Doug Hobart is a name that up until a couple of years ago, I had no idea who he was. But because of an unusual birthday cake my wife Dawn made for me, not only would I find out just who Doug Hobart was, but I would eventually get to interview him. Every year for my birthday, I screen two movies in our backyard for a bunch of friends. This one particular year, the films were two Florida based movies, ZAAT and Sting of Death. For the cake (pictured below), my wife made a battle between the two title creatures from these movies. It was such an amazing cake, that once I posted a photo of it on Facebook, it was getting a lot of responses, even from people like cult directors Frank Henenlotter, Fred Olen Ray, and even William Grefe, who directed Sting of Death. Well, Fred Olen Ray made a comment and tagged someone named Doug Hobart. So I looked up the name on IMDB and was shocked not only to find out that he was the guy who played the jellyfish creature, but was on Facebook as well. So I quicky sent him a note, asking if he’d be willing to do an interview with me. A short time later, I was on the phone with him, hearing some amazing stories of his life in show business, which you’ll find below.
But Hobart has also recently written his autobiography, entitled From Circus to Cinema: An Autobiography, and at this time, is still looking for a publisher. He was gracious enough to send me a copy, which I quickly read in a few days and loved every word of it. He really does have some great stories, from a very different era. Because of the work that he’s done, I think he is just one of many people out there that are getting lost and forgotten in this current movie world where stars and celebrities come and go as quickly as the seasons. So it is up to us fans to keep remembering the work that Hobart, and countless others did in the movies during those ‘good-old-days’ and appreciate all the hard work they did back then.
So for the countless hours of entertainment you have given me personally, Doug, I want to thank you for all your work on these movies and helping creating something that is still as entertaining all these years later.
Doug Hobart: My father was with the Ringling Brothers Circus for years, so I guess it started there. I was with the circus also, not with Ringling Brothers, but with one of the smaller shows as a clown. I learned to do special effects makeup from one of my father’s friends, a man named Jimmy Neary. He was in a play called Alters of Steel at the Federal Theater down here in Miami. He did his makeup to go on the stage and my father let me sit in a chair there and watch him work. I said to myself, “that’s what I want to do for a living.” He gave me my first makeup kit when I was 9-years old. He took a fishing box and cut up some of his makeup and put in there, along with some greasepaint and hair, and all that kind of stuff. So that is how I got started.
I joined the Navy right before WWII ended and then moved to Ohio. Shortly thereafter I started doing a spookshow. If you’re not familiar with what one of these spookshows are, they basically a stage show put on in the theater up on the stage in front of the screen after the films were over. They would close the curtains after the last movie, then when they opened the curtain, then you got a stage show. This was usually done at midnight and they would charge extra for that. So the crowds would line up outside to get in there. I was known as “Dr. Traboh and his Chamber of Horrors”. Traboh is just Hobart spelled backwards, but that was the name I used.
I did something different than Dr. Silkini, and all the rest of them. Silkini ran one of the more popular spookshows around that time. I saw his show when I working as an usher in a theater up there in Ohio. I thought it was very good, but I thought I could improve on it. I talked to the theater manager and asked him “Hey, how about letting me put on a spookshow?” He said, “No, we don’t have time for amateurs.” I asked “do you know what the difference between a professional and an amateur? The professional gets paid for it. That’s all.” He still turned me down saying that he didn’t think his company wouldn’t hold still for it. They have to use Silkini and people like that, who has been doing it for years.
So then I started building all this equipment to do my own spookshow because I knew I was going to get him to put me on the stage one way or another. I figured what I needed first was some publicity to force him into putting me on the stage. So that’s exactly what I did. The first thing I did was get caught in the local cemetery with a shovel at night. I was arrested and taken down to the police station and it hit the newspapers the next day. It was a little tiny article but I thought that was a start. Then I figured I would do something a little more dramatic. So one night I parked my car under streetlight and went into the back of the car and picked up a body wrapped in a sheet, threw it over my shoulder and walked slowly over to my house and went down into the basement. I had lights flashing on and off and all this kind of stuff. The neighbors reported it. The next thing I know the police were there and they went down in my basement. That body I had was a mummy that I had made. They took the mummy and tore it all apart trying to find a real body. Boy, did this hit the newspapers…FRONT PAGE. Finally the theater manager called me on the phone and said he wanted to talk to me. I went down there and he said, “You can do you show. If you can get that much publicity on your own, you just got to be here.” So we put on the show and Silkini couldn’t come into town anymore. Silkini eventually tried to buy my show, but I turned him down.
