Chicago (and now national) TV Horror host Svengoolie sat for a a nearly two-hour discussion about his amazing 40 year plus career as the man in the top hat during Saturday’s C2E2 entertainment convention in downtown Chicago.
The 70-year-old TV icon regaled the crowd on the inside dirt behind the scenes of his wonderful “Svengoolie Show” Saturday night horror fest now broadcast every weekend on WCIU-TV in Chicago, and the MeTV cable channel nationally.
(Note: I attended this talk and this story is based on my short notes, so I can only summarize what was said, hence the lack of quote marks in the piece below.)
Sven (actor and writer Rich Koz) talked about the origins of the show and many of it characters, his love for old TV, and how it has all changed since going national in 2011 when the cable network first began broadcasting his show on cable outlets across the country.
Dressed in his ever-present top hat, tuxedo jacket with a 1980s-era Hallmark skeleton pin, and his skull stylized makeup, Koz told a packed room about how he first began sending in jokes to the original Svengoolie show that was hosted by radio man and TV announcer Jerry G. Bishop between 1970 and 1973. And he was so persistent that Bishop hired him to help write jokes for the show and create some of Bishop’s art used in the last two years.
Rich went on to add that when WFLD cancelled the first Svengoolie show, he went along with Bishop into radio and worked with the famed Dick Orkin on his comedy radio series, “Chicken Man,” and other comedy series.
Sven also spoke of some of the character seen on the show. He noted that the original Svengoolie introduced the Skeleton nurse “Zelda” which Koz later mirrored with his Zalman T. Tombstone floating skull character. He didn’t know how Zelda was created, but he noted that his Tombstone character has gone through several iterations. The Groucho Marx-like skull first had a green mustache and cigar, but that color was quickly made a darker color. Then the cigar was dumped. And finally, the original prop fell into disrepair from years of use and the studio had a more professional prop created that now works via radio control instead of hand worked wires.
Koz also talked about the creation of his often-distempered side-kick, Kerwyn. He noted that for several years his music man, Dough Graves (high school chum Doug Scharf), helped host the mail segment, but it soon got where Doug simply didn’t have the time to participate in the recording of the segment. Rich added that they went through a Godzilla character, and then lighted on Ed The Bat.
But the bat character’s digitally altered, high pitched voice was so irritating to MeTV chief Neal Sabin that in 1995 Sabin appeared on the show and “fired” Ed the Bat from the mail segment. It was then that Sen show director Chris Failkner and prop maker and Jessica Carlton created “Kerwyn the prehistoric chicken” to serve as Sven’s foil for the mail segment.
Sven said that as soon as he saw the Kerwyn puppet he imagined in his head the voice of Jerry Lewis. And since a standing joke in the show is to make fun of the Chicago suburb Berwyn, he said simply replacing the “B” with a “K” was the perfect solution to coming up with a name for the chicken character.
Koz spoke on a range of issues, including his love of old TV and movies and his desire to help preserve these old forms of entertainment as well as his love of the many new horror hosts springing up all across the country on local TV and the Internet.
Despite his happiness for other hosts, though, Koz demurred form saying which of the new crop of hosts he liked best for fear of causing a row among the close-knit world of modern horror hosts.
During the questions period, Koz was asked about the search for the “Spawn of Svengoolie.” If you are unaware, MeTV put out a call for 30-second videos from fans and TV hopefuls to make their pitch to become a new character of the Svengoolie Show.
Rich noted that the idea is to have new characters come and go for he and his long-standing character to bounce off of in the coming years. NO, he is NOT retiring, he added, but he said they are looking to expand the Svengoolie universe a bit.
The contest is still on going, Koz said, and they have neither closed off entries nor set an ending date for the submissions. So, if you want to make your video bid for a spot on the show, you still have time.
He pointed out, though, that he does not screen the entries himself, nor does he take submissions himself. Only the studio staff handles that and he is not involved at this stage of the search. So, don’t go to his own Facebook or websites and try to get him to take a submission. Use the duly appointed Svengoolie app to upload your submission video.
Sven spoke on many other topics, of course, but the outcome was that the audience loves him and his cheesy comedic sensibilities, no matter what he is talking about, and everyone hopes he stays on MeTV for many years to come.