Backstory: What ever happened to William Castle’s baby?

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bill from Spine Tingler
Photo of the great William Castle -courtesy of Spine Tingler

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Castle in NYC street with Polanski

“The film is frightening because it forces us to examine the kinds and bases of belief. We confront the idea that the Christian myth is certainly no more believable that its mirror image, and possibly less so. And beyond this, we are also forced to realize that our mode of believing in Christianity is quite different from the one with which we perceive ‘real’ things In other words, while Polanski’s film is determinedly realistic, it is at the same time a challenge to realism, locating the ordinary world of plausible social interaction within a wider and more primitive universe of magic, sorcery and supernatural forces.”Hollywood Hex, -Makita Brottman

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Rosemary’s Baby is my favorite film. I plan on doing one of my long winded major features on this masterpiece in it’s entirety but for the sake of celebrating William Castle this week, I’d like to strictly focus on his contribution to an iconic tour de force that would not have been filmed if not for him. Rosemary’s Baby premiered in June 1968.

billboard for the film

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Roman Polanski on William Castle: “He was an excellent technician who understands filmmakers’ problems and doesn’t have the usual worries other producers have. He made a constant effort to make me happy in my work. I can’t think of a better producer.”

polanski, castle and Farrow happy

After many years of William Castle slaving over B movies and programmers like The Whistler and The Crime Doctor, he found his niche in horror. He saw Henri-Georges Clouzot le Diabolique in 1955 and it lit a fire in his belly to create his own Gothic creepy storytelling that would lure the audience under it’s spell. Thus sung Macabre in 1958. While certainly not Diabolique, Macabre put Castle on the path toward creating engaging & frightening landscapes that would entertain millions!

That same year, thanks to his very successful House on Haunted Hill and his 12 foot plastic glow in the dark skeleton deemed ‘Emergo’ that flew over theatre audiences, he was now dubbed the ‘King of Gimmicks.’ Castle went on to chill us with The TIngler in ’59, 13 Ghosts in ’60, Homicidal and Mr Sardonicus in ’61, Strait-Jacket in ’64, and I Saw What You Did in ’65 both landing Joan Crawford at the helm.

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William Castle’s Homicidal ’61starring Jean Arless (Joan Marshall)

With all the ballyhoo and commercial success, Bill was craving respect. He thought he’d find that admiration in Rosemary’s Baby, a novel by Ira Levin (A Kiss Before Dying, The StepFord Wives, Boys From Brazil) about an unassuming pretty little housewife chosen by a coven of New York City witches to be the mother of Lucifer’s only begotten son and heir.

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What is remarkable about the film is the realism. It is so careful to remain dedicated to the naturalistic tone of Levin’s novel showing us a set of ordinary characters in an apparently common world. Then they gradually become introduced to extraordinary elements of dark forces, both magic and fantasy that begin to overwhelm the narrative. We as spectators are now caught up in Rosemary’s plight and her utter sense of powerlessness. This story is less about witches and more about paranoia and the lack of control over our own bodies and destiny. However explained in supernatural terms, it’s still about losing trust with those closest to us, the people we depend on to protect us from harm. We watch as Rosemary’s world turns upside down.

Rosemarys-Baby-paranoia

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I saw Rosemary’s Baby during it’s theatrical release in New York in June 1968. It was billed as a double feature with The Mephisto Waltz. We won’t get into how either really enlightened or truly nutty, depending on your perspective, my mom was for taking her 6 year old little girl to see two very intense horror pictures dealing with adult and subversive themes.

I was an extremely mature child and the film not only didn’t traumatize me, it opened up a world of desire for me to see as many intellectual horror stories without fear of nightmares. Although I must admit when I used to watch Robert Wise’s The Haunting in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon, I did manage to lock the basement door and shove the large gold (the color of Archie Bunker’s favorite chair) love seat in front of it to keep any boogeyman from coming up the basement stairs into the den when I was alone in the house.

I also just saw Rosemary’s Baby remastered on the big screen at the Film Forum a few weeks ago. I have to admit, that as soon as Christopher Komeda’s music starts playing and the birds eye view of the Dakota emerges on screen the electricity started flowing up my legs, this time not my usual RLS, I began weeping. Not only is Rosemary’s Baby my favorite film, I recognize the confluence of perfectionism in each and every scene that makes it a flawless masterpiece, from the vibrant performances to the exquisite storytelling. Every detail is magical and I don’t mean devilish, I mean artfully.

Castavets at Terry's fall

Something else wonderful happened during the screening that day. Amidst all the other film geeks like myself, and aside from the audible pleasure the audience let out when the magnificent Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer walk on screen where we all laughed and silently cheered for their strolling entrance as the iconic quirky and eccentric devil worshiping senior citizens. When Bill Castle did his Hitchcock walk on by the phone booth, I realized that it wasn’t only me smacking my partner Wendy’s knee with childhood excitement, “There’s Bill, there he is!!! We both chuckled with glee to see his wide warming grin. Suddenly we heard others in the crowd stirring and murmuring “there he is, that’s Bill Castle!!!” Amidst all the appurtenances Rosemary’s Baby has to offer, so many of us fans were thrilled to catch sight of Mr.Castle with his fat cigar standing by the phone booth. We were collectively excited to see the man who had entertained us all these years. It was heart warming. I did tear up.

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Mia back of Bill's head phone booth

rosemary in booth sees Bill

I recognize Roman Polanski as the auteur that he is, but that is not what I want to dwell on here. I want to stress that Rosemary’s Baby would not have been made if it weren’t for William Castle, and his perseverance, passion and eye for intellectual property. William Castle acknowledged that The Lady From Shanghai was a work of art because of Orson Welles‘ direction, however, it was Castle who first discovered and purchased the rights to If I Should Die Before I Wake, only to have Orson Welles turn around and pitch it to Harry Cohn as his own idea.

It was Rosemary’s Baby that Bill chose to elevate his status from B movie maker to respected filmmaker in a very fickle industry. Let’s pay tribute to one certain fact: Rosemary’s Baby would not be the film it is after 45 years without William Castle’s imprint on it.

B&W Bill at Booth

In Bill’s memoirs Step Right Up, I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America (which is a fantastic read for any enthusiast about the golden age of Hollywood and just a darn good bit of story telling) describes how William Castle’s literary agent Marvin Birdt, the person who found the script and insisted Bill read the galleys immediately. Castle looked at the title and dismissed it saying “Its probably some story about an unwed mother… cheap exploitation. Who the hell wants to make a picture like that?” 

rosemary'sbaby book cover

Bill Castle thought the film just wasn’t for him at the point. It was 1968 and the film industry wasn’t really embracing horror films anymore. He was so overwhelmed with the lousy books and manuscripts that were piling up that he just couldn’t fathom wasting any time with yet another piece of junk. But, it took him all of three hours to finish the story, as he said, ‘bathed in sweat and shaking.’ Castle saw the magnitude of Ira Levin’s story when it was still in unpublished manuscript form: “I made up my mind when I read the novel Rosemary’s Baby that it was the greatest novel that would translate into a screenplay that I had ever read. That just lent itself to a brilliant movie. And I loved the property and I brought the property because I wanted to prove to the industry my fellow peers that I could do something really brilliant.” (Step Right Up, 2010) He told Ellen, his wife, that it was one of the most powerful books he’d ever read, and that it would be an incredible picture to make. When Ellen finished reading it, she told him “it’s disturbing… frightening and brilliant.”(SRU, 2010) But Ellen also warned that he’d have trouble with the Church.

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William Castle and the love of his life, his beautiful wife Ellen courtesy of Spine Tingler

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Castle’s agent Birdt tormented him about other studios and directors interested in the story and making offers. Later, Castle had found out that the book had actually been offered to Alfred Hitchcock first. One wonders what it might have looked like if Hitch had been behind the camera, storyboarding Levin’s work.

Bill Castle was worried that he was going to lose the picture, but where was he going to get the quarter of a million Birdt demanded to finance the rights to the film? He asked Birdt to offer one hundred thousand dollars up front and then fifty thousand if the book became a bestseller with five percent of one hundred percent of the net profits. His agent wasn’t very encouraged that they’d accept the offer. The waiting to hear back was excruciating, but Castle did get the rights to Rosemary’s Baby. Now he had to come up with the money!

