Having written on all things horror for well over a decade now, and being a lifelong horror fan another decade or so before that, there comes a time every so often where you think you’ve seen it all, read it all, and are well-versed on a multitude of topics. But then, every time you begin to think that, the universe slaps you in the face with some obscure subgenre of film, some long-forgotten author, or something you never even considered in the first place.
This time around, it is author Bobb Cotter helping the universe slap me thanks to his new book, “Vampira and her Daughters”, out now from McFarland. I had never given much thought to horror hosts, and then Cotter takes my ignorance a step further and focuses solely on the female hosts.
I knew who Vampira was, at the very least from her work in “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. But I had no idea about her biography, with Cotter does a fine job of covering in detail without giving her a book of her own. He does discuss her controversial origin: was she from Finland, Ohio, or Massachusetts? As Cotter points out, most sources say she was born in Finland but was already in Ohio by the time she could walk. But there is a ship passenger list where her mother claims that she was born in Gloucester, so perhaps it’s true? So many of the records are contradictory, it’s hard to say… the only record that’s easily verifiable is her 1961 marriage to actor Fabrizio Mioni in California, but that hardly answers the birth question.
I also knew who Elvira was. Who doesn’t? Even my parents know who Elvira is, and they both have no interest in that sort of thing. But again, Cotter takes me to task by showing me just how little I knew. I was aware her name was Cassandra Peterson, and she had been in the Groundlings, hence her working relationship with Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) among others. But that was the whole story in my mind – an improve character that took on a life of its own. I had no idea about the Elvis connection, or Tom Jones or any of that (though I do find the Elvis story a bit fishy).
Some other well-known names are covered, especially if you watched USA Up All Night. But the real meat of the book is in bringing all the regional horror hosts to life. Unfortunately, this results in both the book’s strength and weakness. If you live in a major city and want to read about a long-forgotten host, Cotter has you covered, and in some cases even has interviews. This is a trip down memory lane, and an interesting look at how people all over the country took a similar concept and made it their own. The downside of this is, however, that most readers will probably have little interest in reading about hosts they’ve never heard of. Do Philadelphia natives want to read about a beloved St. Louis host, or vice versa? I suspect not.
But in reading the book from cover to cover, I was able to stumble on a surprise: even my relatively small region of Green Bay, Wisconsin is covered. Growing up, we had Ned the Dead, who I always assumed was a guy who worked at an appliance store and just slapped on some cheap makeup once a week. But I thought Ned was all we had, and before that… nothing. Dead air. Chicago had Svengoolie, but we weren’t able to see that in my area, and frankly I didn’t even know Sven existed until much later.
The surprise? Cotter found a pre-Ned host in Green Bay. Misty Brew, alias Faye Fisher Ward, who was active in the early 1980s (just before my time). In fact, he conducts a lengthy interview with her and it just had me fascinated because the people and places she talked about were very familiar. Who knew? And I would bet that any reader who picks up the book will find a “lost host” in their region, as well, because some of the bigger cities have been doing this for 60 years or more.
In short, Bobb Cotter has succeeded in a groundbreaking piece of research. I could see someone taking it as the basis for a scholarly study of the role of the horror host. Or, at the very least, here’s hoping that McFarland lets Cotter make a second edition down the line, because the publication of the book will surely bring some of those forgotten hosts out of the woodwork and some new stories can be shared.
“Vampira and her Daughters”, as well as countless other McFarland books, can be found on Google Play, Amazon Kindle, or at any book store. If your book store doesn’t have a copy, ask them to order you one. And if they won’t, you can always go to mcfarlandpub.com