Friday, January 12, 2018

Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" vs. Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney


Baby Boomers who grew up in the Detroit area and listened to Windsor radio station CKLW were familiar with advertisements for the Detroit Dragway located at Sibley and Dix. The ads always began with "Saturday, SATURDAY NIGHT, at the DETROIT DRAGWAY." Then the card for the automotive duels would be hyped. If you don't remember or aren't old enough to know what I'm talking about, I have a link to an audio at the end of this post.

Connie Kalitta with top fuel dragster in 1967.
Two of the most popular drag racers of the 1970s and 1980s were Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" and Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney. Connie was from Mount Clemens, Michigan, and Shirley was from Schenectady, New York. They shared a professional and personal relationship from 1972-1977. Connie gave Shirley a Funny Car he no longer raced and acted as her crew chief for many of her early races. In those days, Shirley was known as "The Huntress." 

Kalitta began drag racing when he was a sixteen-year-old student at Mount Clemens High School. He worked himself up the ranks of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to become one of the sport's top drivers. Known as The Bounty Hunter, Kalitta was the first driver to reach 200 mph in a sanctioned NHRA event. In 1989 at the Winter Nationals, Kalitta was the first driver to break the 290 mph barrier with a 291.54 mph qualifying run.

In all, Kalitta won ten national titles and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992. The NHRA compiled a list of the Top 50 Drivers for their fiftieth-anniversary in 2001. Kalitta ranked 21st on the all-time list, and in 2016, he became the first recipient of the NHRA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kalitta's first NHRA win came in 1964 in Bakersfield, California. In 1967, he won his first NHRA title. With the prize money, he bought his first airplane--a Cessna 310--and started his company Kalitta Air at the Willow Run Airport shipping freight for the Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo)--his racing sponsor. 

Kalitta Air and Kalitta Motorsports company photograph.
For a time, Kalitta retired from racing and directed his attention toward building up his air freight business. Now he has a fleet of about 100 planes, many of them 747s. In addition to a bread-and-butter FoMoCo parts distribution contract, Kalitta Air provides charter flights for Medical Flight Services, Air Ambulance Specialists, the Shriners' Children's Hospital and the United States Department of Defense, to name a few. It is not generally known that Kalitta Air keeps a 747 on standby to work with the military to return fallen service men and women to their homes.

Kalitta no longer races, but he is the CEO of Kalitta Motorsports in Ypsilanti, Michigan which sponsors four cars and drivers. His love of racing became a lifelong pursuit and a way of life.

***

Shirley Muldowney
Connie Katilla first met Shirley Muldowney in 1966 at Raceway Park in Illinois when she was racing a dragster with her husband as her mechanic. In 1972, Shirley divorced Jack Muldowney when she wanted to advance to top fuel funny cars, and he refused to live the life of a Gypsy to compete on the NHRA circuit. Doubtless, there were other personal issues as Shirley moved in with Kalitta in 1972. Kalitta was The Bounty Hunter and Muldowney became The Huntress. Connie soon tagged Shirley with the nickname "Cha-Cha" which she never liked, but it became part of her NHRA branding.

After her split from Kalitta, Shirley went on to make a name for herself in this macho male sport. At first, she had trouble attracting sponsors and finding a crew that would work with a woman. But when Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney showed up at the track with her hot pink car, cowboy boots, and crash helmet, she started filling the grandstands. Even her pit crew wore hot pink team shirts.

Muldowney defied traditional gender stereotypes head-on and challenged sexism in the racing culture like Billie Jean King had for tennis in 1973's Battle of the Sexes against Bobby Riggs. Both ladies proved women can compete in a man's world.

Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to receive a NHRA license to drive top fuel dragsters. She was the first person--man or woman--to win three NHRA national events in a row. In 1980, Shirley won the World Finals by beating her nemesis Connie Kalitta, and in 1982, she won an unprecedented third NHRA Top Fuel Championship.

Muldowney's achievements were not lost on Hollywood. She got the big screen treatment in 1983's Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney and Beau Bridges as Connie Kalitta. Muldowney has said the film didn't capture her real life very well but was good for the sport.

On the heels of her celebrity, Muldowney was faced with her biggest challenge. In June of 1984, her dragster crashed at over 250 mph at Sanair Speedway near Montreal, Canada. A front tire shredded and got twisted up in a wheel causing the car to lose control for 600 feet before crashing. Shirley was left with broken legs, crushed hands, a shattered pelvis, and a severed thumb. Determined to race again, she undertook two years of grueling physical therapy and recovery. Her first race back was against "Big Daddy" Don Garlits--a personal friend of hers. She lost.

