THE RETURN OF SVENGOOLIE!
It was just after 3pm last Saturday when my friend, Steve Gill, and I began plowing through a juggernaut of fans (and even fans dressed like Marvel’s Juggernaut) in an effort to get to “Table 12.” C2E2 (Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo) is a popular annual/weekend event here in the city and this was clearly their “prime time.” It was little wonder that it took us over ten minutes to navigate a single aisle.
Of course it also didn’t help that I was stopping every few yards to take pictures of costumed fans either but I’ll cover that portion of the event in an upcoming post. Today I’m going to cut right to the chase and focus on my main objective for being there…the return of Svengoolie! And, while conventional wisdom states one should always save the best for last, I have no desire in prolonging what we fans have waited long enough for as it is.
The celebrity autograph area was located at the end of the Main Hall and we’d just been outside to get some much-needed fresh air. Steve’s a musician who’s played in both punk & metal bands and had just been recounting for me stories of his being bashed and tossed around at shows; thus teaching him early on how to muscle his way through crowds. I couldn’t help but think how that experience must have served him well today.
The celebrities attending C2E2 were all sharing numbered tables at specific times. Svengoolie was slated for 4pm at Table 12 and, by the time we arrived (just under an hour before), a line had already formed. Fortunately, that would not be a concern for us today. Svengoolie and I had pre-arranged to meet ahead of time as there was some unfinished business from Horrorhound Weekend we had to attend to. Aside from that, his crew and I have built a rapport over the past year and they’ve been graciously allowing me to stay with them. I guess this sort of makes me like the Dian Fossey to their mountain gorillas; not officially part of the troop but permitted to hang with them none the less (and if anyone else out there compares Sven & company to gorillas I’ll smack em!).
Steve and I waited off to the side where there was the C2E2 equivalent of an oasis in the desert…that being an unoccupied CHAIR! Believe me, I’d done so much standing and walking at this event my legs & feet were in agony and, even a full day later, all I could do is think of one of Sven’s most famous show sound effects: “Ow, Ow, Owwww!!!”
This was Steve’s first time meeting Svengoolie and, as a fellow childhood fan, I could tell he was a little nervous. He asked me a couple times, “Are you sure we aren’t supposed to wait in line?” and only looked like he half believed me when I said “No.” I swear, Steve must have had this image of me going, “Yeah, dude. Svengoolie’s like a close personal friend of mine.” And then having the host spit at me while his assistant booted us out the back door! Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet.
I received a message from fellow Sven-Goolie, Joan Yingst, who text’d that she and her husband, Bill, were at the head of the line. This was good news because I wanted her to be there when I presented Sven with his Horror Host Hall of Fame plaque.
While sitting on that glorious, aforementioned chair, I saw what looked like yet another mirage – the image of Svengoolie walking towards me. This, however, did NOT look like the same Svengoolie I’d last seen at the Muvico theater back in October (see story HERE). This Sven looked much younger (effectively younger looking than me for sure!) and utterly Sven-tastic! Maybe my fantasies of him becoming a bionic Sven weren’t too far-fetched after all? His identity was confirmed when some random guy bumped into him and said, “OMG! Are you the real sh@t!?” with Sven giving a confused look before replying, “Um…yeah.”
I gave him a hug and didn’t waste any time telling him how great he looked. He returned the compliment and I was like, “Are you kidding me? With all the emotional eating I’ve been doing these past months, it’s a wonder your eyes on my Svengoolie T-shirt didn’t bulge out your head when I put it on today!” We all laughed and then went behind the autograph curtain.
Sven was 20 minutes early and we waited in a make-shift lounge that was set up for the celebrities. This was a good opportunity for Steve to meet him and he presented Sven with his original drawing that was done for the current Svengoolie Scary Monsters Magazine #87 Tribute issue!
Sven delighted Steve by telling him he was going to show the picture on an upcoming show and Steve would later tell me (as only Steve can), “Man, Dave, Svengoolie is awesome and just a really cool dude!” We hung by while Sven was being interviewed before the big moment arrived for him to at last be reunited with his fans! He walked out and there were big cheers while I motioned Joan to come up so we could give him his plaque.
After that I stood to the side while the fans each took their turns. Some brought along some great items to sign like old Svengoolie newspaper clippings, a poster for Son of Svengoolie’s 3D airing of Revenge of the Creature (which Sven admitted that he, himself, doesn’t even have), and a poster from his last event at Muvico.
There were also a few items fans brought that had nothing to do with Svengoolie. Usually this was in the form of a DVD cover (even for movies Sven never aired) and I even remember a fan having him sign a box of Boo-Berry cereal a couple of years back. Then again, having once had Svengoolie sign a Brookfield Zoo Mold-a-Rama, I guess I shouldn’t judge!
One gal even brought along a print-out from Sven’s Facebook page! After Sven announced he was showing up at C2E2, she “commented” on it and was “thrilled to death” when he responded directly to her.
