Darkly comic performance artist Brother Theodore’s trademark manic, impassioned delivery made him an obvious choice for cartoon voice work. Although he was one of the more frequent guests on 80s David Letterman shows, I actually first heard him as a kid incessantly watching the 1982 animated feature, The Last Unicorn (he perfectly voiced an evil hunchback). He also made a great Gollum in the really underrated 1980 cartoon of The Hobbit—again, perfect casting. However, Theodore really shined at monologue, which is why this 1966 animated adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s satirical short story “The Nose” is so strong; he does every voice—the narrator, our tragic protagonist (Nathan Naspicker), the cruel and unfeeling police, and even the rogue nose itself.
“A Nose” is obviously slightly reworked for a light cartoon audience. Rather than Gogol’s 1830’s St. Petersburg, director Mordi Gerstein chose to set the story “in the Year of our Lord 1305, on the 25th of March in the city of Pittsburgh.” Poor Nathan Naspicker finds that his nose has abandoned him and started a life of its own. As Naspicker attempts to track down his roving schnozz, he begins to despair. There is no moral, it’s just pure madness, but it has a happy ending (kind of?)! The format of the film is actually quite experimental as well—partially animated, partially live action. It’s a cute cartoon for kids, but it’s definitely pure Brother Theodore in all his mad glory.
There I was, 1971, ten years old, bored, and flipping through the newspaper when BAM! It hit me like a ton of bricks! The exact thing my ten-year-old eyes dreamed of seeing: A huge half-page ad with a giant grotesque monstrosity ripping its own head off printed in blood red ink! Dripping red letters screamed BEAST OF BLOOD! I was an avid monster magazine reader then (and now) and even made a slew of my own monster mags. This ad was so very important to me that part of it was used as the entire back cover of “Monster Journal” a one-off handmade on loose leaf paper by a couple of ten year olds (one of them being me, natch). The monster ripping his own head off was the centerfold.
Luckily I somehow still have it. Here’s the front cover, centerfold and back cover:
Having misbehaved, I was punished the whole week this movie played in our neighborhood theater and I never got to see it, cementing it even deeper into my psyche, as it became my own demented folklore in my personal history. That I had to wait at least fifteen years—and for VCRs to be invented—to see it may be hard for young people to grasp in these days of consumer enlightenment, but such was our world back then, and believe me, the rewards were truly that much more rewarding when it took you that long to find something.
Not so strangely enough, this is exactly what these now 54-year-old eyes still dream of seeing. I have been buying a lot of DVD’s of late and was missing one of the “Blood Island” films so I bought a box set that came out called The Blood Island Vacation on Amazon. The so-called “Blood Island trilogy” has quite a convoluted past. Even the box set has four films in it. There are at least three or four other films that also fit into this trilogy.
The Blood Island saga begins in 1959 with Terror is a Man (later retitled Blood Creature, of course). It borrows its basic plot from The Island of Dr. Moreau—an obsessed scientist on a secluded island experiments with changing animals into humans. But the film is anything but a cheap rip-off. Terror is a Man is surprisingly intelligent, stylish and suspenseful, and from the same creators/directors/producers as the “Blood Island” trilogy: Eddie Romero, Gerardo De Leon and Kane Lynn. But let’s deal with the three main films to start with.
Brides of Blood (1968) begins the way all of the “Blood Island” films do, with our hero John Ashley (long time Hollywood B movie favorite starting out in fifties monster and juvenile delinquent films, graduating to sixties beach party films, doing quite a lot of weirdo flicks in the Philippines in the seventies, and then winding up producing TV shows like The A-Team, etc.), some hot chick with a specific reason for going to the island, some natives and the ships captain all sailing out on a steam ship to the dreaded island. This first film co-starred the ample real life stripper/actress Beverly Hills and 1930’s-1950’s B movie star Kent Taylor as her scientist husband (Kent Taylor was apparently the inspiration for the name of Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent).
They arrive on Blood Island and are met with the usual hostile/fearful islanders. Something weird is going on. Why are these people here? Everyone has their own concept of the monster in this film but to me it looks like a big burnt deflated Michelin Man with fangs and ummm… lipstick?
The big gimmick for Brides of Blood was the wedding ring give-away. Theater managers were encouraged to order hundreds of plastic wedding and engagement rings to give to every unmarried female in the audience. Hemisphere Pictures even made a special trailer to advertise the rings. I actually have a set of them that were still in the press book for the film that I bought many moons ago. The marketing and advertising for these films is amazing. Wild trailers, including deranged narration from demented doom comedian Brother Theodore on the Mad Doctor of Blood Island trailer (see below), gorgeous posters done by world-class artists (paperback book cover artist icon Charles Copeland on Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Beast of Blood, comic artist Gray Morrow on Brain of Blood) etc.
You can read a great and funny review of Brides of Blood from BadMovies.org here. The whole film can be watched for free on Hulu here.
[We’re flying our freak flag at half mast this week and relaxing a tiny bit over the holidays, so here’s one of my favorite posts from the DM archives]
“My name, as you may have guessed, is Theodore. I come from a strange stock. The members of my family were mostly epileptics, vegetarians, stutterers, triplets, nailbiters. But we’ve always been happy.”—Brother Theodore
I’m not sure this story qualifies as an actual anecdote or just a meandering way of introducing an amazing YouTube clip, but here goes nuthin’...
