"THE AMAZING CRISWELL" TRIBUTE
INTRODUCTION: FORTY YEARS, TO SOME OF YOU READING THIS, may seem like a very long time. But, to me, the forty years between 1972, and, 2012, sometime seem to have gone by in "the blink of an eye". It was in July of 1972 that I met and became friends with Criswell.
Many of your memories of Criswell, if you have any, come from seeing him in the films of ED WOOD...one of Hollywood's strangest, and, most eccentric Writers/Directors/Producers. I would bet that, if you've seen Wood's most-famous production, "PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE", you remember Criswell as the one who introduces & narrates the film...especially the Intro where he states: "Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives."
True, Cris became better-known after being seen in Wood's films, but his career had started long before he met Ed Wood...and continued for many, many years after their collaboration. In real-life, he was a gentle, kind, creative, individual. Far from the flamboyant, audience-pleasing, persona he projected on-stage.
SO, IN THIS 40th ANNIVERSARY YEAR OF OUR MEETING, and the beginning of our friendship, I wanted to honor Cris with this special Tribute Page : I knew him. He was my friend. Fittingly, I want to share with you some of my thoughts, memories, and, insight, into this unique, very special, and talented entertainer: "THE AMAZING CRISWELL".
IT ALL BEGAN HERE...
HOLLYWOOD, JULY, 1972...
IN JULY OF 1972 I was on a "working vacation" in Los Angeles & Hollywood. I was Music Director & Air Personality at KAAY Radio in Little Rock at the time, and had flown out to visit my friend Don Pietromonaco (Johnny Rabbitt) , check-out some of the Radio Stations there, and see some of the Record Execs that I had contacts with as the MD at KAAY.
IT SO HAPPENED THAT on the evening of Friday, July 7th, Don & I were invited to have dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby, which was a true legendary Hollywood Landmark located at the corner of Hollywood & Vine. Now, I had seen the HBD many, many times when I had previously visited L.A., and when I lived in Hollywood...but, I never had the opportunity to dine there before.
The Hollywood Brown Derby opened on Valentine's Day, 1929. Through the years almost every major Hollywood Stage & Film actor, singer, entertainer, producer, director, agent, et al, had frequented there: Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, William Powell, Douglas Fairbanks, Rita Hayworth, Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwick, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Shirley Jones, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Glenn Ford, Jack Benny, George Burns, William Holden, Betty Grable, Ronald Reagan, Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby, Angie Dickinson, Jimmy Cagney, Randolph Scott, Sammy Davis,Jr., Bette Davis, John Travolta, Robert Taylor, Tom Mix, Caesar Romero...well, you get the picture. In fact, Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard at the Derby !
The HBD was, at one time during Hollywood's "Golden Age", the place to "see and be seen" among the Hollywood elite. And, I can tell you from personal experience, the aura & mystique that permeated the atmosphere of that hallowed building, drifted over me and wrapped around me like a heavenly vapor that night...I could truly feel I was in the presence of Legends.
ORAN WHITE & TRUSTIN HOWARD, our hosts for the night, were putting a new Comedy Album together entitled "The Groove World Of Trustin Howard". Also joining us, I was surprised to see "THE AMAZING CRISWELL" ! Criswell was a friend of Oran & Trustin's, and Don knew him too and introduced me. What a thrill is was, to say the least !
THE NAME "CRISWELL" SAYS IT ALL...
CRISWELL WAS WELL KNOWN in Hollywood circles, had lived there for years, was a writer, actor, announcer, entertainer, author, and, "predictor" of some of the most wildly-imaginative occurences and ideas that you've ever heard. They were, in a word: fantastic ! No matter how bizarre they sounded, they made you think..and that was the whole idea.
He cut a dashing figure in his black tuxedo with sequined lapels, a thick-mane of white hair - with a twirl in front - and, a voice and commanding presence, that made the dynamics of his appearance show he was in total-control.
