Monster Squad 1.13 – Albert/Alberta

And so we reach the final episode of Monster Squad, and it’s pretty dire, even by this show’s low standards, although our son adored it and laughed all through the final fight. He claims this was his favorite episode of the series, but his mother and I don’t honestly believe that, on account of the most recent thing he’s watched is almost always his favorite thing.

I did like the way the villain/villainess forces Dracula and Bruce to surrender, by threatening to throw a puppy out a porthole. What a rotten man/woman! He/she is played by Vito Scotti, helping to prove a theory that Vito Scotti was in everything.

As we discussed earlier, NBC’s 1976 Saturday morning schedule was a total disaster and everything got canceled, so this would be the last appearance of these heroes. Fred Grandy almost immediately landed on his feet. He co-starred as Gopher in the Love Boat TV movie in the spring, and went on to appear regularly for nine years there before retiring from Hollywood to go into politics. Over the last couple of years, he’s had a recurring role in The Mindy Project.

Sadly, all three of the actors who played the monsters have died. Buck Kartalian, who was in his mid-fifties when they made this show, continued in small roles before retiring a decade ago. He passed away this spring at the age of 93. Henry Polic II was best known as a voice actor, taking on dozens of roles in all kinds of cartoons, and is perhaps best remembered as the Scarecrow in the celebrated Batman animated show. He died in 2013. Michael Lane played thugs, bodyguards, and henchmen for almost thirty years before retiring in the early nineties. He passed away last year.

Behind the camera, William P. D’Angelo, Ray Allen, and Harvey Bullock worked together as a production company for a few more years and their series The Red Hand Gang became a very fondly remembered hit in England, where it was repeated many times. I won’t claim my nostalgia for this show was really rewarded by it being very good, but more than half of the episodes had some pretty good jokes and it was fun to see some of the guest stars, and, most importantly of all, our son really loved it.

Monster Squad 1.12 – Lawrence of Moravia

You can tell this episode of Monster Squad was made forty years ago. The villain complains that the price of oil is too high at sixty cents a gallon to boil our heroes in it. Instead, he locks them in one of those drowning tanks that villains on adventure TV shows have. Our son clutched his security blanket very tightly indeed tonight. He really loved the final fight, which had a bit more of the “imitable” body blows that I believe the censors did not like than in other episodes. Also, remembering what I said about silver bullets two episodes ago, this time out the villain claims to have a gun and plans to shoot Bruce, but a gun is not actually shown on screen.

The baddie is Lawrence of Moravia, who claims to be the fifth richest person in the world. (A used car salesman in Cleveland is the richest. Sounds like a joke from a Stanley Ralph Ross script to me.) I love how Frank politely refers to him as “Mr. Of Moravia.” He’s played by Joseph Mascolo, who had starred with Jack Palance in the bizarrely-named cop show Bronk the previous season and is best known for his work in soap operas. He’s a semi-regular performer on Days of Our Lives, playing the role of Stefano DiMera in over 1600 episodes over the last thirty-odd years.

Monster Squad 1.11 – The Weatherman

I vividly remember “The Weatherman” from my childhood. In part that’s because the villain was on the Milton-Bradley board game – bottom center if I remember rightly – and in part because the episode taught me that Alaska was the largest of the states. In an insane and beautiful coincidence, this morning the episode also taught our son that very same fact. Like me forty years ago, he thought Texas was the biggest state. That’s what it looks like on most maps!

And this fact messed me up on a class project in school, not in kindergarten for the 1976 election, but four years later, when Reagan the elephant and Carter the donkey and Anderson the large letter I were trying to win states in an educational group game. I insisted beyond reason that whichever candidate my team was assigned absolutely had to win Alaska, because it was the largest state. And that’s how I learned how the electoral college works. Blasted Monster Squad.

And this fact is important today, because the plot of the episode concerns the Weatherman holding the entire nation to ransom by covering it in snow and ice on July 4th and demanding a special election to make him president. (He gets 126% in Illinois, I observe without comment.) As soon as I finish writing this silly thing, my son and I are in fact off to the polls to cast my vote. What a cute coincidence!

The Weatherman is played by the unmistakable Avery Schreiber, of course. I remember once about twenty years ago that Schreiber came up in conversation sometime and somehow and my best friend didn’t know who he was. Somebody mentioned he was Jack Burns’ partner and he didn’t know who Burns was, either. You know, fat guy, bushy moustache… he was the Weatherman in Monster Squad! How we managed without IMDB and Wikipedia on our phones.

