Perhaps the single most iconic figure in the genre, John Zacherley began hosting horror movies in late 50s Philadelphia as "Roland." The program was popular enough to attract the attention of WABC in New York, who promptly hired him. With the move, the character underwent a name change to Zacherley, and instantly became one of the iconic figures in the horror host genre. With appearances on American Bandstand
, in Famous Monsters of Filmland
and The Saturday Evening Post
, and the release of the "Dinner With Drac" 45 record, Zacherley became one of the first nationally recognized horror movie hosts.
Following his runs in Philadelphia and New York, John Zacherele moved into radio as a long-running deejay. However, the Zacherley character remained popular, and was revived many times over the years, his ghoulish exuberance making him the genre's most recognizable ambassador. He hosted the local dance show, Disc-O-Teen, and appeared on the Mike Douglas and Tom Snyder programs, as well as Saturday Night Live. He's the only horror host to appear twice on cover of Famous Monsters magazine. He lent his name and editorial skills to a pair of paperback horror collections (Zacherley's Vulture Stew and Zacherley's Midnight Snacks) and hosted a new comic book anthology, Midnight Terrors. He is easily the most prolific horror host recording artist, with a number of singles, as well as the albums Spook Along With Zacherley, Zacherley's Monster Mash, Scary Tales, Zacherle's Monster Gallery and Dead Man's Ball. He also made a guest appearance on Rob Zombie's Halloween Hootenanny. His feature film work includes Geek Maggot Bingo, Dr. Horror's House of Erotic Idiots, and Brain Damage. He was also involved in the video projects Zacherley's Horrible Horrors and The Zacherley Archives.
He remains a regular fixture at the annual Chiller convention in New Jersey.
There has never been another horror host with the cultural influence of Ghoulardi. Ernie Anderson's anarchic hipster creation exploded on Cleveland television in the winter of 1962, and proceeded to excite and warp the minds of his fanatic followers until 1966. At his peak, Ghoulardi hosted the Friday night Shock Theater, Saturday afternoon's Masterpiece Theater, and the Monday through Friday kid's show, Laurel, Ghoulardi and Hardy. Public appearances during this period could draw nearly 10,000 spectators and require street closures.
Ernie eventually followed his friend and comedy partner, Tim Conway, to Hollywood. Anderson became involved in voice work, and eventually became the long-running announcer for the ABC network through the '70s and '80s. The national television audience may remember Ernie for his mellifluous baritone, inviting viewers to enjoy everything from The Winds of War to The Luuuuuve Boat - but to a generation of Clevelanders, he is first, last, and always Ghoulardi. Catch phrases like, "Stay Sick", "Turn Blue!" and "Parma?!?!?!" continue to raise a smile for those in the know. His legacy continues to this day, with Big Chuck, The Ghoul and Son of Ghoul carrying on the wild late night tradition. Ernie Anderson passed away in 1997.
The TV horror boom officially began in 1958, with the release of the Shock movie package from Universal studios. Along with the unleashed horrors came their hosts. But a full four years before the explosion, shock waves were coming from the studios of KABC in Los Angeles, CA, where the impossibly waspwaisted Vampira greeted her weekly audience with a bloodcurdling shriek. "Screaming relaxes me so," she would moan with a seductive smile.
Maila Nurmi brewed up Vampira out of elements of Charles Addams, screen glamour queens and bondage magazines. Adding to the startling visual a sophisticated graveyard humor, the effect was immediate. Within weeks, Vampira was gaining national attention in the pages of Life and Newsweek magazines. Her fame burned bright, but briefly. Her show was on the air for little more than a year. But in Vampira, Maila Nurmi created the first truly iconic TV horror movie host.
Outside the world of Vampira, the artistically inclined Maila gravitated to the counter culture, sharing time with the likes of James Dean, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, Stanley Kubrick... and Ed Wood. In 1956, she revived the Vampira look for her appearance in Wood's transcendently dreadful Plan Nine From Outer Space. And though her life has more in common with Kerouac than Karloff, the role solidified her association with 50s horror. She passed away in 2008.
