“And now I tell a tale of the threshold people. So astounding that some of you may faint!”
-Criswell from “Night of The Ghouls” and “Orgy of The Dead.”
By Steve StonesLike so many of Ed Wood’s entourage of stock actors, Criswell had a very unique personality all his own. Born Charles Geran Criswell King in 1907 to an Indiana mortician, as a red-haired, freckled-face young boy growing up in Indiana, Criswell developed an interest in how future events were going to turn out. Like so many young boys growing up, his mind was looking to the future, not to the present or the past. In Criswell’s own words, he describes his family labeling him as a “freak” when he was just a boy. “And perhaps a freak I have remained.”
Prior to his appearance in Ed Wood’s cult masterpiece Plan 9 From Outer Space, Criswell began his career as a radio newscaster in New York. Criswell also had a successful career as a newspaper columnist. He once appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows. He later established a reputation as a clairvoyant able to predict the future in very entertaining and strange ways on his television show broadcasted in Los Angeles. His TV show and syndicated column were appropriately called: Criswell Predicts.
Some of his strangest predictions included an influx of cannibalism across America, and seven women serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. Other predictions included a Black Plague to hit the Midwest, the ghost of Napoleon being seen near his tomb in Paris, a secret graveyard being discovered near Denver, and the successful and inexpensive operation to change a woman into a man with the simple transplant of the sex organ.
Perhaps this prediction was fueled by Wood’s Glen Or Glenda, a film dealing with the subject of a man transforming himself into a woman by a sex change, and the rejection of transvestism in modern society. Glen Or Glenda was a film way ahead of its time in the early 1950s. His predictions were chronicled in two books he wrote: Journal of The Future and Your Next Ten Years. Criswell claimed that 86 percent of his predictions were accurate, when in fact they were seldom correct.
Criswell’s appearance in three Ed Wood films: Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of The Ghouls, and Orgy of The Dead, remain as some of his most interesting and bizarre. His trademark “spit curl” hairstyle and black bow tie make him a recognizable character in contemporary popular culture.
“You are all interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable, for that is why you are here,” Criswell states while reading a cue card in the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space while atmospheric library music plays in the background. A sequence of Criswell rising from an opened coffin in Night of The Ghouls remains a personal favorite of mine. He rises from the coffin and tries desperately to keep his head looking forward, not to give the impression that he is reading a cue card in front of him, which is quite obvious to the viewer.
Criswell crossed over to the land unknown in 1982. In the future I predict that Criswell and Plan 9 From Outer Space will continue to entertain fans for generations to come.
Notes: Criswell’s coffin was used in Wood’s adult film, Necromania; a fan Web site on Criswell is at http://www.evil-pumpkin.com/jake/criswell/