“It’s Fright Night on Channel 8…”
As the success of the “Shock” package of films swept the country, WISH-TV Channel 8 out of Indianapolis picked it up in October of 1958 for their Friday night “Fright Night” show. But it became more often referred to by viewers as, simply, “Selwin”, for that was the name of the fellow who hosted it. Dubbed the son of Catwoman and Wolfman, the pasty host only had the claws to prove it.
Ray Sparenberg was central Indiana’s first Horror Host. Wearing ghoulish make-up inspired by the manner of Zacherley, a get-up similar to the Phantom of the Opera and with a monster laugh during his audition that actually won him the job, Sparenberg was one of the program directors at the station.
Dave Smith, another program director at WISH, had conceived of the character, the name “Selwin” had been given by the editor of an Indianapolis television magazine, and Sparenberg himself was allowed to come up with the look for the character. The look changed a bit from time to time as what worked was discerned. Big rubber claw gloves were discarded due to them being cumbersome, for example.
An immediate success and quickly gaining heavy sponsorship, Selwin debuted on WISH in late 1958. When his fan club “Selwin’s Society of the Shroud” was announced the station was swamped with requests for membership cards.
In ’59 it was decided that Selwin would host a live costume contest for Halloween at the height of his popularity. Since the show was shot live from a small theatre at the WISH-TV studio, the station figured it could handle a couple hundred people and so viewers were invited to participate. Soon thousands arrived in costume with lines stretching for many blocks along downtown Indianapolis. To accommodate everyone, groups of 300-400 were allowed in the studio for 15-20 minutes.
Smith would write the scripts, Sparenberg would put them into the teleprompter and the show was then shot between 7-9pm and then telecast at 11:15pm that same night. Sparenberg usually stuck close to the script, but one evening his most famous ad lib happened when Vampira was on as a guest. She and Selwin were about to have a drink when the vampy ghoul kept talking until Selwin interrupted her with, “Better drink it darling, before it clots!”
By 1961, Selwin had changed his look to that of a Jungle Jim type with khakis and a pith helmet and he was hosting a package of Tarzan and other jungle related films. In ’62 it was science fiction films to host and so Selwin went into space in a $7.95 government surplus astronaut suit.
In 1963 Selwin’s show went off the air and around that time Sammy Terry began hosting scary movies on WTTV-TV Channel 4, another area horror host was taking up the torch.
Selwin’s sign-off was equal parts Zacherley and Jimmy Durante…
“Good night… whatever you are.”
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