My Friend Erma: The Erma Broombeck Interview, Part 2
Welcome to the second part of my interview with Dr. Paul Bearer’s wacky witch pal, Erma Broombeck. Last week Erma told us about how her character came to be and her early days with Dr. Paul Bearer. We left off just as she was doing her first tapings with him for Creature Feature.
ED Tucker: Was your costume already finalized by that point?
Erma Broombeck: When I came in to the studio, I had a brand new costume I had made. It was orange and black for Halloween. What else would a witch wear? The hat for that one was orange and black too. Each hat I made matched the colors on that particular costume. He was so surprised because he was expecting to see the old costume but I finished this one just in time to do the taping.
ET: Did you go to the studio in makeup or did you put it on after you got there?
EB: I always put on my makeup at home because I am more comfortable here. I had to drive to the studio in the costume. I just never looked over at anyone while I was driving, I only looked straight ahead! Of course people are going at a pretty good clip across the bridge so no one really looked at me anyway. I never had any problems. I was always late getting to the studio. He once told me that he could always count on me to be there but he always knew I was going to be late. He introduced me one time as The Late Erma Broombeck! I couldn’t help it, that’s just me – I’m always late.
ET: You also did live appearances with Dr. Paul Bearer, right?
EB: Yes, we did one at the Lakeland Mall at the Gems and Junk store. I would drop by and visit him whenever he was anywhere in my vicinity. I was out doing malls and haunted houses on my own at Halloween time.
ET: So you made appearances as Erma Broombeck independent of Dr. Paul Bearer?
EB: Well I made appearances as Windy the witch. When I was on my own, I worked with a vampire. She was a friend of mine and she and I were a team. We worked in the malls and shopping centers. We made appearances and handed out our own pictures. She dropped out right before Dr. Paul Bearer asked me to join him. I went right from doing the witch/vampire thing to doing the witch/Dr. Paul Bearer thing!
ET: Did people recognize you as a character from Creature Feature when made public appearances with Dr. Paul Bearer?
EB: He introduced me as Erma Broombeck from Creature Feature whenever we made appearances. He would even announce me as Erma Broombeck if I showed up at one of his appearances and wasn’t in costume! He would make me get up in front of everyone and then tell them I was Erma Broombeck from Creature Feature. I was so embarrassed! Erma is always a witch. Witches are very reclusive and no one knows them as anything but a witch. It kind of spoils the effect of being a witch to be introduced out of costume.
ET: Do you remember what the last appearance was that you made with Dr. Paul Bearer?
EB: That was one at Busch Gardens. It was October 29th of 1994 and he died in 1995. He was slowing down a bit at that time but he seemed fine. We went in the hearse to Busch Gardens. Then they took us in a jungle jeep through the back part of Busch Gardens to the area they had set up for us. It was called Trick or Treat at Busch Gardens with Dr. Paul Bearer. There were a lot of people out there that day.
ET: I think that really says something about how popular he was because people had to pay to get in to Busch Gardens to see him. This wasn’t like an appearance at the mall where they could stop by and see him for free. It’s great to know that Dr. Paul Bearer was still that popular in 1994.
EB: His popularity never died out, it’s still going! He drew crowds wherever he went. I mean big crowds. I saw them stretching all the way through stores and out into the mall. People waited in line for hours just to get a signed picture from him. He always signed them with something like “I want your body” or “Horribly Yours”! People just loved him.
ET: Did the two of you stay in touch between appearances?
EB: Yes, we stayed in touch by letter and phone. He would always tell me where he was making appearances, especially around Halloween. Every Halloween he was at the haunted house in Mulberry. You couldn’t get him to go anywhere else. Following the Busch Gardens appearance, I received a letter from him about a month later. After that I did not hear from him again. Then in February of 1995, my husband told me that he had just seen on the news where Dick Bennick had to have emergency surgery. I ran out to the store to buy him a get well card and when I got back home my husband said there had been another news break announcing that he had died. It came as quite a shock.
ET: Did you continue making appearances as Erma Broombeck after that?
EB: When we were coming home from Busch Gardens in his hearse, he told me he wasn’t going to last forever but that he wanted Erma to go on but I told him no. We had agreed that we would continue doing this as long as it was fun but without him, Erma just couldn’t quite be Erma. After he died, I did appear as a witch at the Tampa Theater for Halloween. It was on Good Day Tampa Bay on Channel 13. They were there doing a piece on it and they had me come up out of the floor playing creepy music on the theater’s Wurlitzer organ. The organ rises up from the bottom of the stage and they had me come up in a cloud of smoke playing it. It was right before Halloween and it just fit in. That was the last time I did it. They identified me as Erma Broombeck and I really felt bad about it. After that I retired the character.
EB: I love going out to all the websites that talk about the show and Dr. Paul Bearer and reading all the things people have written. It’s all so positive. Everyone has such good memories of that show. It makes me feel good to know that I had something to do with something that was good.
ET: Absolutely, Creature Feature was an institution.
EB: People have such good memories of seeing it with their folks, their brothers and sisters and moms and dads, whoever they watched it with. I’ve always been proud of having been a part of it.
ET: You should be proud. As you said, Creature Feature was a very positive thing and it brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. That’s why people remember it so fondly all these years later. Thanks so much for sharing your memories Erma.
EB: Thanks for reminding me about how much fun it was ED! I do want to mention that I never would have been a witch character at all if it had not been for my son, mother and sister. They were the “wind beneath my wings”.
ET: Maybe that should have been the wind beneath your broomstick Erma!