"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

BOB WILKINS (1932-2009)
Popular Host of KTVU's "Creature Features"

Bob on the set of "Creature Features" at KTVU TV-2, circa 1971.

Bob Wilkins, the legendary and beloved host of KTVU's "Creature Features" has been suffering from advanced Alzheimer's for several years and saddled with rapidly declining health. Now, I am afraid to report that only four hours after I received word that his wife Sally, and Bob’s doctors, said that we should prepare for his passing, Robert Gene Wilkins, has left us. He's gone.

This is indeed sad, but inevitable news... His state was advanced and there was no hope to save him. Bob means a lot to me, not only as a legendary horror host I grew up with, but as a mentor. Man, Bob Wilkins was our hero — everyone at school talked about "Creature Features"! It was the greatest thing at the time — it's hard to explain the impact the show had on Bay Area viewers in the '70s. Especially the impact the show and its host, had on me — he was a personal friend, and like a father to me.

As a kid, I met Bob in the early '70s, and a few years later, was invited to be on his show to talk about Godzilla... I was only a kid, but Bob treated me like an adult, which was unlike most grown-ups. In fact, as nervous as I was (my leg was shaking the entire time), Bob asked me to come back to the show, to provide information on Japanese monster movies for "Creature Features." What a thrill, it seems so surreal now. In fact, I think it felt surreal back then, too. This too, is similarly, surreal.

When Bob launched the "Captain Cosmic" show in 1977, he invited me to come on the show to talk about THE SPACE GIANTS, and asked — a clueless teenager — for suggestions for other programs to run on "Cosmic." This was the kind of guy that Bob was. After the death of my Mom in early 1979 (my Dad was already deceased), Bob became like a surrogate family member, kept me in his thoughts, called me when he found opportunities for me, and put up the money to launch my short-lived "Godzilla Fan Club."

Bob phoned me one day, and told me to call a woman at Bill Graham Presents, who was looking for recordings of "monster sounds" to play before a Day on the Green concert. "The Monsters of Rock" (featuring AC/DC and Ted Nugent). So, I dubbed some sound effects from a couple of Japanese LPs, and was paid in cash and four backstage passes. Bob also offered an interview at KTVU to intern for a Cameraman position — which I turned down for fear of somehow blowing it and disappointing him.

Looking back on it now, Bob Wilkins was more than a surrogate family member, like an uncle, he was more like a father (well, a cool Step Dad, really). He means the world to me, and always will. Not for the shows he did, or being my favorite Horror Host of all time, but for the kind and generous man that he was, and will continue to be in my heart, for as long as I live.

Bob also meant a lot to so many others, more that you can imagine. So, if you were a fan of Bob Wikins and grew up with "Creature Features" and "Captain Cosmic" or were lucky enough to know him as a friend, please send your respects at his Official MySpace page or at the Official Bob Wilkins website — thank you.

Rest in Peace, Bob!
August Ragone
Your #1 Fan

Here's a classic Bob Wilkins Creature Features clip from the mid-'70s.


UPDATES (01/25/2008): The memorial service for Bob Wilkins on Saturday, January 24th at the Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland was very touching and also filled with much laugher and warm remembrances of Bob. One of them was that he begrudgingly attended Sunday Services with his wife and kids, and every week, he would fill out one of the comment cards found on the pews with "Get me out of here!" Another was that Bob would clip out interesting stories from the newspaper for his kids, and add his own one-line commentaries on them; one was a crime report about a Piedmont woman whose house was egged two nights in a row. Below the story, Bob wrote, "I guess Piedmont isn't all what it's cracked up to be."

Bob's children, Nancy and Rob, gave touching and funny eulogies, as did his widow, Sally. Nancy also sang "Unforgettable" with Rob on trumpet, and there was an excellent slideshow, sprinkled with video clips, representing a slice of Bob's truly wonderful life, which Sally described as being like Bob Clark's A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). Some family and friends — and a couple of fans — were also invited to stand up and share some memories of Bob. Sure, there was reflection, sorrow, and tears. But, there was far more laugher that day, and I'm sure that's the way Bob would have wanted it, because he always wanted to see people happy, and he always wanted to make people laugh.

But, this is certainly not the end by any means. As John Stanley opened his eulogy at the memorial, "Bob Wilkins is not dead; he's alive in all of us!" And to underline this, "Creature Features" archivist Tom Wrysch announced that were will be two public extravaganzas to celebrate Bob Wilkins, one in Sacramento and the other in San Francisco, which will be large enough to accept the throngs of Bob Wilkins fans, and will be staged in the following months. The exact dates and venues to be announced — stay tuned for more details.

In the meantime, a recently-completed documentary, WATCH HORROR FILMS: KEEP AMERICA STRONG, will be screened at WonderCon taking place at the Moscone Center in San Francisco on February 27th—March 1st, with special guests participating and sharing their memories of the late, great Bob Wilkins. This event will also double as the DVD release of WATCH HORROR FILMS, which includes hours of extras, and copies of the documentary will be available for purchase at WonderCon.

