Friday, June 26, 2009

Elvira and other horror hosts

Horror movies on TV used to be great fun. Slashers were essentially the station editors who hacked them to time allowing for commercial breaks. And the best part was the local hosts. In LA I grew up with Elvira and the hilarious Seymour but every city seemed to have its ghoulish counterpart, each with a great name like Gonorrhea , Mistress of the Dead. Here are a few. And to think, those timeslots are occupied by informercials today. It makes me want to KILL SOMEONE!!!


Mike Carniello said...

Not dead yet ... here:

almost as good when he was "Son of Svengoolie"

D. McEwan said...

Okay, we are now officially in my territory. I wrote the FRIGHT NIGHT WITH SEYMOUR show on KHJ in 1974, writing 12 of the last 24 episodes. I wrote Seymour's final TV appearance, and appeared on that last show, as the guy sent to tear down The Slimy Wall. I wrote and supervised his final stage show, at Knott's Berry Farm, Halloween, 1974. And he was a dear friend.

A friend of mine is currently finishing up a book for MacFarland & Co Books, titled CREATURES OF THE NIGHT WE LOVED SO WELL: THE TELEVISION HORROR HOSTS OF LOS ANGELES, which will be in stores next year. This book runs from Vampira to Elvira, but only on hosts and hostesses on the air in Los Angeles.

I wrote a lengthy piece on Seymour which will run in that book's chapter on Larry "Seymour" Vincent. The book will also feature "The Seymour Show That Never Was:" the script I wrote for what was to have been Larry's next-to-last episode which he was too ill to shoot. (He came out of the hospital on a four-hour pass to shoot the final episode a week later. Six months later, he was dead of cancer at 50.) The script for this show which was never shot will be printed in full in the book, seeing the light of an audience for the first time, 35 years after it was written.

I've also written the forward for this book.

My favorite LA horror hosts, apart from Seymour of course, were Jeepers and Ghoulita, both from KCOP's JEEPERS' CREEPERS, which aired from 1962 - 1965. Thanks to this project, I was able to have an email correspondence with Letita Harvey, Ghoulita herself. Sadly, Bob "Jeepers" Guy is long dead.

I have my own theory about why the charming form died off: SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. It made off with the optimum horror host time slot and their prime audience.

But maybe, someday, another will rise from the crypt.

Long Live my beloved horror hosts.

Rick said...

Thanks D. McEwan for a wonderful post. I'll be watching for your friend's book next year.
I hope it's as irresistible as your post here...

Bill Weinberger said...

I am also looking forward to your book, D. McEwan. I was lucky enough for Seymour to be my late-night guide to ghoulish humor for my teenage years in LA. Then he was suddenly gone and it was never quite the same. I'm glad there are other that remember and can document his art. Thank you.

WV: myeldsts - not your eldsts

Lee Goldberg said...

My father was news director at KTVU in Oakland and when I was a kid I used to write jokes for Bob Wilkins, who hosted CREATURE FEATURES. As I recall, my job was putting funny word balloons/captions on photos. I think I got a buck or two for each one that got on the air. I forgot all about it until I saw your post, Ken.


Jason said...

I feel lucky to have grown up in broadcast range of Cleveland. There was something twisted yet wholesome about Superhost showing classic monster movies and announcing church potlucks during commercial breaks. I was too young for Ghoulardi (I watched his successors, Big Chuck & Hoolihan and later Little John), but his son seems to have turned out remarkably well, so the form clearly has some benefits. To this day, those are my "comfort films", and I would pay cash money for a DVD player that could automatically insert their old sketches into movies.

chiabli - alfalfa wine

A. Buck Short said...

Thanks for the horror show, Kengoolie. Especially the Come to Jesus moment I had seeing Ed McMahon in the final still, and realizing what an insensitive dip I’ve been over the last two days with this Fawcett-Jackson stuff.

The Youtube compilation was supposedly from one of the Bloopers and Practical Jokes shows – hence Ed McMahon. So will somebody please tell me which were the bloopers? Haven’t got the stomach to run it through a third time.

D. McE., once again honored to be in your presence – if only for the opportunity to employ the word "genre" in casual conversation. Did you ever get to work with any of the amazing number of future heavyweight producers, directors and such involved with Tales from the Crypt – out in Tarzana or someplace like that? I I had a great experience working with the longtime UPM F.A. Miller, on another series.

I remember Zacherle and Elvira, who aired in my neck of the woods, but help me out here. I don’t think there was any kind of horror repertoire connected, but in the late 60s wasn’t there an ongoing late night feature with an attractive woman who came out in a nightgown and pretended to be helping you exercise before bed (which still doesn’t seem like a great idea). Did it in such an obviously no exercise manner that said, “Look this isn’t about exercise. We both know I’m here only to let you ogle me in this lingerie. Was the show called “Good night with (somebody)? Or something like that. If you were involved, I’m sure it would have been something like “Fright Nightie.”

