The Horror Host Tradition of the Old Dominion
Though it could not have been anticipated in 2008 when the idea was first launched, Horse Archer's documentary on Virginia's television horror movie hosts, Virginia Creepers, has led to a string of fan supported projects.
The original film covered the extensive history of Virginia and Washington DC area monster movie hosts who kept kids and adults entertained and maybe just a little bit creeped out on the Commonwealth airwaves from 1958 to the present. During the research phase of the production, several otherwise "lost" hosts were recovered, including "Jonathan" on Roanoke's WSLS whose show began in February of 1958. Forgotten photos, audio recordings and some surviving tape from shows going back over 50 years found their way into the film, which was an official selection of the 2009 Virginia Film Festival and a special invitation to Miami's SuperCon. Watch it online here.
Hi There, Horror
The film also sparked a renewed interest in on particular host, The Bowman Body (a.k.a. Bill Bowman). Bill played the character on three different channels from 1970-1987, but is best remembered for his original run on WXEX (now WRIC) in the Richmond market. At one point, his show was beating Johnny Carson on Friday nights with more than half of central Virginia's televisions tuned in to the BIG 8.
Bowman's devoted fans wanted more, so Horse Archer produced a sequel documentary, Hi There, Horror Movie Fans (Bowman's tagline) in 2011. Working from the material left over from Virginia Creepers, the film tracked down old cast members, fans and all the surviving footage for a 90 minute documentary that inspired a rebirth of the Bowman Body. T-shirts, posters and even new episodes taped in front of a live audience in 2015 can all be found on the official Bowman Body website.
Shock Theater Revivals
With the Bowman Body documentary, a slew of revival projects cropped up beginning with a Facebook group for new projects called The Bowman Body Appreciation Society and Preservation League. Posters, T-shirts and new film projects including two new episodes of Shock Theater hosted by Bill Bowman, The Bowman Body. Former cast members, current horror hosts and enthusiastic fans (including one person with actual theatrical training!) assembled before a live audience at the Ashland Theater in Ashland, VA to create the bumpers for House on Haunted Hill featuring Vincent Price and City of the Dead (a.k.a. Horror Hotel) with Christopher Lee. To learn more about these projects and order copies, go to www.thebowmanbody.com.
And if that is not enough, a fifth project is in the works a Bowman Body Halloween Cartoon Special called "Mark of the Ghoul." Stay tuned!
Above: The lobby card for Virginia Creepers, which featured the same image only sideways on the DVD. Below: The trailer/music video for the film.
NOTE: This page pays special attention to shows and hosts no longer in production as a effort to record and preserve their contribution to TV history. For hosts who are still on the air or the web, we provide a shorter synopsis and invite you to visit their websites.
Years Host (Player) Show Titles/Station
1952-55 Bob Dalton Tales of the Black Cat WTOP 9 Washington D.C.
1958-59 "Jonathan" (John Willett) Nightmare Theater WSLS 10 Roanoke, VA
1958-59 "Ghoulda" (Geri Chronowit) Shock! Theater WRVA 12 Richmond, VA
1959-62 "Hazel Witch" (Anna Inge) Shock! Theater WRVA 12 Richmond, VA
1959-68 "Ronald the Ghoul" (Jerry Sandford) Shock Theater WVEC 13 Hampton VA
1962-65 C. J. "Tiny" Thompson Saturday Theater WSLS 10 Roanoke, VA
1967-69 "The Great Zucchini" (Bill Miller) Supernatural Theatre WDCA 20 Washington, D. C.
1970-71 "Sir Graves Ghastly" (Lawson Deming) Sir Graves Presents WTOP 9 Washinton, D. C.
