The Loss of a Local Legend
CREATURE FEATURES host Bob Wilkins Passes Away
Author: Bob Johnson
Thanks to: Tom Wyrsch, Aaron Cooper, Butch Portillo and Damon Foster
“Don’t stay up late, it’s not worth it,” Bob Wilkins warned as he would lean back in his yellow rocking chair, smoke wafting from his big cigar. But monster movie fans in Northern California stayed up with him every Saturday night anyway. From 1971 through 1979, Bob Wilkins brought the best and worst of fantasy, horror and science fiction to audiences throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, in the Sacramento Valley, and nationwide through KTVU’s status as a cable super station. His dry wit and deadpan humor won over audiences, and CREATURE FEATURES would often beat SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the local ratings.
On January 7, 2009 Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area lost one of its most beloved television icons after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Details can be found in the following press release.
Local fans, who kept the CREATURE FEATURES legacy alive years after it signed off for the last time on KTVU, all supported Bob and his family in many different ways with a passion unheard of for a local television personality. Bob touched the hearts and souls of fans like few could and he will definitely be missed.
Following the press release are some memories of Bob Wilkins from a few staff and friends of SciFi Japan.
BOB WILKINS, LOCAL TV PERSONALITY, DIES AT AGE 76
Bob Wilkins, born Robert Gene Wilkins on April 11, 1932, died January 7, 2009 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He died peacefully in a residential care facility in Reno, Nevada surrounded by family and in the care of Circle of Life Hospice Program.
Born to Robert and Inez Wilkins in Indiana, Bob grew up just east of Chicago in the working class neighborhood of Hammond. He was the oldest of seven children living in a rented two bedroom carriage house. Graduating from Hammond High School in 1950, Bob followed his father’s footsteps to work at the local steel mill then joined the US Army and served in Korea. Upon returning from service he enrolled at Indiana University with help from the GI Bill.
The first in his family to finish college, Bob graduated from IU with a love of college hoops and a degree in Marketing. He took his first job with the Chicago advertising agency, Post-Keyes-Gardner. After purchasing his parents and younger siblings a home, Bob moved west to California in 1964 and joined Sacramento’s KCRA Channel 3 as a writer and producer of television commercials. Catching the attention of station managers with his dry sense humor and command of an audience at a company retirement party, Bob was asked to host a late night movie for the station. They had an old library of horror films that was gathering dust. Bob chose for his first film, “Attack of the Mushroom People,” a low-budget Japanese film. He didn’t see how he could honestly tell people to watch it because he was sure they would turn off the TV and go to bed after the first few minutes. So he did the opposite, he told them not to watch it. He even had a TV Guide and told them what was on the other two channels. Monday morning the clients who had sponsored the show called in to management wanting to know what this young kid was doing on. The air telling viewers not to watch. Management covered for Bob, and the show’s unique format caught on. Bob hosted Seven Arts Theater on Channel 3 from 1966-1970, launching his career as a horror and science fiction movie host for a total of fourteen years.
Bob hosted the “Bob Wilkins Horror Show” on Sacramento’s Channel 40 from 1970-1981 and “Creature Features” on Oakland’s KTVU Channel 2 from 1971-1979. He also served Channel 2 as a weatherman and host of the kids’ show “Captain Cosmic and His Wonder Robot 2T2.”
The “Creature Features” show quickly became a tremendous hit. Each week the show began with a montage of clips from some classic horror films projected with a rousing them song. Bob’s shadowed outline seated in the famous rocking chair would emerge; strike a match to light a candle on top of a skull, from the candle light his trademark cigar and then the studio lights would come up. In addition to hosting movies from Channel 2’s wonderful film library, Bob had the opportunity to interview science fiction and horror actors who came through the Bay Area. Bob always treasured his interviews in particular with Larry “Buster” Crabbe of Flash Gordon Fame, Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff. Much of the phenomenon and success of Creature Features is chronicled in a recent documentary entitled “Watch Horror Films Keep America Strong” playing throughout California and available on DVD early this year.
Tiring from television’s demanding schedule, Bob left TV in 1981 and resumed his career in marketing opening his own advertising agency. He represented such clients as Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater and La-Z-Boy Furniture. His marketing experience took him to Reno, NV in the early nineties to work for John Ascuaga’s Nugget where he retired from in 1995.
