Tag Archives: Sammy Terry

Finding iconic 3490 Bluff Road

3490 bluff road slide

I made a pilgrimage the other week.

While in Indianapolis with my family, we found ourselves on Bluff Road on the city’s south side.

Bluff Road didn’t mean anything to them, of course. My wife didn’t grow up in Indiana and my son is too young to remember the address.

For those of us who do remember, we know the address from our childhood: 3490 Bluff Road.

For a couple of generations of Central Indiana residents who paid attention to the “fine print” of television broadcasting, 3490 Bluff Road was, for decades, the Indianapolis home of WTTV Channel 4.

Nowadays, WTTV is CBS 4. For a year or so, it’s had a network affiliation and big-league status after decades as Indy’s premier independent station.

For decades beginning in 1957, WTTV broadcast from 3490 Bluff Road. The address was uttered on the air countless times and included in title cards that were broadcast.

Although I’ve been to a couple of Indy TV stations, I’d never been to the home of WTTV 4.

I thought about it a lot, though. During the station’s heyday, in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s, it was easy for my imagination to populate the station with its biggest on-air personalities.

wttv stars

Kids show hosts Janie and Cowboy Bob. Sports broadcaster Chuck Marlowe. Station owner Sarkes Tarzian, whose name my young mind turned into Circus Tarzan.

And the dean of midwest TV horror hosts: Sammy Terry.

sammy terry color

Sammy Terry – embodied by Bob Carter from around 1962 until his death in 2013, now played in personal appearances by his son, Mark – was perhaps the best known of WTTV’s on-air personalities.

But 3490 Bluff Road was an iconic address. So I had to seek it out.

3490 tower

It’s not easy to find, the little building that is the focus of so many memories. Sure, there’s still a TV tower, but no sign, no historical marker, to designate the station that WTTV used until the 2000s.

3490 addy sign

There are a few indicators, to be sure. I walked all around the building until I found this one.

3490 door

And there’s this forlorn remembrance of the station’s years as a WB affiliate beginning in 1998.

3490 boarded up

Overall, there’s not much left there, not much to see considering all those years the station babysat, entertained and terrified us.

According to real estate websites, the main station building is only about 19,000 square feet and made of concrete block. One website lists the total value of the building and surrounding acres of land as $276,000.

We know that’s not the case, of course.

3490 Bluff Road is priceless.

Classic: ‘Shock’ theater ad for TV

shock theater ad

For those of us who grew up Monster Kids in the Monster World, this marked the epicenter of that world.

Shock – also known as Shock Theater.

I saw this ad bouncing around the internet recently and wanted to share it here. Regular readers of this blog know I’ve written a lot about Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and what an influence it had on a couple of generations of kids. FM came decades after the movies it celebrated – including the classic Universal monster films – so the 1960s monster craze might have seemed unlikely.

Except for Shock.

In October 1957, Columbia Pictures’ TV subsidiary, Screen Gems, released a package of 52 horror films – including the classic Universal horror films like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” – to TV.

The Shock package was a huge hit. Usually airing late at night – as was the case, a few years later, with host Sammy Terry on WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis – but sometimes airing at other times, Shock popularized the old Universal pictures once more.

Everything that followed came because of this. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, horror hosts, the wave of monster toys, cartoons, comics and novelties that began in the 1960s and continued for decades.

Long live Shock.

Classic: Titles for ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’

abbottcostellomeetfrankcredits

I could probably do a blog just about “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet Frankenstein.”

I mean a whole blog. Every entry.

But that would be monotonous, wouldn’t it?

So I thought I would do some research and write a little about the opening credits for the 1948 film.

You all know the story by now: Universal had teamed up most of its titular creatures before and, by 1948, decided to give them a humorous setting by combining them with vaudeville comics Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The comic duo would go on to “meet” several monsters and monster types in several films that followed, and one of my personal favorites is “Meet the Mummy.”

But I wanted to note in particular “Meet Frankenstein,” in which they meet not only Frankenstein’s Monster but also Dracula and the Wolfman.