BIG CHUCK & LI'L JOHN
(Chuck Schodowski & John Rinaldi)
"Big Chuck" Schodowski was a life-long friend of Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson, and worked closely with him on the Ghoulardi show. It was Chuck who brought in the uniquely characteristic blend of blues and polka music that helped define the show. As a fan of television pioneer, Ernie Kovacs, Chuck was always looking for new ways to play with the medium. He added comic audio drop-ins to enliven the often awful movies, immortalized The Rivington's tune "Papa-Oo-Mow-Mow" by marrying it to the image of an old man "gurning" (essentially swallowing his own nose), and placed Ghoulardi into the movies themselves, where he would wisecrack to the rampaging monsters.
All of these contributions made him the perfect, if reluctant, choice to step into the hosting position vacated by a California-bound Ernie Anderson. Notoriously shy, Chuck was content to assist popular weatherman, Bob "Hoolihan" Wells, in his audition for the spot. But management liked the way they worked together, and he suddenly found himself in the position of co-host. Wells and Schodowski shared duties from 1966 to 1979, when Wells left for Florida. His replacement was a semi-regular cast member, Lil' John Rinaldi. Rinaldi brought a new energetic dynamic to the show, and the pair have been a popular fixture on the air to this day.
COUNT GORE DE VOL
Dick Dyzel began his horror career in Paducha, KY, hosting the Night of Terror movie program as M.T. Graves. In 1973, he relocated to WDCA Ch 20 in Washington DC, where he gave undead life to Count Gore De Vol. In addition to the Count, Dick performed as the local Bozo and kid show host, Captain 20. Count Gore's Creature Feature ran for a total of ten years, with a break between 1979 and 1984.
Dyzel inevitably extended his presence to the horror films themselves, appearing in 1979's Alien Factor. A savvy and creative media professional, Dyzel became the first horror host to embrace the potential of the new Internet frontier, producing a weekly hosted horror movie webcast at CountGore.com
Following an unsuccessful attempt to convince Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson to bring his legendary character back to the Cleveland airwaves, Ron Sweed received permission from the master to have a go at it himself. Having worked on Ghoulardi's show as a teenager, Sweed had observed the act up close, and was well equipped to present a high-octane variation to a new generation.
The Ghoul Show premiered on the local Kaiser station in 1971, and was soon syndicated in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He bombed in Boston, but was huge in Detroit, and enjoyed varying degrees of success in the other markets. Kaiser eventually canceled the show. But he was on and off the air in Cleveland and Detroit for over three decades, at times even branching out into radio.
SON OF GHOUL
Like practically every other youngster in the Cleveland area during the early 60s, Keven Scarpino grew up in a world dominated by the legendary horror host icon, Ghoulardi. His dedication to the horror host genre led Scarpino to work first with Cleveland's The Ghoul, and later with The Cool Ghoul in Canton, OH.
When The Cool Ghoul vacated his position introducing Thriller Theater, Scarpino stepped in, creating a character that drew on elements of his favorite late night hosts, and dubbed himself Son of Ghoul. Son of Ghoul has survived lawsuits, station turmoil and the tragic death of his popular sidekick, Ron "Fidge" Huffman to achieve an unbroken run of nearly 20 years in the Canton/Akron market.
The flagrantly trashy, infectiously tacky Stella (aka "The Maneater From Manayunk") hosted the popular Saturday Night Dead on Philadelphia's KYW-TV from 1984 through 1990. Joined by her faithful butler, Hives (Bob Billsbrough), Cousin Mel (Glenn Davish), and various wacko relatives and visiting guest stars (including John Zacherle and Rip Taylor), Stella and company offset the grade B horrors of their often less-than-stellar movie package with narrative comedy that fell somewhere between Carol Burnett and Benny Hill.
Though the show's setting was a haunted condo, there was little overtly ghoulish in the proceedings - though seances, sentient furniture, reincarnation and spiritual entrapment in a Mrs. Butterworth's syrup bottle were the norm. Karen Scioli's post-Stella career includes the old dark house stage comedy BATS! (which she co-authored) and the touching and funny film Postcards From Paradise Park (1998).