1970-87 "The Bowman Body" (Bill Bowman) Shock Theatre WXEX 8 Petersburg, VA (1970-76)
Cobweb Theatre WVIR 29 Charlottesville, VA (1977-78)
Monsterpiece Theatre WNVC 56 Fairfax, VA (1981-87)
1973-Present "Count Gore De Vol" (Dick Dyszel) Creature Feature WDCA 20 Washington, D. C. (1973-78/84-87)
Creature Feature, The Weekly Web Program (1998-present)
1973-1977 "Mr. Slime" (Howard Meagle 73-75) Slime Theater WVIR-29 Charlottesville, VA
"Dr. Sludge" (Pat Bauley 75-77)
1974 "The Count & The Invisible Man" House of Horrors, WRLU 27 Roanoke, VA
1975-present "Dr. Madblood" (Jerry Harrell) Dr. Madblood's Movie, WAVY 10 Hampton Roads (1975-1981)
Dr. Madblood's Nightvisions, WHRO 15 Hampton-Norfolk (1982)
Dr. Madblood's Movie, WTVZ 33 Norfolk (1989-2002)
Dr. Madblood Presents, WSKY-TV 4 (2002-07)
Halloween specials, WHRO 15 (1984-present)
1984-1986 "The Keeper" (Rick Clark) Chamber Theatre, WVEC 13 Hampton, VA
1988-1995 "Dr. Gruesome" (Mark Bartholomew) Dr. Gruesome's Movie Morgue, WRLH 35 Richmond, VA (1988-90/93-95)
& "Skeeter" (Matt Pak)
Dr. Gruesome's Movie Morgue, BLAB-TV Richmond, VA (1990-92)
1995 - Present Dr. Sarcofiguy (John Dimes) Spooky Movie, Channel 12, Fairfax, VA
2002-2003 Mr. Lobo (Mr. Lobo) Cinema Insomnia, Cox Cable, Hampton - Norfolk, VA
2006 - Present Karlos Borloff (Jerry Moore) Monster Madhouse, Fairfax Channel 12
2009 - Present Bobby Gammonster Monster Movie Night, www.monstermovienight.com
Tales of the Black Cat with
Bob Dalton 1952-1955
WTOP 9 Washington, D. C.
Was D.C.'s Bob Dalton actually the first local television horror host, preceding even Vampira? It is an intriguing idea, and little information remains, but a case can be made if we untangle the scant evidence.
The trail begins at WCBS in New York which produced a show sponsored by the Ford Motor Company called "Tales of the Black Cat" in 1950, beginning on December 5 of that year according to William Hawes' book, Live Television Drama, 1946-1951. Notifications in Billboard from 1951 reveal several important clues to what it actually was--and clues are important because even IMDB does not even have a listing and it gets only passing reference in TV history texts.
First, it was a 30 minute pre-recorded show featuring short horror, suspense and mystery films hosted by James Monks and a black cat dubbed Thanotopsis. Secondly, it was intended for national syndication, though the breadth of its reach is untraceable. Finally, it was trialed and sponsor renewed for several four week periods until May of '51 when it was announced they had "run out of films" and New York Ford dealers switched their sponsorship to Boston Blackie on WNBT.
Then, on February 8, 1952, a curious help-wanted announcement appeared in the Washington Post (see right--make of the opening line what you will . . .) for a feline with attitude to aid WTOP studio talent Bob Dalton as he hosted a new show, called . . . Tales of the Black Cat.
The following day, February 9th, Bob appeared with his own Thanatopsis for the first time and according to Jim Silman, the floor producer of the show, it was a simple affair. Bob appeared in a black leotard with the cat on a stool and did the commercial breaks. But Silman was adamant that he was hosting films, opening and closing bumpers and a bridge between.
In addition to that, DC area TV chronicler Bob Bell uncovered the following, proving that Dalton's show lasted much longer than the NYC show running from February 1952 to September 27, 1953 in various time slots and even in a brief one hour version.
There is one more mention of the show in Dalton's 1986 interview with the Washington Post, a story retold in his 1999 obituary:
In one notable assignment in 1953, he was host of a clutch of horror movies that the station had programmed under the title of "The Black Cat." In introducing the films, Mr. Dalton was clad in a black leotard. On his lap, to enhance the atmosphere of fright, was Thanatopsis, a large black cat.
Switching on the brilliant television lights made the animal nervous. Inevitably, on one show, the cat answered the call of nature. On another, it dug long claws through Mr. Dalton`s leotard and into his thighs. Years later, Mr. Dalton remembered with amusement that the cat earned a $5 talent fee for each show. Mr. Dalton received no extra pay.
"It's been a lot of comfort for me that I have outlasted that cat," he said long afterward.
So was Bob Dalton technically America's first local TV horror host? Since James Monks was apparently part of a bid for a nationally syndicated show, the local aspect may have been a de facto truth but not by design. It is likely, however, that Dalton's show reused the old film content from the original version and certainly was not showing full length features even in its brief one month incarnation as an hour long program. Hosted features would definitely not appear until 1954 with Vampira on KABC in Los Angeles, and of course, radio horror had hosts going back several decades before. But, if you require a host, a film and a local audience for the definition, Bob Dalton's show fits that bill.