During his career, Criswell had his own Radio & TV Shows, Newspaper & Magazine columns, acted in a number of movies filmed by Ed Wood, wrote three books, did many, many live appearances and shows, and, was a guest on "The Jack Paar Show", "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, the "Merv Griffin Show", and, many other shows, and had become known World-Wide.
He read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch daily for ideas on his predictions. His daily column "Criswell Predicts" was carried in over 300 Newspapers, and his Radio program of the same name was carried on over 85 Stations.
Cris claimed that 87% of his predictions had come true...but that was always debateable. One prediction that did shock the world though, was during an appearance on the "Jack Paar Show" in March, 1963: At that time he predicted that President John F. Kennedy would not run for a Second Term in 1964 due to something that would happen to him in November of 1963.
Other Criswell predictions that proved true were the deaths of Jayne Mansfield, and, Martin Luther King, Jr. And, correctly, he stated that Ronald Reagan would become Governor of California.
Although, with his Hollywood entourage, he could have been dubbed the first "Celebrity Psychic", Cris never called himself a "psychic"...but many of his predictions through the years were right-on the mark.
AN "AMAZING" CONNECTION...
AT DINNER THAT NIGHT, Cris and I engaged in some spirited conversation and found that we had a number of things in common: He, too, was an "only child"; His actual last name was King; In Astrology we were both Leo's (my birthday is August 13th, Cris was August 18th), and, this was a real shocker: When I lived in Hollywood, I lived in the historic Highland Towers Apartments, 1922 North Highland Avenue...guess what, during the early 1950's Criswell had also lived at the Highland Towers Apartments !
Coincidences? Maybe, maybe not...through the years, I've learned that sometimes people are brought into my life for a purpose, and the word "coincidence" doesn't always apply. Cris and I became good friends that night and felt a connection that was really solid. (That's the beautiful, classic, Highland Towers Apartment Building shown below on the left...a true part of Hollywood's legendary past.)
CRIS TOLD ME ABOUT a new book that he had written, "Criswell's Forbidden Predictions Based On Nostradamus and The Tarot", that would be published soon. I told him I'd love a copy of it, and he said that he'd not only send a copy of the new book, but a copy of his "Criswell Predicts: Your Next Ten Years" which he'd released in 1969. Cris and I exchanged addresses and he told me that he'd mention me in the August issue of the multi-page column that he wrote for "Fabulous Las Vegas Magazine".
It was getting late, the party broke-up, and on Sunday afternoon, July 9th, I was on my way back to Little Rock...with fantastic memories from one of the absolute best vacations I've ever had in my life: I'd gone from Little Rock to New Orleans for a few days, then to Nashville for a couple of days and the Stones Concert, and, then onto Los Angeles & Hollywood for over a full week ! One of the most unique and special times of my life. And, someday, I will write a complete story about all the fantastic, mind-bending elements, that made up those phenominal two weeks !
ASTROLOGY 101: THE HEART OF THE LION...
TRUE TO HIS WORD, as soon as the August 6, 1972 issue of "FABULOUS LAS VEGAS MAGAZINE" was published Cris sent me a copy...and, there in the very first column of his "Criswell Predicts" Section on Page 7, was a prominent mention of myself and KAAY Radio as headline for one of his predictions, saying that I was bound for good things ahead ! To say I was honored would be putting it mildly. (Ironically, a few short weeks after Cris' prediction, I had the job offer to leave KAAY/LR and move to the #5 Market, Detroit, and WDRQ-FM Radio.)
Criswell also, as promised, sent his 1969 volume "Criswell Predicts Your Next Ten Years"...which he kindly autographed.
I sent him a note thanking him, and on August 11th received a reply, plus info about his upcoming SoCal appearances, and a copy of the Premiere Edition of a new weekly column he was writting for the Los Angeles Citizen's News.
Now, let me tell you what a truly "Class Act" Criswell was: Cris actually typed every page of all of the correspondence that I got from him ! Further, in that first letter, he wished me (as a fellow-Leo) a Happy Birthday, said that they were throwing a big party at the Brown Derby for his August 18th Birthday...and invited me to fly out for it if I could.
