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THEATER NOTES : The Monster Maker : The co-author of Moorpark's current 'Dracula' production first popularized ghoulish characters in his famous 1960s song.

August 27, 1992|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bringing the "Mash" to Moorpark: Bobby "Boris" Pickett rose to world fame as the performer and co-writer of "Monster Mash." A No. 1 single in 1962, the record has become a perennial, as identified with Oct. 31 as "Easter Parade" and "White Christmas" are with their own holidays. Pickett is the Guy Lombardo of Halloween.

Home video fans can spot Pickett in the recent sci-fi parody "Lobster Man from Mars" (where he appears with Tony Curtis, Patrick Macnee and Billy Barty). A screenplay he wrote, "Mummies," was sold to the Walt Disney Co. five years ago.

What brings him to "Theater Notes," though, is that Pickett is co-author of the Moorpark Melodrama's current production--"Dracula . . . Sorry the Bridge is Out, You'll Have to Spend the Night."

Now living in suburban New York, Pickett came to Los Angeles in the late '50s as a member of the Cordials, a vocal group from his home town of Somerville, Mass.

"I was also doing stand-up comedy as an impressionist, doing characters including Peter Lorre, John Carradine, Jack Palance and Boris Karloff," he said in a recent interview. "The Cordials would do (the Diamonds' hit) 'Little Darlin' ' in our act, and as a joke, I started doing the recitation in Karloff's voice."

Pickett wrote "Monster Mash," which humorously portrays various members of the un-dead dancing the then-popular Mashed Potato, with another Cordial, Lenny Cappizzi. Among the musicians playing on the disc was a young pianist just out from Tulsa, Okla., Leon Russell.

In an attempt to dispel rumors that the comic "Dracula" musical was inspired by "The Rocky Horror Show" or Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," Pickett explained that the show was written in 1966. Pickett was acting in a play at that time. Also in the play was Sheldon Allman, who had recorded albums called "Folk Songs for the 21st Century" and "Sing Along with Drac." The match seemed natural.

"Sheldon suggested that we write a musical. Two years later, his wife (actress Maureen Dawson) got some backers and mounted a production at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles. It ran for several weeks, despite some scathing reviews."

Nearly a decade later, another of Pickett's friends, Duke Stroud, a drama teacher, "was looking for a musical to produce at Pasadena City College. He put it on in 1976, and I invited all my friends, including Dick Clark. Duke produced it there again three years later." (Stroud receives credit for "additional dialogue" in the play).

Pickett discussed "Dracula" three years ago on the L.A.-based, nationally syndicated radio program "Dr. Demento." The show specializes in novelty records and, naturally, "Monster Mash" is a big favorite.

"A few weeks after the interview," Pickett says, "I got a call from the Dramatic Publishing Company of Woodstock, Ill., asking about publishing the play. It's a nice little outfit that mails its catalogue to schools and professional companies. We've had 10 productions (including the Moorpark Melodrama's) in the last several months."

Polygram Records has reissued the 1962 "Monster Mash" album on compact disc. Pickett says there's a continuing stream of royalties from the record, enough to give the man with "the shortest act in show business--3 1/2 minutes"--plenty of time to play golf.

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There can't be too much Shakespeare in Ojai: A newly formed company, Ojai Young Shakespeare, is set to perform "A Midsummer Night's Dream" over Labor Day weekend at Libbey Park, site of the just-closed Ojai Shakespeare Festival.

The new company bears no relationship with the Festival, though you may recognize some members of the cast. Ojai Young Shakespeare was founded by Lena Frederick, acting drama director at the Oak Grove School and alumna of Harvard and Yale.

"My husband and I were involved in Oak Grove's sister school in England, Brockwood Park, which led to us coming to the Ojai, 12 years ago," Frederick said in a recent interview. "My husband, Michael, trained at the Bristol Old Vic in England and teaches drama in Los Angeles and at the Old Globe in San Diego."

Frederick's company has no financial relationship with Oak Grove, though the school does furnish rehearsal space, some equipment and encouragement.

The company has connections with several local celebrities: The upcoming production's poster was designed by prominent potter Beatrice Wood, and Ojai Young Shakespeare's advisory board includes Laura Huxley and actors Mary Steenburgen, Peter Strauss and Linda Kelsey.

Frederick's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is set in the United States, in the late 1920s.

"It's an Elizabethan play that Shakespeare set in ancient Greece," she said, "and I've never enjoyed togas. It's still relevant in the '90s, but I didn't want to go completely contemporary because the play demands a strict social code that doesn't necessarily apply today."

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