Nightmare Theater With "Jonathan"
1958-1959 WSLS 10 Roanoke, Va
Horror hosting officially began in the Commonwealth of Virginia on February 8, 1958. The show, Nightmare Theater was hosted by "Jonathan," a.k.a John Willett and it appeared on Roanoke's WSLS, Channel 10 on Saturday AND Sunday nights at 11:05 . . . after the traditional 5 minute news round up was concluded.
In a familiar story, WSLS acquired the Shock Theater package and the station staff wanted to do something special with the format.
Dick Burton who produced and directed Nightmare Theater, said in our interviews that as far as they knew, they were the only show of their kind in the country, having never heard of Vampira or Zacherle or the like. "Everything we did, we dreamed up," said Burton. "We had nothing to copy."
Burton, Willett and station artist, Scotty Doyle got together to design the set and create the tone of the series and drawing vaguely from the Addams Family cartoons, they put together a show that would go out live on Saturday evenings. A few hours before the show, Willet and Burton would dream up ideas and put them into action, including two camera special effects. And there was no oversight, so they could do whatever they could put together.
Using a pan of water and an overlapping camera trick, they created a wavy ripple effect for their viewers. On another occasion, using Burton as a body double, they separated Jonathan's head from his body, floating it around the room for an astounded audience.
Above: John Willett played the creepy "Jonathan. Image provided by the Willett family.
Jonathan's character was something of a "dignified" manor squire with a deference for dear old "Mother," seen in the picture on the wall. She never made an appearance, but asserted her influence routinely. There were very few commercials and the program was allowed to run so Jonathan could converse with the portrait limited interruptions.
The show was very popular, but ended after one year. This may have been partly because the entire catalog of films was exhausted quickly with showings on Saturday and Sunday (though no hosting was done Sunday.) In those days, it was common for shows to run one year and then be replaced, and for some reason, in February of 1959, the station began running westerns in that timeslot.
As far as we know, Geri Chronowit (now Geri Roberts) was the first female horror movie host in the state for Richmond's Shock! Theater on Channel 12, which then went by WRVA. Shock was showing double features starting a few months before, but had not put a host on screen until June, when Chronowit first donned her gown and make up as Ghoulda in May of 1958.
She had an invisible husband named Darling, a werewolf Uncle David, a dead son named Lucifer and eventually a black cat. She was very popular and it was a real Shock! so to speak when the show announced that she had suddenly left to get married, changing her name to Roberts. (For three weeks, the show was left with "Destiny," played without fanfare by Thalheimer's Teenage Dance Party host, Roy Lamont, and then for a few weeks it had no host until Anna Inge took over as Hazel Witch.)
The show, which had reasonably good production values, was done in a corner of the studio live. Chronowit said she developed Ghoulda to be glamorous at first, but the WRVA brass wanted her to look ugly. So, the original image was changed to the one seen in the second picture. According to Chronowit, they gradually piled on make up that took hours to apply and longer to remove.
Chronowit was unsure exactly how the station chose her to play this role but she believes it may have been someone overhearing a cackling, maniacal laugh she says she played around with in her theater work.
While there were a number of off-screen and unseen characters, there was one recurring figure in the dark abode of Ghoulda--a black cat. The first cat, Empress, was the pet of the director and Geri would pick her up each Friday afternoon and return her to her home on Sunday, which the cat was not fond of. In fact, on one occasion the stress was too much to bear and Empress expressed her anxiety in Geri's car in a most unpleasant way.
A few months after the show started, however, Empress had a black kitten who became a part of the show and played right along on camera. This cat, Vampris, was named in a contest and Geri recalled at one point, while looking through the want ads in the paper for a "House to Haunt," Vampris decided she should help and came over and read the paper with her.
Part of Ghoulda's shtick was to mock the headlines and the pop culture of the day and in many ways worked very hard to make sure her themes were consistent with the themes of the movie. This made her very popular as a host and she got plenty of fan mail including a special Valentine card with a heart . . . that is the organ . . . on the front and the letter she reads in the audio clip that accompanies this page (file courtesy of Richard Webb, world's #1 Ghoulda fan.)