What I did that was different was that Silkini did a lot of magic. He would have phosphorus ghosts on fishing poles being held over the audience’s head and all that kind of stuff. I wasn’t going to do any of that, too ridiculous. I figured I’m going to give them a real stage show. I took the Frankenstein Monster and I recreated it on the stage like with Strickfaden’s equipment that I built. It was incredible. It was shooting bolts of lightning across the stage. We got the monster on a table, connected these things to his neck, and the sparks were flying all over. Then as soon as he’d get up off table, the wolf man would come in and there would be a big fight between him and creature right on stage. Then we had a nurse came in and the wolf man would go over and grabbed her dressed and rip her dress off and she ran off the stage nude! Well, she wasn’t really nude but had a “nude” outfit on. We also had a hunchback running around as well.
The curtains would close and we had the ‘5 Dragonites’ that danced on stage to the music Dragnet that was very popular at the time. They would dance for a bit while we changed the set. When they opened up the curtain again, this time we showed the making of a zombie. We would “sacrifice” a girl on a table and had zombies running all over the place. The show was a knock out. It hit the newspapers the next day and the first thing you know all the theaters wanted it. So we were in big demand at the time. We had a ton and a half truck full of equipment, with lights, electrical apparatus for the Frankenstein’s monster, sound systems, dancing girls, the whole works. It was great. We did this for years, playing all over Ohio, down in Kentucky, and even the tip of Indiana. But what put us out of business was they started putting in the cinemascope screens in the theaters, which meant no curtain or no stage. So that put me out of business. They wouldn’t let me put on the show in front of the screen because it was too expensive. Eventually we did move it to the television.
One time my brother brought my nephew Barry to one of the spookshows and inspired him so much that he eventually became a horror host called Dr. Creep, which he did for 25 years.
KK: I do remember seeing Dr. Creep at some of the conventions over the years. I was sad to hear that he passed away a few years ago.
DH: Yes, he did. I loved him and I miss him. But that was how he got started.
When the spookshows stopped, I started sort of a variety/vaudeville act for nightclubs. I had a nightclub act with a girl and we worked all over the country doing a ‘knock-about act’. The act was that I’d be out in the audience as a drunk, sitting there drinking in a top hat and tails and white gloves and everything. Well, the girl would be up on stage singing, and I’d start heckling her, yelling at her that I wanted to dance with her over and over. So finally she gives in and says she’ll dance with me. As I’m staggering up the stage, she’s winking to the audience. They’d crack up the orchestra and started playing this tango. As we’d go across the stage, her elbows would be slapping in the face while we’re going across the stage. Then she’d grab me by the hair and throws me across the stage. Then she comes over and steps on me, then drop kicks me like a football, just beating the living hell out of me for ten minutes. And we’d do four shows a night like that all over the country.
KK: That had to be pretty physical on you, getting beat up like that every night.
DH: It was, but I started out as a stunt man, so why not? Around that time, one of my boys got sick and I had to take him south because they said the Florida air would be much better for him. So we moved down to Florida, and he got well as soon as we got here. This also meant that I had to find a job which was tough, but I eventually got a job at a newspaper, where I worked there for a while. In the meantime, they were started to make movies down here and I got into that.
My first movie was a made-for-television one called The Professor and that was one that was made for about $250! I dressed up as a wolfman for it and we had a little science fiction type story.
Then I heard a local director by the name of Bill Grefe was going to make some horror movies and I thought that if he was, then I got to be in them. So I went to see him and audition for one of the lead parts, the father in Sting of Death. Anyway, I got there and he said I was too young. My buddy, Al Dempsey, who wrote the story for the movie, came over to me and told me, “Doug if he says you’re too young, you know what to do. Go home and do it.” So I went home and got my makeup kit out and put at least 20 years on me. Then I came back and auditioned in the afternoon and got the part. But then I told Grefe that I don’t want this part. He said, “Well then what did you audition for it for?” I told him, “Because I want the part of the monster. I am the only one you can find anywhere that’s going play that part.” He said, “You got it!”
So Al and I created that costume for that thing, which everybody thinks is so laughable these days, but it was an idea that we got together and just made it. Most people thing that John Vella, being the mad scientist who was supposed to create this jellyfish man, was the guy in the suit, but he wasn’t. At the end of the picture, during his death scene, they put the jellyfish costume on him, with his face sort of melting, so everyone just assumed that John was the in the suit the whole time. but it was me.
