Memories of Syracuse, New York’s
by JOSEPH CAPUANA
The Baron and His Bloody Buddies . . .
It was the early 1960’s and I was a student at St. Mary of Mount Carmel Catholic Grade School in Utica, New York when I first heard of Baron Daemon. He was so popular with the students that nearly every day I was regaled with tales of the antics of this vampire who hosted an after school kiddie show. Many imitated his exaggerated Transylvanian accent a-la-Bela Lugosi and his laugh: “Moooo ha ha ha ha ha!” Once, a teacher inquired as to what our occupational aspirations would be when we grew up. While others offered the usual replies of fireman, police officer and astronaut ... I blurted out: “I want to be Baron Daemon’s bloody buddy.”
Mike Price portrayed his ghoulish alter-ego, Baron Daemon, a comedic Count Dracula character with large exaggerated pyramid-shaped eyebrows and wearing a black cape with a high collar. The studio of the kiddie show was designed to look like a castle dungeon, complete with a Rocket Ship and Time Machine. The eerie inhabitants were the Baron, accompanied in some insanely hilarious, 3 Stooges-style slap-stick goofy skits by his side-kicks: the silent “Verry Harry,” a derelict-type with a limited range of expression who wore a floppy hat, an old overcoat, and a 1950’s Atomic Caveman mask; and “Boris” a half-pint, only fractionally more articulate Frankenstein-like creature.Those lucky enough to be selected for the peanut gallery audience (usually area Boy Scout troops,) along with the viewing audience introduced us to Japanese cult-animation “Astro Boy,” “3 Stooges,” “Mack & Meyer For Hire” movie shorts; “Flash Gordon” and “Buck Rogers” serials.
Syracuse is nearly 50 miles from Utica. Sometimes, in those days of actual broadcast reception, I employed Rube Goldbergesque measures to enjoy the Baron’s show. The TV signal was often poor: snowy and static-ridden. My efforts involved aluminum foil augmentations of our TV antenna to help facilitate the weak television signal. Sometimes the reception was so bad we could only pick-up the audio! Nevertheless, I would rush home to watch “The Baron and His Buddies” on WNYS-TV Channel 9 (presently WSYR TV and formerly WIXT), at 4pm. This became my daily ritual.
The Baron was the ghoulish host of another program: “The Hollywood Special,” which aired both on Saturday and Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. The children’s show was an off-shoot created in response to the Baron’s popularity from “The Hollywood Special.” Children wanted to stay up way past their bedtimes to watch these shows, which, I suppose, annoyed their parents. This, I suspect, led to the creation of a Saturday afternoon “Hollywood Special” hosted by the Baron! To the dismay of my parents, I watched them all.
Some of the movies I was introduced to: “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Forbidden Planet,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” “The Invisible Boy,” “The Wolfman,” “The Tingler,” “The Amazing Colossal Man,” “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “The Prince of Space,” “Them,” “Day of the Triffids,” “Mothra,” “Tobor The Great,” “The Colossus of New York,” “Mr. Moto” movies, are some that I recall.
Also to the Baron’s credit is the largest selling album in Central New York back in 1963, which he made with Sam and the Twisters, the “Transylvania Twist,” reminicent of Bobby Pickett’s ever popular “Monster Mash.”
“Grab a hold of your baby and hold her tight
‘Cause Baron Daemon is flying tonight
If you see a weird shadow or hear a strange sound
Scream your little heads off, the Baron’s around.”
The “Transylvania Twist” was the kind of enduring legacy that most bands would die for. The current price for the original 45 of this Central New York phenomena is about $100 on ebay.
Hundreds of young fans turned out in droves when Baron Daemon would appear personally at supermarket openings, charity events and other such promotional appearances. I remember when he appeared at Shopper’s City Department Store in Utica, N.Y. Hundreds of kids were there along with their parents to meet the Baron in person and get his autograph. The line of people waiting to meet him went out the door and down the street! He was stationed all the way in the back of the store in a cardboard cage about the size of a telephone booth. When it was finally my turn, he autographed a 4” x 3” promo card, and inscribed his undead signature upon it, of course with a blood red marker. Today that card still survives among my most treasured memorabilia.
