The Lost Interview of Dr. Paul Bearer
The interview you are about to read is, to the best of my knowledge, the most complete interview ever conducted on the career of television personality Dick Bennick, best known to a legion of horror movie fans as Dr. Paul Bearer. It was conducted in his home in South Florida in August of 1991 and was never intended as anything more than a few facts to use in a video presentation. At the time I would never have believed it would become the most in depth piece ever written on America’s longest running horror movie host.
From the mid 1980’s through the early 1990’s several of my friends and I assisted a science fiction fan club in Tampa, Florida with an annual convention they held. We handled several of the video rooms each year and tried to program them with cult science fiction and horror films and television programs. In 1991 we pitched the idea of a tribute to Tampa’s own local horror movie program Creature Feature with a special selection of films that people would remember watching on it. It became quickly apparent that their was no way to do a tribute to Creature Feature without paying tribute to the man who had made it so memorable, Dr. Paul Bearer. Dan Tuchman was given the task of tracking down Dr. Paul Bearer’s alter ego, Dick Bennick, and an interview was arranged to gather facts for the show. Accompanied by my trusty sidekick John Hickey and Our Man in Tampa David Polk, I set off in search of the good Dr.’s residence. To this day I still have the directions to his home that I wrote on the back of a pizza flyer. They contain standard interstate exits and street names but ended with the ominous instruction of look for the hearse parked in the driveway! Sure enough, it was there.
What started off as a simple fact finding mission ending up becoming a true tribute to a great showman in more ways than one. Dick Bennick agreed to appear at the show and receive a plaque from us in recognition of his years of service to horror movie fans, the tale of which will be unveiled elsewhere in the Monster Memories section. The video we filmed that day still exists and has been transformed, along with many notes from various conversations, into the lost interview you are about to read. It was never intended to be a formal interview. It was just a bunch of fans talking with a character they had grown up with and admired.
Over the years I have read a number of articles and interviews on Dr. Paul Bearer. Unfortunately, almost every one of them was written as a piece of light fluff filled with throwaway jokes and puns. Certainly humor was an important part of Dr. Paul Bearer’s character, but I always wanted to read more about what really made him tick. On that hot day in August, I got more than I bargained for. Now, for the first time ever, you are about to learn the true story of how one man with a love of magic, bad jokes, and all things horrible became the longest running host of a horror movie program in television history. I’m sure somewhere up above, Dr. Paul Bearer is still lurking for us all!
ED Tucker: When did your career as a horror host begin and how did you come to be in Tampa, Florida?
Dick Bennick: I wish I could come up with an exact date of when it started but I can’t. I can only tell you that it has been about 25 years ago. I had only been in television for about three and a half years at the time. My career began in radio. I started out at a radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina way back in 1949. After that I went to a station in Winston-Salem which had a sister station in Tampa. I actually introduced rock and roll to Winston-Salem. I was there about eight and a half years and I became the top jockey in town. I also did record hops and had my own teenage dance club. I realize I am going around my elbow to get to my thumb but you had to ask the question. I was hired by a television station to do interview shows. I really don’t like to do interview shows because you are usually talking to someone you don’t know about something you don’t care about and you have to act like you are really interested in it. I used to adopt the Merv Griffin approach. He never used to talk much but he would suck people in to talking about things and he would sit on the edge of his seat like he was in breathless anticipation the whole time. I thought that was a pretty good technique, just hang on their words and they’ll keep talking, so I went with that. After that they also had me do the weather.
If you are in radio, the object is to be the top disc jockey. If you are in television, your goal is to control the most shows. I was in two now but I didn’t control them so I began to hit them up to do a teenage dance party on TV. Dick Clark’s American Bandstand was popular at the time so they eventually gave in. After that it got to be that any time something would open up I would say why don’t you let me try this.
We had a guy who was hosting horror movies on Saturday nights but he had no definite character. One week he would dress one way, the next week he wouldn’t dress up, and the next week he would dress a different way. He had no definite set either. One week he would be in front of cardboard boxes and the next week he would be out in the alley. There was really no format to what he was doing. When I learned he was leaving, having been a horror nut all my life, I said how about letting me develop a character. I felt if we had a definable character and a definable set there was a better chance of gaining an audience from this. They said OK, so I dreamed up this character. This was about 25 or 26 years ago now; I don’t really keep track of dates because I am always looking ahead to the future.
ET: So we are in the mid 1960’s at this point?
