I am sure that most of the younger Ed Wood fans really have no idea as to whom Criswell really was. He was portrayed quite accurately in the movie 'Ed Wood.' In fact, he was portrayed so well that I had some flashbacks to the mid-1950's when I first met him.
My father went to work for Criswell in 1956. He had offices on Sunset Blvd., which were little more than a turn of the century Victorian house 'converted' into office space (right next door to a miniature golf course). My father had convinced him to get into the food supplement business with a new product called 'Criswell Family Formula,' which was little more than a nickel-size, malt flavored tablet that was loaded with caffeine and a smidgen of vitamins. At that time, the newly formed FDA was hot on the heels of companies producing these types of products.
Criswell's TV ratings were mediocre. His audience consisted largely of older senior citizens. The programs were broadcast live at (then) KLAC channel 13 in Los Angeles (now KCOP) and kinescoped for syndication in other TV markets. I went to several of his broadcasts. The studio looked like an old converted chicken coup with everything painted flat black. The stage consisted of an elevated platform with a mahogany desk and chair. There were 3 cameras used. One was positioned in front of the desk, another focused on a display of Criswell Family Formula products with some gorgeous alabaster statues on a black felt table cloth, and the third was used for the announcer, Bob Shields (years later, the judge on Divorce Court). The program director would start counting backwards from 10 to 0 and Criswell's theme song, 'Pomp and Circumstance' would begin to play. Remember, this was LIVE. Criswell would enter from the right side (as seen on TV) in his sequin tuxedo, place both hands on the desk while still standing, leer into the camera and say, "Good evening my dear friends..." and immediately go into his monologue. He was good at delivering a very serious looking appearance.
At that time, Criswell did not make the bizarre predictions like those in his later years. He accurately predicted a very large earthquake in Peru - and it happened about a week later. I once asked him how he 'learned' to make his predictions. He told me that he was a student of history and that all history repeats itself. Each and every time I spoke with him, he was kind enough to give me a very intelligent and lucid answer to all of my questions. In actuality, I found him to be quite an intelligent man. He read the St. Louis Dispatch (mailed to him) from cover to cover every day. In the Ed Wood movie, there were lots of inferences to the Brown Derby. That is very true. We went there with Criswell, his wife and several others. As soon as he walked in the door, people would stand up and want to talk with him. He was NEVER out of character. He was always CRISWELL. In fact, he often wore his pancake studio makeup at the restaurant.
I went to a Christmas party at his Hollywood offices. I was 12 years old and was wearing a powder blue suit with tie. There were several old ladies there and my mother wanted me to be the perfect little gentleman and ask them to dance to tunes played on an old 78 phonograph. I first danced with Mrs. Criswell. As soon as the next song played, I asked another old lady for a dance - it was Mae West. She was one of the nicest ladies you could ever meet. When not in character, she was almost unrecognizable. At that party, Criswell announced two things: First, that he had just purchased a 'new' apartment building in Hollywood, the Criswell Arms (on La Cienega) and that he would be appearing in a new 'scientific' movie that would explain the UFO phenomenon. Little did I realize then, that he was referring to Plan 9 From Outer Space.
I don't recall meeting Ed Wood. I may have, but don't recall. I should - I spent a lot of quarters at the Arden Theater in Lynwood, Ca., watching his crazy movies. The movie, Ed Wood, portrayed Criswell to a T, I am almost certain that the rest of the story is pretty accurate also. During one TV broadcast something terrible happened. Criswell was sponsoring his own show with his Family Formula. He had invited a very rotund woman to give a live testimonial about how 'wonderful' Family Formula was. The studio light on Criswell dims and the live camera is on Bob Shields. He goes into a simple spiel about FF and introduces the obese woman. She tells how great the product is, blah, blah, blah, the lights dim and Criswell returns to his monologue. At the end of the show, the same thing happens, Bob Shields ends the program and gives the last word about FF. The 3rd camera and lights come on for a picture of the FF display - AND THERE IS NOTHING THERE. You could have heard a pin drop in that studio. Fifteen people are trying to figure out what happened and what to do next. As it turns out, the woman was a kleptomaniac (a compulsive thief) and she stole all the FF and beautiful alabaster statues before the program ended. That was the first time I ever knew Criswell to be at a loss for words.
By the way, Charles Criswell King is not his actual name. His last name is the same as mine, Koenig - actually spelled Konig and translates to King in German.
Hope you enjoyed my story.