Devoured by The Man-eater of Manayunk: STELLA DESIRE!
Ever since watching the quintessential horror host documentary, AMERICAN SCARY, a couple of years ago I’ve been enthralled with Stella Desire. Most people site Elvira as the bawdiest (and bustiest) of the 80′s hostesses but, just as The Mistress of the Dark was the irrefutable “Queen of Camp” on the West Coast, there was another who would dominate the East.
The iconic “Saturday Night Live” would provide a death blow to many commercial hosts, as viewers began gravitating towards their brand of sketch comedy versus the weekend creature features. Stella, on the other hand, would make it little more than an appetizer to her main course. Her wonderful ”Saturday Night Dead” immediately followed SNL (and on the same channel, NBC) thereby allowing Philadelphia viewers an opportunity to keep their laughs going well beyond the witching hour.
Karen Scioli auditioned for the part of Stella after local TV execs decided to seek out an “Elvira” of their own. “My audition was on a Sunday morning at 9:30 am, at KYW studio in Philadelphia,” Karen reflects. “Philly has a huge market (was 4th in the nation at the time) so the audition was a big deal, and this Sunday was the last of the audition days. I think they had them over 4 days. I was nervous as hell, especially trying to be funny at 9:30 Sunday morning. I was in NYC the night before doing my very first paid stand-up gig at a club and was more excited about that than the audition.”
After landing the part, however, Scioli would make the character inherently her own. “Here’s something I never told anyone in the press before,” says Karen. “When I got the part, I knew my costume would have to be sexy. But I was a nervous wreck about it because, believe it or not, I am a very modest person!!! I NEVER showed my cleavage before in public!! I still don’t unless I’m dressed as Stella! So I was mortified that not only did I have to expose myself, but my tits were talked about like they were props and belonged to KYW!!!”
She later admits that she “got over it quickly and took the low road by making every cleavage joke that ever existed.” Low road or not, this shouldn’t suggest that Karen was anything short of empowered as she would go on to write the majority of the show’s material during its popular six year run. “The Man-eater of Manayunk” (as she’d affectionately be referred to with a nod to a Philadelphia suburb) with her auburn locks, hilarious skits, and lovable co-stars was much more horror’s answer to “Carol Burnett & friends” as opposed to another Elvira - and this was in no small part to Scioli’s exceptional comedic skills.
Unlike many horror hosts who’d adopt monster-inspired personas, Stella was a mere mortal surrounded by creepy characters and creations such as “Hives the Butler” (Bob Billbrough), “Cousin Mel” (Glenn Davish), and an animated bed named “Beda Lagosi.” Viewers were smitten by their shameless hostess and, no matter how bad the film, made sure to stay tuned and catch all of her onscreen antics.
Like SNL, “Saturday Night Dead” would also boast some celebrity appearances including actor, Rip Taylor, Bobby Rydell, Bozo the Clown, and the “father of horror hosts” himself, “Roland/Zacherley.
Stella & Rip Taylor!
“We could not have been more excited to have Zach, or Roland as us Philly peeps called him, as a guest on the show,” beams Karen. “Not only was I over the moon about it, but so was Bob, Glenn, and everyone else at the station. I only had a vague but terrifying recollection of Roland. He came on TV on Saturday nights at 11pm when I was a kid so it was too late for me to stay up. But he was extremely famous in the city, and when I did get to catch a show he scared the s**t out of me!!”
There was, however, more than just Roland/Zacherley’s star power that enamored Scioli. “Ok, here’s something I never told the press – I thought Zacherley was REALLY SEXY!!!!!!! I think he was about 72 or so when he did my show and I remember saying to someone at the station (another woman) ‘I know this sounds weird but I think he’s really sexy’ and she said ‘so do I!!!!’. it was disturbing for some reason. I guess because he was in costume. But he was sexy! And he could not be more of a gentleman. He also didn’t realize he had to memorize the script which we sent about a week in advance. So we had script pages hiding all over the set, including pinned on the “hump” of Humpy. But he took everything in stride and was hilarious and his laugh and smile will always make me blush!!!!! Love him. We’ve become close in a way too. I spent the entire Chiller weekend with him. Our tables were up against each other. That was the biggest treat in the world.”
Saturday Night Dead comes alive with Roland/Zacherley!
