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Thursday, June 23, 2016

"America's Funniest Family" In 1966 ...


Shall We Celebrate 50 Years of Munster Go Home?

Advise for anyone who's been holding on to Munster Go Home posters or memorabilia --- sell now. Those there for the network run would have to be sixty, or pushing it, so how much longer can the stuff fetch hundreds? Nostalgia is an engine that eventually plays out ... or dies out. Even sub-channels are ditching really old TV. The Munsters debuted in 1964 and was gone within two years (5/12/66). Batman was credited with doing it in. Universal released a Munster feature after the show's demise(summer '66). Fox did the same for Batman. 1966 was a great year to be a fan, or become one. There was even Star Trek coming with the new school year. Add to these Lost In Space, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Addams Family (what episodes were left of it), so many more of fanta-sort that glutted airwaves and would cede only to horror/sci-fi features that filled daytime or late, late slots. Keeping up with it all was full-time work. Munster Go Home was a "Good Times" DVD I found forlorn and unopened in the basement --- why would I have bought it in the first place? --- but at long last has come revisit. Will Greenbriar's be the only fiftieth year recognition?


Munster Go Home was never much good, but it was in color. And not just color, but rich IB Technicolor, a process in waning days, but vibrant enough still to haul weakest product across finish lines (Munster Go Home was shot on Eastman negative, but prints were Tech, which made stunning difference). I saw it during a week visiting Grandmother in Kings Mountain, NC. The Munster engagement was followed by Paradise --- Hawaiian Style, also Technicolor, also not so good. A drug store next to the Joy Theatre got in the Castle Of Frankenstein 1967 Fearbook, a colossal event as there had lately been a regular issue arrived on stands, and two in succession was nirvana beyond words. The monster mags embraced fad TV because it sold copies, thus CoF with Batman and later Star Trek covers, Monster World #2 putting the Munsters on its front, and later The Addams Family. I regarded these a pander, but a necessary commercial expediency. There was always Chaney Sr., Karloff, et al, on the inside. We knew where Beck and Ackerman's hearts really lay.


I'm sure I never laughed once at Munster Go Home in 1966, the series strictly one-joke for me, and besides, sending up classic monsters was never a concept I'd endorse. People seemed too near to laughing at them as it was, thanks to chatterbox late night hosts, so why encourage it further with spoof movies and TV? It occurs to me now that the Munsters may have been the only meaningful exploit for Universal's monster franchise during the 60's. What else did they have beyond this and licensing the images for Aurora models, here-and-there toys, billfolds, tee-shirts, all pretty cheesy, that utilized familiar and Uni-owned faces. Lugosi, Jr. sued for monies deriving from license of his father's image, but what monies? (monster mags didn't pay for use of stills from Universal, or anyone's, horror movies) I don't know of any concerted effort Universal made to spread its horror legacy, despite the 60's being peak of a monster boom and youth's shared hunger for Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and so on. Now we have Universal concocting a multi-million plan to resurrect its monsters a la the Marvel heroes, but will that come to greater success than relative non-effort of fifty years ago?


One thing Munster Go Home did right was finish-up with Herman racing his "Drag-ula" against sport cars in an English derby (the film set there, which disappointed some who preferred the familiar Munster house setting). A smart idea was offering the Drag-ula as a model kit, Grandpa at the wheel rather than Herman. Toys being a humbler enterprise in 1966, I'd not imagine the replica reaped millions, but whatever it got was so much found money for Universal, theirs an exertion little beyond signing of a license agreement. Munster Go Home had been shot during March-April 1966, Army Archerd of Variety calling it a "hush-hush vox pouli test" by Universal to maybe revive the cancelled series in event the movie clicked (show principals were under contract through July). This time it was figured to go out under U's syndication arm rather than with a network. Yvonne DeCarlo was meanwhile gratified by royalties she was getting for "Lily Munster" toys being sold to tourists at Universal's gift shop, though it was stipulated that should she costume as Lily during her upcoming nightery act, the studio would claim 50% of her take. The solution? --- play it strictly as Yvonne and not Lily. There is a 2006 DVD of Munster Go Home that gets good reviews at Amazon, selling at bargain $7.58 (on a double with TV-movie The Munster's Revenge).

