Tech Rap Halloween Edition: A Monster Party
In this special Halloween Edition Tech Rap, we celebrate a vintage monster movie. No, not Frankenstein, The Mummy, or The Werewolf. It is a cult classic, yet odds are, you probably have never heard of it. Read on and you will find out. I will also have some Como Audio Halloween programming suggestions for you, and be sure to read all the way to the end because there is a very special, secret Tech Rap Halloween surprise (hint: “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…”).
When I was a child, one thing I looked forward to during the Christmas season (besides Santa Claus) was watching the annual television broadcast of the animated classic, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. I remember plopping myself directly in front of our big cathode ray tube color television anxious to be embraced by a festive phosphorus glow for the next hour. This was years before VHS, so you had to catch the program when it aired or else it meant waiting another year to see it again. According to Wikipedia, this beloved Rankin/Bass Production (Arthur Rankin, Jr. + Jules Bass) from 1964 is the longest-running Christmas special in the history of television.
The writing, casting, and story boards for “Rudolph” were all done in the USA, but you might not know that the trademark stop-motion animation called “Animagic” was filmed in Tokyo, home to Godzilla movies, and a long way from the North Pole. This painstaking process involved filming each custom poseable doll, repositioning their individual parts (mouth, eye brows, eyes, hands, legs, etc.), shooting them again, and repeating to simulate movement. The dolls had a unique wire skeletal sub-structure allowing the heads and limbs to be positioned.
“Rudolph” produced some unforgettable lines like “Bumbles bounce!”, “Eat, Papa, Eat!”, and “Nobody wants a Charlie-in-the-box!” But just as memorable was the music soundtrack, recorded in Toronto, which has sold over one million copies in the USA. The songs were fun and catchy: We Are Santa’s Elves, Jingle, Jingle, Jingle, There’s Always Tomorrow, We’re a Couple of Misfits, and Burl Ives’ contributions that made his name synonymous with Christmas- Silver and Gold and A Holly Jolly Christmas. So, where am I going with all this, I hear you cry? How can I possibly tie-in a vintage Christmas special with Halloween and music? O ye of little faith.
Trivia: A Rankin/Bass secretary was given the fragile Santa and Rudolph dolls after the production was completed. They were not well cared for and were sold decades later in serious disrepair. In a 2005 episode of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow, the dolls were appraised between $8,000-10,000. They changed hands a couple of times and were eventually professionally restored. Last year the updated auction value for both dolls was $30,000-$50,000.
“Mad Monster Party?”
With the popularity of horror films and TV shows in the 1960’s, Ranking/Bass Productions got the ingenious idea to apply their special Animagic process to a plethora of iconic horror movie characters resurrected (pun intended) in doll form: Count Dracula, the Monster, Baron Boris von Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Werewolf, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame (complete with hot pink hair), King Kong (called “It” in the film to avoid paying for the rights to use the name), and others. But this time around the project was to be a full-length theatrical feature film, not a one-hour TV special, to be called “Mad Monster Party?”. The Animagic was done in Tokyo by the same company that filmed “Rudolph” three years before, and it took well over a year to complete the film which made its debut in 1967.
The movie’s basic story line revolves around the retirement of Baron von Frankenstein (aka “Uncle Boris”), who has just invented a green-glowing chemical with the destructive power on the scale of an atomic weapon. He throws a monster bash (or monster mash) and invites his nephew and all of his fiendish friends so he can announce who will take over from him after he retires, and thus control his new invention. All of the monsters begin plotting against each other and the one person they believe is in line to take over. Spoiler alert: In the end, the guy gets the girl, but not quite the way you would expect.
“How can I possibly tie-in a vintage Christmas special with Halloween and music? O ye of little faith.“
Some big names were hired to give the film star power. Though this has become standard operating procedure for animated films since the 1990’s, casting well-known celebrities in a major animated movie was not exactly the norm back in the 1960’s. Baron von Frankenstein was voiced by none other than Boris Karloff, 79 years old at the time, and it was to be his final Frankenstein-related project before passing away less than two years later.
Folk/pop singer Gale Garnett lent her sultry vocals to the Baron’s assistant, the beautiful and remarkably (especially for a children’s film) busty Francesca. I thrice reached out to Garnett who makes her home in Canada to recall a few of her memories, but unfortunately received no response. The Monster’s mate (aka the Bride of Frankenstein) was voiced by, of all people, comedian Phyllis Diller. In a 1998 documentary, Diller fondly recalled her experience: “I was just thrilled when [Hollywood Producer] Mr. Levine asked me to make this animated film. Also, a chance to work in tandem with a great star, Boris Karloff. I was thrilled out of my gourd! It was a milestone in my life. I remember it all with great affection.”