Svengoolie debuted on Screaming Yellow Theater, which aired on Chicago's WFLD from 1970 until 1973. Originally just a voice-over (Bidshop's background was in radio voice work), the character appeared in slides between movie segments before becoming a live character. Nearly every show opened with a guest celebrity opening a coffin from which Svengoolie burst forth and proceed with skits, parody bits, and many, many rubber chickens. Some of his sidekicks included Zelda (a talking skull in wig with a screeching voice) and Durwood the ventriloquist dummy.
After leaving Chicago, Bishop was offered a daily live talk show, Sun Up San Diego, which he hosted frm 1978-1990, winning three Emmys). He was hosted a radio show on KPOP since 1992, and currently runs a popular restaurant in downtown San Diego called "Jerry G. Bishop's Greek Island Cafe".
The slight, unpresupposing Wilkins would seem an unlikely guide to greet you at the doorway to unspeakable horror. But to a generation of Northern California fans, the bespectacled, cigar smoking host is synonymous with monsters, demons and other creatures of darkness. His extensive career began in Sacramento in 1966. Wilkins was working in the advertising department of KCRA Ch 3 when he was invited to present Attack of the Mushroom People to the unsuspecting valley audience. After viewing the film himself, he conscientiously took steps to warn viewers of impending cinematic disaster. Before rolling the film, he opened the local TV Guide and alerted those who had tuned in to superior programing on the other stations.
His dry, gentle sarcasm proved a hit, and in 1971 he found himself hosting Creature Features on KTVU in San Francisco. For a number of years, Bob's monster movie shows were running concurrently in both markets. Finally, in 1978, he decided to retire from Creature Features, turning over the reigns to Chronicle entertainment writer and friend, John Stanley. The Sacramento show (now on KXTL Ch 40) continued until 1982.
Bob Wilkins is also affectionately remembered as KTVU's popular kid show host, Capt. Cosmic. He also appeared in the locally produced feature film The Milpitas Monster (1975). He passed away in January 2009.
An acknowledged horror and sci-fi expert, John Stanley began his road to hosting as a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. A fan of horror hosts, Stanley would promote local personality Asmodeus (Frank Sheridan), host of KEMO Ch 20's Shock-It-To-Me Theater. When Bob Wilkins' Creature Features show premiered in the bay Area in 1971, John was the first to print an interview. He later contributed to Creature Features and, upon Wilkins' retirement from the show in 1978, became his hand-picked successor.
In 1976, Stanley directed and co-wrote the cult film Nightmare in Blood using Wilkins' Creature Features set in one scene. Since the demise of the program, he has authored updated volumes of The Creature Feature Movie Guide. Trash movie host Joe Bob Briggs announced himself "in awe" of Stanley, and included him in a month long tribute to horror hosts on Briggs' cable show. The other hosts chosen by Briggs as representative of the genre were Zacherley, Ghoulardi and Elvira.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Though not a traditional horror host, Minneapolis comic Joel Hodgson clearly drew strongly on both horror and kid show hosts in creating the immensely popular Mystery Science Theater 3000. Premiering on the low watt UHF station KTMA in 1988, the show featured a familiar, yet irresistibly offbeat premise. At the center were a group of very funny people sitting in a theater cracking jokes through a bad movie. Wrapped around this core was a high-tech science fiction concept -- guy trapped in space with robots companions -- produced on a budget that wouldn't get you an extra topping on your pizza. After a year run on the local station, Mystery Science Theater 3000 graduated to the cable Comedy Channel (soon to be re-christened Comedy Central), where it quickly developed a fiercely loyal cult audience.
Joining Hodgson's stranded astronaut Joel Robinson were puppet/robot/sidekicks Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu, later Bill Corbett), Tom Servo (Josh Weinstein, later Kevin Murphy) and Gypsy (Jim Mallon, later Patrick Brantseg.) Head writer Mike Nelson replaced Joel as the relucant spaceman when Hodgson moved to Los Angeles. Pitted against the valiant crew were Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and his two henchmen Dr. Eckhart (Josh Weinstein) and "TV's Frank" (Frank Coniff). Dr F was later joined by his mother (Mary Jo Phel), who eventually assumed full tormenting duties, aided by an "intelligent" talking ape, Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy), and the ineffectually omnipotent Brain Guy (Bill Corbett).