In Step Right UpBill describes how Robert Evans, in charge of Paramount Pictures, called to check in, not sure William Castle could handle such a serious motion picture.But, Charles Bluhdorn, owner of Paramount, wanted to meet with Castle personally to discuss the picture, saying “I have big plans for Paramount, and they include you.” Castle found Bluhdorn’s persona magnetic. He told him that Bob Evens had informed him about Castle’ obtaining Rosemary’s Baby.“Would you like to make the picture for us?” Of course, Castle told him, yes.

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head of Paramount Robert Evans

“Your services as producer, how much would you want?” Bill Castle corrected Bluhdorn by adding the word ‘director’… trying to avoid negotiating with this man without his lawyer. Bluhdorn wasn’t having any of that. He told Castle that he would not negotiate with lawyers on the making of Rosemary’s Baby. It’s either between Castle and him, or Donnenfeld and Castle’s attorney. Castle decided he had the ego to take on this financial genius and told him he’d negotiate with him directly. But first, Bill asked him if he had read the story. Bluhdorn had not. Bill thought that worked to his advantage as the story was intensely disturbing so the less Bluhdorn knew about the story the better.

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Robert Evans and Roman Polanski

When Bill Castle finally blurted out that he’d want to produce and direct, Bluhdorn laughed at him called him a ‘big ridiculous clown.’ He tried to offer Bill only one hundred fifty thousand for the film plus thirty percent of the profits. Bill told him no way. It was a hard bargaining session. Bluhdorn didn’t know what he was dealing for and Bill did, Bluhdorn was also dropping the phony niceties and getting close to bowing out of any deal. “If I walk through that door, Rosemary’s Baby is finished at Paramount. No one -and I mean no one- will renegotiate!” Castle finally composed his inner panic and came back at the austere blowhard with an offer of two hundred fifty thousand and fifty percent of the profits. It was a deal. (Step Right Up, 2010) 

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Bill Castle courtesy of Spine Tingler

Producer Evans In Conference

Bill’s daughter, Terry Castle remembers, “He had to do whatever he could and it was his time. Mom and dad mortgaged the house and they bought the rights for a substantial amount of money.” (Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story)

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Bill’s wonderful daughter Terry Castle founder of Dark Castle Entertainment

With that he asked Castle’s age and if he’d heard of director Roman Polanski, or seen any of his pictures. Castle had seen Repulsion and Knife in the Water. Bluhdorn sung Polanski’s praises calling him a genius. He impressed upon Castle that with the director’s youth and Castle’s experience as producer, they could both learn from each other. Bill Castle started to find his fire, “Look Mr. Bluhdorn, the reason I bought Rosemary’s Baby with my own money was to direct the film… It’s going to be an important motion picture and I’m not going to miss the opportunity of directing.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

Bluhdorn told him that Polanski directs Rosemary’s Baby or no deal, and asked Bill to at least meet the young director. Castle says “I had made up my mind to hate him on sight… and that he wasn’t going to direct the picture I said absolutely no way. I bought the picture, I bought the book. I own it, I’m going to direct it..{…} I worked all my life to get something worth while on the screen and so at first sight I hated him.” He’d sent Polanski the galleys to read and if after meeting him he decides he doesn’t want him directing the movie then fine. Bill Castle says in his memoirs that while Bluhdorn was a tough negotiator he was at least an honorable and fair man whose handshake was better than a written contract.

Castle and Polanski Spine Tingler
Castle and Polanski courtesy of Spine Tingler

In Step Right Up, 2010 Castle describes his first impression of Roman Polanski was that he was a little cocky vain narcissist who liked to look at himself in the mirror a lot. Bill asked if he liked the story, “I like it very much… It will make a great picture.” Polanski spoke in his Polish accent. “You would like to direct Rosemary?” Bill asked. “That’s why I’m here. Nobody will be able to direct it as well as Roman Polanski.” And Bill Castle’ felt that Ira Levin’s book was perfect for the screen, needing absolutely no changes whatsoever in adapting it. This was something he felt passionately about. He posed the question to Polanski. “The book is perfect… no changes must be made” Bill says that Polanski was so intense about this that it was quite jarring. “It’s one of the few books I have read that must be translated faithfully to the cinema.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

And having read Levin’s book, I can tell you that reading each line of every page is exactly like watching the story unfold on screen. It is the most faithful adaptation I’ve ever read, more like reading the script after the fact.

