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article imageJohn Stanley retired host of 'Creature Features' talks ghost Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Nov 1, 2016 in Lifestyle
Sonoma - On Halloween night it is customary for the older kids to watch scary movies. These days Netflix, Hulu and others have dozens and dozens to select from. But not too long ago, there was a time when a scary move was on local TV.
"And that was when there was no 24-hour TV HBO or Showtime. The choices were limited but shows like 'Creature Features' provided a full show," said Tom Wyrsch, producer-filmaker of 'Haunted Sonoma County,' now playing at select local theaters. He took a few minutes to chat with this reporter about the TV show 'Creature Features' and its hosts Bob Wilkins and John Stanley.
He noted that it was because of his interest in the show and his later association with Wilkins and Stanley that he got into the documentary film field. "When a theater owner in Oakland wanted Bob to make an appearance, and Bob asked me to check it out and thus began my venture to where I am today." From his experience bringing Wilkins and Stanley out of retirement and back into the spotlight, Wyrsch made his very first documentary in 2013 called 'Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong.' "It's a journey back through those years," he said. "Featuring interviews with Wilkins, Stanley and other key figures close to the show."
John Stanley was the second host of KTVU s  Creature Features  that ran from 1971 until 1984
John Stanley was the second host of KTVU's 'Creature Features' that ran from 1971 until 1984
Courtesy of John Stanley and Garfield Lane Productions
Through today's lens it is hard to fathom that TV programing was limited. But that is the way it was more than 40 years ago. "There was no VHS cassette tapes or home video recording, he said. And for many households in the 1970s, there was only one TV." Still, shows like 'Creature Features' made an impact.
"For 14 years," he noted, "from 1971 to 1984, 'Creature Features' ranked in the Nielsen ratings as one of the most popular TV shows in San Francisco Bay Area television history. The Saturday night series was hosted by Bob Wilkins for eight years and John Stanley for another six," said Wyrsch. "To those who grew up watching with family members and friends, the mixture of host commentary and classic and not-so-classic horror movies remains a nostalgic memory."
"The concept of a late night TV show featuring a horror movie was popular from the 1950's to the 1970's," said Stanley, "there are dozens and dozens of examples, from all over the country, each with their own local host, produced by a local TV station. While programming was limited in years past, what was offered was original."
"Speaking to this reporter from his Pacifica home along the SF Peninsula," Stanley said, "the reason why Bob picked me to replace him was because I wanted to bring guests on to the show and talk more about the movies." Stanley's work with the San Francisco Chronicle as a writer enabled him to make connections to celebrities and people in Hollywood.
"It's funny, Bob was not much of a fan of horror movies, he really liked producing and advertising more than playing host. Although he did enjoy his time on the show. He was very much a family man and made sure that the taping of the show did not interfere with his kids schedules for sports or other important events. In fact," added Stanley, "Bob continued to commute from his home in the Sacramento area to Oakland once or twice a week to do the show. He did not want to uproot his family to follow his career. That's how devoted he was to them."
Wyrsch agreed as he added, "Bob liked the TV work he did but his heart was with his family." After producing a short-lived Sci-fi afternoon TV show for kids also on KTVU, Wilkins would leave 'Creature Features' and go back to advertising, writing and producing. His own ad company helped promote the Chuck E Cheese pizza franchise.
Stanley noted that both he and Wilkins were the only TV horror movie hosts who appeared in regular clothes as themselves. Most of the TV show formats had an actor or actress portraying a persona of sorts, like "Vampira," Svengouli," and "Elvira - Mistress of The Dark."
For Stanley the show was an opportunity to share his love of movies, especially horror and science fiction. He talked at length, mentioning details and eager to find some of the most memorable moments. "for me the most memorable was meeting with Vincent Price and having him on the show," said Stanley. He went on to say that at their initial meeting, Price was very modest and did not say much about his experience in the horror film genre. "When we met for lunch, he talked about his love of cooking and fine food, travel and of course art, Vincent was an avid art collector. He down-played his work in horror films," said Stanley. Yet once on the 'Creature Features' set, Price opened up and was more enthused to talk about the horror films he starred in.
"You know, the funny thing about Vincent's career was the fact after many years of being a contract player in the studio system in the Golden Age of Hollywood, his career really didn't become legendary until later in life at the age of 42. In 1953, Vincent starred in "The House of Wax" and from there for the next 30 years; and until the end of his life he would be considered among the most outstanding, consummate actors of the horror genre."
Another actor Stanley remembered from his time on 'Creature Features' was Christopher Lee. Star of of Hammer Studios in England which made its own brand of horror movie classics, Lee almost walked off the show. Similar to what he told the SF Chronicle back in 2007, (as I am paraphrasing here) Stanley explained, "I was in the midst of rebuilding the 'Creature Features' set and it was a bit of a mess. Christopher Lee was not impressed and told me he did not want to be a part of anything silly or campy. And just as he was walking off the set saying his regrets to leave, he saw a clip of an interview I had just taped with Sci-fi author Ray Bradbury on the TV monitor. He turned around and said, 'If it's good enough for Ray Bradbury, it's good enough for me.' And. everything from there went on fine," said Stanley.
Taking over for host Bob Wilkins in 1979  San Francisco Chronicle writer and reviewer John Stanley h...
Taking over for host Bob Wilkins in 1979, San Francisco Chronicle writer and reviewer John Stanley hosted the 'Creature Features' weekly TV show until it ended in 1984.
Courtesy of John Stanley and Garfield Lane Productions
He then quickly mentioned that it was Lucille Ball who had to decide whether or not to let "Star Trek' appear on NBC as part of Desilu productions. "She had told me once when I met her, at a party at her house that she was under a lot of pressure to not give the show the green light. Yet she did not want to let Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator and all the actors down. She wanted to give it a chance. And in saying yes to that series, look what Star Trek has become today." And, then Stanley paused for a moment. And then he said, "And just think how much money her kids would have today had she not sold Desilu Productions to Paramount, which now owns the entire 'Star Trek' franchise and copyrights."
Stanley is grateful for those years on 'Creature Features" and for Wyrsch for bring him and Wilkins out of retirement in 2000 to make appearances at conventions and horror movie theater showings across the country. Wilkins died in 2009. Yet both Stanley and Wyrsch said Wilkins was pleased to be back greeting fans and sharing the experience of 'Creature Features', even if only for the few remaining years of his life.
"John continues to make appearances and speak about 'Creature Features' said Wyrsch. Yet, he has a lot of knowledge about other movies besides horror and Sci-Fi films. John met and interviewed hundreds of celebrities, producers, directors. He is a wealth of knowledge on the subject."
And this is why the members of the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People (SHARP) one of the oldest neighborhood association groups in the City wants to have him speak. "We are having a special gathering for our 'Inner Sunset Culture Club night' said local realtor and SHARP board member John Barry. "He will be appearing as our guest speaker on Saturday, Nov 5," Barry added.
For more information about John Stanley and his speaking engagements and appearances visit his web site.
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