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Televised frights

By Mike Ruffin

As we approach the Halloween season, I find myself reflecting on my earliest exposure to classic horror films.

My initiation into scary movies came via the Dialing for Dollars television program in the 1960s. As best I can recall, it aired on weekday afternoons just before the local news. A television personality named Freddie Miller—who later became well-known as a host of Georgia Championship Wrestling and its successor World Championship Wrestling, which I also faithfully watched—hosted the program. (Wikipedia says that Linda Faye Carson and Don Barber were the first Atlanta hosts. I have no reason to doubt it, but I don’t remember them doing so.) During breaks in the day’s movie, Miller would call people on the telephone and give them the opportunity to win some money—thus the program’s name.

I wasn’t interested in the dollars that Mr. Miller dialed for, but the movies fascinated me. Dialing for Dollars introduced me to such films as Tarantula!, Them!, The Blob, The Thing (From Another Planet), the Hammer Films-produced Dracula (and its sequels), and many other horror and science-fiction classics. Most of them were pretty cheesy, but their cheesiness was (and is) part of their charm.

Some of you will remember a late-night host of horror movies who went by the name Dead Earnest. The program aired in the early 1970s on Friday nights on Atlanta’s WTCG Channel 17 (before it entered its glory days as the Superstation WTBS). A similar program, this one hosted by a ghoul named Sammy Terry (get it?), ran on a station in Indianapolis for thirty years beginning in the 1960s.

And then there was (and is) Svengoolie, who began hosting horror movies on a Chicago station in 1970. The original Svengoolie was later replaced by someone known as Son of Svengoolie. The “Son of” part of the name was eventually dropped, and the second Svengoolie has hosted classic horror films under that name in Chicago since 1995.

I don’t live in Chicago, but fortunately Me-TV carries the Svengoolie program at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday nights. We build our Saturday night schedule around it. In fact, the only things that we allow to preempt Svengoolie are a Mercer Bears football game (Go Bears!), a Georgia Bulldogs football game (Go Dawgs!), or an Atlanta Braves post-season game (Go Braves!). By prioritizing Svengoolie in our television-watching schedule, we have recently seen such cinematic cheese as Blood of Dracula (in which the title character doesn’t appear), Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, House on Haunted Hill, and Gargoyles (the hands-down greatest made-for-TV horror movie ever produced).

Those who are wise enough to watch Svengoolie are also blessed with corny songs, terrible jokes and puns, and thrown rubber chickens.

Every once in a while, Svengoolie shows a legitimate classic. A few weeks ago he aired Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. And just last Saturday, he featured Frankenstein with Boris Karloff.

Speaking of Frankenstein, I’d like to offer a public service, just in case you ever come across our grandson Sullivan and the subject of Frankenstein comes up (and why would it not?). If it does, do not, under any circumstances, refer to the monster as “Frankenstein.” If you do, Sullivan will correct you (as he should) by informing you that the proper nomenclature is “Frankenstein’s monster.” He is right (of course). The scientist’s name is Frankenstein. The monster is Frankenstein’s monster.

You might ask why a four-year-old boy knows and cares about such things.

He knows and cares about such things, my friends, because facts matter.

It is a principle to which I hope he holds for the rest of his life.

I wish more of us held to it.

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