks ensue!" In his Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (published i 1808) under the entry for "Candle and Castock" Scottish antiquarian John Jamieson describes a turnip lantern (essentially an early jack o' lantern--more in a little bit) that was used by youngsters to frighten people on Halloween. 

Divination would also be a Halloween custom that would survive into modern times. Indeed, in his poem "Halloween" Robert Burns described how single young people went out hand in hand into the cabbage patch to pull the first stalk they saw. The size and shape of the stalk was thought to be indicative of what his or her future spouse would look like. Although most people today probably do not think of Halloween as a particularly romantic holiday, much of the divination practised on Halloween tended to deal with marriage. 

While many of Halloween's customs can be traced back to the 17th and 18th Centuries, the carving of jack o' lanterns in connection with the holiday would seem to be of more recent vintage. While the use of vegetables to make lanterns goes back a few centuries, they would not be called "jack o' lanterns" for some time, nor would they be identified with Halloween for some time either. References to such lanterns as part of a Halloween celebration would not appear in print until John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Dictionary under his above cited entry for "Candle and Castock". The first reference of such lanterns as "jack o' lanterns" would not appear in print until a few years later, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's review of Charles Maturin's play Bertram in 1817.

While various traditions associated with Halloween appear to be of relatively recent vintage the idea of Halloween as a time when the dead and other supernatural entities walk the earth appears to go back many centuries. While there seems to be little evidence for very much continuity between the Irish festival of Samhain and the modern holiday of Halloween, as mentioned earlier in the story Macgnímartha Finn ("The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) it said that the sídhe (the mounds that were home to the Aos Sí) were always open on Samhain. As to Halloween itself, the traditional ballad "Tam Lin" is set at Halloween and deals with the rescue of Tam Lin from the Queen of the Fairies. It is believed to date back in some form to 1549. The traditional ballad "Allison Gross", about the efforts of the ugliest witch in the north county to win a man's heart, also references Halloween. It is believed to date to 1800. It should come as no surprise that one of the most famous early works about Halloween reference the supernatural. John Mayne's poem "Halloween" makes reference to bogles, fairies, and witches.

Halloween Comes to America

By the end of the 18th Century in Scotland Halloween was a well established holiday to which was attached a number of customs. This was not the case with the British Colonies in North America. While All Saints' Day was recognised as a holy day by Anglicans and Catholics living in the Colonies, Halloween itself was not widely observed. This would remain true in the United States in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. In fact, for much of the 19th Century when American newspapers mention Halloween at all, it is as a peculiarly Scottish holiday.

This would begin to change when Scots began to immigrate en masse to the United States in the 19th Century. The year 1846 saw the beginning of the Highland Potato Famine, during which time potato crops in Scotland were destroyed by potato blight year after year. Ultimately the Highland Potato Famine would last around ten years, finally coming to an end in 1856. During this period many Highlanders moved from the Scottish Highlands. Some simply moved to the Scottish Lowlands. Others would immigrate to Australia, Canada, and even the United States.

Quite naturally, the Scots brought their Halloween celebrations with them. Initially celebrated only among Scottish and Irish communities in the United States, the celebration of Halloween eventually spread throughout American society. By the 1880s many Americans were holding Halloween parties. For instance, under the "City News" section of November 1 1883 issue of the Logansport Pharos Tribune from Logansport, Indiana, it is mentioned that, "Miss Emma Rosentbail held a very pleasant Halloween party at her home last evening. By the 1890s Halloween parties had become so commonplace throughout the United States that issues of some newspapers might contain references to multiple parties. The November 1 1891 issue of the Helena Independent from Helena, Montana mentioned no less than five separate Halloween parties held in the area.

While Halloween parties were a welcome way for Americans to celebrate the holiday in the late 19th Century, a less welcome custom brought over from Scotland was that of Halloween pranks. The November 5 1895 issue of The Semi-Weekly Cedar Falls Gazette from Cedar Falls, Iowa mentions an odd prank by some boys in which they tied a light wagon behind the Burlington Passenger No. 5.  The train was a half hour late as a result of the prank. The October 31 1893 issue of The Bloomington Leader from Bloomington, Illinois mentions that the previous year Halloween pranks had cost the town  $800.