FOR JUST A MOMENT HERE let me touch on the subject of Astrology. You may or may not believe in it...that's completely your choice. But, having studied it for most of my adult life, I do understand how most signs act, inter-act, with me...and I with them. More than anything, I know my "Leo-self", both strengths & weaknesses, to the fullest degree. That's why, when making new friendships - and keeping on-solid-ground my old ones - I'm aware of what the other "sign/signs" involved bring to the party, as well as what to expect from them in any kind of a relationship.
I was born on August the 13th at 1:52am...weighed-in at 7lbs.1oz. Now, I was supposed to be born on the 12th...but, even then, true to "Leo-form", I had issues with privacy & control. So, I delayed my introduction until the Morning of the 13th...much to the consternation of my Mother !
Now, Leo's, even though they can blend into almost any crowd or situation, are in many ways "loners". They sometimes need downtime, and their den, or their lair, is their refuge and safe haven during those periods. So, yes, to a Leo...his home is really his Castle. In addition, Leo's are a fixed "Fire Sign", and as such, are the most faithful & passionate members of the Zodiac. They also have an inate "primal instinct"sense of one another, and when friends with another Leo, well, Leo pals can become the best of buddies. It's almost like a private club.
SO IT WAS THAT CRISWELL AND MYSELF, two Leo's, found a kindred-spirit in each other, and his generosity and kindness was just a wonderful addition to the friendship. He had a big heart, and that was truly a reflection of our mutual Leonine Heritage.
( Oh, and, yes, that above "primal instinct" Info goes for male-female Leo connection's too. IN FACT, legend has it that if you place a Leo Male and a Leo Female in the same room, turn out the lights, and, lock the door...you'd better have a priest, a rabbi, and/or a minister on stand-by for what the results might be ! Passion & Romance drive "The Heart Of The Lion"...and, the sparks that would fly in the right atmosphere, could bring about long-lasting, permanent consequences ! )
OH, AND FOR THE LAST TIME, I'd like to address the rumor that myself, and my two other August the 13th Leo's - Alfred Hitchcock & Fidel Castro - sat around yearly on the 13th Day of August smoking some of Fidey's pure Cuban "Havana's" and viewing screenings of Hitch's "Psycho" & "The Birds" to celebrate our mutual Birthdays: No Comment.
HOLLYWOOD THE FIRST TIME: JULY, 1962...
MY FIRST TRIP TO HOLLYWOOD was in July, 1962. I was a young actor at the time, had an Aunt that lived in Fontana who had been begging me to come out for years. Before I went to visit her, I stayed in Hollywood for a few days to soak-in the atmosphere of what it had to offer. I also had wanted to visit the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts as I was seriously thinking about enrolling there.
I was truly entranced by the "magic" that could be felt throughout that whole region. I could feel it as my plane approached LAX and I looked out the window and saw all of the pink, blue, yellow, green, and every other pastel-colored kind of house & swimming pool that could be seen from the air, and the Palm trees, the freeways, the majestic buildings that were a part of the L.A. scene-a-rama !
It was like a Fantasy Land with it's blending of classic architectures both old & new: 1950's Post-War Moderne, some South West, some Art Deco, some still-there Art Nouveau, some modernistic "Googie" architecture...it was all there to be seen. As were its stucco-laden buildings, houses, apartments, and, its still erect custom-shaped buildings: The Original Brown Derby...shaped like a Derby; hot dog stands...shaped like Hot Dogs, etc. Palm trees and the breeze off of the Pacific Ocean that drifted inland...sometimes letting the scent of the salt-air waft into your olfactory senses. Movie stars that could be seen on the streets and freeways driving their Continental Mark II's, Caddies, Lincolns, Mercedes, BMW's, Ferrari's, Jaguar's, Thunderbird's, Custom-Built Imperial Limos, Rolls-Royce's & Bentley's, Maserati's, Alfa Romeo's...well, you get the picture.
