As a lifelong fan of science fiction and horror, I can’t help but feel obligated (Okay, it’s more like biased selfishness) to introduce my children to the genre. But as they seem more focused on their media influenced toys and game tablets, I am sometimes left wondering just how I first became a fan myself. Early memories are scarce, but it seems I’ve loved genre fiction since, well, forever. Admittedly, not all of my fondness comes from books.
You can use your Tardis or Delorean if you want, but I’ll just climb into my foggy memory bank. Let’s go back in time, say to the late 60’s – or maybe only go back to the early 80’s because that’s how long the show lasted. Between books, and instead of doing something silly like spending my Saturday afternoons playing outside in the fresh air, I often found myself parked in front of the television. Why? Anyone within broadcast range of WJBK TV2 in the Detroit area (including parts of Ohio and Canada) would know the answer. I recall the cherished hours we spent with the legendary horror show host Sir Graves Ghastly as he presented us with charmingly campy movies.
This Tuesday marks the 100th birthday of Lawson Deming (b. April 23, 1913 – d. April 24, 2007). As Sir Graves Ghastly, every weekend Deming would don his silken vampire costume and introduced many young viewers to the wonders of science fiction and horror films. Some were pretty good, but a lot of them were simply dreadful. Most importantly, we were entertained. And the memories still haunt me (in a good way) today.
The show’s introduction was classic yet cheesy, just like the some of the movies he presented. Through the mist covered gates of a gloomy cemetery, a cat cries out and a bat (albeit rubber) flutters over a casket. Ghostly moans and screams echo into the night as the friendly neighborhood vampire would rise from his squeaky hinged casket and hearten us to “turn out the lights, pull down the shade, draw the drapes, and cuddle up in your favorite spot by the telly” to watch the week’s scary movie. Viewers glued themselves to the screen with anticipation while the vampire gave his trademark madman cackle, “Nyaaaaahahahaha!”
Inducted posthumously into the Horror Host Hall of Fame in 2011, Sir Graves Ghastly didn’t just offer “stories to chill your blooood” to his audience. Once in a while, science fiction favorites like The Invisible Man, It Came from Outer Space, and Planet on the Prowl would turn up. Never one to take himself too seriously, the movies were “dug up” from the grave so the audience would know not to expect too much from the day’s presentation. It was often insinuated if not blatantly suggested that some of the movies should have been left dead and buried. Yes, this is where I first experienced the awesomeness of Robot Monster.
Deming didn’t rest much when he was not playing Sir Graves (hey, he was a vampire after all). Aside from the hunchbacked grave digger named Digger Deep played by crew member Walter Selbman, all of the other characters on the show were played by the talented Deming. Baruba was a sidekick of Sir Graves dressed in monk garb. Tilly Trollhouse was the possessive maid in the vampire’s castle and only female character on the show who lip-synched dreadfully to old tunes. The tiny graveyard caretaker Reel McCoy was the one who dug up the movies every week. There was also Cool Ghoul, Baron Boogaloff, Walter, Voice of Doom and Ivan Awfulitch. But the most creative character might have been the singing face in the moon called Glob. A close-up of Deming’s mouth was filmed upside down for this, his goatee became Glob’s hair and his mustache became the beard. As Glob lip-synced to songs, his upside-down tongue made the scenes as awkwardly mesmerizing as they were hilarious.
The show wasn’t just for kids. In later years, Sir Graves hosted an evening program for the older fans. But always faithful to the younger crowd, every week Sir Graves would display artwork created and sent in by admirers in a segment called the Art Ghoullery. The meticulous sketches (and horrendously yet adorable) scribbles of characters from the show mixed with monsters from past movies were exhibited while a silly song played. But hey, if your finger paint or crayon drawing made the airwaves or if he read your fan mail to the viewers, your coolness credibility would be authenticated forever. A lack of artistic confidence might have prevented me from submitting anything, but seeing what others sent in was often good for a laugh.
You can have your overpriced and overcrowded Con. As a fan on a kid’s budget, I embraced the up close and personal element when heroes appeared at the local ice-cream parlor. I didn’t have to buy a special ticket or fight for a wristband to get an autograph, though I may have insisted on a chocolate-vanilla twist afterwards. Deming was accessible. Needless to say, the smartly dressed young man in the image to the left was speechless when Sir Graves invited him to sit down for a photo op. It was a moment I will, I mean, this young man will never forget.
Like the movies he hosted, Sir Graves Ghastly was a classic. Lawson Deming made watching scary movies fun and watching bad movies even more entertaining. Our kids are just starting to realize the magic of literature and that reading is not just an assignment from their teacher. It also looks like their inherent interest in genre fiction is finally starting to bloom. But their Saturday afternoons are nothing like the weekends I experienced. Maybe that’s why I get strange looks whenever I cackle, “Nyaaaaahahahaha!”
Happy 100th Birthday, Lawson Deming. Thank you for the inspiration and wonderful memories.