Anyway, go vote, everybody! Let’s have 126% turnout this year! I read that a Trump voter in Iowa was arrested yesterday for voting twice in Des Moines, so we’re on the way!

Monster Squad 1.10 – The Skull

Geoffrey Lewis, who we saw a couple of months ago in the final episode of Ark II, plays this week’s villain, the Skull. His plan is to revive the corpses of all of history’s greatest villains into an unstoppable, undead army. The only one he succeeds in reviving, however, is the mummy of, err, “King Toot.”

Our son got a little nervous twice tonight. Both Frank and Bruce are put in dangerous traps and things look a little bad for them. But the threat against Bruce is so silly that it was pretty instantly defused. Earlier, I had been a little surprised that the big fight was actually a little more… shall we say “real” than the previous, ridiculous ones with such silly and inoffensive weapons as balloons and invisible swords. The characters were actually throwing each other around. Then Bruce ends up in a grave and the Skull threatens to dispose of him with a silver bullet. That’s how you kill werewolves, remember, by shooting them with a bullet made of silver.

Except this is the antiseptic Saturday morning of 1976. There are no guns here. The Skull intends to gently toss the bullet at him. Defeating werewolves is apparently a whole lot easier than I thought.

Monster Squad 1.9 – The Wizard

The most notable thing about this episode is that they’re running out of safe and comedic ways to have fights without making NBC’s Saturday morning censors upset, so Dracula and the villainous Wizard, played by Arthur Malet, have a swordfight with invisible swords. I think the actors were having fun.

What else? Weirdly, they set up this character in the previous episode. Ultra Witch was trying to get the Wizard sprung from prison, which is the sort of “big picture” world-building that these kinds of kids’ programs very rarely ever did. But the previous episode isn’t actually referenced at all this week, which makes you wonder why they bothered.

There’s also a Jonathan Livingston Seagull gag, because this was the seventies, as well as a lot of gags about patriotism, because this was 1976, specifically. The enormous Mickey Morton played one of the Wizard’s henchmen. He’d be back on NBC in two weeks as a big monster in Land of the Lost. Our son thought this was “pretty cool” and we’re glad that somebody did.

Monster Squad 1.8 – Ultra Witch

I was four and five years old when Monster Squad aired, about the same age as my son today, and “Ultra Witch” was the story I remembered the most. In part, of course, that’s because Julie Newmar plays the villain. My dad, who, as dads do, would occasionally look at the silly Saturday morning nonsense his allegedly intelligent son was watching when he could have been doing something productive, shake his head sadly and leave the room, came in the den to tsk-tsk what was on TV, stopped his nefarious dad scheme and sat down to watch her. My father would watch anything – anything – with Julie Newmar in it. Me, too, come to think of it.

(Incidentally, the exact same season Monster Squad was on NBC, over on ABC, the only television program I was ever forbidden to watch was on earlier in the morning. Dad caught a few minutes of Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon Jabberjaw. I don’t know whether it was Jabberjaw’s nyuk-nyuk voice or the unbelievable stupidity – even for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon – of that premise or if he had a really bad headache that morning, but I was sternly told to never, ever watch that program ever again. Dad’s been gone almost six years, but I’m pretty sure the prohibition still holds and I have followed that rule to the letter for four decades without complaint or appeal.)

Anyway, you probably don’t need any other reason besides Julie Newmar to watch this one, but the other thing that stuck with me is the Ultra Witch’s deadly weapon. She has a blaster called the Ronald Raygun that removes the third dimension from anything and leaves its target black and white. (Pause to make sure y’all caught that.) She uses it to turn the Monster Squad into full-size monochrome photographs, kind of like the flattening ray that Dr. Cassandra used in Stanley Ralph Ross’s final episode of Batman. This freaked me out as a kid. I don’t believe I ran from the room screaming or anything, but I was really, really worried about my heroes. Fast forward to today, and our son was, briefly, really worried as well, his security blanket crushed into a ball in front of his face. That’s never a good sign. He assured us at the end he was certain everything would be fine, though.

There are lots of other things to note about this one. The puns are impressively terrible, and the other guests include Richard Bakalyan, who had appeared in Batman as four different characters, Joe E. “Joey” Tata, who had appeared in Batman as three different characters, and Johnny Brown, best known for his recurring role on Good Times, but who we saw last year in the first episode of Filmation’s The Ghost Busters. Brown plays Dandy Andy, a parody of Famous Amos. I am 99% certain that Famous Amos was only known in southern California in 1976, so I figure somebody in the production department really liked those cookies. I am also 99% certain that Famous Amos cookies were also better in 1976 than they are today.

