The first time I saw the Acri Creature Feature on Dec. 26, 1970, I was
hooked. Its free-spirit and campy nature greatly appealed to adolescent
males. In those days, the show began with a wide shot (on 16mm B&W
film) of an old white wooden two-story house (probably in a rural location
near Moline). The camera zoomed toward the front window while the
familiar theme song played. When the zoom became tight, they cut to
the studio. One camera focused on the door, while Bill Flannery and
Don Raymond drug white Acri sample portfolio cases onto the set. The
routine was that Vincent Hedges invited them to his house and they were
to meet Vincent along with Chuck Acri later. So, Bill and Don sat
down, made a few glib comments and introduced the film (early on the films
were awful grade C sci-fi flicks). The first break began with a 30-second
segue vignette then faded to the studio. Bill and Don chatted for
a bit, pitched Acri products and then announced, “You know what time it
is? It’s time for Chuck Acri.” Then a knock on the door, Bill
or Don opened it and Chuck waved “Hi Chuck Acri Here” as he entered the
room. At first he was quite stiff, but he seemed somewhat sympathetic
next to the zanier Bill and Don.
After the initial pitch, the director would fade to a continuation of
the segue vignette. The vignettes themselves followed a formula: Vincent
was on the prowl and attacked some poor soul (a Christmas shopper, New Year's
reveler ,etc.) and strangled them. Sometimes he even pretended to
drink their blood a la Dracula. Emmit always followed and dragged
off the body. On http://myweb.wvnet.edu/~u0e53/horhosts.html
Mark Angelcyk accurately describes one memorable vignette. Although
it sounds gruesome, it was pure high camp. Ken always pantomimed strangulation
with ridiculously stiff fingers and his head cocked to the side. The
amateur actors who played his victims could scarcely control their laughter;
in fact, often they couldn’t control it. It looked like everyone involved
was having a blast.
This routine went on the for the rest of the show: Lousy film, Vincent
segue, commercial, segue, film. At the end of the film, Bill, Don
and Chuck would acknowledge that Vincent Hedges was'nt going to show, so
they’d walk over to the fireplace mantel to conduct some contrived “business”.
While they were distracted with their backs to the door, guess who
would sneak in? You got it, Vincent would furtively slither into his
coffin and close the lid before they turned around. Then, the trio
would bid farewell to the viewers and haul the sample cases out the door.
The music would start and the camera would zoom into the coffin, Vincent
would peak out and wave goodbye – end of show.
During this period, they had several running gags during the commercial
breaks. One concerned the coffee Chuck would always bring along with
him in a thermos. Another concerned a brief engagement with a puppet
character that appeared in the picture frame above the mantle. The
puppet’s not-too-original name was “Froggy De Gremlin.” Here’s a link
to indicate from whence they stole that idea: http://www.angelfire.com/ny/nyuk/froggy2.html.
Froggy was a sock puppet who sang silly songs and predominantly interacted
with Bill. Froggy appeared five or six times on the early 1971 programs.
I remember on the Jan 2, 1971 program, Bill went over the picture
frame , lit a cigarette and put it in an ash tray to lament the permanent
end of TV cigarette commercials the day before (they were banned as of Jan
The next week, Bill and Don started displaying letters they received
from their young viewers. Some were quite amusing, so the hosts milked
that for a while. At first there were just a handful of letters on
the coffee table (further evidence, by the way, that the show was quite
new at the time - - there is no way it could have been on for any period
of time based on the sort of response the letters both represented and received).
The hosts were clearly amused by the mail; it had yet to become a
Well, right away, my friend Dave and I had to get in on the act. We
got together one wintery Sunday in January, drafted up some goofy letter
and sent it in (with 6 cent stamps). We were careful to put four stamps
on the envelope - - even though one was enough - - so we could spot it on
the coffee table. The next week, sure enough, there it was. They
didn’t read it, but we were hooked. From then on, we put great effort
into creating all sorts of parodies, artwork, long scrolls of letters and
anything else to get attention.
