New Podcast!

I hope you’re doing well and staying safe during this enormously challenging time.

All of us have dealt with the pandemic in different ways. But one Old Movie Weirdo has turned the lockdown into a unique opportunity to show her love for the classics!

I hope you enjoy my podcast chat with Ashley Phipps!

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Film Historian Seeks to Make Chaplin Keaton Lloyd Alley an “International Destination”

the-chaplin-keaton-lloyd-hollywood-alley-blog_page_04What’s been your coping mechanism during the pandemic? For me, it’s been silent movies.  

The Silent Comedy Watch Party — a live YouTube stream of silent shorts accompanied by Ben Model on piano, with commentary from Steve Massa — has become a Sunday afternoon habit since the spring. Recent virtual screenings from CineCon and the Niles Essanay Museum have been a delight. And I already have my pass for the Pordenone Silent Film Festival — on-line this year for less than $12!

“Enjoy the silence,” Pordenone suggests on their website (thanks Google Translate!) and I have almost daily — a welcome respite from bad news

So I was thrilled to hear that silent film historian John Bengtson has launched an effort to recognize the three geniuses of silent comedy: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Bengtson, author of books on the filming locations used by these comedy gods, seeks to christen a pedestrian alley in the heart of Hollywood as Chaplin Keaton Lloyd Alley. This unassuming byway just south of Hollywood Blvd. was a location for Chaplin’s THE KID (1921), Keaton’s COPS (1922), and Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST! (1923).

“This is the most unique confluence of stars and locations I’ve ever found,” Bengtson said of the location, which has also been used by filmmakers as diverse as Harry Houdini, Lois Weber and Tim Burton. Here’s his video explaining the initiative: 

If you’d like to support John’s effort to make Chaplin Keaton Lloyd Alley an “international destination” for film lovers, here’s what you can do:

• Watch the video and give it a thumbs up

• Leave a review of the alley on Google Maps (I wrote “As more and more of film history is lost to time, this spot endures. Recognize it!”)

• Share this project with fellow film fans on your social channels. 

The more you spread the word, the more these men are likely to be recognized by a city they helped make famous. And hopefully, once this profoundly unfunny moment in history is over, we can all meet up there during a film festival. 

Courtesy of John Bengtson - 1

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Regis Philbin (1931–2020)

Regis Philbin died yesterday at age 89.

By all accounts, the veteran talk and game show host was well loved. He was teamed with Kathie Lee Gifford for 15 years, Kelly Ripa for a decade, and wife Joy Philbin for half a century. But Regis’s stock-in-trade was getting mad. He was a witty and effortlessly charming TV personality for nearly 60 years, but when he got annoyed? That’s when he became REGIS.

So, when I had an opportunity to interview Regis on the red carpet at a benefit for amfAR at Cipriani Wall Street in May of 2006, I was on a mission. My goal was to bring out the persona I had enjoyed on TV for decades, particularly on Late Night with David Letterman, where his riffing with Dave was a delight.

The following is a transcript.

Screen Shot 2020-07-25 at 10.24.20 PM

I asked Regis a few questions about the event, and the charity, and he gave me the expected replies. Then…

ME: I understand that you are somewhat of a Luddite. Is that correct?
REGIS (getting mad): A what?
ME: You’re not a fan of technology.
REGIS: A Luddite?
ME: Yes, a Luddite. That’s the term for someone who is anti-technology.
REGIS: Did you just call me a freaking Luddite? (to everyone on the red carpet) This guy just called me a freaking Luddite!

At this point, Regis broke into his Angry Regis and the red carpet stopped. Regis and I became the show.