DB: Yes, about the mid 60’s. I had no budget but I designed the only set I’ve ever designed and got this character on the air. Someone once said that you are the sum of all your yesteryears, that is what makes you what you are today. I brought together the fact that I have always had a hobby of magic, I have always loved puns, I always liked to dress up, I’ve always liked horror movies, and I enjoyed acting. You bring all this into play and this is what comes out in Dr. Paul Bearer.
The first character I designed did not work. The program was called Shock Theater and the TV station named the character Count Shockula. I designed the character and it was a sort of living skeleton proposition. It had a full tie and tails, opera cape and white gloves. For the makeup I wore a white skullcap and had teeth made up at a dental supply house. The teeth stuck out of my mouth like a skeleton and I wore basic black and white makeup. I have been in the business long enough to know that you don’t have to wait for the ratings books to know if something is working. If something is working, if you have people watching you, they are going to call up and say something. When nobody calls and nobody is talking about you and nobody says anything, you know you’re in trouble. I had been on the air for a few weeks and no one was noticing my character and I knew I was in trouble. I figured I had to redesign the character. I got the television station to let me run a promotion called How Do You Kill Count Shockula? I already knew how I wanted to kill him because I knew where I could lay my hands on a magic trick where it looked you were nailing a stake through someone’s heart. You would be amazed but it took about six weeks before someone finally wrote in and said nail a stake through his heart. That was great, though, because I was stalling for time anyway so I could design a new character. I had, and to this day I still have, every issue of Famous Monsters magazine every printed.
ET: That’s quite a valuable collection!
DB: Well at this point it had been out about five or six years. I went through all these magazines and I picked out what I liked about various characters to design my new character. The beard came from a Vincent Price movie and quite frankly I can’t remember which one (my money is on The Mad Magician – ET). Parting my hair down the middle I stole from a guy in New York, John Zacherley. The spats and the frock coat I just thought looked cool. I had to go to a beauty shop and get them to give me hair off the floor that matched my own to make the beard because in those days they wouldn’t let me grow one. I put all this together and I thought there was still something missing. So, as almost an afterthought, I added the scar. I could never explain the scar, I just kind of liked it and that seemed to make it click. There has always been a tremendous amount of interest in the scar and I have always laughed inwardly about it. As the character continued to develop I came up with two answers for where the scar came from. If a little kid asks me about it I say I got it in a used scar lot! If it’s an adult, I tell them I got it in the war and try to prompt them into saying well which war? I reply the boudoir (boo-d-war)! (At this point everyone in the rooms laughs and/or groans at this awful pun!). The character worked and through the magic of television, Dr. Paul Bearer killed off Count Shockula and survived on the show. The television station bought the entire costume for me from a rental shop but they would not buy the shoes. They said what do you need shoes for we’ll never show your feet! I had it in my mind to do personal appearances though so I had to buy the shoes and the socks and the spats myself. The only parts of the original costume that I still have are the tie and the shoes and they are both over twenty five years old.
The voice came from the fact that I am not very good on dialects. I was the number one disc jockey at the time in North Carolina and so I thought I should disguise my voice for the character. I stumbled on this reverse falsetto which is an octave below instead of an octave higher, which the singers use. The first casket I had I built myself. I knew someone who worked in undertaking and they always take the hardware off when they do a cremation. I had to swear I would never tell where I got it. So the first casket I made was extremely heavy. I made it out of half inch plywood and it was heavy as lead. Then these fellows who were doing a wrecking job called me up and said they had a casket and would I like to buy it for ten dollars. I said sure and it turned out to be a shipping casket. These are cheap as anything because they ship bodies in these and then put them in the good stuff to bury them. So I have been using a shipping casket for twenty-five years. I had a friend ship it to me when I moved to Florida.
The show started to work in North Carolina. It came up with good ratings. I was on the air for about six and a half years in North Carolina. Even after I left the TV station I freelanced the show back to them. Then I moved to Florida and I brought my props with me. Some of my props are the originals going back twenty-five years now. I guess I had been in Florida about a year when I got someone interested in the show, that was WTOG. At the time they also owned WGTO in Cyprus Gardens which was the radio station I was working at. They were changing managers at the time and a friend called me and said now would be a good time to bring my video over. I went over that day and showed them the video of what I had done in North Carolina. They liked it and we sealed a deal. I came back home and by the time I got here they had already called said they had decided they wanted me to do two shows, one in the afternoon and one at night. I said OK, double the money right? They agreed, so we started off doing one show on Saturday afternoons and one at 11:30pm Saturday nights.