She was also very popular with kids and awarded various badges for them. She found out just how crazy the kids were about her at a Halloween promotion where she made a public appearance and the little monsters literally began mauling her and tearing her clothes.
It was her last public appearance in character.
On June 17, Geri Chronowit Roberts left this world after battling a series of ailments. She was too ill to do a taped interview in 2009 but at that time she expressed her wonderment that the show was remembered at all, let alone that it was so important to so many viewers.
Shock! Theater With "Ghoulda"
1958-1959 WRVA 12 Richmond, Va
Above: This photo, provided by Bryant Sherron, shows both the original makeup and the set. Note that the "Teenage Dance Party" set can be seen in the background and "family portraits" hanging in behind the host.
Below: The "uglied-up" makeup of Ghoulda's second incarnation, provided by her biggest fan, Richard Webb.
Shock! Theater With "Hazel Witch"
1958-1959 WRVA 12 Richmond, Va
As mentioned above, Hazel Witch appeared a few months after Ghoulda (Geri Chronowit Roberts) left WRVA's Shock! Theater in 1959 to get married. For a few weeks, there was a fill in named "Destiny," who was not very compelling and then a period without a host until Anna Inge stepped up to plate and created a very different, very wild, over the top character.
Whereas Ghoulda had been understated and dark, Hazel billed herself as the "Last of the Red Hot Mamas," claiming a long line of iconoclastic witches in her family tree. She had a butler named Jeeves and a son named Franklin who appeared on the set with her, and she frequently drove around in a 1913 Ford provided by a local dealership for the show and appearances.
Of course, for personal transportation, she was a modern witch and had traded in her broom for a vacuum cleaner. In fact, she routinely harped on modernization and not being an old hag as part of her shtick.
With oddly garish makeup and outlandish custom-made hats from Thalheimers (including a New Year's Eve hat that featured a live mouse), she would cackle and throw out her catch phrase, "Hi precious!" with and exaggerated wink to people everywhere. According to Anna, as the show caught on, she would commonly find herself out on a date and people would come up to her and say, "Hi precious!"
She did a tremendous number of personal appearances from ball games to restaurants to store openings. Her autograph was very much in demand and the station kept her incredibly busy. She attributes a good deal of the success to the engagement with the community and it was common for her to come on at night and begin with commentary about the day's news before launching into what had been planned.
Initially, they just did an intro for the film, but soon they began working on elaborate skits in between segments of the movies. She scripted her own shows and brought on guests like the mayor of Richmond and her own mother who removed her teeth on camera and scolded her for abandoning the broom.
Her shows were taped week to week (though no footage is known to survive), and included an opening that featured her flying over the city on the vacuum. She also tried to make some connection to the movie each weekend, claiming most of the subjects of the films were former boyfriends.
In the end, the show exhausted Anna. She was the producer and director of women's show as well and like many people at the time, she did many jobs as needed. However, as a woman, she was getting paid exactly half of her male counterparts and she found it was wearing her down beyond the compensation.
In 1961, she moved to Dayton, Ohio, to live with relatives while she saved enough money to move back to New York to return to musical comedy. However, there she met Gordon Jump of (WKRP in Cincinnati fame) and moved to California where she lives today.
UPDATE: Footage of Anna Inge in costume from the early 1960s has surfaced! This is apparently home movie style silent footage but it is in color! Hazel Witch appears at the 1:56 mark and plays to the camera for a few minutes solo and with Dave Davis (aka Cactus Pete), at one point switching costumes until close to the 7:30 mark. Check it out to the left!
There are number of remarkable things in the footage (including color footage of the studio technology, Roy Lamont (Teenage Dance Party host and temporary horror host as "Destiny") and the one and only Sailor Bob. But, for our purposes, the chance to see Ms. Inge in costume, in action AND in color is hard to beat. Unfortunately, this was not available to us during the production of the film, but we are very happy to have stumbled on it.
Above: Anna Inge as Hazel Witch in her garish makeup with a trademark wink. Below: Her butler Jeeves and the 1913 Ford loaned to the show for special appearances. Both publicity shots courtesy of Ms. Inge.