REGIS: Let’s put it this way, okay Will? I’m computer-free. Got a problem with that? Is there something wrong with being computer-free?
ME: (silently shaking my head no)
REGIS: I’ll tell you what I got here, Willie. (he reaches into his pocket and fumbles around) Let me show you, babe. (pulls out a cell phone) I carry Joy’s cell phone. I don’t know how to use it. I don’t wanna know. But I carry it.
ME: (silent laughter)
REGIS: I’ll tell you, it just got by me Will. I find myself unencumbered. She’s on the computer all day and night, answering email and whatever that stuff is. I don’t want to do that.
ME: And is it true that you are in the Guinness Book of World Records?
REGIS: Did you call me a Luddite again? What’s wrong with you? Yes, I am Will. I’ve been on television more than anyone else – nearly 16,000 hours.
ME: And how much longer is that gonna go on, Regis? (now I got a laugh)
REGIS: After I get through with you? Never! I’m all done, Willie!

Regis extended his arm and gave me a warm handshake.

REGIS: I’m gonna hang around as long as somebody like you will stop and ask me a question.
ME: Thank you Regis. It’s a great pleasure to meet you.
REGIS: Thanks a lot. Good luck to you.

Thank you, Regis, for allowing me to be your straight man. I’ll never forget it.




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Caroll Spinney (1933–2019)

DvYBv2NX0AAUFQuCaroll Spinney died yesterday. Although millions of us grew up with him, most of us didn’t know his name. That’s an occupational hazard for a puppeteer, and Spinney was one of the best.

For nearly half a century, he performed and voiced Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch —  two ends of the emotional spectrum — on SESAME STREET. Like the children who watched, Big Bird was curious, loving, sometimes gullible. Also like the children who watched, Oscar was moody, self-centered and often unapproachable.

Together, these characters created a safe, relatable space on SESAME STREET for generations of kids. And, with that comfort, we opened ourselves to learning.

I stammered words to this effect when I met Spinney about a decade ago. And, while I’m sure he had heard it all before, he let me say my peace while smiling beatifically. He assured me that he understood, and respected, the important role he played in the lives of so many of us. And he took a picture with me, as if we were old friends, which we kind of were.

Caroll Spinney Will McKinley

So it was my great pleasure to be interviewed (via Skype) by Sky News about this man, his show, and his impact. I consider it a thank you, in a small way, for his great gift.

The first of these clips is a segment that aired in Australia. The second is a package from the UK.


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I’m a Guest on the Cinema Shame Podcast!

2014_tcmff-1I’m proud and honored to be the very first guest on Cinema Shame, a new podcast where movie lovers talk about iconic films they haven’t seen — and why.

You may recognize host Jay Patrick from his work as the evil mastermind behind the James Bond Social Media Project and as moderator of the weekly #Bond_age_ live tweet-alongs. His social media output is staggering, and he somehow manages to do this with a family to take care of. (All I have are two cats and I can’t manage to find time to write a blog post since December.)

Jay and I first met a few years ago the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood and immediately hit it off despite our vast age difference. (I’m easily old enough to be his grandfather.) And I think that rapport is apparent in this podcast. (We’re pictured above with our good friend Colleen aka “Fussy” in 2014 after a long day of watching movies together.)

Jay invited me on to talk about my (non-existent) shame over not having seen POLICE ACADEMY (1984) nor any of its endless sequels. But, like every conversation I have with fellow film lovers, our chat was delightfully discursive. We talked about the experience of seeing a film in its proper historical context, what makes a film a “classic,” the role nostalgia plays in our love for older films, and what makes a popular film endure. We even touched on my personal experience in high school, and why that four-year period back in the 1980s is a “cultural black hole” for me.

So have a listen here. Or use the player below. And let me know if you disagree with my rather strong feelings about the film. To interact with Cinema Shame follow the project on Twitter.


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Forgotten Stars Speak Again on TCM

jazzIn the early years of the 20th Century, New York City was the Vaudeville capital of America, with a collection of popular and peculiar performers plying their trade live on stage. A few icons of that era found fame in other mediums, but most were forgotten after Hollywood made the transition to “Talking Pictures.” End of story. Or, maybe not.

