Tuesday, October 21, 2014

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN (Day 21): CHILLY BILLY

Known to fans as “Chilly Billy”, William Robert “Bill” Cardille is a broadcast personality from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was the first voice heard when WIIC went on the air in September of 1957.



After years of hosting loads of shows (Wrestling announcer, kiddie show host of Tip Top Time, etc.) during a period when local stations provided quite a lot of programming, Cardille became host of “Chiller Theater”, the late night Saturday show that featured horror and science fiction films.  The show ran for twenty years from 1963 through 1983.

Episodes began with guitarist Al Caiola’s haunting tune “Experiment in Terror”, from a film score by Henry Mancini.  In the beginning, Cardille was more restrained, sticking to dress suit, tux or turtleneck while introducing films.  But by the early ‘70s he added skits, paranormal bits and loads of humor.


Chilly Billy soon brought in a recurring cast of characters such as:

“Norman the Castle Keeper” played by Norman Elder

“Stephen the Castle Prankster” played by Steven Luncinski

Amazonian zombie “Terminal Stare” played by Donna Rae

“Georgette the Fudge Maker” Bonnie Sue Barney

“Skeets Skeltino the Pizza Man”, “Sister Suzie” and “Beauregard C. Beauregard”




In 1968, Bill was asked by George Romero to play himself in the classic “Night of the Living Dead”.  He appears as Channel 11 reporter Bill Cardille, conducting an interview with Chief of Police McClelland asking about the progress of the zombie hunt.



Although WIIC was an NBC affiliate, they wouldn’t initially carry “Saturday Night Live” due to the popularity of Chilly Billy’s show.  However, eventually, in the late ‘70s they pushed back “Chiller Theater” to 1AM after SNL and there it continued to do fairly well.

Then, in ’83 they finally dropped the “host” format and went with a syndicated package called “Haunted Hollywood” in which John Carradine’s off-camera voice-over would tell the viewer to “turn down the sound… but don’t touch that dial!”.

Chilly Billy and “Chiller Theater” were allowed a final farewell to fans during the Halloween season of 1998 with a special called “Chiller Theater: One More Time”.  It featured a showing of Romero’s original “NOTLD” and George Romero was Chilly’s guest, discussing the film and how Bill and Channel 11 helped promote and produce the film thirty years earlier.  At the end of which, Chilly Billy announced his retirement and said a moving goodbye to viewers.



It’s rare when a show like this can last more than a few years and so when one goes looking for fan testimonials about the show on sites like those at the bottom of this feature, it’s kind of neat to see so many good memories.  Twenty years and these folks were having a ball making this little show, let alone the viewers watching at home.




Chilly Billy as Marvelous Maurice the Match Maker
(an extremely sensitive advice columnist):



Chilly Billy as psychic Mr. Magnificent:



They were even able to get television stars to show up for guest appearances… here’s Barbara Feldon as Agent 99:


And part of Lorne Green’s appearance:



Of Note
Joe Flaherty has acknowledged the show as an influence on his “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre” sketches on SCTV.

Cardille also appeared as himself in the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead”.  Bill’s daughter played “SaraH” in the 1985 sequel “Day of the Dead”.



Insightful Sites Cited




Monday, October 20, 2014

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN (Day 20): VAMPIRA

(Click to Vampira-Size)

Maila Nurmi moved to New York and then Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry after graduating from high school in Astoria, Oregon.

By 1944, she was fired by Mae West, allegedly because West feared being upstaged in her play “Catherine Was Great”.  On Broadway, she recieved great attention appearing in the horror-themed midnight show “Spook Scandals” in which she screamed, fainted, lay in a coffin and creeped around a mock cemetery.  She was a high-kicking showgirl at the Earl Carroll Theatre and a chorus line dancer at Florentine Gardens.


(Click to Vampira-Size)


By the ‘50s, she was supporting herself by posing for pin-up photographers for men’s magazines.  She modeled for Alberto Vargas, Bernard fo Hollywood, and Man Ray.  She had an uncredited role in Victor Saville’s film “If Winter Comes” (1947).


