Fritz the Nite Owl has saved the universe with Captain Marvel and Superman, hosted more than 3,000 movies on live TV and won five Emmy Awards, but he won’t stop there.
At 77, Frederick Peerenboom, better known as Fritz the Nite Owl, is once again hosting his late-night movie program “Nite Owl Theatre.” With his Elton John-inspired glasses and a velvety, baritone voice, Peerenboom augments cult classics with ad-lib commentary, special “Fritz effects” and his choice of music. The original format ran seven days a week from 1974-1991 on WBNS-TV.
Peerenboom will host the next screening of “Nite Owl Theatre,” featuring the 1959 mystery “The Bat,” in May at Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse, according to the program’s Facebook. He will also make an appearance at the horror movie and film festival, HorrorHound Weekend, in Columbus March 23-25.
After going off the air in 1991, Peerenboom hosted a jazz radio show, “Nite Owl Jazz,” on WJZA-FM until the station switched its format in 2009. When he was approached to reprise his role as host of “Nite Owl Theatre” in 2010 for a year of monthly screenings at Grandview Theater, he jumped at the chance. Peerenboom told The Lantern his fans have stayed with him for so long because many of them started watching when they were children, new mothers who couldn’t sleep or people getting off the late-night shift.
“It was kind of like a personal thing that I was with all these people,” Peerenboom said. “I was like a friend with them every night in their living rooms.”
Peerenboom has worked in broadcasting for more than 50 years. In addition to his 17-year run at WBNS-TV, his extensive resume includes radio gigs at WOSU, WMNI, WWCD, CD101 and WJZA, author of a jazz review column in the Short North Gazette and freelance voice-over work in commercials. Despite his status as a local celebrity, Peerenboom is still reaching for more.
“I would like to know what it would be like to have a popular, national and international thing going for me,” Peerenboom said. “I think it would be a lot of fun and open doors that I can’t afford to. I keep hoping for fame, fortune, the wisdom of the ancients, but so far all of that has eluded me. They will chisel on my tombstone, ‘A nice guy, but he procrastinated and was late and lazy.'”
Producer Mike McGraner said he grew up watching “Nite Owl Theatre.” McGraner started to make a documentary about Peerenboom when he had the idea to bring the show back for theaters and the Internet. He said Peerenboom is too modest about his career.
“He has fans everywhere,” McGraner said. “People remember and know who he is. He thinks he’s this guy who didn’t make it, but in reality he’s bigger in people’s minds than he thinks he is. He’s very humble.”
Part of the appeal of seeing “Nite Owl Theatre” in a theater is the vintage commercial breaks from the era when the movie was made. They also don’t have to censor the films or commentary. McGraner said they still hope to get the show back on the air at a local station.
“We just hope people keep coming out,” McGraner said. “Fritz and I haven’t made a dime doing this, and we don’t care, but the guys shooting it and doing the special effects, we haven’t been able to pay them. We just want to get enough money to pay people, whether it’s through sponsorship or getting picked up by a station.”
Peerenboom was born in Nekoosa, Wis., and eventually relocated when his father, an Army officer, was transferred to Columbus. He graduated from Ohio State before getting drafted. During his time in the Army, he got to produce, write and narrate Army training videos in the Signal Corps Pictorial Center in New York, which was formally Paramount Studios.
Peerenboom said one of the highlights of his career was being animated for the comic book “Power of Shazam No. 20.” He was also the voice of the Green Lantern in the “Warner Video Comics” series.
“Very few radio, TV, theater actors, performers, anybody can say they had the chance to talk with Captain Marvel and Superman and help save the world at the same time,” Peerenboom said. “As Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern, I saved the universe 13 times. How many people can say that?”
Peerenboom’s wife of 54 years, Patricia Peerenboom, passed away in August. He has five sons, 10 granddaughters and one great-grandson. Peerenboom was nominated for more than 20 Regional Emmy Awards. He said he remembers going to the ceremonies with his wife and how encouraging she was of his career.
“She always knew from the time we were dating what I wanted to do, so she was very supportive,” Peerenboom said, smiling at a photo of her. “She had great legs.”
Peerenboom said he has had a nice life with “no big peaks or deep valleys, not rich, not poor.”
“It’s astounding,” Peerenboom said, pausing for a moment. “Your parents and grandparents, everybody will tell you this, but you gotta enjoy it while you’re doing it because it goes by so fast.”
Peerenboom said he hop
es college students will come to the shows “because it’s held at Studio 35, where they serve beverages college kids like and it’s an experience unlike anything else in Columbus.”
“The movies we show, I won’t say they’re great, but they are always interesting, and chances are students haven’t seen them before,” Peerenboom said with a laugh. “It’s late at night, there’s not a huge crowd to fight through. It’s ‘el cheapo’ and it’s fun. It’s just not something that everybody has done, so there’s kind of that unique quality to it.”
Allison Gibson, a doctoral student in social work, went to see “Nite Owl Theatre” for the first time on Jan. 28 for the screening of “Spider Baby.” She said the retro experience is perfect for a night out with friends.
“What I was really interested about is that it is something that was part of Columbus for a really long time and Fritz was actually here,” Gibson said. “I think it’s really neat. It’s a very diverse crowd. I was just talking to a gentleman who told me he used to stay up late to watch Fritz on the weekends, so there’s his generation and now our generation gets to take part in these awesome movies.”
The latest episode of “Nite Owl Theatre” and Nite Owl merchandise can be found at FritzLives.com.