UNDER THE UNFORGETTABLE SPELL OF SVENGOOLIE
By RICH KOZ (SVENGOOLIE II), MR. LOBO, and THE BONE JANGLER. Art by DAVID HARDY and DIXIE DELLAMORTO.
“The time has come for scary things like monsters, ghosts, and vampire wings, with horrible movies all drippy and drool-y, and horrible jokes, like me – Svengoolie!“
He slipped away from us squares here in the real world in a cloud of psychedelic smoke last month. We were still feeling the sting of losing the great BOB CARTER AKA Horror Host SAMMY TERRY when the word got to our desk here at HORROR HOSTS AND CREATURE FEATURES. Although, many have written wonderful memorials since September about the ORIGINAL SVENGOOLIE from SCREAMING YELLOW THEATER, we felt the need to do something special… …And that required the help of today’s top television horror host RICH KOZ–the man who has not only extended the legacy of the ORIGINAL SVENGOOLIE but has become a legend himself, first as SON OF SVENGOOLIE and later as just SVENGOOLIE. The avalanche of pre-Halloween obligations on his side and ours created delays…but somehow it seems right that this memorial appears before you in the days before Halloween. The eve of All Saints Day, Hallowmas, the time of year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and the faithful.
Those Horror Host fans who are not from the windy city may remember JERRY G. BISHOP speaking from the streets of San Diego(where he owned the Greek Islands Cafe, and Asaggio Pizza & Pasta) in the documentary film AMERICAN SCARY(2006). And although I was a researcher on that film and enjoyed watching his work immensely I feel I am not qualified to tell his story or sing his praises.
You may have seen RICH KOZ as SVENGOOLIE on ME-TV, broadcast in markets in every state in the union. Take a moment know to hear the origin story of this Chicgoan and now National institution as told by the heir to his groovy-ness, RICH KOZ…(who is still very much alive despite an apparently easy to confuse internet generation.)
“The man who first gave us the character of SVENGOOLIE- and who was generous enough to help me get into broadcasting – JERRY G. BISHOP – passed away at his San Diego home recently. There’s so much I want to say in his memory- probably more than everyone’s time and patience would allow. Jerry was my mentor and my friend. I was originally a fan of his radio shows- an incredible talent- so quick-witted, inventive, and engaging as a personality. He made me laugh while doing funny stuff as he played the Top 40 rock hits of the day on Chicago’s WCFL. He loved playing his four-string Martin guitar (given to him by one of the guys in the Kingston Trio) and singing various tunes. When he moved on to television at WFLD, I enjoyed the various programs he did there- including DIALING FOR DOLLARS, which he always joked about, saying that, back in those days, the late 60s, his random calls to people often were met by- “we don’t get that channel”!(This was before most sets had UHF tuning.)
It was in 1970 that he started what would become his beloved SVENGOOLIE character- he just happened to be the live staff announcer on duty during the Friday night horror flicks. He started goofing around with the voice-over announcements he had to read- and started doing them in, as he put it, a Yiddish Transylvanian accent! This evolved into the character that he and one of the engineers dubbed “SVENGOOLIE”- a sort of hippie vampire with his red-white-and blue bell-bottoms, sandals, sweatshirt, and green hippie wig , hosting the weekly grade Z horror flicks, who told jokes, sang songs, did commercial parodies- and became a popular favorite of Chicago viewers. In actuality- Jerry himself was no great fan of horror movies- the show was just a springboard for his entertaining shtick.
It became part of MY history when, as a fan, I joined the many viewers who sent in jokes. I also wrote bits for him to do, and, it appeared he appreciated them- because he would ask me to come up with more. He once told me “it was a good thing you came along when you did, because, at that point, I had pretty much done everything I know!” This turned into a writing job (for which he paid me out of his own pocket- the TV execs didn’t get why he needed some kid to assist him). He invited me to attend the taping of the show, and he had me do off-camera voices, artwork, and various go-fer work, as well as public appearances with him. When the show was cancelled by the KAISER Broadcasting geniuses, Jerry thought enough of me to take me along to his next gig- at WMAQ radio, as writer, sidekick, ”producer”, etc. At any point, he could’ve just used material I wrote, said “thanks a lot kid”, and gone on his way alone. He didn’t, and I was always complemented by the fact that I was helping this top personality to do his shows- and that he actually liked what I was doing! He taught me so many things, about broadcasting, achieving any sort of fame- and, in general, how to handle many aspects of life.
Time passed- we went in our own directions (not that we wanted to- Jerry had gotten other positions that had no place for me) but, again- he helped open the door to me working with the fantastic DICK ORKIN, creator of “CHICKEN MAN” and other radio features, and some of the finest humorous radio commercials ever.
The whole idea of there being a “SON OF SVENGOOLIE” was Jerry’s idea- a friend had suggested that, as a limited summer fun project, he bring back the Sven character. Jerry was actually reluctant to be Sven again- he had various reasons, including the idea that he may someday actually want to run for a local political office, and it might reflect badly on him! He decided that I should be “SON OF SVENGOOLIE”- and he and I would produce the show together. Though nothing came of the idea then, after some false starts, when he was moving to the west coast, and asked what I was thinking of doing- and I said I might try to pitch a local station on some kind of show- he said “if you want to try the “SON OF“ thing, you have my blessing”- which led to me finally doing so. Jerry was so generous to allow me to continue the SVENGOOLIE character- again, it’s such an honor that he felt I could do justice to the franchise he had made successful. We stayed in touch as our lives progressed, and he was always there to make me laugh, to show concern, and remain a part of my life. He was so much more than just someone I had worked with- he was a kind and caring friend, a devoted family man, and a truly versatile and greatly talented performer. He was my mentor, and everything I have ever aspired to be. I am proud and honored to be continuing what he created- as a tribute to him.”