On December 5, Turner Classic Movies cracks open the time tunnel with a program of 63 shorts from the 1920s and ’30s featuring famous and not-so-famous personalities from Vaudeville’s dying days. Produced by Warner Bros. using the Vitaphone sound-on-disc process — film projected in sync with a record played on a turntable — these shorts are some of the earliest surviving Talkies, but the majority had been separated from their soundtracks and “lost” to audiences for decades.

Cue Ron Hutchinson. The East Orange, New Jersey native co-founded the Vitaphone Project in 1991 with the mission of reuniting 16-inch shellac soundtrack discs with 35mm picture elements (most archived at the Library of Congress), thus restoring history for a new generation.

“Little did we know that we would find more than 6,000 of those discs in private hands and have been involved with the restoration of more than 125 shorts and a dozen features so far, with 40 more in the pipeline,” Hutchinson said at Film Forum in New York at the premiere screening of seven new restorations in October.

In the audience at Film Forum that night were two relatives of Vaudeville performers who starred in Vitaphone shorts, enjoying their rediscovery along with the rest of the packed house.

“Without the restoration, these people would be totally forgotten,” Hutchinson said. “They were laying mute in the archives for decades and they’re finally being seen again.”

Ron Hutchinson with the granddaughter of Vaudevillian Zelda Santley at Film Forum on Oct 25 (photo by Will)

Ron Hutchinson with the granddaughter of Vaudevillian Zelda Santley at Film Forum on Oct 25 (photo by Will)

The Vitaphone process was also used for the earliest full-length sound features, initially for music and sound effects scores and, beginning with THE JAZZ SINGER in 1927, for movies with synchronized dialogue. Five of those features are included in TCM’s 24-hour Vitaphone salute, including the delightful WHY BE GOOD (1929) with Colleen Moore at 11 p.m. (ET). Hutchinson will introduce the TCM program beginning at 8 p.m. (ET) with host Ben Mankiewicz in celebration of Vitaphone’s 90th anniversary and the 25th year of the Vitaphone project.

And the good news doesn’t stop there.

The success of the Vitaphone Project’s unique partnership between a rightsholder (Warner Bros), archives (UCLA and the Library of Congress), and private individuals  has inspired other studios to “get religion” when it comes to restoration, Hutchinson said. Chief among those is Universal, which has recently brought new restorations of the Marx Bros. first five films to market, along with the glorious KING OF JAZZ (which I wrote about here).

“We’re working with them on a number of things including the long unseen Universal shorts, which are very similar to Vitaphone shorts,” Hutchinson said. “Unlike other studios, Universal never released any of their shorts to television or the home market. So they truly have been unseen for over 80 years.”

If you can’t take the day off from work on Monday, I recommend you park yourself in front of the TV between 8 and 11 p.m. (ET) for 16 of the most memorable shorts you’ve ever seen. Best among these is the comedy team of Shaw and Lee in THE BEAU BRUMMELS (1928) in the 8 p.m. block and Conlin and Glass in SHARPS AND FLATS (1928) in the 9:45 p.m. block. I’ve seen both of these with audiences a number of times and they kill every time.

Or better yet, just take the day off and watch TCM.

For more information on the Vitaphone Project, click here.  For more coverage of the TCM program, visit Trav SD’s excellent blog. A complete schedule of TCM’s 24-hour salute to Vitaphone follows, courtesy of Ron Hutchinson. Note: your cable listings will probably be wrong, so don’t try to set your DVR for a single short. Record everything in that block to be safe!

6:00 AM Before They Were Stars – 6 shorts 
Paree, Paree (1934) (Bob Hope)
The All Girl Revue (1939) (June Allyson)
Art Trouble (1934) (James Stewart)
Seeing Red (1939) (Red Skelton)
Success (1931) (Jack Haley)
Ups and Downs (1937) (Phil Silvers, June Allyson & Hal LeRoy)

thebetterole1200w8:15 AM THE BETTER OLE’ (1926)
In this silent film, friends face misadventures during WW I.
Dir: Charles Reisner Cast: Sydney Chaplin , Doris Hill , Harold Goodwin .
BW-95 mins

