Published on Monday, 29 October 2012 16:11
Long before "Creature Features" or "Svengoolie," Chicago television audiences were treated to horror movies on Saturday nights on a show called "Shock Theatre," featuring the comedic & musical styling of its ghoulish host, "Marvin." Just in time for Halloween, a book was recently released, which takes a in-depth look at this groundbreaking local television show.
"Shock Theatre" aired on WBKB, now known as WLS-TV/ABC 7. It made its debut on Saturday, December 7, 1957. The show would air monster movies, including many of the famed Universal monsters, such as Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and more.
The show was hosted by a small, spooky beatnik man, dressed all in black, wearing glasses with black frames and super thick lenses, and named Marvin. Talking in a voice that was a cross between Peter Lorre and Jerry Lewis, Marvin would introduce a movie at the start of the program, as well as do skits before and after commercial breaks -- sometimes fast jokes & bits, sometimes longer, musical numbers. This same style of hosting horror movies, using creepy comedy would later be duplicated on Chicago television with WFLD-TV's "Screaming Yellow Theater" and the "Son of Svengoolie," as well as "S.O.S's" later incarnation, WCIU-TV/MeTV's "Svengoolie."
Marvin was played by WBKB's Terry Bennett, who was an actor, ventriloquist, comedian, composer, writer, producer, and all around creative guy. Simultaneously, he also created, wrote, and hosted a children's show on WBKB called "Jobblewocky Place." Given free reign to do whatever he wanted with the late night program, the mind of Terry Bennett created a local television show that became a huge hit and was must-see TV on Saturday nights, more for the host and his antics, then for the movies themselves. WBKB even started up a Terry "Marvin" Bennett Fan Club for the show & host's many rabid fans.
Agreeing to air ABC Sports' "Fight of the Week" on Saturday nights, WBKB cancelled "Shock Theatre" in August 1959. On the final episode, viewers were finally allowed to see the face of "Dear" and were allowed to see "Marvin" as just Terry Bennett. In total, the show lasted a little under two years, but made a lasting impression on its many Chicagoland fans.
One of those many Chicagoland fans was Donald F. Glut. Glut is a prolific writer, having penned countless movie & television scripts, comic book stories, novels, and non-fiction books. He also is a movie/TV director, actor, musician (who used to be in a band with The Monkee's Mike Nesmith), and an amateur paleontologist. Donald F. Glut was born in Texas and his lived most of his adult life in California, but he was raised in Chicagoland. One of his favorite shows growing up in the area was WBKB's "Shock Theatre."
Although "Marvin" and "Shock Theatre" were given mentions in the 2007 book "Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows: From Shock Theatre to Svengoolie
" by Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw, there was no definitive, in-depth look at the influential television show from the late 1950s or about Terry Bennett. Donald F. Glut decided to to write that book.
Released late this summer, Glut's new book "Shock Theatre - Chicago Style: WBKB-TV's Late Night Horror Showcase, 1957-1959
" focuses on the behind the scenes action of this show, and especially on the show's creative force, the multi-talented Terry Bennett. Dozens of photographs and vintage "Shock Theatre" newspaper ads are reproduced within the pages of the book. The book also lists all of the classic (and not-so-classic) films broadcast during the nearly two-year run of "Shock Theatre."
Terry Bennett passed away in October, 1977 at the too-young age of 47 years old, meaning he could not contribute to "Shock Theatre - Chicago Style: WBKB-TV's Late Night Horror Showcase, 1957-1959." Instead, his son Kerry Bennett provides a foreword for the book, featuring loving remembrances of his father. Kerry Bennett also provided many of the rare photographs found in "Shock Theatre - Chicago Style." Famed Washington DC horror host Count Gore De Vol (aka Dick Dyszel) wrote the book's afterword.
The 204 page paperback book was published by McFarland & Company, Inc. and retails for $35. It can purchased online HERE