THE REAL HORROR HOSTS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
We’ve mentioned the documentary, AMERICAN SCARY, many times on this site and for good reason. It has not only served as a road-map to those interested in learning their horror host history, but also provided introductions to some of its most notable examples. If left to cover ALL of the greats, however, the movie would have probably had a running time of approximately 72 hours!
It is for this reason that the independent work done by individual fans – who spend their own time researching and spotlighting their favorite hosts from their specific regions, have proven invaluable! Some prime examples include documentaries such as EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN and VIRGINIA CREEPERS as well as books like FROM SHOCK THEATRE TO SVENGOOLIE.
One region of the United States whose hosts I, as a Midwesterner, knew very little about was Southern California. While doing a blind search for “horror hosts” on ebay, I stumbled upon a book titled CREATURES OF THE NIGHT THAT WE LOVED SO WELL: TV Horror Hosts of Southern California. For someone like myself, eager to learn more about horror hosts, it seemed too good to be true. Needless to say, I wasted no time taking advantage of the “Buy it Now” option. I was further delighted when the seller contacted me and revealed that he was also the book’s author, James Fetters. Mr. Fetters delighted me by not only offering to personalize his book, but by also agreeing to do an interview for this site.
Prior to reading CREATURES, I wondered if my lack of familiarity with the featured hosts (save for Vampira and Elvira) would detract from my overall enjoyment of it. I was happy to discover that this could not be further from the case! While the diverse collection of hosts were certainly different than any I’d previously known, the common theme of what they meant to their young monster fans was very much the same. I didn’t have to go any further than the book’s introduction for this to be made clear. Mr. Fetters grew up in the 1960′s, an avid fan of Jeepers Creepers Theatre.’ While reading his recollections of tape recording his favorite host via an audio recorder (this was before the advent of VCR’s, folks), I literally had to put the book down as I became overwhelmed with nostalgia. I, too, had indulged in this very same practice here in Chicago with my own childhood host, the Son of Svengoolie.
The rest of “CREATURES..” was no less profound. While reading about the various hosts I was taken aback with stories chock full of laughs, struggles, legal battles, some unexpected celebrity fans, and all the trappings of a great reality TV drama (hence the BRAVO-do inspired title of this post). But enough from this starstruck reader….. to really gain insight, one should really hear from the author himself.
Dave F: What prompted you to take on the task of researching and writing CREATURES?
James Fetters: Back in 1998 I had found a bunch of reel to reel tapes I made as a kid back in 1962-63… some had news reports of JFK’s assassination, some had me doing stupid 12 year old things that I’ll never admit to, HA! And then Jeepers was found! I transcribed the reel tapes to cassette then uploaded into my computer to enhance the sound and edit into individual shows. I then created my first website… ‘Jeepers Creepers Theatre’ with the shows in Real Audio and my memories. Soon contact was made with Mitch Waldow, News Director for KCOP the station that aired Jeepers, and with his help contact was made with Jim Sullivan (Film Director for KCOP), Lietta Harvey (Ghoulita) and Bob Burns (horror and sci-fi Film Historian). Of course I wanted to know everything they knew about Jeepers Creepers Theatre… so, between emails, phone calls and trips to California what started out as a trip down memory lane for me quickly turned into interviews and a series of articles in Scary Monsters Magazine. From that point it was a natural to find the other horror hosts of SoCal… Grimsley, Famous Morris, Seymour… so I started searching for anything and everything I could find. And boy, was I surprised at what I found! Totally forgotten hosts like Dr. Diablo and Arach and his friend Nid. I was addicted… had to have more…
Dave F: I noticed in the Vampira chapter a woman named “Voluptua” being mentioned. Was this an example of a non-horror hostess? Did people actually believe she was hexed by Vampira?
James Fetters: Ah, Voluptua! With the success that Vampira was having, KABC decided to host another show. A weekly romance movie with the seductive Voluptua hosting… while lounging in sexy outfits and being quite suggestive… she raised a lot of eyebrows! Very risqué for 1954-55 television! Eventually, religious groups with letter campaigns to the shows sponsors and to KABC took its toll and Voluptua was cancelled. Vampira took advantage of the situation and with news releases about her dislike for Voluptua… Vampira ran with the idea of Voluptua being cancelled because of her hexing the show. No, I don’t think anyone ever believed the hex story… but it was great press for Vampira! Vampira was also under the gun from the same religious groups and their letter campaigns and survived them.
