Oct 29, 2007

Birth of the Monster Kid

Television was hungry for content. with 168 hours of possibility in a week, TV couldn't make shows fast enough. Networks and stations were asking studios for movies from the very beginning but studios were having none of that.

At first they believed that TV was a passing fad and then they began to see it as the enemy. Movie studios believed it was televisions fault that movie ticket sales were down. Studios circled their wagons and refused to budge.

But TV found films in public domain and then a few far sighted cowboys who owned their old films, leased them to television and made a bundle. Movie studios realized their vaults were filled with silver to be mined and they began to make TV deals.

In Los Angeles, television producer Hunt Stromburg Jr. spots a Finnish actress at a Hollywood masquerade ball. Maila Nurmi wins first prize at the ball dressed as the spooky & stately character with an hourglass figure from Charles Addams New Yorker Cartoons. The unnamed character eventually evolves into Morticia Addams of the Addams Family, but first she spawns an undead army of late night ghouls with a twisted sense of what's funny.

Stromburg hires Nurmi and the two transform Addams nameless femme fatale into Vampira, a sexy vampire with a macabre sense of humor. Vampira is created to host ABC's late night movies in Los Angeles. Her show airs May 1, 1954 on KABC in Los Angeles and the world's first horror host(ess) is born.

Just three weeks into the new show, Newsweek runs an article on Vampira and a less than a month later, she has a 2 page spread in Life magazine. Independent Stations all over the country recognize the potential and an undead army of horror hosts rises from the late night television landscape.

Television's midnight matinees attract quite a following. Using old movies, cheap sets, bad makeup, amateur skits, and lame puns, horror hosts create a counter culture. The ghoulish humor attracts a loyal teen audience always looking for something to mock and because young kids want to be doing what the older kids are doing, it also attracts a younger crowd.

Kids who would be scared spitless in a theater, curl up on the couch and watch the scary parts between their fingers with regular commercial breaks where strange hosts like Zacherley (new York) & Ghoulardi (Cleveland) remind them not to take any of it too seriously.

In 1958 Screen Gems packaged 52 of Universal's horror movies into a bundle called "Shock Theater" and sold it to independent stations all across the United States. Included in that Package was Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man. Kids saw Universal's grand slam of horror for the first time and it was love at first fright.

America's monster kid is about to rise from the slab.

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