Monster Kid Magazine #2
Texas TV Terror

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by Kerry Gammill

SHOCK THEATER -- It, more than anything else, created the Monstermania of the late-'50s and early '60s that gave birth to many a Monster Kid. When Screen Gems put together its legendary film package in 1957 and offered Universal's creepy classics to local television stations across the country, a phemomenon occurred to the devilish delight of thousands of fresh fiend fans. The local Horror Host was born. The premier TV release of such a large group of classic horror films cried out for a the type of presentation that pulled out all the stops and challenged the creativity - and budget - of the local stations. The pioneering efforts of Vampira on the west coast a few years before and the rising popularity of Zacherley on the east coast pointed the way and soon every major city inbetween had its own wacky and wonderful weird-oh hosting various versions of Shock Theater every week. These local horror personalities varied in their effectiveness and approach. Most treated their shows' subjects with a certain amount of ghoulish humor that added to the montrous fun. Others poked fun of the films they showed, making it difficult for their viewers to take them seriously. A rare few were dedicated to creating the spookiest asmosphere possible, doing everything they could to enhance the viewer's involvment in the films they were presenting each week. Such a host was Gorgon, star of NIGHTMARE every Saturday night on Ft. Worth/Dallas TV station KFJZ.

Gorgon in Life Magazine, May 1958

In the early sixties, Saturday nights meant just one thing to me. The week's wait was over and it was finally time for NIGHTMARE! I'll always remember the excitement I felt when the closing theme music for Jackie Gleason's American Scene Magazine show began. That music meant the countdown had begun. It was time to switch the TV to Channel 11 where seconds later a pair of glaring eyes would signal the start of my favorite show. After a journey down a dark, scary hallway while thunder and lightning crashed outside, a diminutive man in a black cape would appear to introduce thousands of Texas kids to the wonder of classic horror films.


For youngsters in North Texas, 11 was almost a magical number. Like most American cities back then, Ft. Worth had only three national channels available. But we also had KFJZ, Channel 11. At one time it was the number one independent station in the country. In the Sixties KFJZ (now called KTVT) seemed to have all the programs that made growing up during that time so much fun. Superman, The Three Stooges, Popeye, Tarzan, Hercules, Abbott and Costello and Roy Rogers were all part of the station's roster. But best of all were the monsters!

Like any 8-year-old, I knew nothing about movie history. All I knew was that every Saturday night there was a spooky show called NIGHTMARE and each week a creepy guy named Gorgon took great relish in presenting stories of mad scientists creating life, men who became beasts under the full moon, blood-drinking noblemen and slow but unstoppable living mummies. Some weeks we merely saw stories of misunderstood scientists (all looking like Boris Karloff) who went too far to prove their theories, or simply stories of men (all looking like Lon Chaney, Jr.) who were tormented by the thought that they might have committed murder. No matter what the movie was, it was made more special and exciting by Gorgon and the chilling atmosphere he gave each presentation.

Gorgon was among the Shock hosts featured in Famous Mionsters #2



Gorgon lived in a world of storms, graveyards and candlelight. His voice had an unearthly echo to it that made his weird cackling laugh all the more bone-chilling. He was just plain creepy and cool. His weekly introductions were almost like Shakespearean soliloquies extolling the virtues of the horrors we were about to witness. Camfield described this to Elena Watson, author of Television Horror Movie Hosts as "gothic doubletalk... much allusion, little substance."

Gorgon had his moments of dark humor, but there was little clowning and no derogatory remarks about the films being shown. Gorgon was interested only in providing the mood and atmosphere that would enhance the films as much as possible. The station's crew often recreated sets and props from the week's movie to act as a centerpiece to Gorgon's introduction. Monsters from the film being presented sometimes appeared (more modest local TV versions, anyway) and Gorgon usually ended up in their grip at the fade-out. I've seen and read about other local horror hosts of that time, but I don't believe there was anything else in the country quite like NIGHTMARE and its host Gorgon.

A rare videotape record of NIGHTMARE from 1959

The man behind NIGHTMARE was a talented young employee of KFJZ named Bill Camfield. Born in nearby Mineral Wells, Texas, Camfield moved to Ft. Worth at an early age. He developed an interest in literature and theater and entered TCU as an English major with aspirations of being a writer. In 1949 he began working as a copywriter for a local department store and was soon in charge of their advertisements on the burgeoning medium of television. Taking quickly to small screen, he began to write and perform in the local programs sponsored by the store. In 1954 he became part of the staff of the newly created KFJZ-TV, Channel 11. Bill Camfield soon became one of the busiest workers at the station both behind and in front of the camera and was on his way to becoming a local TV legend.

When KFJZ-TV purchased the SHOCK package Bill Camfield, who had already created many characters for various local shows and commercials, was selected to host the movies, partly on the strength of his evil laugh. He was given free reign to write and produce the program. Drawing upon his interest in gothic literature he developed the character of Gorgon and worked to establish the eerie mood of the show. He chose a subtle but effective make-up and wore a black cape over a white shirt. NIGHTMARE made it's debut in September of 1957 amid much hoopla and was an instant hit with young viewers in the Dallas and Ft. Worth area.


NIGHTMARE received national attention and was featured in LIFE, POST and TV GUIDE magazines as well as Famous Monsters of Filmland . Gorgon was named one of the top three chiller peronalities of 1958.

NIGHTMARE originally aired on Saturday nights from 8:00 to 10:30 and featured two movies each week. Camfield preferred to run mainly pure horror films on NIGHTMARE so some of the features from the SHOCK package were run on the station's MYSTERY MATINEE on Saturday afternoons. At the end of 1959 KFJZ, feeling the films were being overexposed, put the show on a planned hiatus except for Halloween specials. Camfield's busy schedule might have been a factor in the decision too since he had recently begun his stint as Icky Twerp, host of the station's long running afternoon kids' show SLAM-BANG THEATER .

In 1962 NIGHTMAREreturned to it's weekly schedule now with one feature at 7:30 each Saturday night. The show proved just as popular as ever and ran in that slot for two more years. When country-western music programming took over the Channel 11's Saturday night lineup, NIGHTMARE was moved to Wednesday nights for several months before being taken of the air permanently.

After several years off the air, Gorgon returned to TV screens in 1972 for a Halloween spectacular. The station went all-out for Gorgon's return (now in color) converting the entire studio into a huge dungeon set for the showing of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. After a final return for a Halloween special in 1976, Gorgon and NIGHTMARE left the airwaves forever.

The impressive sets for the 1972 Halloween special

Bill Camfield left regular television work in the mid seventies and started a broadcasting consulting firm, The Camfield Company. In his spare time he also pursued his love of writing that had remained with him all his life. He began writing a newspaper column and completed two screenplays and a novel. In 1989 he was given a one-hour prime-time TV tribute with many local figures including Joe Bob Briggs and Spanky McFarland appearing to pay him homage. Hordes of fans turned out for the taping of the event. When Bill Camfield died in 1991 Ft.Worth/Dallas lost a one-of-a-kind TV pioneer who will be long remembered by thousands of baby boomers across north Texas.






For more about the early days of local TV horror, we strongly recommend/ the new book SHOCK THEATER: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY. To order your copy, click on the book cover or use the link below to visit the Monsters From The Vault website.

Monsters From The Vault


Texas TV Terror part 2