Thursday, November 26, 2015


Anyone who has ever read my drivel, knows that even though I can be formidably articulate, there are times when even I have trouble trying to put a name to certain things. This does not include the time I was learning how to swear, which every good Scot does by the age of oh, say, nine years of age, lest you shame your family. I remember that episode distinctly.

I was trying to describe a picture of a smiling dog I had seen in one rag or another. Flailing around for words, and even though I was pretty wordy for a nine year old, I had finally run out of descriptors for this smiling dog. I stuttered and stammered for a moment and then blurted out, “It sure was damn lookin'!” My dad, without skipping a beat, retorted “Well, I'll be hell!” My mom piped up, “And this is why little Mary can't swear!” A warm family moment.

Christmas of 1956. I'm already saying "pee-pee and ca-ca". I'm one year old and already swearing up a blue streak. Note the festive holiday baby talcum powder to my mom's right.

But, during those years of growing up, my father and sporadically, my mother, enjoyed watching horrible movies or TV shows and tearing them apart, as we watched. We invariably ended up rolling around on the floor in laughter. I have to say that my father took much more delight in this activity than my mother. I suspect she was laughing at the two idiots watching dreck and amusing themselves to the point of apoplexy.

My dad in his B-29 in the Korean War. He went on to become a CPA and work with logistical military contractors. You'd think he was a serious person. He was anything but. Once, when he accompanied me to SFO for a flight, he started walking backward on the "horizontal people mover". A business man ran into him and shouted, "Sir, why don't you go play somewhere else!" Neither of us were shamed by this.  
Probably one of the most memorable moments I have, aside from my father moaning along with the soundtrack from “Hercules Unchained” or some generic sand-and-sandals epic, is the time we were watching “The Creeping Terror” which was being hosted by the late, great Bob Wilkins, who for many years, appeared on the Saturday night “Creature Features” out of San Francisco. His prologues prior to any of his movies were memorable and the one for “The Creeping Terror” had my father and I in absolute pants-peeing glee. Bob warned his audience not to leave house plants around the tv during the film, as they might die. He also cautioned us not to have any open fires (in the house?) while viewing, as we might all fall asleep and the house would burn down.

My mom; another pilot. I'm not sure what's up with that. I loathe flying. And whoever took this picture was a whole lot braver than I was. My dad was actually a wonderful pilot, but God looked out for my Mom. She would crab and yaw down a runway on takeoff and it would take her forever. Her landings were worse. I always swore she was going to go into the ground like a lawn dart. I always pulled up lame, or had to wax my viola on the days she flew.

He also mentioned the “quality” production values of this fine opus; the stock footage of a Mercury rocket ship being launched, only the film was run backward, to depict the aliens “landing” on earth, so that you see the rocket flames going UP into the ship. Check with your local physicist on that one. He also told everyone about how the soundtrack was lost and the script was lost, although Wikipedia tells me that there never was a script, and a narrator was hired post-production to tell us about what we were seeing, because we are complete morons. Well, that's debatable, since we're watching THIS tripe. 

I have had this burning question for nearly four decades. Just what in the hell are those things? They look like radiator hoses to me.

There are huge spans of time in the film with no dialog, no narration, no nothing. And so on. We proceeded to watch the film and it exceeded our expectations! My dad and I rolled around on the floor, lost our breaths, got cramps in our cheeks. We cried and rolled around some more. At one point, my dad said “I can't believe someone made this shit!” My mom, perched on her bar stool in the living room and half in the bag, said “I can't believe you're watching this shit!” Another warm family moment!

I can't believe someone made this shit! I guess it's a “Creeping Terror” ashtray. Who doesn't want to display this at a dinner party, or at some swanky soiree. I cried for 15 minutes over this. Some people have no taste and God! How I love them for it!

I can remember doing this as far back as 1960 or 1961, when we lived in Muskegon, Michigan. This would have predated “Fractured Flickers”, a live action show created by Jay Ward, who is responsible for having visited upon us “Rocky and Bullwinkle”. Now, my parents LOVED “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and I loved it because it was a cartoon. The reason my folks loved “Rocky and Bullwinkle” so much, is because, as I later found out as an adult, the show is subversive as hell, with badly-drawn graphics and snarky goings-on. As a matter of fact, my folks watched every show that Jay Ward ever produced. “Rocky” has really held up over the test of time and is still as entertaining as ever. But back to “Fractured Flickers”.

We never missed Bob Wilkins' "Creature Features" on Saturday nights, broadcast on KTVU out of Oakland, California. He often showed excellent movies; Hammer classics and his show was expanded to a double feature. He premiered the original "Night of the Living Dead" and regularly beat out "Saturday Night Live" in the ratings.

