In the above photo, the big guy on the right is Gene Moss, who for most of his career was a top comedy writer, often in tandem with a
gent named Jim Thurman. The little guy on the left is Shrimpenstein, the title character of a short-lived but well-remembered kids' show on
Channel 9 in Los Angeles. Shrimpenstein ran every Monday through Friday at 5:00 in the afternoon. It was done live and a casual
viewer might sometimes have gotten the notion that the managers of KHJ had gone out in the alley, found two drunks, bought them a few extra pints and
sent them out to do a TV program, ostensibly for toddlers.
The station was going through a period where it was acting like its parents weren't home. During this time, it also tried an
afternoon dance party show called Groovy, which was broadcast live from Santa Monica Beach. Fathers all across Los Angeles were racing
to get home in time to watch the 15-year-old girls in bikinis flash the camera. Some left work early so they could also catch Moss and
Thurman's televised Happy Hour.
Shrimpenstein went on the air in January of '67. At the time, almost every local TV station was trying to work a Soupy Sales
knock-off, some of them amazingly close. Channel 9 also offered up — briefly — a morning man named Bill Holly whose show was a
precise clone of Soupy's: Pies in the face, guys at the door, dog puppet-gloves reaching into camera range, etc. Same show but not as
funny. Shrimpenstein incorporated most of the same elements: One guy on camera, another working puppets just off-stage. The
difference was that this show was set in a kind of Transylvania castle with Moss playing Dr. Von Schtick, who was supposed to sound like Boris
Karloff but who sounded more like Bobby "Boris" Pickett on the record, "Monster Mash." Actually, late in the run (sometimes, late in any given
episode), Moss would tire of the accent and announce, "I'm sick of this stupid voice" and just drop it.
His partner Jim Thurman was the unseen guy, playing various roles. They had two "White Fang"-type hairy gloves. One was
Klaus, who was some kind of rude creature who, like Soupy's canines, reached into the scene from next to the camera. The other came out of a
box like "The Thing" on The Addams Family. He was called Wilfred the Weiner Wolf because he was originally the spokeswolf for a brand of
frankfurters that bought much of the commercial time on the program. Then one day, Wilfred — who muttered everything under his breath so
he sounded like an obscene phone caller — started explaining that their sponsor used only the finest ingredients, including live kitty
cats. Dr. Von Schtick gasped (this was apparently not in any script) and asked Wilfred, "You don't mean this fine product actually grinds up
cats?" Wilfred answered, "Yeah...they take people's kitty cats and throw them in the vats." Following that broadcast, the hot dog company
was no longer involved with Shrimpenstein and Wilfred was occasionally grumbling about having lost his weiner.
That was how it often went on Shrimpenstein. It became one of those shows you were afraid to not watch for fear you'd miss
Dr. Von Schtick exposing himself on the air or Wilfred saying the "f" word. None of that occurred but there was forever a sense of danger.
One time, they were off the air because there had been a fire at the Channel 9 transmitter that had blacked out the entire station for
much of one day. The following afternoon, Dr. Von Schtick explained that he had been the cause of the blackout because one of his
experiments had gone wrong. There was a huge toggle-switch on the set — they called it "The Bull Switch" — which he would often
throw to start a cartoon or something. He walked over and, to demonstrate what he'd supposedly done the day before, threw the switch...and the
station went to black again, this time intentionally but only for about thirty seconds. That thirty seconds, however, was enough to panic the
station managers who thought the transmitter had blown up once more. One of them reportedly was on the phone screaming and firing technicians
when he finally realized that it wasn't another disaster; just Moss and Thurman screwing around again. (Around this time, the station also gave
up on a micro-budgeted late night talk show hosted by Moss and Thurman, with Stan Worth as their bandleader. For no visible reason, Gene and
Jim were dressed as basketball referees and, going in and out of commercials, they would toss free throws through a hoop on the set or make their
At times, Shrimpenstein was almost an average kids' show, as per the Soupy formula. Soupy had his puppets, Pookie and
Hippie, who would mime to records. Shrimpenstein had The Tijuana Bats, who would dance to records that were played at double-speed, a
la The Chipmunks.
Early on, they tried running the Marvel Super-Hero cartoons that had just been produced by the Grantray-Lawrence studio on the lowest
of budgets. Dr. Von Schtick would introduce each as, "Another Marvel mediocrity" or "Another one of those cartoons where nothing ever
moves." One time, he even suggested that kids switch over to Channel 11 and watch Roger Ramjet...a good cartoon. Moss and Thurman
had been the head writers, and had provided occasional voices for Roger Ramjet. KHJ must have loved that.
And, of course, two or three times a week, Moss would get hit with a pie. On the very last show, he dragged Thurman on-camera and
pelted him with about ten of them.
Their last show came abruptly. As I recall, they didn't say it was their last show, though they seem to have known. The
following Monday, Dr. Von Schtick and Wilfred and the Tijuana Bats were gone, and one of the station's newsmen was awkwardly working
Shrimpenstein. (Moss and Thurman hadn't had much more success with the dummy, which was built by famed puppet-maker Wah Chang. First,
Moss had tried supplying its voice but he was no ventriloquist. Then, Thurman did the voice from off-camera while Moss clumsily moved the
mouth, never remotely in sync. Then, for a time, they just ignored their title character whenever possible. I seem to remember one show
where Dr. Von Schtick announced that Shrimpenstein would not be appearing that afternoon because "no one remembers where we left the stupid
puppet.") The show only lasted another week or two after their departure.
Soon after, there was a much-publicized rally in Griffith Park. Billed as a campaign to get Shrimpenstein (the
Moss-Thurman version) back on the air, it reportedly turned into Gene and Jim just doing all the material Channel 9 wouldn't let them do, angering
some parents who'd brought their kids. It was the last time I know of either performing anywhere. For a time, they wrote for different TV
shows, including a stint with Bob Hope, and operated a small company that produced humorous commercials. At some point, they split and Moss
worked for various shows and advertising agencies, while Thurman became a key writer for The Electric Company and, later, Sesame
Thurman continues to work at such projects but Moss passed away last week, following a short bout with pancreatic cancer. I never
had the pleasure of meeting either gent in person (I spoke to Thurman a few
times on the phone) but as a devout Shrimpenstein watcher, I feel like I've lost one of my childhood buddies.
Thanks to Scott Shaw!, who shares my fond memories of the show, for pointing out an egregious error I made when I first posted
this. It has, of course, been fixed.