4 years ago I wrote and published a new book titled The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies. It's a Halloween-type book. I'd like to share with you the words found on the dedication page. They are:
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.
A photograph of Larry and myself was supposed to appear on that page, but was cut without my permission, or indeed even any notification to me. I found out it was not in the book when the I received the first copy. This is one of several matters concerning the treatment my book received from it's publishers which have left me - let's say dissatisfied. Anyway, here's the picture that was supposed to be in the book.
|I wish I still looked like that, and I wish he were still alive even more. Note the autograph over Larry's right shoulder. It reads "Good show Doug!! Seymour. (I'm on the left.")"|
|I got to meet Martin Landau a couple months ago, and told him this story of unexpectedly seeing him with my dead friend, and how it surprised me into tears He patted my back and gave me a hug, as I was getting teary again just tellng him.|
I'd like to share with you this Halloween an account of my friendship with this wonderful and funny man, which I wrote some years ago for the late, lamented Local Legends webpage, about Los Angeles TV personalities of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Believe me, if there'd been no Seymour, there'd never have been Elvira. This essay also appears in full in James Fetters terrific new book Creatures of the Night that We Loved So Well: The Horror Hosts of Southern California, which you can order by clicking on the title. (I also wrote the forward.)
|What's under the cloth? See next photo.|
Seymour was so popular with us college kids, that we actually turned on the show and watched him, even at parties. I remember the night I turned 21, in May 1971, I performed as Puck in the closing night performance of our University production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, then went to the closing night party at the home of the girl playing Hermia in Hermosa beach, and very stoned, we all watched Seymour. We talked through most of whichever movie was running, and we ignored the commercials, but we all watched Seymour and laughed our heads off.
I first actually met Seymour that October, the night the opening day at Disney World TV special was broadcast. Seymour was hosting a special Halloween show at the Wiltern Theatre: a double feature of The Return Of Count Yorga & Night Of The Living Dead. Seymour did a monologue, including his infamous version of The Raven, then sat onstage with a microphone and made jokes all through the silly Count Yorga sequel. (Whatever possessed AIP to think that queeny Robert Quarry could be the next Vincent Price?) During intermission Seymour signed autographs in the lobby. Then he introduced the second feature, mentioning that jokes wouldn't be appropriate during George Romero's disturbing masterpiece, and left.
I stood in the fan line and got Seymour's autograph on my Seymour certificate and went home thoroughly entertained. Over the next couple years I attended several more Seymour appearances in movie theatres, and seeing some real dogs in the process. But the day came, in late 1973, when Seymour was announced to ride in the Westminster Founder's Day Parade, a parade which formed on the grounds of Westminster High School, from which I had graduated in 1968, just a half mile from my home.
I was working then writing radio comedy for "Sweet Dick" Whittington at KGIL (To this day, still a close friend), and decided to take a shot at getting a writing spot with Seymour. I was convinced I could write the character. I'd seldom missed the show, and felt I knew the character intimately by this time.
I found Seymour waiting around, just outside a classroom in which, a few years earlier, I had studied Moby Dick & Lord Of The Flies. I introduced myself to Larry Vincent, told him I was writing for Sweet Dick, and asked if he was looking for writers for his TV show. Luck was in. He was. He told me to call his office on Monday and set-up an appointment to come in and show him some sample material. He also introduced me to Lynda Vincent, his much-younger wife, who wrote most of the shows with him, and Gary Blair, the show's executive producer, who was also the voice of Herkamer Eugenski, the nasal voiced, whiny announcer for Seymour Presents on KTLA.
|Seymour's Dorian Gray portrait was Banjo Billy, Seymour's nemesis, seldom seen at the same time and place as Seymour.|
The evening before my appointment, I sat down and made a stack of what I felt were my strongest radio sketches. Then I put paper in the typewriter, and wrote a sample Seymour sketch.
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 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.")
When I got to the KTLA lot at Sunset & Van Ness (Just across the street from an apartment building, now demolished, in which I was to live in 1986-8. It's the apartment building in Pulp Fiction.) Larry brought me in to to see The Slimy Wall in the sound stage. To my delight, the Help Thy Neighbor set sat right next to the Slimy Wall, at right angles to it. My sketch could be shot on the actual set, just by rotating the cameras 90 degrees!
