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Traumafession:: Senski on Gold Key Comics and Gloomy Sunday Suicides

March 18th, 2015 · 4 Comments

I’ve written before about how comic books were my gateway drug into the harder horror of movies, television and literature. While my parents would buy funny cartoon animal titles for me when I was all of two, it wasn’t until I turned six and made my initial forays into fright with comics from Gold Key (formerly Dell, often referred to as Western Publishing). They had a trio of terror titles: Ripley’s Believe It or Not! (presumably true tales of ghosts, demons, uncanny occurrences), The Twilight Zone (stories that would not have been out of place on Rod Serling’s classic series) and Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. That book started life in 1962 as Thriller, undergoing a name change for its third issue after the cancellation of the TV namesake. “Tales of Mystery” was somewhat of an undersell and a misnomer, as most stories dealt with giant monsters and hideous aliens that would not have been out of place in a 1950’s Creature Feature. The three books were great gobs of fun, all managing nearly two decades of publishing life (no small feat for a comic book.) With their sophisticated painted covers, they looked classy on the newsstand next to their Marvel and DC counterparts.

The Gold Key titles did not bear the voluntary Comics Code Authority seal due to an implicit agreement publishers had that their content would be both benign and educational. Other Disney characters and licensed TV franchises could be found between the pages of Gold Key comics, and certainly Donald Duck and Gunsmoke would never offend, right? (This self-policing was spotty on occasion. The 1970 cover of BKToM #32 featured a gorgeous canvas of the living dead emerging from the sea; the Code strictly forbade the depiction of zombies, and Code-stamped Marvel/DC would never have been able to get away with such artwork.)

As to that “educational” element…all three horror titles featured a text page that was devoted to the exploration of strange real life phenomena; ESP, weird weather, ghosts in the White House, etc. Kids were expected to read, dammit, and the Gold Key titles delivered a lot of bang for only 15 cents.

Which brings me to the point of this Traumafession…

Published in the Fall of 1968, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #24 was only my second issue of the title, and I was already quite hooked (with that stunning George Wilson cover painting, who wouldn’t be?). But the text page for that issue was not only educational, it was deeply unnerving. Entitled “Melody of Death,” it told the history of the tune “Gloomy Sunday,” which soon after its creation had become known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song” due to its legendary propensity to inspire self-destruction in those who heard it. The song was composed by Rezső Seress in 1933 but didn’t achieve notoriety until recorded by Billie Holiday in 1941. It has been rumored to be a factor in dozens of suicides worldwide; indeed, its vocal version was banned by the BBC for its fear of contributing to public depression, a ban that was in place until 2002!

Well, that was terrifying to me. Imagine a song that held such malevolent power! And the fact that it was not readily hearable on the public airwaves only gave credence to the legend. I became that little boy in the article who was happily bicycling along, enjoying life, only to encounter the strains of “Gloomy Sunday”…and fling myself into the river! How could such evil be allowed to exist in the world? And the ultra-creepy accompanying illustration (by Joe Certa, who would fittingly go on to draw Barnabas Collins and cohorts for Gold Key’s Dark Shadows) didn’t help matters. That poor woman!

As fate would have it, I never heard a version of “Gloomy Sunday” until 1984, when ex-J. Geils Band vocalist Peter Wolf released his first solo LP “Lights Out,” but by then I was quite sanguine over the affair and wondered what the fuss was all about. And now, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, we can hear numerous cover versions by everyone from Ray Charles to Björk. But they all pale in comparison to what my childhood imagination concocted…all from the pages of a comic book.

Oh, and composer Rezső Seress? He died in 1968 – the year I read this article.

Suicide.

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Tags: The Amazing Senski · Traumafessions

Traumafession:: Senski on a Seat Belt Public Service Announcement

August 18th, 2014 · 3 Comments

Well, it’s been over two years since I posted about two PSAs that left an indelible mark upon my wee psyche but they stubbornly remain unearthed. I’ve since found some internet confirmation on the former’s creepiness, with one additional detail; a solemn narrator who repeatedly intoned, “Someone left their keys in the car…” So to spur your readers into digging once again on my behalf, I offer this PSA from the same period (I swear this and the joyriding one would often air in succession) that is sublimely eerie – and to the best of my knowledge it has never appeared on Kindertrauma!