By late January 1971, the show was deluged with letters so the hosts
stopped putting them on the coffee table. That’s when they started
selecting a best letter as “Creep of the Week.” Our second or third
letter, which announced that we had created the Bill and Don Fan Club (with
just three members), made it onto the air. They actually mentioned
our names (that’s captured on the tape I have). That first on-air
acknowledgment was such a big thrill that I could scarcely sleep that night.
Then a few weeks later, we won the big one: “Creeps of the Week” We
modified a Life Magazine to create a biography titled “The Life and Loves
of Vincent Hedges". Dave and I collaborated on the ideas and
I did the art work (I was a cartoonist).
By the time the snow started to melt, the show’s popularity had grown
tremendously. The station started filming (16mm color) the vignettes
on location throughout the Quad Cities. By that time, someone got
the idea to add the werewolf to the dynamic duo. Since the werewolf
needed a name, Chuck announced a “name the werewolf contest". I
think the winner got some special promotional items. In the spring
of 1971, they plugged the contest for three or four shows before announcing
that “Beauregard Von Acri” was the winning name.
As the weather warmed, the Acri team added the promotional hotrod that
still is depicted in the composite photo on your site. During the
ensuing months, the “team” regularly made appearances throughout the Quad
Cities area. I can’t attest to what they did at these appearances
because we lived too far away to see any of them. But Chuck regularly
announced these appearances on the show. Also by this time, Chuck
visibly was growing more comfortable on air; hence leading to the quiet
departure of Bill and Don.
Of note, in the summer of 1971,
the show’s hosts began inviting each week’s “creeps” to appear on the show.
We won our second “Creep of the Week” award in September 1971 and
appeared on air.
We received the honors through a phone call from Ken
Gibson (Vincent Hedges). My Dad drove my friend and me to the WQAD
studios one Thursday evening to make our appearance. Ken Gibson, who
was a real gentleman, greeted us, gave us a studio tour and let us watch
him put on his make-up and don his Vincent Hedges costume. Ken Gibson
appeared to have been the creative force behind the early show and seemed
to function as a defacto creative advisor on the set. I read somewhere that [excerpt deleted] the guy who played the original hunchback Emmitwas a
WQAD cameraman, but I couldn't tell because he was very quiet and distant.
Our time on air was a real hoot: my buddy became nervous and totally
clammed up while I blew the line they gave me to say.
I distinctly remember asking Ken how long the show had been on the air.
He replied that it made its WQAD debut on Halloween night, 1970. This
information, if correct, seems to conflict with some of the accounts I have
seen the Acri Company post on the web. Clearly, when we first started
watching the program, the show had a distinct newness to it.
The WQAD set: it was far more substantial than what I have seen of the
later iterations of the show. When I was at the station, I took a
close look at the set and it was approx 15-20 feet wide and framed entirely
by 2x4s. In fact, it had a working door with hinges. On the
left side, it featured a window with Vincent’s coffin underneath. The
door was to the front of the window (at about a 45 degree angle). The
back wall depicted weather-beaten wood paneling. The wall displayed
assorted holes that were constructed by simply taping torn cardboard to
the wall (it looked good on video). The right wall of the set featured
a fireplace, with a picture frame above it.
The hosts sat around a coffee table in the middle of the room and performed
before two color cameras. It was a fairly high-quality local production
and probably incurred costs that exceeded the advertising value Acri got
out of the show. As one Acri salesman told my father, “this show is
very popular with kids; the problem is that kids don’t buy siding.” I
think that’s why Acri shifted to doing the show himself in front of one
camera and utilizing a cheesy cardboard set.
