Quite generally during the 25 years that architecture artisan Skip Smith spent at CNN, addition sitting in his armchair — and Skip had anybody from Larry King to Raquel Welch, Bernard Shaw to Holly Hunter — would ask him how he got into the business.
Skip would say, “If I acquaint you, you’re not activity to let me accomplishment authoritative you up.”
Oh really, they would say. Why’s that?
“Because I started out authoritative bodies absolutely ugly.”
Skip’s aboriginal adulation was horror. Think blood-soaked face instead of begrimed eye.
“I’ve been a Halloween monster fan my absolute life,” Skip said. “That’s what got me into the architecture business.”
It started with the apparitional abode business. Afterwards admission from Suitland High, Skip went to St. Mary’s College in Southern Maryland. In 1971, he met a adolescent apprentice there alleged Edwin “Itsi” Atkins. Itsi was an ambitious amateur who created what was arguably the aboriginal live-action apparitional house, a abode alleged Blood Manor in an alone convent.
Skip was Itsi’s capital collaborator, allowance appear up with alarming furnishings and transforming the actors into ghouls and monsters.
“That was on-the-job learning,” said Skip, who acclimated techniques he begin in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Some complex acrylic rubber, a new average for him.
By bond the aqueous acrylic with affection or paper, he could actualize abominable effects: “The face looks like it’s austere up or the veins are bustling out. You could booty affected eyes and implant them. You could ‘tear’ the face.”
It could be catchy to handle.
“Once it’s applied, you accept to dry it with a beard dryer,” he said. “And it’s a balmy irritant. It has ammonia in it. We apparent the adamantine way you’ve got to be accurate with it. And absolutely don’t get it in your hair.”
Not unless you’re activity for the baldheaded look.
A big advance for the Blood Manor shows came in 1974 afterwards Skip saw a memorable cine in Philadelphia. He was up there as allotment of a traveling affiliation of players Itsi had put calm for a comedy alleged “The Patty Hearst Follies.”
“It was an batty show,” Skip said. “While we were in Philadelphia, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ had appear out. So we went and saw the film.
“When I got aback to St. Mary’s County, I said, ‘Itsi, my god, they aloof put this cine out area this guy cuts bodies up with a alternation saw.’
“You could see the lightbulb go on.”
So the abutting Blood Manor featured a chain-saw room. Skip said back every apparitional abode had its own chain-saw room, it became a cliche: “It got stupid, area bodies were application edger whackers and block bodies in the fields.”
Skip eventually got assignment on a non-horror cine attempt in Baltimore — “The Man Who Loved the Stars,” featuring Ossie Davis as architect Benjamin Banneker — again in 1986 heard that a new affectionate of TV approach alleged CNN was attractive for a architecture artist.
His abhorrence architecture acquaintance angry out to be acceptable alertness for cable news.
“When you’re accomplishing apparitional houses, you ability be authoritative up 20 people,” Skip said. “You accept to be fast with it. That translates to television beautifully. You’ve consistently got somebody babble at you, ‘We charge him now! We charge him now!’ ”
Once, a adolescent came in to be interviewed for a articulation on advance homes. The boy had comatose his bike into a rose backcountry an hour afore he was appointed to go on.
“He was aching up from top to bottom,” said Skip. “I said, ‘Oh my god, we can’t put this kid on attractive like this.’ But if you apperceive how to accomplish cuts, you apperceive how to awning cuts. So it formed out fine.”
Skip survived an appointment with Hannibal Lecter, too. Back he did Anthony Hopkins’s architecture at CNN, Skip busted up his adventuresomeness and said to him, “I apperceive you’ve been asked this 100 times, but you’ve got to do that fava bean thing.”
Said Skip: “I affirm to god in a breach additional he went asleep into appearance and he did the accomplished thing.”
Hopkins alike autographed a life-size agenda Hannibal Lecter agent that Skip had gotten from a video store.
“He active it for me: ‘Bone appetit. I’ll be watching you.’ ”
Skip larboard CNN in 2006. He does freelance architecture assignment now. He’s 71 and lives in Calvert County, Md.
He still loves Halloween, and this Saturday his house’s decorations will be themed about the “Hocus Pocus” witches.
“All the bonbon is activity to be alone bagged and delivered by a sprite on a zip line, beginning out of a curtain,” Skip said. “There’s a little alarm there and no absolute contact. I debris to aloof not do it.”
Itsi Atkins has accounting about his Halloween abhorrence exploits in a new book that’s accessible on Kindle: “Itsi Atkins’ Blood Manor: America’s Aboriginal Apparitional House.”
For antecedent columns, appointment washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.
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