Monday, July 28, 2008

Tom Hatten and Elvira

When I was growing up in El Paso, my family had cable TV. The best part of cable TV was that our basic package included some Los Angeles stations that I watched regularly. I think we had four LA station - KTTV (Channel 11), KTLA (Channel 5), KHJ (Channel 9) and some other station I can't recall now. It was through KTLA and KHJ that I learned to love old movies (and despise Cal Worthington and his dog Spot).

Tom Hatten hosted about 10 hours of KTLA programming every weekend. On Saturday & Sunday mornings, Hatten would host The Popeye Show. Hatten would show 1930's vintage Popeye cartoons. I became familiar with the Fleischer Brothers from Hatten's encyclopedic knowledge of Popeye. Hatten, seemed to an adolescent, to be an accomplished sketch artists as he would free-hand various Popeye themed drawings during the commercial breaks.

Hatten's program introduced me to the old Popeye cartoons (Bluto vs. Brutus), Betty Boop, Bimbo and other cartoons that I never see anymore.

Later, I would learn that Hatten had hosted a weekday, after school, children's program on KTLA since the 1950's. By the time I found him on weekend mornings, he was winding down his career at KTLA.

More influential on me was The Family Film Festival that Hatten hosted on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The concept was similar except Hatten didn't doodle and the studio & wardrobe were not nautical themed. Hatten would share tidbits on classic films during commercial breaks. It was this series that introduced me to the films of the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, and many others. A quarter century later, I can still remember Brian Donlevy positioning corpses on the ramparts at the end of Beau Geste, a infectious little ditty titled "Everyone Says I Love You" that all four Marx Brothers sang in Horse Feathers, seeing Hope and Crosby in all seven Road movies and thinking Dottie Lamour was one hot little number (former Miss New Orleans). I haven't seen any of those films since then but I can still remember certain scenes vividly.

Over on KHJ (Channel 9), they had a movie host that couldn't have been more different than Tom Hatten. I am of course referring to Cassandra Peterson; better known by her stage name - Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Before she became a national phenomenon, Elvira hosted a horror movie program called Movie Macabre on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. During the commercial breaks, Elvira would perform comedy skits and lampoon the movie. I recall her black gown plunged all the way to her waist and her two rather impressive talents. It wasn't just Elvira that caught my attention, the movies stuck in my mind. At the time, they were probably known as grind house films although I was not familiar with that term at the time. She also spoke with a Valley Girl accent that I didn't pick up on until the song came out a year or two later.

I recall seeing Count Yorga, Vampire, Willard, one with Bill Shatner and Ernest Borgnine where they had black eyes like the victims in The X-Files many years later, I think I saw one with Clint Eastwood set during the Civil War where some women amputate his leg against his will, and a English gothic picture with strong hints of incest. These films I don't recall quite as vividly as Hatten's films.

They don't show films like that anymore. Maybe AMC shows some of the films The Family Film Festival showed but I don't see them often. When was the last time you saw Paleface on TV?

Last year at Hole in the Head, they screened a documentary called American Scary. It turns out every major city had a local horror movie show on Friday & Saturday night...every major city except El Paso! Until I moved to the Bay Area and heard about Creature Feature, I thought Elvira and Los Angeles were the whole enchilada. It's a bittersweet realization that Hatten and Elvira probably couldn't exist in today's world of corporate ownership, focus groups, and PC groupthink.

Now that I think about it, I think one of those LA stations showed Our Gang shorts by Hal Roach. I can't remember the last time I saw Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla and the rest of the gang.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I also was completely movie schooled by tom hatten's family film festival and now have been sharing those great movies with my teen. but i was a very little girl and can't remember a favorite film i would love to re-watch with my daughter. I two children who enter a big large tree and it was a doorway to another land, I remember it was black and white and maybe had mickey Rooney in it. I wish I could find the name. Thanks Rebeckaovisat@yahoo.com

Lisa said...

I'm so happy to read comments from viewers who loved "Family Film Festival" -- I used to be Program Director for KTLA from 1977 - 1988 and was so proud of that franchise. We appreciated classic films long before AMC and TCM, though I did end up leaving KTLA to go to Turner and did work on the start-up of TNT and TCM and programmed them for many years. What was particularly great about being in L.A. was that Tom was able to get many of the still-living stars to come on and guest with him -- what a great opportunity. I doubt those tapes are still extant -- some idiot probably threw them out -- but it was Hollywood history at its best and we certainly were so pleased to present the movies. We had a good classic library and were able to program it without much interference, mainly because people actually DID watch the movies! Thanks for this great blog! As for that movie with the kids, I'm trying to think what it might be. We had an extensive old Paramount library, but I can't think of what the movie is. If I do, I'll come back and post the answer!

Anonymous said...