As a lad growing up in Wheeling, WV in the 1970s, at approximately the age of twelve, I decided that I was no longer going to eat the food I was being served by my parents. In a home where greasy pan-fried hamburgers (or “Steakums”) were the typical main course and Kraft macaroni and cheese substituted for the “vegetable group,” I simply wanted to eat healthier. My parents were not very happy about this this demand—for that is what it was—and it seemed really insulting to them, but what could they do? The severity of my new diet must have really taken them by surprise. I became, pretty much a Fruitatarian, or a raw foodist, years before this was common. What influenced my twelve-year-old mind to do something like this was an obscure book I found in the local library with the distinctly unappetizing title, Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr. Arnold Ehret.
I won’t go into the details of the diet, which extols the value of avoiding “mucus” and “pus” in your food—sounds like an admirable goal, right?—but suffice to say that while Dr Ehret’s work still has many followers—he’s thought of as the founder of Naturopathy—many diet experts consider him a total quack. But I am not here to debate the merits of his ideas, pro or con, merely to offer some brief context before I send you off to read this short essay, The Definitive Cure of Chronic Constipation.
Okay? You got that? At the very least skim it. The language he uses is quite distinctive isn’t it? The total disgust he expresses about the workings of the digestive system is almost Nietzschean in its peculiar character. This absolutist tone must’ve contributed greatly to my pre-teen interest in the diet.
Now flash-forward to the late 1990s, New York City. I had become friends with the then 91-year-old Theodore Gottlieb, better-known as the infamous dark comedian Brother Theodore, a big influence on monologists Eric Bogosian, Lydia Lunch and Spaulding Gray, who had been performing his totally insane one-man show at the tiny 13th Street Theater in Greenwich Village for ages and was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s late night talkshow during the 1980s.
At his age, it was not much of an exaggeration to say that Theodore had “been around forever.” He was delivering lines like “The only thing that keeps me alive is the hope of dying young” long before I was born. What was a great gag when he was, say, 50 years old, and then to STILL be delivering a line like that at the age of 93, as he did on my UK television series, Disinformation, well that existential tension is what made his nonagenarian performances so incredibly spell-binding.
His show was in the form of a stern lecture. It was nearly impossible to tell if this was an act you were seeing or if he was utterly batshit crazy, a berserk “genius” impervious to laughter as long as an audience bought tickets. The props were a chair, a table, a chalk board and a stryrofoam cup. There was a single spotlight. If you were anywhere near the stage in that little theater he could totally scare the shit out of you. Of course, whenever I brought friends, I took them right down the front!
It was an act, I can assure you. Theodore in real life was a mellow old bohemian guy who lived several lives in his 94 years. He’d been in Dachau (his release had been secured by Albert Einstein, his mother’s adulterous lover) and he’d also been on Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and most famously on Late Night with David Letterman (Theodore, along with Harvey Pekar, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Captain Beefheart, was one of the most memorable and emblematic oddball Letterman guests of his early era). He was in The Burbs playing Tom Hank’s great uncle and was the voice of “Gollum” in The Hobbit cartoon. He had a cameo in Orson Welles’ The Stranger. He was even in a porno movie, an X-rated parody of Jaws called Gums (Theo plays the boat captain, in a thankfully non-balling role. The former concentration camp prisoner is also seen, rather inexplicably, wearing a Nazi SS uniform for most of the film). In his nineties he was dating a woman in her mid-forties. He rode a bike around New York City until he was well into his eighties. Theodore was an old Beatnik, that’s the way I saw him. I think that’s largely the way he saw himself.
And talk about a weird way to make a living! He really wasn’t anything like his crazed monk act in real life, though. And let me tell you, when you are in your thirties and have a friend who is in their nineties… you learn things about life. Not all of them good, either. 94 years is a long time to live. Too long, if you ask me. I’m quite sure he felt that way, too.
Theodore apparently had great difficulty memorizing lines, even his own material and so he only really ever did two major monologues—he’d switch off between them when he felt like it—for over 40 years. One was called “Foodism”—we’ll get to this one in a minute—and the other was called “Quadrupidism” where he’d extol the virtues of human beings getting down on all fours (everything went to hell when our ancestors stood up according to his theories).
One day I was visiting Theodore at his apartment and I was looking at his sparse book shelf. On it sat The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Baudelaire’s Les Fleur du Mal, an Edgar Alan Poe anthology, The Portable Nietzsche, some St Augustine, and… ta da… The Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr Arnold Ehret. I remarked to him that I myself was a pre-teen adherent to Arnold Ehret’s unconventional ideas about diet and he replied that it was the inspiration for his “Foodism” monologue. “I merely exaggerated his writings. Just slightly. That was all it took!”
My jaw hit the ground. He’d managed to craft one of the most brilliant comic monologues of all time based on Ehret’s zany diet-sprach. I was awestruck at how amazing this revelation really was. I mean… how creative!!!
You read that essay about constipation, right? Promise me? Now go watch this extended excerpt from the “Foodism” lecture performed on Late Night with David Letterman in the mid-80s.
Someone posted the entire 1977 Rankin/Bass animated—and musical—TV version of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit on YouTube.
With a voice-over cast featuring Orson Bean as Bilbo Baggins, plus John Huston as Gandalf, Otto Preminger as the Elvenking and my friend, Brother Theodore doing the voice of Gollum. The legendary voice-over artist Paul Frees provides the voice of Bombur the troll.