The Javan rhinoceros is the most endangered mammal in the world. A close second is the TV horror movie host.
If I've figured right — never a prudent wager — this should be the Halloween issue of this paper. Its Associate
Editor thought this might be a good time for me to talk about TV horror hosts, and one in particular.
What, you may ask if you're under 30, is a TV horror host?
Good query. These days, most local TV stations employ few on-camera personalities. They have a news team and maybe one
person who hosts a morning or weekend interview show. Everything else they broadcast is produced elsewhere — syndicated programming,
off-network reruns, etc.
Once upon a time, TV stations originated large chunks of local programming. Along with the news folks and interviewers, they
usually had a couple of kid's show hosts, some warm folksy guy to host an afternoon movie show, perhaps a local disc jockey who hosted a teen dance
And late Saturday night (sometimes, Friday) one of the above would don ghoul make-up and emcee a horror film from the station's
archives. They had them all across the nation: Philadelphia — and later, New York — had Zacherley. Cleveland had
Ghoulardi. Nashville had Sir Cecil Creape. St. Petersburg had Dr. Paul Bearer. Detroit had Sir Graves Ghastly.
Los Angeles had Vampira back in the 50's. In my day, there were several, including the complicated lineage of those who hosted
KCOP's horror movie show, which was called Jeepers Creepers Theatre.
They started with a ghastly master of ceremonies named Jeepers Creepers. Then he was replaced by a Vampira-type named Ghoulita
and she, in turn, was replaced by a cadaver-like gent named Jeeper's Keeper. Later, a host named simply Creeper did the honors.
That's all there were...those four. But if you asked any of my friends who followed the program, they'd swear there was a whole
family: "First, there was Jeepers Creepers...then he was replaced by Creeper's Jeeper. Then came Jeeper's Keeper and then Keeper's Creeper and
then Creeper's Beeper...then they brought in Keeper's Sleeper, followed closely by Jeeper's Sweeper, Sleeper's Leaper, Steeper's Weeper and finally,
Heaper's Deeper Reaper."
I gave up on Jeepers Creepers Theatre about half-past Jeeper's Keeper. I didn't watch another horror movie host until
Seymour turned up hosting Channel Nine's Fright Night in 1970. He was hysterical.
The movies he hosted were usually rotten. But he was hysterical.
I wasn't the only local who became a big Seymour fan. A year or two later, a monster magazine asked me to interview him and I
jumped at the chance. What follows is the article that I whipped up then. I've cut out or rewritten some of the lousier prose —
though obviously not all of it...
Some horror movies have been screened unto death on television. Nary a week goes by that Bride of the Gorilla isn't
foisted upon the public, somewhere. I, like the vast majority of Los Angeles film buffs, thought that nothing could make me tune in for one
more showing of The Horror of Party Beach or some such schlock-shocker. But we all failed to reckon with Seymour...
You may very well be asking yourself, even now, who this Seymour is — proof positive that you don't live in Los Angeles.
Every Angeleno knows Seymour as the gaunt, mustachioed weirdo who has attained a popularity unmatched by other local personalities. An
ever-growing legion of loyalites now forsake all else on Saturday evenings so they can turn on Channel Five and see some vintage horror flick get
"I call them the way I see them," Seymour proclaims and, indeed, he does. Before, after, and often during bad scenes, Seymour
pops in with his special brand of caustic film criticism. No line of bad dialogue escapes his meat-cleaver sarcasm. And, if a slipshod
movie director has allowed a casual view of the boom microphone or erred in some other technical way, leave it to Seymour to offer up an instant
replay and isolate the faux pas for all of Southern California to see. When the film is of the caliber of, say,
Attack of the
Mushroom People (Seymour's own unfavorite), the feature is likely to serve as one continuous straight line.
It all begins with a sting of eerie music as the camera pans over a slimy, moss-covered green wall. An unseen announcer delivers
the voice-over shpiel in disjointed falsetto and climaxes with: "....and here he is, the Master of the Macabre, the Epitome of Evil, the most
sinister man to crawl the face of the earth...Seymour!"