One of the things I loved about The Family Film Festival, and remember years later, is the many strange international animated cartoons. I've remembered so many films that I wanted to see again that I had only seen on The Family Film Festival. I really really wish that someone would post an online listing of all the movies featured on the show. I realize it is a big request since it ran for so long, but I think the attempt should be made. There are so many people who watched the show and were influenced by it and who have been searching everywhere for the elusive shows that they once saw on it. It would be an invaluable online resource for a great many people and I'm sure many would like to help contribute to making it possible.

Kevin H. said...

Hi, I've been trying to remember the name of the intro song on Fasmily Film Festival. I believe it was a 70's hit. If anyone knows what the song was, please email me at hinckleyunited@hotmail.com. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think the theme song for the early years of Tom Hatten's Family Film Festival was called "Reminiscing" by the Little River Band circa 1978. If anyone knows different, email morelle73@aol.com. Missing those old times with host Tom Hatten showing Popeye and other family programming on KTLA!

Mike said...

Tom also hosted the Little Rascals, it was similar to Family Film Festival, he would talk about it then turn on the projector. I remember as a kid also late night 2am tv would show old B&W movies, it is too bad those slots all went to infomercials.

Terrance T said...

KTLA had the best programming in the Golden West era and Tom Hatten's Popeye Show and the Family Film Festival was not exception. It was Tom Hatten that introduced me to the original Sweedish (but dubbed) Pippi Longstocking films, Disney's Treasure Island, Rascal Dazzle and many many others. I was lucky enough to rummage through thrift shops to find old used blank VHS tapes to find some footage of Tom and even some of the movies. In addition, Tom Hatten also did a rare KTLA Movie Theatre appearance and interviews during a showing of the Gold Diggers of 1933.

And Elvira (Cassandra Patterson) was very memorable on KHJ's Movie Macabre. I wish I was old enough to see the films she aired back then.

Thank goodness I found those VHS tapes when I did and that they were NOT erased.

Anonymous said...

Loved Family Film Festival and would love to see a list on the internet of the movies that were shown on that TV show.

Anonymous said...

ah, those were the days! whats terrible is back then LA only had 12 or 13 channels(including the spanish stations) yet the things on TV were more enjoyable. reality TV was the news, and it wasnt the sensationalistic crap that now passes for the news. talk shows were great. merv griffin,dick cavett and mike something or other. stars were glamouruos,larger then life, and had something that really doesnt exist in hollywood these days. class and talent. as for hatten yes saturdays and sundays were great for a kid. especially sundays. rascal and stooges from 5:00 am to 7:00 am. popeye,tom slick,george of the jungle,super chicken. and thats just what i remember. 7:00am to 10:00am then the family film festival which showed films of all kinds but the ones i loved the most were the animated of all kind that havent been seen since that show went off the air. also afternoon tv was great as well. good cartoons and beloved old sitcoms. gilligan,genie,f-troop and all the others that dont come to mind. tv wasnt the vacuous wasteland for the retarded masses it is now. oh yeah and great classic cartoons in the afternoon. not the cheap crap being imported from the countries that are known for making products as cheap and shitty as possible, japan and korea. the children born in the last 20 years dont realize how much they missed out on. great tv was a great treat because everything wasnt at your fingertips and you had to wait for the best. i could go on and on down the nostalgia highway but melancholey threatens to overwhelm. for all you who were lucky enough to be born 35 or more years ago, thank God for the memories.

Airworks Studio said...

Ah... the memories! Tom Hatten's programing and cartoon drawing had an enormous effect on me. I pursued becoming an artist because of him. It was probably the middle to late fifties that I watched religiously and even through high school years on KTLA. What I remember most, though, were short clips of strange Czechoslovakian or Hungarian animation films that were shown as well as some sort of animated cartoon about two southern crows which would not sit well in today's PC climate. Incredible stuff for the time, though. The Our Gang clips brought a whole other generation into the mix along with the classic Popeye cartoons. What a time!... what a time!

shoulder_actions said...

does anyone have a list of films from the ktla FFF there are so many movies id like to see again i cannot find anything even remotely related to the FFF's film roster.

Diana said...

Does anyone have a list of the movies. I want to find the mother goose movie with the crooked back man and the animated movie with monster like characters and a boy who falls in love with fransceca Email me if you know the names of these movies. Frostedrosepetal@aol.com.

Kari Girarde said...

Tom Hatten was such a huge part of my childhood. I remember my mom yelling for me to go outside, but I stayed glued to the TV because of Tom.

Diana, The boy who liked Francesca is Mad Monster Party.You can pick it up on DVD or digitally.

There's a cartoon he used to show. I believe it was of Russian fables. I think there was a phoenix and singing. There was some big scene in the ocean. I know this is vague, but if anyone remembers please let me know.

ForHisGlory Psalm91 said...

Loved, loved, loved Family Film Festival....Some of my favorite movies were, "The Wonders of Aladdin, The Thief of Baghdad, Gulliver's Travels." I think there was a movie where it was about some princesses turning into geese or something... can't remember. Robinson Crusoe on Mars, many more. Wish they had the titles listed somewhere..... Such good memories.