Jake Esau: 1947 – 2018

jake_dracula

I was saddened to learn yesterday morning, through a member of his extended family, that former Horror Incorporated host Jake Esau died on June 3 at age 71.  Jake had told me earlier this year that he was having a relapse of his debilitating digestive problems, and at one point he even mentioned that he felt like he was back in the “dark days” of the early years of his chronic affliction. I was concerned about him, knowing that he’d long ago given up on modern medicine to find a cure for his ailments. Nevertheless, I didn’t realize how serious it was.

It was a great privilege for me to get to know him through correspondence and over the phone, and to have written about him on this site (you can read my three-part overview of his TV horror host career here, here and here.)

I always enjoyed hearing from him and chatting with him on the phone, but I didn’t email or call as often as I should have. Life is full of such regrets, I guess. I hadn’t spoken to him on the phone since late winter; and I hadn’t written to him since April.

But I am grateful that I got to know him a bit and that he was willing to share his wit and his unique perspective with me. Most professional actors forego comfortable lives to pursue the careers they feel compelled to take on, and Jake was no exception. Acting is a vocation, like the priesthood. And he was a TV horror movie host, a job he loved and an elite club if there ever was one.

I’d like to share an email Jake sent to me back on October 31, 2016 — Halloween. No one loved Halloween like Jake.

Hi, Mike:
The great day is here at last. Although I’ve traditionally done Halloween events all through Oct. (and as late as Nov. 4th!), there’s nothing like Oct. 31st itself to capture the true Halloween spirit.
When I was a kid, I’d spend weeks planning my Halloween route around the local area in order to maximize my haul of treats– even going many blocks out of my neighborhood to hit the houses that were notorious for giving away the best (although I lived on Palace Ave. in St. Paul, I managed to hit one place every year well-past St. Clair Ave. that was renowned for bestowing Fudgesicles!). The magic of Halloween night was equal to or better than any other special day of the year, including my birthday and Christmas. I went out at about 6 and returned home after 9, carrying a hefty shopping bag full of goodies that lasted me for months (ironic that I had such a sweet tooth back then, and now can’t consume anything remotely in that line).
My second shot at “Vampire or Victim?” was flawless and drew more bodies (about 30), but I also had some walk-outs (senior audiences can be very fickle) during the history-laden section about Vlad; this has happened at this particular senior residence before, when I performed as Sherlock Holmes there — yet last year they were absolutely mesmerized by my dramatic-interpretations of Poe’s artistry in “The Pit & the Pendulum” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The Q-&-A section featured another regaling of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” hosting gig, when I was requested to tell a story about being a broadcast TV horror movie host; they loved it. The severe sunburn that I received both coming to and returning from there was worth it, albeit extremely painful.
Thanks for posting the “H.I.” rerun episode from 7/7/2001. I hope that someone gets a charge out of it. “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”
(also known as “The Head That Wouldn’t Die”) was very representative of the p.d. films that stations exhibited at that time. Since then, it’s been done to death by the proliferation of spoofy cable station and public access horror movie hosts that have sprouted everywhere.
The flutter and jiggle about which you’re concerned aren’t too distracting (I’ve had to endure much worse to watch movies difficult to obtain elsewhere at various free websites).
When Nov. hits, let’s stay in contact.
JE

Jake had just brought the Count Dracula character back after a number of dormant years, though he mentioned he didn’t use the complete Dracula ensemble and makeup  as he had in the past (just how he looked doing the “Vampire or Victim” show in this “Dracula-lite” ensemble, I don’t know. Jake was a perfectionist, but I know the Dracula shows were becoming difficult for him physically).

The last email I received from Jake was back in April. I’d filled him in on the all-night horror movie marathon at the Trylon cinema in Minneapolis that I’d worked on. He and I both prefer the more stylish classic horror than the blood-drenched, eye-gouging stuff that people like today, but he had kind things to say about the line-up. I’d gone on to complain about how long the Horror Incorporated Project was taking me to complete. He responded to that as any good TV producer would:

In retrospect, your object and task might have been easier at the beginning of “H.I.P.” had you realized how many repeat movies were going to be included and not slavishly-to-detail decided to freshly-review every repeat title every time it was scheduled (like “The Mad Scientist Who Killed a Lot of People Trying to Do Good for Humanity, and Ultimately Dies in the End Himself”– starring Karloff/Lugosi/Zucco/et al.). Perhaps a simple reference back to the original review would have sufficed. Just a thought.

This was sensible advice, and I took it; on my April 30 post I stated my intention to stop doing original reviews for movies that had already been screened on the show. I’d meant to let Jake know that I had made just the change he suggested and that my frequency of posting was much faster now as a result. There were many mornings when it occurred to me as I was driving to work that I should write to him. But I didn’t. I know he read the Horror Incorporated Project occasionally but whether he saw the new posts, I don’t know. I like to think that he did.

Jake was a great Poe, a great Lugosi, and a great horror host. And a great guy; I’ll miss him. I will close the way Jake closed Horror Incorporated every Saturday night:

Goodnight, my friend.

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