News Column

The Blob to devour Phoenixville again

July 11, 2013

YellowBrix

July 11--If there was ever any question about the celebrity cachet of the amorphous red mass that devoured Chester County residents in the 1958 sci-fi classic The Blob, then the Phoenixville Dogwood Festival parade should leave no doubt.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell was scheduled to be the grand marshal in 2003. He canceled at the last minute.

So, the Blob stepped in.

The two gallons of red silicone that terrified millions was carried in a can by owners Wes and Judi Shank as the Delaware County couple rode down the street in a convertible.

It was one more example of star billing for a legend that continues to bewitch decades after The Blob put its Phoenixville setting on the cinematic map.

This weekend, the spell continues at Blobfest, the annual three-day festival in Phoenixville that showcases the movie, the Colonial Theatre where one iconic scene was filmed, and other Blob-based things.

The event includes a street fair, a stage show, and screenings of The Blob, featuring Steve McQueen in his first starring role. The festival highlight is Friday night's "Run Out," a reenactment of a scene in the movie when the Colonial audience flees the Blob.

Tickets for the run-out and the stage show that precedes it sold out in three hours.

On the theater's second floor, the Shanks will be stationed with an exhibit featuring the Union Carbide silicone monster that Wes Shank purchased from the movie's director, Irvin "Shorty" Yeaworth.

"I wanted to save it for posterity," said Wes Shank, 67, a furniture salesman and movie memorabilia collector. "At first, [Yeaworth] said it's not for sale, but I kept at it and in November of 1965, I came home with the can."

Shank first saw The Blob as a teen at the Suburban Theater in Ardmore. He had developed an interest in horror, fantasy, and sci-fi movies from reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

In the darkened theater, Shank read the credits and saw "Valley Forge Films."

He looked up the company, found it in Chester Springs, and called. Yeaworth, who owned and operated it with his wife, Jean, answered the phone and agreed to a tour.

While walking through the studio, Irvin Yeaworth stopped and pointed to a can in a dark corner.

"The Blob is in there," the director said.

Yeaworth, who died in 2004, took off the lid.

"There it was -- a real movie monster," Shank said.

The red, sticky, Silly Putty-like mass didn't look as if it could convincingly devour a movie audience. But Yeaworth and his crew used extreme close-ups of the Blob on miniature sets to then-terrifying effect.

Irvin Yeaworth sold the Blob because he was short of money, said Jean Yeaworth, who edited the script for the movie, which was filmed for $120,000.

"We didn't have money for Christmas presents for our kids," said Jean Yeaworth, 87, who now lives in Summerville, S.C.

The Yeaworths spent much of their careers making religious films. The Blob was one of only of a few forays into mainstream movies.

Those 1950s sci-fi features helped set Shank on a path to becoming a movie memorabilia collector.

"The worlds that don't exist were an escape for me," said Shank. "It helped me through my teenage years. I was very shy. I found my pleasure in movies. They gave me comfort."

Shank owns tens of thousands of original posters, models, costumes, miniature sets, books, and figurines.

His collection includes a flying saucer and force field from Forbidden Planet, a bust of a "lawgiver" featured in Planet of the Apes, and a costume of an Emerald City resident from The Wizard of Oz. He also has an original door from the Colonial that was auctioned when the movie house underwent renovations.

Shank has acquired his collection from auctions, film conventions, and through trades and sales with other collectors. His memorabilia has been exhibited at museums including the Franklin Institute, and he has given talks before groups including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As he gets older, Shank is selling off portions of the collection, but he expects to pass down most of it, including the man-eating mass, to his children.

"Our boys call the Blob their adopted brother," said Judi Shank, 66.

On Friday, the Shanks will set up their exhibit at Blobfest for the 12th straight year.

But they don't have the only bits of the Blob.

Jean Yeaworth has a keepsake piece in a jar at her home.

Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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