Thank you, RICH. Just as we had said about SAMMY TERRY in our memorial article to BOB CARTER, the same applies here. SVENGOOLIE IS NOT DEAD! JERRY G. BISHOP gave the character to RICH KOZ as BOB CARTER handed NIGHTMARE THEATER down to his son MARK CARTER, just as I have been given the torch to carry by my childhood horror host BOB WILKINS from CREATURE FEATURES in California. In Cleveland, THE GHOUL got GHOULARDI’s blessing, In Omaha, DR. SANGUINARY spawned SON OF SANGUINARY, In Florida, DR. PAUL BEARER continued his dads undertaker biz. This is how the tradition remains a tradition.
RICH’s help here with this article is an example the tremendous amount of good will these kinds of shows create. It’s obvious we all feel we want to pay back the debt we owe to this grand tradition by honoring our heroes and telling their story.
Another, current Horror Host, Chicagoland’s BONE JANGLER posted a tribute on his website to his hero. In it are some amazing details about Jerry’s early days.
“In the early Seventies, on Friday nights, at 10:30pm, if you were looking for me, you knew where to find me. I was in front of the TV, my eyes glued to the screen, watching SVENGOOLIE on “SCREAMING YELLOW THEATER“, waiting for that large cheese and sausage pizza from Little Red Schoolhouse to arrive, hoping that it came during a commercial, so that I didn’t miss a second of the onscreen hijinx. The delivery driver would often ask, “You watchin’ Svengoolie?” And, then they’d say something like, “Yeah, it sucks working Friday nights. I end up missing most of his show.”
Jairus “Jerry” Samuel Ghan was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 3rd, 1936. Later, he performed in a folk trio, graduated from, Wright Junior College, the University of Illinois, and Columbia College of Chicago. In 1961, He got his first job in broadcasting as the drive time DJ at WNMP-AM in Evanston, Illinois. Before long, he worked at stations in Rockford and Springfield, Illinois, and in Washington, DC. It was when he was night time DJ for the hugely popular Cleveland radio station KYW, at the suggestion of program director KEN DRAPER, that Jerry shortened his professional name to “JERRY G.”
Meanwhile, a man by the name of ERNIE ANDERSON reigned supreme on NE Ohio television, hosting horror movies as “GHOULARDI” on WJW-TV in Cleveland, with a 70% share of the late night viewers. There is no doubt that JERRY G. saw some of this Cleveland phenomenon.
In 1967, KEN DRAPER had become the program director at Chicago’s WCFL-AM, and hired JERRY G. as the station’s morning show host. DRAPER asked Jerry to add a last name to his moniker. Jerry, and his wife Liz, thumbed through a Cleveland phone book, and settled on the name “BISHOP.”
With Draper’s keen direction, and on-air talent like JERRY G. BISHOP, WCFL became serious competition for rival powerhouse WLS-AM. JERRY G. refers to this time as “rock radio’s greatest era.” Back then, programmers would allow their rock jocks to stretch out, get creative, and find their niche. In 1969, following a change in management at WCFL, Jerry was let go, and “replaced” by the comparatively milquetoast HOWARD MILLER. At this point, JERRY G. went over to fledgling Chicago UHF television station WFLD channel 32, looking for work.
Program director CLIFF BRAUN hired him to host the daytime movie show DIALING FOR DOLLARS. Jerry would call a phone number randomly found in the phone book and ask the often bewildered recipient if they knew what the current prize jackpot was. Jerry sometimes anchored the station’s newscast, and also provided a variety of offscreen announcements as booth announcer.
When WFLD decided to air horror movies on Friday nights, JERRY G. provided off camera narration, and commentary, between segments, using a voice reminiscent of BELA LUGOSI. As Jerry spoke, title cards, and movie stills, were shown onscreen, often while LINK WRAY’s RUMBLE played underneath.
Viewers wanted to know who that voice belonged to, and JERRY G. approached management about adding a comedic live host onscreen. SVENGOOLIE was the modern hippie counterpart to ERNIE ANDERSON’S beatnik GHOULARDI of Early-Sixties Cleveland television. And, while we had previously had our own beatnik Horror Host (TERRY BENNETT’s “MARVIN”), Chicago had never seen anything like SVENGOOLIE. SCREAMING YELLOW THEATER was the show to watch, and channel 32 was the place to be, on Friday nights, and SVENGOOLIE was the king of cool, and often corny vaudevillian humor.
JERRY G. BISHOP and the ORIGINAL SVENGOOLIE, and those long ago nights of hilarity, horror, and cool, will live forever in the hearts, and minds, of his family, his friends, and his unfathomable multitude of fans, including me. God bless my hero JERRY G. BISHOP. Thank you for everything, Jerry!“
His hero, among many other influences is why you can watch the wild and wooly BONE JANGLER host horror movies on Aurora cable channel 99 Friday Nights & Saturday Nights. You can read his complete tribute about the ORIGINAL SVEN on The BONE JANGLER’s Website message board...
MR. LOBO feels the writings of these two “fans who became hosts” added a doubly deep perspective to this article that could otherwise not exist. And THIS host who did not grow up or work with JERRY G. BISHOP has become a huge fan as well. We would also like to thank artist DAVID HARDY and DIXIE DELLAMORTO for the cover art. I’ve saved my most profound and way-out thanks for you–for taking some time to “tune in” this electronic love fest for a beloved giant in the world of broadcasting and HORROR HOSTS.