Among Northern California fans of Bob’s shows he was beloved for his quick wit and “regular guy” persona. Behind the scenes Bob was known for his sincere interest in promoting the careers of people around him. Bob was less concerned with his own success preferring to recognize the talent and contributions of his co-workers and friends. Fans and colleagues alike have expressed gratitude for the influence and encouragement Bob and his shows provided.
Throughout his life, Bob was first and foremost a family man – taking care of his immediate family as well as looking after his extended family in Indiana. He was most proud of the education he and his wife were able to provide for their children and the opportunities those educations afforded. In the early years of Bob’s Alzheimer’s Disease he had the capacity to enjoy time reading and playing catch with his granddaughters as well.
Bob is survived by his wife, Sally of Reno, his son Rob of Oakland, his daughter and son-in-law Nancy and Tom Fitzpatrick, and their children Emma and Bridget of Sacramento, his sisters Nancy George, Linda Seth, Judie Chism, Sally Blevins and Sue Dorrance and his extended Indiana family, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law and their families as well as a beloved extended family of friends. Bob was predeceased by his parents and his sister Carol.
A Memorial Service celebrating Bob’s life will be held for family and friends on Saturday, January 24, 2009 at Montclair Presbyterian Church located at 5701 Thornhill Dr. in Oakland, CA. The service will be held at 2 o’clock with a reception to follow at the church. In lieu of flowers, guests are invited to send gifts of remembrance to the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada, 1060 La Avenida St., Mountain View, CA 94043 or to a charity of their choice furthering the education of children.
Fans of Bob Wilkins and “Creature Features” will enjoy visiting Bob’s website www.bobwilkins.net. A fan celebration of Bob’s career will be planned in the coming months. Details will be available on the website.
Aaron Cooper, SciFi Japan/Bay Area Film Events
I didn’t know who Bob Wilkins was during his initial CREATURE FEATURES run. I was Southern California born and bred and Elvira was my horror hostess mistress during the formative years of my youth when Bob was appearing as CAPTAIN COSMIC. Yet once I settled into the Bay Area and my passion would lead me down the path of hyping these crazy films I grew up with to a new generation, there was no way to avoid the influence of Bob Wilkins. I would end up meeting him at the Thrillville revivals and getting to know him and his successor John Stanley. A good friend and co-worker of mine would end up screening vintage Creature Feature clips during a film festival team-building exercise at our offices, to the delight of many people. We loved his droll sense of humor. He gave me one of my most favorite taglines: “Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong”.
One of the things I really liked about Bob’s persona was that it wasn’t kitschy. He was himself when he did the initial CREATURE FEATURES. Sure, fine, whatever, the kitsch came later in the CAPTAIN COSMIC persona but those initial years when everyone else insisted on dressing up as vampires, ghouls, goblins, ghosts, and masked whatevers, Bob Wilkins was Bob Wilkins, and he would introduce a film and be straight up about its merits (or lack thereof). I think that was one of the biggest influences on those of us that started Bay Area Film Events.
There’s one instance in particular I know Bob influenced me. When we did our gargantuan GodzillaFest in 2004, there was a mad flurry of films, special guests, interviews, promotions, and straight up hard work! At one point I was asked to do the introductions to a couple of the minor films during a matinee session. As I was preparing the intro for GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, I realized that for every bit of merit and entertainment value this film has, there’s also a good bit of really poor acting and continuity issues. Perhaps I should just be honest and bring that out. I recalled some of the intros Bob did during CREATURE FEATURES (“This film is so bad, it was delivered to us in a plain brown paper bag with no return address”) and figured it definitely would be the right thing to do. I believe the gist of my introduction included the fact that the film had some of the worst acting of Caucasian actors in a Japanese film but was still a lot of fun and hoped everyone enjoyed it. The audience got it; I got a laugh, got some praise for my skills from my cronies, and basked in my 15 minutes of fame.
Thanks Bob! You were one of the first, you were one of the best, and you will most definitely be missed.
Damon Foster, Oriental Cinema
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Bob Wilkins was really inspirational to me when I was a little kid. The movies & TV shows he played, and his humor really influenced me. Not only that, but many of my childhood friends were people I met because they too were fans of his TV broadcasts.
Hell, I remember watching the news when I was quite young (too young to understand KTVU’s newscasts), only because Wilkins was doing the weather report! In addition, Bob Wilkins struck me as being “the king of all media” when I was a child, because he was on the air in both the Bay Area and Sacramento.
I was born in Sacramento, where many relatives remained in the early 1970s. So I would watch his Bay Area stuff at home, and then when I visited relatives in Sacramento on holidays, I’d see him on TV there and it was completely independent of the Bay Area stuff!