Because of trouble attracting sponsors, Shirley retired from racing in 2003. During her career, she won eighteen NHRA National events and was ranked 5th on NHRA's 2001 list of its Top 50 Drivers earning her the title of "First Lady of Drag Racing." Her memoir Shirley Muldowney: Tales from the Track was released in 2005 depicting her drag racing life. The same year, Muldowney was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

***
CKLW radio commercial for the Detroit Dragway from 1966: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbrdImfvFmQ

1982 U.S. Nationals Championship drag race between Kalitta and Muldowney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-Q8f6bsfI0  

Muldowney on the Johnny Carson Show in 1986 after her 1984 catastrophic car crash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FeaqiczHzI

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ypsilanti Village Growing Pains



Ypsilanti's Water Tower with cuppola before it was removed for safety reasons.

Once the Village of Ypsilanti was chartered by the Michigan Legislature in 1832, growth was steady. But the cholera epidemic of 1836 in Detroit forced Ypsilanti residents to take drastic measures prohibiting travelers from entering their town. Local militiamen were stationed at Bowen’s Tavern three miles east of the village on Chicago Road.

When a stagecoach from Detroit was stopped and barred from entering the village, the teamster attempted to run the blockade when a militiaman shot the lead horse in the head. The horse fell but was only stunned. The lead ball glanced off his skull. The horse was helped to its feet and the angry driver stubbornly pressed forward. The news of the stagecoach incident traveled quickly filling passengers with apprehension. A detour around the village was quickly established and mail service was interrupted. Ypsilanti remained cholera-free, but outsiders were left with the lasting impression that the village was unfriendly and dangerous.

Michigan Central Depot
Michigan Central train service was inaugurated on February 2, 1838. Ypsilanti was connected to the rest of the state and became the economic hub for the area’s growing agricultural concerns. The coming of the railroad divided Ypsilanti into two distinct commercial districts. The West Side of the river was  dominated by downtown merchants on the Chicago road. The East Side had the train station and developed Depot Town catering to train passengers and light manufacturing.

The State Legislature chartered Michigan State Normal College in 1849 to be the first teacher training institution west of the Alleghenies. Its mission was to “normalize” public school instruction and set educational standards throughout the state. The college was constructed on Ypsilanti’s high ground on the West Side and eventually became Eastern Michigan University.

Ypsi-Ann Trolley
Electricity began powering the city in 1887, and a new water-pumping station made possible Ypsilanti’s most prominent feature, the Water Tower, built across from the Normal College. In 1890, the popular Ypsi-Ann steam-driven trolley made travel between the two college towns possible. The Normal College was attended mainly by young women, and the University of Michigan was attended mainly by young men. It was said that the weekends brought a rough parity between the genders. Because the steam-driven trolley cars were loud and scared the horses, the trolley line was soon electrified. In 1898, the Ypsi-Ann connected to Detroit’s Interurban to the east and Saline and Jackson to the west.

Meanwhile, the East Side developed dams and river races along the Huron to power a wool carding factory, a flour mill, grist mills, an underwear factory, a cabinetry shop, and a carriage manufacturer. With the discovery of mineral springs on the East Side in 1882, several sanitariums were established said to cure cancer, rheumatism, skin ailments, and even "women's trouble." Ypsilanti shipped mineral soap, distilled salts, and carbonated mineral water nationwide.

Specializing in long underwear with a flap in the back.

The First National Bank of Ypsilanti was founded in 1864 by Daniel L. Quirk, Cornelius Cornwell, and Asa Dow. These were boom times for Ypsilanti. Many of the city’s most successful entrepreneurs built their mansions along the western bluff of the Huron River looking down at what was once Godfroy’s on the Pottawatomie and a gathering place for Native Americans. The Daniel L. Quirk mansion would eventually become the Ypsilanti City Hall; the Asa Dow mansion would become the Ypsilanti Historical Society, and the John and Mary Ann Starkweather mansion would become the Ladies Library Association.


Higland Cemetery Memorial
When the winds of war stirred, the young men of Washtenaw County answered their country’s call. Troops assembled on the Depot Town train platform before shipping out to the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and World War I. After World War I, a period of economic optimism spread throughout much of America, but by the end of the decade, the bottom fell out of the economy and Ypsilanti with the rest of the country was thrust into the Great Depression.

The Ypsilanti community knew hardship and uncertainty before. Their first major disaster happened on March 28, 1851, a great fire destroyed much of downtown. The wooden buildings were soon rebuilt in brick. Ypsilanti’s second disaster occurred April 12, 1893, when a cyclone tore through town. Power lines went down, trees were uprooted, and homes were carried away with their belongings. The community came together and rebuilt once again. Ypsilanti was always able to rally and rise above its afflictions.

Heavy security during Torch Murder trial.
But train stations during the Depression were magnets for the displaced and the shiftless. The decade of the 1930s were lean and desperate times for many. In 1931, three unemployed vagrants were out drinking one night searching for someone to rob. They came upon four Ypsilanti teens "parking" south of Ford Lake near Tuttle Hill. The teens were terrorized before being shot to death; then, their bodies were placed in the car, moved to another location, and doused with gasoline. When the bodies were found, they were unrecognizable.  The three murderers were quickly captured, convicted, and sent to Jackson prison under heavy guard to prevent a lynching.

As disturbing as the Torch Murders were, the isolated murder of a seven-year-old boy found frozen under the Frog Island footbridge in 1935 gripped the conscience of Ypsilanti residents like nothing had before. Every parent warned their children to avoid Depot Town, especially since the murderer of Richard Streicher, Jr. was still at large.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ypsilanti Beginings



Whitetail deer in the North Woods marking his territory.

The land along the Huron River which became Ypsilanti, Michigan was surrounded by a vast stretch of primeval forest broken only by lakes, marshland, and occasional open tracts of land early settlers called “oak openings.” The ground cover was a tangle of rugged shrubbery blanketed by a deep carpet of fallen leaves decomposing into rich soil the region became known for. Herds of deer and solitary black bears roamed the countryside while smaller game lived in the treetops and along the river banks. Fish, crawdads, and snapping turtles plied the river currents.


The open area where the Huron River bends and narrows at the shallows was a crossroad and neutral ground for the Chippewa, Pottawatomie, Ottawa, and Wyandot (Huron) Native Americans. The area was not a permanent home of any particular tribe, but the Hurons--as the French dubbed them--were known to have a burial ground on the west side of the Huron River.

Birch bark canoe
There were only two ways to enter the area: by river in a canoe or by foot on the Pottawatomie Trail, which followed the Huron River Valley from the headwaters of Lake Erie. This ancient Indian pathway led to the heartland avoiding most terrain and water impediments.


In 1809, three French pioneers Gabriel Godfroy, Francois Pepin, and Romaine La Cambre built and operated an Indian trading post named Godfroy’s on the Pottawatomie. Various tribes traveled east and west at the Huron River crossing. The trading post bartered gaudy trinkets, steel knives, hand-held farm implements, and small kegs of whiskey for beaver, muskrat, bear, deer, fox, and otter pelts. Native American handicrafts were also traded for American goods brought in from Detroit by pack horse on the Pottawatomie Trail.


Two years later, the three Frenchmen, and Godfroy's adult children were issued four tracts of land under the seal of President James Madison known as the original French Claims. Each claim was approximately a half mile wide and two miles long with the Huron River as its eastern boundary. The four claims included two square miles or about 2,500 acres. The trading post burned down in 1815 but was quickly rebuilt. In 1819, Native Americans began moving westward as European civilization encroached. With the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris, Lower Michigan fell out of Native American hands forever. By 1820, the trading post was abandoned and left in ruins.


Meanwhile in Sandusky, Ohio, Benjamin Woodruff’s wife Ella inherited several hundred dollars from her grandfather’s estate. She and her husband decided to invest the windfall where land was cheap--that was Michigan Territory. In the spring of 1823, Benjamin Woodruff, his brother-in-law William Eiclor, Oronte Grant, and Hiram Tuttle decided to improve their lot and set out on the old Indian trail at Lake Erie in search of land to homestead. The group was outfitted with a wagon loaded with provisions and a large number of cattle belonging to Grant and Tuttle. Each of the men had a stake in the success of this venture.

The group lodged with former neighbors from Sandusky, who then lived in Monroe, Michigan. They were familiar with the countryside of Southern Michigan and suggested a clearing near the ruins of Godfroy’s on the Pottawatomie as a favorable location for a settlement. The pioneers sold much of their cattle to finance their enterprise but retained enough livestock for their new farms. They headed into the interior of Michigan Territory, first on a flat-bottomed boat powered by poles the men used to power their cargo upstream.

Where the waterway narrowed and the current was too strong, the men offloaded their wagon, repacked their supplies, and continued west on foot. A couple of days later, the party came upon a suitable stretch of land southeast of the old trading post. The open plain there would be easy to cultivate. The men staked their claims which would soon become their homes hewed out from trees cleared from the land.


Benjamin Woodruff left Hiram Tuttle in charge of the settlement while he returned to Ohio to bring his family and more supplies to their new home. Woodruff with his wife and six children arrived back on July 6th. When news of the new settlement reached Detroit, other people ventured west and were welcomed by the original settlers who envisioned a pioneer metropolis. The newcomers built log cabin frontier homes and cleared and fenced off more farmland. The settlement became known as Woodruff’s Grove.


The first crisis hit the new community in August of 1824. Malaria struck many of the settlers. If it wasn’t for the efforts of Ella Woodruff and Elona Rogers making hot porridge every day and taking it to the afflicted, many settlers would have perished. All but one settler survived.

Fall and winter were times of hardship for the settlement. Supplies had all but run out and money was scarce. But the first corn harvest was good and household gardens yielded plenty of turnips, beans, and potatoes. Venison, small game, and fish provided protein to round out their diet that winter.


The spring of 1825 brought more settlers who cleared and fenced off more land. Wildlife began avoiding the area. That same year, the Territorial Government of Michigan proposed a road be cut through the wilderness to link Detroit and Chicago—the two emerging centers of Great Lakes trade. It was argued that building the road would create a commercial and real estate boom along the road stretching the width of the Michigan territory. The road would also allow the Michigan militia to move supplies and manpower quickly to Chicago if necessary.


Orange Risdon
Surveyor Orange Risdon was commissioned to lay out a practical route in 1825 and was surprised to find how easy the task was by following the well-worn Pottawatomie Trail through the Huron Valley to the old Sauk Trail west. Much to the dismay of the settlers, the survey team bypassed Woodruff’s Grove by three-quarters of a mile north. The distance was not much as the crow flies, but it was enough to destroy the dream of a pioneer metropolis. The small settlement was abandoned and fell into ruin.


Greek General Demetrios Ypsilanti
Soon after the new Chicago Road was surveyed, land developers arrived. Judge Augustus Woodward and his business partners—John Stewart and William Harwood—bought the original French Claims on the Huron River. They platted the land into affordable real estate parcels. They christened their new town Ypsilanti after a Greek general prominent in the news of the day. Shortly after, a frontier town developed. In 1830, Ypsilanti’s first post office was constructed with regular stage and mail service to Detroit instituted. In 1832, the Michigan legislature officially recognized the frontier town as the Village of Ypsilanti. The wilderness had been tamed.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Terror In Ypsilanti and Fornology Year End Review

Photo credit: Nicole Fribourg.

As 2017 was coming to a close, I thought Terror In Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked and Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel were all but played out. I began the year with several California and Arizona book talks which were sparsely attended. Fortunately, my books were selling with some regularity on Amazon, and Ebook sales kicked-in to carry the day.

In February, I was approached by Tantor Media in Australia for the audio rights to Terror In Ypsilanti. They produced, advertised, and distributed the audio. All I had to do was cash the $500 advance and forget about it. Advances are guaranteed upfront, but royalties don't begin until profits pay back the advance. I thought it would take forever if at all, but I started earning royalties in the third-quarter. That was an unexpected surprise. The audio was selling.

Terror In Ypsilanti and Zug Island are self-published regional stories. Several editors and agents told me there was no audience for them. In April, I did a limited book tour in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, Michigan and was surprised when I sold out my stockpile of books. I returned again in July with more books to sell at Bookclub of Detroit's Bookfest. I sold out again. Traveling to Michigan from California to promote my books eats up my profits, but I didn't want the titles to die on the vine. Money has never been a motive for writing my books.

Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor. Photo credit: Lisa Powers
To get regional bookstores to handle Terror In Ypsilanti, I stripped my profit out of the equation to make the book attractive to booksellers. Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookstore, Nicola's Books, and Barnes & Noble in Ann Arbor agreed to carry my title. The Barnes & Noble in Allen Park--my hometown--also decided to carry the book. There may be others I'm unaware of. All bookstores are welcome to contact my publisher Wheatmark, Inc. for more information. Word of mouth has given Terror In Ypsilanti a life of its own.

Last spring, I wrote an article about John Norman Collins for The Dagger magazine in London. Months passed and I forgot about it. Early in December, I was notified that the article was published in their quarterly winter edition. This gives my book some international exposure.