The original Emmitt the hunchback appears in the photograph. His
primary role was to drag off the bodies Vincent strangled. Bertie
appears on the far left of the composite picture on your site. She
wasn’t on very long, and she wasn’t terribly interesting. She sort
of was a poor man’s “Hazel” (complete with references to “Mr. A”). Since
the werewolf consisted of a head, a sweater and a pair of gloves, I think
multiple people played that role. I saw a younger guy (18-20)
don the outfit when I was there, I sensed he was just one of several – whoever
was convenient. The caveman replaced Emmett toward the end of the
WQAD run - - he didn’t have much impact.
We continued to participate in the show and won a third award in the
spring of 1972. That summer, however, the program had begun to grow
stale and I think Acri started using utilizing standard commercials sans
the vignettes. At some point in the warmer months of 1972, the show
faded away on WQAD. In the winter of 1972, I saw Chuck and Don Raymond
attempt to resurrect the show on KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, but that version
lasted only a couple months - - if that long. Frankly, I had thought
that was the end of the program, but I remember Dave telling me in the mid
70s - - after I had gone away to college - - that he saw it reappear somewhere.
A Fantastic Flashback by:
Dr. Jitters ~
Hazy images of vampires and werewolves linger among cherished memories
of my youth. Autumn time -- golden orange leaves cover the overgrown
lawn. The cornfields of rural Illinois have been harvested. The
air is crisp and turning colder as Halloween nears. At school, thoughts
of the Acri Creature Feature, to be shown later that Friday night, distract
me. After a long daydream day and a boring bus ride home, I'm free.
The usual post-school routine of cereal and cartoons gives way to
the Friday evening ritual of a pepperoni pizza from Smiley's tavern, complete
with some ice-cold Cokes. Night falls. Mom makes popcorn in the cast-iron
pot and the time for Acri's Creature Feature draws nigh at last.
The eerie synthesized strains of the theme, "Windmills of Your Mind",
begins the show. A figure enters from the left, stepping down stairs
through the painted archway of an artificial dungeon set. "Hi,
Chuck Acri here!", exclaims the congenial host, holding his skull-shaped
coffee mug containing who knows what. He has entered the inner sanctum
of our living room, but he is a warm, friendly soul. In the course
of business, the night's movie is announced, "Tonight's movie is 'The
Invasion of the Body Snatchers'!", but first, a commercial! The
inevitable commercial spots for Acri's aluminum siding and storm doors follow.
But creeping in between the advertisements and the movie appears Vincent
Hedges, the vampire. In pre-produced film segments, Vincent prowls local
haunts and makes the moves on young village girls. Also joining in the dungeon
antics is the bashful Beauregard, a mild yet menacing werewolf. In
later years we'd see the doors of a small, black box open to reveal a human
skull -- a talking skull named Bernie!
Now comes my favorite part of the show, the display of kid's drawings
and the selection of Creep of the Week. Each week I'd imagine seeing
my drawing on the plywood wall, but that was highly unlikely as coordinating
the gathering of the address and the purchasing of postage stamps eluded
my younger self. I once sacrificed a one-armed Big Jim action figure
to serve as a mummy. Wrapped in gauze and liberally dotted with iodine,
my mummy was to remain eternally trapped within his shoe box sarcophagus.
Probably the best part of the evening however, was just sitting there
on the couch next to my Dad. Dozing off in those late hours, it was usually
the sound of a woman's scream that would return me to the world of the awakened,
this time the climax of 'Monster On the Campus' -- a hatchet clasped to
the face of the Sheriff. I also recall seeing 'Frankenstein' on the
Acri Creature Feature, my first real horror film experience, and one I still
The highlight of my Acri adventures was seeing the Creeps live at a personal
appearance at our local highschool. Dad drove me out to watch them
play a game of basketball. There was the confetti passed off as a
bucket of water routine and general tomfoolery. At the end of the
game I received an autograph from Vincent Hedges and my favorite, Beauregard,
beautifully penned from his rubber-gloved paw.
All of these memories are safeguarded in a special place now, deep within
my head and my heart. May they rest there in peace to the end of my