16 Comments:

Blogger Donald Benson said...

Picked up the movie a few years back on a used clearance table. Typical Universal neighborhood-house filler; don't remember it getting any exposure beyond the actual trailer and poster at the Grenada. Big moment for me was a panicked Herman yelling "Car 54, Where Are You?" -- Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were both vets of that series.

The Munsters' "regular" car was marketed as a toy as well as a model. "Drag-ula" was actually featured in the TV series. It may seem an unlikely investment for a sitcom episode, but back in the day there was a circuit of custom car shows that highlighted novelty creations (featured in magazines and licensed as models) and celebrity cars ("real" Batmobile, Monkeemobile, Alvin's acorn-based car, etc.). Don't know if the cars earned appearance fees, or were counted as publicity.

I remember some Universal Monsters appearing as serious-looking Soaky bubblebath toys (although the Creature lost some menace by clutching a fish). That may have been the biggest official merchandising.

The two "all-new" McHale's Navy movies recently came out on disc. Don't recall the first one, but the second ("McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force") dumped McHale and most of the cast after the first few scenes, focusing on Tim Conway and Joe Flynn as a two-act. No better or worse than a good episode of the series itself.

The kiddie show "Pufnstuf" became a Universal movie. The series was definitely out of production (a single season was shot) but may well have been holding a network spot on Saturday morning. A fairly small number of episodes could sustain a Saturday morning run for years.

"Are You Being Served?" had a feature film version, just slightly more expensive than the regular show (and a few familiar bits were dropped into the script). Evidently other shows, including "Till Death Do Us Part" (the prototype for "All in the Family") took series personnel and produced features as well.

9:13 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

George Barris, in an interview sometime before his death, said that he used an actual casket for the "Dragula," and had a hard time procuring one from a funeral home without a death certificate.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Love it! And I ain't talkin' The Munsters!

10:44 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Universal also distributed Hammer's Evil pf Frankenstein then, turning it into an ersatz '40's Uni, complete with Karloffian Mobster. Dunno if it planned to continue in that, um, vein, as this was its only rime with that series.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I have the latest DVD release of MGH, and it is very nice.

The feature was weak, but I enjoyed (and still do) the TV series. Joe Connolly and Bob Mosher went straight from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER to THE MUNSTERS, with both family residences only a few doors down from one another on the Universal back lot. Ken (Eddie Haskell) Osmond even appears in a MUNSTERS episode.

The series was place on the back of the incredible Fred Gwynne, and he more than carried it off. He was equally as brilliant as Muldoon on CAR 54. Such a talented man.

CAR 54 was always funny, but I've watched it quite a lot in the last few years, and today it is a masterpiece. Cut from the Nat Hiken BILKO cloth.

And learning of how EVERYONE on the CAR 54 set HATED Joe E. Ross. Some of the actors actually blame Ross for Hiken's premature death from heart disease.

But I digress.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN was an immensely frustrating publication for two reasons. The first led to the second. It was so damned good. It was so damned impossible to get. I ordered all the available back issues. When it seemed like they would never arrive I complained to the post office. As a result I got two sets.

EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN I loathed as a kid because the promise of a classic Universal monster in color was betrayed both in make-up and performance. Still have a hard time with it.

THE MUNSTERS I loved unabashedly 100%. The city of Toronto is once again bringing its monsters to my door. That's fine because without the wolf at our heels we think we are safe. I accomplished one of my ambitions when I brought Forry Ackerman to Toronto. Reading FAMOUS MONSTERS opened so many doors for me they could not be counted. Thanks for another great and completely unexpected post.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

If Car 54 had been renewed for a third season, Hiken planned to fire Ross and replace him with Al Lewis. Network wouldn't have gone for it in any case. Hiken's screenplay for Don Knotts' "The Love God?" is quite subversive, and cost Knotts his Mid-_American audience.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

On a sort of related note, MUNSTERS GO HOME shares something with a Fox movie from that era starring Doris Day and Rod Taylor, DO NOT DISTURB. Namely, passing off dry, sunny California landscapes as the British countryside! I can't imagine audiences being >that< gullible by that time. But back screen projection was also a still major thing back then, so... :)

1:22 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Being an inveterate Monster Kid, I had to watch THE MUNSTERS. It was a union requirement. But I never liked it. Never. Watched it week after week out of a sense of duty. Never liked it.