There was also that ever-present "warmth of the California Sun" which brought out the females from the Hollywood/Los Angeles/Beverly Hills population in full-force. Seemingly everwhere you looked, they were dressed in their barely-there halter tops, and, then-in-vogue Capri pants worn so low on their hips, usually below the belly-button, that I dubbed them "navel-nippers". Then there were those ocean-touched sandy beaches with their beautiful, bikini-clad, long-legged, suntanned, Beach Boys-labeled "California Girls": Santa Monica Beach, Newport Beach, Balboa, Manhattan, Hermosa, Venice, Huntington, Laguna..."and the hits just kept on comin' " !
At night, the view from the Hollywood Hills looking down on L.A. was just breathtaking ! Millions of lights below that twinkled off-and-on, the lights of all those cars I just mentioned , crusing the streets and freeways, the neon signs of the Sunset Strip that flashed their invitations to come inside the hundreds of clubs & restaurants that dotted the landscape...again, this was truly a version of an earthly "promised land". I loved it. I knew I'd eventually have to be a part of it. There was no doubt in my mind.
IRONICALLY, ON THAT 1962 TRIP, I stayed at the iconic Hollywood Plaza Hotel on Vine Street...shown here on the left. It was just across-the-street, and down-the-street, from the Hollywood Brown Derby: The place where Criswell and I would meet in another July...exactly ten years later. Again, a premonition ? A quirk of fate ? A coincidence ? You decide. I already know.
CRISWELL: AT HOME IN HOLLYWOOD...
CRISWELL HAD LIVED IN HOLLYWOOD for decades, and, in the 70's, just as when I lived there in the 60's, much of "Old Hollywood" still existed. His Hollywood home & office address in those days was 6620 Selma Avenue, and he always invited me to come and visit.
We talked on the phone every so often, and he was always glad that I called. I think, at that time in his life, he was put-upon by many who just wanted to associate with him for what he did...not for who he really was. I knew exactly that same feeling, as in my profession, I encountered that sometimes on a daily basis. So it was also refreshing to share time with a fellow professional who I admired...and who respected me on the same personal-level that I did him.
One Saturday night a friend was at my apartment in Little Rock and I was telling her about Cris and what a truly nice, thoughtful, and, generous friend he was...and the fact that he, too, was a Leo. Well, that's all I had to say ! See, the lady in question was also a member of our Leonine Kingdom, and begged me to call Cris so that she could speak with him as well.
I was afraid it might be too late to call, but she swiftly reminded me that it was two hours earlier in L.A. So, call I did. Cris was home and said he was so grateful that I called as he was alone that night and ready for some good conversation !
I introduced my friend to him, and we passed the phone back-and-forth a number of times so that she & Cris could share some pleasantries. After a half-hour or so, we said our mutual goodbye's...and Cris now had another fan in L.R. ! And, a "Lady Lion" at that !
NOW HERE, AGAIN, IS WHAT A TRUE CLASS-ACT CRISWELL WAS: A few days after our Saturday night phone call, I got a letter from Cris. He had written it that next evening, thanked me for the call, expressed his pleasure in talking to both of us, said that he really appreciated some of the promotional ideas that I had mentioned to him, and that if we'd had the conversation in-person it could have gone on for hours !
In the letter, Cris stated that he'd had a really rough week doing shows for a SoCal Savings & Loan Association. He'd done two-shows-a-day at ten different theatres in a 150 mile radius that week and was just, as he put it, "...dog tired.".
1972 was also an Election Year, and he mentioned that, all-over the State of California, politician's were trying to get the "youth vote" on their side. (As I write this in October, 2012, we all know that History is repeating itself in this Election Year...just as it was 40 years ago !)
LITTLE ROCK TO DETROIT,1972: A MOVING EXPERIENCE...
JUST A SHORT TIME AFTER that late-night call with Cris, I got a call from my old friend Jim Brown who had become Program Director of WDRQ-FM in Detroit. He offered me a job there, and, as much as I loved KAAY, Little Rock, and all of my wonderful friends there, I just had to take him up on the offer. Detroit was the #5 Market in the country, and, professionally, it's a goal I had worked hard to attain...and I couldn't pass up the chance. So, by mid-September, there I was at WDRQ.
