We all have people who influence us, parents, teachers, even friends. But, once in a while someone will influence you that you’ve never met and probably never will, that’s what happened to me. Growing up in Detroit, I was a pretty average kid, weekdays in school, weekends outside playing, nothing out of the ordinary or special about me. Then, one afternoon in 1967 (I was about 5) a local TV show began airing that would influence me for the rest of my life, that show, Sir Graves Big Show, the host, Sir Graves Ghastly.
Now, we’ve all seen local horror hosts, and, looking back, it was a pretty cheesy show that featured some bad jokes and bad movies, but, as a kid in Detroit, I began to live for Sir Graves on Saturday! Now, even as a kid, I wondered why a vampire had his coffin propped on two sawhorses in the middle of what appeared to be a large, mostly empty room, but, as a kid, you can dismiss these anomalies rather easily and just sit back and enjoy the show.
Sir Graves was played by Lawson Deming, a Cleveland born and educated broadcaster (born in 1913), who began in radio and found himself on a kid’s show in Cleveland called Woodrow The Woodsman. He never appeared on camera on the show, but did some puppeteering and voices for the characters, Lawson did an incredible 27 ethnic dialects! From there, when the Woodrow show moved to Detroit, Lawson moved with it, and when the local station cancelled the show, an opportunity presented itself to Lawson to become a local horror host. Originally the station wanted to call him Ghoulardi, but Lawson was aware of the character name already being used in Cleveland and suggested that he create his own character, who would become Sir Grave Ghastly, a vampire who has appeared on the stage with Shakespeare and had, eventually, been hung by the Queen. Luckily, the hanging ‘didn’t take’ and Sir Graves lived on to host the show here in Detroit!
But, Sir Graves wasn’t alone, Lawson brought his collection of accents and characters with him and, so, created a host of secondary characters for the Sir Graves show. The most popular of which was probably The Glob, which was a shot of Lawson’s mouth, turned upside down with eyes and nose painted on his chin. The Glob would appear in the moon above Sir Graves and would usually sing ‘Gravesy’ a song. There was also Cool Ghoul, a biker who had had an accident and was only a head that floated around and Tilly Trollhouse, the castle scullery maid and Sir Graves over-amorous girlfriend!
Sir Graves Ghastly became my favorite Saturday afternoon activity. When other kids were running outside to play baseball or just ride their bikes, I had to put that aside for a couple of hours, because Sir Graves was on. Many a Saturday afternoon, there would be a small war at my house, with my father wanting me to get the hell out of the house and me refusing (or sneaking back in) because I wanted to watch Sir Graves! Sir Graves introduced me to all the Universal Monsters, Frankenstein, Wolfman and the Mummy all became good friends because the horror was always offset by Sir Graves, who’s jokes and skits would distract a little kid from the monsters. There was even a little clique of us in the neighborhood who would go play on Saturday mornings until Sir Graves time, then we’d split up, head to our respective houses and watch our horror-host-hero and then reunite to ride out bikes, play and discuss the monster movie that we’d just seen. Now, some kids would probably go to one house and watch the show together, but I didn’t want any distractions from the action. No talking was allowed…except during commercials!
As I got older, unlike other kids, I didn’t give up my Sir Graves fix, eventually Sir Graves was dropped from the Channel 2 lineup, it was sometime in the mid-70s and, being a kid in his pre-teens I was stunned! Where would I go to get my Saturday afternoon horror fix? Oh, once in a while some other station would show a B movie, but it just wasn’t the same without Sir Graves. So, for a few years, I drifted away from the movies of my youth, but I never forgot them.
Then, in the 80s, something happened, a strange new invention called the V-C-R appeared, and with it, all the movies that I loved started becoming available for rent. And, even better, movies that I has only heard or read about became available to me too, all on these wonderful, magical tapes! There was even a show, on The Movie Channel, called Drive In Theatre With Joe Bob Briggs, and my love for these B and low budget movies was rekindled, a love that I hold even to this day!
Now, the VCR and Joe Bob were good substitutes, but they weren’t Sir Graves. As I look back on my life (not that I’m that old!) I can see where certain tastes of mine developed and I’ll always credit Sir Graves Ghastly for my love of B movies. There might have been jokes made about them, and some of them really did deserve it, but it seemed to me, as a young kid, that Sir Graves had a genuine affection for these forgotten treasures, an affection that was infectious. To this day, I don’t see any of the Universal monsters that I don’t feel like that little kid, who’s ignored his dad and sneaked back into the house to lay on his stomach, on the floor to enjoy the monster movie!
Sir Graves passed away earlier this year, just one day after his 94th birthday, another day I won’t forget. I was at work, when the story came across the wire, and I could feel the little kid inside me start to cry. It was a sad day for any fan of horror movies and the beloved hosts that we all grew up with, Lawson Demming may have just been a broadcaster who put on, what would now be called, a cheesy kids show, but to me, he was the beloved vampire who introduced me to a whole world that I continue to enjoy to this day.
So, Sir Graves Ghastly, you’ll never be forgotten. Those of us who grew up with you, whom had a love of these great films instilled in us, feel like we’re carrying on your legacy, teaching the younger generation about these movies. Sir Graves Ghastly, Lawson, I like to think that, in some small way, we here at Rogue Cinema carry on your legacy, with pride! So, let me close with one last, NYAAAHAAAHAAaHAAA, just for you.