ET: The show at night was Fright Theater.
DB: Yes, Fright Theater, and the one in the afternoons was Creature Feature. They already had a show on called Creature Feature but with no host. They wanted to change the name but I said no, you already have the name established so let’s just leave it. I came up with the name Fright Theater for the one at night and we got started. We went on the air almost immediately; in fact the paint was still wet on the sets when we started. The original walls had brown rocks and I never could figure that out. My first wife was an artist and we went down to the station one weekend and pulled out the sets and repainted them to look more like we thought they should. I watched what she did, which was all free hand, and trained myself to be an artist. I do my own art now and my own scripting, which is virtually all ad-lib. The only part that is not ad lib is when I am talking to one of the characters like the spider, that’s on the script.
ET: Where did Spinjamin Bock come from? Has he been around all these years?
DB: Oh yes, pretty much from the beginning. A lot of the stuff like that, people have sent me. I have no idea where it came from. The badge I wear that says Be Peculiar, I have no idea where that came from. Somebody just sent that in and it looked good. At that time, Pall Mall cigarette’s slogan was Be Particular so that’s a take off on them, Be Peculiar! I liked it and stuck it on. The ring I wear is a poison ring. I lost the skull off of it and finally found another one at one of the Disney shops. I had a jeweler put a couple of glass eyes in it for me. I maintain the ring because I have looked constantly for over twenty years and you just can’t find a poison ring! I have several skull rings that I wear on the other hand. The current one is a gold one my wife had made for me to celebrate my fifteenth anniversary of the show. The bracelet that I wear, people call it a wristwatch but it is a bracelet with an eye on it, is about fifteen years old. A person that owns a craft store in Winter Haven made that for me. A lot of things people just give me and I think hey that’s nifty and add it to the character. It’s a constantly evolving character. The latest thing I added was the little white boutonniere. I was doing an appearance one Halloween at a mall and one of the flower shops brought me out this artificial flower and pinned it on. I thought that looks like kind of like an undertaker so I keep wearing it. That’s how these things work out, it’s just kind of luck. Very few of the props I use on the air have been given to me by the viewer because I find that very few of them are into my brand of humor. Once in a while I will get one that I can just use right away, like a big glass bottle of Coke that someone perfectly lettered in “Choke”, so I use it.
I keep a file on the gags going back to day one, listing the gag and the date of the show. I use five gags per show and I’ll list them in order. I research these and sometimes I’ll let a gag sit around for a number of years before I’ll reuse it again. If it’s a more popular one I will use it more often than that until I decide I’ve used it enough. There’s one gag I have that I can only use about once every ten years. That’s the giving away of the genuine cold clammy dead body leading up to Halloween. It’s a frozen turkey, you see, and you’ve got wait until people forget that one so you can’t do it any more than every ten years!
ET: That was a promotion that some films used to use, especially at the drive-ins.
DB: Was it? I’m a yellow pad guy, which means I keep everything on a yellow pad. I keep track of all my bits and all my shows. By my numbering system I have done 1100 or 1200 shows. I get the titles of my movies about six weeks in advance and I list that in one column. Then I list the gags I am going to do and the props I need to do the show in another. If it is a really complicated bit I may store it on video and just use the entire clip. I have an entire reel of these bits including the time I was on Hee-Haw. It was a really interesting trip. They were carrying Hee-Haw on channel 44 at the time and they called me up and said how would you like to go to Nashville and do a cross promotion on it? It sounded like fun so I said yes. I wanted to see how one of the bigger shows taped and they taped pretty much like we did except they had a bigger budget. They only taped once a year in October when all the music stars are in Nashville. Jimmy Carter was the President at the time and his brother Billy was taping in the studio the same day I was. It drove the Secret Service nuts because the studio was just jammed with all these people. They tape in segments and then edit it together. So for several days they would do nothing but cornfield skits and all the people who were supposed to be in the cornfield would be jammed in the studio. It’s a real interesting process. When you’re in the cornfield on Hee-Haw, all of the guests are supposed to wear overalls with colored dots that say Hee-Haw on them. They gave me these overalls and I told the program director I couldn’t wear them. With my makeup and all I have to wear my own costume or it won’t work. I had them take me to the director of the show and I said look at my costume, I think these clothes are old enough to fit in with the show without the overalls. He said yeah, you’re right and I beat the overalls! I was prepared not to do the show though if they had made me wear the overalls. I felt that would put the character in a bad light that would not have made it play well back home. To my knowledge I am the only guest to have appeared in the cornfield on Hee-Haw without wearing the overalls!