Fractured Flickers” was a live-action show, produced again, by Jay Ward and hosted by Hans Conreid who was hysterical. “Flickers” stayed true to Ward's sense of humor, using one-liners and puns and carefully dubbing the dialog over silent films. The show was at its funniest when it desecrated early melodramas, such as Victor Hugo's “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, with Lon Chaney, Sr., calling him “Dinky Dunstan, Boy Cheerleader”. The show itself was not above making fun of itself, as we witnessed Hans Conreid himself say “This is what we'll be doing for the next several weeks-or until someone finds out.” This was early days for television, and I do remember my father waiting like a hawk for the new episodes to come out. Unfortunately, only tweny-six episodes were produced; we watched them over and over until we pretty much had them memorized. But we still had our horrible movies to watch. It was much later that we saw “The Creeping Terror” and so many others. Nothing was sacrosanct and we had an amazing time doing this.

Apparently, ours was not the only family doing this crazy thing, because up in Minnesota, an enterprising and surprisingly funny magician, named Joel Hodgson came up with a little show called “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. It premiered on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 1998 and later was picked up by Comedy Central, which is where I found it in 1990. I was living in Dearborn, Michigan and playing viola at the time, and when I first saw this show, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Unfortunately, I didn't have a dad to share this craziness with; he died in 1987. He would have loved this show.

"The Mads" as Joel and later Mike Nelson, referred to TV's Frank and Dr. ClaytonForrester, played by Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu.

Hodgson's influences include “Mad Movies With the LA Connection” and the “Canned Film Festival”, both of which lasted only a season. When he first conceived of the show, he enlisted the help of a couple of local area comics Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein, along with producer Jim Mallon to help him shoot the pilot. Hodgson reverted to university days and pulled an all-nighter to build the robots and the sets. The following day, they filmed a 30-minute pilot. The camera work was done by Kevin Murphy, who worked at the station, KTMA, where the show first debuted. The robots were not in the “theater” with Hodgson; it hadn't been built yet, so Joel interacted with them in between segments. Crow was voiced by Beaulieu, Beeper and Gypsy by Weinstein.

Joel and the robots, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo.

Kevin Murphy also designed the “theater seating” and the door sequences for the show. Jim Mallon was able to meet with the station manager for KTMA, Donald O'Conner (apparently, song and dance was no longer working for him-jk) and persuade him to sign up “Mystery Science Theater” (The “3000”) was added later.

Joel and Mike Nelson, who took over for Joel, midway through season 5.

MST3K” debuted on November 24, 1988, with its first episode “Invaders From the Deep” and ran for the initial 13 episodes, which were expanded to 21. At first, no one at KTMA knew what the viewers response would be, so Mallon set up a phone line for viewers to call in on. The response was tremendous and plans were made for a live show.

In spite of the show's wild success, it was canceled, due to the station's overall declining fortunes, so a “best of” reel was prepared and sent to then-Comedy Channel, which merged with HA in “MST3K”'s second season and became Comedy Central. The rest is pretty much history, and is where I first saw it and loved it immediately.

I started making tapes of some of the shows when I was a touring musician and these were always a big hit on the bus. By the time this happened, I had relocated to Florida and had pretty much left the symphonic world behind. I was a free-range violist and that means, lots and lots of time on buses. The bus rides became the highlights of our tours, because we all had such gut-busting fun with “Samson vs the Vampire Women”, “Pod People”, and yes, “The Creeping Terror” among others. I played with several touring orchestras and troupes and I have to say that we would sometimes have conductors who had no birds in their cages.

Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Mike Nelson. Three of the original MST3K'ers.

The conductor always sits up in front by the driver. Most conductors I know would love to be driving the bus, and I'd be happy to let 'em, if it kept them off the podium. This particular conductor was more cretinous than most that I've dealt with, plus he had that extra layer of poseur that made him soooo not-delightful. After one screamingly-funny riff by Joel Hodgson and the bots and the bus is in an uproar and we're finally settling down, what do we hear from Our Conductor? “This film would be a whole lot better without those three guys down in front!” The film? “Manos Hands of Fate”; Happy Thanksgiving day everyone! Enjoy the Marathon! Comments are welcome! What is your favorite MST3K episode and are you happy about the reboot?

The Kickstarter is moving along, as you can see. You can also watch the Turkey Day Marathon here or at the website!

NOTE: I'll deal with RiffTrax in a later post. I wasn't aware for the longest time that they are the same crew for the most part as MST3K, but I'm a violist, and that's a primary requirement: Permanent confusion. I have it trade-marked: Confuse-a-what

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