Photo credit: Steve Iverson
Seven years ago, when the world seemed beautiful and new and I was just starting this project, I honestly believed that Horror Incorporated was the first real creature feature program in the Twin Cities. I knew about the Shock! and Son of Shock! packages, and I knew about TV horror hosts in other cities, but I really thought the Twin Cities was just a late bloomer — and that the famed Shock! package had passed us by for more than a decade.
It turned out, of course, that this wasn’t true. Dimension 5 was a forerunner to Horror Incorporated, running through the early part of the 1960s. Jake Esau remembers it well, noting that it leaned quite heavily on the Shock! and Son of Shock! titles.
I certainly didn’t think there were any late night creature features earlier than that, but again I was wrong (I am nothing if not consistent). Steve Iverson of MN Kidvid wrote to me and mentioned a post he’d done two years ago (and I’d missed it — arrgh!) describing a show on WTCN-11 that started in 1958. It was called Shock Theater and was hosted by — gulp! — WTCN’s violently upbeat pitchman, dogsbody and utility program host Mel Jass!
Mel Jass?? Holy crow! How had I missed that?
Even though Steve’s post contained the display ad you see at the top (he found it in a TV Guide at the Pavek Museum archives) I still had a hard time believing it. I asked Jake Esau (who would have been a pre-teenager at the time) if he remembered it; and Jake said he didn’t. How could he of all people have never heard of the show?
But Jake read Steve’s post and he was sold. “This is one on me!” he wrote. “I have no recollection of this show being on Sat. nights at 10:30 PM….I guess it shows that my memory is as peccable as anyone’s.”
All the same, I went back and looked up the newspaper listings for February, 1958 — and damned if there isn’t a Shock Theater program listed at 10:30 pm Saturday nights, right after the late local news. It’s still baffling to me, because there’s a whole lot of material online about Mel Jass’ career. I’ve seen references to him doing every kind of show under the sun in the early days of TV — kids’ shows, game shows, news shows, etc — but not a whisper of him hosting a horror movie show. And he’s never appeared on any list of horror hosts that I’m aware of.
And yet, there it is. So — I tip my hat to Steve Iverson for his sleuthing. Maybe someday I’ll chronicle those Shock Theater episodes too.
In the meantime, if anyone out there remembers this show, please post your recollections in the comments.