Original Publish Date August 19, 2021.
I’ve written about Jerry Vance, a.k.a. Larry Vincent, a.k.a. Cap’n Star, a.k.a. Sinister Seymour in past columns, mostly in conjunction with the late great Hal Fryar a.k.a. Harlow Hickenlooper, a.k.a. Grandpa Harlow. Confused? Well, so am I. However, if ever an Indianapolis children’s TV host from the Circle City’s golden age of television deserved a redux, it’s Jerry, I mean Larry. Bear with me now as we sort out this man of many sobriquets who left Indianapolis to become a Hollywood cult classic legend.
Larry Vincent (a.k.a. Jerry Vance) was born Larry Francis Fitzgerald Vincent on June 14, 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating from Bishop-Lee College of Theatre and Radio in Boston, he enlisted in the Merchant Marines during World War II. He first surfaced in the mid-1940s, appearing alongside Kirk Douglas in the Broadway play Kiss and Tell from 1943 to 1945 and then as understudy for Douglas in the short-lived play Alice in Arms. Both are notable for being Kirk Douglas’ Broadway debuts.For a time, Vincent also performed in the play Life with Father. The Broadway production ran for 3,224 performances over 401 weeks to become the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway, a record that still stands. Vincent changed his name to Jerry Vance and teamed up with Anderson, Indiana native Donald Craig McArt to form a stand-up comedy act that performed in nightclubs all over New York City. Don McArt later appeared in the Walt Disney films Son of Flubber and the “bsent Minded Professor and a slew of TV shows.
Vance landed in the Circle City in 1951. In the early 1960s he was working as a producer/director for Indianapolis’ first TV station, WFBM-TV (WRTV Channel 6 nowadays). Vance was among the first wave of Indy television personalities working alongside Howard Caldwell and Tom Carnegie. Since the early television business demanded an “all hands on deck” attitude, Vance created a character he dubbed “Cap’n Star.” Vance’s character appeared in a segment titled “Cap’n Star and Friends” alongside Harlow Hickenlooper and Curley Myers. The segment showcased cartoons and old Three Stooges shorts. Alongside his pet monkey “Davy Jones,” Cap’n Star sang songs and performed skits on the show.
Vance also directed many of Frances Farmer’s shows at the station from 1959 to 1964. The show, known as “Frances Farmer Presents,” aired five days a week, with Farmer doing her inserts live. She showed only the newest available movies from major studios. Farmer’s show was the number one show in its time period from the day it premiered until the day it left the air.
Vance lived in a house at 41st and Graham Avenue on Indy’s east side. Local children remember him as a kind neighbor who always had time for kids, often letting them wear his sailor’s cap from the show and play with the show’s mascot monkey. Vance had a background in Indianapolis theatre, performing as a leading man and directing many productions at the Circle Theatre, Catholic Theatre Guild and Civic Theatre. In 1961 and 1966, he won the city’s best actor award.
While in Indianapolis, Vance led the league in personal appearances. He spent his nights as a stage actor and his days as Cap’n Star. While at WFBM-TV, he handled nearly every chore affiliated with the production of his show, including beating the bushes for sponsorship and commercial advertising. Almost every weekend would find Cap’n Star at a local store, restaurant, school, carnival, or fair. The August 30, 1963 Indianapolis Star announced that “Cap’n Star, star of his own WFBM-TV show ‘Cap’n Star’ and ‘Deputy Dawg’ on Channel 6” would be appearing on Saturday morning at 11:00 at the new Eastgate Shopping Center on East Washington Street.
In 1967 he left Indianapolis to become staff director for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles. Utilizing a formula developed in Indianapolis, Vance became a member of the Barbary Coast Theater. In an October 3, 1967 column, well-known Indianapolis showbiz reporter R.K. Shull recalled a perchance encounter with Vance in Hollywood. “Last Spring, Vance left Indianapolis and decided to try his hand at the big-time in Hollywood. So far, he’s done well. He played a scene with Julie Andrews in her upcoming movie, Star. He’s had three guest roles on TV series, the first of which, an I Dream of Jeannie series. Only he isn’t Vance anymore.”