Shock! Theater With "Ronald"
1959-1968 WVEC 13 Hampton Va
Back on Friday night, November 13, 1959, "Ronald" first rose from a coffin at 11:30 bringing Shock! Theater to the Tidewater area of Virginia. In fact, Shock! debuted the night WVEC . . . Channel 13 . . . first aired on that frequency. Since the debut of Channel 13 was on Friday the 13th, it seemed a natural thing to take advantage of their package of vintage horror classics with a horror hosted show.
After a little thought, creator and main ghoul Jerry Sandford, felt "Ronald" might be a nice southern counterpart to Philly's Roland (a.k.a. John Zacherle' initial host incarnation). The show was an immediate success and each week in the first year, Ronald would rise from the dead live . . . which is to say the show was live . . . and each episode began with the same opening. After slowly lifting himself from his pine box Ronald would rasp out in a slow, ghostly voice, "Good evening friends.
Thus with a strange mix of eeriness and southern hospitality, Ronald would invite his audience to join him for a little bed time story. This was a recipe for success with a devoted audience, especially kids, who were very happy to be just a little creeped out from 1959 to 1964 when the show's weekly run ended. (Halloween specials continued through 1968.)
Ronald was originally a solo act, but like many shows, his popularity inspired expansion. Early on his assistant, Maurice (seen in the mask in the picture above), was a fixture. So was the book seen in the picture. At the beginning of each episode, Ronald would open the book to find the story to tell . . . about a count who fed on the blood of the living in a far off land, or a man who turned into a wolf when the wolfbane bloomed. He also used his bumps to tie in the details of the previous or preceding segment of the film. This approach was a natural outgrowth of Sandford's position as film editor for the station, since he always knew exactly what was coming in each segment. There was a sense of seriousness to this, but at the same time the show never took itself too seriously.
In addition to Igor, WVEC's Shock Theater, featured a few regular guests including a character known as "The Cool Ghoul," a bereted, goateed, undead hip cat with a beatnik sensibility. Unfortunately, no known pictures exist of the character. Also appearing was the lovely woman seen to the right, but sadly, no one remembers her name . . . . After all, it was 50 years ago!
Another feature of the show was Ronald's coffin, which essentially had a life of its own. Among various adventures, the coffin was once stolen before a few hours before the show. The studio had the floors cleaned in the afternoon and everything had been moved outside. When the coffin was missing, Jerry--in full Ronald makeup--began going door to door in the neighborhood asking, "Have you seen my coffin?" Even funnier perhaps is where it was found . . . in a shopping center across the street where three teenagers had put it up and were charging the princely sum of a quarter a piece for people to sit in Ronald's coffin for a minute. Apparently, they had a line down the block!
Ronald's final appearance was actually in a 1968 Halloween special, but unfortunately, the footage from this event as well as all other shows has been lost to time. However, Ronald lives on for many people who watched him as youngsters and local viewers need to keep a close eye out for a rebirth of Shock Theater.
Above: One look at Jerry Sanford in full make up and you can see the effort that went into the show. Below: Ronald clowns with Maurice (Frank Van) and an unnamed Captive Wild Woman. Both photos courtesy of Mr. Sanford.
From February 1962 to February 1965, C. J. "Tiny" Thompson hosted the Saturday afternoon horror and sci-fi movie show known as "Saturday Theater" on WSLS 10 in Roanoke, Virginia. The show aired in the late afternoon, starting at 6:00 pm for the first year and then switching over to a 5:30 start time to accommodate new programming before switching back to a more "family" oriented movie.
Thompson said he remembered little from the show with the exception of a few things. First, his co-host was a Mynah bird named "Midnight" and he wore a trademark white jacket was a professional necessity as Midnight spent a lot of time on his shoulder. Otherwise the studio was simply bare walls with the lights dimmed save for the spotlight that framed him and the bird.
The bird was very popular at the station and actually lived with Thompson and his family. Midnight got more fan mail than Thompson and appeared on other shows as well including the one that got him in hot water. Apparently, the bird spent a lot of time at the station and not everyone treated him with respect. Thompson recalled that people got in the habit of telling him to "Go to Hell" on a regular basis and he soon picked up the phrase which he debuted on Club Quiz. It was his last appearance on that show.
Thompson also recalled that one of the sponsors was a local ice cream company. They had trouble with promos because the ice cream had a tendency to melt under the hot lights and between host segments and looked rather unappetizing. To solve the problem, a station artist sculpted a bowl of ice cream with a scooper from white modeling clay. Apparently, no one told Thompson who told the audience how delicious the product was and took a big bite, which made him gag instantly.
