Jonathan Frid, TV’s Barnabas Collins, Bites The Big One

As long as I can remember vampires have been popular.   Some may think it’s just a fad, but ever since “Dracula” was published in 1897, vampires have captured a place in our collective imagination. Currently there are several books and book series on the market in which vampires feature prominently.  Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire novels and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series are just two of my favorites.  Don’t forget Anne Rice’s classic “Interview with the Vampire” and the hugely successful Twilight series. Many of these tales have been translated into film, and there are hundreds of movies with vampire characters.  From the sympathetic Blade in the series of that name to the wide-eyed adolescents of The Lost Boys to real baddies like those in Fright Night – good guy or villain – we run to queue up at theatres to get our fix of romance/horror.

In the 60’s and 70’s there was one vampire that I would literally run to see every weekday.  He was on TV every afternoon at 3:00. The problem was that my bus did not bring me home until about 3:10 or 3:15. This gothic soap opera was a half hour program and I barely got to see the last 10 to 15 minutes of it. The program was called “Dark Shadows” and the vampire who made himself at home among the unsuspecting citizens of Collinwood was named Barnabas Collins. This particular blood sucker was played by a Shakespearean actor named Jonathan Frid. Frid has taken his final taxi at the age of 87.

The character Barnabas Collins was a 200-year-old vampire who roamed in search of fresh blood and his lost love, Josette. He was brought into the ghost-infested soap in hopes of boosting its low ratings. Originally this was to be a brief role for Frid. He was booked for only 13 weeks, but the unheard of introduction of a vampire into a daytime series caused ratings to rise from the crypt and soar like a winged bat fluttering outside a heavily curtained castle window.  Frid/Barnabas became the star of the show.

Frid did not expect Barnabas to be the one character that would define his acting career. He had only taken the role to pay for a move to the West Coast but scrapped other projects once the ‘short role’ became a major one. He played Barnabas untill “Dark Shadows” ended in 1971, after a five year run. He also played the vampire in the 1970 movie “House of Dark Shadows.” Frid had a few other TV and movie roles, but type casting bogged him down.  He eventually returned to his first love, theater, in 1978.

Frid had a love/ hate relationship with Barnabas but eventually embraced the character, showing up at Dark Shadows conventions and even reprising the role in the new soon-to-be-released Tim Burton movie by the same title.  Frid will play the older Barnabas Collins catching a glimpse of his younger self, as played by Johnny Depp.

To show you the popularity of the role Jonathan Frid developed, one of my favorite memories is of being in second grade and getting permission from my Mom to buy a book through the “Weekly Reader” book sale.   I dashed in that autumn afternoon, clutching my copy of a little vampire joke book called “Barnabas Collins In A Funny Vein” just in time to tune in to Dark Shadows.

 

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Rocky & Bullwinkle Creator, Alex Anderson, Takes Final Taxi

One year we almost forgot Halloween. I was not even in first grade yet so the peer pressure of what costume to wear had not even crossed my mind. My mother was too busy trying to sell a house and having a sick mother to think about instead of getting us kids a costume. Suddenly it was October 31st and we remembered that it was Halloween. We rushed to the local Big B Drugs or Eckerds Pharmacy only to be disappointed with what was left.

The choices came in those plastic masks that just covered your face and were formed into a Saturday morning cartoon character or the cheap latex masks that were so over the top in the horror department that no one wanted them. My mother opted for the plastic mask that year with the matching garbage bag you wore over your clothes. This always had the cartoon character’s body on it.

My brother was Rocky the Flying Squirrel and I was Bullwinkle J Moose. The mask was a little over sized, I remember the elastic band that secured to the mask by metal staples inside the mask,that would always pull my hair and scratch the side of my face. What torture a child endured for a Bit-o-Honey or a vanilla Toostie Roll. By the end of the night my antlers were mangled by having them slammed into the car door every time I closed it.

I do remember I got quite a lot of candy that year. I was fonder of Rocky and Bullwinkle after that Halloween. I watched them more often after that and once they started reruns when I was older I got the adult comedy that was in the show as well.
Rocky and Bullwinkle ran as a new show from 1959 to 1964 on ABC them moved to NBC. It has been running in syndication ever since. At one time it was the highest rated daytime network program.

The characters of Rocky & Bullwinkle were, created by Alex Anderson Jr., Anderson has died at the age of 90.

In an interview in 1991 with the San Francisco Chronicle, Anderson said that he had worked with his uncle Paul Terry of Terrytoons, on the cartoon Mighty Mouse. He didn’t understand the mechanics of how a mouse flew or, for that matter, how Superman flew. Since flying squirrels do fly that gave him the mantle of superness without having to stretch the truth. Thus Rocky the Flying Squirrel evolved. With Bullwinkle, Anderson saw something majestic about moose: “They’re macho, but they have a comic aspect, with that schnozzola of theirs. There are a few creatures just begging to be caricatured.”

Anderson is credited with developing the first cartoon series created for TV, Crusader Rabbit.

He also create another well know cartoon about a dim-witted Canadian Mountie called Dudley Do-Right. In 1999 this was turned into a live-action film starring Brendan Fraser as Do-Right .

It was Alex Anderson’s Bullwinkle creation that helped save my Halloween many years ago, but by the end of the night my costume had taken it own ” final taxi.”

