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Essays

Memories of Bob

Ron Waite

Like many of my age group back in the late 50's I enjoyed seeing all those horror and sci fi movies and some good TV now and then. But frankly, I didn't know much about the people behind the scenes: the writers, directors, make-up artists, etc. Then along came that first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I'll never forget it. It changed my life forever.

I absorbed every article, every still, every word like some alien brain-sponge and I was hungry for more! When "The Second Great Issue" came out I was thrilled. I then began to understand the nature of the beast, how these films were made, where they came from, and of course the classic horror in the "Lon Chaney Shall Not Die" series and the like. I remember seeing Frankenstein for the very first time on Channel 9 (a New York station) and it scared me half to death. Then Dracula and The Wolfman and The Mummy, et al. And now there was a magazine to explain it all, in a humorous way with an editor that didn't speak down to me, didn't make me feel like a weirdo, and obviously enjoyed this stuff as much as I did!

Circa 1960, FM ran an article written by Robert Bloch. He spoke of his favorite movies and the things that scared him when he was young. I found this to be most interesting for here was a man who's name I had just come to know. I had purchased a paperback edition of PSYCHO in 1959 and hid it under my mattress. My mom certainly would've tossed it out as she did most of my "monster stuff". Having read the book - and being very young and rather ignorant - I didn't understand most of it but I sure got the point. And now this same guy was writing in MY magazine! How great is that?

When he spoke of "looking into the face of naked fear" and the thrill of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Freaks and other movies and books I had never heard of, my search had begun. In the days before VCRs and CDs and DVDs I had but one way to see these films: Blackhawk Films. A major distributor of 8mm movies that ran 3 minutes or so in living black & white. And the infamous Captain Company also sold such items, so I had a source. I also began buying those paperbacks filled with collections of short horror stories from Lovecraft to Bloch.

Then, of course, I went to see Psycho. Now let me tell you... I saw movies that scared me, where I didn't sleep for weeks on end. Movies like House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, The Fly, The Tingler... but nothing prepared me for Psycho. There were no scary houses or flying skeletons or bathtubs filled with blood. Here was a story about real people in real situations. My parents had taken me to the local drive-in movie where they ran a triple feature. I no longer remember the other films, but I do remember that Psycho was last.

Picture it: There I was sitting in the back seat of this enormous Buick, watching this movie and rather enjoying it to this point, when mom and dad decide to "go for refreshments." And what part of the movie do they choose to leave me alone? You guessed it! Just as Janet Leigh steps into the shower. I was not prepared for this. By the time they returned with soda and popcorn they had to peel me from the roof of the car, and it would be redundant to say that I ever took a shower for the next year or so.

With that in mind I got up the nerve and wrote a fan letter to this new idol of mine, Mr. Robert Bloch. In my 11 year old hand writing I explained how I read the book, saw the movie, and learned so much because of his article in FM. I thought well, that's that. Imagine my surprise when about a month later I received a hand written letter from him! Addressed to me! This was my first ever letter from a celebrity and I was on Cloud 9!

Encouraged, I then wrote a letter to Anthony Perkins, directly to the studio, and told him how much I enjoyed the movie and asked him a few questions about working with Hitchcock. Again, I got a reply! He actually wrote to me and sent me a photo. He answered my questions and man oh man was I ever the envy of everyone in school. I showed my classmates and my teacher pinned it up for a few days to show everyone. She was very proud of me in that I actually wrote a letter and got a reply.

Around this time I began to take notice of the credits whenever I saw a movie or watched TV. I saw that Bloch appeared regularly. It was like he was everywhere. Of course my parents didn't get it, like when I would get excited and scream out names I had just learned. "Ooh, there's Robert Bloch!" Or "Look, it's based on a Jules Verne story..."

When the show Thriller hit TV this, like no other TV show since, made the greatest impact on me. Still fairly young, we lived (at the time) in this Lovecraftian house that was a dead ringer for the Psycho house. It was absolutely terrifying, day or night. The upstairs part featured a bedroom at the top of the stairs, then you'd turn down this dimly lit hallway past a bathroom straight out of The Tingler, and pass another small bedroom, and one large room in front. On the right as another stairway -- to the attic! Even creepier than everything else in that house.

So along comes Thriller. My mom was very strict and I had to be in bed by 9 PM but on Thriller night I was allowed to stay up until 10. So fine, The Purple Room scared me a little, most were mysteries, Well of Doom kinda shook me up, but when I saw The Grim Reaper, The Weird Tailor, The Cheaters, Pigeons From Hell, A Wig for Miss Devore, Waxworks...all I can say is, I didn't think I'd make my 13th birthday for surely I'd be dead from fright.

Many years later I was fortunate enough to land a "job" as Forry Ackerman's assistant in Hollywood. This was a life long dream come true for me. Being painfully shy and introverted it was very difficult for me to sit there and try to be cool while answering the phone with Vincent Price or Bob Bloch on the other end! Or having Ray Bradbury drop in, or George Pal. But I met many of my "idols" and maintained a lasting friendship with most of them.

Bob Bloch and his lovely wife Elly (Eleanor) were very good friends with the Ackermans so I saw a lot of them. I talked with Bob on the phone many times and even sent him royalty checks now and then with a little note attached. He'd always call and acknowledge its receipt. The Blochs also collected elephants (not real ones as you'd might expect) so whenever Forry and Wendy went on tour they'd look for the perfect elephant to bring back. I also sent along a few that I thought they'd enjoy, and others sent in their donations once the word got out.

I first met Bob at Forry's 60th birthday party where he gave a speech that was so funny I laughed until my sides hurt. He had a marvelous sense of humor, a stinging wit. He graciously autographed some books I had after the party and his huge, friendly smile made you feel welcome and warm. Or as some might say, the grin of a spider who was about to devour you.

At another birthday party circa 1982 Bob and Elly sat opposite Forry and Wendy and the evening consisted of a small group of close friends including Ann Robinson, Don Glut, Brinke Stevens, A.E. Van Vogt and his wife and a few others. There was even a belly dancer and a live band (the party was held at the Russian restaurant Mischa's). Again, partly due to Bob, I laughed so hard that for the next two days my cheeks hurt.

When I moved on and did some freelance writing, I stayed in touch with Mr. Bloch, sending him copies of magazines I had articles in, and books I picked up here and there I thought he might enjoy. We discussed his work for Star Trek, and Douglas Heyes, one of the writers from Thriller. And I could swear he told me he wrote AND directed Logoda's Head on Night Gallery.

Not too long ago I broke up my collection; sold off many pieces, donated much of it. Fifty years worth of stuff gone. I had several Robert Bloch letters and cards and signed books which I also sold off or gave away. I've had a really rough time these past several years, so I did not know that Bob had passed on. I was deeply distressed to hear this news. We lost not only one of the greatest horror writers that ever lived, but a magnificent man, a truly wonderful man, one that I am proud - very proud - to have known. To paraphrase a line from Forbidden Planet: One day his name will shine like a beacon in the universe.

I am sure that history, literature and fandom will, say in a thousand years, recall the pioneers of another time, another era. And right up there with the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H.G.Wells and H.P.Lovecraft the brilliance will be brightest, the glow the greatest, the illumination the deepest from that of Robert Bloch. Goodbye, Bob. I will grieve and I will remember, for you did so much to change my life and introduce me to a whole new world I never knew existed! Thank you.

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This essay is 2000 by Ron Waite and is printed here for the first time.