Bottom line: I will be quite surprised if another episode turns out to be this entertaining. It’s genuinely funny, or at least agreeably goofy when it isn’t, has four notable guest actors, is guaranteed to alarm five year-olds, and it’s got Julie Newmar being sexy, silly, and unforgettable. What’s not to love?

Monster Squad 1.7 – The Astrologer

In one of the weirdest coincidences since we started this blog, we saw Frank Cady this morning doing a bit part in The Gnome-Mobile and again this evening doing a bit part in this episode. Cady was best known for playing Sam Drucker in more than 300 combined episodes of Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies.

Anyway, five episodes of this show have impressed me so far, and this, sadly, is one of the painful ones. It has Jonathan Harris as the villainous Astrologer, and the most interesting thing about it is that his plan is that very seventies one of starting an earthquake along a bizarrely-misnamed San Andreas Fault. It’s called San Angelica here. This plan would later be adopted by Lex Luthor in the first of Christopher Reeve’s appearances as Superman, and I have a sneaking suspicion a few other seventies superheroes would also foil it before it became too obvious.

Monster Squad 1.6 – No Face

Well, that’s creepy.

The villain of the week is called No Face and he’s played by Sid Haig, who I believe makes the trifecta: he appeared in Batman and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl as well as this show. He plays a dual part, both the villain and, oh dear, Chief Running Nose. Here’s what Haig looked like underneath the weird mask, which is only in that one shot.

Our son adored this one, in part because of one of the all-time goofy fight scenes. Dracula and No Face pick up lances and ride piggyback on their colleagues. He howled with laughter, and I had to agree it was pretty amusing.

Incidentally, the episode was written by Greg Strangis, who also wrote four Electra Woman episodes and a Land of the Lost in the 1976 season. Busy fellow!

Monster Squad 1.5 – Music Man

After the previous episode of this show, which was a deeply unfunny trainwreck, it’s back to silliness, wit, puns, and in-jokes with “Music Man.” This script, like the first three, is just so much better than it needed to be. It’s easy to overlook the dopey production since the jokes are so good.

The villain this week is played by Marty Allen. He plays a no-talent singer who robs a telethon and his name is, if you’re ready, Lorenzo Musica. There are gags about Rona Barrett, President Buchanan, Rin Tin Tin, and Lassie. Stanley Ralph Ross co-wrote the script with Chuck McCann and Earle Doud, and Ross played the host of a TV telethon to fight natural causes. As in, the leading cause of death is natural causes.

In a double in-joke, in the real world, Ross actually used to don a tuxedo and work the phones at the annual Chabad Telethon. So here’s the second link to Mark Evanier’s site in one week, because as soon as I realized that was Ross playing the comedian begging for money, I remembered this great story about how Ross would take the phones when people called to complain about the telethon. You should check that out.

Our son loved it even if he can’t be expected to get any of the really funny show business in-jokes, and probably doesn’t even know who Rin Tin Tin was. It ends with another deeply ridiculous fight scene which had him guffawing. Marty Allen was a trouper, especially with the costume and makeup people turning him into a horrible version of Roy Wood or Gary Glitter, but I wasn’t surprised that he just barely participated in that part of the story, and allowed himself to be taken out of the action pretty much instantly rather than prolong the embarrassment.

Monster Squad 1.4 – The Ringmaster

I told myself that as soon as we hit a particularly uninspiring episode, I’d write a little about bootlegs. This one features Billy Curtis as the villainous, and deadly dull, Ringmaster, with Simone Griffeth and H.B. Haggerty as his associates. There’s also a lion, and six of the production team’s kids pretending to be twenty thousand children at a circus. Anyway.

When I was younger, I was very big into VHS tape trading, although I believed that I acted ethically then and only traded unavailable-for-purchase material. I never sold bootleg VHS tapes for cash, and I never bought any.

But then, ah. The world of bootleg DVDs really did change everything, especially in the brazen activities of sellers. Sure, back in the eighties and nineties, you could find bootleg video tapes at every SF con, but by about 2004, you could find them at every dealer. I swear, at Atlanta’s Dragon Con from 2004 to 2006, the only dealers who were NOT selling DVD-Rs of everything under the sun were the games companies.

