Monsters, Mayhem and the Bowman Body

My friend, Cliff, loves the classic movie monsters. So do I. That’s the cover of a book he loaned me. I instantly recognized it, and for a few seconds even thought I owned a copy; then I realized I had never been able to find it, anywhere, but I owned a sequel of sorts, bought in the mid-’70s:
I hit adolescence in the 1970s, reading Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, reading Swamp Thing and Eerie and Creepy and Vampirella. Although I lived on the Peninsula, on good nights we could get Channel 8, WXEX, Petersburg-Richmond, and we Hamptonians would be graced with the presence of the Bowman Body, his patented green tennis shoes, and his cry of “Liberty rings the old bell!”
Three notes before I go on:

1. Bill Bowman, thanks! A friend of mine and I, in high school, wrote a Bowman Body poem, which you read on air. You named only me as the author, though. My friend, I fear, still hates me. This is the impact which you had upon us.
2. On the day I got my first driver’s license, what did I do? I drove two friends in my father’s Galaxy 500 to the WXEX studio, to watch a taping of the Bowman Body show. The show was great and hilarious. However, on the way home, I totaled Dad’s car. He forgave me.
3. I mentioned the Bowman Body in a book review in the Times-Dispatch earlier this year, and Bill was gracious enough to call and leave a voicemail message, thanking me for the mention. Bill, if you’re reading this, I’d love to talk with you. I need to thank you for your sense of humor and for showing wonderful movies!

The great Universal monster movies have been with us since 1931’s Dracula, made without a film score, just after talkies were introduced. In 1966, Universal first syndicated their classic monster movies, some of which made it to Bowman Body’s show. Some made it to Shock Theater on WVEC in Hampton-Norfolk (I still remember hiding my eyes whenever Lon Chaney, Jr. appeared on my parents’ black and white TV as the Mummy), and some later made it to Dr. Madblood on WAVY out of Portsmouth. Bowman Body showed a bunch of American-International horror movies, if I remember correctly, and Madblood is the place where I first watched the original Dracula and Frankenstein.
The black and whites were always the movies of choice in Famous Monsters; but the ones that hit home with me and my friends were not Universal’s monsters, but the more contemporary horrors of Hammer. (More on Hammer in a later post.) I mean, Lugosi’s Dracula is really a Victorian play of manners and repressive traditions. I could well imagine the dramatic and fearful impact the caped vampire had on the screen in 1931; but such melodramatic stage theatrics were dull and old-fashioned in the ’70s, when all my friends were watching Madblood and wondering what he was smoking in his pipe, and “Dracula” was appearing daily on Sesame Street.

Bowman Body and Madblood were facilitators — our connectors to the movies. No matter how old — or, in many cases, how awfully, truly bad — the movies were, our hosts would make us laugh and wink, and at the same time share with us the joy and wonder of these cinematic horrors. This was a good time, and a good way to grow up — watching the flickering, grainy shadows of television with your friends and family, laughing at all the wondrous weirdness.

I’ve never gotten over it. I never will.

Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Jerry.

I owe you guys a lot.

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