Hee-Haw showed me what total preparation does. I came back from that and thought I should be able to do a lot more than I am doing, which was one month worth of shows in one day. I made up my mind that I was going to do three months in one day and that is exactly what I am doing to this day. I come in on a Saturday and I have everything worked out ahead. I set up a banquet table by the side of the stage and then I line up props on it until I run out of table. Then I start taping until I run out props and we stop and I line them up again.
ET: When you go in to the studio to tape three months worth of shows, how long of a day does that end up being?
DB: I go in between 7:30 and 8:00am in the morning. It takes me 30 to 45 minutes to get made up and in costume. I bring all the set pieces with me so I have to hang all the pictures and the chandelier and get the props lined up. We might not start taping until 9:30 or 10:00am, although the crew is called for 8:00am. They have things they have to do like getting the lighting ready. We start taping and then we break for lunch. Usually we’re through by about 3:00 or 3:30pm in the afternoon by grinding it out. I come in totally prepared. I get up earlier that morning around 3:30 or 4:00am and I pound all these lines in my head. Somebody asked me one time how I come up with new ideas, which amazes me that I can still do that! Going back to the early days of Dr. Paul Bearer, I realized that one of the reasons that the other character didn’t work was the fact that he was not human. You had no reason to empathize with him. When I changed characters I had the same sets, the same props, the same coffin and the same jokes but it started to work. I think the reason is because Dr. Paul Bearer became a real person unto himself. I don’t pretend to be Dr. Paul Bearer. When I put on the costume I become him. Well to become someone you have to figure out who he is. Once again I turned to things I like and made a composite out of them. I like the Three Stooges, Groucho Marx, Mad magazine, and Charlie Chaplin. You will see elements of all these things in the character. Dr. Paul Bearer’s world is very real to him, it’s everyone else who is out of step and when you stop and think about it, isn’t that how most of us really are? .
ET: At the time you started doing Creature Feature in Florida, wasn’t there another program already on in the Tampa area called Shock Theater?
DB: Yes that was on a different station when I started. I have forgotten which one. A fellow who went under the name of Shock Armstrong did that one. I think I pretty much took it away from Shock Armstrong but I never saw his program so I never knew what he did. I got my show on the air in 1971 and he was already here then.
ET: Creature Feature was originally a three-hour program and you showed two movies. At one point they even gave you four hours and you played Buck Rogers or some other old serial in between the two movies. Why did they cut you back to one movie now?
DB: You would have to ask the television station that. We used to have the double feature on Saturday and the one at night. I’ve always done the same thing, which is five bits per show. I’ve noticed that over the years, periodically they will promote me and periodically they will forget about me. In effect I am an independent supplier who supplies the station with one show, for which they pay me. I am very fortunate in that they give me total freedom to do pretty much what I want, as long as it is within the boundaries of good taste. I try to keep it there. I can recall only twice in twenty-six years that I did something that I shouldn’t have done, which was in bad taste. One time it was a reference I made in the first year, not even thinking, before I learned what a responsibility it is when you do a character on TV. I made a reference to the Berlin Lampshade Company. I heard about that one! The next one I did not hear about but it didn’t feel good so I didn’t do it again. People say I should keep up with the times and be more risqué. Dr. Paul Bearer is something of a lecherous old guy but then we all are. I think I said on the show one time I don’t give a damn about whatever I was talking about. I thought no, I don’t need to say damn and that was the only time I ever did it. Whoever I was working for at the time, they change people constantly at television stations, thought I should be more modern. The minute I said it I thought no Dr. Paul Bearer doesn’t do that. Damn is not a bad word any more, people say it all the time. To go back to what Red Skelton says, profanity is no excuse for talent. He enjoyed a pretty successful run as a comedian without using profanity so why should I?
ET: Did you push to have the name of the show changed from Creature Feature to Dr. Paul Bearer Presents?
DB: No, the television station calls the shots on that. I fought tooth and nail to keep calling it Creature Feature but they want to call it Dr. Paul Bearer Presents.
ET: That’s not so bad but they changed the opening segment from a great montage of color tinted stills of classic monsters to cheap animation of spaceships and robots.
