Saturday, October 30, 2021

Alan Ormsby's 1970s: Summoning zombies and a Scholastic book

Alan Ormsby, now 77, has had quite a career. He wrote or co-wrote movies as diverse as The Little Dragons and My Bodyguard (both of which I watched ad nauseam on HBO in the early 1980s), Porky's II, the Michael Keaton ice hockey romantic comedy Touch and Go, and the 1982 remake of Cat People (which is stylish, but skip it and watch the 1942 original). His other writing credits include a few episodes of the TV series Nash Bridges

Ormsby's only significant acting credit, meanwhile, is a big one in the realm of cult horror movies. He plays the obnoxiously dressed and mannered lead character in the 1972 zombie film Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (see the 2013 Papergreat post "Which movies gave you the biggest fright?"). His character in that movie, pictured at right, is so despicable that there are cheers at the end when he gets his comeuppance at the hands (and jaws) of the undead. 

Also in the 1970s, Ormsby was the creator of Kenner's Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces doll, which was kind of a do-it-yourself Lon Chaney Sr. makeup set, except that the doll looked like Ed Harris after a bad acid trip. One of the places Hugo lives on these days is in the adventures of Jillian and Addie over on YouTube.

In addition to all of this, Alan Ormsby authored a Scholastic Book Services book in 1975. Which brings us to this post. The nonfiction book is titled Movie Monsters, with the subtitle "Monster Make-Up & Monster Shows to put on." Ormsby further explains the book's approach in a note to the readers on the copyright page:
"Movie Monsters has three parts: The Greatest Movie Monsters — for your delight, information, and reference, page 3; How to Make a Monster, including make-up and recipes for monsters, page 29; and How to Put on Monster Shows, page 63. Happy Ghouling!"


Ormsby absolutely knows his stuff. Part 1 starts with Chaney Sr. and works its way to explaining the magic behind the Universal classic monsters. Ormsby showers make-up artist Jack Pierce with deserved credit for the success of Frankenstein's monster and other horror icons. (Coincidentally, Ashar and I watched a documentary about Pierce earlier this month as one of the extra features on The Mummy Blu-ray.)

Ormsby quickly works his way up to 1972's Blacula, writing:
"As portrayed by actor William Marshall, Blacula is as much victim as villain: He was transformed into a vampire because he asked Count Dracula to sign a petition which would abolish slavery! Blacula's make-up is more elaborate than earlier vampires. He wears bloodshot contact lenses, and form-fitted vampire fangs (like Christopher Lee) but he also wears heavy black eyebrows and sideburns that grow up to his eyes. Dark make-up has been applied around his eyes and his hairline has been filled in to make it more prominent."
In the second section of the book, Ormsby discusses his own history with make-up effects. There's an adorable picture of him as a vampire at age 12 (which would have been circa 1955). He discusses the importance of light and shadow; safe ways to make warts, blood and scars; and ultimately how kids can transform themselves into Dracula, Blacula, Countess Dracula, the bride of Frankenstein, the phantom, the mummy, the wolfman and more. And there's an emphasis on making sure kids don't get into hot water.
"You will need your parents' approval and cooperation to do some of the make-ups and recipes," Ormsby writes. "In fact, you may need their financial help, so be sure to check with them before you start cooking up monsters. ... Don't 'borrow' your mother's or big sister's make-up materials without their permission. This includes powder puffs." Ormsby also rightly insisted that kids, for health reasons, not use talcum powder. (If only others had been so proactive.)

The final section of Ormsby's Movie Monsters gives tips for putting on a "monster show," be it at school, a carnival, for Halloween, or for whenever. He even gives kids a sample sketch that they can perform or adapt as they see fit. There are directions for including some pretty cool special effects in the production, too, including a disappearing ghost, a floating head and spooky sound effects

All in all, it's a nifty and creativity-encouraging book. I can see why there's so much nostalgia for it in comments on Amazon and Goodreads. Some excerpts:

  • In 2007 on Goodreads, Don Roff wrote: "This book gave me the courage -- at a young age -- to hoist my love-of-monsters freak flag high for all to see. I used to make myself up as Dracula or the Wolf Man and prowl around the Saturday-night neighborhood, growling at unwary pedestrians through the hedges. The book is probably a big reason why I work in the film industry -- it was a look-behind-the-curtain peek at magic world of monster movies."
  • In 2012 on Amazon, James E. Transue III wrote: "I picked up this book when I was in grade school - probably at one of those book fairs they have. I loved it and read the instructions over and over. I memorized the 'monster show' in the back. To use the vernacular of that time, it was awesome!"
  • In 2014 on Amazon, R.M. Ries wrote: "I have loved this book since I was 7 years old."
  • In 2009 on Goodreads, John Young wrote: "I wrote a will at age 8 which specified that this book was to be buried with me. It was a life-changer!"
  • In 2013 on Goodreads, Michael wrote a long review that concluded: "I guess I have to say thank you, Alan Ormsby, for adding so much pleasure to both my childhood and my childish adulthood."

The book's illustrations, by the way, were also by Ormsby.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Em Emberley's psychedelic children's witch book illustrations

Ed Emberley (born 1931) is fairly well known among those of us in Generation X because his books made us laugh and helped us learn to draw when we were kids. Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Faces (1975), with its step-by-step instructions for every character a kid could possibly dream up, is one that I especially remember. But it was just one of many. He had a Big Green Drawing Book, A Big Red Drawing Book, Drawing Book of Animals, and many others, including a Drawing Book of Weirdos, with his interpretations of the classic Universal monsters on the cover.

Emberley has also illustrated books for others, and earlier this year I came across Suppose You Met a Witch, which he illustrated for author Ian Serraillier (1912-1994) in 1973. Emberley's intense, psychedelic illustrations steal the show in this short children's book. It's like Yellow Submarine meets Bonnie MacLean — yes, I know I still have to do the post about her — meets Peter Max. All within a disturbing fairy tale.

It's a fairly difficult book to come across, though I suspect that's more due to folks who have a copy not wanting to surrender it. In late 1973, The New York Times children's editors selected it as one of the best books of the year, calling Emberley's illustrations are “a tour de force ... [with] rhythms every bit as striking as those in the text.”

Kirkus also gave it a glowing review. Here's an excerpt:
"(Emberley's) flamboyant art nouveau swirls, the sweeping curls and marble-like sea-foamy flames are gracefully spectacular, and his green, gulping witch quite lives up to Serraillier's description of Grimble-grum as 'all willow-gnarled and whiskered head to toe.' Most important, his sensuous ostentation is totally in keeping with the dramatic transformations of the Grimm-based story and the compressed, onomotopoetic extravagance of Serraillier's musical verse."

I'll share a few more images from my copy below. But if you want to check out the entire book, you're in luck. The Haunted Closet blog posted beautiful scans of the whole thing in 2019. It would be wonderful to see a new edition of this published, so that more kids could have it on their shelves.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

1909 Hallowe'en postcard sent to Miss Doughnut Bainbridge

OK, let's get the important thing out of the way first: There was a Miss Doughnut Bainbridge 112 years ago, and we have no idea who that is!!!

I looked through some of the newspapers of the day from Fort Bragg in northern California (mostly The Mendocino Beacon) and there are references to people named Bainbridge, but nothing that hints of a Doughnut Bainbridge. Clearly, that was a girl's or woman's nickname, because people weren't cool or weird enough back then to actually name someone Doughnut.

This Hallowe'en postcard, with its two grinning pumpkins and a smiling moon, was postmarked on October 22, 1909, in San Francisco. On the front, in small, orange print, it states: COPYRIGHTED 1908 BY INTERNATIONAL ART [?] CO. NEW YORK. The word I can't read between ART and CO. might be ASS. Stop snickering.

This is  my best decipherment of the cursive note on the back:
I'm [Am?] having a lovely time. Oh why wasn't you here. Bert Hart was over to see me last eve. Said he got a postal from you. Will write soon.
Alice [?]

And of this possible Doughnut-Alice-Bert love triangle, we shall know no more. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

"Will Eisner's Spirit Casebook Of True Haunted Houses And Ghosts"

We had a different edition of this spooktacular ghost book by Will Eisner around the house when I was growing up. It was the one with the creepy one-eyed pirate on the cover. It disappeared during one of our many moves. Then I rediscovered it in a dusty box in the cellar while cleaning out the Wallingford house in the early 2010s. It had been victimized by mildew and mice and wasn't salvageable, but its rediscovery reminded me of the chills it had given me when I was kid, so I eventually tracked down another copy...

  • Title: It's complicated. This copy states "Will Eisner's Spirit Casebook 1" and "True Haunted Houses & Ghosts" on the cover. On the title page, we get "The Spirit's Casebook of True Haunted Houses & Ghosts," with an ampersand. On the spine, it's "The Spirit's Casebook of True Haunted Houses and Ghosts," without the ampersand. I am gritting my teeth a little bit.
  • Additional cover text: "Documented case histories assembled for your fright and enjoyment by the great crimefighter."
  • Author & illustrator: The great Will Eisner (1917-2005)
  • Cover illustrator: It states "Will Eisner 76" in the corner.
  • Publisher: Tempo Books, a division of Grosset & Dunlap. Further, the copyright page states that it was produced by Poor House Press of White Plains, New York. That was Eisner's personal company, according to one of the prefaces in the 2017 W.W. Norton & Company edition of Eisner's A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories.
  • Year: 1976
  • Pages: 160
  • Format: Paperback
  • Cover price: $1.25
  • Content: 22 short, heavily-illustrated stories. Chapter titles include Good Ghost of Llanwellyn, Visitor at Lawford's Gate, The Ghost of Inmate 23, Admiral Tryon's Ghost, The Barbados Ghost, Ghost Cavalry of La Bassee, The Ghost of Johnny Daniel, The Curse of Cornstalk, The Ghost at 226 5th Ave., The Handless Ghost and The Trip of Mrs. Wilmot.
  • Introduction (written by The Spirit): "For a long time I have collected a file of occult and unexplained events. In this book I have assembled the most interesting of the cases in which ghostly visitations and hauntings have been documented by some respected source. Occult happenings thrive on the outer perimeters of science so in the final analysis, the truth lies in your acceptance of the evidence..."
  • Goodreads rating: 4.29 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon rating: 4.8 stars (out of 5)
  • Eisner's own assessment: According to a quote I cannot confirm elsewhere from Wildwood Cemetery: The Spirit Database, Eisner described the book as: "an attempt to treat The Spirit in a more conventional format and an effort to find a place for a 'comics' character in the paperback medium. It was a failed effort."
  • Final notes: Despite Eisner's fame, this book remains a little-discussed oddity and rarity. There's a thread on the "Vault Of Evil: Brit Horror Pulp Plus!" message board, but little other online discussion that I could find. ... There's a 2017 tweet from a Will Eisner exhibit that featured pages from the book. ... And in a tweet last month, artist @empire_of_dust_ noted that this book "was published by Tempo Books two years BEFORE 'A Contract With God'. I believe it could be added to the list of books that helped shape the 'graphic novel' format before use of the term blew up in the 1980s." ... For me, the book definitely made an impact when I first came across it in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Eisner didn't soften the scares, and some of his horrifying illustrations burned themselves into my brain, likely remaining there as nightmare fuel during the many years before my rediscovery of the book. Here are some of those illustrations... 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Vintage postcards from Jack O’Lantern Resort in Woodstock, N.H.

Tonight's Mild Fear 2021 post contains zero actual fear, just some autumn loveliness at the named-appropriately-for-Halloween Jack O’Lantern Resort in Woodstock, New Hampshire. 

Maine and, to the best of my knowledge, New Hampshire are the two New England states that I've never been to.1 But I'd like to see them sometime, especially in the autumn.

The top postcard shows the Continental Room at the Jack O'Lantern Resort and refers to the Spirit of '76, which could date the Dexter Press card to around the bicentennial. The other card is branded with "Greetings from Jack O'Lantern Inn and Motor Resort" but simply features the wonders of New England's fall foliage, not the inn itself. It's an Ektachrome by Ray Foster.

The Jack O'Lantern Resort dates to the 1920s, beginning as a tavern named after a pumpkin patch. And, unlike the majority of the motels, lodges and inns featured in old postcards on Papergreat, it's still going quite strong today. According to the history page on its website:
"Over the past 15 years, Jack O’Lantern Resort has completed the transition from a roadside motel and cabin to a modern 50-unit condominium featuring the finest comfortable country accommodations in the region. The aging Tavern has been replaced by an expanded Golf Clubhouse Grille and Bar that continues to maintain the Resort’s reputation for great food served in a relaxed and informal setting."
Sounds like the perfect spot to stay if you're ever feeling a strong yearning to be brave and daring, and spend a weekend in New England. Put perhaps that's a story whose end must now wait.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Spooky illustrated children's book by Liniers

Here's something a bit more modern, with some wonderful artwork. Argentine cartoonist Ricardo Siri, who uses the pen name Liniers, wrote and illustrated the children's book Lo que hay antes de que haya algo in 2006, and it was translated into English by Elisa Amado and published in 2014 as What There Is Before There is Anything Else.

It's an unsettling short tale about confronting and coming to terms with the nighttime and our dreams. From a perspective suitable for a child, but still spooky (as a good children's tale should be), Liniers captures in words and images what seems to be a fever dream.

I've never seen a ghost. But I have a very distinct memory from when I was 8 or 9 years old, living in that old house in Clayton, New Jersey. I was feverish, and I awoke at some point and imagined that there were a half-dozen tall figures standing around the edges of the bed, looking down at me. In my memory, they weren't malevolent, but it was still quite disconcerting. (Given that this the same house where I watched the likes of The House of Seven Corpses, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Salem's Lot at far too young of an age, the only thing that's surprising is that I didn't see more flickering phantoms or hear more things go bump in the night.)

Anyway, Liniers' illustrations in this children's book reminded me of that odd memory. 

If you want to read another take on this book, check out Ryan Billingsley's review on Dad Suggests.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Slightly rhomboid chicken-person postcard sent to Brussels

OK, we're in France with chickens again, but this time we are the chickens, the chickens are us, and it may be impossible to say which is which. This slightly skewed postcard, sold at a shop in Paris, appears to be promoting a production of the Edmond Rostand play Chantecler, which premiered in Paris in 1910. As Wikipedia explains: 
"Rostand was inspired to write the play after exploring the farming countryside around his new home, Villa Arnaga, in the Basque Country of the French Pyrenees, where he had come to live for health reasons after the phenomenal success of Cyrano de Bergerac and L'Aiglon. ... This is Rostand's most personal play, reflecting his deep love for the French countryside and its simple way of life; his disgust at the increasing cynicism and materialism in French society, and the constant anguish he felt as a creative artist."
In the play, all of the characters are barnyard animals and the actors dress the part. Hence, actors in full chicken outfits, as if they're getting ready to hawk fast food or encourage Padres fans to start the wave.

But here's the final question: Is this a clay sculpture made to look like a human being dressed as a chicken, or is it a human being dressed as a chicken made to look like a clay sculpture?