The movie is so much fun and not, as some would attest, denigrating to the classic creatures.

But I wanted to mention a couple of things that I either knew about the opening titles or found out recently.

First, I should note that I saw that illustration above online recently and I was stumped. I knew I had seen it, but where?

Then in watching the sequence recently – and I watch it every chance i get, including each of its many airings on Svengoolie – I was charmed all over again by the opening titles.

I wish I could know what went through people’s minds when they saw these titles for the first time in a theater. Since the movie came out well before I was born, I never saw it in a theater. I saw it first on TV two decades after the movie debuted, and it was probably on Indy horror movie host Sammy Terry’s show.

The titles perfectly capture the funny/creepy nature of the movie, maybe as well as any movie of its time.

The brief animated sequence not only establishes Abbott and Costello – through their skeletons – as scaredy cats but also establishes the creatures.

abbottcostellolonchaney

First Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman.

abbottcostellolugosi

Then Bela Lugosi playing Dracula for only the second time.

abbottcostelloglennstrange

Then Glenn Strange as the monster.

abbottcostellolenoreaburt

Then Lenore Aubert, whose character isn’t named in the titles but seems to suggest a svelte Bride of Frankenstein (which she is not in the movie, of course).

In looking up the opening titles on artofthetitle.com – which i can’t recommend too highly – i discovered that “Woody Woodpecker” creator Walter Lantz animated the opening titles. Further research indicates Lantz also animated the transformation of Lugosi’s Count Dracula to vampire bat form.

The titles are a piece of movie history, Universal monsters history and are perfect.

Me, MeTV and Saturday night

meTVsaturday

The weekend nights – Friday and Saturday nights, really – are and always have been special to young people. They were nights of freedom, with the promise of being able to stay up late because the next mornings were not school mornings.

I grew up watching “Sammy Terry” on WISH-TV 4 on Friday nights – a double-feature of classic and/or cheesy movies beginning at 11 p.m. – and “Science Fiction Theater,” a double-feature of more SF-oriented – as opposed to horror – movies without a host that aired on WISH on Saturday nights.

Of course, despite the enduring memories of Sammy Terry on Fridays, Saturdays have always had an edge is airing great old horror and science fiction. The legendary “Mystery Science Theater 3000” ended its run on the then-Sci-FI Channel on Saturdays (I still miss that viewing experience so much) and “Commander USA’s Groovie Movies” aired on USA Network in the latter half of the 1980s.

Considering I’m in the demographic for MeTV, it’s not a surprise that the channel, which specializes in airing classic TV of the 1950s-1980s, is one that I’m always checking out. And it’s not surprising that MeTV has me – and a loyal fanbase – hooked for its Super Sci-Fi Saturday Nights programming block.

MeTV’s Saturday night line-up has varied a bit over the past couple of years but has only grown more solid recently with its selection of TV shows and, as its crown jewel, the selection of classic horror films hosted by longtime Chicago horror host Svengoolie.

I’ve written about Svengoolie here before, but I’ll note for the record that the show, written, hosted and almost totally performed by Rich Koz, is perhaps the most entertaining geek-oriented two hours on TV right now.

That’s because of how much TV has changed in the past two decades.

With a proliferation of channels – and channels devoted to geek-friendly fare that include (now) SyFy – it seemed like a safe bet that lots of classic TV shows would be available to fill our days and late-nights.

(And yes, I know that virtually anything that airs on TV these days is available on disc, streaming or online. But I like a well-curated TV lineup.)

But any dreams I might have had of being able to see classic sci-fi or horror movies on these 24-7 channels were dashed when I saw what the channels actually chose to air: Tons of “reality” programming and hour after hour of reruns of network shows like “CSI.”

MeTV, which began airing in Chicago in 2005 and went national in 2010, appealed to Baby Boomers and others of nostalgic mindset by airing classic sitcoms and dramas.

The channel’s Saturday night lineup doubles down that appeal by programming for the growing geek base.