Sally Benson tells of a rather odd prank in her semi-autobiographical vignette "October, 1903" (one of the vignettes in her series 5135 Kensington), first published in the November 1 1941 issue of The New Yorker and included in the 1942 book Meet in St. Louis. Quite simply, individuals would be hit with flour and then said to be "killed". This custom would later be portrayed in the musical based on the book, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

By the 1900s Halloween was so widely celebrated in the United States that Halloween merchandise became available. The 1900s saw the first Halloween cards printed. The decade also saw the emergence of paper Halloween decorations. Many of these paper decorations were manufactured in Germany during the decade, although American companies would soon jump on the Halloween bandwagon.  The Dennison Manufacturing Company started manufacturing paper Halloween decorations, including jack o' lanterns, in the 1900s. Their Halloween decorations were so popular that in 1909 Dennison published its first Dennison's Bogie Book for Halloween, which was a guide for decorating for the holiday. Another edition of The Dennison's Bogie Book was published in 1912. Except for the years of World War I, it would be published annually until 1934. Another American company well known for their paper Halloween decorations, including jack o' lanterns, is the Beistle Company. Founded in 1900, the Beistie Company began making Halloween decorations in 1920. The Beistle Company continues to manufacture paper Halloween decorations to this day.

It was in the 1920s that a new custom emerged that is now so strongly associated with Halloween that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn't practised on the holiday. Trick-or-treating is a custom whereby children in costume go from house to house asking for treats with the phrase, "Trick-or-treat". The implication of the phrase is that if the children are not given treats, then they will play a trick (a Halloween prank) on the residents of the house. Trick-or-treating resembles such earlier customs as souling on All Souls' Day in England and guising on Halloween in Scotland, but a direct line cannot be traced from trick-or-treating to either of them. It appears to have entirely developed in the 20th Century.

Indeed, the first known appearance of the phrase "trick-or-treat" in print is in the November 4 1927 issue of the Herald (published in Lethbridge, Alberta) in the article "'Trick or Treat' is the Demand". From Alberta, Canada the custom of trick-or-treating apparently spread to parts of the American Northwest and West, as evidenced by articles on the custom in 1934 in newspapers in Portland, Oregon and Helena, Montana. As the Thirties progressed, trick-or-treating made its way east. A story on trick-or-treating appeared in the October 31 1938 issue of The Hammond Times in Indiana. By the early Forties trick-or-treating had reached the East Coast. There was an article on it in the October 24 1942 issue of The Cumberland Evening Times in Maryland.

It is difficult to say precisely how the custom of trick-or-treating came about, but it seems likely it emerged from the custom of Halloween pranks. At some point in the Twenties some youngsters in Canada, perhaps observing the shakedown techniques of the gangster of the era, realised they could get treats by threatening tricks if they did not get them. Quite naturally, such a custom would prove popular with children and so it spread from Canada into the United States. It is notable that many of the early articles on trick-or-treating are somewhat negative in tone, many of them treating it as a form of extortion. As time passed, many articles began to appear that were much more sympathetic in tone to trick-or-treating. Quite simply, as trick-or-treating grew in popularity, there was also a decrease in the number of pranks on Halloween. Over the course of the 20th Century Halloween pranks would decrease to the point that they were relatively rare.

Of course, in order for children to trick-or-treat, they must have costumes to wear. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century nearly all Halloween costumes were home-made. As the 20th Century progressed, various companies would begin manufacturing costumes for Halloween. It was in 1920 that Collegeville Flag and Manufacturing Company, a company that originally made flags, began making Halloween costumes commercially available. The J. Halpern Company, later known as Halco, also entered the Halloween costume market. Perhaps the best known name in Halloween costumes in the 20th Century was Ben Cooper, Inc., which began making Halloween costumes in 1937. Collegeville, Halco, and Ben Cooper would dominate the Halloween costume market for the better part of the 20th Century.

In fact, Collegeville, Halco, and Ben Cooper would be partly be responsible for a shift in Halloween costume over the course of the 20th Century. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, most costumes tended to be spooky in nature, with people dressing up as ghosts, witches, and devils, with policemen, firemen, and clowns (the non-scary kind) being the exception to the rule. It was in the Thirties that companies began manufacturing costumes of licensed characters. From 1935 to 1938 Halco manufactured costumes based on the characters from Thimble Theatre, including Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy. In the late Thirties Collegeville put out a Lone Ranger costume. Ben Cooper held the licenses to make costumes of the various Walt Disney characters (including Snow White from the blockbuster movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).  Following World War II, the licensing of characters would begin to play a bigger and bigger role in the production of commercial Halloween costumes, to the point that the majority of costumes made by Ben Cooper and Collegeville were characters from movies, TV shows, and comic books.