The remaining “cast” was voiced by veteran New York voice actor Allen Swift, including frightfully fun impersonations of Jimmy Stewart (for the Felix Flanken character, “Uncle Boris’” nephew), Peter Lorre (for the Yetch character), and Bela Lugosi (for Dracula). In a 2006 interview, Swift reflected back to when he first began doing voice work: “…I’m going to make myself a King in this business because doing voices is the easiest thing I do in my life. The idea of being paid for this, I mean, I used to do it all the time with my friends as a kid.”
The big names did not stop with the voices. The script was “punched up” by Harvey Kurtzman, co-founder of Mad Magazine (thus the word “Mad” in “Mad Monster Party?”). This resulted in some amusing and quirky dialogue…
Yetch, who has a serious crush on Francesca: “It’s me, your Don Juan.”
Francesca, who has no interest in Yetch: “I Don Juan to look at you.”
Yetch to Francesca: “I love your eyes, I love your chin, I love the shape they put you in, and when I get to feel your touch, I ache for you so very much!”
Dracula to Francesca: “You have always been my type. O-negative, isn’t it?”
Yetch to the Zombie Bird Men: “Don’t stand around like a bunch of union grave diggers. Get into your planes!”
Baron von Frankenstein to Francesca: “Everybody must have had quite a time last night. There was a huge pile of left-overs in the dining room.”
Francesca: “I wonder who it was.”
The Monster’s Mate after catching The Monster ogling Francesca: “Did you forget the last time you had a roving eye? I kept it in a jar for a week.”
Also from Mad Magazine, artists Jack Davis designed many of the dolls in the film based on his monster drawings for Mad. Each doll was dressed to the nines. Try designing very detailed custom clothing for figures that stood 5-8 inches tall. The dolls cost nearly $5,000 each to construct, and that was over fifty years ago. Of the doll patterned after her, the Monster’s mate, Phyllis Diller remarked in a 1998 documentary, “I simply adored what the artists did with my persona. I loved the hair, the face, and the silly dress, and I think she even had boots on (laughs). They took all my trademarks and put them in that little cartoon character. I loved her.”
For as many people who know and cherish “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, just as many if not more remain totally unaware of “Mad Monster Party?”. This campy film has attained cult status, and unlike “Rudolph”, is very rarely aired on television, but is available on Blu-ray DVD.
Rick Goldschmidt is a Rankin/Bass Productions historian, biographer, and collector. He literally wrote the book on “Mad Monster Party?” as well as “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and others. Earlier in the year he was featured in an episode of MeTV’s “Collector’s Call”, hosted by “The Facts of Life’s” Lisa Whelchel. He was also spotlighted in a Svengoolie episode. Goldschmidt graciously took time out of his very busy schedule to answer my questions by email:
PS: Do you know why the film title had a question mark at the end?
RG: “Yes, the question mark came from Harvey Kurtzman as a joke, as the title now carried the word “MAD”. Harvey wasn’t exactly happy about starting MAD magazine and then it continuing without him. In fact, he took his loyal friend Jack Davis with him to work on competing magazines and Jack designed “Mad Monster Party?” I believe Jack recommended Harvey to Arthur Rankin for the script punch up. Harvey wasn’t a script writer, but had a great sense of humor. “
PS: Why is it so few people know about “Mad Monster Party?” and why is it rarely shown on TV?
RG: “It is still a cult film due to non-national exposure. Svengoolie (Rich Kox) and I screened it at flashback con, but we both know if he aired it on his show, it would reach a broader audience. TCM [Turner Classic Movies] has had the tv airing rights for a while, but was airing in the wee hours for years. That changed a few weeks ago when it aired in prime time and I was a part of it, doing live tweets for TCM during the broadcast. I hope to be in the studio with the next airing, perhaps at Halloween. This will help it reach more people.”
PS: How much did it cost to make the film back then and how did it perform at the box office?
RG: “The actual cost was in the neighborhood of $100,000. Joseph E. Levine signed a three-picture deal in1965 with Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. He was really counting on “The Daydreamer” to be the big one, as he wanted to give Walt Disney and “Mary Poppins” a run for the money. The cast was star studded and the budget had to be the biggest of the three. Unfortunately, he wasn’t happy with the film or “The Wacky World of Mother Goose”, so the release of “Mad Monster Party?” was very weak at Saturday Children’s Matinees. This is also why the RCA Victor soundtrack didn’t come out until I got it from Maury Laws and issued it in 1999 with Percepto. It wasn’t until local TV stations started airing in the early 1970s, that kids took notice. It was on WGN and ch. 44 in Chicago, when I saw it for the first time.”