As we entered the studio, we ran into Larry Van Nuys coming out. As it happened, I knew Larry Van Nuys. Prior to his achieving fame with Help Thy Neighbor, he had been the next disc jockey on after Whittington each morning at KGIL. (Since leaving, he'd been replaced by Wink Martindale) Larry Van Nuys, seeing me, hollered, "Douglas! How the hell are you?", and grabbed me in a big bear hug and gave me a loud, sloppy kiss on the cheek, all right in front of Larry Vincent. I explained that I was there to try and land a job writing for Seymour, and Larry Van Nuys, on the spot, began to regale Larry Vincent with extravagant praise of my comic genius. This, I felt, didn't hurt at all
|Seymour reads the teleprompter roll through the fog, while a crew member laughs.|
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.
|Larry prepares for a take, by looking over the teleprompter copy for the next sketch.|
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!")
I had Seymour try to crash That Party Down The Block disguised as a mousekateer, wearing my own, personal mouse ears, and a furry shirt that had been part of a theatrical costume of mine. (Lynda Vincent provided the offscreen voice of Annette). Shaft Thy Neighbor was used, and, in my favorite sketch, a parody of Curt Siodmak's beloved Sci-fi nonsense Donovan's Brain, I had Seymour remove Eugenski's brain and put it in a fish tank. The disembodied brain instantly took control of Seymour, forcing him to tap dance and sing Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey. In the final scene, Eugenski's brain had been put in Seymour's body, so Seymour now spoke with his squeaky voice, while Seymour's brain squawked impotently from the tank. In short, since this might be my only Seymour script, I fired all my comedy guns.
I delivered the finished script to Larry at the Equicon science fiction film convention, that November. My relationship with Larry had already altered. It was no longer fan and celebrity. Larry let me hang with him throughout the convention, and we discovered that I had the ability to break Larry up as easily as he broke me up. We were to go on breaking each other up, for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, when the time came to shoot the script, Larry had bad news. KTLA had cancelled him. My script was to be his next-to-last show. Larry told me he was very happy with what I had written. He said they had auditioned dozens of other writers and every single one of them had had to be completely rewritten by Lynda and him to fit the character's speech patterns and stay in character, which meant they saved them no work at all. Mine was the only script anyone else had ever written for them that could be shot exactly as written, with no rewriting. The job would have been mine, except, there was now no job.
One change had been made. KTLA Standards & Practices decided that the phrase 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.
On KTLA we had a set time slot. The show had to end on time. As we shot the show, it soon became clear that my script was too long. Midway through shooting, the film editor went back to his lab and hacked a few more minutes out of The Leech Woman, to give us some more air time. (So disrespectful. Fortunately, the movie is crap) Even with the movie butchered to bits, there wasn't time for my brain switch ending. Seymour's brain would remain in his skull. Too bad.
My friend, the late David Tarling, came to the taping with me and took these pictures, now so precious to me. The one picture from that day that I no longer have, was a shot of Larry, Lynda, Garry and myself, lined up in front of the Slimy Wall. Months later, when I began working with Larry at his home on a projected record album, I was proud to see that picture of us framed on Larry's living room wall, where it remained until his death.
So, that was it, I thought. The day of the broadcast, in January 1974, I had friends over and we and my family all watched my first, and for all we knew last, show air. At one point, after an unseen, imaginary audience boos a particularly lame joke, Seymour said, "I didn't write that joke. I got it from Eugenski, and he got it from his writer, whom I've already fired." My mother broke up and, always willing to ally herself with anyone criticizing me, said, "He really let you have it for that one." I believe she was disappointed when I showed her that every word of that bit, including the booing sound effects, were in the script and were written by me. Mother was so hoping it was Larry departing from the script to humiliate me on TV.
Shortly thereafter, I was promoted to producer of The Sweet Dick Whittington Show at KGIL, which was now full-time employment, writing bits, booking the interview guests and setting up all the details of Dick's notorious live stunts. I became happily busy.
|Larry performing Shaft, excuse me, Shelf Thy Neighbor.|
We shot every other Thursday afternoon, doing two shows in a session. Every other taping session I would be the author of the shows. The two shows in between would be by Larry & Lynda.
