For those who were not around at the time, a lot of baby boomer horror fans got their start watching the horror film packages distributed to television starting around the late 1950s. I know I lived from one Saturday night to the next looking forward to my first chance to see some film like HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN that I had read about in FAMOUS MONSTER OF FILMLAND magazine. In Springfield, Massachusetts the Late Show would just have a science fiction or horror film every Saturday night. The larger stations made it a weekly program with a host who went by a name like Ghoulardi or Svenghouli, usually in some weird costume.
The San Francisco area had a little more class. KTVU out of Oakland broadcast CREATURE FEATURES with its host Bob Wilkins. When horror hosts like Zacherley and Vampira were dressing up in Halloween costumes and doing skits, Wilkins looked relatively normal underplayed the horror host role with a sort of Bob Newhart deadpan style. His slogan was "Watch horror films... Keep America Strong." I enjoyed Wilkins a lot when I was at Stanford from 1972 to 1974. KTVU had John Stanley as the host of CREATURE FEATURES from 1979 to 1984 after Wilkins left. Unfortunately, I never saw John Stanley on the air. As far as I can tell John Stanley carried the Wilkins tradition of the laid- back style. (Oddly, each looks like he has a portrait somewhere doing all his aging for him.) Stanley also published a guide to the kind of films he would show, JOHN STANLEY'S CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE.
That brings me to John Stanley's current book, I WAS A TV HORROR HOST. As the name suggests, this is a memoir of his years as a horror host--probably the first memoir of a horror host. It covers a lot more including the history of horror hostdom going back to radio hosts like Raymond on "The Inner Sanctum".
A little over half of the book chronicles John Stanley's adventures interviewing the major names associated with media fantasy in the 1970s. Several people associated with Star Trek and Star Wars were his guests. He interviewed Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Vincent Price, Roger Corman, and John Newland (the host of TV's "One Step Beyond"). He finishes Christopher Lee, William Castle, George Romero, and Boris Karloff's daughter.
The interviews are not in any great depth. Certainly they are not in the depth of Tom Weaver's interviews in numerous books published by McFarland. But as Stanley's interviews were interruptions of the evenings' Creature Feature, they were kept brief with some interesting tidbits.
What do I like and not like about the book. Let us start with what I liked.
Now what about the negatives?
For those who want to understand the state of popular fantasy in the 1970s or to just reminisce about the period this book is worth the modest purchase price.
Admission: I have not finished reading the book yet. What is left I am going to save to read only on Saturday evenings while watching good (or bad) horror films.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper