Charles Jared Criswell, known to the world simply as Criswell, occupies an odd niche in movie history. A syndicated columnist, radio, and television personality known for his outrageous predictions of the future, he managed to carve a tiny place for himself in screen history essentially playing himself, as a result of his friendship with filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr.
He was born in 1907 in Princeton, IN, and got his first taste of journalism while working for a local newspaper as a teenager. He later enrolled as a music student at the University of Indiana. After college, Criswell went back into journalism, first in newspapers and then as a broadcaster -- he had a resonant voice and clear speaking style that made him especially appealing as an announcer and newscaster in the booming medium of radio. It was as a newscaster, when he found the need to pad the length of his broadcasts, that he began making his predictions. Initially it was a joke, as he would look over the next day's scheduled events and try to anticipate how they would come out, but then people started listening to what he said and responding. He also got a newspaper column in which he did the same thing, at first only locally. Eventually, he was syndicated in an ever larger number of papers. Over a period of decades, he built up a large following of readers and listeners, and by the mid-'50s, he was a low-level celebrity with a local television show in Los Angeles and his own entourage.
It was around this time, from 1954 to 1956, that he crossed paths with Edward D. Wood Jr., a director/writer/producer who occupied an even lower rung of the moviemaking ladder than Criswell did on television. Wood was taken with Criswell's fame, confidence, and smooth delivery, and at first actually believed that the man knew something about the future. The first tangible result of their contact was Wood's casting of Paul Marco, an aspiring actor in Criswell's coterie of hangers-on, in a prominent supporting role in his feature film Bride of the Monster -- Marco went on to become a fixture (even the unifying cast member) in Wood's 1950's horror film trilogy of Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Night of the Ghouls. Wood was drawn to anyone whom he felt could get him an audience, and Criswell was a natural as a local television personality. With his intense manner and raised white pompadour hair style, Criswell was the Liberace of the para-psychology set (and ludicrous as that sounds, one should remember that Liberace was a huge star in 1956).
What Criswell thought of Wood was anyone's guess -- the man passed on before the burgeoning interest in Wood's career grew big enough to yield any interviews -- but in the absence of any "real" producer knocking on his door, he agreed to work in Wood's films. Wood put him into the pre-credit and end sequences of Plan 9 From Outer Space, and he also narrated the movie to great (if unintended comical) effect. The self-proclaimed seer had a larger onscreen role in Night of the Ghouls, the intended sequel to Plan 9, but that movie went unreleased for 24 years because Wood couldn't afford to pay the laboratory bill to get it developed. Criswell's next and last appearance on film came with Orgy of the Dead, a kind of de-bowdlerized remake of Night of the Ghouls, with shots of topless dancers and photographed in garish color, in which he looked alarmingly jaundiced. His appearance in that film, which was intended for showing on the "strip circuit" -- road houses and cheap dives, in between live strip acts -- was purely as a favor to Wood; by 1965, he'd been a fairly regular guest on The Tonight Show (with both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson) making his predictions. Most of these were outlandish -- such as his statement that Mae West would win election as president of the United States and land on the Moon with Criswell and George Liberace (the pianist's brother), or that the District of Columbia would disappear and the federal government would move to caverns under Wichita, KS. A tiny handful of the thousands of pronouncements that he released proved to be dead-on accurate, such as his statement in March of 1963 that something would happen to President Kennedy in November of that year that would prevent him from running for re-election, and declaring in late 1965 that Ronald Reagan (who was not yet taken seriously as an actor, much less as a politician) would become governor of California. Those were the predictions that he emphasized in his publicity. Other so-called psychics and predictors came along in his wake, including Jeanne Dixon, also parlaying a supposedly accurate prediction about Kennedy's assassination into a media career, who stole some of his thunder.
Such was his fame, however, cultivated by reminding the public of his few accurate predictions, that Criswell was able to publish a book in 1969 that purported to lay out the history of the world for the next 30 years. It predicted the end of the world in the summer of 1999, something that Criswell didn't live long enough to be tripped up on, as he died in 1982. Among Criswell's other predictions over the years, his most often cited was one saying that the whole United States would turn gay by a certain date. Today, the man is almost completely forgotten except for his work in Wood's movies, principally Plan 9 From Outer Space, which has his shortest onscreen appearance but his funniest material. Thanks to that movie, Criswell's recordings have even been re-issued on CD, but nothing there is as memorable as his opening speech from Plan 9 From Outer Space, with the grave pronouncement, "We are all interested in the future, my friends, because that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives."