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Sir Graves Show History

 
 


by Keith Milford

Part 2 of 3

Supporting characters
Lawson also created and performed many other supporting characters for the show. "After I got Sir Graves," he recalled, "I figured, well, I just can't sit there and badmouth the movies. So, my first character besides myself which was pre-taped was Baruba, who was a 'familiar' for the vampire". Baruba was a character in a monk's cowl, who did Sir Graves' bidding. You never saw his face, only heard his voice.

The Glob!Of course, probably the most well-remembered and loved character on the show next to Sir Graves, was, The Glob! This was a bizarre facial apparition that would appear in the moon above Sir Graves' cemetery and sing weird, silly songs for Gravesy and the viewing audience. The Glob was based on something Lawson had seen somewhere on television in Cleveland. Shooting the segments were always a chore, though, since Deming had to lie upside down on a very deep ramp, while a camera set up behind him would shoot down--and closeup--to catch his skillful lip-syncing job!

These were the days before sophisticated digital special effects, when things were done the hard way--especially on low-budget local shows. Lawson has often joked about how the blood really rushed to his head during taping of the Glob bits! The Glob was painted on his chin. His goatee served as The Glob's hair, his mustache forming the tiny beard. The Glob's eyes and nose were drawn on Sir Grave's chin just under his mouth (Deming did his own makeup as well). The Glob sang such famous hits as Ghoul Days, The King Kong Stomp, and (a favorite Glob number for many kids back then), a parody version of a Beatles' tune called, I Wanna Bite Your Hand. Many of the recordings used for The Glob's songs were by Gene Moss, from his "Dracula's Greatest Hits" album, among others.

Tilly TrollhouseNext there was Tilly Trollhouse, the only female personality on the Graves show. "We couldn't stand more than one like Tilly on a show" Sir Graves once commented. "One of the cameramen told me one time that she's the ugliest dame he's ever seen. I couldn't agree more." Tilly Trollhouse, that "gorgeous cookie" as Sir Graves would often mockingly refer to her (a play on Nestle's Tollhouse Cookies), was the castle scullery maid and Sir Graves' clingy girlfriend (though it was really more of a hate-hate relationship on Gravesy's part). Deming performed the role himself in women's clothes, a wig, and full makeup. Tilly usually lip-synched to old Florence Foster Jenkins, Spike Jones, or 'Mrs. Miller' albums, among others.

Lawson has said, "When my wife first saw me do Tilly, she said, 'I don't know how you have the nerve!' ". For the part, he exchanged his vampire cape, bowtie, goatee, mustache, and deep Lugosian-like accent, to become the buxomy blonde in the ill-fitting clothes that sings off-key under street lights. "She and Gravesy have something going," he once laughed. "But Gravesy is just a little too smart. He'd never marry anyone that ugly in a million years. Those close-up shots of her are enough to turn your stomach." Still, Tilly was actually the emcee's favorite character.

Cool GhoulAnd there were other characters, like the diminutive Reel McCoy, the little graveyard caretaker who dug up the movies at the beginning of the show that Sir Graves presented each week. Often Graves would call him up from the dungeon and he'd then be super-imposed sitting on top of his coffin, where he'd chat with the host. He was only a foot or so high. There was also Cool Ghoul, kind of an "undead" '50s beatnik. Cool Ghoul, as Deming recalled, "was a thing where they just showed my head. The poor boy was riding home from a gig (music job) one night on his motorcycle, when he met with an accident. Now there's nothing left of him but his head--the one that's always telling those famous Cool Ghoul riddles."

The movie itself was introduced every week by Sir Graves' cousin, the German-accented Baron Boogaloff (from the Bavarian branch of the family), who would pop up just before the film would start and order viewers to watch the movie and enjoy it! Deming said, "That was me, too. I was everybody. The reason we had all these characters was I figured that way the audience couldn't just sit there and badmouth the film... I wanted to give them something else to badmouth." Lawson Deming portrayed all the characters on the Graves show, with a little help from some modern electronic video tricks of the day (super-imposing, split-screens, mattes, etc).

His "Rogues Ghoullery" also included Walter, Sir Graves' alter-ego on the show. Walter was "the prissy one, who's always yelling, 'You're sick Graves, sick, sick, sick!' " Deming has said, "and yelling it with a lisp, when he isn't singing his favorite tune, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. He was not quite gay, but he was a little fey". Often Walter tried to take over the show (always having delusions of grandeur) and loved to goad and chastise Sir Graves with the signature catch-phrase many young fans would walk around repeating (I know my brothers and I sure did!); "You're sick, sick, sick!" Walter was also an accomplished lip-syncher. One of his favorite tunes was Three Little Fishies.