on set Castle, Gordon, Farrow and Polanski b&W

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Then Castle posed a trick question to Polanski to see what his vision was for filming the narrative, suggesting to him that the camera should not only move around a lot but use strange shots to tell the story. Polanski was empowered by his convictions and told Bill,“No, I don’t Mr. Castle. Actors tell story… like peeping through the keyhole of life. I do not like crazy tricks with camera… must be honest.” That was exactly how Bill Castle saw the film being made. When Polanski told Bill to start calling him Roman, Bill couldn’t help but start to like this man who truly did share a special vision for a very special story. Polanski went on to tell him, “Bill, we can make a wonderful picture together. I have been looking for a long time for a Rosemary’s Baby. To work with you would be my privilege.” (Step Right Up, 2010)

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Terry Castle, Bill’s daughter, remembers: “Polanski came over to the house and he was this young wild guy, just this incredibly wily dynamic man with this very thick accent talking about cameras and light he was just incredibly dynamic himself and my dad totally got him. He wanted to get Rosemary’s Baby made and he wanted to produce it… and yet he wanted to direct it. But I think once he met Roman Polanski I think he understood he could bring something incredibly special to the project. And I think it was okay for dad to give that up to him because I think he saw the brilliance in this man. […] Even though he wasn’t going to be directing it at least his name was going to be on it as a William Castle production and he was making for the first time in his life an important studio film.” (Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story)

Polanski on the set with Mia

Left tor right, William Castle, Mia Farrow, and Robert Evans during the production of ROSEMARY'S BABY, 1968.

Bill with Mia and John on the set of Rosemary's Baby

The last thing Bill Castle needed to know was who he’d pick to write the screenplay and why. Polanski told Bill he would do it himself because he would stick strictly to the book. They spent the rest of the time discussing the film, Bill finding Polanski brilliant and extremely open. He immediately called Bluhdorn and told him that he was right Polanski was the only one who could direct Rosemary’s BabyBill Castle had the wisdom and grace to understand that Polanski would make a great film, but to be fair to Bill Castle. it’s also only after his careful facilitation and thoughtful know-how that helped bring Ira Levin’s story to life.

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Polanski and Farrow and Cassavetes in hall color

Polanski kept his word, he wrote the screenplay and adhered strictly to the book as promised. Polanski asked Bill to help him find a house by the beach to work and that he’d send his fiance over to help him look for one. On a Sunday morning Sharon Tate was standing at Bill Castle’s door. They found the perfect beach house for the couple, owned by Brian Aherne who was in Europe.

Polanski wanted to use Richard Sylbert to do the set design for the film. Sylbert had just finished working on Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Roman Polanski thought his work was brilliant. Polanski suggested Tuesday Weld in the lead as Rosemary. Bill agreed that she was a fine actress but said, “I think the role was written for Mia Farrow” Polanski watched her in several episodes of Peyton Place and didn’t agree. He thought Tuesday Weld would be better. Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Elizabeth Hartman, and Joanna Pettet were also considered for the part. Evans asked about the casting of Rosemary, which they both gave their choices.Evans told them that he didn’t think Mia Farrow was available because she was working with George Cukor, he’d check with Zanuck at Fox and in the meantime try and get a reading with Weld.

Tuesday Weld
Tuesday Weld

Now the buzz was all over Hollywood and every actress in town felt they would be just perfect for the lead role, but Polanski was still stubborn about Tuesday Weld. When Zanuck called Bill and told him the Cukor picture fell through, and Mia was available. Bill set up a meeting with Mia and Polanski over lunch and Polanski wound up being completely mesmerized by her. He finally agreed she would play Rosemary. The rest is history.

Roman Polanski actually developed a wonderful working relationship with Mia Farrow on the set. She didn’t bring any preconceived motivations to her role as Rosemary Woodhouse. Supposedly he had some difficulties with Catherine Deneuve on the set of Repulsion, but he found Mia very amenable to work with. Mia followed Polanski’s directions very well, which might explain some of her childlike and innocent air to her performance of the blithe and charming Rosemary.

Continue reading “Backstory: What ever happened to William Castle’s baby?”

