Friday, February 5, 2010

He'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain FOR YOUR LIFE!!!

One of the most crippling, secret shames that I carried through my childhood was that I was irrationally afraid of many logos at the end of TV programs.

Little known fact for you youngsters who are used to quick flash credits on your favorite programs, but in the late '60's all the way to the mid-'80's, it seemed that almost every major movie studio that was making TV shows decided to end them with logos which, when seen by young children, would scare the frosting off their flakes. I'm not just talking about something obvious, like a roaring MGM lion. We're talking malevolent rectangles and flying trapezoids and greasy hands with hammers, featuring themes which were often loud, bombastic, lots of tinny brass and percussion, or disturbingly discordant, as if John Cage and Arnold Schoenberg were having a slap fight. So during prime time with the parents, depending on the production company behind the show, when the episode was over and the credits were running, I would have to switch over to a "safer" program, or pray for commercials on another channel, or just flat out leave the room and listen to the jingles, which was often just as bad because my mind could run wild from those sounds. Over time I made myself sit through and be stoic though these images and now they can't hurt me anymore, but I always felt stupid over being phobic about something so irrational.

However, one of the most wonderful things about the internet is that weird aspects of your person, which you thought you were the only one in the world that carried them, turn out to have been shared by thousands, and that there is a community devoted to them. And possibly the most liberating discovery I made through the internet is that I was not the only one who wanted to flee in footy pajamas from the TV at the end of a show. Heck, they even have their own Wiki, as well as blogs, Twitter feeds, etc. They faithfully comb through old videos, Tivo cable broadcasts, scour used VHS bins, searching for all manifestations and variations of their favorite closing logos, scary and benign.

And thanks to Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, some canny filmmaker (with a little help from my friends Blaine Capatch and Josh Fadem) has made a tongue-in-cheek dramatization of the intangible fear that closing logos could inspire in children like me years ago:

Ironically, the "S from Hell" never particularly scared me; their earlier "Dancing Sticks" logo was the one that would pop up in nightmares. But even that was nothing compared to my longtime personal TV boogeyman, the Paramount "Closet Killer." Paramount's TV logos in general took me a long time to acclimate to, a process helped by the less threatening style they adopted in 1986 and beyond. And aside from the general weirdness of my phobia, this was a particular source of embarrassment because in all other aspects, Paramount was my favorite studio - they were making the cool TV shows like "HAPPY DAYS" and "STAR TREK" and "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE," and the Diller/Eisner/Katzenberg team were cranking out awesome movies like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and MEATBALLS and AIRPLANE. Now, I was never afraid to watch a Paramount logo on a movie, because it was slow and silent and not jarring in the least. But I spent years never knowing who those guest stars were on "THE BRADY BUNCH" because I knew if I stayed to watch the credits just a little too long, I was going to face THE CLOSET KILLER!

In brief - the logo consisted of a wide shot of a rectangular box with "Paramount Television" in block letters inside, with the mountain logo on the right, that both panned and zoomed onto the mountain so that it filled the TV screen. That all takes place in four seconds, a lot of movement for a child's brain to process. It's comparable to when a dog owner makes their pet smell their mess close-up by rubbing their nose in it - Paramount was literally shoving the logo in our face, as if yelling "LOOK AT THE MOUNTAIN! LOOK AT IT!" And that rude shove was accompanied by an 8-note jingle by Dominic Frontiere that sounded less like logo music, and more like the kind of sting you would hear in a '40's murder mystery when drunken floozie #2 made the mistake of opening her bedroom closet:

Oh sure, you laugh. But just look at some of these comments from the actual YouTube page this comes from:

I still tremble in fear hearing it!
*sitting on ground, knees in chest rocking back & forth*

congratulations now i can't sleep tonight. or my German shepherd :O

Dammit, I crapped my pants.

AHHHH please don't hurt me, large creepy mountain!

The fact that they zoom in on the Paramount mountain on the last four notes doesn't help either,like "We're Paramount... SEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" all up in your face like it's about to come out of the TV into your lap!

...Is it possible for a logo to teabag someone?

I have to believe that somebody at the studio got half a hint because a couple years later, they replaced the music. Unfortunately, not only were they still pushing the mountain at you warp speed, they added a Lalo Schifrin/Robert Drasnin composition that sounded like a couple boulders broke loose from the peak and were going to roll down the mountain and crash through your set!

Okay, so we grow older, this ridiculousness gets resolved. Now it's no longer scary, but it's still a time capsule of that era and of our life in that time, and it's interesting to revisit. So, a while back, I rent the first season set of "LOVE AMERICAN STYLE" on DVD - another Paramount show that I couldn't study the credits for back in the day. And after the first episode ends, I am not greeted by either the Closet Killer or the Avalanche - I see this:

You see, because of the various buys and splits that Sumner Redstone has done with his media empire, Paramount no longer owns any of their TV shows - they are all under the umbrella of CBS. So even though that DVD box has both a Paramount and a CBS logo on it, they're divorced parties - just ask the accountants. So CBS is systematically removing the old Paramount trademarks from those programs with no regard to posterity, to assert their ownership. And aside from the fact that, well, their new logo sucks, it's tantamount to the behavior of people who try to reject the existence of certain historical facts. "Who, us? No, we never created any corporate i.d.'s that traumatized a generation of children! We most certainly did not!" It's the TV equivalent of holocaust denial, I'm tellin' ya!