I would come in to the studio and sit in a screening room so tiny it made the Marx Brothers stateroom look like a stateroom, and a projectionist would run 16mm prints of my two movies. In this pre-home video Stone Age this was the only chance I had to see the films, though a couple, like The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was the best film we ran, I already knew fairly well. I took extensive notes of everything that happened in the movie. I wrote the scripts at my leisure, usually in my office at KGIL, turned them in, came in the day before taping and met with the projectionist/editor, with whom I would extract the film clips we would be using in the show. Since we literally snipped the clips out of the movie, and spliced them back in when we had shot the show, we were damaging the prints every time we used a clip. Naughty.
I came to all the tapings, whether it was my shows or not, for two reasons. 1. I often came up with tweakings for lines or bits on the set, and 2. Being with Larry was such a joy I wanted to be around all I could.
Larry was a great guy, and we became close friends quickly. Lynda & Garry were also terrific people, and we were a happy unit indeed. Larry had a temper. If somebody screwed something up, he would let them have it with both barrels, but he never simply got angry, and he never got angry without cause. In all the time I knew him, he never once raised his voice to me.
In May, Larry rode in the Strawberry Festival Parade in Garden Grove, not far from my folk's home in Westminster. I rode in the parade with Larry & Lynda, then we went to my parent's home for a huge home cooked meal. My 16 year old brother Duncan had, of course, told every kid for miles around that Seymour was coming to our house, so there was a small crowd of kids to greet us when we arrived. (Enroute, we had stopped at a K-Mart to pick something up, and Larry had been recognized, and started a small mob scene.) Larry & I got going at that meal, sharing increasingly ribald humor, while Lynda & my mother sort of smiled indulgently. (I remember one thing that broke us up being the idea of Larry playing Banjo Billy wearing, instead of Groucho glasses and fake nose, a dildo-nose & glasses. Well, it is a funny image, though Mother wasn't amused.)
We attended a Sci-fi/comics convention in San Diego together, during which, they ran Larry's ghastly movie The Witchmaker. Larry and I sat and made jokes aloud throughout the film to the delight of the audience.
(In an excessively weird co-incidence, at that time, I was working for Larry Vincent, who had appeared in The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, and Sweet Dick Whittington, who appeared in The Thing With Two Heads. Stranger still, now those two two-headed movies are available on the same DVD. It's like my 1974 life on one disc, with my one boss on side 1, and my other boss on side 2. Spooky.)
|These movies are terrible, but they're fun. You kow the old sayng: Four heads are better than one."|
Killing two jobs with one stone, I booked Larry on The Whittington Show on KGIL one morning as an interview guest and sat back and listened to the comedy gold as my two bosses sparked and riffed together, the only time they ever met. (Needless to say, they both tried to top each other with tales of what an utterly worthless excuse for an employee I was.)
One time on the set, a sketch required Larry to wear a Sherlock Holmes-type deerstalker cap. He was wearing my own personal one. (I kept writing my wardrobe into the show) Larry was in place on the set, waiting for the scene to be slated when I strolled up to him and whispered to him that he had the hat on backwards. Now, of course, the front and back of a deerstalker cap are identical. It isn't possible to put it on backwards, though you can wear it sideways, as Harpo does in Duck Soup. Larry knew this, of course. But he strode mock-angrily off the set, and staged a pretend tantrum ("Why doesn't anybody check these details?") about almost being allowed to do the sketch with the hat on wrong, while he took the hat off, turned it around, and re-groomed.
May 1st, 1974 Doodles Weaver was on the set. He had recently released a record album called Feetlebaum Returns, and was now going to produce a Seymour comedy album. Larry and I were to write it. That evening I dined with Doodles and Walker Edmiston, and Doodles regaled us with tales of drinking with Bogart. Doodles was a great guy to hang with, but murder to work with. We argued about material constantly. Basically, I would write a Seymour piece and Doodles would rewrite it into a Doodles piece, and then, since Larry would be doing it rather than Doodles, it got changed back to my original version.
