For my first celebrity interview I would like to introduce Mark Voger, author of the book “Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze In America 1957-1972.” I recently reviewed this amazing book (see review HERE) and thought talking to the man who made it happen would be a great follow-up! If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it to every monster kid!
David: From reading your book, you were obviously a monster kid growing up. What is your first monster memory as a kid?
Mark: Thanks for your interest, David. I vaguely recall seeing a monster face on some product in a store when I was very little. This would have been 1963, when I was 4 or 5. It was my first instance of simultaneous attraction and repulsion. It scared me, but I wanted more. Then once I saw Aurora’s monster model kits, I was hooked. The box art, by the great James Bama, became indelibly etched. Every kid in the neighborhood painted and glued those things.
David: What are some of your favorite monsters and why?
Mark: The big three – Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man – are still my favorites. It probably has a lot to do with “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948), which was the first monster movie I ever saw. It was amazing to watch Bela Lugosi, Glen Strange and Lon Chaney Jr. play these characters. They were perfection. It like the Aurora models come to life, or the Famous Monsters of Filmland covers come to life. I also loved the Zanti Misfits – those alien bugs from another planet on “The Outer Limits.” They scared the hell out of me. They still do. A YouTube commenter said they were Rankin-Bass-ish. I think they’re the scariest things I ever saw.
David: If you could only choose one favorite classic monster and one favorite modern monster, who would they be and why?
Mark: Hmmm … for classic monster, I would pick Lon Chaney Sr.’s “Phantom of the Opera.” That face! To me, the unmasking of Erik is the single greatest moment in the history of horror films. As for a modern monster, I would pick Barnabas Collins. I realize he might not be “modern” enough. If you pushed me to come up with something more recent, I’d point to Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects.” A cool guy in a cool role.
David: How was your childhood love of monsters met by the grownups in your life? Parents, teachers, etc.?
Mark: They all thought it was a phase I was going through. I remember thinking, “This is no phase. This is for life.” I went to Catholic school, and the nuns were really down on monsters. And yet, when the book fair came to our school, they sold paperbacks of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” I thought these were monster books. I had no idea they were classic literature. I was like, “How come there’s no Wolf Man novel?”
David: Do you have children of your own? How have you incorporated your love of monsters as a parent/with your own children?
Mark: I never had kids, but I have lots of nephews and nieces, and some of them even dig monsters. When my niece Margaret was little, I brought “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” to show her. I thought: It’s a family-friendly comedy. What could go wrong? She was fine until Lon Chaney Jr. turned into the Wolf Man and started ripping up that chair, and then she started screaming bloody murder. She still remembers it. I sang at her wedding.
David: Growing up, we didn’t really have our own horror host in the Rhode Island area. Luckily, in the early ’80s, “Son of Svengoolie” was syndicated in nearby Boston, and Elvira was shown on a station in Connecticut. If the weather was just right, I could draw the UHF stations in with the roof antenna. What horror host, if any, did you grow up with? Do you have any host memories that have stayed with you to this day?
Mark: Oh my god, David, is this a don’t-get-me-started topic. I was 11 in 1970 when a guy called Dr. Shock started showing monster movies on Channel 17 in Philadelphia. (I grew up in South Jersey.) It was awesome! Dr. Shock, a real-life magician named Joe Zawislak, was on the air until he died in 1979. He showed everything – Universal classics, American International cheapies, Mexican monster movies, you-name-it. My horror-film scholarship grew dramatically thanks to Dr. Shock. And he was a very “Philly” guy, like my dad and his buddies. They had a certain way of talking, or not talking. And that scrapple-thick Philly accent. Nobody pronounces the word “hoagie” quite like a true Philadelphian.
David: If you could choose one classic monster movie that you saw growing up and have it made with today’s technology what would it be and why?
Mark: First of all, I’d be afraid that they’d ruin it. I was not celebrating when they planned to do a whole series of Universal monster remakes. Then when I heard that Tom Cruise was starring in the first one (“The Mummy”), I wasn’t surprised. It tanked, and they wondered why? But to answer this fun question, I’ll tell you an idea I always had. Do you remember Carl Reiner’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982) with Steve Martin? It was a film noir comedy that used classic old clips of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis and many other old-time actors, edited to seem like a new movie. My idea is: Do that with a dream cast. Lugosi as Dracula, Strange as Frankenstein, Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, Boris Karloff as the Mummy, Chaney Sr. as the Phantom. Go ahead and colorize them. Make it beautiful. But with very few concessions to cultural modernity. Keep it classic. It’s fun to play armchair producer.
David: Were you a monster item collector growing up? Do you still have any of your original collection and do you still collect monster items?
Mark: I got whatever I could. Back then, kids only got stuff for Christmas or their birthday, usually. My dad gave me an Aurora “Hunchback of Notre Dame” model kit one cold Saturday morning. I loved that. I bought the “Dark Shadows” paperbacks when I was a kid. I still have those. And I still have my original, tattered copy of Forrest J Ackerman’s 1969 paperback “Boris Karloff: The Frankenscience Monster.” I was 11 when I bought it. To this day, when I see a Karloff film for the first time, I’ll underline it in the filmography of that book. The cover is only just starting to separate. And I do still collect. In recent years, I got Castle Films’ “Doom of Dracula” Super-8 film as a birthday present. Now I need a projector.
David: Is there one monster item you had growing up that you still wish you had today? What is it and why?
Mark: I wish I had my original Cecil the Seasick Serpent bubble-bath toy. I’d wanted the Frankenstein one, but my mom got me Cecil instead. I was very disappointed, and I drew all over Cecil’s face with a Bic pen to make him look like Godzilla. It didn’t work. Then I got upset because I thought I’d hurt Cecil’s feelings. I actually cried. Anyway, some day I will buy another Cecil. I haven’t decided whether I’ll draw on his face again, but I just might.
David: One of the many highlights of your book are your interviews. How did these come about?
Mark: Thank you, David. I spent my career as an entertainment writer in newspapers. I would always go after artists from the past – like, the guys who created comic books, sci-fi, horror, classic rock, classic television. I did that for 40 years, and archived all my interviews. Whenever I present an interview in “Monster Mash,” I make sure to say what year the interview was conducted. I think that’s important, for historical context. Some of the “Monster Mash” interview subjects were already deceased by the time the book came out, like Forry Ackerman, Al Lewis, Bobby “Boris” Pickett and Ken Weatherwax. So I feel like I’ve preserved their memories.
David: Who was your favorite person to interview and why?
Mark: Muhammad Ali, who I interviewed in his home in 1971, when I was in the seventh grade. This man actually gave a serious interview to a child like me. It was a great gift. I’m sure it’s what started my career. In the monster realm, it would have to be John Zacherle, the monster-movie TV host who died at age 98 in 2016. He was the sweetest man you could ever wish to know. Zach actually did a convention appearance the year before he died, when he was only 97 years old. I got him to sign “Monster Mash.” At 97!
David: Like me, you seem very nostalgic based on the subject matter of your many books. You have written about monsters, comic books and most recently, in your book “Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture,” you talk about the psychedelic times of the ’60s and early ’70s as it pertains to entertainment. Which book did you have the most fun writing and why?
Mark: This will sound lame, but I had a blast doing them all. I design the books in addition to writing them, which is key to their graphic approach. Doing “Monster Mash” and “Groovy” was like getting something out of my system, something from within my very being. There’s so much more I want to do, but I’m 60, so now I’m in a real hurry.
I truly want to thank Mark for not only taking the time to do this interview with me but for also providing all of the pictures that I used in this interview and in the book review! He is a class act all the way and I am looking forward to his future offerings!