Now Ken, when are you going to cover wrasslin’?

Mike Bell said...

I just feel proud that I share my LA radio address with Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson. She's one of a kind.

YEKIMI said...

Hey! I used to watch Big Chuck & Little John all the time, before that it was Houlihan & Big Chuck and before that it was Ghoulardi of course played by Ernie Anderson who went on to become the voice of ABC Television doing boatloads of voiceovers and promos and who's son is now a big time movie director.

Trey Stokes said...

Are you sure you didn't mean Vampira, rather than Elvira?

Vampira was on the air in L.A. in the 50's. Elvira was the 80's. But maybe you're younger than I thought, and producing MASH was also part of your growing up? :-)

You might want to check out the documentary American Scary:

which is all about the uniquely American phenomenon of the "local horror host".

The producers interviewed as many surviving hosts as they could find, and it was my good fortune to be the DP for the Vampira interview (this was just a year or two before she passed away). A fascinating lady.

Don't get me wrong, Elvira's got her good points as well...

Rays profile said...

Another good site looking at the genre is Dick Nitelinger's Milwaukee Horror Hosts.

WV: auslyten: reading by a kangaroo lamp.

Stevan said...

Out here in the Midwest we watched Sammy Terry on Channel 4 out of Indianapolis. Can't beat the spooky, echoing voice. Here's part of an anniversary special:

Todd said...

While "Count Scary", featured in your video, took over in the 80's, the longest-running vampire host in the Detroit area was SIR GRAVES GHASTLY, played by actor Lawson J. Deming (1913-2007).

From his Wiki:

...was most widely recognized for his dark (and fake) moustache and goatee, plus a cackling, nasally laugh ("Nyaaa-aaaaaaah").

Sir Graves wasn't the only character on the show. Perhaps the most beloved was The Glob, whose face appeared (via early special effects) in the moon above the cemetery set. The face was actually Sir Graves', upside-down, with eyes and nose painted on the chin. The Glob's main role was to lip sync silly parody songs, such as "I Wanna Bite Your Hand" and "Ghoul Days."

Those were the (scary) days!


Anonymous said...

Like Lee Goldberg, I grew up watching Creature Features with Bob Wilkins. He was a cigar smoking host with a dry wit. I miss those local shows very much. You'll be happy to know that there is a rather new documentary about local horror shows. Forgive me, I can't remember the title. You would love it, Ken.


John Leader said...

Don't forget one of the greatest voiceover talents of all time, Ernie Anderson (father to Paul Thomas Anderson), began his "show biz" career as "The Great Ghoulardi" on Cleveland TV, hosting cheesy horror flicks.
Why do all those clips remind me of Joe Flaherty on SCTV?

Mike Bell said...

Ernie Anderson was our "Voice Guy" in Seattle. We would "direct" (you didn't really direct Ernie Anderson) over a phone patch, and then the tape of the session was overnighted to us. His outtakes were hilarious and profane.

But to have Ernie Anderson say your name in "that" voice has been one of the biggest highlights of my radio "career."

Michael Green said...

In Las Vegas, we had the Vegas Vampire, a guy named Jim Parker, who came on in costume. Best horror movie we ever had on in the middle of the night was "Invasion of the B Girls," which happened to be soft porn. The station that showed it got well over a hundred phone calls, and I think all of them asked for a repeat.

Alan Coil said...

Todd writes of Sir Graves Ghastly. Also in Detroit was The Ghoul, a protege of Ghoulardie.

Count Scary's famous line was, "Oooh, that's scary." After which I usually said, "No, that's stupid." Hence we gave him the nickname, in my circle of friends, of Count Stupid. CS was not an entertainment character, but a gross grab for money character.

And I was also fortunate to live close enough to pick up the occasional broadcast of Big Chuck and Little John.

Cap'n Bob said...

Ronald the Ghoul on Shock Theater from Norfolk, VA, in 1960. He rose from a coffin at the start of each show and each week the squaking hinges seemed to go on longer and longer. This was my introduction to the Universal horror films of the 1930s and '40s. Scared the living bejeezus out of me.

About 10 years later, as a young adult, I lived the California's Bay Area where Bob Wilkins hosted the horror flicks. Wilkins looked like a kid smoking his father's huge cigar, he dressed in a regular suit, and as another poster noted he had a wonderful dry wit. I did an interview with him once for a periodical called The Monster Times, but it folded before I could transcribe the tape. I believe Wilkins passed away last year.

