You’re Gonna Make It After All: RIP Mary Tyler Moore

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She was America’s TV sweetheart in the 60’s and 70’s. Beautiful and talented Mary Tyler Moore has passed away at age 80, her smile no longer brightening this world. Mary was Laura Petrie, the perky and perfect suburban housewife on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, then broke new ground as single career girl Mary Richards on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, both seminal sitcoms from television’s Golden Age of Comedy.

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Born in Brooklyn Heights in 1936, Mary became a dancer as a teen, and got her first show business break as ‘Happy Hotpoint’, a tiny dancing elf in TV commercials for Hotpoint stoves. Her next break got her noticed, playing the sexy secretary on RICHARD DIAMOND PRIVATE DETECTIVE, which starred David Janssen. Mary never fully appeared on the show, only her smoky voice and dancer’s legs, and viewers were left to speculate on the rest of the package.

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Then came THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1961-66), a sophisticated (for its time) half hour about a comedy writer, based on Carl Reiner’s experiences working for Sid Caesar. Laura Petrie was, like Mary, a former dancer who met husband Rob while working for the USO. Mary’s singing and dancing skills were sometimes on display, but it was her comic timing with partner Van Dyke that earned her an Emmy for Best Actress. The pair was pure gold together, and they reunited several times after the series ended its run, including a memorable 2003 PBS adaptation of the stage hit THE GIN GAME.

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Mary made a few movies following THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, most notably 1967’s THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE with Julie Andrews and 1969’s CHANGE OF HABIT, Elvis Presley’s final film. She returned to the small screen in 1970, headlining her own sitcom THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. As Mary Richards, a thirtysomething single girl who moves to Minneapolis and lands a job as associate producer of the local Six O’clock News program on fictional WJM, she was an independent working woman paying her own way through life, something rarely seen on weekly TV. The show featured what’s possibly the best supporting cast in sitcom history: there was gruff boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), newswriter Murray Slaughter (Gavin McLeod), sarcastic neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), bubbleheaded anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), man-hungry ‘Happy Homemaker’ Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), upwardly mobile neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Ted’s sweet, naïve wife Georgette (Georgia Engel). All had the chance to strut their comedic stuff while level-headed Mary was the glue that held it all together. The series won 29 Emmys during its seven-year run, including three for Mary herself.

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Mary never made it big in feature films, though she did receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination as the icy, uptight mother of a suicide victim in 1980’s ORDINARY PEOPLE, Robert Redford’s directorial debut. Television was her home, and she starred in popular TV movies like FIRST YOU CRY (1978), HEARTSOUNDS (1984, with James Garner), FINNEGAN BEGIN AGAIN (1985, with Robert Preston), and the 1988 miniseries LINCOLN, playing Mary Todd Lincoln opposite Sam Waterson’s President. She proved herself as adept at drama as she was with comedy in these roles. She had an abrupt change of pace in 2001’s LIKE MOTHER LIKE SON: THE STRANGE STORY OF SANTE AND KENNY KIMES, based on the true story of a murderous grifter and her equally homicidal son. But it’s still as America’s TV Sweetheart she’ll fondly be remembered for, the girl who “could turn the world on with her smile, who could take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seems worthwhile”. Sweet dreams, Mary.

Halloween TV Havoc!: LIZARD’S LEG AND OWLET’S WING (“ROUTE 66”, 1962)

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The TV series ROUTE 66 followed the adventures of two young men (Martin Milner, George Maharis) as they cruised the fabled highway in their spiffy Corvette. The 1962 Halloween episode featured a special treat for horror fans, with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney Jr. guesting as themselves. The three screen ghouls are debating the value of their old Gothic-style chillers vs the modern, “adult” horrors like PSYCHO. Karloff makes his final appearance in his Frankenstein makeup, while Lon dons the Wolf Man and Mummy makeups once again (and his dad’s Hunchback, too!). If you’re a classic horror lover, you’re absolutely gonna LOVE watching this Trio of Terror Titans (especially Chaney!) in “LIZARD’S LEG AND OWLET’S WING”:

(Also in the cast are Betsy Jones-Mooreland (Corman’s THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH), Martita Hunt (GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA), veteran Conrad Nagel (whose nephew Don co-starred in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER), and rumor has it that’s Lon’s real-life grandson Ron in the opening scene.)

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Halloween Havoc! Extra: Farewell to ‘The Cool Ghoul’, Zacherley

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John Zacherle passed away October 27 at the age of 98. Younger readers may not understand the significance of this, but to Monster Kids like me it’s another reminder of the rapid passing of time. For John Zacherle, under the guise of an undertaker named Zacherley, was the TV horror host who set the standard for all the local horror hosts to come, influencing generations of horror fans to this day hosting public domain flicks on the internet and local cable access channels.