Dave F: How difficult is it researching classic horror hosts when very little footage exists from their time on air?
James Fetters: Very difficult! Vampira’s Attic has the only known footage of Vampira available to the public. A very short clip of Seymour has just turned up and I’ve put that clip up on youtube… a great outtake of Seymour and a failed prop! Also a short clip of Moona Lisa is there too. But there’s a lot of Elvira footage available… thanks to the invention of VHS. But almost all of the pre-VHS hosts are lost in time… save for a very few kinescopes that turn up now and again… Ghoulita’s audition tape and one episode of Jeepers’ Creepers Theatre… it is wonderful to see what’s available and as time goes on maybe more will be found. So to chronicle the hosts in ‘Creatures of the Night…’ I relied on my memories of watching them plus interviews with the hosts themselves along with script writers and fellow ‘Horror Hostorians’. That’s a catchy title developed by Michael Monahan!
Dave F: In the book, you state that you virtually stumbled upon the existence of Dr Diablo by accident. Do you believe there are a lot more hosts out there yet to be re-discovered?
Dr. Diablo 1957 KCOP 13
James Fetters: I’m sure that there are more hosts, nationwide, that are lurking in the shadows waiting to be remembered. I found Dr. Diablo while searching The Old Woman. They had a head to head competition going on in 1957! I traveled to the Los Angeles Central Library and perused their huge microfilm library of every SoCal TV Guide between 1954 and 1981. A huge endeavor! Then searching San Diego and Los Angeles newspaper archives… there is a lot of great info there! I think all of the SoCal hosts between 1954 and 1981 are pretty much found now… but who knows? A host with no promotion from the station… no ads or press releases… you’ll be the first to know, Dave, if I find more!
Dave F: (Laughs) Thanks, Jim. I guess in the mean time we’d best focus on the ones we KNOW existed. Such as “The Old Woman” who counted among her fans the great Vampira, herself. What do you think made her so appealing?
James Fetters: The Old Woman… very unique! A demented old soul that lived in an attic and saw herself as the ‘lady in distress’ in each of the films she showed. The most famous was the premiere of her show ‘Nightmare!’ portraying herself as Mae Clarke in FRANKENSTEIN’S first airing October 1957. This brought a lawsuit from Mae Clarke against KTLA and Ottola Nesmith (The Old Woman)! So many people believed it was Mae Clarke and the remarks The Old Woman made about being a down and out has-been… well, people actually started sending money to Mae Clarke to help her out! As embarrassing as this was for Mae Clarke and I do feel for her position in this, I have to rate this whole incident as ‘right up there with Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast. To get so many people to believe that what she was saying was true… she was quite a character! I’d love to see her hosting the films she actually appeared in! I’ll bet those were a hoot!
Dave F: I was most moved by the chapter on Sinister Seymour. Here was someone putting on hilarious shtick (love the joke about THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON & Mickey Mouse which readers will have to read for themselves) while he knew he was dying. He also appeared to have some famous fans (including Groucho Marx). Were you surprised by the impact some of these hosts had on their public during the course of this project?
James Fetters: Larry was much more than an actor showing up for a gig. As Seymour, he gave us an escape from our everyday realities… to be a part of his world each week and I do believe in doing that for us fans, he had the chance, as Seymour, to escape Larry’s realities… a chance to live forever as Seymour and he accomplished that very well. Surprised? No… look what Jeepers and Ghoulita did to me! So many fans were not only addicted to the hosts but also influenced. Don Glut loved Jeepers’ Keeper and now is a film maker and author. Mark Shepard, who sadly passed a few years ago, was Ghoulita’s Fan Club President at 12 years old and became a film maker, Douglas McEwan who loved Jeepers and Ghoulita grew up to become a script writer for Seymour… and then auditioned to be a horror host himself! And Sylvester Stallone… he loved Famous Morris! That’s how Famous (Don Sherman) got the part of ‘Andy the Bartender’ in all of the ‘Rocky’ films. Mitch Waldow who, as a kid watched Jeepers’ Creepers Theatre, became the News Director for the station that showed Jeepers years earlier. Seymour, like the other SoCal horror hosts, were more than actors showing up for a gig. They made their alter egos believable and lovable! And look at Dave and David! You know… ‘TERROR FROM BEYOND THE DAVES’? Yeah, buddy! The horror hosts filled our imagination, captivated us and as for me… I’m an over 60 year old monsterkid because of them!