The night starts strong with episodes of “The Adventures of Superman,” the 1950s George Reeves series that hasn’t been widely seen in recent decades. That’s followed by the 1960s “Batman” series, the 1970s “Wonder Woman” series, “Star Trek,” “Svengoolie,” “Lost in Space” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.”

I’ve never been a big fan of the last two, Irwin Allen kids’ shows from the 1960s, but they’re good fare for insomniacs who haven’t been lulled into peaceful sleep by Svengoolie’s airing of some classic Universal monster movie.

And while “Wonder Woman” never met a villain she couldn’t subdue by throwing him into a swimming pool – just watch a few episodes; you’ll see what I mean – the Lynda Carter series plays nicely along with the campy “Batman” series and the crime-busting noir “Superman” show.

MeTV’s whole lineup is comfort food for those of a certain age, of course. Its Saturday night lineup is comfort food for geeks of a certain age.

Essential geek library: ‘The Best from Famous Monsters of Filmland’

best from famous monsters

I’ve noted it here before – as have many elsewhere – but it’s hard to overstate the importance of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine to a generation of movie fans and, in particular, horror movie fans.

When FM appeared on newsstands in 1958 – before I was born, no less reading it – the Shock Theater package of old Universal horror films was playing on TV stations around the country, often hosted by an over-the-top character like Sammy Terry here in Indiana.

FM, published by Warren Publishing and edited by Forrest J Ackerman, greatly appealed to the audience of horror movie fans – including me, when I discovered it a few years later.

My relationship with my collection of FMs was a complicated one. I never had a complete run of the magazine, although I had most of them, between buying them new each month on the newsstand and buying back issues.

Then, possessed of the insane writer/designer spirit that led to my actual career, I cut up many of my issues, rearranging photos and articles in scrapbooks in my own fashion.

I bought many of the old issues again, years later, before selling off most of my collection a couple of decades ago.

I kept my copy of “The Best from Famous Monsters of Filmland,” however, and wanted to mention it here in this edition of the Essential Geek Library.

Published in June 1964 by Paperback Library with a cover price of 50 cents, the book was a paperback-sized, 162 page reprint, basically, of some Famous Monsters articles from 1958 through 1960.

Individual articles bore such titles as “Monsters are Good for You,” “Alice in Monsterland,” “The Frankenstein Story” and “Girls Will Be Ghouls.”

Littered with Ackerman’s trademark puns – “Kong-fidentially Yours” – the book offered not only an enthusiastic defense of monster movies but inside information, including the number of models and armatures that were used in making “King Kong,” (27, Ackerman says. In a visit to his house in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s, I got to see one of those armatures, which was nothing but a metal skeleton with bits of material clinging to it by that point.)

I’m not sure when I picked up my copy of “The Best of …” but I’m guessing it was years after publication. It’s in pretty good shape but battered by years of reading, over and over again, by me and the previous owners.

Online sources indicate Warren and Forry published at least three paperback reprint collections of FM articles, following “The Best From …” with “Son of …” and “Famous Monsters of Filmland Strike Back.”

They were just what all of us monster kids wanted and we loved ’em.

RIP Sammy Terry: We’ll miss our favorite ghoul

sammy terry b&w

I come to praise Sammy Terry, not to bury him.

With the passing Sunday, at age 83, of longtime Indianapolis music store owner Bob Carter, a chapter of television history closes.

That’s because, of course, Carter was the real-life, not-totally-secret identity of Sammy Terry, horror movie host on WTTV Channel 4 from 1962 to 1989.

I’ve written about Sammy before, but his passing prompts me to recount the Sammy Terry legend at greater length.

Carter was a TV pitchman who claimed to have invented the Kentucky Fried Chicken catchphrase “It’s finger-lickin’ good!” during a live commercial spot. He always seemed like a gentle soul and, on the rare occasions I called him for an interview, answered the phone in a toned-down version of the sepulchural voice he used to play Sammy.

sammy terry autographed

He seemed to take his celebrity in stride. For a couple of generations – at least – of Indiana kids, he was a cultural icon before we knew what that phrase meant. But probably because you couldn’t make barrels full of money taping a once-a-week horror movie show on Indianapolis TV – and no doubt because he loved providing music education to legions of school children – he kept that day job.

