Stogie Bob and the girl from the green dimension
The appearance of Northern California television legend Bob Wilkins at Harlow’s on Sunday night brought back more than a few memories for those in the packed house who were old enough to remember Wilkins’ stints at KCRA 3 and, later, at KTXL 40 (pre-Fox, when that station was one of the coolest beacons of downmarket Caucasian programming in the West) and at KTVU 2 in Oakland.
“Gotham City,” with its cartoonish burlesque pomposity, served as a perfect theme for Wilkins’ show, which aired on KCRA from 1966-71, when it moved to KTVU and KTXL as Creature Features. (Wilkins’ show ran until 1978 on KTVU and until 1982 on KTXL.) Smoking a huge stogie, the boyish Wilkins would pepper the screening of such classics as Attack of the Mushroom People—a Japanese Gilligan’s Island clone where marooned vacationers stumble across a cache of irradiated mushrooms, munch them, then turn into walking deathcaps—with sardonic commentary. Ergo, Wilkins, it could be argued, invented the idea behind Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Wilkins still looks boyish, but he wasn’t exactly in fighting shape. He seemed frail, and his voice was reduced to a spectral, laryngitis-impaired whisper. This might work well for Don Corleone, but not in a nightclub with a talk-show format. Fortunately, Wilkins had John Stanley, who succeeded him on Creature Features, to do the heavy lifting.
Among the cinematic highlights was a circa-1953 short, It Came From Outer Space, in 3-D—although the show’s producer, former Bourgeois-Tagg keyboardist/Planet X magazine editor-publisher Scott Moon, picked up “the wrong” 3-D glasses (promos from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), which had to be turned inside out to make them work. Also great was Hardware Wars, a late ’70s short-film spoof of Star Wars by Ernie Fosselius, who later turned a Winnebago into a traveling museum for his bizarre whittling projects.
Even goofier was an appearance by Vitina Marcus, who played a floating green lady who was obsessed with Dr. Smith in a couple of episodes of Lost in Space. When she was onstage the show completely fell apart; Stanley and Wilkins apparently had no idea how to deal with someone who’d left the June Taylor Dancers and horror films for an ashram, then a life selling real estate in Las Vegas, who apparently goes to David Lee Roth’s old hairdresser and George Hamilton’s tanning salon. When she started babbling about UFOs, all bets were off.
Overall, though, it was a nice way to honor Wilkins, an outsider-television icon who made childhood geekdom a lot more bearable for many of us. Thanks, Bob.