Same with the movie. I knew I had to see it, so I loyally trekked to old 4th Street in Louisville when it opened there, plunked down my shekels and endured the 90 minutes. Didn't like it. Still don't.

My son, though, now in his late twenties, adores THE MUNSTERS. He's even planning on opening a small bar/bistro with a name which is an homage to the show. He cannot understand why I don't like the show.

But I really don't. And I never did.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

THE ADDAMS FAMILY was infinitely better. :)

4:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon has some wonderful Munster lore to pass along, including his own encounter with "Herman Munster." (Part One)


Hi John,

Well, you struck another GOOD nerve, with your newest blog about "The Munsters"! I have a lot of 'Munsters' comments to make. A LOT.

Like you, and so many I daresay we had no idea were 'out there', unevenly distributed around the country, I was mad for movie monsters, growing up. Naturally, I read the same magazines you're talking about, here. I lived for the days when new issues hit one or another of my local newsstands, and I haunted (pun intended, sure!) each of these, because frankly I never knew where one would show up. For instance, only one in my town ever carried Castle of Frankenstein. Famous Monsters and its offspring Monster World were more apt to appear at another. Absolute sub-trivia---except to those who felt the same, of course, who can directly relate. I was out of my gourd when television decided to give us near simultaneous "The Addams Family" and then "The Munsters". I think the former was far more hip, and often hilarious in a very off-the-wall way. However, I have to say "The Munsters" was surprisingly good at milking the same joke, over and over...and over...again: that the Munsters think they're normal, and that everybody else looks a little weird. They're too polite to say, but the same could never be said for anybody---Marilyn's short-term boyfriends, the post man, passerby, anybody!---they encountered once outside their home, who invariably reacted with gigantic 'takes' suitable for the earliest silent film comedies, and beat a hasty retreat, often right through doors and walls! I have to admit I still laugh when I watch some of them and see the extent to which the special effects people (and stunt people) would go, to instantly levitate 'shocked' parties six feet off the ground, or, to enable them to vault over walls, to escape the Munsters. The effects guys also had to work overtime to create endless gags demonstrating Herman's effortless strength. I don't know how many cars he lifted with one arm, during the show. The schtick between Grandpa and Herman was enjoyable IF you liked the performers, and I must say, I did. It was also funny, the counterpoint style of humor between very Jewish Al Lewis, and very WASP-ish Fred Gwynne, but both were hugely amusing clowns, in my opinion. What's more, no one's ever really stated it before, but I will: their makeups were really clown makeups. They were! The episode, which any "Munsters" fan remembers, where Herman is struck by lightning and "horribly disfigured" into...Fred Gwynne!....illustrates dramatically the extent to which Gwynne's beautiful makeup job, by the late Carl , underscored and amplified his enthusiastic face-making. Gwynne, his naked puss hanging right out there in this episode, makes the very same expressions as he always did, since he's still playing and 'being' Herman, after all...but, I'd say about 50% of the effectiveness is missing because it doesn't have that makeup to 'kick it up a notch'! Of course, Grampa manages to restore him to his 'handsome' self by the end, and back in makeup, all the mugging is back in full force.

As a person fascinated with makeup as a boy (about eleven years old when both "Addams Family" and "The Munsters" debuted), I loved BOTH shows, but again, I enjoyed the caricatures of the famous Universal characters even more.

6:11 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:


When Universal released "Munster, Go Home!" around greater L.A., they sent out Al Lewis to sign autographs at some locations. Even better, by my lights, was the fact that they sent "Herman Munster", himself, to others...including our local theater. And this was a stunt man, but he was dressed in the costume, and fully made up. I was thrilled to see this living simulacrum of Fred Gwynne's Herman, right in front of me. I asked the guy if I could please touch the headpiece. He was very nice and bent right down from his amplified height (those boots!), and I pressed the forehead, tickled to feel the sponge rubber yield under the pressure of my index finger, and all of a sudden, SWEAT beaded out of it! And it was at that moment I really understood how much this poor guy was suffering under the woolen costume, the heavy foam latex headpiece, the thick greasepaint. It was right in the middle of summer, too, as you mention.

