I guess I saw that WSIU - the TV channel for local Southern Illinois University (SIU) - was going to be showing one of the classic Universal Studios Monster movies the next Friday at 10pm. The odds were very good that the movie was Frankenstein, though it's not out of the realm of possibility that Dracula was that first movie - as it had hit theaters first in 1931.
In any case, as a kid barely in double digits, I had nothing better to do on Friday night, and I had a small black and white TV in my room - so at 10pm on that Friday night - I turned on channel 8 and there was a high shot of WSIU's resident movie host Erv Coppi - who hosted classic old movies on Saturday nights and some Sunday afternoons on the channel. He was sitting on a stool, in his standard issue suit and WIDE "regular guy" tie. A really creepy and cool classical piece was playing - I found out later it was Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Let's stop for a bit of that - to set the mood...
Now, that's a smaller and faster rendition than the one I heard on WSIU that night - but it's also the shortest version I could find - as most ran 9 or 10 minutes, and they only used about 40 seconds on the show.
But there Erv sat, behind him a framework holding up six or so big posterboard sized pictures from classic Hollywood. The shot would dissolve down to a tight shot on Erv as he would introduce himself - as his name appear in super below him. This was a trick he'd learned to get people to know how his name was pronounced and spelled! Well played, Mr. Coppi!
Erv would quickly segue over to the name of the night's movie, along with a couple of its stars. He might introduce a small bit of trivia about the movie here - much like Robert Osborne does on TCM now. He'd then tell you he'd be back at intermission to talk about upcoming movies - and they'd fade back to the high shot as Erv calmly sat holding his microphone. Then it was movie time - or at least half the movie time. But let's get a look at Erv in action on WSIU - though sadly none of these pictures are of him actually hosting one of the horror movies.
|Here's Erv waving next to his public television pledge drive co-host Virginia Marmaduke.|
|Erv and Vriginia Marmaduke greeting the univesity's mascot during another pledge drive.|
At the midway point in the movie Erv would come back on for a couple of minutes - talk about upcoming movies they'd be showing, usually with a brief clip. Then it was back to that night's movie until the end credits.
Erv would return at the end for a quick wrapup - all told I'd say he was on screen less than five minutes per show - and the channel would shut down for the night. (Remember when they did that?)
The films were pretty much all from the Universal Studios collection - Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, and all their various sequels and team-ups.
After the popularity of the Friday Night Horror Theater grew - WSIU expanded it into double features - starting the show an hour earlier - at 9pm central time - and going until somewhere between 11pm and midnight. This meant you could get to see all 8 main Frankenstein movies in just four weeks! Awesome!
These shows went on for several years, though I'm not sure when they actually stopped showing them - a young man I used to babysit for who became a fan when I introduced him to these movies - told me he thought it went on to the late 80's, and then the station seemed to lose its mind and jettison most of the good stuff they were showing then. I'd moved on to more teenaged pursuits on my Friday nights and missed those last couple of years.
Erv was marvellous though - if you're not going to have someone dressed up as a character - Baron von Crypt, etc., then a low key serious film buff approach works well too. Just like John Stanley and that fellow who proceeded him on Creature Features on the West Coast.
As those pictures up there show - Erv also hosted the station's yearly pledge drive to raise money for public television - and you could ask him a movie trivia question - which he would answer on air. If he got it wrong you didn't have to pledge. If he got it right you did have to pledge. SPOILER - he never got it wrong. Ever. And it was hard to come up with this stuff with no internet assist, let me tell you. But my parents let me send in $5 or $10 each year after he slaughtered my question on air, which was invariably about some old horror movie I'd been reading about that week.
I'm pleased to say that while he retired from WSIU in 1993, Erv is still around - participating in the station's 50th anniversary celebration last year and still being a cool guy. I enjoy owning all these movies - but I kinda miss watching them on my old black and white TV - in that magical circle of several thousand people around the broadcast tower...
Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!