My aesthetic interest with classic horror movies and science fiction films and my fascination with the macabre, endures to this day. I attribute this to Baron Daemon’s early influence and fueled by current publications of the day, “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” “Monster World,” “Castle of Frankensten,” “Creepy” and “Eerie.” Unfortunately this preoccupation ran afoul of the good sisters at St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish who encouraged my parents to derail this particular fascination and replace it with a more wholesome variety. This friction with theology and popular culture endures to this day. Its current incarnation is evident in the continuing controversy with the “Harry Potter” books and movies, and the recent “DaVinci Code.”
Baron Daemon’s 40th anniversary was celebrated a few years ago when Mike Price dusting off his cape and fangs once more for “Baron Daemon’s Halloween Fright Fest,” which aired on WIXT (formerly WNYS.) WIXT has a website with this commemoration available on VHS tape. For any baby boomers still nostalgic for the Baron, this tape is available at: www.9wsyr.com/events/baron.aspx .
Welcome to Monster Mansion . . .
Around 1968, another Syracuse TV station, WSYR channel 3, debuted “Monster Movie Matinee” on Saturday afternoons. Unlike Baron Daemon, “Monster Movie Matinee” wasn’t humorous, like the Baron’s was. The production and execution was very sinister and creative. The show opened with creepy organ music and the theme to “This Island Earth,” The camera followed a path through a scale-model cemetery, to a bridge and path leading to a detailed haunted gothic mansion on a hill with dry ice as fog. We entered Monster Mansion, finding ourselves in a darkened room with a figure sitting off camera in an ornately decorated chair. All we are able to see is an arm clad in a black silk smoking jacket with a white cuff, a pale veiny hand with long, sharp, black fingernails and large ornate rings continuously gesturing. This is Dr. E. Nick Witty, the faceless mysterious host of Monster Mansion, played by the station’s weather man, Alan Milair. Supposedly his facial disfigurement was too terrible for his audience to ever view. Milair had an deep baritone voice and unforgettably evil, sardonic laugh. “Ahhh Dear Guest welcome to Monster Mansion . . .”
Epal was his assistant. His face was crisscrossed with shoelace-like stitches running the length of his face and forehead, punctuated by an eye patch. Early in the broadcasts Epal had a hook which was later replaced by a metal hand which Dr. Witty built for him. He was played by the late Williard Everett Lape, Jr.
The preludes to the movies followed a continuous plot thread drawn out for several weeks, such as finding a cure for Epal’s lycanthropic condition; building a time machine and Dr. Witty’s attempt to restore his facial features. I still have audio recordings of some of the episodes of Monster Movie Matinee which I recently transferred to MP3.
Some of the movies featured were: “This Island Earth,” “The Tarantula,” “Adventures of the Kronos,” “Revenge of The Creature” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” Dr. Witty and Epal were perhaps the best horror hosts in the genre and the production was second only to MST3K.
Monster Movie Matinee was shown on Saturday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. on WSYR (now WSTM-TV), Channel 3 from 1964 - 1980 and later on Tales of Horror on Chamber 13 from 1980 - 1985.
Elena Watson’s book “Television Horror Movie Hosts” references Baron Daemon in Chapter 25, “Son of Invasion of the Ghost Hosts,” page 180 and Monster Movie Matinee is cited in Chapter 25, “Son of Invasion of the Ghost Hosts,” pages 180-181.
Both Mike Price and Alan Milair, along with their alter-egos, will be included in the anticipated “American Scary” film directed by John E. Hudgens. It promises a documentary view of America’s history and tradition of horror hosting, from Vampira to Zacherley. Harkening back to the late 1940’s and 1950’s traveling spook shows which rode the wave of popularity of the classic horror films of the day.
One enduring Baron Daemon aficionado “Monsterman Dan Phillips,” has helped keep his memory alive for a while with a Baron Daemon website which was active a few years ago and his online article: “Confessions of a Mad-Monster Fan,” and published article “Look! Up On the Silver Screen” in Scary Monsters Presents Monster Memories. Much of the motivation to write this article was inspired from his efforts. A tribute webpage has been established at: http://artofjosephcapuana.homestead.com; anyone wishing a trip down memory lane is welcome to visit.
The Baron Daemon images are courtesy of “NewsChannel 9 WSYR” (originally “WNYS TV.”)
The Monster Movie Matinee images are courtesy of “Time-Warner Cable” (originally “Newschannels.”)