10:15 AM Vitaphone in Technicolor – 3 shorts
Good Morning, Eve (1934)
Out Where the Stars Begin (1938)
Okay, Jose (1935)

11:30 AM Vitaphone Mini Musicals – 5 shorts 
Soft Drinks and Sweet Music (1934)
King for a Day (1934)
Private Lessons (1933)
20,000 Cheers For a Chain Gang (1933)
The Winnah! (1934)

1:45 PM Vitaphone Bands – 10 shorts 
The Yacht Party (1932)
Barber Shop Blues (1933)
Johnny Green and His Orchestra (1935)
Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra (1937)
Swing Cats Jamboree (1938)
Cab Calloway and His Orchestra (1937)
Gus Arnheim and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra (1928)
The Ingenues (1928)
Harry Reser and His Eskimos (1936)
Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1933)

3:45 PM Vitaphone Potporri – 10 shorts
Hip Action (1933)
Home Run on the Keys (1936)
Believe It or Not #1 (1931)
Trouble in Toyland (1935)
All Colored Vaudeville (1935)
Buzzin’ Around (1933)
Rambling Round Radio Row #3 (1933)
Hot News Margie (1933)
Smash Your Baggage (’33)
All-Star Vaudeville (’35)

1927-the-jazz-singer6:00 PM THE JAZZ SINGER (1927)
A cantor’s son breaks with family tradition to go into show business.
Dir: Alan Crosland Cast: Al Jolson , May McAvoy , Warner Oland .
BW-96 mins

PLUS The Voice That Thrilled The World (1943) 19 mins


8:00 PM Vitaphone Shorts Primetime Block #1 – 8 shorts 
Will H. Hays Introduces Vitaphone (1926)
Georgie Price In ‘Don’t Get Nervous’ (1929)
Horace Heidt And His Californans (1929)
Shaw And Lee, The Beau Brummels (1928)
Baby Rose Marie, The Child Wonder (1929)
Mayer & Evans, The Cowboy And The Girl (1928)
Trixie Friganza In ‘My Bag ‘O Trix’ (’29)
Hazel Green And Company (1928)

9:45 PM Vitaphone Shorts Primetime Block #2 – 8 shorts
Burns And Allen In ‘Lambchops’ (1929)
The Foy Family In ‘Chips Off The Old Block’ (1928)
Conlin And Glass In ‘Sharps And Flats’ (1928)
The Revelers (1927)
Born And Lawrence, The Country Gentlemen (1928)
Chaz Chase, The Unique Comedian (1928)
Eddie White In ‘I Thank You’ (1928)
Joe Frisco In ‘The Happy Hottentots (1930)

11:00 PM WHY BE GOOD  (1929)
A virtuous flapper gets into a compromising situation with the boss’s son.
Dir: William A. Seiter Cast: Colleen Moore , Neil Hamilton , Bodil Rosing .
BW-81 mins

12:30 AM Vitaphone Shorts Primetime Block #3 – 6 shorts 
Dick Rich And His Syncho Symphonists (1928)
Brennan And Butler In ‘You Don’t Know The Half Of It’ (1929)
Jack Waldron In ‘A Breath Of Broadway (1928)
Ben Bernie And His Orchestra (1930)
Arthur Pat West In ‘Ship Ahoy’ (1928)
Harry Fox And His Six American Beauties (1929)

vit-os-showgirl1:45 AM SHOWGIRL IN HOLLYWOOD (1930)
A Broadway songbird goes to Hollywood in search of screen stardom.
Dir: Mervyn LeRoy Cast: Alice White, Jack Mulhall, Blanche Sweet .
BW-78 mins

3:15 AM Vitaphone Shorts Primetime Block #4 – 6 shorts
Harry Wayman’s Debutantes (1928)
Shaw And Lee In ‘Going Places (1930)
Tal Henry And His North Carolinians (1929)
Jans And Whalen, Two Good Boys Gone Wrong (1929)
Florence Brady In ‘A Cycle Of Songs’ (1928)
Blossom Seeley And Bennie Fields (1927)

6:00 AM DON JUAN (1926)
In this silent film, the legendary lover fights to survive intrigue in the court of the Borgias.
Dir: Alan Crosland Cast: John Barrymore , Mary Astor , Willard Louis .
BW-112 mins


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The First Talking Pictures Regain their Voice

0997ae1c908de0568b58bce84c3ec334“What was the first movie?” my 9-year-old niece asked after a recent trip to the multiplex.