Rounding out the cast was also Voice of Doom, a sarcastic skull (with long red hair) that Graves would chat with in the graveyard--the skull liked to tell really bad jokes with Sir Graves that viewers sent in ("If you've got the nerve to send 'em, we've got the nerve to read 'em!", Sir Graves would chime). Ivan Awfulitch was a failed weightlifter character who liked to play the guitar while Walter would read his terrible poetry. And finally, in the later years of the show a new character was added (the only one not played by Deming) named Digger Deeper, played by crew member, Walter Selbman. Digger was a hunchbacked gravedigger who looked similar to Igor from the Frankenstein movies. He would sometimes play the organ, and when he did, it was usually something dark and spooky, like Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Selbman also occasionally donned monster masks to portray the Frankenstein monster, a werewolf, and other assorted horrors, usually coinciding with the day's film. Digger also attended many public appearances with Sir Graves as well.

So, Lawson took his show outline, host idea and character list back to channel 2 and they gave him the go-ahead. With all the elements now in place, the "Sir Graves Big Show" finally took to the Detroit airwaves on WJBK-TV Channel 2, one Saturday afternoon in early 1967.

          

Turn out your lights... Pull down the shade... Draw the drapes!
Beneath a full yellow moon a fog-shrouded graveyard stands. Amid the sounds of eerie moans, howling wind, rustling leaves and a screeching cat, a camera moves through a pair of large vine-covered iron gates, slowly creaking open. As the camera glides closer, past a large tombstone, we spy a dull blue coffin seated upon a bier next to a crypt, as a huge bat floats into frame and hovers overhead. Abruptly, the lid pops open and the figure lying in the red-lined open coffin sits up. He sports a goatee and mustache. Both are black and greasy, as is his hair, which has been combed down over a balding forehead. There his hair forms into a large curl. The hair on either side of his temples is also combed forward into curls. Heavy black eyebrows arch over each eye. They too curl, upward at the bridge of his nose. He is dressed in traditional vampire horror-host attire--a tux and a cape, accented by purple gloves. This flamboyant figure intones, "Welcome to that Ghastly Production, Sir Graves Presents". He then announces this week's frightfully delightful feature, and slowly says: "turn out your lights...pull down the shade...draw the drapes...cuddle up in your favorite spot by the telly, for today's tale of terror!" Then he lets loose a loud, hysterical laugh, NEEEYYYAAAAAAA!!!!, as the scene fades out to begin the day's chosen horror movie. Sir Graves Ghastly is on the air!

Taping was done at the original TV2 studios in downtown Detroit (now WTVS Channel 56). A couple years later WJBK would move to Southfield, Michigan, where taping would continue with a new, bigger, updated set. Initially, the Sir Graves show set was simply a spooky mausoleum with gray walls. And Deming's makeup was also slightly different then too, from the more "classic" Sir Graves look most people remember now. Early on he wore much less face and eye makeup, and his hair wasn't quite as dramatic as it would later become.

There was never a "theme song" or music used to open and close the program, instead, the trademark howling wind background sound effects heard were culled from the classic Disney halloween children's album, "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House", and remained in use on the show throughout its entire run, from beginning to end. This spooky-sounding LP had it all; piercing cat screeches, ghostly moans and wails, rusted gates slowly opening, tree branches creaking, and raging wind, rain and thunder storm sounds. It really helped to set the perfect mood!

Show's sound fx came from this LPAt some point in those early days, a more adult-oriented Friday night show was also added to the schedule due to the quickly growing popularity of the new show. So, for a year or two at least, in the early '70s (possibly beginning by the late '60s), there were two airings of Sir Graves each week; one at 11:30 PM on Friday nights, and one on Saturday afternoons at 1 PM--though the afternoon show's start time tended to fluctuate a lot, not just in the early days, but throughout its 15-year run, usually due to preemption by sporting events. Early on, the show's Saturday start time was generally around 2 or 3 PM, before eventually settling into its long-established, popular 1:00 PM slot on TV2.

From the start, though, Sir Graves was a big hit in Detroit, not only with young children--its obvious primary focus--but also, surprisingly, with teens and adults (something the station, nor Deming, ever counted on happening)! Sir Graves struck a chord, and the floodgates opened. Almost immediately fan mail poured in. In almost no time, Sir Graves had a legion of adoring fans, not only in Metro Detroit, but as far as TV2's signal could reach! It was also being picked up and seen (albeit with much fiddling of TV rabbit ears and wads of tin foil) in areas south of Detroit like Toledo and Cleveland, and parts east, across the Detroit river, into Canada. The Ghastly one, with his motley crew of deranged graveyard friends, became an overnight Detroit TV staple.

Sir Graves Ghastly introduced scores of young viewers to their very first horror movies, instilling in many a lifelong love of both the films, and all things monster! Indeed, an important ingredient to the show's success was its fun mix of both classic horror, like Universal's FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE WOLF MAN, THE MUMMY, and other genre favorites like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, MAD MONSTER PARTY, KING KONG and CARNIVAL OF SOULS, down to bottom-of-the-barrel Grade Z cheapies like THE MOLE PEOPLE, THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. Sir Graves covered it all, exposing viewers to the good, the bad, and the ugly of monster movies each and every week! Many grown-up fans today still credit the show for their continued interest in horror movies (good and bad) ever since.


Saturday afternoons with Sir Graves were magical times for kids of any age. The show seemed to fit any mood or season; in the Spring, when it was always wet and muddy outside, Sir Graves gave us something to do on those rainy Saturdays. In the summer, taking a break from playing outside, with the shades pulled down, the lights turned off and the air conditioner humming in the background, was the perfect escape from the sticky summer heat. Fall was maybe the best Sir Graves time of all! The skies were dark and gray, the leaves were falling and Halloween was fast-approaching. The Autumn chill in the air just put you in the mood to stay in and watch some monster movies! And in the cold, dark Winter months (especially up here in Michigan), there was nothing better than curling up under a blanket in the living room, all nice and cozy, watching horror movies with Sir Graves while the snow fell outside and frigid winds whipped through your neighborhood!

But as much as we loved the movies themselves, many actually tuned in as much, if not more, for the host segments and skits! We loved seeing what Sir Graves and his crazy gang were up to each week. In fact, the show's regular movie break features, became even more popular than the films Sir Graves presented each week. If the movies were removed, most would still have tuned in anyway for the skits and other favorite show segments. Fan favorites included: the weekly mailbag reading, riddle and joke time with Cool Ghoul or Voice of Doom, lip-synched songs from The Glob and other cast members, the reading of birthday announcements viewers sent in, and, last but certainly not least, a weekly tippy-toe through the Art Ghoullery, which was probably the show's most popular recurring segment. Each week Gravesy invited viewers to send in their monstrous drawings and artwork, to be featured in the Art Ghoullery, where dozens of chosen drawings and paintings would be showcased one-at-a-time in front of the camera, so viewers could see their work featured on TV. This gave even more incentive to tune in each week to see if maybe one of your pictures would make it on the show this time! From the beginning, viewers really took to Sir Graves Ghastly and the show's endearing format.

The Art Ghoullery!Drawing in the GhoulleryDrawing in the Ghoullery

The growing popularity of the show didn't take long to translate into ratings gold for Channel 2. Sir Graves was the ratings champion in his Saturday fternoon time slots, reaching 235,000 viewers in those heady days, and regularly topping all comers other than live telecasts of sporting events. "Despite the fact that I had been in radio for years, I wasn't too concerned with ratings", Lawson once recounted. "After one of the first ratings came out, one of the TV2 engineers came up to me and said, 'Hey, Deming, do you realize you got 70 percent of the tuned-in audience?' "

It was ratings returns like this, that prompted WJBK to happily add that second, Friday night show to their lineup very quickly. But what was most fulfilling to Lawson Deming in those days, was the wide age group of fans his show was appealing to. Early 1971 station ratings indicated that one-third of his audience were teenagers, and one-third adults! Both Deming and his channel 2 director at the time, Jerry Christener, never failed to get a kick out of men and women in their 30s and 40s submitting their names for the popular birthday roll segment of the show. Christener noted back then, that such people were regular viewers, and that Sir Graves' audience, surprisingly, "is not primarily children." Nielsen and Arbitron rating figures in 1971, showed that more than half the viewers were 18 and older. While in most other markets at the time, local TV horror hosts appealed almost exclusively to children, Sir Graves was one of the few in the country who managed to develop a character and show format that drew all ages in. A real rarity in the realm of Television horror hostdom!

While the show was primarily a Saturday afternoon staple, due to his popularity in the Detroit area, TV2 added occasional weekday afterschool and primetime specials to their schedule. When the King Kong remake was released in 1976, Sir Graves hosted a highly publicized "Night of the Apes" primetime Special, featuring the original 1933 King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, and there were scattered "Friday the 13th" evening specials (on Friday the 13th's), as well as a Planet of the Apes afternoon series (after school) on Channel 2 throughout the week. Sir Graves also hosted numerous primetime Halloween Specials (eg; "Sir Gaves Meets Frankenstein"), and various other "special airings" over the years (same was true for the Washington and Cleveland markets).

  

 

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All content & graphics ©2005 Keith Milford.