Men behind the monsters
Much of my talk “Phantoms of Philadelphia” on Halloween at Independence Branch in Philly was “boilerplate” stuff about the Monster Craze, some taken directly from “Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972.” The following excerpts comprise the fresh, Philly-centric material.
On Philly’s role in the Craze: “The city of Philadelphia played an important and surprising role in this period. Well, maybe it’s not so surprising. The phantoms of Philadelphia go way back. You may know that author and poet Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), the master of the macabre, lived in several houses in Philadelphia, one of which still stands on this street — at 7th between Spring Garden and Green. And in that very house, in 1843, Poe wrote one of his most memorable stories: ‘The Black Cat.’ ”
“You may also know that Bram Stoker (1847-1912), author of the 1897 novel “Dracula,” tightened up his manuscript for “Dracula” while in Philadelphia. That manuscript still exists, and it lives at Rosenbach Museum here. I don’t have to tell you that so much of Monster Culture sprang from ‘Dracula.’ ”
On the “Shock!” broadcasts: “Here’s where Philadelphia comes in (during the Monster Craze). Screen Gems encouraged local channels to have local hosts for the ‘Shock!’ TV broadcasts. Channel 10 in Philadelphia came up with a doozy. They named him Roland. And to play him, they cast an unknown Philadelphian, World War II veteran, Presbyterian and former cowboy actor named John Zacherle (b. 1918).”
On Famous Monsters: “The founder and publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, James Warren (b. 1930), was born in Philadelphia and grew up here. You may be interested to know what schools he attended in the city. For grammar school, Warren attended Julia Ward Howe School, which was named after the woman who wrote ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ For junior high, he attended Joseph Pennell School. Both schools were added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1988. For high school, he attended Central High School, of which told me: ‘It was an incredible school. It was like a college. It was almost a private school, but it was a public school.’ For college, he attended the University of Pennsylvania.”
On Dr. Shock: “Being in Philadelphia on Halloween is a golden opportunity to say thank you to Dr. Shock for the many nights and afternoons of entertainment that he provided. And thank you to Joseph Zawislak (1937-1979), the man behind the makeup, for climbing out of the coffin and playing host for all of us monster-loving nerds who had nothing better to do on a Saturday night.”