MonsterGirl’s Quote of The Day! Rosemary’s Baby

Pain be gone, I shall have no more of thee! -Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s Baby

Thriller with Boris Karloff: 14 Episodes in Brief

1)The Purple Room-airdate October 25,1960-Rip Torn inherits Black Oak Mansion from his recently deceased uncle, but with one condition;he must live in the house for one full year. Patricia Barry and Richard Anderson (The Night Strangler , The Six Million Dollar Man) play his cousins who lure him into spending one night in the haunted Purple Room! Black Oak Mansion makes use of Universal’s Psycho house.

2) Fingers Of Fear-aired Feb 21 1961-This disturbing and psychologically progressive episode deals with a child killer.It opens with a stark and chilling scene of an elementary school teacher chasing a ball (bouncing balls are usually foreboding of an impending shock! )from the playground only to discover the body of a mutilated little girl in the shrubs. The police start looking for an overweight brutish man, and a mentally ill man fitting the description starts to fear that he will be arrested for the crime. This starts a series of events that are filmed with a taut and thoughtful narrative until the shocking climax where the real murderer is caught. The final scene is quite disturbing when the killer violently attacks a doll, thinking it is a little girl. Directed by Jules Bricken, but could have been filmed by Sam Fuller. Highly recommend Fuller’s The Naked Kiss.

3)The Ordeal of Dr Cordell airdate March 7 1961-A doctor, Frank Cordell, played by Robert Vaughn ( The Man From U.N.C.L.E)trying to find the cure for nerve gas accidentally stumbles onto a chemical vapor that stirs a murderous uncontrollable rage in him, every time he hears a bell. This episode taps into Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 short story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde as Cordell modulates between these dueling personalities.

4) Parasite Mansion airdate April 25 1961-Pippa Scott plays a woman who wrecks her car, then gets shot at and faints only to awaken in an old dark house inhabited by an extremely strange family that are beset by the fear of a family “secret” in the form of violence that has plagued their home and family for three generations. Poltergeists,telekinesis,stigmata,alcoholism, insanity, backwoods vengeance and family dysfunction all play themselves out at the hands of Granny brilliantly acted by the incredible Jeanette Nolan, Beverly Washburn as Lollie ( Spider Baby ).Written by Donald S. Sanford and directed by Herschel Daugherty.

5) Mr George airdate May 9 1961-After a little girl loses both her parents, she is left in the care of her last remaining relatives, a sociopathic provincial trio who plan to kill her for her inheritance. But the child has a special guardian, a ghost named Mr George who is watching out for her safety at every turn.Written by Sanford, and directed by Ida Lupino. Virginia Gregg, Howard Freeman and Lillian Bronson as Adelaide the simple minded sister apropos of a Tennessee Williams character. The musical dynamic to this episode in particular is it’s own character within the plot. it seems to guide the narrative masterfully through a childlike lens.

6) Terror In Teakwood airdate May 16 1961-A concert pianist obsessed with being the greatest living pianist, takes extreme measures to improve his abilities.Guy Rolfe (Mr Sardonicus) plays Vladimir Vicek the tormented musician who goes to drastic and unholy ends to achieve greatness.Hazel Court plays Leonie his beautiful wife. Directed by Paul Henreid. Bette Davis’s love interest and doctor in Now Voyager. Perhaps my favorite film of the great Ms Davis! The theme is very reminiscent of The Hands Of Orlac . Also stars Charles Aidman.

7) What Beckoning Ghost airdate September 18 1961-Judith Evelyn plays Mildred Beaumont, a woman, yet another concert pianist, recovering from a heart attack,goes downstairs one night hearing a funeral dirge, and has a vision of her own dead body lying in repose in an open coffin.She faints and upon awakening is told by her husband and sister that she has started having memory lapses and hallucinations. Are they trying to drive her crazy or to her grave? Written by Donald Sanford from a story by Harold Lawlor first published in Weird Tales (July 1948) and directed by Ida Lupino. photo right Reggie Nalder from Terror in Teakwood.

8) The Premature Burial airdate October 2 1961-loosely based on Poe’s story, Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castavet the patriarchal warlock in Rosemary’s Baby ) plays a cataleptic man who suffers a seizure and is mistakenly buried alive. His doctor friend Boris Karloff breaks into the crypt and saves his life. After being revived by the galvanic battery! Blackmer becomes obsessed with this never happening again. However his young wife Patricia Medina and her artist lover Scott Marlowe are more interested in his inheritance. This episode has a wonderfully morbid tone to it.