(Click to Nurmi-fy)


The idea for Vampira began when, in ’53, when Nurmi attended choreographer Lester Horton’s annual Bal Caribe Masquerade in a costume inspired by Morticia Addams of The New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams.  Her alluring appearance in tight black dress against her pale skin caught the attention of television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. who wanted to hire her to work for KABC-TV.






The name Vampira was the invention of Nurmi’s husband, Dean Riesner.  The chracterization of the character was influenced by the comic strip “Terry and the Pirates” and it’s character the Dragon Lady and the evil queen from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.
(It is of special note, then, that she was the model for Maleficent, the evil witch from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, in 1956.)


(Click to Vampira-Size)


And so, Vampira was the first television host of horror movies.  “The Vampira Show” premiered on May 1, 1954 after a preview entitled “Dig Me Later, Vampira” aired the previous night.  Each episode began with, well, this…



The show was an instant hit, and a month later she appeared as Vampira in a skit on “The Red Skelton Show” with Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr.  At the same time, LIFE magazine ran an article on her with a photo-spread showing her show-opening entrance.


She would then introduce the film and mock it while reclining on a skull-encrusted couch.  Her bits would be the same ones most horror hosts use to this day… puns with a macabre spin, guest-stars like her pet spider, Rollo.  She ran as a candidate for Night Mayor of Hollywood with a platform of “dead issues”.  KABC would have her cruise around in a chauffeur-driven ’32 Packard with the top down in the back seat while holding a black parasol.

(Click to Nurmi-fy)

In 1955, the show was cancelled (in the early days of TV these guys couldn’t keep a hit going for anything!), Nurmi retained the rights to the character and name and took them to rival station, KHJ-TV which gave her a show for a short period.  And that was the end of her Horror Hosting career.



Her decline in Hollywood was sharp and by 1956, when she was struggling with employment making $13 a week, she agreed to appear in Ed Wood’s movie, “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for $200.  She knew it was professional suicide.  By the ‘60s, her career was nearly nonexistent.

(Plan 9 with Bela--Click to Lugosi-splode)


She calls what happened to her a kind of “blacklist”, that for whatever reason, post war America wasn’t quite ready for what she and the Beat movement promised.  It is strange that someone could come so close to major stardom and then just drop off the map.  But then, loads of horror hosts were seemingly dropped for no good reason, so I don’t necessarily buy into that.

(Click to Goth-Punk-Out)


What did happen is that she proved the worth of local hosts with talent taking the leftovers of Hollywood and spinning it into ratings gold while making sitting home in the dark, watching movies a hell of a lot more interesting.





A very interesting article/opinion piece about Vampira here:


Sites Cited




Sunday, October 19, 2014

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN (Day 19): BOB BURNS as...



I know Bob Burns from the “It Came from Bob’s Basement” segment that used to air on the show “Sci-Fi Buzz” on the Sci-Fi Network.  The segment featured a very congenial guy named Bob showing another guy around his gigantic basement packed floor to ceiling full of costumes, props and movie memorabilia.

The New York Times stated that it could be the “premier film museum in the Los Angeles area, though it is not open to the public and has no regular hours.”  Notable contents include the last surviving 18 inch armature model used to animate the original 1933 King Kong movie, costumes of several of the Republic serials of the ‘40s, masks from several Rick Baker movies, and the original Time Machine from the George Pal film.



Bob Burns is listed as an actor, producer, consultant, interviewee, writer, archivist and historian of props.  It’s easy to say he’s an expert when it comes to films of the fantastic.


Now about Horror Hosting… Bob wasn’t necessarily a host,  more a co-conspirator on two separate hosted horror shows (Shock Theater and Theatre 13).




He and his wife, Kathy, made appearances as many different monsters on “Shock Theater” hosted by “The Host” AKA Joe Alston from 1959-60.


Upon discovering it during Bob’s stint in the Army in San Antonio, they offered to assist KENS-TV’s Shock Theater with a different monster every week, which would tie into the movie being shown, if the station would pay for supplies.  KENS agreed, ratings soared, and Bob and Kathy invented spooky skits and assorted monsters as needed.




Bob’s characters included mad doctors, lab assistants and the victims of their experiments, a village idiot, the Frankenstein monster, a wolf man, and one of his best known characters, the Mad Mummy.  Kathy played the Bride of Frankenstein, the Weird Woman, hideous hags, witches and her infamous “Miss Shock” character.


