Your next true-crime fascination just might feature a supporting role from a member of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh faculty.
Bill Gillard, an English professor on the Fox Cities campus, is among a group of academics, historians and other experts interviewed for an upcoming documentary series on the infamous Wisconsin killer Ed Gein.
Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein is a four-episode series premiering Sept. 17 on MGM+. The trailer is available here.
While the series is centered on Gein, who in the late 1950s confessed to killing two people and digging up bodies from graveyards in the small town of Plainfield, it also explores his impact on popular culture. Among the works of art inspired by the grisly true story that played out about 60 miles west of Oshkosh is Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho.
That book—published in 1959 and written in the small town of Weyauwega—was the foundation for Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece film of the same name.
Though born in Illinois, Bloch grew up in Milwaukee. He moved with his wife to her hometown of Weyauwega in 1953. Over his long career he published more than 400 stories, 20 novels and dozens of scripts for movies and TV.
“Bloch’s really interesting because he had a whole career before World War II writing about external horrors, monsters from beyond, monsters under the bed and in the closet,” Gillard said. “After World War II, Bloch became much more introspective and writing about how the real horrors aren’t outside of us, the real horrors are inside of people and what individual humans are capable of.
“And so when the Ed Gein story came out and he was sitting in Weyauwega with not a lot to do, he started thinking about a guy like Ed Gein. I mean this is Wisconsin the 1950s, this is a small town and everybody knew Ed Gein and he knew everybody. But he was this monster. That was the thing that drew Block to writing Psycho.”
The central character in Bloch’s novel was Norman Bates, a man who at first blush seems to be an unremarkable operator of a roadside motel. But as the story unfolds it becomes clear there’s a dark side to Bates—who famously was portrayed by Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock’s film.
A film crew from Canada led by director and executive producer James Buddy Day came to Wisconsin in the spring and interviewed Gillard at the Brumder Mansion in Milwaukee.
“This is a gigantic piece of American cultural history that came from Weyauwega,” Gillard said. “It’s most definitely a Wisconsin story, not just from the inspiration from Ed Gein but the composition itself. This wasn’t some Hollywood screenplay writer swooping in to grab this.
“Norman Bates is completely a creation of Robert Bloch, but the whole circumstance was inspired by the question of ‘How could this happen?’—especially in small town, especially in Wisconsin, in 1957.”