Are there any local horror/cartoon/movie hosts left in America?

Grant said...

We're keeping it real in Pittsburgh with "It's Alive"

JKChicago said...

Ahhh....special love in the Chicago 'burbs for Svengoolie. As long as the town of Berwyn ("BERWYN?") exists, he will live on.

And let's not forget Count Floyd.

Mike Bell said...

When I was growing up, the only thing close to Ghoulardi here in Bakersfield was this guy named Jim who hosted a daily movie on TV. He wasn't scary. However, he was drunk most days.

Jeff Tompkins said...

In my area, those time slots are still occupied by "horror" personalities. We call it "local news."

Kirk said...

I, too, grew up with Houlihan and Big Chuck, later Big Chuck and Little John. Big Chuck retired two years ago after 44 years on the air, starting out as Ghoulardi's sidekick.

Although he apparently was bigger in Detroit, the Ghoul got his start here in Cleveland. He was played by Ron Sweed, who got his start as a teenage gofer for Ghoulardi and appeared on the air in a gorilla suit.

Tim Conway, originally Tom Conway from Cleveland, occasionally appeared on Ghoulardi. This was after he broke through the big time on MCHALE'S NAVY, but before Carol Burnett. Tim Conway and Ernie Anderson also made a couple of comedy albums together.

jbryant said...

The only horror host I remember was "The Fearmonger" on WDRB-TV independent Channel 41 in Louisville, Kentucky, circa the early 70s. He was an actor named Charles Kissinger, and the station had such a paltry budget there was no set per se, just Kissinger standing in the dark holding a flashlight under his chin. Good 'n' creepy though. I think they also used prehistoric video f/x to move his head around the screen.

Scott Schrantz said...

It's still going strong in Reno with "Zomboo's House of Horror Movies".

Anonymous said...


Tim Fox said...

There's a great documentary that just came out on DVD called "American Scary," profiling dozens of horror hosts from early TV to now. The producers have a website at

Alan Coil said...

Kirk Jusko--Ron Sweed is still in the Detroit area, frequently making appearances at Motor City Comic-Con every May.

Jayne said...

In Milwaukee we had Shock Theatre with Too-loose No-neck on Channel 18. Friday nights. Many a fun sleepovers were had watching Shock Theatre.

michael said...

Baton Rouge Louisiana had Shock Theatre with mad scientist Dr Shock reading viewer letters during four breaks in a bad black an white horror film. In 1976 I convinced the star/producer to hire me as a writer. I traveled thirty miles once a week for the shooting at the TV station. I was paid one dollar a week which qualified me for WGA. Did not join because the fees cost more than I would make in several years. The star/producer refused to learn any lines so I wrote a short outline with jokes to guide him through improving the story. He wanted to rehearse, something I thought would kill the freshness of improv. I played Seegor the Doctor's invisible assistant. One night the story revolved around Seegor being taken by aliens but returned in the last act. I did not know at the time I was receiving fan mail (something I never got to see but was told about) requesting I replace the star/producer. At the end of the third act the star/producer disappeared into the director's booth. The fourth act the Doctor talked about how he would miss Seegor. Thinking the Doctor can't hear me I scream louder and louder that I am right there behind him. The show ends and I ask the star/producer what happened. He tells me I was not fired but to never come back. The next night the show aired and the Doctor's mike had picked up my screaming,"No Doctor, here I am right behind you." for five straight minutes.
There is no record of this show as it was before VCRs and the news department recorded over all the shows in a cost cutting effort to save money on video tape.

John Hudgens said...

Kirk Jusko:
I don't think Tim Conway every appeared on the Ghoulardi show - but Tim and Ernie had a show called "Ernie's Place" together that predates Ghoulardi - perhaps that's what you were remembering... we've got some footage from that in "American Scary"...

Thanks to Trey and Tim (is that one of Baron Daemon's Bloody Buddies?) for the plugs - although I'm just about horror-hosted out, we had a ball making the film - I just wish we could have included more hosts than we did in the film, as I'm constantly hearing about hosts that we didn't know about during production - or being yelled at for not including this guy or that guy... :)

If anyone's interested, here's a few clips and teasers:
from the Ghoulardi section

from the Vampira section

from the Zacherley section

from the Svengoolie section

John Hudgens

Kirk said...

I doubled-checked my Ghoulardi biography (yes, there is such a thing) and you're right, John, it was Ernie's Place Tim Conway appeared on. Although he didn't appear on Ghoulardi proper, whenever Conway was in town, he did play in the Ghoulardi All Stars, a baseball and basketball team made up of Cleveland TV personalities that played for charity.

