Horror Host Tribute to Chicago’s Shock Theatre MARVIN!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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!