On the weekends, I’m going to have contributing writers and photographers doing the posts here. It’ll give me a little break to get ready for next week and I feel it’ll give the blog a more varied voice. Today’s contributing writer is Jaws the Cabbie, you can see his photo and bio here. Jaws has contributed artwork to all my other blogs and is a published author, check out his books here and here. Today, Jaws shares a couple of Peoria memories with us. Take it away, Jaws!
My parents moved to Peoria Illinois a year after I was born, and that's were I lived until the age of twelve in 1966, when we moved to Minnesota. Peoria was where I became a lifelong addict to “B” horror movies, and I owe it all to Milton Budd, host of Nightmare Theater. Peoria's own answer to vintage late night scare-fest movies of dubious quality—the best kind in my humble opinion. Every weekend, I looked forward to watching Milton's wonderfully creepy disembodied head come floating up out of a field of black and lit from just below his chin, to announce the creature feature of the night.
One of my earliest childhood memories was of one the very first movies I ever saw on Nightmare Theater, a delightful piece of utter science fiction schlock from the year of my birth (1954) called...dun dun DUUUUH...TARGET EARTH! The place—Los Angeles. The time—the ‘50’s. A man wakes up to a deserted city, only to discover via the radio news that killer robots from space have invaded,and the city has been evacuated by the military. Film at eleven.
The hero goes out into the street to investigate and soon encounters one of the aforementioned robots, one of the schlockiest Card Board Box Man mutations Hollywood has ever produced bar none. Then he starts wasting the few remaining people left on the deserted streets with a face ray emitted from what looks like a sixties vintage color TV screen in the middle of it's Cardboard Box Man head.
I was seven years old when I saw this movie and I was in seventh heaven. Peoria's Nightmare Theater became my weekly must have, never miss TV fix. I was an admittedly wonky kid, and even before I discovered Nightmare Theater my folks had their doubts about me, but I would beg, whine and wheedle them into letting me stay up 'till midnight in order to watch Nightmare Theater...missing a single installment was unthinkable as far as I was concerned. Milton Budd and his scary floating head was...in my mind at least and as they would say nowadays...DA BOMB!
There was one time my folks put their foot down however, they wouldn't let me stay up late to watch Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho...no matter how much I begged, whined and wheedled. I couldn't understand why they had to be such DINKS about it...I mean what a cool title; Psycho...with a title like that, it just had to be good. No soap, no way they were going to let me stay up to watch that movie. Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay okay okay, but I was already laying my plans...
Friday; ten to midnight.
I'm the only one in the house awake.
I slipped out of bed, quiet as a mouse and began to low crawl out of my bedroom and past my parent's bedroom (I spent the whole day practicing this on the floor down in the basement in preparation, and this was a skill that came in handy twelve years later in basic training during night time escape and evasion training in the Army, believe it or not) and down the stairs to the den, where our ancient black and white TV with the tin foil on the rabbit ears was kept. With the skill of an explosives expert defusing a bomb, I very slowly turned on the TV, taking great care to minimize the click the dial made, and waited for the picture to form (this was a fifties vintage cathode ray TV, and it took a few minutes for the tube to come completely to life) and then slowly...so very slowly...I turned the volume up to barely audible. Then, after a commercial break, Milton Budd's scary floating head came up and introduced the movie right on cue.
Well, I managed to watch the beginning of Psycho, right up to the part where the cop with the sunglasses wakes up Janet Leigh by the side of the road, when a large hand fell on my shoulder....
JUST WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU”RE DOING DOWN HERE BOY!?!
Turns out I wasn't fooling anybody...least of all my old man. I wound up back in bed with a swollen ass and I never did get to see Psycho all the way through until I was fourteen years old. Perhaps it was all for the best...at seven years old, watching Tony Perkins all dressed up like his dead mommy and going after Janet Leigh all naked in the shower with chocolate syrup swirling down the drain might have warped my fragile wittle mind, and they might have wound up using my life story as a basis for an episode of 'Criminal Minds' or something...you never know.
The Captain Jinks and Salty Sam afternoon kids show was the other thing I remember best from my time in Peoria. Never missed it. Captain Jinks was Ace High in my book. Between cartoons, Captain Jinks had a fake TV galley full of kids for an audience, and he'd ask them cute kid questions in that lovable phony sea dog voice of his while Salty Sam walked around the set going “Arrr...Arrr” all the time.
I got a chance to see them both in person once, I remember. My dad and I were in the Y Indian guides, were we did crafts and things and once I made some candles out of a sheet of bees wax that spontaneously combusted during Thanksgiving dinner and almost set the turkey on fire. Dad and I were at some kind of Y Indian Guide benefit and Captain Jinks was Mc-ing the affair and I managed to get a close up look at my TV afternoon idol. He had a lot of makeup on (the affair was being taped for the local news) and all that makeup...man...made him look pretty sick or something. Made him look a little...scary. It bothered me.
Years later, when I saw George A Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead', and I saw the cemetery zombie (played by the recently deceased actor Bill Hinzaman) go after Barbara and Johnnie, I flashed on Captain Jinks with all that TV makeup.....and my blood....ran....cold.
Peoria. Ah, Peoria...the memories...