Alan, Ron Sweed also makes personal appearances right here in the Cleveland area (especially at the annual Ghoulardifest--yes, there is such a thing). He's also been a disc jocky over the years. The guy must put a lot of miles on his car.

D. McEwan said...

John Hudgens,

I rented and watched your documentary a few months ago, and enjoyed it very much. I was, of course, devastated that Seymour, The Greatest Horror Host of All, was NOT EVEN MENTIONED! (If you'd had decent coverage of Seymour, Jeepers, and Ghoulita, I'd have bought it, instead of just Netflixing)

I understand (BELIEVE ME, I understand) that there is no surviving footage of Larry as Seymour, all taped over by the station owners. Not even his famliy have any. (There is footage of Larry in movies and TV shows), so I know you couldn't show him in action, but NO MENTION?

And of course there do exist audio tapes of his shows. I have a few myself (some sent me by fans decades after they'd taped them off of their TVs in 1974), and plenty of stills (I have some great ones, shot by a friend at my invitation, on the set) so a stills-plus-soundtrack segment could have been put together.

But I sure learned at lot about the horror hosts of Cleveland, of which there were a hell of a lot. And it was a joy to finally see clips of hosts I'd only read about, like John Stanley, Bob Wilkins, and Zacherle (Roland), particularly in the late Elena Watson's book on TV Horror Hosts. Some looked like a gas I would have loved, and some looked tiresome in the extreme. (A truly bad horror host is really a sad thing.)

Michael of Louisiana, Wow, your story is a classic! Underpaid, exploited, and then fired on air. A young man's dream turned to nightmare. Horrible experience; great story.

I was lucky; Larry Vincent was a prince. I was due to be promoted to producer when the show instead went off the air, owning to Larry's illness. The only "surprise" I ever got from him was when my paycheck for the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt show I'd written and supervised came, and was for double the amount I was expecting, and Gary Blair, our executive producer, told me Larry had personally insisted on doubling my stipend for doing a great job. There, in a nutshell, is the difference between a schmuck and a mensch.

And Larry was every bit the pro your Dr. Shock was not. We rehearsed, and while Larry didn't memorize the scripts, owing to a little invention we liked to call a TelePrompTer, the shows were still performed, word-for-word, as written, with the occasional ad-lib tossed in when appropriate.

WV: consoap:
1. A grifter's cleaner that convinces you your clothes are clean even though they are still filthy.

2. What you don't want to drop in the prison shower.

Michael Hagerty said...

Ivonna Cadaver is working on new episodes of Macabre Theatre (formerly on KDOC). She's also set for her second year headlining Knott's Scary Farm in October.

rms said...

I grew up in London, Ontario and we watched Sir Graves Ghastly. I loved him and credit him with my lifelong love of horror. Probably one of the reasons I work at a haunted attraction in October every year.

Kids these days are missing out!

John Hudgens said...

D. McEwan:
Believe me, if there was a way to have included more hosts than we did, we would have - I've had lots of emails and comments (some nasty, most reasonable) about the omission of certain hosts...
However, once we made the decision to go without a narrator for the film, and base it solely on the responses from our interviewees, we were constrained by what they said on-camera - if no one mentioned Seymour (and I can't recall now if anyone did), it's kind of hard to bring him up in the format that we went with... :)

We never intended "American Scary" to be the end-all, be-all of horror host documentaries, though... I never had a horror host growing up, so I went into this without any preconceived notions about which one of these guys/gals/ghouls was better or worse than the others. If anything, I tried to be fair, and present a good cross-section of what was out there.

But now, at least, people are taking our lead and others have come along to fill in the gaps, so there are individual docs out there now about Vampira, Count Gore de Vol, and Bob Wilkins... I hope somebody does one on Zacherley while he's still with us - we had a LOT of material from him we didn't get to use...

Weisenheimer said...

Seattle's KIRO TV had "Nightmare Theatre" hosted by "The Count." The Count was played by Joe Towey, who directed the J.P. Patches kids' show.

Scott Aaron Stine has a nice tribute site about the show at

-Alan D Hopewell said...

As a native NorthCoaster, I was blessed to have been able to watch....

And, even though I never saw his program, thanks to "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and "The Monster Times", I was a Fringie in the Seymour Fan Club, back in the 70's....wish I still had that orange and black Membership Card.

Unknown said...

Louisville KY has tried it seriously only once, "Fright Night" featuring The Fearmonger, Saturday nights from 7 - 10, from 1971-'75. We didn't get an independent UHF station,until 1971,WDRB.

Sadly,not a single episode was taped, as WDRB was a low budget operation in it's early years,and very little else was saved as well.