I hate questions like that. Because I’m a “movie guy,” I feel like I should have an easy reply, but I never do.

The first time pictures moved? The first narrative short film? The first feature? There’s not really one answer. So I started talking about Magic Lanterns, galloping horses, workers leaving the factory, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, the spaceship in the moon’s eye, and Al Jolson. She asked a simple question and she got a Cinema Studies class.

But like they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. And it gets even more complicated when you start talking about Talkies. I was reminded of this on Saturday when I attended a screening of newly restored Edison “Kinetophone” sound shorts from 1913-1914 at the Museum of Modern Art.

You read that right. Short subjects with sound. From 1913.

A total of 200 Kinetophone shorts were produced by Thomas Edison between 1913 and 1914 at his studio in the Bronx, New York. Similar to the better-known Warner Bros. Vitaphone sound shorts (shot in nearby Brooklyn), Edison’s shorts were mute films with synchronous audio recorded on a phonograph. Both were screened using a complex system that synched film projectors with separate audio playback: shellac discs for Vitaphone, wax cylinders for Kinetophone. But Edison’s shorts pre-dated Vitaphone by 13 years and came 14 years before Jolson promised You ain’t heard nothing yet! in THE JAZZ SINGER – the moment generally considered to be the birth of Talking Pictures.

Film elements for 12 of the 200 Kinetophones are known to survive, with soundtracks extant for 15. To date, eight films have been fully restored, with picture and audio reunited (in some cases) for the first time in more than a century. Six of the restorations were screened on Saturday as part of To Save and Project: The 14th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation.

Titles included: NURSERY FAVORITES (1913) starring Little Miss Muffet, a giant spider, and a dog in pajamas; THE OLD GUARD (1914) with Napoleon’s ghost; THE DEAF MUTE (1914), a multi-part Civil War mystery filmed entirely on location; the Edison Quartette in MUSICAL BLACKSMITH (1914); and JACK’S JOKE (1913) a drawing room farce featuring Arthur Housman, a familiar face from Laurel & Hardy films. The final short ended with a delightfully protracted curtain call sequence that elicited good-natured cheers from the packed house at MoMA.

Edward Boulden and Arthur Housman in JACK'S JOKE (1913)

Edward Boulden and Arthur Housman in JACK’S JOKE (1913)

“This has been my pet project for 25 years,” said George Willeman, Nitrate Film Vault Manager at the Library of Congress and the host of MoMA’s screening. “When I started with the Library back in the 1980s and discovered these films on the shelf and realized what they were, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if someday we could see them with their soundtracks put back on?’”

That day finally came earlier this year, when audio from wax cylinders archived at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey was captured digitally, cleaned up, and married to 2K scans of picture elements housed at the Library of Congress (some surviving in original negatives). In an illustrated lecture that preceded the screening, Willeman explained the history of the shorts and their restoration.

As always, profit was a primary motivating factor in Edison’s early attempt to make pictures talk. (Some things never change.) He controlled patents on both audio and film recording technology and, as early as 1894, was experimenting with technology that would unite the two. The 17-second-long Dickson Experimental Sound Film – two men dancing while Edison collaborator William Dickson plays violin – was shot at the Edison Company’s “Black Maria” studio in West Orange, New Jersey and was the first moving picture with a synchronized soundtrack.

kinetophoneA year later, Edison began producing short “Kinetoscope” film loops for coin-operated players. These standalone devices were also called Kinetophones, because they allowed viewers to watch movies with (non-synchronous) sound. Soundtracks were played on cylinder phonographs housed inside the box while viewers listened via rubber “ear tubes.”

