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Horror Host Tribute to Chicago’s Shock Theatre MARVIN!

img398-copy2Marvin

Dave F: Over a decade before the Svengoolies would become synonymous with Chicago horror hosting, the Windy City’s very first host was a “near-sighted madman” named Marvin! Former Ventriloquist, Terry Bennett, was working for Chicago channel, WBKB, in 1957 when the station received the infamous “Shock Theatre Package” of films.  It was Terry, himself, who created the character of “Marvin” and urged television management to allow him to present these films to a Chicago audience.

HORRORTV book

I am from Chicago but, having grown up in the 1970’s, my childhood host was “The Son of Svengoolie.” My very first glimpse of Marvin was while watching the 2008 documentary, AMERICAN SCARY. I asked my parents about him but neither had any recollections. This was not surprising since they’d have been about 6 years old during his brief run.
 
Intrigued, I grabbed a copy of the amazing book “From Shock Theatre to Svengoolie” (Okuda, Ted/Yurkiw, Mark. 2007. Lake Claremont Press) which chronicles horror movie TV shows featured here in Chicago. Karen Tobola, a co-worker of mine, noticed the cover of the book while I was reading it during my break. “It’s Marvin!” she beamed. Karen had grown up on Chicago’s South Side and was an avid fan. “My mother didn’t want me watching the show because she thought it was too scary,” said Karen. “Fortunately, she worked nights and my father would let me sneak and watch it with him. Both of us loved Marvin and seeing all the terrible things he did to his wife, Dear!”
marvin-hangs-joy1Marvin enacted the fantasies of every disgruntled husband each week on “Shock Theatre!”

TERROR FROM BEYOND THE DAVES is pleased to have the recollections of two other notable fans of Marvin who both agreed to share their memories. One is Dick Dyszel, who appears frequently in this blog as his alter ego, horror host Count Gore de Vol. The other is film maker, historian, dinosaur enthusiast, and publisher – Don Glut. After reading Mr. Glut’s memories of Marvin in Scary Monsters Magazine #40, I sought out his assistance in this tribute. He delighted me by not only agreeing to share his memories but some of the great pictures in his collection as well!

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DICK DYSZEL (Count Gore de Vol): It was a dark and stormy night in 1957…or at least dark, because it was night…a Saturday night. My parents were asleep as I quietly crept out of my room making my way to the 21 inch Admiral TV in the living room. Turing it on, as quietly as possible, I grabbed a towel to wrap around the tuning knob. Ever so carefully I turned it trying to minimize the “Ka-thunk” made by the mechanical tuner as it went past each channel. Finally it came to rest on Channel 7, WBKB and there in bright and shiny black white was my weekly dose of classic horror on “Shock Theater,” hosted by the most unlikely of hosts….MARVIN; the Near-sighted Madman!

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While the 80’s had their ‘punk’ scene and the 60’s had the ‘hippie’ scene, the 50’s alternative social style was ‘the beat’ scene, epitomized by the beatnik. Wearing black, including the ever present shades and/or thick rimmed glasses, the beatniks hung out at coffee houses, digging on the latest poetry…..at least that’s the way I remember it. But on weekends, Marvin brought the ‘beat’ sensibility to the world of classic Universal horror films, exposing young minds like mine to all sorts of alternative possibilities.

Now Marvin, played by ventriloquist Terry Bennett was not alone. His ever present sidekick, and butt of most of his jokes, was Dear - his real life wife, Joy Bennett. She was blond, wore tight clothes and had a couple of points of her own…riding way up high. However, we had no idea what she looked like because she always had her face away from the camera or covered….the ultimate tease.

But even this far out couple was not alone, as Marvin also had his own band, The Deadbeats, that performed live during the breaks in the movie. They also added Orville, a hunchback character and Shorty, a giant monster wearing a Frankenstein mask! Horror classics, beatniks, off beat humor and music…what more could a 10 year old want late on a Saturday night.

deadbeat1The Deadbeats!

The show lasted for only two years. In spite of tremendous popularity and a petition campaign, it was cancelled to make way for boxing! It was during the final show that we finally got to see the lovely face of Dear. The truly sad thing is that there seems to be only one video clip of the show and that was actually shot during a rehearsal session.