DB: They keep playing with it and I just try to look past things like that. They have people at the studio who constantly want to upgrade things. I am a firm believer if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Leave it alone!
ET: Was the television station responsible for the recent upgrade of your sets?
DB: No I did that. I went through a lot of personal anguish over that because the changes I have made in the character, I have tried to make imperceptible. That to me was a big change but a lot of people didn’t even notice it! They were after me for about two years to upgrade the sets and they were falling apart. I had been collecting set pieces for a number of years and I thought it was time to redo this to something we could live with for a while. Some of these set pieces I had been collecting for ten or twelve years, waiting for a time when I had a little more room on the set, which I do now. Dr. Paul Bearer doesn’t come off as being quite as poor as he used to be!
ET: Do you own the hearse?
DB: Yes, it started off belonging to the television station. They virtually rebuilt it but they decided they wanted it off their books and sold it to me for a dollar. This is the second one. The old one got to the point where it was rusting away but I liked it better. It was a 1963, this is a 1961, and was a little bit larger and a little bit classier in appearance. It’s basically for public appearances and parades. I am having to work on this one now because it is starting to leak. I don’t know what it is about hearses and leaks but you can’t seem to stop these stupid leaks!
ET: Where did you come up with the phrase I’ll be lurking for you? That has become your catch phrase over all these years.
DB: Yes it sure has and that just popped into my head!
ET: Do you have any say in the movies that are selected for the show?
DB: No and as a matter of fact I usually disagree with them over the movies they are booking. What happens is a television station buys a package of movies and then they book from it. There are two packages that, if they ever get turned loose, I have talked them in to snapping up. Another local channel owns them. We used to own them a while back but now they own them. They are called the Shock packages, Shock One and Shock Two. They include all the old Universal films from the thirties, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man. This other channel bought them when they were trying to go head to head against me. They didn’t beat me but they didn’t turn the package loose either.
ET: The station also used to own the package from American International Pictures, which included all the Godzilla and giant monster films. Those are what I remember the most.
DB: Yes, but these days I just take what they give me and work with it the best I can. They tell me they’ve bought some new movies but sometimes I think they get paid to take these things! I have nothing to do with what they pick up, other than to complain periodically to try and get them to pick up something good! If they get stuck with a bad package though, they just have to live with it until the contract is up.
ET: I think they need to go after whoever is passing Italian gangster movies off as horror films in these packages. Those are the ones that annoy me the most.
DB: Yeah, really!
ET: Do you keep a list of the films you’ve shown on Creature Feature?
DB: I didn’t used to but I have started doing this about a year or two ago. I do it just to catch them on how often they show the films. Theoretically it’s supposed to be computerized but sometimes they show a film that they just had on three months ago. I do it for my own protection to keep them from showing them again too fast.
ET: Are there any types of horror movies that you don’t care for?
DB: I can’t say that there are any that I really don’t care for. There are some I don’t see the point in sometimes. If something gives you a sense of revulsion to look at then that’s not really horror; it’s bad taste to my way of thinking. I can see the logical progression to blood and guts. Early horror movies played on our imaginations in a dark theater. They were really made for the theater, not watching at home. A lot of the time they didn’t even show you the monster until the final reel of the picture. It gave you this mental anticipation of what it looked like and by the time you saw it you had really scared yourself. That was what they traded on. Now a days if they haven’t ripped off four arms in the first thirty seconds, it’s a dog! Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong?
ET: Did you come up with the theme music or the sound effects for Creature Feature?
DB: Not the current music we are using. I brought the opening with me from North Carolina. The television station had gotten it from somewhere and I liked it so I held on to it. A guy named Gary Simcox does the voiceover on that and he was trying to imitate me. The doorbell sound effect came from an old Roger Ramjet cartoon. They had it on in the studio one day and I immediately said I need it! We took it off the audio track and I’ve had it ever since. The coffin opening sound I made by taking two creaking effects and splicing them together like I wanted it to sound. The scream I use is a one of a kind scream. There was a cameraman in North Carolina who decided to create a scream for me. I thought he was going to throw his guts out doing this horrible scream but I loved it so ever since it’s the one I’ve used. I’m a sound effects freak having come from radio so I have collected a lot of these things.
ET: How did you come up with the ideas for your musical skits on the show?
