Ode to the Horror Host Sidekick: Interview with Penny Dreadful’s Garou!
Ever since Vampira cooed to her pet spider, “Rolo,” and the great Zacherly whispered “my dear” to an invisible paramour just outside the camera’s reach, sidekicks have been a common feature of horror hosted shows.
These companions are often as colorful and diverse as their host creators. Some are the skeletal variety such as Svengoolie’s Tombstone or Wolfman Mac’s conniving Boney Bob. Others are even more bizarre and imaginative such as Doktor Goulfinger’s Count Zygote (the world’s first horror host fan), Ms Monster’s..”ahem”.. melons “Tit & Tat,” or even a coy houseplant whom Mr. Lobo affectionately refers to as “Miss Mittens.”
For matters of horror host history, I always seek out my friend, Michael Monahan (Doktor Goulfinger), to supply the answers. I asked him if he had any idea who some of the first host sidekicks were and, expecting him to need some time to ponder the question, was surprised when he responded almost immediately. The following is a list of early host sidekicks the good Doktor shared “just off the top of his head.”
Aside from the aforementioned Vampira, he also listed Kansas City’s The Host – Rodney, Son of Ghoul in the 90’s – Fidge, Sammy Terry – George the Spider, Dr. Paul Bearer – a spider named Spinjamin Bock, Commander USA – Lefty, The Ghoul – Froggie, and Morgus the Magnificent – Chopsley.
Less common were the “living” sidekicks. This was a luxury few commercial hosts could afford with barely enough money in the station’s budget allotted for themselves let alone an assistant. This, of course, is not an issue with hosts working on public access as it is all the labor of love. Good friends, loved ones, and fellow horror fans show their support by acting as supporting cast members.
One should, however, take their time before adding names to their roster. This is a lesson Kenosha’s Dr. Destruction learned the hard way. Once, while hosting a dinner party that utilized multiple sidekicks, an on-air battle erupted between them (apparently jealous over their host’s attention). Destruction, none too pleased at having to interrupt his performance to put an end to the altercation, decided to leave all the footage intact for public viewing. I would like to add that I met his latest sidekick, Deadgar Winters, last weekend and he was one of the nicest, easy going guys you could ever meet. The on-air sidekick battle was clearly before his time.
Behind every great man lies a great woman and this is certainly the case with many other hosts such as Zomboo’s Miss Transyvania, The Bone Jangler’s beautiful Enchantress Nocturna, Dr. Dreck’s Moaner Lisa, Count Gregula’s Countess, and Undead Johnny’s Romania. Perhaps in these instances the word “partner” would be more appropriate than sidekick, though they still serve the same role of enhancing the performance of their host.
Great hostesses can also rely on their men to back them up as well. If not a great man, than certainly a great “wolfman!”As is the case of Penny Dreadful’s partner, both on and off screen, Garou!
I met Garou last March at the Indianapolis Horrorhound Convention and then again at “Rock & Shock” last month. This was the first time David met the wily lycanthrope and he was very impressed with the way he stayed so flawlessly in character.
This was something I had witnessed at Horrorhound and I wasn’t alone. Brian Maze, the fantastic artist who created the horror host illustrations used in our current updates, also met Garou at Horrorhound. Apparently Mr. Maize made the mistake of handing Garou a “silver” marker to sign his autograph, prompting the werewolf to toss the Sharpie while reacting as if he’d just been burned.
Garou is played by Penny’s real life husband, Magoo Gelehrter. While putting together her show, Penny recognized Magoo’s comic potential and asked if he’d mind playing a non-speaking werewolf character. According to Penny, his response was a simple and direct, “Cool, Baby!” And the rest is “Shilling Shocker” history.
With the aid of a werewolf translator, Garou delighted me by taking some time out and answering a few questions….
DAVE: Tell us how you came to be “Garou?”
GAROU: I’m always pulling faces to make Danielle laugh, and when we decided on the witch, werewolf and monster hunter characters, the name Garou, as in Loup Garou, just came to me, and that was decidedly that.
DAVE: I know that prior to Penny Dreadful, Danielle had some experience with acting, had you as well?
GAROU: It has long been my ambition to be a silent film actor, but it’s very hard to find leading parts that don’t have spoken lines. Danielle and I were both in a film called THE ART OF ETIOLATION in 2002. I’ve also been in some plays. Danielle and I were in the play “The Hot_l Baltimore” together a few years ago.
DAVE: Did you grow up a fan of monster movies and, if so, what are your favorites?
GAROU: I used to watch Creature Feature when I was a kid, my favourite then was ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. My favorite classic horror film is of course, THE WOLFMAN but I also love so called “bad” horror films – like Ed Wood’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and Herschel Gordon Lewis’ GRUESOME TWOSOME and stuff like THE GIANT GILA MONSTER.
DAVE: What episode of SHILLING SHOCKERS are you the most proud of?
GAROU: This is the hardest question! I love the movie CARRY ON SCREAMING! (Season three). I also have a certain fondness for the Coffin Joe movie we showed in Episode 2 of Season Three, and our hijinks in that episode always make me laugh because we filmed some of it at my wonderful in-laws’ home with Danielle’s mother and her mom’s best friend Mary Lou and they nearly feed Garou until he explodes. They didn’t have prior acting experience but they sure were Method actors! They were really shoving the food in my yap, I was lucky I didn’t swallow my fangs! Seeing them dance with us around the coffee table and seeing little Twinkie the dog chasing us around makes me nearly cry with laughter. And the episode where we show SWEENEY TODD, Garou gets a haircut from Danielle’s since departed grandfather as the barber he was, so having family in the episodes always makes it extra special for me. Those are both pretty early episodes and we do get better technically in the later ones, so those might be more to be proud about. Our director Rebecca Paiva does the hard work of shooting the episodes and editing them, so she’d be the one to ask about what’s the episode to be proudest of. The episode where we showed THE SEVENTH SEAL was a very hard shoot. We shot on the beach in Rhode Island during the summertime and it was hot as blazes and we didn’t bring enough potable water. It is not the only episode where I found myself dangerously dehydrated, but I was really close to the edge when we were randomly saved by beach goers who let us join their picnic and revived us all with their generosity. They noticed we were running around and when we finished shooting they invited us over, and ended up doing a song for us which closes out the episode. They were real lifesavers!
