Charlotte’s Dr. Evil Vs. Hollywood’s Dr. Evil
The Dr. Evil You Don’t Know
For us at The Biscuit, digging into Charlotte’s creative history is a dream. Okay, sometimes, it can be a nightmare, but of the delightful variety.
A few weeks ago, we searched the archives of Newspapers.com and found this classified in a 1960 edition of the Charlotte News.
Oh, yeah. We had to get to the bottom of that.
After searching more, we found similar ads in papers across the East Coast in the late 1950s and early 60s. A Charlotte News story that ran two days after the classified ad told the story of a man in a gorilla suit climbing the giant WBT billboard that used to tower about the Square at Trade & Tryon streets. This incident, it turns out, was a publicity stunt for a “spook show,” a combination classic horror movie marathon/live action magic and shock stage show that used to play in theaters. And, that name … “Dr. Morris.” It seemed too easy, but it was true. All roads led back to Philip Morris, showman, magician and founder of Morris Costumes right here in Charlotte.
And, climbing the WBT sign in a gorilla suit (we have confirmation from Morris’ wife, Amy Morris Smith, that it was, indeed, Philip in the suit), Morris was just at the beginning of a beautiful partnership with the station.
He donned a red fez, grabbed a crystal ball and created the character of “Dr. Evil” for WBTV, hosting Dr. Evil’s Horror Theatre, a show featuring classic horror movies that ran on Friday nights from 1962 to 1969, all while building up Morris Costumes, which became the largest costume distributor in the world. (Large enough to be bought earlier this year by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, as reported by The Charlotte Ledger.)
Dr. Evil vs. Dr. Evil
The story of Dr. Evil didn’t go quietly to the grave after WBTV. It returned from the dead when Mike Myers (not to be confused with Halloween’s Michael Myers) donned a bald cap and a Nehru jacket and picked up his hairless cat, Mr. Bigglesworth in Austin Powers.
Morris sued the producers of Austin Powers over trademark infringement. His 2017 obituary in The Charlotte Observer reads, “Younger [Charlotteans] will recognize Dr. Evil (and his son Scott) from the Austin Power movies – a character Morris created for local TV [WBTV] and stage shows in 1959. Scott Morris (yep, you read that name right) said his father reached a settlement with film producers over his trademark claim.” [NOTE: Scott Morris is president of Morris Costumes today.)
The next time you lift your pinky to the corner of your mouth and say, “One million dollars,” raise another pinky to the original Dr. Evil – Charlotte’s own Philip Morris.
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