The wall swings open to release a burst of swamp mist/dry ice vapor from the nether regions, and in strides Seymour, elegantly attired
in wide-brimmed fedora, ruffled shirt and undertaker's tuxedo. He proclaims, "Tonight's feature is
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors,
a 1965 bomb that Donald Sutherland would like to forget...but we're not going to let him!"
Mr. Nielsen didn't report if Donald Sutherland was watching — in shame or otherwise — that night. But a goodly
fragment of Southern California was. Estimates have it that the audience for such mediocre and/or well-worn movies is double what such films
would attain, sans Seymour. Never before have such bad movies garnished such high ratings. Seymour and his alter-ego, Banjo Billy,
are the cause.
Banjo Billy bears a striking physical resemblance to Seymour attired in a blazing-orange marching band outfit and a pair of glasses
with a plastic nose attached. Any similarity, however, ends there. Banjo Billy is bright and cheery; Seymour is sarcastic, irascible and
downright insulting. An observer named Larry Vincent confessed to this reporter, "I'm really beginning to dislike Banjo Billy,
personally. I got so mad at him once that I burned his costume and I had to go out and buy another one myself."
Larry Vincent, as it happens, is the man who plays Seymour and — if the truth be known — Banjo Billy, as well. Few,
if any, Seymour supporters are willing to admit though that such a person as "Larry Vincent" exists. "They recognize me on the street as
Seymour and they expect to be insulted or ignored or treated rudely. I don't disappoint them." Seymour, with all his frenetic
independence, is fast seizing control of Vincent's body for his own sinister purposes.
The body spent some twenty years in television studio control room. "I was a staff-director and, naturally, I had been associated
with many horror film hosts. They always came out with the spiders and the coffins...they'd leave the film alone and try to be funny or spooky
by themselves. To me, there's nothing amusing about a guy making himself up to look horrible and coming out of a coffin. They ended up
competing with the film, trying to do something even more fantastic with the sets and make-up...I thought that some day, I'd like the opportunity to
try it with a different approach."
Vincent skipped from station to station, from Indianapolis to Hollywood, and from director to actor. Among other employs were a
few local theatre productions, several Get Smart episodes and a forgettable self-sacrifice in
The Incredible Two-Headed
Transplant. "I was doing a character role and was wiped out about ten minutes into the first reel," he explains. "Whenever
Transplant rears its ugly heads on KTLA, Seymour has vowed to replay his scene,
Eventually, KHJ-TV (channel nine in L.A.) had need of a horror host for its Saturday eve program, Fright Night. Channel
Nine is a station noted for their poor equipment, its weak film library and its popularizing of the notion that the VHF dial stops at eight.
Amazingly, Seymour began to attract viewers while he refined his skill and style. "Tonight I have a pair for you," he announced one
"...Monster From The Surf and The House on Haunted Hill. I never get any swell movies! You can stay here and watch these
turkeys, if you like. I'm going to go crash the party down the street — !"
One evening, the most horrifying thing about Fright Night was that it was airing without Seymour. In his stead was an
overly-endowed Vampirella-type with the handle of Moona Lisa. Within moments, and for days following, the KHJ switchboard was inundated with
fiery letters of protest — irrefutable evidence that a good horror film fan would rather watch an emaciated, cynical ghoul than a voluptuous
pretty lady with the spiders and the coffins and all that Seymour had broken away from.
Seymour had also broken away from KHJ, as it happened. He packed his slimy wall and took a better offer from KTLA, complete with
the opportunity to show better films and to use better facilities. Channel Five has the equipment to combine tape and film, permitting
Seymour's wisecracks to be set directly into the movie. Horror devotees, tuning in Dracula for the nth time, found it a bit
different, Seymour's time around. In the opera-box scene, where Bela Lugosi is introduced to several people, he also met Banjo Billy, who had
been chromakeyed into a formerly-empty chair, complete with opera glasses.
We asked Seymour/Vincent if dyed-in-the-wood horror buffs protested when he tampered with a classic. "There aren't enough classics,
really. The original Dracula was a classic, so we didn't do much to it. What we tamper with is things like
Attack of the
Mushroom People. I get a few nasty letters but so many are in favor of what we do that I'm sure the vast majority take it the way we intend
it — as satire.
