Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ghosts and Frankenstein on stage!

I have always enjoyed stage shows. The Capitol theater had quite a few. I remember seeing the singer, Vaughn Monroe and getting his autograph. But, the most interesting and fun show was "Dr. Silkini's Asylum of Horrors." They used the Frankenstein monster in the show and in those days that was scary. It was a campy show that used people from the audience for a major part of the show. Then, toward the end, they would wheel out a hospital stretcher with the "monster" on it, and thunder and lightning would fill the theater. Then the monster would rise from the stretcher, and after cutting off someone's head, he would walk off the stage into the audience, with the bleeding head under his arms. The theater would then go black and ghosts could be seen floating around in the air. (It was fluorescent sheets, hanging from fishing poles and waved back and forth from the stage). I was only twelve years old and it really scared me. Jack Wyman was the actor's name who played the monster. I got his autograph backstage afterwards and he signed it, "Til redder blood flows," - Jack Wyman. Years later I would see the same show in Lima, Ohio, at the Ohio theater. I went there with my friend Bud Hilgert. But, when the stage monster started into the audience, I ran up the aisle in the dark and jumped behind the concession stand.

In Hollywood, a few years ago, I was driving by a small venue called, Theater,Theater on Cahuenga Boulevard and saw a sign "Dr. Silkini's Asylum of Horrors." I drove around the block because I couldn't believe my eyes. Sure enough, it looked like the same show. I parked the car and then talked with the person in charge, Steve Connor's, who was trying to revive the show. He had traveled with the original Silkini show but Jack Wyman was now deceased. Times has changed and unless you are a Texas chainsaw murderer, it's hard to scare people. The MUNSTERS television show had also ruined the Karloff, Frankenstein image. I "rented" the Frankenstein monster costume (the one Peter Boyle wore in "Young Frankenstein"), from the Western Costume Company and in Glendale, California, I helped them advertise the show, dressed as the monster. The Silkini show is the same show that inspired James Dean to portray the monster in a school play, "Goon with The Wind," after he had seen the show in Marion, Indiana.

The Silkini show has toured for over sixty-five-years. After Dean died, they would advertise the ghost of James Dean is on our stage. It was a Dean look-alike wearing a red jacket. I still have the Frankenstein head-piece I used for the show. (I did at the first writing of this manuscript) but, inadvertently left it in Hollywood when I moved back to Ohio. It was a fun experience and Connor's stepson's last name is DeWeerd, the same as Jimmy's Reverend friend in Fairmount, Reverend DeWeerd, coincidence?

At the Capitol, the storm sounds for the show (thunder and wind), were on a record and the Silkini show had left it behind, on the turntable. I used it years later when we played, "The Thing that Couldn't Die." I came out on the stage and would go into the audience in monster, greasepaint make-up, with chains around my wrists. Then the lights would go out and previews for the film would be shown on the screen. Mr. Berry, would be in the audience and fired a blank pistol at me, before the lights went out. The audience loved it and would applaud us.

The Strand Theater would occasionally have a few western stars in person. The Strand theater was an elegant theater when it opened, but rundown when I was old enough to go there. The carpet was worn and although the front marquee had been remodeled, it was just an ordinary, second run theater.

I recall seeing bad, western guy, Kenny Duncan, there and Eddie Dean, both B western stars. Kenny just talked to the audience and then shot off a blank from his pistol. Eddie Dean sang a few songs before he fired off his blank from a pistol. They weren't there at the same time. I just remember seeing both of them. Eddie had a hit record at that time called, "One Has My name, the Other has my Heart." And when I followed him around the corner to the Ho-Toy Chinese restaurant, I played it on the juke-box. I knew it made him feel good. And I was allowed to hang around backstage at the theater.

But, the Dr. Silkini show was one of my favorites. And I heard it is still touring today. The book has a photo of James Dean as Frankenstein.


Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book sites
The first book with a rating. Rated "R" for expletives

Retailers may order at INGRAM Book Distributors
ISBN  978-0-615-37758-2

Published by Studio "D" Publishing Company