We were luckier with the co-feature in Inglewood. Universal paired it up with "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", which actually became something of a beloved little cult film for kiddies, with Don Knotts first essaying one of his shuddering fraidy-cat characters in a feature film. (His earlier star vehicle, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet", was a gentle, distracted soul, but not a bug-eyed coward.)

Two additional things. In later life, I was fortunate to become a professional makeup artist. I actually worked in the second Universal makeup department (not in the same building where it had been up to about 1965 or '66, where everything from Jack Pierce's wonderful, hand-made monsters had been done to the later "Creature From the Black Lagoon", under Bud Westmore's tenure, right up to and including "The Munsters". A purpose-built makeup department was constructed in the mid-'60s, specifically so that customers could disembark from their tram on the 'new' (at that time) Universal Studio Tour, and get a brief look inside the makeup department. The reception area was drenched in glitz, accordingly, with mirrors, chandeliers, and a couple of plaster casts of famous stars on pedestals. That said, when I worked there in 1977, I discovered it was definitely a working makeup department: two stories, with many rooms for making up the 'talent' (as actors are invariably called in the industry), and several dedicated work rooms for hair work, or upstairs, for the creation of 'special' makeup appliances. It was a huge thrill to be able to work there for several months. And, one day, I discovered the mold for Herman's Frankensteinian headpiece! Nerd heaven! Today, the makeup department concept, and that 1965 building, are long gone; but, ironically, the ORIGINAL makeup department building still stands! In the '70s it was repurposed for editing. Today I believe it contains production offices.

6:12 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:

I got to meet and work with Robert Pine on an episode of CBS's "Without a Trace". I thought I recognized him, even though he was bald and his remaining hair white, and I said, "Were you...by any chance...in 'Munster, Go Home!'...?" And, he said yes, I was! I was impressed that he was American, since his turn as a charming Brit who romances Marilyn Munster sure fooled me, as a kid, and even today. In chatting with Robert he mentioned that his mother-in-law had been Anne Gwynne! He also told me his kids were aspiring actors. Well, Chris Pine, anybody? Yes, the new Captain Kirk of the movies is Robert Pine's son.

Finally, not too far from Universal Studios is the small village of Toluca Lake, and Riverside Drive runs east and west through this village. Located on one side of it for decades was George Barris's custom car shop, and it had big floor-to-ceiling windows so that you could easily look in and see some of his 'creations' parked there in his showroom. And, yes, BOTH the Munster 'Koach', and 'Dragula' were on view there for many years, well into the '70s. I know...you "Munsters" fanatics might be jealous. I don't blame you.

I too had the DVD for "Munster, Go Home!" from the awful 'Good Times' company, which was presented in 4:3 AR, as I recall, and didn't look great. I don't know if you know this, John, but Universal Home Video later included a copy of "Munster, Go Home!" inside their DVD set of all the episodes from both years. Either that, or, they released a new, separate DVD; and, unlike the Good Times licensed version, this one was mastered at 1:85 (or, thereabouts), suitable for filling up modern 16 x 9 TV screens. You are right: the color is blinding, and as an eleven year old, it was a great thrill to feast upon seeing the Munster clan in color, after having had nothing but B&W TV episodes. (Although as you say, publicity photos were often in color, and appeared on all kinds of magazines, including TV Guide, more than once.)

Craig

6:13 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Saw this at a children's matinee years ago. What I didn't like about it back then was that it took the Munsters out of their familiar suburban digs and plunked them down into what passed for England at Universal in 1966.

I remember owning a set of View-Master (remember those?) reels taken from a MUNSTERS television episode. In color and 3-D, of course. What disturbed me about those Munsters View-Masters was seeing that the character make-up was only applied to the actors' heads and necks. It was quite disconcerting to see Lily with blue-grey face and normally flesh-colored bare arms and hands.

9:10 PM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Sounds like I should sell my Famous Monsters #1 autographed by FSJ back in 1974 at Lunacon. Maybe it's already too late!

1:12 PM  
Blogger tomservo56954 said...

In the series episode "Hot Rod Herman", Grandpa was the one driving the Drag-ula.

Paul

5:49 PM  

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