Monday, March 19, 2012

Those Wild MUNSTER Cars & The Unaired Color Pilot

Fans of the B&W 1960's monster sitcom, THE MUNSTERS, may not realize that a rare color unaired short 15 minute pilot exists. And one of the most notable casting differences was that actress Joan Marshall was cast as Phoebe Munster, the wife of Herman Munster, in this rare pilot. Marshall was later cast in STAR TREK as well, as a crew member.

Perhaps the basis for THE MUNSTERS was originally conceived by cartoonist legend, Bob Clampett, who was also responsible for Porky Pig and Tweety Bird among other acclaimed characters for Warner Bros. Clampett also was responsible for the BEANIE & CECIL series as well for ABC TV. Clamett wanted to see some sort of comical monster series dating back to the 1940's, but the rough concept just kept getting pushed to the back-burner by networks, studios and producers. The idea appeared to be dead in the water until the producers of THE ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE SHOW at Universal wanted to do something with the concept and looked for some writers to work on a script for a TV series. Eventually, with the production set over at MCA Universal, someone got the idea that the series would look far better shot in B&W like the old Universal monster films of the 1930's. But, that was also part of the failure of the series as well, because while the ratings were moderately good in season one, the ratings fell significantly during season two when BATMAN aired over at ABC in color. B&W film also worked well with the monster makeup on the characters as the greenish makeup on Herman Munster and the others had an incredible cheap look in color. In B&W, THE MUNSTERS looked so much like a classic 1930's Universal monster film. It was great.

But, the unaired color pilot of THE MUNSTERS also had a few other significant differences with the actual B&W series as well. Nate "Happy" Derman played Eddie as a nasty kid who caused a lot of trouble, compared to Butch Patrick's portrayal of Eddie, who played the character as a sweet, but strange, boy. The nasty Eddie played by Derman just didn't make network executives all that happy. And even THE MUNSTERS theme for the actual series was changed from a dopey song from a Doris Day movie, to the hip sounding surf theme styled music as Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys were popular acts at the time.

Actor Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were both actors in another comedy series. CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, was an outrageous police comedy involving the two as wacky police offices. But, the two really shined as Herman Munster and Grandpa in THE MUNSTERS.

Al Lewis was always a strange personality. He was an old time political radical with a very offbeat personality, which he managed to skillfully use under the Grandpa makeup to create one of TV's most memorable comic characters of all time. And by character, I do mean, character.

For the series, THE MUNSTERS also had a couple of very cool automobiles including The Munster Koach, a wild creation built by custom car designer, George Barris, that was powered by a souped up Ford Cobra or Falcon 289, which was bored out to 425 cid, outfitted 10 custom chrome plated Stromberg carbs, an Isky cam, and custom headers as well. It was the ultimate TV show hot rod. George Barris was given just 21 days by the show's producers to build the custom Munster's Koach. Barris not only completed this cool hot rod, based on 1800's hearse styling, but actually built a second copy of car as well. Sometimes, the second car was seen in parades or on tour around the country.

A second wild custom car was also created for THE MUNSTERS and only used in just one aired episode. Grandpa's Dragula, was an outrageous coffin based dragster. Herman works at a mortuary, and claims that he brought home a "a box" from work so Grandpa could build a soapbox derby type race car, which instead is a wild dragstrip vehicle. The car became such a legend that there are now four copies of it in existence, including as late as 1998 when another copy was built by fans of the outrageous dragster.

After it was canceled after just two seasons, THE MUNSTERS, actually gained a huge cult following, becoming a cult favorite among the after-school set of kids and others. And the show left us was with a very cool legacy. Herman was cool. Grandpa was way cool. And the cars were cool. What great TV this show was.


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