Horror Film Hostess Vampira – Maila Nurma

If you have ever saw Ed Wood’s camp classic Plan 9 from Outer Space then you may have remember a ghoulish vampire looking girl running around the graveyard scenes. That character was called Vampira who was a popular television horror host in the 1950s. She was played by actress Maila Nurma who has taken her Final Taxi at the age of 86.

Born Maila Syrjäniemi in 1921, Nurma moved to Ashtabula, Ohio with her family when she was two . Arriving in Los Angeles at age 17, she modeled for a while then gaining a foothold in the film industry with an uncredited role in Victor Saville’s 1947 film, If Winter Comes. Like many struggling actresses in the 1950s, Nurmi (along with Julie Newmar, Tina Louise, et al.) posed for pin-up photos in dozens of men’s magazines such as Famous Models, Gala and Glamorous Models. Nurmi was friends with Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and briefly dated Orson Welles.

The idea for her Vampira character was born in 1953 when Nurmi attended a masquerade ball in a costume inspired by a character in The New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams. ( Yes- this was Morticia from the Addams Family.) Her appearance with pale white skin and tight black dress caught the attention of television producer for KABC-TV. The name Vampira was the invention of Nurmi’s husband, Dean Riesner, screenwriter of Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, Play Misty For Me and numerous other movies and TV episodes.On Friday night, April 30, 1954, KABC-TV aired a preview, Dig Me Later, Vampira, at 11:00 p.m. The Vampira Show premiered on the following night, May 1, 1954. For the first four weeks, the show aired at midnight, moving to 11:00 p.m. on May 29. Ten months later, the series aired at 10:30 p.m., beginning March 5, 1955. As Vampira, Nurmi introduced films while wandering through a hallway of mist and cobwebs. Her horror-related comedy antics included talking to her pet spider Rollo, and encouraging viewers to write for epitaphs instead of autographs. When the series was cancelled in 1955, she retained rights to the character of Vampira and took the show to KHJ-TV 9.
Nurmi made television history as the first horror movie hostess. In the years that followed, Universal Studios released a syndicated package of 52 horror classics under the program title Shock Theater. Independent stations in major cities all over the U.S. began showing these films, adding their own ghoulish host or hostess (including Vampira II and other lookalikes) to attract more viewers.Nominated for an Emmy Award as “Most Outstanding Female Personality” in 1954, she returned to films with 1955’s Too Much, Too Soon, followed by The Big Operator and The Beat Generation. Her most notable film appearance was in Ed Wood’s camp classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, as a Vampira-like zombie ( 1959). In 1960, she appeared in I Passed for White and Sex Kittens Go to College, followed by the 1962 film, The Magic Sword.In the 1980s, Nurmi was asked by KHJ-TV to revive her Vampira character for television. She worked closely with the producers of the new show and was to get an executive producer credit, but Nurmi eventually declined their proposal. KHJ-TV continued with the show and changed the name of their character to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Later, Nurmi sued Cassandra Peterson, the actress who played Elvira. The case was dismissed when Nurmi was unable to pay for legal expenses. In 1994, Maila Nurmi was portrayed by actress-model Lisa Marie in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Until her death, Nurmi lived with her pets in a small North Hollywood apartment. Unlike Elvira, Nurmi authorized very few merchandising contracts for her Vampira character, though the name and likeness has been used unofficially by various companies since the 1950s.

Invite an axe-murderer into your home this Christmas

It has been a week since Halloween and my podcasts of ‘ true stories of horror ‘ went over well this year it seems. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit when I read a news story this morning. It would fit in my true horror tales and also the death history stories I tell.

It seems the German city of Hanover is getting slammed for featuring an axe wielding serial killer on a children’s Christmas advent calendar. Tourism officials have defended the move by saying mass murderer Fritz Haarmann was part of the German city of Hanover’s history.

Haarmann killed 24 young men, chopped up their corpses and dumped their remains in the local river Leine. He appears on the Advent calendar hiding behind a tree on the river bank.

Haarmann stalked Hanover more than 80 years ago and his victims were aged between 13 and 20. Rumors had it that he would then peddle meat from the bodies of his victims as black market pork. His accomplice, Hans Grans, sold the clothing of his victims. Haarmann was sentenced to death and beheaded in 1925.

The calendar is already on sale at tourism offices and shows children singing Xmas carols and laughing as Santa hands out Xmas gifts – and the Star of Bethlehem twinkles over the rooftops.

But over the first door of the calendar, a trilby wearing man peeks out from behind a tree with a meat cleaver in his left hand.

Mass murder stalk vitims on Christmas calender.
Head of the Hanover tourism board, Hans-Christian Nolte, has defended the calendar, saying: “He is part of our city’s history. Even on guided tours the serial killer’s story is told.”

HALLOWEEN PODCAST: Bloodthirty Killer and Vampire- Gilles de Rays

Halloween Horror Stories #6- Download Audio MP3

One of history’s most bizarre, twisted and blood thirsty murderers, Gilles de Rays tortured, raped and killed almost 600 people, mostly children. He was a war hero, an adventurer, an aristocrat and a vampire, drinking the blood of his victims.
His true story ends this years week of true horror on this internet radio show, the Final Taxi.

Happy Halloween!!

PODCAST: Vampire of Croglin Grange

Halloween Horror Stories #5- Download MP3

Listen to the story of the Croglin Grange Vampire.

PODCAST: Daily Halloween Show #4: Curse of the Green Eye

Halloween Horror Stories #4- Download MP3

Follow the curse of a mysterious gem that came from outer space and killed anyone who came in contact with it. This stone looked like an eye with a green iris.