It all happened so fast that I hadn't had a chance to let Cris know, but after I got settled I did. He wrote back just after Thanksgiving, 1972, and said that he had just returned from three days in San Diego promoting the new book: "Criswell's Forbidden Predictions Based On Nostradamus and The Tarot". He noted that he'd promised to forward me a personally signed copy, and that he would do it shortly. For the remainder of 1972, he was to go to Palm Springs, and, Las Vegas, on promotional tours.
He was excited about my move to Detroit, said that he was scheduled to do the "Lou Gordon" TV show there in October, didn't because he had some conflicts at the time, but hoped to be in Detroit in early 1973 so that we could get-together then.
His thoughts on what I had done over the last few months, and the moves that I had made were: "When you make changes such as you have, it is a career in itself." How right he was !
RETURNING HOME TO KING MANOR,1973...
IF YOU'VE READ THE KSLQ-FM SECTION of this WebSite, you know that I left Detroit and returned to St. Louis in the Summer of 1973. Again, I notified Cris that I was returning to my "roots" after being away for many years, and, again, he was elated that I was "back home" and continuing in my profession where it had all started with my dream of being in Radio...all those years ago.
One night I called Cris and told him I had a surprise for him. He wondered what it was and I said: "You're not going to believe this, but I was always so impressed with your work that I just found something that I had saved in my Archives & Collection: It's a JULY, 1960, copy of the "ST. LOUIS GUIDE" that was distributed to Hotels, Motels, Restaurants, Newstands, etc. AND, it was the Premiere Issue that featured your "Criswell Predicts" Column, and featured your picture on the Cover ! "
IT STATED ON THE COVER: "Criswell...Whose Column "CRISWELL PREDICTS" Has Rocked America - begins on Page 6. Mr. Criswell has Appeared on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show" and Art Linkletter's "People Are Funny" Show Many Times - is Presently Seen and Heard on KHJ-TV at Los Angeles. "
Well, to say Cris was speechless, for once, would be an understatement. To this day, I didn't remember I had this magazine until one fateful night while going through my Collection ! But, when I did, I knew I had to share it with Cris, so I sent him a copy of the cover and his "Predictions" pages inside.
AS TIME WENT BY, my work schedule and the ramifications of a demanding profession took over. Sadly, I was out of touch with Cris for a few years and learned that he had passed away October 4th, 1982. Then, shortly after that, had to deal with the death of my own Father on April 9th, 1983.
For me to lose both of these within a few months of each other was extremely traumatic. My Dad was my Hero & a Saint; Criswell was a true friend & professional colleague. Neither could ever be replaced in my life.
SOME FINAL NOTES ON MY FRIEND: CRISWELL...
CRISWELL, as I've stated many times above, was a unique and very special person...both to me, and to those who knew him. He was born Sunday, August 18, 1907, and, passed-away Monday, October 4, 1982..and, in-between those dates, entertained millions of people the World over.
His name was Jeron Criswell King, but he claimed that at one time "King" and "Criswell" got reversed. He grew up in Indiana, and was part of a family of relatives that owned a funeral home. He said that, as a boy, he became used to sleeping in caskets in the storeroom, and, had at least one in his Hollywood home that he slept in occasionally.
ONE OF HIS CLOSEST FRIENDS was famous actress Mae West...who he predicted would someday be elected President of the USA on her "Pro-Space Travel" Platform. At that time he, Mae, and, George Liberace (brother to the famous pianist), would "take a rocket to the Moon !". Maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all...sounds like fun to me !
Even the legendary singer/songwriter/poet, Bob Dylan, was a fan of both supernatural healer, Edgar Cayce, and, Criswell. He once said that he thought Criswell "...had a great voice, and even better hair."