9) The Weird Taylor airdate October 16 1961-Writer Robert Bloch brings this macabre story to life directed by Herschel Daugherty.

An abusive husband and bitter man, a tailor is asked to make a special suit of clothes for a wealthy man. The tailor doesn’t know that the man has accidentally caused his son’s death during one of his black mass rituals.The father’s only goal now is to bring his son back to life and having paid one million dollars for a rare book on sorcery which has the formula for creating a suit that if worn can bring back the dead!.George Macready is wonderful as the mournfully obsessed father.Henry Jones is Erik Conrad the angry tailor who doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.

10) God Grante That She Lye Stille airdate October 23 1961-In 1661 a woman is burned at the stake for being a witch. She swears that her spirit will avenge her death. 300 years later,a girl descendant from the witch returns to her ancestral home and begins having to fight off the ghost of the witch who is now trying to possess her very body and soul! Henry Daniell plays Vicar Weatherford the descendant of the man who burned the witch 300 years prior.

11)Masquerade airdate Oct 30 1961-A young couple, a writer and his droll wife are on their honeymoon down south after being caught in a thunderstorm, stop at a house to seek shelter. This episode is laced with a lyrical quality and much campy humor.What they find, is a bizarre family led by John Carradine ( love him!) Jed Carta who taunts the couple with local stories about the Henshaw Vampire. Is the family a family of vampires?cannibals or just a bunch of psychopaths who kill wayward visitors for their valuables?Tom Poston as Charlie Denham, and Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched)as Roz Denham.The banter between the cast is so enjoyable. Pictured here John Carradine as Jed Carta sharpening his butcher’s knife.

12)The Return Of Andrew Bentley airdate Dec 11 1961-in 1900’s Ellis and Sheila Corbett arrive at the home of his Uncle Amos an occult enthusiast, who reveals that he is dying and plans on leaving everything to them as long as they remain in the house, never to leave and to keep vigil on his crypt in order to protect his eternal slumber from the mysterious Andrew Bentley and his minion demon that follows him around like a ghoulish pet.Written by Richard Matheson and directed by John Newland who also plays Ellis. Antoinette Bower is Sheila and Reggie Nalder is Andrew Bentley. Nalder is another actor with a very distinct face.

13)The Remarkable Mrs Hawk airdate Dec 19 1961-Mrs Hawk runs a pig farm. Best hogs in the county.She also goes through handy men like Kleenex. They all seem to disappear without a trace. When the last hired hand to go missing, it stirs curiosity in his friends,so they set out to investigate the goings on. Turns out that the lady is the Greek Goddess Circe who is masterful at turning men into swine! John Carradine plays “Jason” Longfellow, Paul Newlan as Sheriff ” Ulysses” Willetts and Jo Van Fleet as the remarkable Mrs Hawk. Directed by John Brahm and written by Donald S Sanford. The original script http://www.geocities.com/emruf7/hawk.htm

14) The Storm airdate January 22 1962-Nancy Kelly ( The Bad Seed’s mother ) as Janet Wilson after finding the body of a dead woman in the trunk in her cellar, is then stalked by a killer during one terrible stormy night! Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

A few other of my favorite episodes are~Dialogues With Death, Well Of Doom ,The Last of The Summervilles , Hay Fork and Bill-Hook, What Beckoning Ghost,A Wig for Ms Devore and The Closed Cabinet!

Boris Karloff’s Thriller 1960s television series

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From the show’s opening iconic musical score, you know something deliciously sinister is about to occur. The word THRILLER appears against a fractured white web like graphic title design quite a bit in the style of Saul Bass. The discordant piano and horn stabs of modern jazz already bring you into the inner sanctum of menacing story telling. As Boris would often say as a precursory welcome,“Let me assure you ladies and gentlemen, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a thriller”

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Boris Karloff’s THRILLER was an anthology series that ran from 1960-1962. It included 60 minute B&W episodes, 67 in all, that were expected to compete with The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

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The series was developed by Executive Producer Hubbell Robinson and producers William Frye, Fletcher Markle  & Maxwell Shane for MCA’s Revue Studios. The format was somewhat plagued by two ambivalent themes, leaving the show’s narrative straddling both crime melodrama and tales of the macabre genres. But… either atmospheres created by some of the best writers, directors and players delivered a highly intoxicating blend of both.