KK: Were you able to see at all in that costume, with your head the bag?
DH: They didn’t want the audience to be able to see through it, so we took Vaseline and put it all over the thing so they couldn’t see me in there. That was more important than me seeing them. I was just going by the shadows and that worked out fine. When we did the underwater scenes I used to stay down underwater for an hour or so. They would keep sending tanks down to me. Finally, one time I just told them to forget the tanks and to send me a hose down, so that’s what I did.
Do you remember Diana Lund? She was in Land of the Giants. Well, she was the first one I killed in Sting of Death. She was one of the kids that came in with that bunch on the boat. So I got to kill her in her first movie!
I also had a small cameo in the movie as one of the earlier victims, when the sheriff shows up with a body for the doc to take a look at, that’s me.
But my favorite movie of the bunch is Death Curse of Tartu, where I played the mummy Tartu. This was a whole different ballgame. We had to come up with a monster on that thing and we were awful close to running out of time before we needed it. Grefe said that we were going to have to use a rubber mask and I told him “Bill, I’m not going to wear a rubber mask. Forget it.” So he said “Well, if you’re going to do some makeup, you need to come up with something fast. You have one week before we start shooting.” So I said I’ll see what I can come up with. I went to sleep one night and had a hell of a dream. In the dream, it was All Saints Day and there was this church. People were coming into the church and going down into the basement where all the bodies of the neighbors and relatives were buried. People were buying the bones from the dead as souvenirs to take back and put in their homes as part of a sample of the relatives, or whatever. Like I said, it was a dream. So I was in that crowd and was walking and looking around in these graves trying to find something. All of a sudden I saw an open grave and I saw the face of Tartu. I said, my God…that is just what I’m looking for. That’s ME!
So I woke up, like at 4am, and told my wife to put the coffee on. I got to do this right now while it is still fresh in my head. Four hours later I was finished. I called Grefe on the phone and told him to come over and take a look to see what he thought. So he came over and took a look at it and said “My God, that is great. Just what we need.” I told him it takes about 4 hours to put it on and about 3 to take it off. He said, “Well, you’re going to have to do this more than once, you know.” Since I had to put it on several times, I had several pictures of the makeup so I could get every little crack and wrinkle in there each time I had to duplicate it. That’s what we did and everybody loved it when it came out.
KK: I have to say that was one of my disappointments with the film, that you weren’t in more as Tartu. That you kept changing into different animals to kill people.
DH: I said they should have let me kill some people as Tartu, like I was, with the spider webs all over me, but just didn’t happen.
KK: Definitely. It was a great looking monster and it was a shame that we didn’t get to see more of you.
KK: Written by Larry Cohen, correct?
DH: Yes, directed by Joseph Adler. It was a good story. They had several makeup artists come in to try and do the thing and none of them could get what he wanted. One of the guys that was working on the film was Tom Casey, who knew me and knew my work. So he told the director to quit messing around with these other guys and get Doug Hobart in because if you tell him what you want, he’ll give it to you. So I went in there and gave him a sample of my work. He said “that’s just what I’m looking for!”
The makeup on the thing deals with an actor who plays an artist who injects these girls with some kind of fluid that makes their face very pliable, which makes one side of their face like its melting, or sliding down. I did the test makeup on my daughter to show him what I could do.
KK: You also worked on a film called Savages From Hell, which was produced by K. Gordon Murray. I’ve been a fan of Murray’s mainly because he had purchased a bunch of those old Mexican horror films of the ‘50s and had them re-dubbed and sold them to TV as well as some theater screenings.
DH: That is only part of the story! When he got those movies, he gave them all to me to take home and pair them up for double features that would work together to sell. So I took them home and had a marathon and watched them non-stop, around the clock, watching every damn one of those things and paired them all up for him. Then he came up with the idea of putting out a thing called The Fifth Dimension Show. We took two of those pictures, The Curse of the Doll People and The Vampire, and booked them into the drive-in theater and I went there with the picture. I dressed up as a vampire and gave out “blood cocktails” to all the cars in the theater. I carried around one of those little things like you have in the hospitals with the bag hanging upside down, so I’d pass out little glasses of that stuff to the people that wanted it. It was a very successful and that thing sold a lot of tickets. We’d go from one theater to another one down the line.