Criswell's career was long and varied. Much information about him is available on the Internet, so I won't repeat it all here. What I will do is tell you that I put this Special Tribute to him together so that you could read my "first hand" thoughts & memories about this very special person whom I was truly privileged to have as a friend.
He was always a true professional, a superbly kind and generous man, and, one who made a definite difference in my life because I knew him. I wanted to share some of my personal experiences with you to honor his memory...so he won't be forgotten.
I'LL CLOSE THIS 40th ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE to my friend with the words that Cris had printed on his personal stationery:
"May all your shattered dreams be mended overnight, and may all of the riches of the Universe be yours ! Always in your future, Criswell."
R.I.P. Cris...you made my life better by sharing yours with me.
Your friend, Jonnie King (October, 2012)
THE FILMS OF ED WOOD & CRISWELL...
"PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE"...
AT ONE TIME, it was called "the worst movie ever made", but through the years "PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE" has gained a Cult status that has raised it a bit above that.
Part of its mystique & popularity comes from Criswell's Introduction, Narration, and, Closing thoughts. It's original filming was completed in 1956, but it wasn't released until 1959. It is also noted for being the last film appearance of Bela Lugosi, who died during the filming.
(Above: Criswell, on the left, with John Breckinridge, the beautiful Joanna Lee, and, Dudley Manlove...some of the cast members of "Plan 9")
THE OTHER FILMS OF CRISWELL & ED WOOD: "NIGHT OF THE GHOULS", 1959, AND, "ORGY OF THE DEAD", 1965...
(Above Left: "Night Of The Ghouls", 1959; Above Right: "Orgy Of The Dead", 1965)
(Above Left: "Criswell Predicts From Now To The Year 2000", 1968; Above Center: "Criswell Predicts Your Next Ten Years",1969; Above Right "Criswell's Forbidden Predictions Based On Nostradamus And The Tarot",1972...books by Criswell. Photos from my personal collection.)
TIM BURTON'S "ED WOOD", 1994...
IN 1994, TIM BURTON, filmed a great Tribute to Ed Wood, Criswell, Bela Lugosi...and the entire Ed Wood "stock company".
Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie...the entire cast is just spot-on. Jeffrey Jones played Criswell and did a very credible job in the role. I watched his portrayal closely, and he worked very hard to get Criswell's persona into his characterization.
"ED WOOD" was released to the General Public on October 7, 1994. Martin Landau won both a Golden Globe, and, an Academy Award, for his superb, and uncanny, portrayal of Bela Lugosi. And, Special Effects/Makeup Wizard, Rick Baker, won an Academy Award for the fantastic makeup job that he did on Landau in the film.
CRISWELL'S 100th BIRTHDAY "CRISTENNIAL", 2007...
AT 7:00pm on August 18th, 2007, to honor Criswell's 100th Birthday, friends & fans from far-and-near gathered at the Piano Bar on Selma Avenue, close to Cris' old address, to pay their respects, have some fun, and, remember one of the most unique entertainers ever: "THE AMAZING CRISWELL".
SOME ITEMS FROM MY PRIVATE ARCHIVES/COLLECTION...
(Above Left: A 1946 Postcard showing the Brown Derby's four Los Angeles locations; Above Center: A 1972 Brown Derby matchbook; Above Right: A 1964 business card for the Highland Tower Apartments. All items from my personal collection.)
TWO WEBSITES THAT YOU'LL ENJOY:
"CRISWELL PREDICTS"...a cool site dedicated to Cris with Info, Audio, and, Video Links: http://www.criswellpredicts.com/
"THE ORIGINAL HOLLYWOOD BROWN DERBY"...a site that's dedicated to the History of the OHBD with plenty of Info & Photos: http://originalhollywoodbrownderby.com/
[SPECIAL NOTE: The Photos of the "Brown Derby" hat/logo, and, the "Original Hollywood Brown Derby" at the Top of this page, are Courtesy of The Original Hollywood Brown Derby, Ltd. All other Photos & Images on this page are Courtesy of their respective owners/copyright holders...with my sincere thanks.]