DAVE: You were a lot of fun at “Horrorhound” and “Rock & Shock” – managing to always stay in character. Do you enjoy making public appearances?
GAROU: I love doing appearances! Being in character comes naturally once I am dressed as Garou. At most of the conventions we go to there are kids, and Garou tends to have a Pied Piper effect on them. They can relate to him because they know how it feels to be mis-understood, and to communicate non-verbally, plus he’s funny and not afraid to be silly. And I respect the right of children to enjoy their innocence, so staying in character is a must. I don’t want some little kid to see me break character when I’m Garou, and then start to wonder that if Garou isn’t real, then what about Santa and the Easter Bunny, and then poof- their childhood is over, just like that! I don’t wanna be that guy, the one who kills the joy of simple pleasures for them. Also being in character all day at a convention is a great way to get into character and come up with bits that we can use in the show. Doing a convention before we start a new shooting season really helps get me ready. And much as I love to talk, I really do enjoy communicating with people non-verbally. For me, that is the most addictive part of wanting to be an actor. Though being able to memorize large monologues would be great, and a well delivered line is a thing of great beauty, for me the soul of acting is not what you say, but what you convey when you’re not speaking. One reason I like to watch movies more than once is so I can enjoy watching the people in scenes when they are not the one speaking. That’s where the real acting is, if you can see them listening to the actor who is speaking, that’s where the magic happens.
DAVE: How long does it take to make your “transformation” into Garou? Do you do your own make-up?
GAROU: When the moon is full and the wolfbane is in bloom, it takes no time at all! I had no experience using makeup until we did this show, and I learned everything the hard way! I tried all kinds of different fixatives to apply the Garou nose before I finally found something reliable. But now that I know what to use and how to use it, it only takes about half an hour or so to pull myself together. It also depends on the humidity. The fixatives I use take a bit longer when it is very humid before I can attach the nose and ears.
DAVE: Your comic timing is impeccable. Who would you site as your comedic influences?
GAROU: Thank you for the compliment! I’m sure my answer will surprise very few people: Harpo Marx is at the top of my comedy influence hit parade! But I am also a huge fan of George Burns, he is the all time best second banana ever. There isn’t a day in my life where I am not inspired by his words. I also love W.C. Fields and quote them both at least twice a day. But it’s not for a lack of love of the man that I never quote Harpo! He did it all without saying a word. I also love Mel Brooks, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. I wish I could do a better Stan Laurel! Along with Burns & Allen, Ace Goodman and his wife Jane Ace were a great comedy duo who are not remembered often enough these days. And I love Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” That show had an amazing cast. Aside from Sid with his amazing physicality, he had Howie Morris whom I utterly revere, Imogen Coca, and Carl Reiner. Howie Morris is another huge influence. You might recall him as Professor Little Old Man in Mel Brooks HIGH ANXIETY. My mother took me to see my first Woody Allen film when I was seven and it had a huge influence on me. I hadn’t been too optimistic about my prospects until I saw that film- it let me know it was okay to be a nebbish and a runt, that you could still attract women not only in spite of that, but because of that! I have always loved his physical comedy for which he’s always been under-rated, yet he moves so well. He does some his best physical comedy in SHADOWS AND FOG and ZELIG. I know it’s not PC to like him these days, but funny is funny and he has always made me laugh and to feel less alone in this world. Aside from comedy, I think Lon Chaney Jr. is one of the all time great actors, his pop was no slouch either but I love the humanity Lon Junior conveys without having to say a word. Even in his last roles when his health was failing, he managed to impart incredible pathos. I put him right up there with actors like Cary Grant and George Sanders.
DAVE: I know that Danielle did not grow up with a horror host. Did you?
GAROU: I used to watch Creature Feature when I was a kid, they showed double features, lots of Godzilla movies mostly. They had a voice-over announcer telling us to stay tuned but not a character who appeared onscreen.
DAVE: What advice do you have for other horror host “sidekicks?”
GAROU: It’s okay to occasionally lick the scenery but try to avoid chewing it. You don’t want to drown out your co-hosts when they are speaking or pull focus from them with your antics. Try to find the balance between adding a little color without upstaging the focus.
DAVE: This one I can’t resist. I love the story of how Penny Dreadful, through a misguided spell, became a hostess. What is Garou’s back story and how did a werewolf end up the love interest of a 600 year old witch?
GAROU: I hate to leave you hanging but you’ll just have to stay tuned to Shilling Shockers to find out more about Garou’s past.
Well Dave, thanks for asking all these great questions, you gave me much to consider. I think this is where I should say goodnight but I’ve never been good at goodbyes, so I’ll leave it up to someone else. And to end, since I can’t quote Harpo, here is something one of his brothers once said. Groucho to be specific, though I love them all, even Gummo and Zeppo. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Chico as well. “Until then, so long, skol, arrivederci, prosit, salud, hasta la vista, a bientot and ciao. (Ciao, in case you don’t know, is an Italian salutation. It is also a breed of dog that will bite your ass off for no reason at all.)”