DB: I just heard the songs and I liked them. When I was working on one of the dance party shows I got involved in pantomimes. So far there have only been five songs that I have been able to do. There is a sixth one I want to do but it is over five minutes long and it would be very tricky to edit. I have started to edit it several times but I need to be able to get it down to about a minute and I’m afraid I will lose too much. You see I am only allowed five minutes a week. That’s my total time so whatever I do, it has to fit into five minutes. I’m totally amazed that five minutes a week can get this type of popularity!
ET: Over the years you have had some great promotions on your show, one of my favorites was the Mod Squid.
DB: That was a take-off on the ABC television series, The Mod Squad, that the station was showing at the time. My wife built that costume for me. It was actually part of a contest I did to rent out my tower room. This was supposed to be one of the rooms over the castle and he was over in the corner. I had people write in and say why they wanted to rent the room. The day I announced the winner we had an explosion and bricks falling in because we had blown up the tower room and it was no longer there! It was a big to do about nothing, which is the type of thing I dearly love. We had a fright gallery too for a time where people sent in horror drawings or paintings. We would hang them on the wall and judge them. The fact that I only tape every three months now makes it difficult to do a contest.
ET: You also had an annual Miss Invisible Woman contest that was a classic.
DB: I’m not doing that one any more because my wife objects to it. If she’s offended, other people may be offended as well. It is a meat market deal, let’s face it.
ET: It’s a take-off though, they’re invisible!
DB: I know, I think it’s kind of stupid myself. They didn’t win anything either, they didn’t even get to keep the crown! It was the hardest thing to sell people on, that this was a real contest. A real contest!
ET: I remember you used to say send in a picture of your wife or girlfriend in a bikini and don’t worry, we’ll make her invisible.
DB: It was a lot of fun to do. I used to try and legitimize it by getting newspaper reporters over to judge it. I was difficult to come up with enough people to make it a real contest. We never reran it; it was always a fresh contest. We probably ran that for eight or ten years.
ET: Did you ever have the opportunity to meet any of the other horror hosts like Zacherley or Vampira?
DB: No, I never met any of them. Zacherley, I understand, is now a Country and Western DJ. Elvira is the only one of them that ever made it big. I admire what she did but she just happened to be in the right place at the right time. She was the first one to get syndicated and the problem there is she limited in the types of films she can show. If we bought a package of films in St. Petersburg we couldn’t show them in syndication. She is limited to pure dog movies. That fact that someone has done it once though means it can be done again. I have tried to syndicate my show in the past. One time I got together with a person I knew who sold the syndicated film packages and pitched the idea. I told him I could do the show generically and not mention the title of the movie. I had done this before and no one had noticed so I knew it would work, I just said it’s a horrible old movie! So I told him he could sell this three ways, the movie package by itself, the movie and host package together, or just the host segments to stations that already owned a film package. He never did anything with it though. Early on I even went to New York at my own expense to try and sell the show. I had gotten the name of a person in charge up there who was interested in the idea. So I went to New York with my videotape in hand. I even had to buy my own videotape; I couldn’t get them from the studio like I do now. At that time a videotape cost more than the plane ticket to New York! He didn’t look at the tape the day I was there and I kept waiting to hear/p back from him. I couldn’t get through to him so finally called his secretary and said I was going to be in New York the next Friday and would be at his office and I wanted my tape back! Another time I had a meeting with the program director of Corinthian Broadcasting. He looked at the tape and liked the idea. Then he said well we can’t let you do this and we can’t do the products for legal reasons and he just started butchering the character. I said look if you cut out all that stuff you won’t have a character! That’s exactly what I told them and I took my tape and came back home. I will do almost anything, but I have to protect the character at all costs. The character is all I have to sell.
ET: How far-reaching is Dr. Paul Bearer? Have you appeared in any other markets?