If you’re having trouble visualizing this, imagine watching a short YouTube video on your iPad with earbuds, but in dedicated arcades where many other people are doing the same thing. And every time you replay it it costs another coin. Not a bad business for simple, inexpensively produced shorts that were essentially the Keyboard Cat of the turn of the 20th Century.

By 1913 Edison was in full production of Kinetophone sound shorts that would be presented in Vaudeville houses on the Albee theater circuit, rather than on individual players. Like with all early attempts at sound filmmaking, synchronization of disparate picture and audio sources was the principal challenge. According to Willeman, theaters were rigged with a hand-cranked Edison projector in the back, a specially built phonograph in the front, and a long linen belt running along the ceiling to connect the two. Operators wore headphones, and each projection set-up came with a synchronizer that moved the film four frames in either direction if audio sync began to drift (which it did, often).

kinetophoneadThe Edison Kinetophone shorts were introduced on February 13, 1913 at a presentation in New York City that earned rave reviews and a 15-minute standing ovation. In the film that accompanied that presentation (which has been restored and was screened at MoMA), Allen Ramsey of the Edison Company brags that viewers are watching “the first genuine talking picture ever produced” and promises that people will be able to watch and listen 100 years from now. That line brought cheers at MoMA, 103 years later.

But the success of the series was short-lived. The Kinetophones were discontinued after 1914, in part due to reduced international business during World War I, a devastating fire at the Edison plant, and a desire on the part of the audience for “longer subjects and first class acting.” Unlike the Vitaphones, which were mostly filmed records of Vaudeville acts or band performances, the Kinetophones were six-minute narratives that told self-contained or continuing stories. But the technological limitations of sync sound recording – a single, static shot with no edits and broad performances by actors shouting for the benefit of the the recording – were obvious to viewers spoiled by silent cinema’s increasingly lavish production values and complex storytelling.

But it was the technological limitations that ultimately killed the Kinetophones.

“It was just too darn complicated,” Willeman said. “They tried all the different devices they had in 1913 and 1914, but the technology just wasn’t there.”

To Save and Project: The 14th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation continues through November 23. A DVD release for the Kinetophone shorts is planned. An un-restored version of the introductory short is below. 

Posted in Museum of Modern Art, Silent Film | 8 Comments

I Discuss Horror Movie Hosts on New Podcast

miguel-1Over the last five years I’ve co-hosted two classic film podcasts and been a guest on countless others. But my favorite chats have always been with Miguel Rodriguez, host of the Horrible Imaginings podcast.

Miguel and I have only met in person a handful of times at the annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, but I feel like we’re kindred spirits. We share a deep commitment to classic media of all types, and love to talk at length about its past and future. And Miguel’s knowledge of, and commitment to, both classic and contemporary horror and genre films is unmatched.

He also reminds me how many movies I haven’t seen and need to, which makes me vaguely anxious. But that’s a topic for another day.

The occasion that brings me to Miguel’s show this week is a sad one: the death of legendary horror movie host John Zacherle at age 98 on October 27. (I wrote about his life and career here.)

As often happens when Miguel and I get together, our conversation started with Zacherle and expanded in other directions, including: the history of classic film on television; the role of on-camera hosts as horror film “ambassadors” to a generation of young fans; how the horror boom on TV in the 1950s reinvigorated the careers of icons like Boris Karloff; the horror hosts of our own youth in the 1980s; and how a straight line can be drawn from the hosts of half a century ago to Mystery Science Theater 3000 and even Turner Classic Movies.

So have a listen here or using the player below. You can also subscribe to the podcast and listen to past episodes here. And Happy Halloween!


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Horror Fan Celebrates Halloween w/ Classic Movie Cakes

MBDPLNI EC009Halloween is like Comic Con for Old Movie Weirdos.