“I think the title leaves the stories wide open to be based on melodrama not violence or shock. They’ll be stories about people in ordinary surroundings and something happened to them. The whole thing boils down to taste. Anybody can show you a bucket of blood and say-‘This is a bucket of blood’, but not everyone can produce a skilful story”-Boris Karloff (1960)

Karloff starred in five episodes: The Prediction, The Premature Burial, The Last of the Somervilles, Dialogues With Death, and The Incredible Doctor Markesan.

Many of the stories were based on writing taken from Weird Tales and scripted by that magazine’s contributors such as Robert Bloch (author of the novel Psycho) who wrote one of my favorite episodes The Cheaters as well as adapting his story The Weird Tailor.

Other contributing writers were Donald S. Sanford, Richard Matheson, Barré Lyndon and August Derleth John Kneubuhl, Alan Caillou, Robert Hardy Andrews, Charles Beaumont, Robert Arthur, William D. Gordon, Jay Simms and Wilkie Collins.

THRILLER had an incredible line up of serious dramatic players. Leslie Nielsen, Mary Astor, Rip Torn, Patricia Barry, Richard Anderson, Martin Gabel, Cloris Leachman, Fay Bainter, Victor Buono, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Elisha Cook, Robert Lansing, Mary Tyler Moore, Beverly Garland,Warren Oates, Werner Klemperer, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan, Ed Nelson, Mildred Dunnock, Phyllis Thaxter,William Shatner, Elizabeth Allen, Guy Stockwell, Susan Oliver, Nehemiah Persoff, Torin Thatcher, Marlo Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Ireland, Pippa Scott, Jeanette Nolan, Guy Rolfe, Hazel Court, Lloyd Bochner, Brandon DeWilde, Sidney Blackmer, George Macready, Tom Poston, Constance Ford, Elizabeth Montgomery, John Carradine, Edward Andrews, Estelle Windwood, Bruce Dern, Jo Van Fleet, Jane Greer, Richard Long, Ursula Andress, Lillian Bronson, Reta Shaw, Dick York, Howard McNear, Richard Carlson, Nancy Kelly, John Fiedler, Linda Watkins, Martita Hunt, George Grizzard, Robert Middleton, Natalie Schafer, James Griffith, Bethel Leslie, Patricia Medina, Richard Chamberlain, Sarah Marshall, Conrad Nagel, Reggie Nalder, Henry Jones, Russell Johnson, Natalie Trundy, Diana Millay, Philip Carey, Kathleen Crowley, Susan Oliver, J. Pat O’Malley, Judith Evelyn, Tom Helmore, Robert Vaughn, Virginia Gregg, Scott Marlowe, Judson Pratt, Marion Ross, Antoinette Bower, Jocelyn Brando, William Windom, George Kennedy, Abraham Sofaer, Monte Markham, Patricia Breslin, Charles Aidman and so many other great character actors.

Ida Lupino Looking Through Movie Camera
Ida Lupino directed Last of the Summervilles, The Lethal Ladies, The Bride Who Died Twice, La Strega, The Closed Cabinet, What Beckoning Ghost? Guillotine, Mr. George and Trio for Terror

The series drew much of it’s artist edge because of the directors who contributed their stylistic observations of the story telling like Robert Florey, French Screenwriter who was responsible for contributing to The Outer Limits , Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone as well as assistant director on Murders In The Rue Morgue and the 1946 film The Beast With 5 Fingers yet another take of the Orlac saga. John Brahm had directed the 1944 version of The Lodger and Hangover Square. Much of the overall tone of the series combined elements of film noir and classical horror. The shadowy gray toned cinematography created so much of the atmospherics for some of the most memorable episodes in the series. Pigeons From Hell is yet another story adapted from Weird Tales Magazine. This episode was directed by John Newland of One Step Beyond, a television series consisting of half hour episodes that were purported to be based on true paranormal events. Some other notable directors who contributed their work to the series was the ever versatile Ida Lupino Arthur Hiller , Lazlo Benedak, (The Wild One ’53) Hershel Daugherty , Paul Henreid, Douglas Heyes and Jules Bricken.