The show fared very well with kids showing relatively recent creature features like Attack of the Crab Monsters and The Brain from Planet Arous. However, every August the show would change programming and run dramas for four weeks before returning to horror and sci-fi. No one could recall why.
The program wrapped its final episode in February on 1965, and Thompson returned to his hometown of Bluefield, WV and worked a long broadcasting career at WHIS, now WVVA, channel 6. Tiny Thompson passed away November 6, 2012 at the age of 80.
Saturday Theater With "Tiny" Thompson 1962-1965 WSLS 10 Roanoke, Va
The story of the Great Zucchini will likely remain a bit of a mystery precisely because there was a concerted attempt to wipe him from the history books.
The story begins with broadcaster Bill Miller who created the character for WDCA 20 in June of 1967 after being hired a few months before to host Wing Ding (a dance program). He was an accomplished make up artist as well as TV and radio broadcaster, so Miller was a natural fit for hosting horror movies.
As you can see from the photo to the right, the makeup was impressive. According to one of the few sources remaining on the character, a Baltimore Sun article from Oct. 22 of that year, Zucchini "was once a great stage magician, a master of legerdemain, spiritualism and illusion. A theater fire at some remote time ruined his face and with it, his career." Supposedly, he was permitted to live in the dungeon-like bowels of the station with his assistant, Waldo, in exchange for working late nights. His revenge? Showing horrible movies.
And by all accounts, the movies were rather horrible. WDCA did not have the classic Shock! package in the Washington market. Channel 5 ran the package without a host under the title of Chiller during this period, so what remained for Channel 20 viewers was less than classic. On the upside, however, WDCA started much earlier at 11 pm (initially), so fans could get a head start with the Great Zucchini.
As a character, Zucchini was foul tempered and abusive to Waldo (whom he called a "boob") and the audience (aka, "boobies"). He menaced the screen with a cane and frequently hatched schemes befitting a bitter and twisted mind. According to a remembrance published in Scary Monsters #30, he plotted to create a death ray to aim at channel 9 and 7 and in another episode gave intentionally bad romantic advice to his "broken hearts" club. This article also mentions that he was forever trying to escape the station where he was apparently locked in.
Readers may note a discrepancy between this imprisonment account and the original publicity article cited above suggesting a more genial arrangement for the character, and it might just be a clue to what was going on behind the scenes. And on the night the show ended, audiences were shocked when an announcer reported that Zucchini and Waldo had finally "escaped from the catacombs beneath Channel 20. They were last scene running across the studio roof."
After speaking with people in the know--including a cameraman working on the show at the time--Miller was fired on the spot for doing something so outrageous, so insufferable that management had no other choice . . . he asked for a raise!
It is pretty clear that Miller was a jack of all trades and the show was quite popular, receiving lots of fan mail, and it is likely his duties went well beyond the written contract. It might also be the case that the request was handled without tact. We will likely never know.
But, one thing is for sure. WDCA essentially wiped him from the official record. In fact, when Dick Dyzsel, aka, the legendary Count Gore, arrived at the station a few years later no one ever mentioned a previous horror host at Channel 20 and until the documentary, he believed he was DC's first.
Supernatural Theatre With
"The Great Zucchini" 1967-1969
WDCA 20 Washington, DC
Above: The only known photo of The Great Zucchini courtesy of Bob Bell. Below: an ad from the Washington Post announcing Miller's arrival, billing him as the "Man of 1000 Faces." Ultimately, one of those faces
Shock! Theater (and others) with "The Bowman Body"
WXEX 8 Richmond, Va 1970-1976
WVIR 29 Charlottesville 1977-78
WNVC 56 Fairfax 1982-87
The Bowman Body was widely popular in Virginia in the 70s and 80s, including with college kids. This photo was taken at the Hoi Polloi club at William and Mary where he was the guest of honor The Bowman Body made countless appearances from state fairs to hospitals to elementary schools to fraternity parties and was a cult sensation. And while he was better known for his ukulele, he could blow a mean trumpet.
What can one possibly say about the Bowman Body that hasn't been said before? Well, given that Horse Archer Productions has produced not only the Virginia Creepers segment on Bowman, but an additional documentary (Hi There Horror Movie Fans), two DVD episodes in 2015, manages www.thebowmanbody.com and is preparing an animated Halloween special for 2017 . . . if it hasn't been said, we will find it soon.
