Chicago’s own Mad Marvin (Terry Bennett) was part of the First Wave of B-Movie Hosts and Hostesses of the 1950s. From 1957 to 1959 Terry (joined by his wife Joy soon after the show launched) entertained the Windy City late on Saturday nights with that metropolis’ version of Shock Theater.
Described as a “Mad Beatnik” and a “Mad Hipster”, Bennett’s Mad Marvin character had a macabre sense of humor that has made him a legend with Movie Host fans. In fact, television station management in Chicago and from around the country soon realized that, as with the likes of Vampira and Zacherley, audiences were tuning in just as much (if not more) to watch the antics of Mad Marvin as they were to watch the movies.
Bennett’s most over-the -top stunt involved him pretending to swallow poison on the air, then describing his body’s reaction to the potent potable (for you Jeopardy fans) as he acted like he was genuinely dying. The notoriety from this morbid joke caused the ratings to skyrocket. In a way, Mad Marvin was like a forerunner of the radio Shock Jocks of later decades.
That legendary incident and many other ghoulish gags, many of which centered around stage gimmicks and cheap special effects in sketches where Terry would pretend to experiment on his wife Joy, kept Mad Marvin’s ratings and water cooler quotient high. Joy was known as “Dear” on the program and her face was always kept hidden (more on this later) but her shapely figure was always on view as Terry pretended to hang, dismember, and otherwise mistreat his cohost.
With this and Zacherley’s similar treatment of his unseen wife, the frequently- copied Movie Host tradition of abusing the second banana began.
The Bennetts were featured in the Saturday Evening Post as well as Life magazine, and their host segment madness on Shock Theater left Chicagoans so hungry for more Mad Marvin and Dear that a half-hour show was tacked on to the end of the movie to provide a further showcase for the popular duo.
The program was called The Shocktail Party and the two stars were joined by Orville the Hunchback and Shorty the Frankenstein Monster for what some have described as “a combination of Charles Addams, Ernie Kovacks and Jack Paar”. Now THAT’S a combo for the conossieur.
And speaking of combos the show had its own band, as well. A group of jazz musicians wearing zombie makeup performed as The Dead Beats (implied rimshot), making with instrumental pieces that bore suitably macabre names like “Music For Murder” and “Cremation Concerto”. Eventually the Dead Beats were recruited to take part in the comedy sketches as well.
As would happen in the early 1970s on Chicago’s original Svengoolie show, some surpisingly big stars made brief appearances on Mad Marvin’s late night B-Movie program. Sammy Davis Jr, Burt Lancaster and Jerry Lewis were among the entertainers dropping by to participate in that certain magic that has made Movie Host shows an American staple for six decades now. Jazz musician Patrick Ferrari himself was actually one of the Dead Beats.
For its comparatively short run Mad Marvin’s Shock Theater has a wealth of memories associated with it, and the fact that it was a live show makes that all the more remarkable. Obviously the show made a deep impression on those contemporary viewers lucky enough to see it.
The show’s theme song was “Weird Incident”, the set included an electric chair and a torture rack, and many fans have recounted their favorite Host Segments at Movie Host sites around the web. Some sources claim the “castle wall” background scenery on Mad Marvin’s show was the same set used for Jerry Bishop’s Svengoolie years later.
The most cited bit of trivia surrounding the show involves its final episode on which, in a case of Cosmic Serendipity, the movie shown was Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. In October 1959 the program went off the air, despite a letter- writing campaign by the show’s fans after the cancellation was announced.
A recurring teaser bit at the end of each episode of Shock Theater involved Dear supposedly turning around so her face could be seen, only to have the screen go blurry with pretended “technical difficulties”, preserving Dear’s mystique. But on the show’s final broadcast, Terry invited his wife Joy to turn around and say goodbye to the viewers, whereupon the audience got to finally see “Dear’s” face.
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