MOVIE HOSTS: CHRISTOPHER COFFIN (1961? – 1967)

 Christopher Coffin, AKA Reed Pasternak AKA Reed Farrell, deserves to be mentioned with the biggest names in the history of B- Movie Hosts. As you can see in the photo at left Coffin hosted his movies from a wheelchair and when you combine that with his wry, erudite sense of humor and his aristocratic manner I think the best way to describe him would be as a combination of Sheridan Whitehead in The Man Who Came To Dinner and Ghoulardi.  Or maybe I should  make that  a pre- Ghoulardi version of Ghoulardi, depending on what year you accept for CC’s premier.

I want to address the ongoing debate over exactly what year his program debuted. The advocates of a 1961 premier date contend that Coffin’s late night show, titled Theatre of Thrills, first went on the air in 1961 in Flint, MI,  but didn’t get carried elsewhere in Michigan until February of 1963. A variation of that argument goes that the program debuted in 1961 but didn’t build a huge cult following and expand to Friday nights as well as Saturday nights until 1963, hence the skewed memories of the 1963 proponents. The DVD of Christopher Coffin clips that is floating around cites a 1961 – 1967 run for Pasternak’s time as the character. 

As Christopher Coffin, Pasternak’s schtick went that he was “the guardian of the ghouls” and he would sit upright in a coffin to open Theatre of Thrills (but noteably was NOT supposed to be a vampire) but after his opening monologue and an introduction of the night’s fare, his subsequent host segments would feature him seated in his trademark wheelchair. C.C. referred to his audience as “my fiends” instead of “my friends” and described his existence as “a state of half-life”. In addition Christopher would often materialize or dematerialize at will like a ghost, as when he would “teleport” back to his coffin in order to read viewer mail.      

Pasternak hosted his B-movies from his character’s sprawling castle, an illusion conveyed through back-screen projections of opulent surroundings as Chris switched locales for each host segment. In this respect he was like a forerunner of Fritz the Nite Owl, the legendary B-movie host who often used audio- visual trickery to present himself in all manner of settings, from subaquatic to extra- terrestrial to post- apocalyptic. Getting back to Chris, his castle was also populated by monsters who served as Coffin’s lackies, doing menial chores or helping him conduct experiments, so viewers could often see the likes of Frankenstein’s Monster sweeping out our host’s “stables”.

A graveyard set was constructed behind the studio, and various host segments would be set there while mummies and hunchbacks roamed  around the tombstones or an occassional zombie would claw its way up out of a grave. My personal favorite clip of Christopher Coffin involves him outside by that cemetery, seated in the driver’s seat of an old-fashioned horse-drawn hearse. At the conclusion of the sketch the camera pulled back to reveal the hearse being pulled, not by horses, but by various crew members costumed as zombies.

Supposedly Theatre of Thrills got its start when station WJRT TV in Flint wanted to spice up the ratings for their late Saturday night movie show by adding a sarcastic host. Pasternak’s Christopher Coffin character became a huge hit, as movie hosts inevitably do, and by 1963 the Saturday night single feature at 11:30pm had expanded to a double feature on BOTH Friday nights and Saturday nights. Worldwide Home Furnishings was the major sponsor of the program but accounts vary as to Pasternak’s exact role with WHF and WJRT.

In the autumn of 1967 WJRT-TV switched from black and white broadcasting to color. It was decided that special effects for Theatre of Thrills that looked acceptable in black and white would look too unpolished in color, so the program and its memorable host were retired.  

Christopher Coffin is one of the great unsung B-movie hosts and it would be terrific if additional footage of this unique host could be unearthed. There’s the fan compilation floating around and some youtube footage, but if anyone out there can add to the available Theatre of Thrills material I’ll gladly have their baby … and I’m a guy.

FOR MORE MOVIE HOST ENTRIES CLICK HERE: http://glitternight.com/category/movie-hosts/

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content  

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17 Comments

Filed under Bad and weird movies, Movie Hosts

17 responses to “MOVIE HOSTS: CHRISTOPHER COFFIN (1961? – 1967)

  1. Never heard of this guy! I loved reading about him and that Randy Clower guy from the Texas 27 Film vault that you interviewed.