When I was a child, Bob Wilkins seemed like an International Superstar who could be several places at once.
Loren Portillo, SciFi Japan/Bay Area Film Events
I received the news of Bob’s passing around 6pm that day, January 7th, from various sources. This day for me was meant for celebration. It was my 46th birthday and I was having dinner. As it turned out, that evening was full of grief and sorrow. Though the news of Bob’s passing was shocking, it was expected. Bob had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s for well over two years and I knew his health was failing. You always have it in the back of your mind somehow that Bob would be around more or dream of him some how pulling through this. Unfortunately reality sets in, as does real time too.
I was very fortunate to have met Bob as a kid during the early CREATURE FEATURES years. This was through many personal appearances Bob and successor John Stanley would make at film functions before Bob was diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s.
I first became aware of Bob Wilkins and his show CREATURE FEATURES like most kids did growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I loved monster movies and there were an abundance of TV programs that featured these types of films. Unlike a lot of other TV hosts that would appear out of character or in a costume, Bob would appear just as himself, Bob Wilkins your host of CREATURE FEATURES.
This is what made Bob unique. He personified the everyman TV show host and his audience felt and knew this. Bob was an incredibly honest host. He would tell his audience about what kind of film they were about to be tormented by and would often joke about it. Bob would inform you on what was playing on another station that was better than what they were showing! He had a great personality without trying to be loud or obnoxious. Bob never talked down to his audience, but let them in on the joke with his dry sense of humor. He took his job serious, but with light-hearted appeal.
When CREATURE FEATURES appeared on the scene in 1971, Bob was already a TV host veteran having a similar show in Sacramento along with his experience at KTVU channel 2 Oakland/San Francisco. This knowledge gave him an edge among his peers and Bob took advantage of it. He was surrounded by talented behind the scenes personnel. Bob would often receive letters from fans who enjoyed his program and would give him pointers about the show or the movies, which he read and responded to personally.
This info did not fall on deaf ears with Bob. He would listen to their advice and would act on it. One fan in particular named Bob Shaw, would write to Bob and give him information about the films he would show. Bob was so impressed with Bob Shaw’s knowledge; he hired him as an editor/consultant to him and the program. You see, Bob was not really a huge fan of horror films and he would often admit it. He was a casual fan who wanted to surround himself with friends and good people. Bob Shaw retired from Channel 2 a few years ago.
Bob was one of the most genuine people I have ever met. He had an incredible gift and presence that is difficult to describe. If you were lucky enough to meet him, he would immediately make you feel comfortable and take interest in you as a person. He would really pay attention to you as an individual and listen to what you had to say. When he would speak to you, it did not matter if he knew you or not, he would put his hand on your shoulder as he held a conversation with you. That was the magic of Bob Wilkins. He really cared.
There are many individuals that have become my close friends over the last 30 years and this has been attributed to Bob Wilkins and John Stanley. Yes, it all started with CREATURE FEATURES in the San Francisco Bay Area. I would go to these events sponsored by CREATURE FEATURES and meet many of these crazy guys and would bond friendships that have lasted to this day.
Bob and John would often mention notable events in the bay area such as a Godzilla film playing at the ”Fruitvale Playhouse” theater in Oakland, California, a movie poster available at the Cinema Shop in San Francisco, or a special appearance by Dave Prowse at the ”Galactic Starport” in Union City, California.
These were the good old days for us. A special place in our memories. Bob was a great part of that. He kept us entertained as young men and fueled our imagination for Science Fiction and Fantasy Films. Bob also cared about his audience as much as we cared about him.
I guess the greatest compliment that I can give Bob is this. We are so blessed you entertained us on late night television for so many years. You were a great TV Host. You were OUR TV Host! Thank you Bob. We will miss you.
Bob Johnson, SciFi Japan/Bay Area Film Events
Growing up as a horror/monster/science fiction fan in the 1960s and 1970s, was not as easy as it is today. It was very much a niche market and video recording options were not available. The only way to see the films were at a movie theater or when they would play on television.
The show that most influenced local fans in those days was CREATURE FEATURES and its host Bob Wilkins. Many of the classic films we all take for granted today were introduced to us by Bob. He would describe the film in his own, unique way with wit and a dry sense of humor that went over well with audiences. Plus, he would offer his opinion in blunt honesty, admitting, “this film is a stinker” or the classic, “don’t stay up late, it’s not worth it!” which would of course make us want to see the films even more!
