“Bob Wilkins Blazed Trails and Helped Introduce Anime to the U.S. and Made Creature Features an Institution”
I write this in memory of the great Bob Wilkins who was the host of a Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Area television institution, Creature Features. Most areas in the country had shows like this but none were as influential as the great Bob Wilkins version. He had a massive following which included fans like Tom Hanks, George Lucas, & Vincent Price who he would occasionally interview. It was shown on Saturday nights after the news.
Creature Features was created by Bob and it was originally shown in Sacramento KCRA television, until he was wooed over to Oakland’s KTVU in 1971. KTVU was a hip station that liked to try new and different things and the match was made in heaven. Every 70’s and 80’s kid loved it and creature feature reruns were very popular in the 80’s and 90’s.
Bob Wilkins Interview with William Shatner
Creature Features on KTVU regularly had higher ratings in the bay area than the wildly popular Saturday Night Live which was in its heyday. In time, Mr. Wilkins was credited with introducing Anime to the US television and movie viewer, showing things like Ultraman and other Japanese productions. He was famous for his Godzilla and monster movie genre that he liked to show as well, along with Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robots.
The other networks laughed when Bob started showing the Original Flash Gordon series from the 1930’s in between the movies and he even showed the first Batman Series from the 1920’s called the Bat-Man or Dark Knight which was actually silent. From Ed Wood movies to campy horror films, Bob would fearlessly show them all and his eager audience gobbled it up like freshly buttered movie popcorn.
Bob’s famous saying was, “Watch Horror films; keep America Strong!” The funny thing was every nutcase would call Bob. Many people claiming to be zombies, witches, warlocks and even a vampire would contact Bob.
A man claiming to be a real life Vampire once called him at the station and asked if he could be interviewed. Bob agreed and told him to meet him at the studio the next day at 2 pm. The vampire agreed. Bob said, “Aha! I’m not going to interview you. How is it that you are a vampire and you want to meet in the middle of the day?”
Bob also would “warn” his fans if there was a bad movie. In the promo’s for some of the bad movies he showed, he would literally say, “get some sleep tonight and don’t stay up late and watch our movie. We have a real schlocker (bad) of a movie tonight with Billy the Kid versus Dracula.” He would hold up signs showing the ratings of the bad movies with the letters PU. Of course the more he ripped on the movie, the more viewers had to watch. After the end of Jessie James meets Frankenstein’s daughter, he wiped tears from his eyes saying, “There isn’t a dry eye in the studio; that was a real tear jerker; or the worst movie ever seen on television!”
Bob’s sarcasm was way before it’s time, and he would show films that no station in their right mind would run. Classics like Ed Wood’s Planet 9 From Outer Space and the Japanese cult classic, Attack of the Mushroom People were fan favorites. Attack of the Mushroom people was barely released in the U.S. and he gained many Japanese movie fans for showing it.
Bob once said the movies were getting so bad that he was going to quit and start an ant farm which had more of a future. He would also threaten to quit unless people stopped watching. Of course the ratings went through the roof.
Bob was soon at every convention and gathering and was adored by his fans. His big cigar and soft spoken, humble nature made him even more loved. His wit was dry and he was always the coolest guy in the room.
Creature Features also had great movies in between the “schlockers”. The amazing Planet of the Apes movies, Night of the Living Dead, The Fog, Vincent Price’s House of Wax and so many others were great films. Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts was a huge hit as well. He was the first person to give Trekkie news before it was a term and the fans listened intensely with Spock ears fully opened.
If you get a chance, look him up on Youtube. He was a great interviewer and people called it a badge of honor to sit with Bob on Saturday nights. He interviewed the likes of Vincent Price, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ray Harryhausen, and Christopher Lee just to name a few.
Wilkins was so popular that the 10 o’clock news on KTVU begged him to be their weatherman. He did so but quit after 2 years saying he was kind of bored of it and it didn’t give him the freedom he wanted. He did win an Emmy though due to a stunt he did when he was bored.
He did a ski report from South Lake Tahoe and put in footage of James Bonds skiing scene from the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service without telling management. The newscasters could not stop laughing and the station couldn’t keep up with the phone calls of people saying how much they loved it. The news at that time was very dry and straight forward on other networks but it was never a dull moment with him around.
Creature Features was the first television show to ever show the original movie “Night of the Living Dead” and John Carpenter’s classic “The Fog” on television. KTVU got clearance to show Night of the Living Dead at the delight of the loyal bay area audience. It was actually filmed in the bay area and it used regular people as extra’s. The movie is a total classic. It had come out in theaters 3 years earlier and it was unheard of to have a movie shown on television that quickly.
Bob was a loyal guy to the local sports teams and KTVU had a real bias towards the Oakland Raiders. He also wouldn’t be above giving a jab or two or ripping on a Raider opponent when the Raiders won, which was most of the time.
Bob’s last bay area Creature Features show was in 1987 when he came back to show The Fog. It was like old times when Wilkins was given a piece of paper in the middle of the show saying that President Reagan had a really important message to give to the people of America and that it was directly from the White House. Of course it was about 12:30 am in the morning and Reagan was probably either sleeping or on vacation somewhere.
It ended up being a commercial Reagan did years ago for Boraxo hand cleaner. It was during the Iran Contra scandal, and after Reagan washed his hands and the commercial ended, Wilkins thanked the president for this important message commenting that it was the first time President Reagan had come clean about anything all year!
Bob also did a daytime show called Captain Cosmic geared towards kids and the Star Wars craze. He dressed up in a space suit type outfit with his trusty side kick robot 2T2.
Bob launched even more Anime productions with the hugely popular Ultraman series, and in the end, some of the highest rated segments were the 103’s Flash Gordon episode. He liked to show Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. After two years he ended the show because he literally did everything he wanted to do.
Sadly on January 7, 2009 it was announced that at the age of 76, Bob Wilkins had passed away quietly in Reno, NV from complications of Alzheimer’s. It ended the life of one of the most beloved men in bay area entertainment history.
Thank you Bob for all you did. My dad worked hard and he used to work nights and it was a Saturday night ritual to mingle with him while he got ready for work during the start of Creature Features.
My mom and I had great memories of staying up late watching the good and bad movies late on Saturday nights right before he left. A snack, Creature Features and Bob Wilkins was a guilty pleasure that even today makes me smile. Rest in Peace my friend. The joy you gave others will never be forgotten, and always be treasured.