Also, I used to sell sex books in the drive-in theaters too for Ken! We use to have one for the men and one for the women. They sold for a dollar a piece. We’d carry around a big box of them and people would flash their lights if they wanted one. They sold like hot cakes. Then Ken wanted to do a movie, so we started looking for a decent script. We found one and re-titled it Savages from Hell, since we thought that title would sell a lot better. We did pretty good with that movie. I wasn’t supposed to be in that movie, but ended up in it. I played the deputy sheriff. The actor didn’t show up one day so Murray came over to me and said “put on this costume and you’re going to be the deputy sheriff.” So I did it. Then I took out and promoted the film.
KK: I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t seen it.
DH: Well, you don’t want to. It’s a piece of junk. Cost $12,000 to make and I took it out on the road. I would give a spiel at the local colleges where it was going to play and get a meeting with the dean of the college. I would tell them “Hey…we got a major problem in this country. We’ve got kids on drugs and doing all kinds of things. Here, I’ve got a bunch of newspaper articles to show what I’m talking about. What I want to do is put up some posters in the colleges and pass out some flyers about this movie that is coming out because this shows what it does to you if you take this drug.” We’d go through the whole city that way, doing each college. The opening weekend after we did that, for Friday and Saturday, netted $250,000! I had written the campaign in a hotel in San Francisco. They sent me out there because there was a man out there who knew all about promoting and all of this kind of stuff and they figured I could learn something from him. So I went out there for two weeks. The first week I worked with him and the second week I stayed in my hotel room, having my food sent up to me, and wrote on that campaign. Then I would send it out to all the different theaters all over the country where the film was going to play. They made me the Advertising Manager and said “If you’d like to have Doug Hobart come out and work on this campaign for you, we’ll send him out.” So I spend four and a half years doing nothing but promotion work for films, not just that one, but others as well.
KK: I think that is something that is sadly missing from today’s movies, that old-fashion road-show mentality. With the internet these days, everything is done through there and it just doesn’t have the same charm as the old days like that and what they used to do.
DH: You’re absolutely right. Like me and Kroger Babb!
DH: Oh yeah…I had a lot of fun doing that. I had two good friends on that. The first was John Russell, who played the title character in the TV series The Lawman. He was a good friend. But my best buddy of all was Lon Chaney.
KK: Did you know him before that film or did you know him before hand?
DH: No, I met him on that film, but we became such great friends. I even lived with him there during the making of the film. He was a little heavy on the drink side.
KK: Yeah, there are a lot of stories about him.
DH: So I was put with him on purpose to see if I could hold down his alcohol content.
KK: Did it work?
DH: No…hehehe…it didn’t work. You have to work with him in the morning because in the afternoon he would be shot.
KK: I’ve read stories about that many times from different sources.
DH: But he was a great actor. What a wonderful actor and a great friend he was. Also another one was John Carradine. He was a very good friend of mine. He would come down here to give lectures at the University of Miami to the drama group every year. Every time he’d be in town he’d call me up and asked me to come to the hotel to pick him up to go out on the town and have lunch before he had to go back to the collage.
KK: It’s funny that you mention that you mentioned both of those, who were so underrated as actors, they didn’t have a lot of opportunities to show what they could really do, especially since they were known as “horror actors”. And with Chaney’s drinking problems, I don’t think that helped either.
DH: That’s right. In fact one night, Lon and I went to a restaurant that was over in Tampa, a very famous Mexican place. Once we walked in there, everyone started clapping because they saw Chaney. We sat down at the bar and he nursed a little drink. We chatted for a while and then the manager came over to us and asked Lon if he would be willing to do a scene from Of Mice and Men as Lennie. Lon says, “yeah, I’ll do it”. So he stood up in front of all these people and started in doing this scene from the movie. Oh my God…everything stopped in that restaurant. When he got finished doing his performance, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including mine. He was so beautiful, so extremely talented. After we finished at the restaurant, we went back and sat around and talked for a while, but had to get to bed since we were shooting the next morning. So it was really interesting.
KK: Yes, he was a very underrated talent.
DH: He and I would sit and talk about his father. He told me that my makeup kit was a lot like his fathers. He said I didn’t use the same system because his was so fantastic, but he used the same makeup equipment, like crepe hair, spirit gum, greasepaint, all the stuff that I had in my makeup case and made the comment that people don’t do that anymore. And of course, now they just do it on the computer.
KK: I always try to point out to people that Chaney had a lot more talent than most people give him credit for.