PS: Is there any interesting trivia about the music soundtrack (besides the fact that Karloff didn’t actually sing)?
RG: “There is much written about the soundtrack in my liner notes from the 1999 CD release. The liner notes, cover art and audio are all poor in that more recent, unofficial vinyl release. Maury Laws was in his nineties and didn’t really know about that vinyl release. We formed a close friendship over the years and would meet up in downtown Chicago, when he visited with his son John. Maury passed away last year and we dedicated our Frosty book to him. I did a long career retrospective interview with him in Hair Bear recording studio. We had many conversations about “MMP”. One thing he remembered, that I never talked about, was that he said Gale Garnett was “vulgar” in the studio. I think what he meant was, that she swore quite a bit. She had quite a career with RCA by this time and a big hit with “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine,” so I guess she must have gotten too comfortable in the studio for him. Gale is in Canada now and has written several books. A perfect voice for Francesca, too!”
PS: Did Dyke and the Blazers perform the song “It’s the Mummy”?
RG: “I have seen that name come up, but could never confirm. Maury and Jules could not recall. It is possible that since “Killer Joe” Piro choreographed the dance and was from the peppermint lounge, the band could have been too, but it is more likely that Maury used session players and singers for the Mummy.”
PS: Do any of the original “MMP” dolls still exist?
RG: “Yes, I included a picture of “IT” [King Kong] in my Frosty book. He was on exhibit in Japan with Tad Mochinaga’s collection. “IT” also appeared in his own Japanese vintage short on you tube. I own a Fang and Dracula wood carved salad set (which was featured on Me TV’s “Collector’s Call”). Arthur was gifted the set by the Animagic puppet makers in 1966. He gave them to me after my first book was released. Others I suspect are in Japan.”
PS: What is the rarest or most cherished item in your “Mad Monster Party?” collection?
RG: “The one-of-a-kind salad-set I mentioned. “MMP” was a big part of the reason I became the official Rankin/Bass historian. I love Jack Davis! His rare reunion art is in my book, “The Arthur Rankin, Jr. Scrapbook”. Also, his last painting, which is of Arthur with Frankenstein.”
I took the liberty of tracking down Sara Karloff, Boris Karloff’s daughter, now 81, via email, and asked her to comment on her father’s film: “Although I am not a horror film buff”, she replied, “I certainly wouldn’t call “Mad Monster Party?” a horror film. It’s a delightful animated spoof on horror film[s} with wonderful caricatures of some of the actors from the films themselves. Of course, “Uncle Boris” is my favorite! I have one of the sculptures of him from his role. I don’t remember the exact year the film was released so I can’t tell you what age I was when I saw it the first time, but of course, I have been lucky enough to have seen it more than once and have enjoyed it each time. I know the film is a favorite of the fans of all ages still today and will remain so for generations to come. The animation is brilliant, the score is delightful and it’s quite simply a fun and classic film.”
The “Mad Monster Party” Soundtrack
Now, on to the music portion of today’s program.
A party is not a party without music. As with “Rudolph”, “Mad Monster Party?” features a collection of charming original songs and instrumentals composed exclusively for the film. Unlike “Rudolph”, these songs have a cool period jazz vibe…horns, bongos, and harpsicords, oh my. The music was composed by Maury Laws, Music Director for Rankin/Bass Productions for twenty years. The Grammy-nominated Laws also scored and conducted the music for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and many others. Sadly, Laws passed away last year at the age of 95.
We are very fortunate this soundtrack eventually got to see the light of day. MMP’s opening credits indicate the soundtrack was released on RCA Victor Records, yet inexplicably, RCA never released it despite having made a mono test pressing. Thanks to Goldschmidt’s efforts, Percepto Records issued the soundtrack on compact disc in 1998 in stereo…the first-ever commercial release of the soundtrack over thirty years after the film debuted! Though long out of print, Goldschmidt says the CD’s sound quality and liner notes are superior, and the CD is the only authorized and officially licensed soundtrack. There is a vinyl option. In 2016, the soundtrack was released on limited edition colored vinyl for the first time by Waxwork Records in a gatefold jacket with deluxe packaging.
In his liner notes to the CD soundtrack, Goldschmidt quotes Laws on his jazz theme: “…we thought it would be fun. The film is basically a spoof anyway, and “funky” or “hokey” jazz can be cute or funny…I had come from a jazz background, having started out as a guitar player, and I guess I saw an opportunity to use it to an advantage.”