A day or two later, a CBS producer contacted me to see if I'd be interested in being interviewed about the Collins murders for Through the Decades with Bill Kurtis in March. Talk about unexpected! The program will give Terror In Ypsilanti some much needed national exposure when it airs in August. What a nice way to end the year. 

Without my Fornology blog posts, I wouldn't have been able to get word out to the public or the media at large about my books. In April 2011, I reluctantly started blogging  at the request of my San Diego publicist Paula Margulies. My inner voice told me, "Who the Hell has time for this?" Once I got my posting rhythm down, I found I actually enjoyed blogging and the instant gratification I got from it. More and more people discovered my site and responded positively.

I was not only building a domestic audience, but also getting some international exposure from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Canada, the United Kingdom, and a vast array of other countries. In the six years since I began blogging, I've written over 380 posts. On December 26th, Fornology.com surpassed half a million hits.

Here is a link the Terror In Ypsilanti audiobook read by professional New York voice artist Chris Ciulla. Listen to a five minute sample: https://www.audible.com/pd/Nonfiction/Terror-in-Ypsilanti-Audiobook/B06XSKGMMJ/ref=a_search_c4_2_8_srTtl?qid=1491099172&sr=2-8 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Detroit's Greektown Stella - Iconic Homeless Woman Remembered

Photo taken of Stella Paris by a Detroit Policeman
I hadn't seen or heard of Greektown Stella for several decades, then several days ago, I found out that she had died almost seven years earlier on January 16th, 2011. When I saw her photograph on a recent Facebook post on the Old Delray/Old Detroit site, I knew that face and suddenly felt very sad. Whenever I go to a Greek restaurant or see the film Zorba, the Greek, I privately think of the crazy old Greek woman who patrolled the dimly lit Greektown neighborhood in Detroit from the late1960s until the early 1990s.

Stella was a modern day Cassandra that nobody wanted to listen to. Over forty years ago, whenever my friends and I would go to Greektown for dinner or shop at Trappers' Alley, Stella was often ranting something in Greek or broken English at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night. Stella's piercing voice would echo off the brick buildings. She was impossible to ignore. Because she was a permanent fixture on Monroe Street, we quipped that she was being paid by the restaurant owners to provide local color for the Greek neighborhood.

Several newspaper accounts at the time of her death list Stella Paris' age at ninety-five or older. No birth certificate, citizenship, or immigration documentation exists for her, so she was denied public assistance. Stella is believed to have been born on the Greek island of Samos.

Doug Guthrie, writing for The Detroit News on January 21, 2011, discovered that "(Stella) had come to this country in 1938 through an arranged marriage to restaurant owner John Perris. She raised three sons and never wanted to learn English (but she spoke broken English of necessity). Stella was four feet, ten inches tall and very trim. She passed away from a heart condition. Stella's body was laid out at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral on East Lafayette Blvd.

In life, Stella suffered from mental illness and the scourge of schizophrenia. She had family who tried to take her in, but she wanted to be in Greektown where she felt comfortable, even when sleeping outside contending with the weather and other aggressive street people. She carried a nightstick for her protection, given to her by the police at the12th precinct downtown. "The Greek community took care of her by giving her food, shelter, and love," said Frank Becsi. "Stella is buried at Woodmere Cemetery."

"Stella was a blessing to me," says Shelley Rigney, someone who remembers her fondly. "I was young and she would always tell the 'Wolf' types not to bother me because my Momma knew Jack Tocco (Detroit Mafia Don) & my Pappa was a big crazy Irishman & I was the only baby girl in a house full of Big Boys. She would laugh and tell me, 'Ya justa keep walkin'. Don't you let any of that Trash even stick to your shoe.' God bless her sweet soul & kind heart... I still have ribbons and all the things she gave me."

Stella led the hard life of a homeless street person. Even when she was in her fifties, she looked much older than she was. A retired Detroit policeman who wishes not to be identified walked the Greektown beat for years. He tells a more sobering, less romantic story of Stella's street life.

"(Stella) claimed to be some sort of Greek princess, or that her late husband was the king of Greece, or some similar story.... She would hear voices and stand on the street corner and yell at the voices... you could hear her half a mile away on a calm day.

"She was your basic homeless bag lady, and unfortunately, her mind was not all there.... Stella's favorite motel was police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, just up the street from Greektown. Some (of the officers) took her in as a mascot, providing her with some old marksmanship badges, chevrons, and a nightstick (billy club) that she carried faithfully....