The stentorian tones of Jack Webb take a whole minute (doesn’t that seem long today?) to warn viewers of the dangers of forgetting to use seat belts while driving. Some unsettling flutter-cut editing flashes forward to revealing the painful consequences for three negligent drivers – I always expected the guy on the beach to be shown in a casket – but it’s the sound effect that pushes this one into trauma territory for me. It’s a tympani roll, but one that’s cut off in mid-crescendo and not allowed to naturally trail off. Even the best percussionist couldn’t recreate this tone, and by pulling the plug on the roll, it stops the viewer short. Not unlike a car crash…

Judging from the comments this has received on YouTube, it seems to have made the same impression on others of my era. And that lady was so nice to brew a pot of coffee for us; so sad what happened to her..

.

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Tags: The Amazing Senski · Traumafessions

Name That Trauma CONFIRMATIONS :: Reader Simminy on “Another Man’s Family”

August 11th, 2014 · 2 Comments

Hi:

I can confirm that Tom P. from 3/12 and JLP from 2/10 are both haunted by the same vintage fire safety film as I am, which I learned today is called “Another Man’s Family.” Thanks to Kindertrauma, after 40 years I now know that I didn’t imagine it.

It’s available on YouTube, although the quality is extremely poor… but you can still watch the whole family drop dead one by one in their blazing home and then see the fire department rake the ashes of the kid’s toys in the morning.

Oh yes, perfectly suitable to show to a classroom of 10-year-olds in 1972.

Gahhhhh……!

Cool site!

— Simminy



AUNT JOHN SEZ: Thanks Simminy for finally putting the fire out on this lingering Name That Trauma. The video is available in three parts on YouTube (PART 1, PART 2, & PART 3), but as Simminy cautions, the quality is quite poor. I recommend muting the sound and playing “Burning Down the House.”

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Amazing Senski suspected “Another Man’s Family” in the comments on JLP’s initial Name That Trauma, but the video was not available on YouTube at the time of his posting. Thanks Senski!

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Tags: Name That Trauma! · The Amazing Senski · Traumafessions

My Night Gallery Traumafession By Senski

January 20th, 2014 · 9 Comments

This Traumafession is likely to go on a bit, guys; please indulge me.

I was born in 1962, too young to be a fan of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Since I was raised in a small town, and in the era before cable, I was severely limited by what I could see in syndication; for almost two decades that television institution that was TZ eluded me, and I would not see my first episode until I was almost 20. However, I was a regular reader of Gold Key’s entertaining TZ comic book – a title I began collecting when I was five. Through its illustrated pages I discovered that every tale was presented by a dapper man named Rod Serling, much in the same way that horror comics were graced by hosts in prior decades. Was he a writer? Director? Actor? I did not really know, but I knew he was associated with all things eerie and fantastical, and that made him a kindred spirit to me.

Then one day in 1969 I was flipping through the pages of a TV Guide – how exciting it was to see what entertainments lay in store for the week ahead! – and there, eight days after Halloween, was a highlighted box promoting a new TV movie named Night Gallery – hosted by Rod Serling! Missing it was unthinkable. I can still remember being curled up on the end of our old green sofa, pillow at the ready to stick in front of my face. The gentleman on the screen looked a little older than the one drawn in the comics; the hair a bit more modern, the skin more lined and leathery, but it was him. And with a voice like he possessed, how could he present anything BUT the weird and wonderful? The first tale,”The Cemetery,” was simply the most frightening thing I had seen in my life up to that point. I stayed awake for “Eyes” but had to be trundled off to bed by the end of “The Escape Route;” I was slipping in and out of sleep.

But I knew this: I was mesmerized. And my devotion to Mr Serling began in earnest on November 8, 1969.

When NG returned to NBC’s schedule in 1970 as part of the “Four-in-One” concept with a mere six episodes, I was ready, and far better at fending off sleep till the end of an episode. For the next three years, NG would become perhaps the greatest pop cultural touchstone in my life. My friends and I would reenact episodes on the playground, quote lines from Serling‘s intros (The Doll: “…and this one you’d best not play with”), and I, little nerd that I was, always got to play Television Horror Anthology Host. When we had to write plays for a 4th Grade class, I wrote a NG episode about a demonic hotel guest who refused to check out – and the painting was a Crayola masterwork of said demon hovering over the Planet Earth. I looked up the stories by the authors featured on the show, beginning a love for short supernatural fiction that has remained undimmed by time. I can point to incidents in my life that occurred on evenings dedicated to viewing NG, so transfixed are those moments in the mind’s eye. In fact, as I type this, I am sitting beneath a print of Tom Wright‘s painting for “She’ll Be Company For You.”

Night Gallery made me who I am. It defines Horror for me. I am unabashed in my love for the series (with the exception of the humorous vignettes). It genuinely grieves me to hear how Serling was mistreated during the series run and how he largely disowned the enterprise, but when it was good – and that was often – it was brilliant. And if, heaven forfend, there are any Kinderpals who are not familiar with NG, start with The Caterpillar, The Sins of the Fathers, Green Fingers, Certain Shadows on the Wall, The Class of ’99…so many delights await.

But that is not the subject of this Traumafession.

At some point in the production of the series, Jack Laird filmed what we in the TV business would call B-roll (secondary footage) for inclusion. It consisted of a number of disembodied heads, dressed in black, and shot against a black backdrop; you can see some of these faces worked into the opening credits for the first and second seasons. But he also used a montage of these heads at the station break; the time for affiliates to sell local commercials. Backed up by a faster version of the main title theme, and obscured by the show’s title, I found these faces to be terrifying. I could not watch as the music played, finally peeking when the piece had climaxed. At 9:30 every Wednesday night I was trained to look away. To the best of my knowledge, this footage has never been included as supplementary material on any of the NG DVD releases, and has been unseen by the public for decades…until now.

Freshly posted to YouTube just a little over a month ago, these “bumpers” are back. According to the poster, they were courtesy of a gift from authors Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, whose book Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour is not only the definitive volume on the show, but is a benchmark for how books covering a television series in-depth should be written. Scott and I communicated years ago on a forum dedicated to the show, and I was delighted to provide him with the printed stories behind several NG eps, for which he sent me a multi-CD set of music from that show that I treasure. Now at last I can see exactly what frightened me: Face Number Two. I imagined that bizarrely androgynous visage appearing over me while I slept, and woof! Sleep no more. There are three bumpers: 1) The full cut; 2) A tighter edit that eliminates the final face and speeds up the music; 3) The rather dull backdrop of gallery paintings backed by Eddie Sauter’s shrill Season Three theme.

Enjoy. And thanks for reading!

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Tags: Special Guest Stars · Telenasties · The Amazing Senski · Traumafessions

Traumafession:: Senski on Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey”

July 27th, 2013 · 5 Comments

Although it’s routinely pilloried as one of the worst singles of all time, Bobby Goldsboro‘s #1 song from 1968 – “Honey” – has always given me the creeps since childhood. The five weeks it spent in the top chart position were nestled between the dual assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, a vulnerable time indeed for America, and one during which you can certainly imagine the nation turning to a song about (possibly) suicide and (definitely) grief. But it was an infamous performance on a comedy show that made it temporary nightmare fodder for me.

At face value, the song’s lyrics about a husband mourning the passing of his wife do not portray him in a very sympathetic light; he laughs at her foolishness, accidents and stupidity when he probably should have been paying closer attention to a deeper problem. Some have conjectured the song’s subject was suffering a terminal disease (this was two years before Eric Segal‘s “Love Story” would become a best-seller) but in later years I’d come to picture Honey taking her own life. I prefer to interpret it thus for two reasons: 1) The narrator implies he wants to join her in death but is too cowardly to do so (I’d love to be with you / if only I could), and 2) the song returns to the beginning at the close, as the husband is trapped in an endless cycle of grief. Yes, it’s schlocky in retrospect, but at the time it was chilling. I see Honey as a fragile, willowy flower child, a free spirit easily crushed; think Mia Farrow.

Cut to a random Sunday night in the Senski household, where “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” was a weekend staple. The edgy variety show must have decided that the song was ripe for taking down a few pegs, and decided to invite Goldsboro to sing it on air. But there was a catch; the producers decided to stage a series of tableaux, each depicting a scene from the lyrics (a smashed car, a planted twig, etc) with Goldsboro wandering around the set. The most vivid memory for me was a box of tissues – one partially removed from the slot – and used ones littering the floor, as though a ghost had been seated at the kitchen table, weeping. Now, keep in mind that I was not quite five and hadn’t truly grasped the concept of suicide. My mind considered three possibilities, all very unsettling:

1) The man had left his house exactly as it was the day she died or disappeared, however long ago this may have been;

2) Honey had been mysteriously taken away by the song’s “angels” for reasons I did not know, or;

3) Honey was still there as a ghost haunting the house.

Goldsboro has said in later interviews that the show received a tremendous amount of mail, most of it negative, for trying to put a humorous spin on a song about tragedy. I didn’t think it funny at all, and though I have not viewed this in almost 45 years, I can still picture those Kleenexes as though grasped by a phantom hand. I’d love for someone to unearth a video of this musical staging, or learn if anyone else saw this and experienced a severe case of gooseflesh.

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Tags: The Amazing Senski · Traumafessions