Bill Bowman's character, the Bowman Body, began in 1970 when he was conscripted into hosting the horror movie package for some summer "film festivals" on WXEX (now WRIC) and was so popular that he eventually got his own show. Ostensibly a coffin dwelling ghoul, Bowman rarely played the horror angle for very long. The Body was a light hearted version of the undead to say the least with a character somewhere between Bob Newhart, Jack Benny and Steve Allen. He could go from enthusiastic pitchman to overconfident sophisticate to unwitting participant to world-wise doubter in a single show--sometimes in a single segment! Throw in a ukulele, some loud socks and some worn tennis shoes and you have yourself some real entertainment.
Bill Bowman inhabited the role on three different shows--Shock Theater (1970-1976) in Richmond on channel 8, Cobweb Theater (1977-1978) on WVIR 29 in Charlottesville and Monsterpiece Theater (1982-198?) in Fairfax on channel 56. The last version of the show had at least two incarnations and Bill cannot recall specifically when it ended.
The early shows were very simple . . . in fact you can see the limits of the 8X8 "stone" wall against the empty studio, but Bowman's natural ability to perform made him more popular than Johnny Carson during his Friday night run. Fans clamored to be on the show and a couple semi-regulars showed up including "Count Drac" (Reed Wolliver).
Bowman saw some sidekicks in his later shows including a pesky mummy played by Tom Blalock and a mysterious vampire countess whose name has not been located. His later shows tended to be more plot-driven and it was in this spirit that Horse Archer produced the 2015 DVDs, House on Haunted Hill and City of the Dead. These and other projects plus much more information reside at the official website.
Fright Night, House of Horror
and other Roanoke Mysteries
This project has certainly had a number of questions and riddles, most of which we managed to solve. However, without a doubt, the biggest mystery of the list has been "House of Horrors," shown on WRLU, Channel 27 in Roanoke Virginia from October 19, 1974 to February 8, 1975.
The channel itself is something of a mystery. It was at various points a DuMont affiliate, a true independent and an ABC affiliate as WRFT until 1974 (even though a much more powerful ABC station was less than 30 miles away.) On February 8, 1975 the station had its power shut off, unable to pay about $8000 of electric bills. (One source has this date as 1974, but based on FCC reports, this is inaccurate.)
However, for a few glorious weeks, according to fans Thom Brewer and Lawrence Young, two teenagers at the time, a show called House of Horror was hosted by the Count and the Invisible Man . . . who, as luck would have it, was often accidentally visible on screen. After a year of searching, it is possible that the Count has been identified and located: Jim Wescott.
Wescott says he remembers doing some material for a horror show but not much detail:
My memories are hazy of that time period. We didn't do the program for very long. And, I don't remember much more about doing the "plastic vampire teeth thing." I remember we tried to have some fun with it and hopefully we were "entertaining" our viewers.
Wescott does recall, however, that the opening for the show was shot with under-lighting in the woods behind the station . . . but that is about all.
One possibility for the invisible man character is famed Roanoke DJ, Freddy Frelantz. Freelantz was a local legend in a sense and had a reputation for living in the fast lane. Unfortunately, he died in a house fire believed to be caused by a cigarette and as many people disconnect him to the show as connect him to it.
The station itself, which is now a thriving Fox affiliate in Roanoke, was apparently a rather crazy place. There are stories of employees literally racing to the bank to cash their checks before the account ran out of money and a time when the station had no working front door. Sometimes, shows were done outside because it was nice and the lighting was better, and many of the personalities at the station went on to other things, including Adrian Cronauer, of Good Morning Vietnam fame.
And to make matters more frightening, there was a show on Channel 27 a few years before called Fright Night, which some people have suggested was hosted as well. One correspondent suggested a woman named Beverley Shaffer hosted the program for a while but nothing ever came of those searches. It was apparently a popular show but not much info remains . . . though one emailer told us the theme music was from Swan Lake.
Any information on either show is appreciated.
Two of the four ads that constitute the historical record for WRLU's "House of Horror" show. Note that the show was not too particular about details. The ad above lists "Richard Green" as a star of Frankenstein (he is not!) and Louise "Albutter" rather than Albritton in Son of Dracula. And it is Mad Ghoul . . . not MAN Ghoul!