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I Was a TV Horror Host: Memoirs of a Creature Features Man Paperback – July 1, 2007
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About the Author
<div>For six years (1979-84) John Stanley hosted the highly rated "Creature Features" in the San Francisco-Bay Area TV market, introducing science fiction and horror movies to a midnight audience, and interviewing the leading actors, producers and directors of the time. He also spent 33 years as an entertainment writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, specializing in interviewing TV and movie stars. He has written 13 books, including six editions of The Creature Features Movie Guide series. His novels include World War IIand Bogart/'48. He edited and published Them Ornery Mitchum Boys by John Mitchum. He is a noted Elderhostel instructor (specializing in movies, TV and music) and he constructed crossword puzzles for TV Guide publications for eight years. He holds a BA degree from San Francisco State College.</div>
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The San Francisco area had a little more class. KTVU out of Oakland broadcast CREATURE FEATURES with its host Bob Wilkins. When horror hosts like Zacherley and Vampira were dressing up in Halloween costumes and doing skits, Wilkins looked relatively normal underplayed the horror host role with a sort of Bob Newhart deadpan style. His slogan was "Watch horror films... Keep America Strong." I enjoyed Wilkins a lot when I was at Stanford from 1972 to 1974. KTVU had John Stanley as the host of CREATURE FEATURES from 1979 to 1984 after Wilkins left. Unfortunately, I never saw John Stanley on the air. As far as I can tell John Stanley carried the Wilkins tradition of the laid-back style. (Oddly each looks like he has a portrait somewhere doing all his aging for him.) Stanley also published a guide to the kind of films he would show JOHN STANLEY'S CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE.
That brings me to John Stanley's current book, I WAS A TV HORROR HOST. As the name suggests, this is a memoir of his years as a horror host--probably the first memoir of a horror host. It covers a lot more including the history of horror hostdom going back to radio hosts like Raymond on "The Inner Sanctum."
A little over half of the book chronicles John Stanley's adventures interviewing the major names associated with media fantasy in the 1970s. Several people associated with Star Trek and Star Wars were his guests. He interviewed Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Vincent Price, Roger Corman, and John Newland (the host of TV's "One Step Beyond"). He finishes Christopher Lee, William Castle, George Romero, and Boris Karloff's daughter.
The interviews are not in any great depth. Certainly they are not in the depth of Tom Weaver's interviews in numerous books published by McFarland. But as Stanley's interviews were interruptions of the evenings' Creature Feature, they were kept brief with some interesting tidbits.
What do I like and not like about the book. Let us start with what I liked.
-- I have rarely seen the subject of television horror hosts covered in book form anywhere else. There was a legion of them (and Stanley lists most in the book) and there must have been some good stories about them and their stations.
-- John Stanley illustrates the book with a treasury stills. Every page has a photo and some have as many as three.
-- The price tag of this book is $19.95. Unfortunately most books on popular media of the past years seem to be published by Scarecrow Press or their clone McFarland. This is the sort of book that McFarland might publish. They would tone down the silly title fonts, make sure it had the index it really needed, sandwich it between hardcovers, and slap a $55 price tag on it. McFarland has a great line of media books many of which I would love to own, but I am only a poor corrupt official. I slightly prefer Stanley's less dignified format and his $20 price tag is as nostalgic as the book itself is.
-- Stanley does a good job of covering the subject of horror hosting, and the popular horror including hosts of the past like.
-- John Stanley has an infectious enthusiasm that comes through in the book.
-- I frequently find factual errors in books about the old horror films. Stanley seems fairly careful with his facts. Stanley is a fan of the horror genre and has an encyclopedic knowledge. Through the book John Stanley's positive personality comes through and lights up the entire narrative. He is the biggest asset of his own book.
Now what about the negatives?
-- The biggest fault is that book has no index. Perhaps Stanley felt his book was supposed to be just light reading and did not need one. Flipping through pages is no substitute for knowing what page to go to find the comments about Christopher Lee or Robert Bloch.
-- There are many more attempted jokes than actual laughs. This is, of course, a matter of taste and probably is in the tradition of CREATURE FEATURES. And I have the same problem with my jokes.
-- I was not looking for Stanley to dish dirt, but he seems unrelentingly positive on all the celebrities he discusses. Here and there he tells an anecdote that maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger would not like if he were not Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Stanley seems to have no pet peeves, no axes to grind, and he had no problems with the celebrities with whom he dealt. He likes everybody, so his narrative feels a little sugar-coated and perhaps not a good source for insight.
For those who want to understand the state of popular fantasy in the 1970s or to just reminisce about the period this book is worth the modest purchase price.
Admission: I have not finished reading the book yet. What is left I am going to save to read only on Saturday evenings while watching good (or bad) horror films.
I highly recommend this great book for anyone who loves old and not-so-old horror, sci-fi and fantasy films. John provides a surprisingly thorough overview of the old-time radio shows and pioneering TV horror hosts before rolling into the tale of Bob Wilkins' and his own careers as late night horror hosts.
This book contains so many great interviews and photos with and of everyone who was anyone in the business! John has been a journalist for many years, so he was able to interview the top stars of the horror and sci-fi film genres on his show and elsewhere. They loved coming on his show and camping it up as much as he loved having them! There are anecdotes galore and lots of great information you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
It's a treasure of memories and new info that's funny and fun to read! Get a copy and, as Bob and John used to say, "Watch Horror Movies, Keep America Strong!"