Don Glut with Marvin! (Photo courtesy of Mr. Glut)

DON GLUT: I’d been waiting for the show for a few months. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Paul Malloy had written about the still-unnamed show that would debut on local station WBKB (channel 7) on Dec. 7, 1957, starting with the TV premiere of the original Frankenstein. There was no mention of any host character in that article. So when the show opened that Saturday night at 10:00 PM, Marvin came (to me, anyway) as a total surprise, as did the name of the show Shock Theater.

frankenstein-tv-guide1Scanned original television guide listings courtesy of Mr. Glut

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I became an instant fan, completely hooked on Marvin and the program. Marvin was both ghoulish and funny at the same time. But equally important – to me as a 13-year-old kid – Marvin was cool. Terry Bennett, the guy to created and played him, presented Marvin as a fully developed character.

fan-club-card1“Fan Club Card” courtesy of one of Marvin’s biggest fans – Don Glut!

I especially liked the one-on-ones he did with “Dear,” played by Terry’s wife Joy, almost always ending with her grisly dismemberment and/or demise. But one skit that occupies a special place in my memory is the time when the show’s special guest was Marty Faye, a well-known local Chicago TV personality who did everything from commercials to his own talk show.
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Faye was a short, feisty, brash and often acid-tongue guy who could really push buttons on his viewers. Anyway, on this one episode, Marvin proudly introduced his celebrity guest. Marty walked onto the set, looked around, made a face and groaned, “What a crummy place!” Marvin reacted with indignation, grabbed Fay and shoved him into a coffin – then slammed shut the lid, grabbed a hammer and nails, and sealed Marty inside. It was all very quick and, like all of Bennett’s skits, perfectly timed. I laughed right into the commercial.
fanzine2-21Marvin “Fanzine” courtesy of Mr. Glut

Shock Theater was an enormous local hit and Terry Bennett was a Big Star to the people that watched the show. When Marvin mentioned “shocktail parties” on the show, such events became a phenomenon in Chicago and the suburbs (I had one myself, dressed as Marvin, for my 14th birthday). And he was popular enough to appear on other contemporary shows. For example, I remember him once hosting the “Outer Space Quiz” on a Sunday morning show running “Flash Gordon” serials.

Marvin’s fame and memories of the show seem to have been relatively short-lived. Sadly, few people around my age that I’ve asked, who either watched the show or at least must have been aware of it, seem to remember Shock Theater. Like so many local Chicago TV shows of the 1950s, all with big fan followings at the time, Shock was done live. To date I know of no kinescopes or videotapes preserving the program, although I’m always hoping that one or more might eventually surface. The show really should be seen today by fans of the “horror host” phenomenon. Like Zacherly, Vampira, Count Gore, Sinister Seymour and a minority of other horror hosts, Marvin was one of the best!
TERROR FROM BEYOND THE DAVES wishes to thank Karen Tobola, Dick Dyszel, and Don Glut for sharing their memories of Marvin. Special thanks to Mr. Glut for sharing these amazing pictures and to Mr. Dyszel for directing us to these YouTube clips. For further information, pick up a copy of the Rondo Award winning documentary AMERICAN SCARY currently available via Amazon. We also urge you to seek out a copy of the currently out of print, “From Shock Theatre to Svengoolie” by Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw. You can also check out the following sites:

http://www.chicagotelevision.com/bennett.htm

http://myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/tvhorrorhosts/

http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/topic/24138/t/Chicago-s-legendary-Marvin-on-Shock-Theater.html

ATTENTION READERS: Anyone reading this post who has memories of Marvin are encouraged to share them in the “comments.” We would LOVE to hear more!

Respectfully,

The Daves

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4 responses

  1. cheryl

    Oh, thank youse guys for resurrecting this memory! What a blast from my very happy childhood!

    May 23, 2014 at 9:29 am

    • No, thank you for commenting. We love hearing from the fans of these shows.

      May 23, 2014 at 9:51 pm

  2. I, too, loved “Shock Theater”. My younger (by 3 years) brother & I got to watch it on Saturday nights, from the little, rented house we lived in with our Mom. It was the only night we got to stay up “late” and after our baths, she’d let us watch Marvin & “Dear”, with all the lights off and we’d have snacks while sitting safely on the living room floor, close to the couch where Mom was… waiting to save us from the monsters on the tube. We were there starting with the very first showing of “Frankenstein”. It was the greatest! And I always felt sorry for “Dear”.

    September 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    • Thanks for sharing your memories, we love hearing these!

      September 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm

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