While children in the post-war era might elect to dress as Hopalong Cassidy or Batman rather than a ghost or goblin, Halloween has never entirely lost its association with the supernatural. From the early days one has to suspect that many individuals elected to visit houses believed to be haunted on Halloween. The 20th Century saw the emergence of what is called "haunted attractions", which try to simulate the experience of going through a haunted house. The first such haunted attraction was the Orton and Spooner Ghost House in Liphook, East Hampshire. It opened in 1915.

Haunted attractions that were open only during the season of Halloween began to emerge in the United States in the 1930s. An article on a Halloween party from the November 2 issue of the Kingsville Record in Kingsville, Texas mentions that "...the youngsters were taken through the haunted house by the Halloween witch." That having been said, haunted attractions would not really take off until the 1950s. The late Fifties saw several such attractions open in California, including the San Mateo Haunted House in 1957 (sponsored by the Children’s Health Home Junior Auxiliary) and the San Bernardino Assistance League Haunted House in 1958. The Sixties saw several haunted attractions open across the country, including the Children’s Museum Haunted House in Indianapolis. First opened in 1964, it has become the longest running "haunted house" in the United States. Such haunted attractions open during the Halloween season are often fundraisers for various organisations, such as the Jaycees, the March of Dimes, and so on.

By the 1950s Halloween was already a very popular holiday in the United States. It was also highly commercialised. In addition to the paper Halloween decorations and commercially produced Halloween costumes that had been produced for years, the Fifties saw Halloween goods made from plastic emerge. It was during the Sixties that blown mould plastic lawn ornaments, including several dedicated to Halloween, peaked in popularity. Plastic, Halloween merchandise from candy containers to flash lights continue to be made to this day.

Since then Halloween has grown in popularity to where it is the second most popular holiday in the United States. That is not to say that the holiday has not continued to change and evolve. Sometime in the mid-Nineties a new variation on trick-or-treating emerged. Trunk-or-treat is a community event whereby children go trick-or-treating from car to car in a parking lot (usually one belong to a school, city hall, church, or other community building). Precisely where trunk-or-treat first started, much less how it came about, is not known. That having been said, it would explode in popularity in 2006 and has grown in popularity ever since. It seems as if it has been a particularly attractive alternative to traditional trick-or-treating  for those churches that view Halloween as a "pagan" festival and trick-or-treating with it (at such churches children are encouraged to dress as characters from the Bible).


To degree the origins of Halloween are shrouded in mystery. Both the Celtic and Germanic peoples had pagan festivals around the same date, but it is difficult to say that they had much in the way of continuity with Halloween. It is unclear when or why many of the customs now associated with Halloween emerged. What we do know is that it was a particularly popular holiday in Scotland and that Scots immigrating to the United States brought it to North America. Since that time it has grown in popularity and is even growing in popularity elsewhere in the world. It is difficult to say how Halloween may evolve in the future, but one thing seems certain. It will most certainly continue to be a very popular holiday.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

An Overview of Halloween Part One

 All Saints' Day

According to a 2015 Harris Poll, Halloween is the third favourite holiday of Americans, after Christmas and Thanksgiving. And while the money Americans spend at Halloween is dwarfed by many other holidays (including Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Father's Day), it is still a considerable amount. In 2015 American spent $6.9 billion on Halloween. $2.5 billion of that was on costumes and $2.1 billion was spent on candy. While for many years the secular celebration of Halloween was limited to North America, it has since spread elsewhere in the English speaking world. In the United Kingdom £310 million was spent on Halloween in 2015.

While many of the traditions associated with the modern day celebration of Halloween developed recently, the holiday itself is rather hold. Strictly speaking, Halloween is the eve of All Hallows' Day, better known in modern English as All Saints' Day. It was early in the development of Christianity that the church began honouring martyrs on the dates they died. Over the centuries the number of individual martyrs grew so great that a feast day could not be assigned to each and every one. All Saints' Day then developed as a means of honouring all martyrs.

