WHO IS SAMMY TERRY?
Sammy Terry was (and still is every once and a while) the Horror Movie Host on WTTV Channel 4 Indianapolis/Bloomington, IN. In the '60's through the '80's Channel 4 did a great deal of original programming for children--in the noon hour there was Cowboy Bob, after school (and later in the morning) there was Popeye and Janie, and, perhaps most fondly remembered by many, there was Sammy Terry on late-night Fridays. Many of us can thank Sammy for first introducing us to the films of Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney Jr., and the gang. Sammy began appearing somewhere between 1961 to 1963, depending on which source you consult, and at the time the programming was the same "Shock Theatre" package that many stations had purchased during the period (the t.v. horror host phenomena was sparked by L.A. horror hostess Vampira and N.Y.C. host Zacherley in the '50's; in Indianapolis Sammy was preceded by Selwin on Channel 8-- see the Selwin Family Crypt for more info).
Sammy is played by Bob Carter, a native of Decatur, Illinois who started his broadcasting career after obtaining a degree in radio at Decatur University and a Masters in television at Syracuse University. One notable early credit for Bob was a brief stint as a replacment for Dick Clark on American Bandstand. In the '50's he came to work as a disc jockey at a Ft. Wayne, IN station owned by Hoosier broadcasting pioneer Sarkhes Tarzian. It was during that time that he may have inadvertantly invented the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger lickin' good" while doing an ad-libbed live promo for the product. In Janurary 1961 Bob went to work at Tarzian's Bloomington-based WTTV Channel 4, performing a variety of jobs, including producer and announcer. For a time he became the face of WTTV in the mornings, hosting a 3-hour daily marathon called "Coffee with Carter" (see the Sammy Gallery for a 1961 article about Bob from this period). Later the station picked up the "Shock" package that had been dropped by WISH. According to the book Television Horror Movie Hosts by Elena Watson (MacFarland and Co., 1991), Sammy Terry began as a "crazy voice" that accompanied still photos which appeared between the films and commercial segments (according the Andrew Duncan's Many Pleasant Nightmare, Sammy Terry the monster photos had been clipped out of books borrowed from the Indianapolis Public Library!). The show's sponsor "liked the voice so much he requested that Carter introduce the commercials". Sammy Terry later was established visually as a hooded, skull-faced character who lived in a castle dungeon and rose from his coffin each Friday night (it took awhile for all of this to develop--tape of a very early Sammy shown on the WTTV 50th Anniversary special in 1999 showed that Sammy basically had no set at all to begin with). The show was originally called Shock Theatre, which was later changed to Nightmare Theatre, appropo of Sammy's tagline "may you have many pleasant nightmarrrres." The earliest shows were broadcast live and, according to some who saw them, probably largely ad-libbed.
Sammy, who told the worst jokes on earth, had a very eerie, and yet somehow homey, quality about him. Sort of like if you had a ghoul for an uncle who wore playtex gloves with red and blue veins draw on them in El Marko. (If you haven't yet got the joke, his name is an anagram for "cemetery".) While comedy was a big part of the show, many who have compared Sammy to other horror hosts over the years have remarked that he is spookier than most (an article about him several years ago in Fangoria magazine was entitled "Not Just Another Silly Horror Host"). Unlike Zacherley, Sammy rarely ridiculed the movies, preferring to basically ignore the particularly awful ones, or play up their scarier aspects.
Your friendly webmaster began his Sammy watching around 1969, when a friend clued me in about the show. At the time they were showing the usual mix of B-grade horrors, including many a Mexican monster movie. I've been told the Sammy you would have encountered in the early '60's was somewhat different from the character we knew by 1969--the photo in the T.V. Guide ad on the opening page of this site, for instance, shows a very thin Sammy with a cigarette in a long holder (also shown in the early tape on the 50th Anniversary program--Sammy apparently kicked the habit as time went on--perhaps it wasn't considered a good image to present to the kiddies).
