My Friend Erma: The Erma Broombeck Interview
Dick Bennick’s character of Dr. Paul Bearer was inseparable from the experience that was the 44 Creature Feature. Over the span of its twenty-two year history, our horrible host had a lot of visitors to his tenement castle. This cast of creepy characters included Witch Hazel, Jack the Ripper, Fang Sinatra and even Dr. Paul’s own “mummy”. In the later years, one of the most frequent guests was a hideous hag named Erma Broombeck, a not so subtle pun on humorist Erma Brombeck. This wacky witch became the closest thing Dr. Paul Bearer ever had to a sidekick and she appeared with him on both sides of the camera for many years. So pull up a toad stool, grab a bubbling cup of brew from the cauldron, and meet My Friend Erma.
Ed Tucker: Were you a fan of Creature Feature before you met Dr. Paul Bearer?
Erma Broombeck: Oh yes, I didn’t watch it from the very beginning. My sister was watching it one day and Dr, Paul Bearer caught my eye. I just started watching it from there. I was a big fan of horror movies and I watched Shock Theater and that type of stuff – any and all of those programs that came on. I liked the old Frankenstein, the mummy, the werewolf, and Dracula. I liked the very early horror movies, the classics.
ET: You first met Dr. Paul Bearer at the 1977 Mess America Pageant at the West Shore Plaza Mall. Were you already dressing up in costumes at that time?
EB: Yes, I already had the witch costume. It started with taking the kids trick or treating actually. The first witch costume I made was for a Halloween party I gave for the kids. It must have been around 1974 or 1975. It was really simple, just a piece of material with a hole cut in it for the head and the arms sewed down the sides. That was it! I didn’t even wear any kind of make up for that.
ET: Did you see an announcement on Creature Feature for the Mess America Pageant?
EB: No, it didn’t come from Creature Feature at all. It came from the newspaper. I didn’t even think about doing the Mess America part. I had made a monster, a bigger than life size mummy, to put in the mall’s monster contest. I figured that since I was making this monster, why not try the Mess America contest too? A witch is supposed to be ugly, so I entered that too. I added a green and black crepe wig and make up to my original costume.
ET: Do you remember how many people were entered in that pageant?
EB: Oh my gosh, there were so many ugly women I couldn’t even count them all! There were “battered” brides who were all bloody and a girl with lobsters on her head. One girl was a half monkey or ape. These were really ugly women! I don’t think Dr. Paul Bearer had been surrounded by so many ugly women in his whole life.
ET: Did you win anything for your mummy or your witch costume?
EB: I didn’t win a darn thing for the Mess America contest; I wasn’t even a runner up. For the mummy, I won second prize. It was two tickets to the movies. I had never won anything before that and my monster won.
ET: You also got to meet Dr. Paul Bearer for the first time. Did he judge both contests or just the Mess America one?
EB: I’m not sure if he really judged anything. It was more like having the audience clap for the one they liked best. He was more of a Master of Ceremonies.
ET: How did your relationship with Dr. Paul Bearer progress from there?
EB: I put in for another contest that he had. This was in the late 70’s or early 80’s. It was the cold clammy dead body contest! He announced on Creature Feature that if anyone wanted to win a cold clammy dead body, they should write in and tell him why. I wrote a poem for it. He wrote to me and said it looked like mine was going to win as long nothing else came in as good. Then I heard from him again that mine had won. I was supposed to come on the show to accept it. It was a turkey, a frozen turkey! I had to come on the show and open the casket. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought maybe it would be a mannequin or something.
ET: So you had no idea what you had won when you went on the show?
EB: No, he wouldn’t tell me. He wanted there to be an element of surprise. After that, he contacted me to be on the show since I played a witch. He said he might need a witch for his program and I told him I would do it. I would come on whenever he needed a witch.
ET: When you appeared on Creature Feature after that was it as Erma Broombeck?
EB: I think it was. My witch character was originally named Windy. Dr. Paul Bearer renamed me Erma Broombeck. I guess he didn’t like the name Windy. Maybe it wasn’t catchy enough. He called me up one day and said I have name for your witch, from now on you are Erma Broombeck.
ET: Do you remember how many times you went in to tape Creature Feature?
EB: I’m not sure how many times I went in. It wasn’t all the time. He would film something like three months worth of bits at a time. Once he told me he was going to sing me a love song, it was called She’s My Girl. He said I could do whatever I wanted to but all I had to do was bat my eyes and look at him. What do you do when someone is singing you a song? I didn’t have a mic on so all I could do was use body language. I was standing behind a piano that was up to my neck. When they only show you from the neck up and one hand there isn’t much you can do!
ET: Was the bit where Dr. Paul Bearer sang to you the first one you taped?
EB: No, that was later on. We taped that in the same session as the bit where I paint his palm red. We also did one where we were rolling our eyes at each other by rolling plastic eyeballs across a table. There was a public service announcement that we filmed where we gave Halloween tips. There might have been other bits but I really don’t remember. I know I stayed in the studio and watched him tape. It was like I got to see Creature Feature before it came on. I loved watching him go through these bits. One time the camera man and I got to laughing so hard that he had to redo the bit. It was for Goat Bran cereal. We were not expecting the stuff that he was saying and it made us laugh so much that he had to do the whole thing all over again. He wasn’t too pleased with that but he knew it had gone over well.
Coming Next Week in Part 2: Live appearances and the end of an era.