Farewell, Mr Excitement

Another sad, nostaglic bye-bye.  Maybe it’s a bad habit, but hardly one I’m able to quit.

So who is this “Mr Excitement” to whom I’m bidding a fond, reluctant farewell?  The man’s name is Bob Wilkins.  He was the host of the San Francisco Bay Area’s “Creature Features” late-night show and “Captain Cosmic,” a little known sci-fi program showcase for kids.

Unlike other horror movie hosts, Bob Wilkins didn’t ham it up — quite the opposite.  He sat in a rocking chair, surrounded by skull candle-holders and cobwebs, smoking a huge cigar.  Instead of putting on a schlocky get-up and chortling about the next cinematic horror to come, he was cordial.  Unflappable.  Aloof in a neighborly Norman Rockwell kind of way.

And more often than not, he’d tell you to watch something else.  “Don’t stay up tonight,” he often said.  “It’s not worth it.”  It horrified his sponsors, at least until they saw the ratings.

For nearly ten years, Bob Wilkins’ deadpan drollery made “Creature Features” on KTVU Channel 2 a local Saturday night institution.  He announced each film with affectionate, blank-faced mockery.  He’d tell you it arrived at the KTVU studio in a brown paper bag, or how certain creatures in tonight’s movie had fallen on hard times.

Did you know that one of those teeny, tiny women from the Mothra flicks eloped with the Tidy Bowl Man?  Don’t gimme that look.  Bob Wilkins said it, so it must be true.

And once in a while, Bob Wilkins delivered a dark, dusky cinematic jewel — a choice Hammer film, one of the Universal Pictures horror classics, or something totally obscure and twisted.  His show was one of the first, if not the first, to run the dreaded “Night of the Living Dead” on television.

So you can imagine how thrilled my parents were to catch me, still in the zygote age-bracket, watching this godawful dreck hundreds of hours after my bedtime on a Saturday night.

Then one day Bob Wilkins showed up on daily afternoon TV.  And it was great.  I was able to watch him present tons of fun sci-fi stuff at a more respectable hour.  Bob Wilkins delivered it all with the same distant gentle humor.  His face was hidden behind a huge visor, and he called himself Captain Cosmic from the planet Cosmos.  But come on, I knew it was him.

It was cheaper than taking me to watch “Star Wars” five more times, and my mother didn’t realize for months the host was that evil man from “Creature Features.”  I saw all three Flash Gordon serials with Larry “Buster” Crabbe.  Tons of Japanese science fiction.  Cool segments about upcoming sci-fi, real-life robots, astronomy, and books.  He encouraged kids to read, to explore, and have fun.  Until my mom figured it out, it was bliss.

Even at that age, I could tell Bob Wilkins wasn’t really into all these genre stuff.  But he knew how to befriend an audience, no matter the age or background.  And he showed people of all ages how to find the worst in a bad situation … even if your girlfriend did accidentally feed herself to a rampaging carpet from outer space.

So yeah, for reasons even I don’t fully understand, there’s a five-year-old kid inside me that ranks Bob Wilkins right up there with Santa Claus and Captain Kangaroo.  And I’m not the only one.

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