Jazz singer Ethel Ennis was tapped to sing the title track, her lone contribution to the soundtrack. Ennis would go on to release a dozen records and tour with Benny Goodman. She passed away in February of last year at age 86.
The soundtrack was not entirely jazzy. “Little Tibia and the Fibulas”, a quartet of skeletons with shoulder-length red hair, performed a sort of rock song called “It’s the Mummy.” Curiously, an electric organ is featured prominently in the song, yet none of the band members in the scene are playing an organ! It was very entertaining watching some of these classic monster characters boogie to the music. Frank “Killer” Joe Piro did the choreography for MMP and filmed himself dancing so the animators in Japan knew what dance moves to give the Mummy doll during the dance scene. By the way, “Killer” Joe was not a boxer, he was an extremely popular New York dance instructor during the 1950s’-1960’s who earned his nickname by outlasting his partners on the dance floor. Contrary to his “killer” reputation, the Mummy collapsed on the dance floor before the music stopped.
New Zealand-born Gale Garnett, the voice of Francesca, was a popular singer, having won a Grammy for her 1965 folk hit, We’ll Sing in the Sunshine, which sold over one million copies. Naturally, she sang a couple of standout songs included on the soundtrack…Never Was A Love Like Mine and Our Time to Shine: “It’s our time to shine / Our turn in line / Everybody gets one chance in life / To make their dreams come true / I can do it with you.” Her voice is warm and soothing and it lends a mature, professional vibe to the soundtrack amongst the kitschy jazz.
Believe it or not, Karloff and Diller also contributed songs, but Karloff, by his own admission, could not carry a tune, so in One Step Ahead, he spoke his lyrics rather than sang them: “Get up from that bed / And start a little ahead / Or some other bright guy / Will steal the pie / Come on, boy, use your head.” As Laws recalled to Goldschmidt in the soundtrack liner notes, “Jules [Bass] laid the words out, so that each little eight-bar verse could be read one at a time in exactly ten seconds. We had figured the musical tempo, so that we could dub [Karloff’s] reading into the song after I had recorded it with the singers in New York. With a little trimming of Boris’ tape here and there, we made it fit. Boris never heard the song or the melody…”
Most people familiar with Diller, who died in 2012 at age 97, remember her as a pioneering comedienne with a wonderfully wacky laugh, but few people know she was also an accomplished pianist. Her song, You’re Different, would have felt right at home in a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood episode: “You’re different / Like a snowy day in June / Like a new Brazilian tune / You’re different / And you know / That’s why I like you”. In that 1998 documentary, Diller remarked: “…I had just moved to Hollywood and I didn’t own a home yet…and I had a rented piano so that I could learn that song and practice the music.” In the CD soundtrack liner notes she commented, “It’s a darling song and I was so happy that I was going to do this song. I had been studying music for over twenty years at the time and it was nice to be able to use music in my career wherever I could.” In the CD liner notes, Laws recounted to Goldschmidt, “She knew her song and could read music to some extent and didn’t have any real trouble with it. There was certainly lighthearted banter through the session, but I don’t remember any of the jokes.”
“…Karloff, by his own admission, could not carry a tune, so he spoke his lyrics rather than sang them.”
Granted, you are not likely to sit down and listen to an entire horror film soundtrack, even during Halloween season. But as Sarah Karloff pointed out, Mad Monster Party is different. The music is fun and upbeat and can be enjoyed anytime of the year by children and adults alike.
My personal thanks to Rick Goldschmidt for his time and his generosity with licensing some of his great photos for this Halloween Tech Rap. Be sure to check out his websites (links are provided at the end).
Trivia (supplied by Goldschmidt): When Boris [Karloff] signed his contract in 1965, the film was titled “Monster Convention”. Shortly after, when Jack Davis did the poster art, it was called “The Monster Movie”. When the story boards were done, it was now called “Mad Monster Rally”. Finally, after Kurtzman was brought in, it was titled “Mad Monster Party?”
Stream While You Scream
It is hard to believe October is here already. This year, Halloween will be like no other. You will have to wear a mask underneath your mask, assuming Halloween is not cancelled altogether due to COVID-19. Salem, MA, long a popular “haunt” during the month of October, will not seem the same.
“Professional red neck” host Joe Bob Briggs brings his unique humor to Shudder’s “The Last Drive-In”.