Nightmare Theatre had a number of other characters, the longest running of which was his pet spider, George. George was a rubber arachnid swinging from a string, who would talk to Sammy in a Cousin-It-esque babble. There were a number of other characters over the years, including a servant named, Ghoulsby and more than one ghostly female (in the '80's version a ghostly woman was part of the opening who referred to Sammy as "my love"). Earlier characters included The Boogeyman, portrayed by Howard Phillips (a local second-hand record store owner) and a woman servant named Wilameana. Also, in the '80's version, a castle could be seen through one of the dungeon's windows. A witch was supposed to live in the castle, whose laugh would resound through the dungeon, though I don't believe she actually showed up in person. Producers were not above injecting a little sex appeal into the program, and an attractive, but less ghostly, female or two would occasionally drop in. Among the long running gimmicks on the show were Sammy's enjoyment of his favorite beverage, a "Type O" cocktail, (sometimes pouring out of thin air into his cup) and Sammy's "rocking chair", actually stagehand covered in a sheet who caused the back of this "chair" to rock back and forth on it's own. Sammy also had a story concerning the skull-medallion he always had around his neck. Supposedly it was the shrunken skull of a Watusi warrior who had been his companion many years earlier when he was traveling in Africa (shades of Jungle Selwin!). Obviously somewhere along the way headhunters had gotten ahold of this poor soul.
Once in awhile Nightmare Theatre would do a theme show. For example, being as our big local attraction is a race of some sort, one year they had "Sammy at the Track". Sammy's coffin was chroma-keyed onto a backdrop of the stands racing by so it looked like he was in the race (my big complaint with that one was that they showed movies about the 500 instead of horror movies that weekend). He also regularly read fan mail on the air and I can remember being thrilled a couple of times when he'd read my (admittedly very badly written) letters. Sammy had a fan club (probably more than one), and made offers of photos, posters, and t-shirts over the years. Another promotion which many have remembered fondly is a "wall walking spider" offered through the show in the '80's.
Sammy has made countless personal appearances over the years, both to publicize the show and for charity. During my own teen years I saw Sammy in person twice--once at a local highschool, and once at the Marion County Fairgrounds (the Fairgrounds show was televised). His live shows are a mix of bad magic and bad jokes, but audiences eat it up. One perennial bit is story about a mysterious menacing coffin that was defeated by using Smith Bros. drops: "guaranteed to stop coffin". Another well known stunt is a magic trick involving a guillotine. Shows are often followed up by an autograph session.
After the run of Nightmare Theatre ended around 1976 Sammy was off the air for a few years. According to the Watson book Bob left his full-time television work at this point in order to start-up the music store he owns, Family Music, which he has operated on Indy's east-side for over twenty years*. Many fans have met Bob at the store, often remarking that even out of guise Sammy's penetrating voice is unmistakable. When Sammy returned to the airwaves in the mid-'80's the show was simply called Sammy Terry. The new version had all new sets and a new opening and music (one musical selection often used during the '80's run was from the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack). The '80's Sammy Terry show was directed by Bob Glaze, better known to Channel 4 audiences as the afternoon cartoon host, Cowboy Bob. The Sammy Terry credits would credit the director jokingly as Cowboy Boob, and many viewers, not realizing that Glaze actually was the director thought the Sammy crew was having a late-night laugh on the cartoon host (Glaze's involvement in Sammy Terry began much earlier, among his jobs early on was to follow around beneath Sammy with a light to provide an eery underglow for the ghoul's face. This was at a time when most of the people at WTTV, always the "little station" in the Indianapolis market, would basically do whatever job needed doing at the time.) The final run lasted into the late '80's. In the late '80's it was announced to the press that Sammy would be resurrected to appear on low wattage Channel 11, but due to problems gaining sponsers the station folded before the new program was ever produced (several sources mistakenly state that he did indeed appear on Channel 11, apparently on the strength of the press releases, and the fact that Channel 11's signal was so weak that few viewers were able to tune in to see if he was on or not. According to Dave Smith, who was a co-owner of the station, Bob Carter had agreed to do the show, and they went so far as to have Sammy's coffin brought to their studio from WTTV, but that was as far as it got--the show never actually went on the air). Sammy still makes occassional television appearances, the most recent being on WTTV in a loving re-creation of the show made in Halloween 1999 as part of the station's 50th Anniversary year celebration. Earlier in 1999 the station produced a 4 hour station retrospective which included some footage from shows past and an interview with Bob carter, to the best of my knowledge the first time he'd been on television, at least in many a year, out of his make-up. For several seasons he hosted a "haunted classics" radio show on Halloween and continues to make a few personal appearances during the October season.
This site is here simply to say thank you, Sammy for all the years of fun. We'd love to see you back!This section written in early 1997. Revised July, 1999 Re-revised August 2001. New revision October, 2002.
* Family music closed it doors for good in July, 2001--JDM.