so you can go home and watch “Godzilla 1985?"
I asked my typing teacher.
Phil Zabelin shot me a serious look and replied,
"So, you like monster movies?"
Our conversation continued in the typing classroom of
Deerfield Beach High School that summer of 1986. When
I aced the secret monster oral pop exam that all true
monster mavens know, Phil and I exchanged phone
numbers and we became fast friends. It was a dark time
in my life, because I was a depressed 23 year old with
a college degree and was working for a minimum wage
Beyond our mutual interest in monsters, Phil was
inspirational because he was a business schoolteacher
with many interesting side jobs. He was like Mr. Haney
from “Green Acres,” Phil always had something to sell
inside his little black suitcase full of interesting
practical trinkets. Phil cultivated a Jack Benny stingy
persona. He hated to part with money. When
he would, Phil would say,
"I shed a tear."
This persona belied a generous nature. Phil adopted
me into his circle of local monster enthusiasts and we
would swap stories about Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi,
the Three Stooges and “Famous Monsters of Filmdom” magazine
into the wee hours of the morning. There were also the
legendary Phil Zabelin parties.
A Zabelin party was a special event. Phil would scour
the countryside and recruit local celebrities
and retired actors. Sometimes these films would
involve cheesy special effects in the mode of a
William Castle movie. Phil’s wife - Ronnie, and sister
Nancy would dangle skeletons from a ceiling. Remote
control tinglers would assault our heels and sometime
a 3 D movie would be shown. The responses were louder
and more genuine than a movie at Muvico Palace.
Phil would provide our celebrities’ special chairs and
a video presentation of the actor's career. These
were always special moments to watch these actors as
they viewed flim clips that they had not seen in
years. A veteran of four Charlie Chan movies, two
Mr.Moto movies and “Heidi” starring Shirley Temple,
Miami resident Thomas Beck would watch his movies as
if he were seeing it for the first time. Despite poor
health during his last years, Beck always departed
these three Zabelin Party spectaculars energized.
The guest lists from these Zabelin parties were a
carnival of monstrous souls; Producer Sid Pink http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0684335/, actor
Richard Liberty http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0508858/,
art historian and former Sun Sentinel
film critic Roger Hurlburt, Godfather of Gore Hershel
Gordon Lewis http://www.herschellgordonlewis.com/
and entertainer Kenny Millerhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm0588731/ .
Given the intimacy of these parties, these actors became our
friends. After creating such wonderful memories
for me, I wanted to pay Phil back. I introduced Phil
to Linnea Quigley and we were planning our next
Zabelin spooktacular. Sadly this was not to be. On
Veteran's Day, our mutual friend Judy called me from
Georgia and told me that Phil died.
Phil's funeral was a major event and involved hundreds
of friends, colleagues, celebrities and students.
Phil’s niece, Allison, was an accomplished violinist
and performed several tear inducing Judaic dirges.
However being her uncle's niece, Allison honored Uncle
Phil with a rendition of "Pop goes the Weasel" because
Uncle Phil introduced her to The Three Stooges.
At the afternoon reception afterward, one of Phil's
former students had driven from the West Coast to
attend the services. As this student spoke about Phil
inspiring him to become an entrepreneur - a beam of
light shown from through the window. Phil's daughter
Carley had a helium balloon with a present she wanted
to send to Heaven. A man showed up with 21 balloons.
We launched these balloons and with Phil's talent for
organization, the 21 balloons followed the same track
into a puffy hole in the white clouds.
My life this year has been much lonelier without
Phil's companionship. Grief is a weird villain, yet if
we hang on to good memories, we can always be thankful
for the people in our lives. I know that my life has been
richer since our conversation about Godzilla and the Mummy
in the hallowed halls of Deerfield Beach High School.
As filmmaker Jose Prendes told me,
"Don't feel sad Dave, you know he is
busy organizing a really big party with Boris and