For a few brief weeks, the mainstream sheds its confounding anti-classic bias and embraces our pop culture past. You see it in retro-themed decorations and costumes, old horror movies on TV and in local venues, and in a cultural ubiquity that reminds us how icons actually become icons: they stand the test of time.

Halloween season is a rare opportunity for those of us who love these movies to come out of the classic film closet. It’s also a chance to share our lifelong weirdness with friends and family, and maybe even add to our ranks (while chanting “One of us! One of us!”).

One fan has found a surprising – and delicious –way to pay tribute to the old movies that inspire her. New York based filmmaker and photographer Lisa Stock bakes classic film-themed cakes, and this year’s model celebrates a star of one of the most belovedly low-rent horror/sci-fi mashups ever made.

My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent…My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts about a Vampira cake from Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE?!

"A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?"

“A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?”

WILL McKINLEY: How long have you been a classic film fan? 
LISA STOCK: Since I was about 4. No joke. I waited every year for THE WIZARD OF OZ to come on TV at Thanksgiving back in the 70’s. It was more captivating to me than any cartoon or TV show. It’s also why I became a filmmaker.

Do old movies influence your work?
Definitely. I’ve always loved how sci-fi films view the world in metaphor. In the Noir genre, the narrative structure is like no other – how stories and clues and the deep inner-selves of each character unfold and surprise us at each turn.

Filmmaker and photographer Lisa Stock.

Filmmaker and photographer Lisa Stock.

What do you love about PLAN 9?
How can you not love a film that has everything AND Tor Johnson? But what I really love is that Ed Wood didn’t let his (lack of) budget stop him from telling his story. That’s so me, I often create what I need for a film in Photoshop mattes. I’m sorry films have gotten away from “scenery” that looks like scenery, from the cemetery in PLAN 9 to the forest in OZ. One day I’ll make a movie like that.

Are you a frequent baker? Is this your first classic film cake?
I am, but only do big cakes like this for special occasions and holidays. In years past I’ve made cakes of: the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (my favorite); a Headless Horseman victim from SLEEPY HOLLOW (made a 17th century dress and took the head off); and CARRIE (with all the pig blood, which was delicious).


“Red. I might have known it would be red!”

How did you make the PLAN 9 Vampira cake?
It’s a Wilton cake kit. The pan is her skirt (cake part) and the doll is only half a doll. The bottom half of her is a pick that sinks into the cake and holds her upright. The kit box shows mostly princesses and brides. Then there are those twisted bakers like me that take it up a notch.

Is the frosting black? What does black frosting taste like?
Bakers pro-tip: You have to start with chocolate frosting to get black or red, otherwise when you mix your frosting colors, if you use vanilla, you’ll just get grey or pink. So it tastes like chocolate and will make for interesting stained lips and teeth.

Where will you serve it?
I brought it to work! We need a little humor in the office on Halloween, yes? I also brought her flying saucer and tree branches and set it up in the break room kitchen. I printed out pictures of Vampira (aka Los Angeles horror movie hostess of the 1950s Maila Nurmi) and taped them to the cabinet above the cake in the break room.


“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”

Any advice for other classic film fans who like to bake?
DO IT!  I want to see them. There are so many characters that are fitting for doll cakes. I mean, if Mattel can make a Hitchcock THE BIRDS and Ann Darrow KING KONG Barbie – both of which I own – then we can make anyone out of cake. Don’t let the big skirt deter you. It goes with a lot of classic film ladies.

Have your cakes made any classic film converts?
I hear people say, “Oh my kids would love this.”  Yeah, sure. Use them as an excuse, whatever gets you to watch the film and give it a chance! Then that leads to you watching another movie in the same genre and so on. And before you know it, we’re talking about THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL or THE LADY VANISHES over the water cooler.

So, your Halloween cakes are like a gateway drug?
Halloween is just the door by which to show others a whole set of film work that has inspired so many storytellers after them. If anything I create gets someone to dig deeper into the genre, then its been a good day.