On one hand, part of me does think these guys served a purpose, once. The Star Wars Holiday Special and Song of the South are a couple of high-profile examples of things that the copyright owners have actively tried to suppress over the years, and you could come up with plenty more films and cartoons. The Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four‘s another one.

Or how about those suppressed Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s? Is there a film fan on the planet who will say that they’re happy about all the hoops they’ve had to jump through to see Jungle Jitters or Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips?

I’ve caved and bought bootleg TV shows exactly twice. In 2005, I bought four episodes of Monster Squad. I never found an episode in the decade that I was trading. Nobody had ever heard of the darn thing, nobody had it. It was hypocritical and unethical of me, but I gave the fellow who had it twenty bucks for a disk of four episodes. There’s no moral justification for it, but I figured that if I was ever to see the darn show again, I didn’t have any other option.

The following year, Mark Evanier wrote about a big bootleg bust at the 2006 Motor City Comic Con, and he had this to say:

The most frequent alibi is that the sellers aren’t really doing it for the money…or at least, doing it just for the money. They’re doing it as a public service since the folks who own the material in question are selfishly or thoughtlessly withholding it from the public. This is another way of saying the rights holders haven’t gotten around yet to issuing the show or movie on home video but still, it almost sounds like a valid point. Doesn’t change the fact that we’re talking here about copyright violations but it sounds good.

And Mark was completely right. I used to think he was about 90% right, but in the last decade, I’ve learned he was absolutely correct, full stop. The really aggravating thing that I’ve learned as I’ve grown older and (a) had to defend my rights to my writing or research from people who have stolen it and (b) utterly failed, twice, to teach two older children that theft of music is wrong is that if Lucas, Disney, or Marvel – wait, they’re all the same thing – don’t want you to own those films, then you don’t really have the right to. They own them. They get to do that. Stealing a copy of Song of the South is no different from stealing a copy of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. I’d really, really like to own Scarecrow, and don’t appreciate Disney’s idiotic limited-release “Vault” program keeping the secondary market prices inflated, but they get to do that.

But before I agreed that bootlegging was wrong, I committed a few other sins. Me and another fellow ran a bootleg CD label for a while, putting out some otherwise unavailable, unreleased live music on low-priced CDs. Probably shouldn’t have done that. And I bought another boot DVD, as I mentioned in this blog once before, going in halfsies with a friend on a mammoth 35-disk set of Batman: all 120 episodes and five disks of bonus features. Shouldn’t have done that either.

I started feeling selfish and wrong about the boots I bought and sold, which is the right way to feel when you’re stealing. And so, when Monster Squad and Batman were released legitimately, I bought official copies. For feeling that I was entitled to have them earlier in life, the copyright owners were entitled to my money as soon as I could put it in Amazon’s cash register.

If you’re reading this and you’ve paid for bootleg DVDs, I hope you’ll do the right thing and replace your copies with official ones. As for us, we won’t blog about programs or movies that have not been legitimately released. In a couple of months, I plan to write a little about two or three properties that I wish we could enjoy for this blog, but can’t, so stay tuned for that.

Monster Squad 1.3 – The Tickler

Ivor Francis is the villain in the third episode of this series. A clown called the Tickler, he’s incapable of laughing and, surprisingly (for all ten of this show’s hundred and two viewers who might care about continuity), he’s depicted as an old criminal the Monster Squad put away some years previously. I guess Walt is taking quite a while to finish that degree in criminology. Francis was a recurring face in guest star parts in the 1970s, but it looks like his only regular role was Carson Brookhaven, the “Thurston Howell III” analogue in Dusty’s Trail. Since Francis’s character is unable to laugh, smirk, nya-ha-ha, or sneer an evil grin, it actually looks like he was having a miserable time in his day or two on the set. I hope that’s not really the case.

The show gets around the anti-violence problems of Saturday morning TV in the seventies by having toothless fight scenes with mostly harmless objects. Last time, the squad battled Mr. Mephisto and his girls with pillows. This time out, the Tickler and his henchmen grab some inflatable baseball bats and Bruce incapacitates two of them with pinches to their noses. Surprisingly, I can’t swear that children can actually tell a difference between these silly fight scenes and what they might have seen later in the afternoon on a repeat of Batman, they’re both just exciting mayhem with lots of bodies crashing around the screen, and our son absolutely loved watching this. I suppose just as long as the fuddy-duddies at Action for Children’s Television were not able to count any clenched fists, that’s all that matters.