THRILLER’S musical compositions seemed to be sculpted perfectly for each episode, underscoring the haunting and poignant quality of each story in such an evocative way that the music itself became integral to the narrative. The subtly intrinsic emotional quality in each of the arrangements help forge a climate of the distinctive theater of dramatic and unearthly chills.

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Jerry Goldsmith , Morton Stevens & Pete Rugolo  wrote some of the most vivid and beautiful melodies for the series. I was inspired by the episode God Grante That She Lye Stille, to name a song on my album Fools and Orphans after it.

Henry Daniell, who in addition to his marvelous face, had a wonderfully theatrical voice, plays the 17th century reincarnation of his ancestor Vicar Weatherford in God Grante She Lye Stille. He condemns the witch Elsbeth Clewer to be damned to the fires of hell and burn at the stake. Memorable is his invocation “God Grant That She Lye Still.” in that measured and lucidly flowing tone of his.”Thou shall not suffer a witch to live!”

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Henry Daniell in God Grant That She Lye Stille

Daniell would inhabit several striking characters on the series, including Dirk van Prinn the alchemist in The Cheaters.

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Henry Daniell as the cruel headmaster in Jane Eyre 1943

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I’ll be writing about some of my favorite episodes in depth because THRILLER was so ahead of it’s time in terms of the serious and artful risk taking of the various directors on board, the incredibly spellbinding story telling and dialogue, inspired set & art design, experimental cinematography, dramatic performances and evocative musical scoring.

Together the confluence of all these elements contributed to a show that often pushed the boundaries of what you might expect from a 1960’s television series. It’s moody, compelling and haunting quality, have not been duplicated on any other anthology series of it’s type to date. Although I also feel passionately about The Outer Limits for much of the same reasons, a show philosophizing on morality with a very science fiction lens. I plan on covering that series in depth as well. Alfred Hitchcock Presents & The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was a fabulous mystery series that also merged noir with suspense. This is another show I’ll be talking about in the future. Yet THRILLER holds a special fascination for me, partly due to my enduring love for Boris Karloff.

Somehow THRILLER seemed to encapsulate it’s own Gothic methodology and mythos.

The sets had a uniquely eerie landscape and their own vitally uncanny, bizarre and shadowy environment. Not unlike the way Val Lewton seemed to create his own unique cycle of supernaturally themed shadow plays for RKO.

The show still evokes chills and Gestalt response in me even after having watched these episodes a hundred times over.

Also notable is Jack Barron’s make-up on the series, including The Incredible Doktor Markesan~

So please stay tuned as I journey back to Boris Karloff’s Thriller and wander through some of my most treasured episodes I’d love to share with you!

Also notable is Jack Barron’s make-up on the series, including Doktor Markesan ~

 

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a few scenes from a most groundbreaking & thrilling series!

A Wig for Miss Devore
A Wig for Miss Devore – Patricia Barry & Linda Watkins
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The Storm-Nancy Kelly
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What Beckoning Ghost?-Judith Evelyn
Fingers of Fear
Fingers of Fear- Robert Middleton
Mr George
Mr.George- Virginia Gregg and Lillian Bronson
Masquerade
Masquerade – John Carradine, Tom Poston and Elizabeth Montgomery
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Rose’s Last Summer– Mary Astor
Parasite Mansion
Parasite Mansion- James Griffith and Jeanette Nolan
Pigeons from Hell
Pigeons From Hell– Ottola Nesmith
Prisoner in the Mirror
Prisoner in the Mirror – Lloyd Bochner and
The Cheaters
The Cheaters- Mildred Dunnock
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The Ordeal of Doctor Cordell-Robert Vaughn
the grim reaper
The Grim Reaper– himself
the hollow watcher
The Hollow Watcher– Audrey Dalton
the hungry glass
The Hungry Glass– William Shatner and Joanna Heyes
The Premature Buriel
The Premature Burial- Sidney Blackmer
The Purple Room
The Purple Room
the remarkable mrs hawk
The Remarkable Mrs Hawk– Jo Van Fleet
the weird tailor
The Weird Tailor- Sandra Blake & Hans the mannequin
The Incredible Doktor Markesan
The Incredible Doktor Markeson – Boris Karloff
Doktor Markeson
Doktor Markeson
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There are 2 episodes listed that never made it to the screen- A Secret Understanding and The Black-Eyed Stranger

 

Season One –

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Season Two