Mark Hamill: Now and Sven
For a room full of Star Wars fans, the notion of calling Mark Hamill (“Luke Skywalker” in the original trilogy) seemed like something from a galaxy far, far away. But there we were recently, talking to the man himself. His Star Wars role has him etched permanently in the collective consciousness of cinema, and not just in the sci-fi wing, but the main room as well. But beyond his iconic role, Mark Hamill is an incredibly busy voiceover artist, most famously giving the voice (and insidious signature cackle, in all its various shades) to the animated Batman series and its assorted accompanying video games. That he’s made such a mark in various sci-fi and fantasy situations is right in keeping with his own interests. He grew up as a science fiction and monster movie aficionado, and when he happened upon a Svengoolie episode one night, he was immediately transported back in time to the all but long gone days of horror hosts. The experience kick-started an immediate and enthusiastic bond not only with Sven, but with Me-TV as a network. He’s a faithful viewer, and was as eager to speak with us as we were with him. We gathered round our speakerphone and introduced ourselves.
Hi, Mark. You've got the teams from the Me-TV on-air promotion department and website here...
Oh my gosh! Well, listen I can’t tell you what a fan I am, not only of Rich’s show, but of your station. It’s easily my favorite television network. I think it’s the most diverse, entertaining, family-friendly retro TV station on the air, bar none. And one of the things I love about your programming, I mean, clearly it’s run by TV lovers, for TV lovers. But the fact that you don’t shy away from black and white shows. You’ve got Alfred Hitchcock, The Fugitive, Mr. Lucky, Naked City, I could just go on and on, Twilight Zone, Thriller…there’s something for everyone, and I just couldn’t be a bigger fan. And I’ve even seen shows that I was on in the days before videotape recorders, that I’d never even seen! I know I did a Cannon and a Streets of San Francisco, but I can’t remember the titles or the subject matter. But I do remember doing a Night Gallery, and I remembered the title all these years later, so when I saw it listed on your network, I finally saw it, forty years later.
Also, Rich Koz is here, our very own Svengoolie!
You know, I own a lot of the movies you show on disc, and when I saw Bride of Frankenstein in the listings one night, it was, like, twenty after the hour and I thought I’d just tune in and see which point the movie was at. And when I flipped over, and discovered, “Oh my gosh! A horror host!” I mean, my son said “Calm down, Dad!” because I got so excited. You don’t realize how much that means to me. When I was a kid, not only did they have hosts for horror movies, but Popeye cartoons, The Three Stooges, the afternoon movies, teenage dance shows—it really personalized television and made a bond between the viewer and whatever TV personality there was. The fact that you show kids’ letters and their drawings—I tell you, I’m eleven years old all over again, reading Famous Monsters Magazine and building my little Aurora monster kits.
It’s sensational and I think the world of you, and I think you’re fearless, being as silly as you want to be. I love when you do the backgrounds on the films, and you give the production notes and point out that this guy was the bartender on Gunsmoke—your enthusiasm for the stuff you do is just infectious, and I just adore Svengoolie. It’s the perfect show to watch with your kids and your grandchildren, and laugh. It’s a great connection to our past. I don’t know that there are any other hosts on television like you—it’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.
Saturday night happens to be my favorite, not only because of Svengoolie, but my friend Bill Mumy’s Lost In Space is on. I have a real weakness for Batman and Wonder Woman, being a comic book geek. And then what I think are three of the top comedies of all time, The Honeymooners, The Phil Silvers Show, and Car 54, Where Are You? And for those of us with DVRs, I’ve been trying to get all of the younger people who are unaware of these shows to try them, because they’re just timeless, just hilarious.
And then there’s a whole bunch of shows that I’d heard about but never seen, like Land of the Lost and H.R. Pufnstuf—where did those shows come from?! Just tremendous, guys. I’m an exuberant fan, as you can tell!
You mentioned The Honeymooners earlier. The great Art Carney was on The Star Wars Holiday Special—did you have a chance to work with him?
No, I did not, unfortunately. It’s funny that you mention that, though, because LucasFilm officially said, “Don’t ever talk about it!” And I said, “Look, I think we have to own that,” if anything. I remember thinking at the time were doing it that it was a real mistake, because it wasn’t fitting in with anything we’d done before, and I said, “I’m not gonna do it!”
Well, I got a call and it was Mr. Lucas himself and he said they really wanted me to do it. The movie had been in the theaters for over a year and they wanted to keep a presence, with an idea towards the merchandising and keeping the public aware that we were there. It just seemed so odd. I said, “I’m not doing a musical number. Luke wouldn’t sing!” I mean, I’d done a Broadway musical, but I just didn’t think it was right for my character.
