The Munsters scare up some fun in this newly discovered holiday special
Reboots, updates and remakes be gone, the original Munster family is back! Though they were peacefully laid to rest after cancellation in 1966, the spooky family left behind one last fright for fans of the beloved series. Filmed in March of 1965 at the famous Marineland of the Pacific, The Munsters hosted a one-hour special that has finally been pulled from its deep, dark grave (which hasn’t been a bad resting place, as far as they’re concerned.)
It aired only once on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1965 and hasn’t seen the light of day in over 50 years. Some insisted that it was lost forever, but in true monster fashion, The Munsters’ famous guest appearance has reemerged to join the world of the living. The special was written and produced independently from Universal’s writers and production team, and due to contractual agreements with Universal, CBS actually booked “The Munsters,” so the actors’ names do not appear in the credits.
The premise of the special is that the Munster family has traveled to Marineland in hopes of finding a new pet for Eddie. “Something cuddly he can take to bed, like a shark or an eel,” says Lily. “But not the wind up kind; an electric eel,” Herman jokes. While shooting the first scene showing the family driving into Marineland, the famous Munster Koach was caught in rush-hour traffic, causing a complete standstill as motorists gawked at the famous car. In fact, the Munster Koach also had to be booked separately because like the cast, it too makes personal appearances, even to this day.
Once inside, The Munsters join their tour guide, Sid Gould (remember him from The Lucy Show?) whose tour is frequently interrupted by Grandpa’s flying antics and sway pole routine. As the family makes their way around the park, we are treated to the California sea lions and a dolphin show, as well as comedy divers, a group of blues-singing walruses and even Surfin’ Annie, a surfboard-riding terrier.
Producer Charles Andrews describes the special as “a real, live, three-ring sea circus,” and if that’s not enough variety for you, musical acts by the New Christy Minstrels are also interspersed throughout the special. The popular group performs several numbers including a rendition of “This Land is Your Land” and one of their biggest hits, “Saturday Night” where they appear underwater in an aquarium. This was surely a fun special for kids in the 60s!
Interestingly, Marineland was gracious in hosting the production, but did not alter their shows or schedule by even a minute. Off camera, Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis spoke candidly about their love for animals, and the growing trend of families purchasing dolphins as pets. “I don’t know whether I like the idea of having a dolphin stable,” Fred says. “If your pet turns out to be smarter than you are, there could be trouble. But what really gets me down is the tossing of rubber balls to whales and dolphins. They did an autopsy on a whale recently and found a couple of balls in his stomach.” Being the gentle giant that he was, Gwynne kept careful count of the balls thrown during the two-day production on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in California.
A little later, while shooting a scene where Grandpa throws a fishing line, Al Lewis unknowingly gave the hand command for the four dolphins to do a high flying formation and he almost dropped his fish into the 640,000 gallon tank. “It was disconcerting, to put it mildly,” Lewis recalls. “As an animal lover, I felt I’d have a rapport with the dolphins and the whales. But obviously the dolphins didn’t penetrate my makeup. So I ask you, how much can they see?” he joked. “That’s something for those oceanographic scientists to ponder!”
Perhaps the high point of the special is when Herman Munster climbs out onto the Marineland deck to feed a fish to the famous pilot whale named Bubbles, right out of his hand. As the hour comes to a close and the family decides it’s time to go home, Eddie chooses a seal named Roo as his new pet. The Munster family says their thank yous and goodbyes to the Marineland staff, and as the Munster Koach lets out a loud roar, they drive away with the newest member of their family.
So, why has this special been missing for so long and where has it been? It is known that the Marineland special was shot on video tape and for a lost program, that is not good because video tape both degrades faster than film and it became common practice for studios to erase tapes that they assumed would never be aired again, in favor of saving money and using them again. Fortunately, a kinescope protection print was made. A kinescope is a camera that films a video screen in order to preserve live programs or to air them again at a later date. Networks often used 16mm kinescopes for East/West coast transmissions due to different time zones, and luckily, at least one of these Marineland prints survived. The kinescope film remained in a private collection until the late 90s when it was donated to the Paley Center for Media in 1997, where it sat again for almost 20 years until being recently re-discovered in 2014. Since its airing in 1965, diehard fans have been on the hunt to find the legendary Marineland Carnival and the search has finally come to an end, as the lost special is now available for public viewing in Los Angeles and New York at the Paley Center for Media.