With a career spanning 50 years, Fritz “The Nite Owl” Peerenboom is one of Columbus’ most iconic figures. Many grew up with “Nite Owl Theatre,” a late-night television show where Peerenboom hosted thousands of episodes, earning five regional Emmys and induction into the Horror Hall of Fame in 2012.
A few years ago local filmmaker Mike McGraner asked Peerenboom to reboot “Nite Owl Theatre” — in all its classic glory — as a web series. It quickly became more. “Nite Owl Theatre” is now a monthly presentation on the big screen; first at Grandview Theatre, then moving to Studio 35 where Season 3 kicks off on July 13 with “Jaws.” Seasons 1 and 2 are available on DVD. Peerenboom was recently nominated for 2013 Emmy — his first of what’s sure to be more — as host of rebooted version of “Nite Owl Theatre.”
“Nite Owl Theatre” started in about 1970 and was an un-hosted movie. When I started doing the show on Saturday nights there was such a response to it they created an on-camera character.
“Nite Owl Theater” had these great cartoon slides by staff artist Dave Wagstaff. It was a cartoon owl and if it was a war picture, he’d be dodging shells. If it was a romance, he’d be sitting on the couchmaking out with his lady friend. The cartoon owl was also supposed to be what youthe audience were doing while you were watching it —making out on the couch, putting out the cat or fixing a sandwich. When I did the voice-over, people knew my voice from radio and started writing letters to Fritz the Nite Owl, even though there was no such character at that time.
Dave Wagstaff [also] came up with the owl glasses. He put the Masonite horns with the broken mirrors on and painted them. We use the same pair today.
The broken mirrors are at odd angles and … I would turn my head and the mirrors would flashback into the camera, but not predictably. It was like getting your own light show while watching TV. People would write or call in [about the special effects] and say, “Did you really do what I think I saw last night, or had I scored something above and beyond?” I’d say“Probably both.
The show was seven nights a week from about 1975 to 1991. The movies would repeat, but what I did was always new for every show. I did over 6000 consecutive performances.
For five nights a week it was done live; I was physically there at three in the morning. [The performance] was 90 percent improv, but I would take notes and research the movie. It just depended on how I felt or what was going on. For example, I think I was the first to announce on television that Buster Douglas had whomped Mike Tyson because it happened while the movie was on.
I won five [total] Emmys out of about 20 nominations from 1974 to 1991 as a host/performer, and one as a producer. The last one I won was in 1992 for the work that got me fired in 1991. It was sort of like being voted most valuable player and getting kicked off the team.
I once did a commercial with Jack Hanna’s daughter where we were in a restaurant with a baby elephant. I can’t remember what exactly it was for, but the baby elephant s--- on the floor.
When I was in the service, Jamie Farr [of “M*A*S*H] and I were stationed at the same base. The day my first son was born in December of 1957, Jamie was working in the message center and got the phone call. H came, “Hey corporal, your wife had a boy. Where’s my cigar?”
It depends on when you ask me, but [there are] a couple movies that always end up in my top 10.t’d be “Casablanca,”From Here to Eternity,All About Eve,” and Woody Allen’s Play it Again Sam.[Another] favorite is the Johnny Dep movie “Ed Wood.” If you’re having a movie party, “Ed Wood” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is a great double feature.
Photos by Meghan Ralston