Dave F: (Holds hands up and laughs) Guilty as charged! This is, no doubt, why your book really resonated with me. I must confess, however, that of all the personalities featured in your book, I was most enamored with Ghoulita! What an amazing look for someone so glamorous to adopt! Especially in a genre when most horror hostesses choose to market their sex appeal. What was it like getting to meet her in 1998?
James Fetters: Ah, Ghoulita! Close your eyes and imagine… imagine you can read this with your eyes closed! HA! Meeting Ghoulita was a very magical experience! Lietta is a very kind and caring lady. When we met she knew I was star struck… when I spoke I tripped over my tongue… we were sitting at a long table with Lietta next to me. She held my hand under the table! Maybe that’s why I was tripping over my tongue!
We talked… she shared her memories of being Ghoulita and her life before and after Jeepers’ Creepers Theatre. A wonderful time that will never be forgotten. After a several hours it was time to part and allow Lietta, Jim and his wife Jeanette to return to their busy lives and my wife and I to head back up to Los Angeles. As we stood in the parking lot saying our good byes Lietta gave me a hug that lasted forever… a dream come true. Lietta Harvey, a tall knock-out, and Ghoulita hugging me at the same time! WOOHOO!! It don’t get any better than that! I watched as Ghoulita started out as a demure undead hostess and change into the grotesque Ghoulita that we all fell in love with… then to meet this beautiful lady in person… indescribable! I still have a tape of the message she left on my answering machine in 1998… “Hello, Jim! Guess who this is…”
Dave F: With the exception of Elvira, the host with the longest tenure in your region was Moona Lisa (1963-1976). What would you attribute her longevity too?
James Fetters: Moona Lisa was San Diego’s only ‘real’ horror host and that made her special to San Diegans! She was our answer to all the hosts from Los Angeles. As long as she aired on KOGO-10 there were no other hosts, in San Diego, challenging her reign. She was fun to watch and had her own unique hosting premise… Moona was the first, in Southern California, to take horror hosts out of their dungeon, attic, haunted studios and become more of a sci-fi host than horror… a host that was alien and lived on the moon!
Dave F: I love the concept for the character of “Famous Morris” being an agent for the monsters. Was this reflective of a time period when the classic monsters were becoming “old fashioned” in the public’s eyes?
James Fetters: The classics monsters were becoming ‘old hat’ so to say. All the Universal monsters were shown by everyone, over and over and Famous was showing the new foreign film packages that were new to the viewers… so, of course, the classic monsters needed an agent to get them work and coming by his agency gave Famous a lot of unique shows to do… the Invisible Man stopping by, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy… Famous tied them all in to create a fun premise especially when also tying them into his private life… Hermy the Gorilla married to Famous’ sister and their troubles… it was a fun show that was very popular. Famous did show a classic now and again but not very often and boy Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy needed an agent back then as they do now!
Dave F: You are currently working on a follow-up project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
James Fetters: Sure can and thanks for asking. First up is ‘More TV Horror Hosts’. There were so many photos and ads not included in ‘Creatures of the Night…’ that I thought a photo companion was called for. ‘More TV Horror Hosts’ has a at least a hundred more photos, ads and news articles not included in ‘Creatures…’ plus national hosts and ads have been included along with a couple current hosts keeping the genre alive and well! And the best part is that it’s laid out in a larger format so the newspaper articles are much easier to read along with all of the scripts. The photos and ads are much larger too! There are so many new treasures shared… like full Seymour newsletters, newly found Vampira and Grimsley photos and ads… and so much more. And there are more items popping up every day… even an interview done with one of the hosts that was never published and that is included after hiding in the shadows for over 33 years! Just too many new ads, photos and articles to list but if you liked ‘Creatures of the Night…’ You’ll love this photo companion book! And in the works is a special item that will be included… produced by Sherilyn McCleary… it’s too soon to describe in detail but makes this project a very special and a one of a kind SoCal horror host treasure!
There are a few more projects in the works… enough to keep me busy for the next few years! And, if I may, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank ‘Terror From Beyond The Daves’ for not only keeping us all updated with current horror hosts and convention activities but for showing that there is a brave, new world out there full of those remembering and honoring the hosts of yesteryear and praising the hosts of today and tomorrow… keep up the great work, Daves!
And the Daves would like to extend our deep appreciation to James Fetters for honoring this site with his insights as well as for all the amazing he work he’s done (and continues to do) archiving Horror Hosts from a bygone era. Anyone interested in purchasing their own copy are encouraged to visit…http://www.trc4u.com/