And so even though it came out as this kind of quirky misfire, I still thought we should own it. You know, just include it as a DVD extra, just to show how fallible we are! We make mistakes, too. But when I say this, I also point out what an excellent cast we had: Beatrice Arthur, and especially Art Carney, who I think is one of the all-time comic giants in any media. That’s my one regret. I wish I’d know what they were doing and when they were doing it, and I would have gone to the set just to meet him. I didn’t work with Peter Cushing in Star Wars, but I did make sure I got out to the set so I could meet him.
But that Star Wars Holiday Special was put together like a variety show, there was no priority put on who was doing what when, so I didn’t get a chance to meet him., unfortunately.
For the real Star Wars completist, though, that was the first introduction of Boba Fett, in animated form. That came out before Empire Strikes Back, so it’s probably historically significant to people that want to explore every bit of Star Wars minutia. I’m not one of those people, but I totally understand it, because I’m totally that way with The Beatles, or the Universal horror films—I’m a fan myself, so I can totally understand that mindset.
You mentioned Peter Cushing, what was he like?
A gentleman. So kind and gracious. He was surprised that I knew so much of his résumé. He was in one of my favorite Laurel and Hardy films, A Chump at Oxford, and that was one of his first films in Hollywood. And he played the off-camera to Leslie Howard in The Man in the Iron Mask, so they could do the twins. He told me that was the perfect entry into filmmaking, because he knew he would be cut out of it, so he had no stage fright. I asked him why he didn’t stay in Hollywood, because A Chump at Oxford was ’39 or ’40, and he said it was because of the war. He went back because of his patriotism.
But, what a delightful guy. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to meet him, and find out how erudite, and warm and witty he was.
You also mentioned The Twilight Zone. Do you have a favorite episode?
That’s one of those shows where I’ve got the box set, but when it’s on Me-TV, I watch it. I think one of my favorite episodes is Eye of the Beholder with Donna Douglas, where she’s in the hospital, and she’s all bandaged up and the hospital staff are only seen in shadows, and they tell her she’s been horribly disfigured. Of course, the twist at the end—spoiler alert! Close your ears if you don’t want to hear—they unwrap the bandages and of course, she’s the gorgeous Donna Douglas of Beverly Hillbillies fame. And they cut to the doctors and nurses and it’s that hideous. It scared me to death when I was a kid!
That’s what I love about The Twilight Zone, it’s so versatile—they did light comedy, suspense and they did horror. Bill Mumy, my buddy from Lost In Space, he did a couple of classic episodes: the one about the little boy that wishes people into the cornfield, and the other one where he’s receiving phone calls from his dead grandmother on his toy telephone. I think that was one of the ones they did on videotape. It looks live.
But I probably have a top ten list, because there’s so many of them that I love. There’s the one about the guys that return from the space voyage, and one by one they disappear, until there’s only one guy left and eventually they cut to “And there were no survivors.” I love the time travel ones, like where the guy goes back and tries to warn people about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, or the guy who’s on the Titanic trying to warn them that they’re going to hit an iceberg. Especially when I was like, 8, 9, 10 years old, there’s that strong desire to alter history, you know, and the fact that you can’t makes you feel so vulnerable.
I know you did an episode of The Night Gallery. Did you get a chance to interact with Rod Serling at all?
No. First of all, they’d have him in and he’d do 4 or 5 of those intros at a time, and it was connected to the actual production of the episode. But I have to tell you, on Night Gallery, I only worked one day. Me and the monster were one day players! It was called There Aren’t Any More McBains, and Joel Grey was the star, and it was like maybe the second or third thing I’d ever done. I played a telegram delivery boy, and I remember the woman who was dressed up in the monster makeup, and she had these contact lenses that gave her solid white eyes. And I was beside myself because it was sort of like a cousin to The Twilight Zone.
But, completely disconnected with appearing on Night Gallery, I was in the lobby of ‘The Black Tower’ at Universal, which is where all the executive offices are located. I was there for some audition, and I pushed the button for the elevator, and the doors opened and there’s Rod Serling standing there with his hands clasped, in his suit, looking exactly the way he looked when he was doing those introductions to The Twilight Zone! You know, (he goes into perfect Serling impression) “Submitted for your approval…” And I was absolutely gobsmacked. I don’t think I said anything because I was going in and he was headed out, but it was certainly a memorable moment for me. The elevator doors open, and there’s the man standing there!
But I don’t like bothering people, you know? I remember seeing John Lennon when I was in New York, walking down Columbus Avenue, and one time outside The Dakota (the famous apartment building where Lennon lived). And I remember hearing him say that one of the reasons he moved to New York was that people left him alone, and he didn’t have to deal with people flipping out and becoming Beatlemaniacs on a day to day basis. I always make a mental note and say, “Don’t bother them; just enjoy the moment.”
(Photo by Chelsea Hamill)