DH: Definitely. Same with John Carradine. He’s a fantastic Shakespearian actor. He was such a nice guy. We worked with Ruth Roman too. There’s another nice actress. She was a terrific. But she liked to drink a little bit too!
KK: It seems they all did that back then.
DH: It seems like it but I don’t know how the hell they do their job when they’re drinking! But she was nice to work with. So was Veronica Lake…she was great to work with.
DH: Yes she had been a big star, but to answer your question, no, she even produced Flesh Feast, so she wanted to do it. I used to walk around the block with her. She’d want to get away from the set for a few minutes and she’d ask me to walk with her. And believe it or not, I never even got an autograph picture from her. I got so involved with the film that I forgot to ask her for one. But she was very nice to work with.
KK: The director on that film, Brad Grinter, is a name that I see pop up in all of these low budget films around that time, including appearing in the beginning of Death Curse of Tartu. What can you tell me about him?
DH: He made a lot of movies. His son is down here in Florida and is a cinematographer. But yeah, Brad made a lot of movies. I even worked on a porno flick for him. I built the set. I was in between pictures and the money was good, so I figured I’d do it. Bill Kelley and I built the set. Bill was also one of the stars in Savages from Hell. But Brad did a lot of movies and things like that. Most of which was a little off color.
DH: Oh Bill Shatner is such a funny guy. Oh my god! One time we had a lunch in the cemetery where we were filming. After lunch we sat there and he had me in stitches the whole time I was there. He would have been a great replacement for Johnny Carson. He’s a great guy and not one of these “don’t touch me, I’m a star” because I won’t work with people like that. I’ve been with a lot of different people like that I don’t like to work with them. But the original title for that movie was Want a Ride Little Girl?
KK: Wow…that is quite a risqué title.
DH: Yes it was. So they decided to change the title to Impulse. It did much better that way.
I also worked with Jeremy Slate on one of Bill Grefe’s movies, The Hooked Generation. It was one of those drug pictures that I took on the road and promoted. Willie Pastrano was in it too. He was the light heavyweight champion of the world in boxing. I could tell you stories about him but it would take a long time!
I also worked with Harold ‘Odd Job” Sakata.
KK: That was the Grefe’s film, Impulse, right? He’s a very big guy!
DH: Oh he was a tremendously big guy. And what an appetite. I took him out on the road to television stations and newspapers to help promote the film, and he’d sit down and eat two steaks at one meal. And then he’d go back to his hotel room and work out. What a guy.
DH: Well, the original title was The Night Daniel Died. I did all the special effects on that one. I recently heard from the director of this, Bob Morgan, who is working on some kind of a project and he called me and wants me to come up and be in his movie. I said, “What the hell are you talking about? You’ve got to be in your late ‘70s and I’m 87. What are you making a geriatric movie?” He laughed and said he really needs me on this picture. But I’m not going to be able to do it. I just don’t have the energy anymore. It takes 12 hours days and all that kind of stuff. It’s a tough business but it is a lot of fun. I enjoyed every minute of it.
But there is one picture that I worked on that I’m still trying to get a hold of. It was called Barely Proper (1975), which was directed and starring Brad Grinter. We shot it in a nudist camp down here in Florida. I had to put body make up on 4 guys and 6 girls. One of the funniest movies you’ll ever see. It was a stage show that they put on and we filmed the stage show and turned it into a movie. And I was the only one wearing clothes.
KK: You worked on films in a very different era, before the huge multi-million dollar budgets became the norm in Hollywood. What do you think the differences are between those huge budgeted films and the ones like you worked on?
DH: I think the low budgets film, as far as I was concern, made a lot more money because there was a lot more work put into it. The stuff they got today, they depend on one advertising man to come up with an ad, put it in the newspaper and that was it. Say it’s a big blockbuster with 5 stars and all that kind of stuff. It’s a whole different generation. They really lost something when they took away the publicity people. I use to take the star of the movie out on the road, take them television stations and get them interviewed, take them to the newspapers and have a story written about them. Then I’d take them to the theater and have them sign autograph pictures and all that kind of stuff. Nobody’s doing that today. But they should. If they did, they would making a lot more money. It really is a different age now.
KK: I couldn’t agree with you more, Doug. I would love to see that make a comeback of sorts.
DH: Same here. By the way, I just got finished writing my autobiography. I haven’t gotten it published yet, but am looking for a publisher. The name of it is From Circus to Cinema. And it’s everything in between.