Seymour fans are plentiful. Seymour T-shirts are often seen about town, and there is a Seymour fan club with its official
newsletter, The Slimy Wall Times. The fan club's official certificate proclaims: "To Whom It My Concern (and it won't)...This is to
certify that (have a friend help you spell your name) is a member in bad standing of Seymour's Society of FRINGIES...You are an idiot of the first
One memorable appearance took place at the Wiltern Theatre for the West Coast "Screamiere" of
Tales from the Crypt. Prior
to the feature, Seymour emceed a screaming contest — the brainstorm of some publicity agent for Metromedia Films. After a dozen or so
award-winning shrieks, suddenly, the Wilton was in the business of showing silent movies, not by choice. The sound system was busted and the
film had to be cancelled.
Despite mounting popularity, Seymour has no plans to go the big-budget, giant set route. People tune in for Seymour and if there
was any way to eliminate the movie, he might well draw an even bigger audience.
"We're showing House of Frankenstein next week," he told us, pointing to a calendar which also listed
I Was a Teen-Age
Frankenstein and How to Make a Monster. "John Carradine will be our guest and I'm going to give him the same treatment I gave
Vincent Price, once.
"We were showing some Vincent Price film and I spent the first half talking about what a terrible job Vincent Price was doing in the
film. I was really giving it to him. Then, the phone rang. It was Vincent Price, of course, and I began telling him what a great
actor he was: 'Like I was just telling the people, Mr. Price, you certainly are delivering a splendid performance in this movie we're
running!' Then, when we got off the phone, I went back to saying what a rotten film it was..."
Seymour is unique. Who else would spice thirty seconds of a Stan Laurel silent comedy, completely
non-sequitur, into the middle
of Werewolf of London? Who else would replay the lift-off scene from
Queen From Outer Space and point out where one can see the
wire on the spaceship? Who else would pop into the midst of The Raven and, when a lady suggests they all go off to their nice warm beds,
proclaim in Groucho-intonation, "That's the best idea I heard all night"?
Despite his mischief, Larry Vincent does have a high regard for the craft of horror movies. "We're in the middle of a new cycle
now," he says. "People want escape pictures and that's what horror movies are."
That's most of the piece that I wrote around 1972. If it sounds gushy...well, Larry Vincent was one of the first TV stars I'd
ever spoken with. And also, I really liked him, both on-camera and off. I suffered through some pretty dreadful horror films to catch his
bits. (This was before VCRs. You kids today don't know what it's like to live without the luxury of Fast Forward.)
At some point in there, I wrote some material for Seymour. Oddly enough, while I can vividly recall the thrill of hearing my
jokes uttered on TV, I can't for the life of me remember a single one of them...or being paid.
As in most horror films, the story of Larry "Seymour" Vincent has an ugly conclusion. Though he was popular on local TV, he never
quite figured out how to take his act to a wider audience. Seymour worked hard, promoting himself all across Southern California. He
became a frequent attendee — and on-air plugger — of local science-fiction and comic conventions...but the act never went much farther
than hosting Halloween Night at Knotts Berry Farm.
Years later, some of the folks at KHJ who'd worked on his show decided to create another horror host — this time, a sexy
witch. They cast a clever lady named Cassandra Peterson...and thus was born Elvira, who has probably had more of a career than all the horror
hosts of all time, combined. If Larry Vincent had lived to see it all, he doubtlessly would have muttered, "That's what I was
Alas, he did not live to see it — or them. In '73, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a series of operations that
caused his already-gaunt face and form to grow even more emaciated. He managed to keep his sense of humor, though; the last time I saw him, he
commented on how his appearance was shocking for a human being but perfect for a horror movie host.
By that time, he was almost living in a hospital room. Some weeks, he would leave only to tape a show or do a public
appearance. He passed away in 1975.
I don't really have an ending for this so I'll just steal Seymour's: "I'd like to wish you a good evening. I'd like to...but
that's just not my style!"
He said it on every episode except for his last, which I suspect was his way of telling us it was his last. I wish he was still