Ferdie’s Inferno with "Ferdy" WMTV
Jack Crowley had been a theater major at Marquette University. After receiving his degree, he went to work for WOKY-TV in Milwaukee. After that station was sold to CBS in 1954, he was tranferred to its sister Bartell station, WMTV in Madison. Crowley started as the station’s production director, and later became its program manager.
In 1963, reports from other stations around the country - and in particular those in college towns - indicated that horror programming was working. Crowley jumped on the bandwagon by showing episodes of Thriller with host Boris Karloff. The first show ran on 12 October 1963.
Ferd Mattioli owned American TV and Appliances in Madison, and sponsored a movie program on WMTV. Crowley hosted it and pitched the items Ferd would bring to the station. Republic Pictures and Screen gems had a package of horror films available, and Crowley thought that if he could sign a sponsor the station could make some money with it. He pitched the idea to Mattioli, who bought it.
At first, the show was called "Nightshade and Old Lace Theatre", which ran for the first time on Saturday night, 19 September 1964. After Ferd Mattioli agreed to sponsor the show, the name was changed to "Ferdie’s Inferno", a take-off on Dante’s Inferno.
Crowley was a big "ham", and elected to host the show himself. He called his character "Ferdy". After coating his face with Vaseline, a mixture of flour, baking powder, water and salt was applied and allowed to harden, giving his face and ears the appearance of stalactites. He dressed in black trousers and a black turtleneck. A hole was dug behind the station's building to simulate a grave, and Crowley would crawl out of it, while a cameraman shot out of the back door.
The show shifted to Friday nights at midnight as of 16 September 1966. In 1967, Crowley was transferred to sister station WSAU (now WSAW) in Wausau. For a brief period of time, he commuted to Madison to tape episodes of the show, but eventually elected to give it up. His last one was on 14 April 1967. Besides films, the show also featured episodes of Thriller.
(Unfortunately, no photographs of Crowley in character survived.)
Ferdie’s Inferno with Carl Ames as the Host WMTV
Carl Ames had been at WMTV since graduating from the University of Iowa. He was a newsman, host of "Dialing for Dollars", and helped on a kids’ show. After cutting some promos for the news show, he was made the station's promotions director. He took over hosting "Ferdie’s Inferno". His first show was on 18 August 1967.
Since his college days, Ames had an interest in prosthetics. Initially, he didn't have an idea of what kind of character to portray, but eventually settled on a skull figure. He applied black greasepaint, and then several layers of liquid latex to his face. After each show, he would strip off the mask and later add another layer. That lasted for several shows, until the mask began to get too thick. Ames then made a clay mold, and poured a new mask using liquid latex.
The WMTV studio had a turntable with a trapdoor in it. Art director Dick Flanigan made a tombstone, and the trapdoor was decorated to look like a grave, which Ames would crawl out of. The rest of the set consisted of a painted backdrop, a chair and table.
Although the show was still called "Ferdie’s Inferno", Ames elected not to give his character a name. However, everyone still thought that it was "Ferdy"!
Ames’s version of Ferdie’s Inferno ran through 13 September 1968. Ferd Mattioli was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and elected to move to Arizona. At the same time, Ames decided to leave the station and start his own production company.
Lenny’s Inferno WMTV
Ferd Mattioli’s brother, Len, came to Madison to take over American TV. Rather than liquidate it, he elected to keep it going and to run it himself. He decided to keep the show going as a promotional tool.
Dick Flanigan had been WMTV’s art director since 1967, and had helped Carl Ames on his version of the show. He took over as the show’s host. His first show was on 5 September 1969.
Flanigan elected to call himself "Mr. Mephisto", based on the character from the Republic pictures serial Manhunt of Mystery Island (1945). Mr. Mephisto had a white face and a jet black goatee. After doing the first show or two alone, Flanigan decided that he needed a sidekick. He was a fan of The Addams Family and liked the character "Thing". As such he decided to use an old, dilapidated, black box, which sat on his desk. He asked John Sveum (a.k.a. Jay Stevens) to create a character. Sveum created a voice-over known as "The Voice in the Box". The voice always referred to Mr. Mephisto as "creepy guy". Using the box allowed Sveum to play other characters.
At first, the show used the same graphics as its previous incarnations. Then in 1974, Flanigan changed them. The American TV logo appeared over an illustrated picture of a house atop a huge mountain at night, over which the title of the show appeared in red letters. The theme song was Mussorgsky’s "Night on Bald Mountain".
Flanigan had the idea of including a menacing figure who would stand in the background with his arms crossed, while holding an axe. He and Sveum also liked the idea of destroying TV sets on the air. They tapped their studio manger, Bob Friedl, to play a character named "Valdimir" (Note: the spelling is correct. It wasn't "Vladimir"!), who said nothing, but destroyed TV’s with an axe!
The show was still called "Ferdie’s Inferno" for its first few years, but eventually, the name was changed to "Lenny’s Inferno". The hosts still pitched appliances and electronics from American TV. Besides films, the show also featured syndicated episodes of various old TV series including: The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, and The Outer Limits. It also showed serials, like Flash Gordon and The Crimson Ghost.
The show was extremely popular - especially with students at the University of Wisconsin. However, in 1982 Len Mattioli felt that the store was sufficiently established in the area, and no longer wanted to fund the show, which was consequently cancelled. The last show was on 21 May 1982. In 1988, Len ran the show in Milwaukee for nine weeks. (See the main page of this site for the details.)
Mr. Mephisto’s official website is at: http://www.MrMephisto.com.
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