But 11 p.m. Friday rolled around and Carter – in yellow rubber gloves with veins drawn on, pasty pancake makeup, a dark purple cowl and cape and plastic skull around his neck – became friend and nemesis to us kids all at the same time.

He was a friend in my household. Because she knew it was important to me, my mom helped me stay up late on Fridays, talking to me and prodding me and even occasionally offering me a McDonald’s hamburger left over from our special Friday night dinner.

For other kids, including some of my cousins, Sammy, his creaking coffin, his spider friend George and his spooky movies were just a bit too much. Sammy’s entrance was a cue for the sleepover to move into deep sleeping bag mode.

And what movies he showed. Channel 4, like stations all over the country, had bought the Shock Theater package of films. The 50-plus films, including many classic black-and-white Universal Studios horror movies like “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man,” had been re-released to theaters for much of the 1930s and 1940s and even the 1950s. But in 1957, the package was released to television and many stations built a weekly horror movie show around it. Thus were born the TV horror hosts, men (and a few women) who dressed up in spooky outfits and presented the classic films, often seasoning their introductions and cut-away bits with campy humor.

Carter – whose stage name was a play on “cemetery” – told me on a couple of occasions how much he enjoyed the gig. He recalled with great fondness how the cardboard dungeon set was created and how the most realistic thing about the show – the coffin from which he arose every Friday at 11 p.m. – had been provided by a funeral home that insisted he never tell its origin for fear it would upset customers.

Carter made appearances here in Muncie over the years, and before one such appearance, in the early 1980s, I had done an interview and asked if I could meet him “backstage” at Muncie Mall as he got into makeup and costume. He graciously agreed and, along with a couple of friends, I was ushered into the room where he was getting ready.

Like three starstruck kids, Jim, Derek and I watched as he got ready and made small talk. When he was finished, I took a picture of the other two with him. That picture hung on Derek’s wall for many years.

Sammy’s time as a horror movie host passed more than a couple of decades ago, a victim of changing tastes and TV economics. He continued to make personal appearances, to the delight of the grown-up kids who remembered him and wanted their kids to know Sammy. In the past couple of years, Carter’s son has been making personal appearances in the character and might continue to do so. It’s a continuation I heartily approve of. Sammy would be pleased to know that he, the ultimate Hoosier TV ghoul, had a life after death.

We’ll miss you, Mr. Carter. And you too, Sammy.

The documentary about our monstrous childhood

I’ve mentioned before in this space what I call “the monster world” and what others call the “monster kid” phenomenon. It was that golden period from the 1950s until the 1970s when a lot of us kids were obsessed with all manner of spooky, geeky stuff: Old Universal Studios monster movies, monster dragsters, monster comics, Aurora monster models … you name it.

Part of the impetus for the monster world was the release to television, in the 1950s, of the classic Universal Studios monster films from the 1930s and 1940s. After years of re-releases to theaters, the movies finally found a place on TV.

Late night Fridays and Saturdays and on Saturday afternoons, local TV stations that had purchased the Universal movie package — often referred to as the “Shock Theater” package — aired classics like “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and all their sequels and spinoffs.

Often local stations created horror movie spoof characters — like Sammy Terry on WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis — to host the broadcasts.

At the same time, magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, The Monster Times, Castle of Frankenstein and many more began publishing.

All of a sudden, the denizens of the monster world found each other.

Today I heard about “That $#!& Will Rot Your Brain,” a documentary from Bob Tinnell that looks at the monster kid phenomenon. Through interviews with everybody from Bob Burns to Tom Savini (if you have to ask …) the documentary looks at what it was like growing up in this golden era.

Tinnell and his partners are seeking donations to help raise $10,000 toward the cost of the film. This website has details.

Donate if you want. No sales pitch from me. I mention it only because, as a former denizen of the monster world, it’s pretty cool to see devoted fans putting their fantasies in action this many years after the fact.