John Zacherle the man was born September 26, 1918 in Philidelphia, PA. After serving in WWII, he acted in local theater companies, until landing a gig as “Roland” in 1957, hosting the city’s SHOCK THEATER package of Universal horror films. What set him apart was the skits he performed on the show, gruesome little comic parodies from his crypt with his dead wife and a lab assistant named Igor (what else?). Roland became somewhat of a phenomenon in Philly, and his good friend Dick Clark (hosting another local show, AMERICAN BANDSTAND) helped him get a record out called “Dinner With Drac”, predating Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” by four years:

The record hit #6 on the Billboard charts, and Roland’s success caught the eye of TV execs in New York. He soon moved to The Big Apple, changing his moniker from Roland to Zacherely but keeping his ghoulish black humor. As Zacherley, he hosted the NYC version of SHOCK THEATER, followed by ZACHERLEY AT LARGE and CHILLER THEATER. The Cool Ghoul (a nickname bestowed upon him by Clark) even hosted a teen dance party show titled DISC-O-TEEN, as you’ll see in this rare 1967 Halloween clip with The Box Tops (featuring the immortal Alex Chilton!):

Zach was also a radio DJ and hosted rock shows in Central Park and at the fabled Fillmore East. Later in life, he made cameos in cult films like FRANKENHOOKER and DR. TERROR’S EROTIC HOUSE OF IDIOTS, and was a regular on the East Coast Horror Con circuit, interacting with and signing autographs for his legion of fans right up until last year. John Zacherle is gone now, but his influence lives on in horror hosts across America, from Penny Dreadful to Dr. Gangrene to Karlos Borloff to Me-TV’s Svengoolie. I was planning on doing a write-up on one of my favorite 70’s hosts, Simon of Boston’s SIMON’S SANCTORUM until I heard the news of Zacherley’s passing. Simon will have to wait until next year’s ‘Halloween Havoc!’. I’m sure he’d understand.

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Here’s the cover of Zacherley’s LP “MONSTER MASH”. I had this as a young Monster Kid (wish I still did!), and besides the title tune and “Dinner With Drac”, my favorite cut was a murderous little ditty called “Gravy (with some cyanide)”. Thanks for helping to warp my impressionable mind, Zach!!! 

Halloween TV Havoc!: GHOST STORY “Elegy for a Vampire” (1972)

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NBC-TV tried to bring a horror anthology series back to prime time during the 1972-73 season with GHOST STORY, executive produced by the one-and-only William Castle . Sebastian Cabot played Winston Essex, introducing the tales from haunted Mansfield House hotel. GHOST STORY had great writers, including Richard Matheson (who helped develop the concept), Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Henry Slesar, and Hammer vet Jimmy Sangster, some good directors (Richard Doner, John Llewelyn Moxey, Robert Day), and a plethora of Hollywood talent: Karen Black, Kim Darby, Angie Dickinson, Melvyn Douglas, Patty Duke, Jodie Foster, Helen Hayes, Tab Hunter, John Ireland, Janet Leigh, Patricia Neal, Jason Robards, Gena Rowlands, Martin Sheen, and William Windom.

Despite all this, the show got clobbered in the ratings by the CBS FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE and ABC’s comedy duo of ROOM 222 and THE ODD COUPLE. A mid-season title change to CIRCLE OF FEAR (dropping the Cabot segments in the process) didn’t help, and the series ended after 22 episodes. The following episode “Elegy for a Vampire” is about a killer on campus who drains his victims of their blood, leaving two puncture wounds on their necks! Here’s Hal (BARNEY MILLER) Linden, Mike (M*A*S*H) Farrell, Marilyn Mason, and Arthur O’Connell  in “Elegy for a Vampire”, written by Elizabeth Walter and directed by Don McDougall:

Halloween Havoc! Extra: A Brief Interlude with Tor Johnson on His Birthday

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Ed Wood’s favorite ghoul, Tor Johnson was born on this date in 1903. The wrestler-turned-actor (long before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!) began appearing in films in the 1930’s in bit parts before being cast as Bela Lugosi’s henchman Lobo in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, and becoming one of horror’s iconic characters (so iconic, a Halloween mask created by Don Post in Tor’s likeness became Post’s biggest seller ever!).

In 1959, Tor made an appearance on Groucho Marx’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE quiz show. The acerbic Groucho needled the former “Super Swedish Angel”, and as you can see in this clip, TOR NOT LIKE FUNNY LITTLE MAN!:

Happy birthday, Tor!!

 

Halloween TV Havoc!: THE MILTON THE MONSTER SHOW

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The Monster Boom of the 1960’s saw kids of all ages craving their horror fix, and television supplied us with a steady stream of Monstermania. There were creepy comedies (THE MUNSTERS, THE ADDAMS FAMILY), anthologies (THRILLER, THE OUTER LIMITS), and monsters galore lurking on LOST IN SPACE and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. Even Saturday mornings cartoons weren’t safe, as ABC-TV began running THE MILTON THE MONSTER SHOW in 1965.

MILTON THE MONSTER was a limited-animation series about a man-made monster (ala Frankenstein) created in vat by Professor Weirdo and his sidekick Count Kook. Weirdo accidentally spills too much “tincture of tenderness” into the mix, resulting in a too-gentle monster who sounded a lot like Gomer Pyle. Milton’s fellow monsters were Heebie & Jeebie, the former a top-hatted skeleton who talked like Peter Lorre, the latter a hairy, one-eyed, snaggle-toothed goofball. Professor Fruitcake was their rival, the mad scientist next door always at odds with Weirdo and company.

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The show featured two other cartoon segments.  “Fearless Fly” was an insect superhero, and “Fluky Luke” a clumsy cowboy sleuth who got by on sheer luck. All the voices were done by talented Bob McFadden, who also voiced the cartoon spy spoof COOL MCCOOL, and was the Snarf in THUNDERCATS, as well as the original voice in the ads for the monstrous breakfast cereal Frankenberry.

And now it’s cartoon time, with Milton the Monster and friends in “Zelda the Zombie”:

And just for kicks, here’s an episode of Fearless Fly as he battles arch-enemy Dr. Goo-Fee and his invisible assistant Gung-Ho: