I JUST GOT AN EMAIL FROM JOHN STANLEY telling me that Bob Wilkins passed away in Reno yesterday. First Forry Ackerman and now Bob Wilkins; it’s been a bad time for monster men.
Wilkins was the host of Creature Features on Oakland’s KTVU Channel 2 when I was a kid in the 1970s. Wilkins never wore a cape or put on any ghoulish make-up. He looked more like a swingin’ 70s insurance salesman than the horror hosts that haunted the airwaves of other American cities. He had horn-rimmed glasses and always smoked a stogie. His set did have the pre-requisite cobwebs and cardboard dungeon walls, however, but there were plenty of post modern touches like a sign on the back wall that read: “Watch Horror Films. Keep America Strong.” The placard looked like it should be staked into some Republican’s lawn somewhere in Concord or San Mateo.
Bob’s sense of humor about films like Monster from the Ocean Floor (he claimed that the film was delivered to the station in a brown paper bag) or Attack of the Mushroom People (the first film he showed) was filled with the kind of wry sarcasm that would become more mainstream in later years with such late-night talk show hosts at Letterman or Conan O’Brien or even John Stewart. In the 1970s, the Bay Area was maybe the only place that got this sort of thing. But Wilkins did not poke fun at every film he showed like other horror hosts. Bob knew the classics from utter crap and treated the 30s Universal Monster movies or Night of the Living Dead with a kind of respect.
Wilkins, a former weather man, came from the news department of KTVU and his monster movie show was filled with strange news segments. He interviewed local weirdoes like the hippy who built a robot (pronounced “robit” by Wilkins) and people who claimed to be vampires or psychics. Wilkins also interviewed such big stars as Christopher Lee, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei. When I laid my hands on some video tapes of Creature Features interviews, me and my friends played the Takei interview over and over again. It was about 15 minutes long and it was amazing. Takei was the head of LA’s mass transit authority at the time and Wilkins actually asked him about this. “Don’t talk to me about BART,” the man who played Mr. Sulu said waving his hands, “That’s a real hot seat. It’s very contentious issue.” It still is George, it still is.
When I got those tapes of Creature Features, I actually ordered them directly from Wilkins in Reno. He accidentally sent me two tapes of volume two but no copy of volume three. I sent him a letter explaining the situation with SASE so he could send me the right tape. He actually called my house to make sure he got my story straight. My girlfriend at the time answered the phone. Me and my Bay Area nostalgia addled friends were driving her nuts by repeatedly watching those Creature Features tapes. Wilkins voice was constantly coming from our TV and now she was hearing it on the phone. She nearly passed out. But getting a phone call from Wilkins, that really meant something.
By having all of those interviews on his show and making a big deal about re-running 30s Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe* Wilkins made me realize that the offbeat was important or even desirable. I think that I have done things like wrestling guys in Sasquatch suits and writing two books with the subconscious desire to be one of those local weirdoes interviewed by Wilkins as he puffed on that cigar and sat in his trademark yellow rocking chair.
Bob, you’ll be missed. There will never be another one like you.
* Wilkins interviewed Crabbe on the show as well and the former matinee idol pushed his new workout method called “Energistics”).