The legendary movie host talks flying onscreen, hidden talents and not being dead
New audiences are discovering local radio and TV legend Fritz the Nite Owl through his monthly “Nite Owl Theatre” series at local movie houses like Studio 35 and Grandview Theatre. We recently asked the 84-year-old Emmy winner — and his producer, Mike McGraner — about their work and more.
What has been the reception to the revamped “Nite Owl Theatre?”
Fritz: I really didn't think there would be that much interest in it. When we did the first one at the Grandview [in 2010], I was just expecting 20 people to be there. And when Mike brought me out, it was a full house. … A lot of people have said, "I thought you were dead." Or they would ask, "Are you the real Fritz the Nite Owl, or some bloke they hired?"
What do you enjoy about the format?
Fritz: To sit in there, and to get the laugh where you want it, or the gasp when they see the special effect that Mike has come up with — artistically, that’s very pleasing to me.
Talk about the early days of incorporating special effects in “Nite Owl Theatre.”
Fritz: To do a flying sequence, we'd have to mask off a piano stool with a blue cloth. One camera would have a picture of me lying on the piano bench. And then another camera would have the picture of whatever I was flying by. … And then, electronically, they came up with a thing where we didn't need the blue cloth and I didn't need to be lying on the [bench].
McGraner: We can put him in a harness now and it’ll literally look like he is flying, and he's like, "I’m gonna pass."
Fritz: Twenty years ago I’d have done it.
What was one of your most memorable special effects?
Fritz: One of the scenes that we did that won us our first Emmy was, Mike figured out a way that I could be talking to Audrey Hepburn and light her cigarette. And we could share the cigarette. People just freaked.
Did you have aspirations to have a career like Cassandra Peterson (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark)?
Fritz: I did have dreams of the show being national and me doing national commercials like she did, and being as well known internationally. ... I didn't get to the point that I had hoped where I could be featured in a movie. … Somewhere there's a movie producer who sees my stuff and will say, "Hey, I need an 80-plus old man for this part, and this guy would be terrific."
Who are some of the celebrities you’ve met?
Fritz: Julie London, Doris Day and Esther Williams. They were just so absolutely nice.
McGraner: We did "A Nightmare on Elm Street" two weeks after Wes Craven passed away. The entire cast was there, and we got introduced to Robert Englund. And he said, "Yeah, I know who Fritz is." And I was like, "How do you know who Fritz is?" … [Ohio film director and effects creator] Robert Kurtzman used to pass the VHS tapes of his broadcast to [Englund], and he used to watch Fritz in the mid-'80s.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Fritz: I could play medium-tempo blues ballads and bop in about three keys [on tenor sax]. … I am a better than average cartoonist.
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
"Casablanca." "As Time Goes By" is one of the most magnificently beautiful songs in the world. … The cast is superb and the dialogue — they don’t write stuff like that anymore.