On January 3, 2008, Kenny Quinn and I visited Josef Peter Hardt at his Tulsa home.
Josef (as “Peter Hardt”) was the host of weekend late-night sci-fi/horror movie program “Fantastic Theater” on Channel 2 in the 1960s. (See Fantastic Theater pages on TTM.)
We chatted about various Tulsa and TV topics.
I installed RealPlayer and added a Tulsa TV Memories shortcut to his computer so he could explore.
Before we left, Josef pulled an audio tape out of a closet and gave it to me.
I didn’t have a reel-to-reel recorder to play it on at the time.
I recently bought a circa 1968 Sony model TC-200 tape recorder on eBay. (I had the same model back in 1969 when “Fantastic Theater” was on the air.)
I played Josef’s tape at 7 1/2 IPS (inches per second), the maximum speed for home reel-to-reel recorders.
But even at this speed, the tape sounded drastically slowed-down. Evidently, it had been recorded at 15 IPS on a professional recorder. It was one big mono track, rather than 2-track or 4-track stereo.
Nevertheless, I easily identified the first tune on the tape as “Sonik Re-Entry” by Tom Dissevelt/Kid Baltan, the electronic theme I remembered so well. (single MP3 download at Amazon)
This was likely the audio tape used at KVOO-TV Channel 2 to put together the “Fantastic Theater” intros, extros, and bumpers!
After the complete “Sonik Re-Entry” ended, there was a long silence. Then, more slowed-down music abruptly began mid-tune. I recognized it as a version of the quintessential Exotica/Tiki tune, “Quiet Village“, which had been mentioned by TTM readers as the first FT theme.
On 5/10/2000, I wrote this on TTM’s Fantastic Theater page:
“Reader Bob Shelton said in Guestbook 38 that “Quiet Village” was the 1st Fantastic Theater theme… I didn’t even realize there WAS another theme. You can listen to Martin Denny‘s popular version [single MP3 download at Amazon].
“But now I seem to remember Johnny Martin [KRMG evening radio host in the 1960s-70s] saying that it was composer Les Baxter‘s version.”
From Guestbook 147, 10/1/2003, Kelly S. said:
“Punched in ‘Fantastic Theater‘ and what a great surprise! I remember the first theme, ‘Quiet Village’, introducing movies like ‘From Hell It Came’ and ‘World Without End’.”
So the tape seemed to corroborate Bob’s and Kelly’s memories (and mine of Johnny Martin’s comment).
Once again, the tape went quiet for a while, then an organ tune lurched in, again mid-tune.
What was that?!
My smartphone and laptop were the only tools needed to solve this part of the mystery.
First, I held my phone up to the speaker and played the tape again, recording it with the Recorder app.
Next, I opened the FTP Server app so I could pull the audio file over to my laptop.
I opened up the recording in Audacity (a free audio program) on the laptop.
Audacity made it simple to double the speed of the recording.
Listening now at normal speed, I recognized the second tune as Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”, corroborating my own memory of Johnny Martin’s offhand comment made decades earlier (I have the tune on CD).
The third tune was again “Quiet Village”, but performed by an organist. Who?
Listen to the crucial section of the tape, with a slideshow of the tape box and reel:
I already had it, so I held my phone up to the laptop speakers.
Shazam confirmed that the second tune was Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”. (single MP3 download at Amazon)
The third tune, Shazam revealed to be organist George Wright’s version of “Quiet Village”. (single MP3 download at Amazon)
Clearly, the overlapping recordings were made in reverse order of hearing on the tape.
This tape of Josef’s turned out to be an audio palimpsest (“a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.”)
Likewise, the Scotch-brand tape box (originally for an empty 7″ reel) has written on it in pen: “Bowery Boys theme, cut 1, 7 1/2 I.P.S.” This was sloppily red markered-out at the time it was repurposed to store this Fantastic Theater tape. (Watch the YouTube above to see it.) The reel itself is Scotch-brand as well, and has “Quiet Village” written on the rim.
I made this note on TTM the day we visited Josef:
“1/3/2008: Josef Hardt told me today that there was only one theme, the one described and heard below [“Sonik Re-Entry”]. Kenny Quinn was involved in its selection; it was on a tape from upstairs at KVOO-TV, he told me.”
Did Josef forget about an early usage of “Quiet Village” that at least a few viewers remembered? Maybe.
Josef’s videotaped host segments probably had the music added in post-production. Many years followed with the distinctive electronic theme.
On 6/18/1999 in Guestbook 11, Mitch Schauer recalled:
“I grew up watching Fantastic Theater, Jungle Theater on Saturday mornings (with ‘Quiet Village’ as its theme).”
Hmmm. “Quiet Village”, with its dense jungle noises, would make a lot more sense for a “Jungle Theater” than the sci-fi “Fantastic Theater”.
Was this tape was used to produce a Channel 2 adventure movie program before becoming the “Fantastic Theater” tape. I will need to look into newspaper TV listings from that period to find out if that could be true.
- Was “Quiet Village” the first “Fantastic Theater” theme by design?
- Or was it recycled from the existing tape, serving until “Sonik Re-Entry” was recorded over it?
- Or was it never used as the theme, and misremembered by the viewers we have heard from?
The strong and specific memories of TTM’s early readers (and mine of Johnny Martin’s comment) suggest that one of the first two options is correct. I lean toward #2.
If “Quiet Village” was specifically selected for “Fantastic Theater” (#1), George Wright’s version could have been the first take, and might have been heard on-air at least once.
If the remnant of Wright’s “Quiet Village” was related to the production of an earlier program (#2), it would never have been heard as the theme for FT.
Wikipedia notes that George Wright was the organist on “General Hospital” in the 1960s and 70s.
Ironically, in 1975, he wrote a theme for GH that was used for only a year before being replaced by the one remembered today.
Wright also worked with Tiki favorite Arthur Lyman, producing jungle sound effects with his mighty Wurlitzer organ. (See Tulsa Tiki.)
Coincidentally, I once owned this George Wright “Pop Organ” album on reel-to-reel tape, bought at Radio Shack, played on my first Sony TC-200.
Audio archaeology, and some deep-diving in the TTM Guestbook Archive shed a bit of light on Tulsa TV history.
3/12/2017: Until this moment, I had been unaware that Kenneth Eugene Quinn passed away on January 19, 2014. Josef Peter Hardt passed away on June 11, 2009.
I’m now listening to a Bill Evans Trio album with a beer in their memory.
Rest in peace, gentlemen. We will remember you.