The hi­lar­i­ous his­tory of Fright­en­stein

The Welland Tribune - - NEWS - GRANT LAFLECHE

There wasn’t much of a rea­son to think Mitch Markowitz’s idea would work.

It was a coun­try mile out­side the usual box for a tele­vi­sion show: A chil­dren’s pro­gram based on clas­sic hor­ror movie tropes mixed with sight gags, ed­u­ca­tional seg­ments and a pop cul­ture groove be­fit­ting the early 1970s.

The mad­cap idea had al­ready been turned down once by the fledg­ling CHCH-TV sta­tion in Hamil­ton, so on their sec­ond pitch in 1971 Markowitz and his brother Riff Markowitz put some ex­tra bait on their hook.

“So we said, ‘What if we got one of the clas­sic Univer­sal hor­ror movie ac­tors to be our nar­ra­tor?” Markowitz said while vis­it­ing Mostly Comics on St. Paul Street in St. Catharines Satur­day. “So the guy says ‘Like who?’ And we said ‘Vin­cent Price,’ be­cause he was classi­est of those ac­tors.”

CHCH brass were so im­pressed they told the Markowitz broth­ers if they had Price on­board, they would sign a con­tract right there, right then. As it turned out, Markowitz had a con­tract in his back pocket. The TV sta­tion signed for 137, one­hour episodes and just like that the

Hi­lar­i­ous House of Fright­en­stein — a show that would be­come a cult clas­sic in Canada, the United States and parts of Europe — was born.

There was just one teeny, tiny prob­lem.

The Markowitz broth­ers didn’t ac­tu­ally have an agree­ment with Price. When the deal with CHCH was signed, they hadn’t even talked to the ac­tor.

“We just be­lieved we could do it, and I sup­pose if it didn’t work, we would have tried some­thing else,” he said. While the broth­ers over­sold

Fright­en­stein to CHCH, they pur­posely un­der­val­ued their idea when they fi­nally met Price.

“So we said, ‘Look, it is be­ing filmed in Hamil­ton, Ont., on a TV sta­tion no one has ever heard of. No one is go­ing to see it. So it if flops, it won’t hurt you. Plus, we’ll pay you and we’ll get all your work done in two days,’” Markowitz said. “He agreed. But it ended up tak­ing longer than two days.”

Markowitz re­galed fans with tales of Fright­en­stein — in­clud­ing his bit part in front of the cam­era as stoned su­per­hero Su­per Hippy — as part of the re­open­ing of Mostly Comics, which was re­cently bought by Norm Hearn of St. Catharines.

Hearn, who had re­tired from his ca­reer in gov­ern­ment and works with dis­abled adults, re­cently bought the store from re­tired Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice of­fi­cer Kim Stevens.

“I had left my gov­ern­ment job, but I wasn’t ready to re­tire,” said Hearn. “This seems like a re­ally good op­por­tu­nity. When you work in gov­ern­ment, you are of­ten mak­ing hard de­ci­sions when you deal with peo­ple, and at the end of the day, some­one is al­ways up­set or dis­ap­pointed by the de­ci­sion you had to make. Here, ev­ery­one is talk­ing and shar­ing about some­thing they love, some­thing they are pas­sion­ate about. I re­ally like that.”

Lo­cal cos­play­ers, Wel­land artist and Cap­tain Canuck cre­ator Richard Comely, and Markowitz were on hand Satur­day to cel­e­brate the re­open­ing of the comic shop.

Markowitz said he re­mains hum­bled that Fright­en­stein con­tin­ues to have a fol­low­ing more than 40 years after it first aired. Al­though it was pitched as a kids show com­plete with ed­u­ca­tional con­tent and slap­stick hu­mour, cul­tural ref­er­ences

and sly in­nu­endo were aimed at young adults, which he said con­trib­utes to its longevity. Markowitz, who said a re­boot of Fright­en­stein is in the works, said in some Amer­i­can mar­kets late-night re­runs of the show did bet­ter num­bers than The Tonight Show with Johnny Car­son.

“The kid who first watched it in the ’70s re­mem­ber it. And then an­other gen­er­a­tion who watched the re­runs re­mem­ber it. And now their kids are watch­ing it on DVD or on YouTube,” he said. “Hon­oured is the word. I’m very hon­oured.”

GRANT LAFLECHE/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Mitch Markowitz, pro­ducer and screen writer and some­times ac­tor from the Hi­lar­i­ous House of Fright­en­stein, ap­pears in St. Catharines while cel­e­brat­ing the re­open­ing of Mostly Comics on St. Paul Street.

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