Jerry Vance was born in Boston in 1924. Early in his career he adopted the name Larry Vincent, but when he died all too young at 50 in 1975, he was best known as Seymour, The Master of the Macabre, The Epitome of Evil, The Most Sinister Man to Crawl Across the Face of the Earth. And the Best TV Horror Host that ever was. He was also the first person to pay me to write jokes about horror movies, and he was my friend. I miss him still, and I dedicate this book to his memory.
Having been a big fan of Jeepers Creepers (A hosted horror movie TV show in Los Angeles from 1962 to 1965.), when I was ages 12 to 14, when a new horror host show, Fright Night With Seymour came on KHJ in 1970, I was excited to tune in, and quickly fell in love with Seymour's prickly sense of iconoclastic humor. I was in college at the time, and never guessed that before Seymour ran his course, I would become a part of it.
At that time, one of the most popular shows on the air on KTLA was Help Thy Neighbor. Neighbor was a morbid feel-good tearfest, on which down-on-their-luck sad sacks would come on, unload their sob story to the host, Larry Van Nuys, and then Larry would take phone calls. Viewers (The show was on live, 5 nights a week) would call in with one form of assistance or another to help the poor schmuck humiliating himself. It was creepy and smarmy, only slightly less horrifying then Queen For A Day. (At least everybody who came on got helped. They didn't kick 3 needy cases out empty-handed each day like Queen did.)
I felt that Help Thy Neighbor was ripe for the Seymour treatment. I wrote a sketch called Shaft Thy Neighbor, in which Seymour read a letter from a pathetic wretch who had been buried under the biggest pile of hard luck since Job, and then took calls from people who "Helped" him, by making matters worse. ("You will no longer have to work day and night at two jobs to support your wife and 14 shoeless children, because your bosses both phoned and fired you, your wife has left you for another man, and your children have all run away.")
Back in his office, I gave Larry my sample pile, with the Seymour sketch carefully buried at the bottom. I sat there as Larry read the pages. He started looking stern and detached, but quickly was laughing out loud, and mentioning how funny he found some of the words used. (I remember him saying he thought "Dreck" a particularly funny word, when it popped up in one of my sketches.)
Then he came to Shaft Thy Neighbor. "What's this?" he asked. I explained that it was a sample Seymour sketch I'd written the night before, to show how well I could write for him. He put his serious, detached face back on, but it didn't stay long. By the time he finished reading the sketch, not only had I been commissioned to write an entire script, but Larry bought the Shaft sketch on the spot.
Since I couldn't write about the film's specifics, I wrote instead a series of parodies of other famous films & TV shows. My opening sketch was a take-off on You Bet Your Life. When Seymour said "Fringies", that turned out to be the secret word, and a rubber chicken came flying down from the eaves. Another sketch employed a huge photo of Banjo Billy I had seen on Larry's office wall, which, in my script, became Dorian Gray's portrait of Seymour. ("Many of you have commented on how I appear to be eternally youthful, how my classically chiseled features never show the wear of time.") Of course, when Seymour revealed the picture, he was livid. ("That can't be me! I want my money back! Eternal youth isn't worth that! Get me Dorian Gray on the telephone immediately!")
One change had been made. KTLA Standards & Practices decided that Shaft Thy Neighbor was dirty. (It was 1973. Dinosaurs still walked the earth) The sketch was changed to Shelf Thy Neighbor, which sounds similar, but which, you'll notice, makes no sense.
Once Larry tipped me off that Mel Brooks was shooting a sequence for his new film at the Music Hall in the afternoons that week. I put on my "I Belong Here" expression and showed up, which is how I came to be present in the room when Mel shot the Puttin' On the Ritz scene in Young Frankenstein, a scene this blog's friend Ken Levine has listed as among the top 5 funniest scenes in movie history. (And I am inclined to agree.)
That Thursday, I picked Larry up at the hospital in Burbank and drove him to Knott's Berry Farm, installing him in a suite at a hotel adjoining the park, before scurrying over to the theatre to oversee the tech rehearsal while Larry relaxed. My job at the park that weekend was really just to see to it that Larry had as easy a time of it as possible. I didn't know Larry was dying, but he knew.
After the weekend was over, Larry felt well enough to return home, instead of going back to the hospital. He seemed full of optimism, and spoke of plans to use Seymour in other ways, after we finished the album, which was only partially recorded. When my paycheck came, it was considerably larger than what we had agreed on. Gary Blair told me that Larry had insisted that I be paid an increased fee, because I'd done such a good job for him, and everything had gone so well.
"And now, the time has come for me to make that dread sojourn into the world that lies out there, beyond the slimiest of walls. Until next time, this is Seymour, wishing you and yours a Bad Evening!" I'll be waiting, my friend. Meanwhile, BOO!