For me, October, not December, is the most wonderful time of the year because this month turns the boob tube into the “boo” tube. Although I have yet to find any channel airing “Mad Monster Party?” this month (the television broadcast rights are owned by Turner Classic Movies), you will have no difficulty finding plenty of other quality Halloween programming. Look for macabre marathons from Turner Classic Movies’ “October Horror”, the Sci-Fi channel’s “31 Days of Halloween”, not to be confused with Freeform’s “31 Nights of Halloween” or HD Net Movies’ “13 Nights of Halloween”. AMC exhumes their ever popular “Fear Fest”, while IFC revives their own month-long scary agenda. El Ray Network usually has a spate of horror movies repeated ad nauseam. Even squeaky-clean Disney gets in on the act with its “Monstober”. If you prefer to stream while you scream, Amazon Prime has a roster of big scream flicks, as does Hulu with their “Huluween”. Netflix has a variety of superb original scary programming in addition to imported film chills from Spain, Korea, Japan, France, Germany, UK, and Poland. If all you want is all horror, try Shudder (owned by AMC), which is also home to drive-in B horror movie host Joe Bob Briggs. That alone is worth the price of admission to his drive-in. Another streaming option is shout factory tv’s “31 Nights of Horror”. If you are in a charitable mood, the stars from the 1993 cult film, Hocus Pocus– Bette Midler, Sara Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, will reunite on October 30th via the Internet to benefit the New York Restoration Project. This all reminds me of a line from the classic original slasher film, “Halloween”, when the babysitter proclaimed, “Six straight hours of horror movies. Little Lindsey Wallace won’t know what hit her.” Keep in mind you can connect your TV to your Como Audio music system and upgrade your TV’s sound quality.
Halloween, Como Audio Style
For more scary seasonal entertainment, or if host your own (socially distanced) mad monster party and need a soundtrack, tap into the wealth of free programming available on Internet radio from your Como Audio music system by tuning in to Halloween-themed music stations like Dead Air (192 kbps, MP3: USA), Halloween Hit Radio (128 kbps, MP3: Germany), Big R Radio-The Halloween Channel (128 kbps, MP3) Halloween Radio-Main (128 kbps, MP3: NY), Halloween Radio-Kids (128 kbps, MP3: NY), Halloween Radio-Movies (128 kbps, MP3: NY), Halloween Radio-Oldies (128 kbps, MP3: NY), Halloween FM (128 kbps, MP3: Ireland), Scifi Horror Filmmusik (128 kbps, MP3: Germany), and Radio Caprice (98 kbps, AAC: Russia). Or perhaps you are in need of some spooky sound effects from Halloween Radio-Atmosphere (128 kbps, MP3: NY). If scary radio dramas are what you are into, consider Horror Theatre out of GA and Dark Arts Horror Radio from the UK. To tune any of these stations in Internet radio mode on your Como Audio music system, go to Station list > Stations > Search stations > Enter the station name > Select “OK” on the right > Select the station from the list.
There is also much to choose from when it comes to the music streaming platforms starting with the many Spotify Halloween-oriented Playlists and Soundtracks. You do not have to be a paying Spotify subscriber to play them on your Como Audio system since the free version of Spotify is supported. While you are at it, save the Playlist to a preset for easier access throughout the month.
This Tech Rap Halloween Edition would not be complete if I failed to promote the plethora of Podcasts purposed for Halloween. There are too many to list, but here is a very short sampling of scary offerings to wet your appetite: Nightwatch Radio (Paranormal) (192 kbps, MP3), Bloody Good Horror (movie reviews) (192 kbps, MP3), Body Horror Podcast (Drama) (128 kbps, MP3), and The Scarecast (True Scary Stories) (192 kbps, MP3). To find these in Internet radio mode, go to Station list > Podcasts > Search Podcasts > Enter the Podcast name > Select from the list. Do not forget, you can also save Podcasts as presets and under My Favorites. As of mid-last month, Podcasts are now also available through Amazon Music.
Trivia: Last year, according to the Nation Retail Federation, consumers collectively spent $9 billion on Halloween, making it the second largest US holiday after Christmas. Have a holly-jolly Halloween.
A Secret Halloween Tech Rap!
Can you keep a secret? Cross your heart and hope to die? This is no trick, but it is a treat. Here is a hidden bonus Halloween Tech Rap features my exclusive interview with Robert Englund, otherwise known as Freddy Krueger from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. This secret Tech Rap is not visible in the main blog and can only be accessed using this link. From all of us at Como Audio, Happy Halloween boils and ghouls, and enjoy the (scary) music.
Coming soon: Tech Rap Halloween Edition Part 2: It was 40 years ago…
Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio as V.P. of Product Development in 2016. In addition to Tech Rap, Peter also writes for his own blog, www.RecommendedStations.com. He can be reached directly at email@example.com