DB: I was on TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes about three times. That was a situation where they called me from California and asked me to submit a tape. I didn’t make any money off the deal but it was good exposure. I was on Hee-Haw once and that was rerun. As far as Creature Feature itself, the parent company to WTOG is in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the first year I did the show I would also cut a tape and send it to them. They aired the show on Friday nights from 7:00 to 9:00pm, prime time. The television station would send me cardboard boxes full of letters requesting autographs and pictures. I would spend all weekend answering these letters and signing autographs, then I would stick them in the cardboard boxes and ship them back to Minneapolis for the television station to send out. They were a really big station and they got jealous. They said why are we paying for this to be done in St. Petersburg, Florida when we have all the facilities up here? At that time the radio station I was working for sent me to Minneapolis for a sales convention and I went on a tour of the studio. They had their own people doing the show by that time and they called it Horror, Inc. I strayed from the tour and went into the control room and asked to see a tape from Horror, Inc. They threw a tape on for me and there was just no gimmick. It was two people sitting on a sofa and it was almost as dumb as here we are, don’t we look scary, here’s the movie! There were no gimmicks, no puns, and no sight gags, which meant it got very old, very fast! When I do my show, I give myself about five rows I can run up and down. I warp products. I talk to strange characters, either alive or animated or just sitting there looking stupid and they talk back to me. I treat everyday phrases literally. I warp books and I do special productions on videotape. So I have five different avenues that I can run down and I try to mix it so that there is a little bit of all of these in every show. It must work because I’ve been doing it for over twenty-five years! To me, that is paying attention to detail. Let’s face it, it’s not a class act that I do. It’s pretty schlocky when you get right down to it! There are a few things, though, that we try to pay attention to. One of those is don’t pop the gag before I say it. That is a principal going back to the old burlesque blackout routines. That’s what we try to do with the products. If I’m reading a Bleeder’s Digest, don’t show the magazine before I say Bleeder’s Digest. Those are the kinds of things I feel you have to pay attention to.
ET: Have you ever had any problems from the people who own the products you spoof on the show?
DB: No, never. Legally they have to tell me to cease and desist before they can do anything about it. I don’t really knock the product, I always say it’s good no matter what I call it! The closest I ever came to that was the first year when I did a live broadcast for Halloween. The first gag I did was for a McDonald’s Bug Mac, a hamburger with a bunch of phony bugs sticking out of it. I had it in one of McDonalds’ white bags but I had it turned around so you couldn’t see the logo. McDonalds was one of the shows sponsors, which I did not know! They didn’t take it too well and after the show McDonalds pulled their sponsorship. We’ve come to terms with it over the years and now I work on their telethons for them.
ET: You said you were a big fan of Famous Monster’s Magazine. Have you ever appeared in it?
DB: Yes, two times. The first time they just ran a photo of me but the second time, that was issue number 144, they said if I would write the article and supply the photos they would run it. They gave me an eight-page spread in that one. As I said I have a complete set of them, the only flaw is the cover is off on issue number two. I have a bunch of duplicates though from when I was doing a promotion with them in North Carolina, that was how I filled in most of my collection. We were doing a Mess America contest in connection with a theater chain. That was my Count Shockula character and it involved six or eight towns around Winston-Salem. They gave me copies of the magazine to hand out at the theaters.
ET: Does any footage exist of Count Shockula still exist?
DB: No, I brought some video with me from North Carolina but I think it is all Dr. Paul Bearer.
ET: Do you have any Dr. Paul Bearer projects in the works at the moment?
DB: I’m involved in a mental process right now that I hope to bring to fruition one day. I want to reinvent the haunted house; it’s kind of like reinventing the wheel. I’ve thought about this for several years because I like a good haunted house and every time I see one I like to go through it. I think that somewhere along the way people have lost the ability to make a good haunted house. I think they make them too dark for one thing. They forget, because they’re inside this house all the time and their eyes have become adjusted to this darkness, that you’re coming in from the bright light and your eyes don’t have a chance to adjust until your already coming back out. The only thing you see are some bright lights that are flashing at you from time to time, you never get a good look at who’s trying to scare you. They could be done so much better if they didn’t make them dark. Dim, shadowy, yes, but not so dark. I did some design work on haunted houses in North Carolina when the television station I was at would sponsor a room in a local one each year. I did not necessarily appear in the room but I designed the effects which might involve a crawlspace or things being closer to you than you feel comfortable with. I would play on the psychology of the thing as opposed to the BLAHHHH (at this point Dick Bennick screams and jumps up to demonstrate) stuff. I would like to design one on the adult level, trading on the effects like we have in the movies, and I would particularly like to design one for children. They don’t have haunted houses for children twelve and under any more.
ET: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to give us all this great information!
DB: It was my pleasure.
“The Lost Interview of Dr. Paul Bearer” is ©2002 by ED Tucker, published here by permission, all rights reserved. All photographs included in this article are from ED Tucker’s private collection. All or part of this article has also appeared in Scary Monsters™ Magazine. Webpage design and remaining graphics by Nolan B. Canova.