Forty years ago late night horror movies were nothing new in Nashville, the handsome and debonair Dr. Lucifur, played by Ken Bramming, had been introducing horror flicks for a decade on WSIX-TV. But in 1971, WSM-TV Channel Four debuted Creature Feature, at 10:30 on Saturday nights, and the Nashville airwaves would never be the same.
The Cool Ghoul
Larry Underwood never saw a complete episode of Creature Feature in its day, since it was far past his bedtime, but he saw enough to make him a fan of Sir Cecil Creape for life.
“He had a purple tunic and cape with a rope belt that tied across the middle. He was bald-headed and pudgy,” Underwood said, describing Nashville’ most unlikely TV star. “He had a set of dentures that were specially made to give him a horrible – what would look like “Billy Bob” teeth now days. He wore a monocle of all things, because he was, after all, “Sir” Cecil Creape.”
“He talked with an awful Southern drawl,” Underwood said. A vocal trait that would be best exemplified by Sir Cecil’s signature phrase, “Did Someone Caaall?”
Underwood’s childhood memories provided the inspiration to create his own “horror host” character, Dr. Gangrene, which he portrays on his own late night TV show on WNAB-TV Channel 58. But that inspiration went beyond just appearances.
“He would do different skits, and have a cornball sense of humor about stuff,” Underwood said. “For Christmas time he did the old ‘live dead body’ gag and gave away a turkey on the air. For Halloween he would try and pick a costume for the night.”
Whether masquerading as Richard Nixon, dancing with a “body” ordered from a Printer’s Alley strip club, or directing a barbershop quartet of severed heads, Sir Cecil Creape’s sense of smart-aleck rebellion, gross goofy fun, and comic timing made every Saturday night seem like Halloween.
The Graveyard Smash
David Fisher, publishes Amazing Figure Modeler, a hobby magazine devoted to horror and science fiction models. But back then, he spent every Saturday night watching the only program he and his father enjoyed together, Creature Feature.
“Sir Cecil Creape would be the first thing you talked about on the school bus,” Fisher said. “You’d get on the bus Monday morning and all the kids would be like ‘Did you watch Creature Features Saturday night? Did you see?’ and everybody would talk about it.”
But it wasn’t the movies that people were necessarily tuning in for said Fisher.
“Creature Features had grade ‘C’ or ‘D’ movies instead of ‘B’ movies. I wouldn’t call them really classic horror films by any stretch of the imagination. To me, as a kid being a horror film fan I was disappointed in the movie fare, but at the same time you weren’t really watching the show that much for the movie as much as to see what Sir Cecil Creape was doing. He would make me stay up and watch a bad movie all the way to the end just to see how it would get resolved, whatever gag he was doing.”
In just a few months, Sir Cecil Creape became a local celebrity of enormous popularity. The Tennessean featured him on the front cover of the Sunday Showcase, and kids mobbed him at live events. The Middle Tennessee Boy Scouts even issued a “Sir Cecil’s Ghoul Patrol” patch.
The Creape-ing Unknown
David Fisher said part of the appeal was the mystery surrounding the character. “Everybody was trying to guess who was playing Sir Cecil Creape, and there were all these outlandish rumors. You’d look at the crew on the news that night and go like ‘Is it him? Is it him?’ There was this big play-up of the mystery of Sir Cecil Creape.”
His fans should have been looking behind the cameras instead of in front. Russ McCown, a film editor at WSM, created the character and suddenly found fame and a part-time acting career. He next starred in a series of ads for the Tennessee Department of Tourism, but Sir Cecil Creape remained his signature role.
Creature Feature ended in 1973, on the air slightly less than three years. But McCown revived the character during the early eighties on The Nashville Network cable channel and for Halloween events at the Opryland theme park until his death in 1994.
But even after 40 years, a generation of Nashville kids can still recall ending each Saturday evening with the fond farewell from their favorite fiend, “Good Night, sleep tight, and don’t let the beddy bugs bite.”
For more information about Dr. Gangrene, visit his website at chillercinema.com and to see examples of David Fisher’s work visit AmazingFigureModeler.com.
Creature Feature 1971 Halloween Episode
Newscaster Dan Miller interviews McCown on Miller & Co. circa 1980