Sunday, January 18, 2009

Monsterpiece Theatre

From 1985 to 1986, Lexington's WLEX-TV ran a late-night horror host show called "Monsterpiece Theater", starring a rather cheesy lady in a frightwig calling herself Millicent B. Ghastly. YouTube archivist Nolegsblueguy has many episodes online.

The show's brief tenure may be chiefly because of the un-horrific nature of Millicent, who looked more like an L.A. bag lady than a horror host, in spandex outfits and new-wave sunglasses. Then again, it could also be because they were using a toy-store-bought Cookie Monster puppet as Millicent's sidekick. Furthermore, the name "Monsterpiece Theatre" was already in use as a very popular Cookie Monster routine on Sesame Street. Someone's attorney probably called someone's attorney.

According to this site, the actress playing Millicent was Barbara Ends, who did it pro bono just for giggles, and left the show only because she and her husband relocated to the east coast.


Ed said...

Yeah, but she also dug a lot at some of the big wigs in Lexington like the Webb Brothers --see her skits for The Monsterpiece Theatre version of Frankenstein where she is complaining about having to work in the Webb Brother's castle.

Also, she poked fun at things like the adoration that Kentucky folks were showering on Queen Elizabeth when she was coming to visit the state back then. And, Haley's Comet.

Of course, I guess that most of that went over my head when I was 12. What I really liked was getting to watch Eurotrash movies like The Night Evelyn Came out of the Tomb, Malinka (starring Anita Eckberg), and other gems of Eurotrash cinema that they would regularly show when I was too young to know what I was watching but very happy to be able to see it. Especially the dance scene in When Evelyn Came Out of the Tomb.

Also, I believe I must have caught the very first episode and that one did kind of build a rapport with the audience as she was locked out of the studio for the first five minutes or so and it dealt with them trying to get her inside.

Anyway, after Milicent B. Ghastly's departure from the show, they replaced her with Kruiser and Kelly from WKQQ's pre-Bob and Tom Morning Show back in the days when it was 98.1, and the show was never as good again.

The last few weeks, I've been plagued by visions of this clown that used to be on the Channel 62, that is the current channel 36 in Lexington. after school in the late seventies and early eighties.

He would present shorts like The Three Stooges and Flash Gordon if I remember correctly; however, his show was taken off after the switch to 36.

I do remember one video they used to show of him walking through a creepy looking park with leaves blowing.

I can't find any information about him on the 'net, but do you remember who he was?

The Doctor said...

Well, the Millie version of the show ended because we moved east. No sinister stuff here, folks.

Our charge from WLEX was to produce "a cult TV show" for $50 a show, later upped to $75, woo. We had no contract beyond a handshake after a sumptuous lunch-do at The Magic Pan. Our original commitment was for 13 weeks, through the October local ratings sweeps; and if we garnered better ratings than the unhosted movies previously in the slot, we would get to continue for another 13 weeks. Since our official WLEX producer never came around to tell us that our ratings were less than desired, we figured we might as well keep showing up to do the show.

The Millie look came from Missy Holloway, who had recently moved from Seattle to Lexington as costume designer for a new resident modern dance company, and was doing design work unlike any other Lex-area designer (that we knew of, at least). It seemed consistent with our "cult-show" charge to seek out Missy; it helped that she built costumes that held up. Missy designed the whole look, wig glasses n all, and pointed us to Bob Andrews for makeup design. Bob stayed with the show from Day 1 to Day Last; he was a real sweetie, and we used him as one of our on-camera regulars because he was quite willing to go along with whatever we came up with. At the time, Bob's day (well, night) job was a cook at Joe B's; we used to pick him up when he got off shift, and head over to WLEX for our evening ritual of pressing our faces against the window in the studio door and try to break up Mindy n Mike while they read the news.

The show was supposed to be entirely ad-libbed; that could not possibly have worked, so I wrote it to appear as if it was ad-libbed. We gradually found Millie's voice somewhere around the 4th or 5th show, as she evolved from a Tallulah Bankhead/Elvira clone to a brat. Barbara's performance always gave Millie enough of a heart so that people would care about the character; I certainly never gave Millie anything positive to say.