When William Castle came to San Antonio in 1959 to promote THE TINGLER, Joe Alston, Bob and Kathy Burns added to Castle’s usual antics.  They met him at the airport dressed in full werewolf and Miss Shock dress and presented him with a Skeleton Key to the City made out of actual human bones!



“Theater 13” was originally called “Jeepers Creepers Theatre” and this incarnation lasted from ’62-63.  It was hosted by Bob Guy as the character “Jeepers”.  Bob appeared on the show as “The Mad Mummy”, but mostly worked on the show as makeup and SFX artist and continued on the show after another host (Ghoulita) took over for Jeepers.







Of note…
Bob Burns appeared in “The Lucy Show” as a werewolf, “My Three Sons” as a gorilla, “Rat Pfink a Boo Boo” as Kogar the Gorilla and even in “The Ghost Busters” as Tracy the Gorilla.  He’s also appeared in many shorts and tv spots as the great ape.





Sites Cited






Finally, here’s a neat 15 minute interview and tour of some of Bob’s collection…

Saturday, October 18, 2014

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN (Day 18): CREMATIA MORTEM


Let's just say there were Technical Difficulties last night so that the Countdown had to skip a day.  We think we've cleared the gremlins out of the wires and can get back to our regularly scheduled Horror Host...



Crematia Mortem hosted “Creature Feature” from a large wicker chair on a darkened set for Kansas City’s KSHB Channel 41 from 1981-1988.  The show was also seen via cable television in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.




Roberta Solomon, a voice artist and news announcer, was the woman behind the spooky woman.  Crematia was an 800 year old “Ghostess with the Mostest” had long black hair, pale skin, wore a black dress with a purple corset.  Her voice was, in part, very Bette Davis.


Her show maintained a lightly dark Addams Family style in tone.  And with a tiny budget, creativity was a valuable commodity.  She would put a camera on a wall and have a conversation with the person she’d walled up in it.  She’d wear dinosaur slippers and stomp through a toy city while a Godzilla movie played.


Other characters populating the show were Dweeb and Rasputin (voiced by Paul Murphy, who also narrated the opening “Lock the door.  Turn out the lights.  It’s time for the Creature Feature [evil laugh]”).  Crematia’s sister Cremora (Kathy McGuckin); her mother, Desiree (C. Wayne Owens); and strange old cousin Henry (Steve Bell) also visited Crematia’s spooky castle home.



Roberta still does commercial voice work through “Voice Gal, Inc.”, her production company.  She also appears regularly as part of the sketch comedy program, “Right Between the Ears” on NPR, Sirius and XM.


Her Unofficial Fan Club can be found here:

“Voice Gal, Inc.” can be found here:



And now, a little something to horrify you:


Thursday, October 16, 2014

COUNTDOWN TO HALLOWEEN (Day 16): THE CREEP

Born Louis Ferraioli in 1928, he used the name Louis J. “Lou” Steele for his work as an announcer/actor.  And announce he did, starting out in radio at WPAT in Paterson, New Jersey.

He went to Hollywood at 21 and appeared as a contract actor in several films, including “September Affair” and “The Furies”.

By the Korean War, he was announcing for Armed Forces Radio—the voice that told the troops that President Truman had their commander, General Douglas MacArthur, removed.



Lou became an announcer for WNEW-TV 5 out of New York City in the 50s.  He gave voice to the catch phrase, coined by his colleague, Tom Gregory: “It’s 10 P.M. Do you know where your children are?”  Steel also voiced another PSA for the station: “It’s 7 P.M.  Did you hug your child today?”



As part of his job at the station he became the host for the local horror show “Creature Features” from 1969-1973.  Lou was “The Creep” who wore no special make-up or strange voice or costume typical of most horror hosts.  He simply conducted contests, trivia questions, quotes.  In the early 1980s, they brought The Creep back to host another round of “Creature Feature” movies.



Here is a fan-made video of what the opening of “Creature Features” used to look like.
It’s dedicated to the memory of Lou Steele, The Creep, hisownself!


And another fan-made opening…

And a third, and probably more accurate…



Insightful sites cited below:




Kind of frustrating how little information and how little video survives of these old shows.  But it's understandable, I guess.

To make up for it, here's something to look at...