Robert Gene Wilkins
Bob Wilkins in his iconic rocking chair
|Died||January 7, 2009 (aged 76)|
|Years active||1963 - 1979|
|Known for||Host of Creature Features television show|
Bob Wilkins (April 11, 1932 – January 7, 2009) was a television personality born as Robert Gene Wilkins in the town of Hammond, Indiana. Wilkins was best known as the creator and host of a popular television show named Creature Features that ran on KTVU in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1971 to 1984, and which premiered with Del Tenney's infamous The Horror of Party Beach. The programming on Creature Features featured science fiction and horror film; everything from the classics, such as Bride of Frankenstein to turgid turkeys like The Vulture. More often than not, the films were good, and sometimes the show hit benchmarks: George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead had its world television premiere on the show, just a couple of years after its original theatrical release. Wilkins' style of wit was very dry, and fit very well with some of the "schlockers" he was forced to air, which was a big part of his appeal to his fans (somewhat in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000). As host of the show, his droll humor and omnipresent cigar became his trademarks.
KCRA in Sacramento
Wilkins started his on-camera television career in 1963 at KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento. He was writing and producing commercials for the station when he was tapped to be a fill in host for an afternoon movie show in 1964. On September 10, 1966, Bob Wilkins got his own time slot, hosting horror films on Seven Arts Theater which followed the station's 11 p.m. newscast. After several successful years, he was courted by former KCRA manager Tom Breen (who was now at KTVU) to bring his show to the Bay Area. Breen was one of Wilkins' best supporters at KCRA, who had always encouraged the then-young host to try novel and new things, and to never be afraid of going for it. Bob left KCRA on his own terms and his last show there was on March 14, 1970. Bob returned to Sacramento Television, this time on KTXL Channel 40 on May 9, 1970. On a Saturday evening, January 9, 1971, after weeks of teasers, "Creature Features" debuted on KTVU with The Horror of Party Beach, and immediately became a ratings winner. Soon after, "Creature Features" had the world television premiere of the already infamous 1968 horror film, Night of the Living Dead. The show eventually expanded to a Double Feature format, and during its height of popularity, KTVU added a single-feature show on Friday nights. So popular were Bob Wilkins and "Creature Features", that it would often (and incredibly) beat network programming, such as Saturday Night Live in the local Nielsen ratings.
KTVU in Oakland
On KTVU, Bay Area viewers still couldn't get enough of their Creature Features host, a soft-spoken but extremely funny character whose overwhelming popularity enabled him to produce and host a number of prime time specials, including The Star Trek Dream and The Bob Wilkins Super Horror Show, as well as making dozens of public appearances every year. Even with this seemingly heavy workload, including commuting every week to Sacramento from Oakland to tape his sister show on KTXL-40, he was first and foremost a devoted husband and father, even coaching baseball at his son and daughter's school, and rarely staying up past 10 p.m. Eventually, Bob found himself, at the urging of KTVU management, joining the 10 O'Clock News team as their Weatherman. But, after two years, he stepped down because he didn't feel that he could be creative that late at night. In spite of this, he was nominated for a local Emmy Award for a ski report which used footage from the opening scene of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
In 1977, Wilkins launched an afternoon children's program on KTVU, Captain Cosmic, which showcased various sci-fi serials such as Spectreman, The Space Giants, Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, and Star Blazers. Japanese imports were a prime focus, though the show also featured old Hollywood serials such as Flash Gordon and Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Donning a face-concealing helmet, Wilkins was uncredited, but fans of his Creature Features program recognized him immediately. His sidekick on this show was a robot named 2T2, which emulated R2-D2 in the Star Wars series.
Return to advertising
While at the top of his game, Wilkins decided to retire from television and go back into advertising. On February 24, 1979, after offering the job to several of his researchers, including film historian David Del Valle, he relinquished the Creature Features hosting duties to San Francisco Chronicle writer John Stanley (1979–1984). Wilkins continued his program on KTXL as The Bob Wilkins Double Horror Show from May 9, 1970 through February 14, 1981. Wilkins's fans include actor Tom Hanks and Bay Area filmmaker George Lucas, who watched the Sacramento programs as a youth in Modesto.
Although no longer a fixture on television, Wilkins periodically made appearances at comic book and fantasy conventions, film screenings and tributes, until two years before his death. After his departure from television, Wilkins concentrated on his advertising agency, which handled accounts such as the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain. In the 1990s, he and his wife, Sally, retired and moved to Reno, Nevada.
John Stanley, Wilkins's replacement on Creature Features, reported in an interview on the radio program Coast to Coast on August 14, 2007 that Wilkins was stricken with Alzheimer's disease and was then living in Sacramento. He succumbed to the disease at age 76 on January 7, 2009 in Reno.
In 2008, a feature-length documentary on Creature Features, Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong!, debuted in several theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 75-minute documentary features interviews with Bob Wilkins and John Stanley, as well as other key figures close to the show, both behind-the-scenes and in front of the cameras, and contains vintage clips spanning the history of the show, which took place during an era when local broadcasting was much more a creative and experimental medium than it would subsequently become.
- "Death of Bob Wilkins". Official Bob Wilkins website. Retrieved 2009-01-07.
- Berton, Justin (2008-01-09). "Bob Wilkins - host of 'Creature Features'". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
- Dávila, Robert D. (2008-01-10). "Obituary: 'Creature Features' host Bob Wilkins made scary movies fun". The Sacramento Bee. The McClatchy Company. Archived from the original on November 20, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
- "Captain Cosmic". Official Bob Wilkins website. Retrieved 2007-10-21.
- "Bob Wilkins in Sacramento". Official Bob Wilkins website. Retrieved 2007-10-21.
- Craig, Pat (2008-01-09). "Bob Wilkins, former 'Creature Features' television host, dies". San Jose Mercury News. MediaNews Group. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
- "Creature Features". KTVU web site. Archived from the original on 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2007-10-21.
- "Message from Sally Wilkins". Official Bob Wilkins website. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2007-10-21.