So praise the Lord Lew Grade that we have such things as YouTube and support groups and photographic memories, so that we can warn the children of the future about how we grew up in dread of stylized S's and closet killers, and that without eternal TV vigilance, they could one day return...

Zees has not been a Filmways presentation, dahling.


  1. 3/27/11 wrote:
    Great blog! I was personally traumatized by the Screen Gems "dancing sticks" logo too as a child. The "S" from Hell & the Paramount "Closet Killer" logos never bothered me. I think that after 42 years since childhood, I've come to the conclusion that the dancing sticks to me today are beautiful; it's only the bombastic musical score by Frank DeVol & stern announcing by either Colin Male or Hal Gibney ("A Screen Gems Production/presentation!")that jarred me. Still does, in fact, it's probably the abruptness of it all. one second you hear the last pleasing notes of the theme to "Bewitched" in it's 1964-65 waltz-like theme, then in an instant...Bam! Da-Da-Da-Da-Dun-Dun-DUN!(A Screen Gems Production!)on the other hand, it probably sounded more appropiate on episodes of Jonny Quest, because that theme music itself was tense, so the logo & the jingle fit right in. One curiosity about the dancing sticks: Canada was the last country to have them in their program as their closing logo after the rest of the world switched to the "S From Hell" logo in September 1965. The Canadians had to put up with the dancing sticks for one more year until September 1966! (Gidget, the Wackiest Ship In The Army, Camp Runnamuck, & the H-B special "Alice In Wonderland (or what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this) were among the last TV shows to have the dancing sticks logo on Canadian prints, while American TV screens had the "S From Hell" logo with those shows. The dancing sticks were finally put out to pasture in September 1966, living on in re-runs, until those darn plasterers that started covering over the old logos persisted in the 1980's. That was annoying to me, don't you think? Today, the "S From Hell" has made a big comeback (mostly in movie screens), while the dancing sticks remains a distant relic to those (like me) who remember them.Even DVD prints of "Bewitched" & "The Flintstones" no longer have them.(BOOOOO!)

  2. Wonderful reminiscence, thank you for sharing that piece of data. It didn't occur to me that different regions would use different logos; I always figured it was a one-size-fits-all template.

    To be sure, while the Screen Gems S has returned as Sony's mid-budget division, it has completely different, non-scary music underscoring it, hence logo afficionados refer to that as the "S from Heaven." Though I would hope one day, some cheeky filmmaker making a period piece at the studio would resurrect the dancing sticks or the S from Hell to open or close the film, much like the '70's era logos that opened ZODIAC or DRAG ME TO HELL.

  3. 3/31/11 wrote:
    Thank you for your observation about the Dancing Sticks logo. This logo, like I said earlier always haunted me as a child, and at the same time it has fascinated me. I'm always looking for hard-to locate Screen Gems shows that probably had them. The hardest to find SG shows with probable dancing sticks logos include rarely seen SG shows from 1963-65 such as Redigo & Grindl, shows that no longer have distributions with SG, such as Mushi Productions of Japan (They distributed the original Astro Boy in 1963), &perhaps the hardest to locate one of them all, which perhaps no longer exsists: any 1963-65 episode of the old Soupy Sales shows on WNEW-TV in New York, where Mr. Sales was taping his shows at the time. WNEW reportedly erased most of the older episodes, leaving behind only 72 episodes from September 1965-September 1966. These episodes had a still "S From Hell" logo with no music by Eric Siday; Instead, Soup's ending theme played over the logo credit. I'm also wondering if original ABC/NBC prints of "The Jetsons" & original ABC prints of "Top Cat" had the dancing sticks as well; if so, I haven't seen them for at least four decades. As for the recent spottings of the "S From Hell", the movie screens do indeed have different logo designs, but re-runs of Bewitched & I Dream Of Jeannie on WGN-Chicago & TV Land recently brought back the original yellow/red design from 1965 (albiet interupted by the newer "Sony Pictures" logo, darn those plasterers never do give up, do they?)Even the Black & White episodes have "color" S From hell logos, instead of the original black & white version. Wierd, but interesting.

  4. 9/20/11 Wrote:
    Recently on You Tube, a blogger posted up a long-lost variation of the Screen Gems "Dancing Sticks" logo from an episode of "Route 66" from it's rarely seen 4th season from September 1963-September 1964. Instead of the usual announcement seen on other dancing sticks variations, which state "A Screen Gems Presentation/production, this variation contains the following announcement left over from Hal Gibney's announcement from the 1960-1963 "Torch Lady" logo: "This has been a Screen Gems film presentation, produced in Hollywood by Columbia Pictures;Herbert B. Leonard, executive producer." So that means the "production/presentation" variation was announced by Colin Male. Incedentaly, the Frank DeVol music is replaced by the tail ending music of the "Route 66" Theme by Nelson Riddle, making this variation of the dancing sticks logo a rare oddity. Another variation of the 1965 "S from Hell" logio has a different musical tag as well from episodes of "Batfink" & the 1st season of "I Dream of Jeannie". Instead of Eric Siday's synthisyzed theme, it contains a trumpet-led small orchestrated musical tag composed by (alledgedy) Van Alexander. very rare variation of the "S fom Hell" logo also recently turned up on You Tube (in Black & White & color)these are all very rere & interesting variations of the Screen Gems Logos. Maybe someday Sony/Columbia will finally put out the 4th season of "Route 66" (with Glen Corbett replacing George Maharis) on DVD, hopefully with the dancing sticks logos and very little or no plastering.