The current issue of the San Jose Metro has published a lengthy and comprehensive feature on Bob Wilkins, which is required reading for fans and those who might not know who the "Creature Features" host was, and what made him tick. The Sacramento Bee published a wonderful piece, while other Nor Cal newspapers followed suit. January 9th's San Francisco Chronicle published a long and moving tribute, while Pat Craig's piece ran in several Bay Area papers, including The San Jose Mercury News and The Contra Costa Times.

There are also stories on several Nor Cal television station websites, including KTVU-2, KTXL-40 and KXTV-10 — please check them out for rare photos and clips. What I find amazing about these news stories, are the hundreds of responses on these respective websites, an outpouring of love for our host, which is a small indication of how popular and beloved Bob Wilkins remains — 28 years after he retired from television.

The first pair on online radio tributes for Bob Wilkins took place on Saturday evening, January 10th on the Rondo-Award winning Cult Radio A Go-Go with myself, John Stanley, Mr. Lobo, and Bob's webmaster, Scott Moon. You can download and listen to the show, here: CRAGG Bob Wilkins Tribute. On Monday evening, January 12th the The Joe Flynn Show dedicated their entire show to Bob Wilkins with clips and live chat.

For more information please visit the Official Bob Wilkins website.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Monster of the Month
Giant Fire Monster: ARON

大怪獣アロン 「マグマ大使」より


Height: 50 meters • Weight: 320 metric tonnes • Origin: Planet Pal • Original Appearance: Episode 13-16 of THE SPACE GIANTS (1966-67) • Design & Fabrication: Fuminori Ohashi

A shapeshifting monster (with a bizarre humanoid form) that can generate internal temperatures so high, they cause the conflagration of entire worlds. After laying waste to the pacifist planet Pal, which refused to surrender, the evil intergalactic conqueror, Rodak, sent Aron to the Earth. Moving at 250 km/hour, Aron was able to quickly cause widespread destruction in its wake. Fortunately for mankind, Goldar was ready to defend us—although the intense heat issued by the monster, drawn from solar energy, made effective retaliation against him seemingly impossible.

Created by artist and sculptor, Fuminori Ohashi, the monster suit for Aaron was originally built for the Japan Radio Pictures production of AGON: THE ATOMIC DRAGON (1964), a four-part mini-series held from broadcast until 1968. Ohashi, who worked under Eiji Tsuburaya at Toho during the 1950s (and later under John Chambers on PLANET OF THE APES), modified Agon for THE SPACE GIANTS, and added the sabertooth fangs. The new suit made a brief appearance in the first episode as "dinosaur," and then became the better-known "Aron" for Episodes 13-16 of the series.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

They Called Him "Godzilla"! January 1, 1929

誕生日おめでとう ゴジラさん=中島春雄!

Enjoying some tea on the set of MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964).

The Dean of Monster Suit Actors, Haruo Nakajima, got his start at the age of 20, as an uncredited background actor and stuntman at Toho Studios, working on Akira Kurosawa's STRAY DOG (1949). While the scene was an intense knock-down-drag-out-brawl, shot on a rather sweltering summer day, Nakajima laughed that, after all of the retakes, the footage unceremoniously ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, that didn't deter him, as he dutifully appeared, and died, in an endless succession sword films. As thankless as many of those stints were, Nakajima relishes the fact that, as "Bandit C", he was cut down by the stoic Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) in Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI (1954).

But, it was a stunt that he volunteered for, that really brought him to everyone's attention at Toho. A scene in Ishiro Honda's World War II spectacle, EAGLE OF THE PACIFIC (1953), required a live stunt in which a pilot becomes immolated when his Zero Fighter, sitting on the deck of a aircraft carrier, is hit by an incendiary. Asking for volunteers, it was Nakajima who fearlessly stepped up to the plate, and performed the first such fire stunt in Japanese Cinema. With this accomplishment, Nakajima became the "go-to guy" for stunt work, so when it was decided that Godzilla would be brought to life primarily by a man in a suit, his was the first name that came to mind.

From Honda's GODZILLA (1954) through Jun Fukuda's GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), Nakajima was the primary Godzilla performer, who was also tapped by Eiji Tsuburaya to essay all of the major monsters for Toho's Fantasy Films of the 1950s and 1960s. Among Nakajima's favorites is Gaira (the Green Gargantua) from Honda's THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). In the mid-1960s, Nakajima brought his considerable experience to television for ULTRA Q, ULTRAMAN, and ULTRA SEVEN. During this period, now considered a master at his craft, he helped to train a whole new generation of monster performers. In 1972, this all came to an end, when Toho disbanded its contract players, and Nakajima retired from monster acting.

Mr. Nakajima, despite recent health issues, traveled to Chicago last summer to attend G-FEST, where he received his "Mangled Skyscraper Award." During the ceremony, he was surprised by a proverbial flood of congratulatory letters from film professionals on both sides of the Pacific, extolling admiration for him and his work. While I had last met with him eight years ago at G-FEST in Hollywood, Nakajima was still as strong and tenacious as ever, still wielding that vice grip-like handshake, and a sharp and fiery tongue. Well, isn't that what one would come expect from Godzilla himself?

Cheers to Haruo Nakajima, King of the Monsters!