I remember one afternoon, sitting with Larry in his living room in Santa Monica, working on the album script, when Larry and I noticed something odd. Visible through his sliding glass door, a wrench was floating up into the air. Larry had an open toolbox on the porch, and we found a kid leaning out of the window of an upstairs apartment, with a fishing rod with a magnet on the line, tool fishing.
|M - I - C - K - E - Y M - O - U - S - E.|
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.)
Another day, Larry told me about going into a bar the evening before. Rod Serling sat down next to him and ordered a drink. Slowly the two men noticed each other. "Rod Serling?" Larry asked. "Seymour?" Rod asked back. Turned out Serling was a Seymour fan too. Larry was just tickled by it.
On August 8th, 1974, we had just finished taping my scripts for Vincent Price's Diary Of A Madman & Son Of Godzilla, when a news bulletin came over the studio monitors. I stood next to Larry Vincent in the studio at KHJ and watched Richard Nixon resign. Larry was very depressed by the event, fearing it boded ill for America. I was ecstatic to see the old bastard fleeing in disgrace.
During my time writing for Larry I came up with two new characters for him to play on the show, a biker hipster called "Mr. Cool" and "Ranger Bob", a forest ranger who dispensed insane forestry advice. I also created Seymour's Fairy Tales in which Seymour told horribly warped new versions of old children's favorites.
And then Larry was hospitalized. The show was cancelled. Larry gave me the task of writing the last two shows. The next to last show, for the film Octaman was never shot. Larry was simply too ill to do it, so a show was cobbled together out of old pieces on video at the last minute.
|The World's Coolest Bumper Sticker!|
Before I could leave the hotel room to go to the rehearsal (Lynda was already at the rehearsal.), Larry stopped me. "Douglas, I have to tell you something. You've been a good friend to me, and I appreciate it. I love you, my friend." And he hugged me. I was embarrassed and kept mumbling that I knew it and he didn't need to say it, but Larry said, "No, I do need to say it." I didn't know it then, that he was taking care of business, making sure he'd said the things he wanted to say to his loved ones while he still could. Though I was about as uncomfortable as I could possibly have been at the time, afterwards, in the years that have followed, I have always been very deeply glad that Larry made a point of opening his heart to me, and letting me know I had earned a place in it.
Doing the show turned out to be the best medicine for Larry. He rallied that weekend, and rose to the occasion so well. He enjoyed himself tremendously. Between performances we would go out on an electric cart, toodling around the park, going on rides. As Seymour he would elaborately take cuts in line. "Look over there!" he'd yell, pointing away, and then we'd sprint up to the front and push on to the ride. "So long, suckers." He would call as we rolled into the ride, and everybody had a great time.
|Larry's "Baseball" card.|
|A genuine Seymour fan club membership card, sent to me by Douglas Mason, who is not Little Dougie.|
|Onstage at Knott's Berry Farm.|
|Sending Moona Lisa's halves to opposite sides of the planet. Moona Lisa, aka Lisa Clark and her identical twin sister were the "Siamese Twins" in Sir Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Saboteur.|
|The gauntness of Larry's hands in this photo still makes me sad.|
(In Seymour's last TV show, shot shortly after The Apple Dumpling Gang, I had Seymour relate how a terrible tragedy occurred at Disney Studios while they were shooting the movie. Then we ran a clip from our movie that week, The Hideous Sun Demon, showing the monster catching a rat and squeezing it to death, while Seymour said, "A new security guard didn't recognize Mickey Mouse without his little pants and gloves.")
|A page of TV Guide. Seymour "caught" scrounging through the trash. In one show, I had him throw the film reels of a terrible movie we'd run into a trash can like this, only to have them pop back out. The trash rejected it.|
In 1978 my first full-length stage play, an adaptation of Dracula, opened. The dedication in the program read: "This play is dedicated by it's author to the memory of Larry Vincent, better known to his fans as 'Seymour'. A great friend to horror, terror and things that go bump in the night, and a great friend to me."
"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,
|This photo hangs, framed, beside the computer on which I type up Tallulah's columns for her. She'll be back soon.|