Shull continued, “‘I’m now Larry Vincent,’ he said, exhibiting a briefcase with that name under the handle, as though that proved something. But why Larry Vincent? ‘That’s my real name,’ he explained. Soon, Vance applied for his ‘SAG’ card with the Screen Actors Guild. ‘They already had a Jerry Vance registered as a member… a stunt man,’ he said. ‘So I had to pick another name and I chose my own… I found out about the other Jerry Vance the hard way. They mailed him my check for the work in ‘Star.’ He’s a decent guy though; he sent it back.’”
Vincent made guest appearances in others series: The Flying Nun (1967), Mission: Impossible (1969), Get Smart (1968–1969) and Mannix (1970). However, Vincent secured his legend as host for a few Sammy Terry-style Friday night horror show programs in L.A. The first was known as Fright Night and aired from 1969 to 1973 on KHJ-TV, the next, Monster Rally for one season in 1973, the last was Seymour’s Monster Rally from 1973–1974 (both of the latter shows aired on KTLA TV-5). Although the shows were different in name, they followed roughly the same format.
Vincent’s “Sinister Seymour” character presented low-budget horror and science fiction movies on both local Los Angeles stations. Fans remember Seymour’s “slimy wall” behind which was an ongoing party of ghouls that, try as he might, Seymour was never invited to join. They recall a pay phone from which Seymour was constantly trying to scam “Pizza fella” out of free pizza (on a borrowed dime no less). And they remember Banjo Billy (played by Vincent himself) whose bright orange band uniform matched his cheery disposition and one-piece Groucho glasses and nose combo was as bad as his banjo playing, played foil to Seymour on the show.
He is remembered for his style of criticizing the movies, presented in an offbeat and funny manner, usually appearing in a small window that would pop up in the corner, tossing a quip, before vanishing again. Sometimes he would, using a blue screen, appear in the middle of the movie, apparently interacting with the characters in the film. Seymour called these movies “turkeys” right out of the gate. One need only look at the titles to understand why: Teenage Vampires, Monster from the Surf, The Spider Woman Strikes Back, X-The Man With X-Ray Eyes, The Crawling Eye, The Brain Eaters, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Attack of the Mushroom People, which he renamed “Attack of the Bunny Slippers” because of the unfrightening appearance of the film’s furry little parasite protagonists.
Dressed in black with a wide-brimmed gaucho plantation hat and cape, Sinister Seymour stalked his way into the films to openly mock the films as they aired. He equally derided his viewership, calling them “dummies” and “Fringies” while admonishing them for wasting their time by watching his program. No one was immune from Seymour’s insults, which could help explain his cancellations and reinstatements. For the last episode of Fright Night, Seymour ended the show by walking out of the studio, and the first episode of Monster Rally had him breaking into KTLA-5.
As he had done in Indianapolis, Seymour blanketed Tinseltown with personal appearances. Seymour was the Master of Ceremonies for the costume party at the first annual Witchcraft and Sorcery Convention in Los Angeles in 1971. He hosted “Seymour Day at Marineland” and was the first host of “The Seymour Show” in 1973/1974 — a Halloween Haunt show in the (then) John Wayne Theater at Knott’s Berry Farm. The event has since grown to become the largest and most haunting Halloween experience in California known as “ScaryFarm.”
Vincent a.k.a. Seymour’s last show came in 1974. Traditionally, Seymour ended the show by saying, “I’d like to thank you… I’d like to, but it’s not my style! Bad Evening!” But on his final telecast, Seymour eschewed his familiar goodbye and said nothing. He merely waved as the stagehands disassembled the set behind him. His last movie performance was in 1975 in an uncredited role in The Apple Dumpling Gang. For the last years of his life, Mr. Vincent battled stomach cancer. He died on March 9, 1975 at the age of 49.
Several years later, Elvira took over Larry’s place as horror-film hostess on Fright Night, which later morphed into her own series, Elvira’s Movie Macabre. And the rest, as they say, is history.