This year it was Stella’s turn to be honored as yet another gathering of horror hosts took place at this past Horrorhound Weekend
. As this was a rare and wonderful opportunity for The Daves to meet a classic, commercial TV host, living outside of our geographic range, we were elated! Prior to the event, Jason Hignite asked David and I to write the host “Hall of Fame” bios for Horrorhound’s new GOTHIC site. This allowed me to have a few nice exchanges with Karen/Stella prior to our meeting. Last summer, we’d shared the AM radio airwaves during one of “Dr. Destruction’s Big Top Radio Show” broadcasts which was a true honor for me and came on the heels of a Scary Monsters Magazine issue featuring articles on both hosts.
I LOVE “earthy” people and Karen is one who doesn’t mince words. She’s an Italian gal and reminds me of my “tell it like it is” Aunt Rosalia. Despite my last name being “Fuentes,” my mother’s side (Francesconi) gives me Italian blood and I’m told that, so far as that nationality is concerned, Italian blood manages to wash away the rest (sorry Dad). She started calling me “Cousin Dino” and we’ve be “Familia” ever since.
Stella made another “Big Top Radio” appearance just before the event where it was revealed that this would be the first occasion to see both Elvira and Stella at the same venue. Like Stella, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), is also a redhead and the jokes began flowing regarding a “battle of the boobs” and the two duking t out. I decided to take a stand and text the station that I was “Team Stella” (Elvira, I love you, but this is about family) thereby setting the stage for a happy first meeting.
We found Stella in one of the designated horror host rooms and walked up to her brandishing a surprise. Both David and I were clad in “Team Stella” shirts while bringing an extra along to give to our candidate of choice. Stella lit up and was thrilled with the surprise. She was so genuinely warm and affectionate that it really was as if we were family. I purchased one of her “Stella” mugs (she would later quip that she liked the idea of having her “jugs on my mug”) and also some Stella “hot sauce” in between posing for pictures.
It was a busy and crazy weekend, but we would return and visit her a few times throughout. We also enjoyed witnessing her induction to The Horror Host Hall of Fame by Halloween Jack and his attractive partner, Halloween Jacqueline. “To say I was honored doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt,” says Karen.
Stella was all smiles as she accepted the award and gave the audience a sample of the very humor that made her such a beloved character. “I was so f**king nervous and I’m afraid I tried to cover it by being funny,” Karen would later confess. “I hope everyone doesn’t think I was glib or didn’t take it seriously. I adore Halloween Jack and his speech made me cry! But being inducted into the HH Hall of Fame made me feel like I made some kind of mark in the horror world. Nothing ever was as rewarding as that moment. It was something that came completely unexpected and I was floored when I got Jason’s email. I have the certificate (can’t wait for a statue!!!!) on my mantle and I’m telling you, I get emotional every time I see it. I am so proud to be part of the wacky world of horror hosts! It’s a big, fun, insane family and the hosts and fans are the best people in the world. Let’s face it, if you’re in the horror world, you’re in it because you love it. Certainly not for the money!”
While the character of Stella is now enjoying a Renaissance of sorts, her alter ego, Karen Scioli, continues to ply her love of acting as well as the macabre via her YouTube series “Goth Mothers of Transylvania” – a spooky spin on the popular BRAVO “Real Housewives” TV series. She enjoys fraternizing with the other hosts that the Internet, as well as occasions such as Horrorhound, has provided while also admitting a special kinship to fellow Pennsylvanian, Roxsy Tyler.
But what of finally meeting her West Coast counterpart (also inducted to the Hall of Fame)? “Let me say that I think Elvira’s speech was heartfelt and I bet she cared more about the honor than she expected to,” said Karen. “But I can’t help it. It would have been amazing to see her in costume. The packed room would have gone completely insane!!!!!! I can’t say I blame her, shoving my tits into a costume isn’t as easy as it used to be!!! They tend to have a life of their own. But I met Casandra and was so hoping to meet Elvira. Oh well…. I think she’s great, she’s done a lot to put horror hosts on the national and global map so kudos to her. And I won the Battle of the Boobs!!!!!!!!!!!!”
With no arguments from The Daves we parted company that Saturday. We’d later reflect that meeting her was one of the high points of the entire event and I find myself missing her even I as write this. Not just for the honor of meeting one of the all time greats but for a connection that I am hopeful will endure. For we Italians have an old saying, “Chi trova un amico trova un tesoro”…He who finds a friend, finds a treasure.
Dave Fuentes (Cousin Dino)~