The overwhelming portion of the show's success clearly lay with the combined talents of the writers and performers. But the inclusion of some old fashioned touches -- puppets, letters and drawings from young fans -- added a refreshing level of intimacy that translated into long term viewer loyalty and good will. By adopting the look and the rituals of local TV, Mystery Science Theater 3000 tapped into a Jungian race memory that engendered in cable viewers across the country the feeling they were watching a show broadcast from their own backyards.
Crematia's Creature Feature program ran on Kansas City station KSHB Ch 41 between 1981 & 1988. A talented voice artist, Solomon gave her creation a spirited Bette Davis vocal quality, while designing her look with a gothic Fredrick's of Hollywood flavor. Despite her spooky trappings, Crematia had a warm, maternal quality and treated the audience as her brood. She was especially protective of small fry, often warning them in advance of a scary scenes in the film.
The show maintained a humorously macabre Addams Family style atmosphere. Budgetary restrictions forced the writers and crew to be creative, as when plans for a puppet sidekick were nixed, leading her to aim a camera at a wall of the set and carry on conversations with a man she'd purportedly sealed within. Godzilla movies inspired her to don a pair of fuzzy dinosaur slippers and tromp through a toy scale city. Later, she commiserated with a visiting "Mrs. Godzilla" (sporting a festive flowered hat) over Mr. Godzilla's absent parent status.
Roberta Solomon continues to do commercial voice work through her production company, Voice Gal, Inc, and appears as part of the award winning sketch comedy program, Right Between the Ears on National Public Radio.
Chilly Billy hosted Chiller Theatre in Pittsburgh, showing horror and science fiction films late Saturday nights from 1963 until its cancellation in 1983. Cardille presented himself as a normal person, usually clad in a dress suit or tux, but as the show's notoriety peaked in the early seventies, he attacked the role with gusto, adding skits, paranormal bits and large doses of humor. Cardille would sometimes show several film each show night, challenging viewers to stay up even later with his crew of characters, including Terminal Stare, Norman the Castle Keeper, Stephen the Castle Prankster, and Georgette the Fudgemaker,. Between films he would predict the future, tell horoscopes, and even hawk his own line of tuxedoes.
In addition to Chiller Theater, Cardille also hosted wrestling shows, dance shows, and for years was the Pittsburgh host for the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, raising over 15 million dollars locally. He was inducted into the AFTRA Hall of Fame in 1979, the Pennsylvania Broadcaster Hall of Fame in 1997, and can still be heard on the radio weekdays on 1320 WJAS from 10am - 3pm.
Cardille has been recognized as an influence an several celebrities, including Dennis Miller, Tom Savini, and Joe Flaherty (who credits Chiller Theatre as the basis for Count Floyd and the popular "Monster Chiller Horror Theatre" skits on SCTV).
Marvin hosted Shock Theater in late 1950s Chicago, presenting horror films late Saturday nights. His character was a demented beatnik who wore thick glasses and a black turtleneck sweater, and was an instant hit. Marvin's companion was his wife, who he only referred to as "Dear", but viewers never saw her face. Marvin would constantly perform experiments or amputations on her, but she would always be back to normal by the next commercial break. Dear was played by Bennett's real-life wife, Joy Bennett.
While Bennett played mostly for laughs, poking fun at the movies, he occasionally frightened his audience as well. The show became so popular that station management soon expanded the series with a new half hour segment after the movie called The Shocktale Party. Marvin was joined with several other characters and a studio band called The Deadbeats. Bennett wrote and arranged much of the music himself, as he did on his morning children's show, The Jobblewocky Place.
Bennet passed away in 1977.
Commander USA ("Soaring super hero! Legion of Decency - retired") was the wacky host of Commander USA's Groovie Movies on the USA cable network from 1985 through 1989. A slightly seedy, but chummy, cigar-chompin' comic book hero, Commander USA beamed his show from a secret headquarters located under a shopping mall. The Commander was unfailingly enthusiastic about the films he showed, be it such "gems" as Inframan, Blood Beast Horror, Land of the Minotaur, or any other number of low-to-no-rent celluloid oddities. The Commander was joined in his campaign to present head-scratching entertainment by "Lefty", a hand puppet created by drawing a face on his right hand.
Following the run of the show, the creative and personable Hendricks continued to perform, mostly on stage. His credits include Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding and The Big Vig.