  2. Jon g

    I would love to get a copy of the DVD with the Christopher Clips and a photo. Any suggestions as to where I might find one?
    Thx

  3. Jon g

    I meant to say the Christopher Coffin clips DVD.

  4. Pete

    Reed is still alive and well in Flint. I’ve silkscreened a few t-shirts from some photos he’s sent me. One great guy,. has a ton of stories about the show. Why isn’t this stuff on the air any more?!

    • Thanks for the details! ThisTV and RetroTV often show Wolfman Mac’s movie host show plus the Castle Blood hosts and Elvira’s more recent episodes with her revived show.

    • B. Norman

      Reed Farrell (who portrayed Christopher Coffin) moved away from Flint in 1967… has lived in St. Louis, Chicago, and is now living in Arizona – still doing voiceovers (commercials), including one clip that’s on the internet of him doing Christopher Coffin’s voice. BTW…he tells me that he was born at Hurley Hospital in Flint. I found out that Reed Farrell portrayed him back when I was a kid, as my dad shared a room with him at Hurley – not long before he moved away from the Flint area. My dad came home and mentioned that Reed played this “Christopher Coffin character on Channel 12 – it took me a long time to believe it, and it wasn’t “cemented” in my mind until I asked Reed about the hospital stay – he said although he didn’t remember my dad, he did confirm that he was in the hospital around that time.

  5. OMG I remember him, I watched this guy faithfully until he was pulled off the air.
    He used to scare the crap out of me, he’d tell you to go lock the windows and you would… then he’d suddenly yell “don’t look out that window!!” and you’d crap yourself.
    Thanks for this information, I loved it.

  6. Lytle Hoover

    Reed is Reed Pasternak – AKA – Reed Farrell was his stage name at WJRT. Reed ran an advertising company and handled several clients at WJRT. His largest client was the Yankee Dept. Stores, Nu-Vision Optical, WWF, and several others. He starred in the NU-Vision, which also played in “The Theater of Thrills”. WWF sponsored the 1st half of the show and Nu-Visions in the second half. The show developed under the rotation system of several directors, each of whom brought various vignettes to the show. At first his set simply was a rear screen slide projection of various castle scenes, which the first show’s director had photographed in books at the Flint Public Library. Painted columns were added at the sides after they were built for a ballet TV special . Later his science lab was a close-up photo of our control room equipment power racks. Blinking Christmas lights were mounted on a black scenery flat and a rolling oscilloscope. The oscilloscope was also used to give the wavy effect to the TOT title card. I was the director who got the hearse which we borrowed after I spotted it at a house. We borrowed for only a few weeks, but I videotaped 20-30 extra segments on a keeper reel and we would use one in each show for months. The same was true for FRANKIE. A local fan sent us a photo of himself in Frankenstein Makeup and asked if he could come by to show us. When he came we used him live, first just pushing the broom back & forth across the set behind CC in several segments, without having CC even notice him. At the end of the show CC mentioned that FRANKIE had been sent over to clean up the castle, by his owner ———-. (Can’t remember his name) He came back again and we also shot a keeper reel of him. The Coffin was purchased by Director Ron St. Charles and used when he was doing the show. He rigged a wire on in so after the opening music & titles the coffin opened by itself and CC sat up to do his opening greeting. When I again came back to direct the show I enhanced that opening by having the coffin be empty, then have CC magically appear. This special effect was done by pre-videotaping the opening using the coffin empty then continue recording that static shot for 30 minutes. The live camera was kept locked into that same position so it perfectly matched. Chris would get in just before airtime. The show started by playing the VTR and CC kept laying there until I slowly dissolved to the live camera and you saw him slowly materialize. The would do his opening 5-10 minute movie lead in then while still sitting up he would disappear. In those days live cameras & VTRs weren’t synchronizible so that is why we had to prerecord the empty coffin. The tape had to keep running all during the segment, so when CC finished we could dissolve back to the tape that was still running on the VTR machine. Lytle Hoover

  7. BRAD

    I believe my dad played a mummy in sixtys John Malone and his friend mike husted played a warewolf i would like to check this fact if there’s away thank you

  8. Christopher Coffin is a dude for Flint to be proud of, not lardass Michael Moore.

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