For those of you fortunate to receive Me-TV in your households, one of TDOY’s favorite Halloween treats is going to be shown tonight on the channel at : the 1948 horror comedy classic, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Faithful readers of the blog know that I unspool this movie every year on Halloween—I’m not sure when the tradition started, but it’s been going quite a while…even before the advent of DVDs (I had a VHS copy of the movie, and in fact it was one of the first pre-records I bought).
But I will probably watch it pre-October 31st because it’s going to be hosted by Svengoolie, Me-TV’s resident horror movie host. Sven, the alter ego of Rich Koz, found a home on the channel not long ago but he’s also been a presence on Chicago’s WCIU and UToo—both entities owned by Chicago TV programming guru Neil Sabin. Out of the Svengoolie garb, Koz also hosts Me-Too’s Stooge-a-Palooza, which presents five two-reelers featuring the knockabout clowns of comedy on a Saturday night program that Mike “Mr. Television” Doran calls “the best possible presentation of these that I have ever seen.”
|Rich Koz as he normally looks. (No, "Svengoolie" is not played by Bob Newhart.)|
In fact, it was Mike who had asked me a while back what I thought of Svengoolie and I didn’t formulate an opinion at the time because I had only watched a couple of segments—but suffice it to say, he’s becoming a Saturday night tradition here at Castle Yesteryear preceded by reruns of Lost in Space at 8pm (“Oh, the pain…the pain…”) followed by Star Trek at 9. I’m sometimes a little hesitant to see some of the movies shown on Svengoolie made sport of (the program features some of the classic and not-so-classic Universal horror films), however; it’s okay when they’re featuring some odious piece of fromage like The Mole People (1956) but last week they had a rare showing of Dracula (1931) and poking fun at that at times seems like cinematic blasphemy. But then I remember that Mom and I often spend time watching that movie seeing who can do the best Bela Lugosi impression, so maybe I’m being a little hypocritical.
I think what I enjoy best about Svengoolie is that it’s nice to see the horror movie host tradition continue on at a time when seeing a classic movie run on a local station these days would surely send vintage movie fans into severe shock. Back in the day, as the kids say nowadays, local affiliates would show horror movies (some great, some…not-so-great) and often featured station employees who would don monster garb to introduce the flicks…and sometimes doing comedy bits in between. A list of these hosts would eat up indeterminate amounts of Internets bandwidth, but among the famous included Vampira, Zacherley, Ghoulardi, Sir Graves Ghastly—up to modern day characters like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and Commander USA (“Soarin’ superhero! Legion of Decency…retired…”).
|Pittsburgh's legendary Bill Cardille...who stopped being "Chilly Billy" in 1983. (A shame, because I didn't move to Morgantown, which was in Channel 11's viewing area, until 1992.)|
Growing up in the Mountain State and becoming a regular viewer of Chiller Theater on Saturday nights (on WHTN, which then became WOWK-TV) I didn’t get any exposure to horror movie hosts because WOWK didn’t have one. Before WOWK started showing horror movies, the films had been a mainstay at rival WSAZ, which began its horror movie presentation franchise in 1959 with a program called Shockwatch, hosted by “Gaylord” (the alter ego of WSAZ news announcer Fred Briggs). Briggs left WSAZ less than two years later (and took Gaylord with him) and eventually wound up at
’s WSB (he later became an NBC news correspondent, winning an Emmy in 1969 for his reporting). Gaylord, on the other hand, turned up at Baltimore’s WBFF in the 1970s on a show produced by George Lewis, who went on to produce the popular Ghost Host show in that area. Atlanta
Since Gaylord was before my time, the only horror movie host in the
that remains in my memory is Fat Drac, “the King of Corpuscular Corpulence”—who was the host of WVAH-TV’s Friday Night Dead. (A show I caught quite often in the early 80s while I was matriculating at Mountain State —Dead was where I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time, btw.) “Drac” was played by veteran Marshall University radio personality Al Sahley, and was also known as “the biggest name in Charleston, WV monsters.” Mountain State
I get nostalgic for the old days when I watched cheesy horror flicks on late night Fridays and Saturdays, their awfulness tempered by the wisecracking of the hosts…so it’s nice to see Svengoolie still going strong. Sven has been a Chicagoland tradition since the 1970s, when he was the host of WFLD’s Screaming Yellow Theater and played by Jerry G. Bishop. One of Bishop’s colleagues and a writer for the Svengoolie program was Rich Koz, who became “Son of Svengoolie” in 1979 on WFLD (the original Svengoolie closed up shop in 1973) and continued to host horror movies until 1986, when the new owners of the station (Rupert Murdoch and the evil empire known as Fox) handed him his pink slip. Koz resurrected the character for WCIU in 1994, and Bishop allowed him to drop the “Son of” since he “believed he was grown up enough now to no longer be just the Son.”
So again…if you’re getting Me-TV in your neck of the woods, tune in tonight for a true TDOY favorite:
CHICK: I know there’s no such person as Dracula…you know there’s no such person as Dracula…
WILBUR: But does Dracula know it?