With many shows of this kind, you would tune out or head to the restroom or kitchen when the commercial/host segments came on. But now with Bob. The breaks were something to look forward to and enjoy!
If you mention his name to anyone who lived in Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay Area during the time Bob Wilkins was on the air, whether they were horror fans or not, you will inevitably get an instant recognition and some memory of “the guy in the rocking chair with a cigar”.
Bob Wilkins also had a huge influence on science fiction and horror as a whole. Locals who grew up watching his show and acknowledging the inspiration they got from him would later go on to productions of their own.
One story was when Bob went on a press junket in Hollywood. While walking across a studio lot in 1977, he was approached by a person calling out “Hey, I know you, you’re Bob Wilkins” and acknowledging “I grew up watching your show every Saturday night”. That man was George Lucas.
In the DVD extras for the movie JEEPERS CREEPERS, writer/director Victor Salva talks about creating the monster and story of the film stating, “I wanted to make a classic monster like the ones I grew up watching on Bob Wilkins’ CREATURE FEATURES”.
As a fan of Japanese monsters and superheroes, I could always count on Bob to show Godzilla and other Toho films on the show and later he would present ULTRAMAN, JOHNNY SOKKO and SPACE GIANTS, as well as STAR BLAZERS on his show CAPTAIN COSMIC.
Every six months, like clockwork during the sweeps rating period, you could count on CREATURE FEATURES to pull out its big one-two punch with a double-feature of GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. In fact, KTVU and CREATURE FEATURES were amongst the first to show NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on broadcast television and was definitely the first to eventually show it uncut.
Bob Wilkins would make numerous convention appearances and show up at local genre stores to meet fans. One of the earliest appearances I remember was a one-night appearance he made at the local Skyline College. It was appropriately April Fool’s Day in 1974. When the curtain rose, Bob came out of a coffin on stage; cigar lit, and talked about the show and his life, then showed movie trailers, clips and a blooper reel from the KTVU News.
As I got older, I would eventually meet and get to know Bob. We formed Bay Area Film Events because of the inspiration we got from him. One of our first shows was Godzillafest in 2004. Bob and CREATURE FEATURES successor John Stanley appeared on stage for us and talked about the influence of the show and its connections to Godzilla and company.
I joked with him once that he kept me out of a lot of trouble in my teen years, because he kept me off the streets and in the house on many Saturday nights!
Later, as Alzheimer’s began to creep in and take over what had been such a sharp and clever mind, we were able to put on three benefit shows for him over the last couple years (in El Cerrito, Sacramento and Santa Cruz) and the film shows and movie screenings we continue to do, as well as the other shows in the area like Thrillville, Psychotronix, etc. are all done because of our inspiration from Bob. As it turned out, our benefits in El Cerrito and Sacramento were the last two public appearance Bob made.
Over the years, as we were able to work with him on these shows and see him at events, Bob became much more than a face on TV. He became a friend, part of the group, part of the family, so the news of his passing came as quite a shock when it arrived. In a way it was expected, but still, you never want to hear it.
Everyone who’s lives Bob touched over the years will remember him fondly and his legacy as a person, as well as a television personality will live on in our hearts and minds forever.
Goodbye Bob, you will definitely be missed!
The best way to appreciate Bob is to see him as we all remember. Following are some clips from the shows Bob hosted. Enjoy them all!
Bob Wilkins Legendary Creature Features Host A sample of Bob Wilkins hosting CREATURE FEATURES in a way only he can.
Monster Movie Quiz Game Bob hosts a game show based on a book by John Stanley, who would take over the CREATURE FEATURE reigns from Bob in 1979 and host the show into 1984.
Creature Features Theme The classic CREATURE FEATURES themesong by Beauregarde and the Poppers.
Bob Wilkins and Harry Martin, 1967 Channel 3 KCRA Sacramento television legend Harry Martin joins Bob for one of their many appearances together. Martin was one of the guests on hand for the benefit show at the Crest Theater.
Bob Wilkins – 7 Arts Promos Promos from a few of Hollywood’s legends, talking about Bob Wilkins’ 7 ARTS THEATER on Sacramento television. See how many you know!
KTVU News – BAFE Bob Wilkins Benefit at the Cerrito Theater KTVU Channel 2 reports of Bay Area Film Events’ benefit show for Bob Wilkins.
Captain Cosmic Opening The campy opening from CAPTAIN COSMIC AND WONDER ROBOT 2T2. Shot live at a nearby BART train station.