For more information on Lisa Stock, visit her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram

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John Zacherle (1918-2016) Horror Host, TV’s Cool Ghoul

photo-zacherleyUpdated 11/1/16 – New info in italics.

In the 1950s, the new medium of television was hungry for inexpensive, plentiful content. So local stations turned to classic movies, particularly those of the spooky variety.

Fright films from studios like Universal became an early TV staple, launching a revival of interest in the genre and giving careers to local personalities who became hosts of horror movie broadcasts. These larger-than-life characters introduced films in-costume during late night airings and turned a new generation of viewers into “Monster Kids.” And the greatest of these horror hosts, at least for those who grew up in New York and Philadelphia, was John Zacherle.

Zacherle was a Philly native, graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and World War II veteran. In 1954 he was hired by local Philadelphia station WCAU to appear in Action in the Afternoon, a live Western serial broadcast daily on CBS affiliates. Station execs liked his performance as an undertaker and gave him his first job as a horror host: as “Roland” on the station’s Shock Theater in 1957. His darkly comic wrap-arounds, shot on inexpensive yet inventive sets, were a welcome alternative to the straightforward salesmanship of early TV.

In 1958, Zacherle wrote and performed the novelty single “Dinner with Drac,” released by Philadelphia-based label Cameo-Parkway Records and backed by Dave Appell and The Applejacks. At the request of Dick Clark, Zacherle also recorded a second, less-graphic version of the song which Clark played on his Philly-based teen dance series American Bandstand. It was the eternally boyish host who dubbed Zacherle “The Cool Ghoul,” a nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life.

In 1958, Zacherle left WCAU for WABC in New York. Airing pre-1948 Universal horror films from the same syndication package, WABC’s Shock Theater was essentially the same as Philadelphia’s. But with the star’s popularity growing, the show soon was rechristened Zacherley at Large (with the “y” added to his name to help with pronunciation.) He switched to WOR in 1960, launching his new series with a highly publicized campaign for president in the election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. As part of his platform, “Transylvania’s favorite son” released a pun-filled record called “Spook Along with Zacherley” (1960) that was popular with young listeners (and collectors today).

Zacherle moved to WPIX in 1963, hosting broadcasts of cartoons and Three Stooges shorts during the day and the legendary Chiller Theatre movie series on Saturday nights. In 1964 he launched the dance show Disc-O-Teen for WNJU in Newark, which he hosted (in his Zacherley costume) for three seasons. In a 2012 profile, The New York Times described the show as “American Bandstand, Transylvania-style” and Zacherle recalled a particularly famous guest.

“Jim Morrison looked at our weird set and mumbled, ‘This is the damnedest TV show I’ve ever seen,’” he remembered.

After leaving Chiller in 1965Zacherle went on a long career as radio disc jockey in the New York City market with stints on WNEW, WPLJ, WXRK, and WCBS. He also acted, appearing in horror films like Brain Damage (1988) and Frankenhooker (1990). Zacherle edited anthologies of short horror stories and revived his horror host character periodically, including for heavily promoted 3-D broadcasts of classic horror films on New York TV in the early 1980s. Glasses were distributed at local convenience stores and the results were inconsistent, but lots of fun.

In 2008, the classic Zacherley character made a triumphant return to WPIX for a one-night revival of Chiller Theatre that delighted fans of all ages. The movie that night was Tarantula (1956) and John Zacherle brought the same macabre wit to the broadcast that had captivated viewers half a century earlier.

In recent years, Zacherle made frequent appearances at horror movie conventions like the Chiller Theatre Expo in New Jersey, greeting fans young and old. I met him at one of these on Halloween Day in 2009.

“With that haircut you look like a ghoul yourself!” the legend said to me.

John Zacherle died yesterday at age 98. He’ll be remembered fondly by Monster Kids this Halloween weekend and for the rest of our lives.

Update 11/1/16 – I’m a guest on the Horrible Imaginings podcast this week discussing Zacherle’s career and the history of horror hosts. Listen here or with the player below 



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