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Friday, October 19, 2012

Erv Coppi: Horror Host!

Sometime in the depths of my youth I was poring over the newest issue of TV Guide - something I did regularly and with great fervor - looking for anything interesting I might want to watch that next week.

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!

14 comments:

  1. Erv introduced me to a lot of good old films through WSIU. I also remember late in my teens babysitting (my baby nephews(aged 2-5) and throwing the blanket on the floor and watching "The Wolfman" with them(they're all either in their 30's or pushing it now)

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    1. It was a great time to be a movie fan in Southern Illinois.

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  2. I love local shows like this. I grew up watching Son of Svengoolie and watching a whole host of great monster movies and other thrillers. I also loved teh side show gimmicks he had.

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    1. Yeah, one of the things I find myself most nostalgic for is the era of watching shows locally - not nationally - broadcast.

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  3. Good ol' Erv.

    I can't remember the name of the other fella, that would interrupt Dr. Who during the fund-raising season. The one we tricked into saying a naughty name that one time...

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    1. I had forgotten that guy until you said that - but he was another button down fellow - thinner, glasses - he was as low key in his speech as Droopy Dog - and conequently about as funny!

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  4. Erv Coppi was the only one that we had in our area that would make sure we knew about the good Universal monsters films. By then Sammy Terry's shock theater package had expired so he was showing inferior AIP movies. But also Sammy Terry was showing the good Hammer stuff so we had to rely on Erv Coppi to show us the good Universal stuff.

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    1. You must have been way over in Indiana to be getting Sammy Terry's show - which I only got to see one time when I was in Muncie for a drama club summer camp at Ball State. Were you midway between Indianapolis and Carbondale - and just able to pick each up with snow on the screen? I'm intrigued! And thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  5. I lived in Washington, Indiana. WSIU came in perfectly, but WTTV channel for came in a little bit snowy. Washington Indiana is extreme Southwestern Indiana. Erv was the first time I had ever seen many of the old Universal films. I distinctly remember watching THEM! and being quite scared when Erv quipped " If you hear a scratching at your door, don't open it. Because it might be THEM!" Good times.

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  6. Does anyone recall if there was a filmed intro after Erv introduced the film, before the film would start? It was black and white, no dialogue, with an eerie synthesizer score. It depicted a mad scientist and hunchback robbing graves in a foggy cemetery, only the coffin they dug up was full of reels of film. The scientist would take the coffin back to his lab and put on one of the films and get close to the projector so you could just see one of his eyes. Then the film would start.

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    1. I do not remember that intro - it was definitely NOT a part of the show when I was actively watching it. I guess it could have been added in those last couple of years when I was not watching - but it really doesn't seem to fit Erv's hosting style...

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    2. I honestly think I am confusing Erv with another horror show I watched regularly that also showed the classic Universal films. I just can't recall what channel that was on. Springfield had the Acri Creature Feature, which I watched a lot, so I know that's not it. Was there another public TV channel in south-central Illinois?

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    3. I honestly think I am confusing Erv with another horror show I watched regularly that also showed the classic Universal films. I just can't recall what channel that was on. Springfield had the Acri Creature Feature, which I watched a lot, so I know that's not it. Was there another public TV channel in south-central Illinois?

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