Abbotts Halloween Special


Bill Neff Remembered 1973

by Walter Hudson

Editors Note: The book Pleasant Nightmares is an in depth look at Bill Neff and his spook show, highly recommended!

Stan Spencer of Miami, Florida, was an assistant on the Bill Neff show, "Mad House of Mystery" for several years. Stan was from Indiana, Pennsylvania, Neff's hometown and joined the show when he graduated from high school. Stan says he never considered the Neff show in the same category as the Midnight Spook Show although many of Neffs illusions had a ghostly theme and there was a black-out at the end of the show. Neff had a large illusion show and used two men and eight girls. He played regular vaudeville houses doing his show three times a day alternating with a motion picture. Occasionally,during the time Stan was with Neff, he did a full evening show. He featured the Broom Suspension, Mummy Case, Cremation, Girl With No Middle, and Spook Cabinet. There was a spooky motif and a lot of spooky talk but the usual blood and gore associated with a horror show were absent. Stan relates an interesting experience that occurred one night during the black-out sequence. . .

"Neff never worked the black-out . After a brief speech about spirits returning from the dead, etc., all the lights were extinquished and Neff left the stage in the dark, It was up to all the assistants to take over and float all the luminous ghosts, All assistants on the stage were dressed in black, and of course the house curtains parted on a stage completely covered with black velvet curtains. In addition-to the dancing skeletons and clutching hands that appeared and vanished we had 'spiders that were turned loose' in the audience. These were merely dried peas that were thrown in the dark from the stage or from the balcony. All this was accompanied by weird music, screams, cat cries, etc.

"One of the features of the black-out was when ghosts floated over the heads of the audience and around the theater. These had to be floated high enough so that no one could reach up and grab them, The ghosts were merely cloths treated with luminous paint and attached to the end of long reaching rods. A reaching rod was a long pole that telescoped out over the audience. We also floated ghosts from the balcony when we played some of the smaller theaters. We used a fishing rod with the ghost attached to the end of the line. My job was to stand at the edge of the balcony and 'cast' the line out over the audience sitting on the main floor.

"I will never forget the one night I cast my line out just as another assistant on the stage floated a ghost on a reaching pole. My fish line from the balcony hit the pole from the stage and the ghosts got tangled. I pulled my line trying to get them apart and the person on the stage pulled his. The more we pulled the tighter they became entwined. It was no use, we couldn't get them apart. What a predicament. The time for the black-out to end was fast approaching, the other ghosts had left the air, the skeletons were gone and there we were with the two caught together. Luckily I had a pocket knife with me, and after my short panic, I cut my line and the person on the stage pulled in the two ghosts and part of my fish line just about a second before the lights came on."

I met Stan Spencer, who is currently doing an outstanding mental act, in Phil Thomas' Yogi Magic Mart a few months ago and he spent quite some time relating experiences about Neff and his show.

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