M.T. Graves of '60s TV dies

October 7, 2007 (Miami Herald / Elinor J. Brecher) -- Charles Morrison Baxter -- known to a generation of South Florida kids as M.T. Graves, vampire-voiced spokesghoul on The Dungeon, a '60s-era, Saturday horror-movie show -- has died.

M.T. GravesHe was 82 and had been living in a Tennessee nursing home, said his son, Tim Baxter, a Boone, N.C., real estate agent.

An early open-heart surgery patient at the Miami Heart Institute in the mid-1970s, he died of heart failure on Wednesday.

In the early days of Miami television, when Channel 7 -- now WSVN -- was WCKT, Charlie Baxter was a busy man. An on-air announcer who did the news, weather and commercials, he also hosted The Fun Club, an early-morning kiddie show co-starring Willie the Moose, Space Lab as the bespectacled Professor Klinker and Super Heroes.

But the character M.T. Graves, who did cut-ins during breaks in the horror movies, made him a local superstar.

"He was so dedicated to the character, he was M.T. Graves," said Charlie Folds, Baxter's longtime sidekick. "He wore raggedy black clothes with holes, monster rubber feet and he had a hook hand," as well as a single bushy eyebrow that spanned his forehead, fake scars and jutting prosthetic teeth.

Graves inhabited a dank stone dungeon and was always in trouble with the warden and an unseen guard.

"He did all the voices," said Tim Baxter, a former broadcast executive. "Technology wasn't so great back then... I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Half of my friends were afraid of him, half loved him."

In 1962, Baxter spun off a character called M.T. Space -- M.T. Graves in a football helmet -- billed as "the astro-nut."

Baxter, an Army brat, got his first on-air job at 14 as an actor on radio in Toledo and Chicago. At 16 he became an announcer WCOS in Columbia, S.C., by winning a contest.

After an overseas tour in the Marines during World War II, he got radio jobs in Detroit and Chicago and attended the University of Chicago. He called Toldeo Mud Hens baseball games for the hometown station. His first Florida job was for a short-lived Fort Lauderdale television station. He worked at WIOD, WCKR and WQAM, and joined WCKT in 1956.

Sunday mornings at 8 a.m., he and Folds hosted Sunday Funnies, during which Baxter and audience kids read The Miami Herald's comics. Folds beeped along as Toby the Robot.

Out of character, Baxter had "a polished, generic announcer voice," said Folds, of Parkland, who retired in 2004 as WSVN's community relations director.

"And he was always interested in classical music."

As Charlie Baxter, he narrated Peter and the Wolf for the Miami Beach Symphony. As M.T. Graves, he conducted.

M.T. Graves was born in 1957 when station executives asked Baxter to create a character, and was an instant hit.

He sometimes needed police protection from mobs of screaming fans, said Tim Baxter.

"Halloween was his big night. He was always at some big party at a high school, or a town would have its main street blocked off and he'd come in a convertible."

A decade after he first appeared in his dungeon, Graves hung up his chains though he continued with other characters.

Three years later, Baxter called the station from a Maine vacation and said he wasn't coming back.

He stayed, and took up writing.

A few years later, he returned to WKID with an hourlong show with his son: Captain Kid's Secret Island, live from Pirates World in Dania Beach, followed by an announcing stint at WA1A-FM.

His last South Florida gig before moving to Tennessee in 1976 was at Broward Community College's Buehler Planetarium, where he lectured, in costume, to kids.

Fans have created several Charlie Baxter tribute websites, including pbase.com/donboyd/charliebaxter, and myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/mtgraves.

In addition to his son, Baxter, who was married twice, is survived by daughter Alexandra Beth Rouse of Tennessee and three grandchildren. He donated his body to Vanderbilt University's Medical School. No services were held.

The family requests donations to Cumberland University's Fine Arts Council, Lebanon, Tenn., or The Salvation Army.

Fanged Films

USA, 1969
Castle of Dracula / Dracula's Castle
Poland, 1967

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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