Days commemorating all saints were not unknown before the establishment of All Saint's Day. In the early 4th Century the church in Antioch observed a day for all of the martyrs on the Sunday after Pentecost. It was also in the 4th Century St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote of a feast for all saints observed by the church in Edessa on May 13. In the 5th Century St. John Chrysostom mentioned that the church in Constantinople observed a common day for saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. It was in 609 CE that Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs on May 13. The anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs would continue to be observed in Rome, as well as in many other parts of Europe and Asia.
While the anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs would serve as a common day for martyrs throughout much of the early church, the dates of common days for all the martyrs would vary from place to place for years.  Many churches in the East continued to observe the Sunday after Pentecost as a feast day for all the martyrs. According to Saint Óengus of Tallaght, in the 7th and 8th Centuries the church in Ireland celebrated All Saints' Day on April 20. Churches in England and Germany were already observing All Saints' Day on November 1 by the beginning of the 8th Century if  the Homiliae Subdititiae, falsely ascribed to Bede is to be believed. It was in the mid-eighth century that Pope Gregory III established November 1 officially as All Saints' Day.

Pagan Autumn Festivals

The date of November 1 coincided with a Celtic festival that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Among the Cornish Kalan Gwav was the first day of winter. Its eve, Nos Kalan Gwav (October 31), in historical times was observed as St. Allan's Day or Allantide. The Irish, Manx, and Scots also had a festival on November 1, called in Modern Irish Samhain, in Scottish Gaelic Samhainn, and in Manx Sauin. In Wales November 1 was observed as Calan Gaeaf, the first day of winter.

Very little is known for certain as to how ancient pagan Celts might have celebrated these festivals, although Irish mythology provides us with some hints. The myth  Serglige Con Culainn ("Cúchulainn's Sickbed") tells how a festival held by the Ulaid lasted three days before Samhain and three days after (which including Samhain itself would be a full seven days). There were games, assemblies, and feasts.The story Macgnímartha Finn ("The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) states the sídhe (the mounds that were home to the Aos Sí, a supernatural race comparable to the elves of the Germanic peoples or the modern day conception of fairies) were always open on Samhain. The Lebor Gabála Érenn ("Book of Invasions") suggests sacrifices may have taken place at Samhain. Every Samhain the folk of Nemed had to give two thirds of their children, grain, and milk to the Formorians (a supernatural, giant race). Both the  Dindsenchas and the Annála Ríoghachta Éireann ("Annals of the Four Masters") claim that a first born child would be sacrificed to the god Crom Cruach in  Magh Slécht.

While November 1 was the date of festivals celebrated by the various Celtic peoples, it does not explain why the English and Germans celebrated All Saints' Day on November 1 or why Pope Gregory chose November 1 as its official date. That having been said, it some of the Germanic peoples had a festival that fell in October and it seems possible some of the other Germanic peoples might have celebrated it as well. Icelandic sources attest vetrnætr (literally "Winter Nights"), which An Icelandic-English Dictionary by Richard Cleasby and Gudbrand Vigfusson defines as "the three days which begin the winter season." Such sources as the Fornmanna Sögur and Gísla saga Súrssonar attest that sacrifices took place at Winter Nights. Feasting also took place over the three days of Winter Nights, as shown by Eyrbyggja Saga and Gísla saga Súrssonar. The dates during which Winter Nights were celebrated varied a bit from year. According to our modern calendar, the festival would have roughly taken place in mid-October.

It seems possible that, like the Old Norse speakers, other Germanic peoples also celebrated the beginning of winter. In his treatise De temporum ratione, Bede mentions that the Angles and Saxons in England called the month when winter began Winterfylleþ, which he interpreted as "Winter full moon", because winter began on the full moon of that month. According to Bede, Winterfylleþ was followed by a month called Blótmónaþ, literally "sacrifice month." He states that it was the month during which cattle to be slaughtered were dedicated to the gods. The Menologium seu Calendarium Poeticum, an Old English poem about the months, equates Blótmónaþ with November. Given the Angles and Saxons also thought of winter as beginning in autumn and apparently made sacrifices during that period too, it seems possible that they might have celebrated the beginning of winter much as the Old Norse speakers did.

Given the Angles and Saxons originated on the Continent, it would seem likely that the Germanic peoples there would have also thought of winter as beginning in autumn. Unfortunately, there appears to be no Continental equivalent to Winterfylleþ, although they appear to have a month name that was equivalent to Blótmónaþ. Early modern Dutch attests an alternative name for November, Slachtmaand, literally "slaughter month".  This alternative name for November is also seen in West Frisian, Slachtmoanne, again literally "slaughter month". While both month names may simply reference the fact that cattle were slaughtered in November, it also seems possible that they could contain memories of when they were also sacrificed to the gods, much as the Angles and Saxons in England did.

Of course, beyond Bede's statement that the Angles and Saxons regarded Winter as beginning during the full moon of Winterfylleþ, we have no clear cut dates as to when they might have celebrated the beginning of winter or made sacrifices. Given the fact that England (and the Continent, for that matter) tends to be a warmer climate than Iceland and Scandinavia, it seems possible that they might have regarded winter as beginning a little bit later than the Old Norse speakers. This could go a long way to explaining why churches in England and Germany chose to celebrate All Saints' Day on November 1. It would place the Christian festival close to a pagan festival once celebrated in England. It could also explain why Pope Gregory chose November 1 as the official date for All Saints' Day. It would seem to make more sense than Pope Gregory having chose the date for Samhain. Indeed, as pointed out above, prior to Pope Gregory making November 1 the official date, All Saints' Day was celebrated on April 20 in Ireland.

While the Celtic peoples celebrated a festival around the time of what would be All Saints' Day and it seems likely that Angles and Saxons in England did as well, it is difficult to say how much impact any of these festivals might have had on later celebrations of Halloween. Certainly the idea of Halloween as a time when the boundaries between worlds became more flexible could stem from the Celtic festival variously called Samhain, Kalan Gwav, and so on. As mentioned above, the Irish apparently believed the mounds of the  Aos Sí were open on Samhain. It seems possible that the Angles and Saxons may have held similar beliefs about the beginning of winter, although there is little to suggest this. Regardless, many of the customs we observe at Halloween today are not attested until much later. For example, as much as many would like to trace trick or treating back to earlier traditions, from all appearances it is a modern day development. Regardless, it seems likely that the fact that pagan festivals were celebrated in the British Isles and on the Continent around November 1 were much of what led Pope Gregory to set that as the official date of All Saints' Day.

All Souls' Day

If some degree of continuity exists between various pre-Christian holidays and Halloween may be debatable, it seems clear that the modern day, secular celebration of Halloween was influenced to some degree by traditions associated with All Souls' Day. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with All Souls' Day, it is a Christian holiday remembering all Christians who have died. It is celebrated on November 2. Alongside Halloween (All Saints' Eve) and All Saints' Day, it is part of Allhallowtide.

Prayers for the dead were established as a tradition very early in the history of Christianity. As early as the 3d Century CE, Roman Christians offered up prayers for the dead in the catacombs. In the Sixth Century CE, Pope Gregory offered masses for the souls in Purgatory. It was also in the 6th Century that Benedictine monasteries set aside a day each year to pray for their members who had died and gone to Purgatory. In the 7th Century CE in Spain the first Saturday following Pentecost was set aside for praying for the dead. It was in the 10th Century in Germany that October 1 was established as a common day for praying for the dead. It was  Saint Odilo of Cluny who established November 2 as the day for commemorating the dead at the  Abbey of Cluny and those monasteries connected to it. The date of November 2 for All Souls' Day was adopted by other Benedictine monasteries and then spread to churches throughout Europe.

Over time All Souls' Day would develop its own traditions.  One common to most countries in Europe were the ringing of bells in memory of the dead. In the book British Popular Customs, Present and Past: Illustrating the Social and Domestic Manners of the People: Arranged According to the Calendar of the Year by Thomas Firminger and Thiselton Dyer, it mentions a custom in Wexford, Ireland, whereby a candle would be placed in every window of a house on the night of All Souls' Day.

Perhaps the best known custom associated with All Souls' Day was that of "souling". Souling was a tradition whereby children would go from house to house asking for "soul cakes" in exchange for prayers for the dead. Soul cakes were generally made of sweet spices such as allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and so on. The custom is attested fairly early. In his Book of Festivals, also known as Festial, John Mirk wrote "...wherefore in olden time good men and women would this day buy bread and deal it for the souls they loved, hoping each loaf to get a soul out of purgatory." Festial dates to the 1380s. It is also referenced in William Shakespeare's Two Gentleman of Verona, Act II, Scene I, " speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas." Here one might be tempted to see souling as the direct ancestor of modern day trick or treating, but there seems to be no link between the two. A direct line cannot be traced from souling in medieval Britain to trick or treating in 20th Century North America.

Over time the traditions of All Souls' Day would become conflated with those of Halloween and All Saints' Day. In John Aubrey's Miscellanies, published in 1714, he tells how soul cakes were heaped upon each other on All Hallows Eve and how every visitor was expected to take one. In Curiosities of Popular Customs ... Illustrated by William Shepard Walsh, published in 1897, told how in Ripon, Yorkshire Halloween was known as "Cake Night" and women there would make a cake for every member of their families. Indeed, in Two Gentelman of Verona, Shakespeare speaks of "a beggar at Hallowmas", rather than  "a beggar at All Souls' Day."

The conflation of "All Souls' Day" with "All Saints' Day" and its eve would have an impact on the development on Halloween. If Halloween wasn't already a night for the dead, it would have eventually become one.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Godspeed Jerry Fogel

Jerry Fogel, who played Jerry Buell on the Sixties sitcom The Mothers-In-Law and had a regular role on The White Shadow, died Monday, October 21 2019, at the age of 83. He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2008.

Jerry Fogel was born on January 17 1936 in Rochester, New York. His father was a theatre owner. He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and then West Point. He then became a DJ for WBBF in Rochester before deciding to take up acting.

Jerry Fogel made his television debut in a guest appearance on the debut episode of That Girl in 1966. He guest starred on The Big Valley and the short-lived sitcom Hey, Landlord. He was cast as Jerry Buell, one half of the newly married couple, on The Mothers-In-Law the show ran for two seasons, from 1967 to 1969. He made his film debut in Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970).

In the Seventies he had a recurring role on The White Shadow, which would also turn out to be his final acting role. He guest starred on the shows That Girl; The Bold Ones: The Lawyers; Ironside; Love, American Style; The Paul Lynde Show; Room 222; Temperatures Rising; The New Perry Mason; Here's Lucy; Lotsa Luck!; Chico and the Man; Police Story; Barnaby Jones; Ellery Queen; Marcus Welby, M.D.; Good Heavens; The Mary Tyler Moore Show; The Tony Randall Show; Phyllis; Lou Grant; Operation Petticoat; The Bob Newhart Show; and Project U.F.O. He also appeared in several TV movies. He appeared in the film The Day of the Locust (1975).

After The White Shadow Jerry Fogel moved to Leawood, Kansas. Mr. Fogel became a host on Kansas City radio station KCMO and later worked on CNN Headline News Radio.

Chances are good that Jerry Fogel will always be remembered best as Jerry Buell on The Mothers-In-Law, an exception being in the Kansas City area where he may be best remembered as a radio talk show host. That having been said, he was a frequent guest star on television in the Seventies and played a variety of roles, from a doctor on The Mary Tyler Moore Show to a deputy sheriff on Ellery Queen to a radio host who stutters on The Bob Newhart Show. He had a particular gift for comedy, which explains his many appearances on sitcoms over the years.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

John Clarke Passes On

Actor John Clarke, who starred on the short-lived television series The New Breed and spent 39 years on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, died on October 16 2019 at the age of 88. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

John Clarke was born in South Bend, Indiana on April 13 1939. As his father was an officer in the United States Army, his family moved frequently. He attended UCLA. During the Korea War he served in the United States Air Force as part of touring group that entertained the troops.

John Clarke made his television debut in a guest appearance in an episode of Whirlybirds in 1959. That same year he guest starred on the Twilight Zone episode "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine." He also guest starred on Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, Zane Grey Theatre, Lawman, Law of the Plainsman, The Blue Angels, Guestward Ho!, The Loretta Young Show, Michael Shayne, and Hawaiian Eye.

In the Sixties John Clarke was a regular on the short-lived police drama The New Breed alongside Leslie Nielsen. He was part of the cast of Days of Our Lives when it debuted in 1965 and remained with the show until 2004. He guest starred on The Law and Mr. Jones, The Loretta Young Show, Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, My Living Doll, The Fugitive, The F.B.I., The Felony Squad, and The Silent Force. Mr. Clarke made his film debut in 1961 in Operation Bottleneck. He appeared in the films You Have to Run Fast (1961), Gun Street (1961), Judgement at Nuremberg (1961), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Thin Red Line (1964), Finger on the Trigger (1965), and The Satan Bug (1965).

In the Seventies, Mr. Clarke continued to appear on Days of Our Lives. In the Eighties he guest starred on Hart to Hart. In the Nineties he guest starred on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and appeared in the film Critics and Other Freaks (1997). He left Days of Our Lives in 2004 and retired from acting.