The Little Blue Guy started off as a throwaway joke for some wretched werewolf movie, and seemed to lend himself to serve in some running joke capacity or another. He was supposed to be a Bob Clampett-type Daffy Duck character, pushing his face into camera and generally interrupting. Wish I could remember the movie; I do remember that one of the internal bits was one of our Monster Movie Trivia Fun Facts, where we took the "reality" of the process that Jack Pierce and John P. Fulton used for the classic Universal werewolf transformations and bowlderized it -- something about nailing Bob's hand to a 2x4, pouring white glue over his arms, and gluing handfuls of green easter egg grass on him. As I said, he was a sweetie and a good sport.

The locked-out of the studio riff was based on our real first night at WLEX, a kind of meet-and-greet with our studio crew to establish the tone of the show. Seems that our producer forgot to let the night guard know that we were expected, so he did his job and wouldn't let us in. We did several variations on that throughout our term on the show, and used it as the intro for the Last Millie Show.

Our studio crew warmed up to the notion that we weren't Talent Who Must Be Obeyed, and added all manner of audio and video hijinks, some of which we didn't see or hear until we watched the tape of the broadcast. Shoutouts to Keith Rightmyer, Doug(ie) Crowe, Richie, Howie, the Jeffs, and all the rest, who were all exceptional sports about going on as on-air talent when they weren't otherwise pointing cameras at us.

As far as the local commentary aspect of the show went -- we figured, why not? It amused us, and people wrote to us about it. We'd try to slip in some Learned Commentary about the movies themselves (when we'd remember to do so, or when we could find some in our Psychotronic Encyclopedia bought specifically for the show), but as far as audience feedback went -- insert sound of crickets here. I never saw the point of dumbing the show down, or slowing it down for that matter; we figured most people would catch most of the references most of the time, mostly.

We never did get over that people watched the show and seemed to invest heavily enough into it to send letters; or that people actually recorded it and watched it; and we really can't get over that someone would hold on to their tapes and post them on YouTube. Frankly, we're tetched n humbled, and also needing to get back to work.

kirk said...

Hey, fangs for the link to the vids. I'm the guy putting up those videos... or rather, the guy that put up those videos, as I don't have any more of them.

Monsterpiece Theatre was a pretty special show to me because the mid-80s weren't kind to my family, and I felt like I was part of something when they'd read my letter on the air. These entertainers were using my letters to create comedy to amuse Lexing-folk and other central Kentuckians. How many people were hearing my letter? How many were laughing with me? And couldn't they have lighted that shot of my drawing I sent them better? (The Doctor may remember that piece of art titled Werewolf Boy Scout. Should have been cub-scout, I think I ruined the joke there. Forgive me, I was 15.)

After the show was gone,I was devastated. I'd just learned my one other indulgence (ROM, Spaceknight) was being canceled by Marvel Comics, and now they're taking away Millie? I felt like Brother Boy when he learned that Tammy Wynette died.

I was only able to rent a VCR on four nights and tape the show. The tape was so worn that I began worrying recently and digitized the shows to make DVDs for my brothers, who also watched with feverish loyalty. When I began Youtubing (I have three different channels... one for MT, one for a documentary about my family, and one for... Kirk/Spock) I thought it would be cool to see if anybody else remembered the show.

I'm glad to see that they did!

James Dale Coldiron said...

Honestly, I think that it says a lot that I found a number of Millicent B. Ghastly clips on Youtube (had a nostalgia attack), and not one Kruiser and Kelly clip. I remember hurrying home from college each week, and my best friend would come over so we could just laugh at Millie and crew. It was kind of rough time for me, and the show was a kind of weekly relief to me... just needed laughter. I appreciate that much thoughtful insanity. I remember the disappointment when the format changed and never bothered to watch it again post-Millie. I have a number of them on tape (Plan 9 being a prized possession), and the one with Brian Collins (miss him) coming in to do a weather report is still one of my favorite scenes. He actually fit well with the rest of that crew. Oh well, those were good memories.