Stella on the street.
"I do know that many of the merchants in Greektown took pity on her regularly and provided her with food as needed. As I said, (Stella) was an icon. Actually, she was a perfect representative of so many mentally challenged people in the United States today."

Detroit policewoman Cynthia Hill said, "From our perspective, she never meant any harm. When I was working as a teenage police cadet, I noticed the officers let her sleep in the basement (of police headquarters) and bathe in our sinks in the women's restroom on the first floor. At first, she scared me. They told me, 'It's just Stella.' Later when I became an officer, I would see her on the street and feel the same way."

News of his mother's death came as a surprise to her seventy-year-old son, Anthony Perris of Livonia. He told The Detroit News that her life began on the streets when she was in her fifties. "The family assumed she had died fifteen years ago when she disappeared from Greektown," Perris said. "We didn't know that she had been ordered by a judge into an assisted care facility because she was brandishing a knife."

Stella Paris spent the last years of her life peacefully at the East Grand Nursing Home on East Grand Blvd. At the time, the facility desperately searched for any relative who could shed light on her immigration status. Because of the common misspelling of her real last name, the Perris family was never notified. Stella was indigent, so the nursing home took her under its protective care. But when Stella needed heart surgery, they were simply not in any position to pay for her hospital bills.

We have all seen homeless people in our communities. Some do their best to be unobtrusive or obsequious, while others rant and rave, wrestling with their personal demons. They are all desperate people living a tooth and nail existence. In our several encounters with Greektown Stella, my wife and I tried our best to avoid and not engage her in conversation because we didn't know what to expect. I regret that decision now.

Shelley Rigney laments, "Stella was a woman who was tossed aside by many, but she still managed to survive somehow. Now I wish I would have taken time for her. She had a lot to say and teach others."

My brother Rick suffered from schizophrenia and was never able to truly connect with other people or establish long term relationships. He eventually became homeless, drifted off for several years, and died a John Doe on a Denver street from a massive heart attack. Not unlike Stella. With no identification on his person, it took two weeks to match his fingerprints to FBI records. His prints were in their files.

Finding out about Greektown Stella's death brought it all back to me. Rather than our scorn and apathy, these people need acts of kindness and generosity, not only during the holiday season but throughout the entire year.

More on Stella can be found in this link: http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/01/greektown_stella_shouts_no_mor.html 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Detroit's Shock Theater


In 1957, Universal Pictures syndicated a television package of fifty-two classic horror movies released by Screen Gems called Shock Theatre. The package included the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, and Wolfman movies. Shock Theatre premiered with Lugosi's Dracula in Detroit on WXYZ channel seven at 11:30 pm on February 7, 1958.

Each syndicated television market had their own host. Detroit had one of the first horror movie personalities in the country. The show was hosted by Mr. X--Tom "Doc" Dougall--a classically trained actor who taught English at the Detroit Institute of Technology and moonlighted as a vampire on Friday nights. Unlike later horror movie hosts who would spoof their roles or riff on the movies they showed, Dougall was grimly serious and set a solemn tone for what was to follow. What most people don't know about Professor Dougall is that he co-wrote several Lone Ranger and Green Hornet scripts for WXYZ radio.

The opening of the show was memorable, but I was only nine years old when I started staying up every Friday night to see the classic monsters and mad-scientists--The Invisible Man comes to mind. This is how I remember the opening:

The show's marquee card came up with ominous organ music and a crack of thunder in the background. Replete in vampire grab with cape, Mr. X walked slowly on screen holding a huge open book announcing the night's feature in a scary voice. Next, he would say, "Before we release the forces of evil, insulate yourself against them." With a sense of impending doom, Dr. X continued, "Lock your doors, close your windows, and dim your lights. Prepare for Shock." The camera came in for an extreme close-up of Dr. X's face, more lightening and thunder effects, and finally his gaunt face morphed into a skull. Then the film would roll.

There was something positively unholy about the show which made it an instant success with my generation of ghoulish Detroit Baby Boomers. The show's ominous organ music set the mood for the audience. The piece was listed only as #7 on a recording of Video Moods licensed for commercial television and not available to the public.

No video link to Detroit's Shock Theatre's opening has surfaced, but the above newspaper ad for the show gives an idea of the facial dissolve special effect. If anyone knows where I can find a link, Gmail me so I can add it to this post. Thanks.

Detroit's Baby Boomer Kid Show Hosts:
https://fornology.blogspot.com/2017/12/detroit-baby-boomer-kids-show-hosts.html