Christopher Coffin, AKA Reed Pasternak AKA Reed Farrell, deserves to be mentioned with the biggest names in the history of B- Movie Hosts. Coffin hosted his movies from a wheelchair and when you combine that with his wry, erudite sense of humor and his aristocratic manner I think the best way to describe him would be as a combination of Sheridan Whitehead in The Man Who Came To Dinner and Ghoulardi. Or maybe I should make that a pre- Ghoulardi version of Ghoulardi, depending on what year you accept for CC’s premier.
I want to address the ongoing debate over exactly what year his program debuted. The advocates of a 1961 premier date contend that Coffin’s late night show, titled Theatre of Thrills, first went on the air in 1961 in Flint, MI, but didn’t get carried elsewhere in Michigan until February of 1963. A variation of that argument goes that the program debuted in 1961 but didn’t build a huge cult following and expand to Friday nights as well as Saturday nights until 1963, hence the skewed memories of the 1963 proponents. The DVD of Christopher Coffin clips that is floating around cites a 1961 – 1967 run for Pasternak’s time as the character.
As Christopher Coffin, Pasternak’s schtick went that he was “the guardian of the ghouls” and he would sit upright in a coffin to open Theatre of Thrills (but noteably was NOT supposed to be a vampire) but after his opening monologue and an introduction of the night’s fare, his subsequent host segments would feature him seated in his trademark wheelchair. C.C. referred to his audience as “my fiends” instead of “my friends” and described his existence as “a state of half-life”. In addition Christopher would often materialize or dematerialize at will like a ghost, as when he would “teleport” back to his coffin in order to read viewer mail.
Pasternak hosted his B-movies from his character’s sprawling castle, an illusion conveyed through back-screen projections of opulent surroundings as Chris switched locales for each host segment. In this respect he was like a forerunner of Fritz the Nite Owl, the legendary B-movie host who often used audio- visual trickery to present himself in all manner of settings, from subaquatic to extra- terrestrial to post- apocalyptic. Getting back to Chris, his castle was also populated by monsters who served as Coffin’s lackies, doing menial chores or helping him conduct experiments, so viewers could often see the likes of Frankenstein’s Monster sweeping out our host’s “stables”.
A graveyard set was constructed behind the studio, and various host segments would be set there while mummies and hunchbacks roamed around the tombstones or an occassional zombie would claw its way up out of a grave. My personal favorite clip of Christopher Coffin involves him outside by that cemetery, seated in the driver’s seat of an old-fashioned horse-drawn hearse. At the conclusion of the sketch the camera pulled back to reveal the hearse being pulled, not by horses, but by various crew members costumed as zombies.
Supposedly Theatre of Thrills got its start when station WJRT TV in Flint wanted to spice up the ratings for their late Saturday night movie show by adding a sarcastic host. Pasternak’s Christopher Coffin character became a huge hit, as movie hosts inevitably do, and by 1963 the Saturday night single feature at 11:30pm had expanded to a double feature on BOTH Friday nights and Saturday nights. Worldwide Home Furnishings was the major sponsor of the program but accounts vary as to Pasternak’s exact role with WHF and WJRT.
In the autumn of 1967 WJRT-TV switched from black and white broadcasting to color. It was decided that special effects for Theatre of Thrills that looked acceptable in black and white would look too unpolished in color, so the program and its memorable host were retired.
Christopher Coffin is one of the great unsung B-movie hosts and it would be terrific if additional footage of this unique host could be unearthed. There’s the fan compilation floating around and some youtube footage, but if anyone out there can add to the available Theatre of Thrills material I’ll gladly have their baby … and I’m a guy.