Of course, since this event inspired a lot of folks to don costumes, some Svengoolie fans were more colorful than others…not unlike the time I watched him sign at The Nightmare on Chicago Street event, six months earlier.
Being a landmark Svengoolie occasion, many of my fellow die-hard fans (now referring to ourselves as “Sven’s Goolies”) showed up as well. This included Joan Yingst, Jamie Lee Cortese and Angela Urban (with husband, Ron). All three of these gals have appeared on this site so many times, I should seriously consider putting their faces on my blog’s logo while referring to them as “The Terror Davettes” (though I’m thinking they’d rather be called the “Svengoolie Sisters“). We’re all pals but it was too crowded for us to do much in terms of catching up.
Jamie Lee did, however, proudly tell me that she’s been accepted as an intern at Sven’s station and shared the news with the host as well. I do remember her mentioning that she’d applied for it when I saw her last month at Horrorhound but that was another event that permitted little time for conversation (I’m thinking the Cortese family need to invite me over to dinner some night). Regardless, I’d like to give a big CONGRATULATIONS to my friend, Jamie!
Months earlier, I’d approached her, Joan, and Angela (among others) to contribute to Sven’s Scary Monsters issue (Jamie is showing off her article above). They all participated and I had each of them sign my own copy of the magazine at C2E2. Publisher, Dennis Druktenis, had supplied his own John Hancock before sending it to me and it was the only thing I asked Svengoolie to sign at this event.
After I came home, I read what he wrote, “To Dave, who wrote most of this!” I’m not quite sure if he was being a smart-aleck there but, let me just state for the record, I wrote those two articles BEFORE Dennis decided to turn that issue into a Sven Tribute! Sheesh!
…Although, after reading it through, even I admit to getting Fuentes Fatigue!
There was, unfortunately, one notable person missing today.
Sven’s right hand man, Jim Roche, had a prior commitment and (just like Sven’s last appearance in October) was unable to attend. For those who’ve been to as many Svengoolie signings as I have, Jim’s absence was palpable. The man’s hilarious and he and Sven volley comments back and forth with such precision it’s like watching a championship match at Wimbledon. As time went on, I noticed the line to see Sven did not appear to be getting any shorter which was yet another reason to miss Jim. In keeping with the theme of this event, let’s just say that Mr. Roche has an uncanny, mutant ability to know exactly where to cut a line in relation to Svengoolie’s signing schedule. I’ve seen him do it several times and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t get it down to the final second!
Another one of my favorite Sven crew members (Chris, who’s also Sven’s camera man) pointed out to me the celebrities that were signing at the tables on either side. To the right was Jane Espenson who spent five years as both writer and producer for one of my all-time favorite TV shows – Buffy the Vampire Slayer and responsible for penning one of the series best episodes – Earshot. Both Svengoolie and I are big Buffy fans and prefer the vampire Spike over Angel. We also both site the epsiode Hush as our #1 favorite. Ms Espenson agreed to snap pictures with Sven (and me too after I called her a genius).
Even more impressive was the gentleman seated to the left of Svengoolie, Peter Davison a.k.a. Dr. WHO from 1981-1984. As the autograph lines for Sven’s neighbors paled next to his, both stopped over to say hello! The fans weren’t in the least bit upset about them cutting in line with one stating, “Dr. WHO can cut in front of me any day!”
Davison has the distinction of being the SECOND Dr. WHO, WHOM Svengoolie met, the first back in his WFLD days. ”I’m a long time Dr. WHO Fan,” said Sven. “The first Doctor I met was the Third Doctor (1970-1974) Jon Pertwee. He was a guest on my ‘Son of Svengoolie’ show. I still want my own K-9…”
Later on, Sven asked if I’d approach actress Janina Gavankar from True Blood (seated a few tables down) to see if he could have a word with her after signing. I love True Blood and this was one request nobody had to twist my arm for. Ms Gavankar was born in Joliet, Illinois and attended The University of Illinois in Chicago. As a native of The Windy City, it was likely she knew of Svengoolie.
I said hello and asked her if she’d heard of him. She squinted her eyes before saying, “Hmmm…that name does sound familiar.” I flashed her my Svengoolie T-shirt and her eyes lit up. “Oh, YEAH, I know who that is!”
She happily agreed to meet with him and the two had a spirited conversation. “I first noticed Janina Gavankar in the short-lived supernatural series, The Gates, which my brother Mike worked on as an effects editor,” Svengoolie/Rich Koz later told me. “She played a policewoman with a secret that was never revealed because the show was cancelled before they got to it. I have seen her recently in True Blood and Arrow, and am a fan of her work. She was SO nice!!!”
I would have to agree! As we were leaving (knowing my place in the troop, I made sure to stay dead last in Sven’s entourage) she turned to me and grabbed my arm before saying, “Thank you SO much for that!” Why I didn’t use the opportunity to worm my way into a photo with her remains one of my biggest C2E2 regrets!
While Sven did end up staying past his scheduled time, he was able to greet EVERY fan that came out to see him. Let me also add that he appeared to be just as energetic after it was over as before it began. Me, on the other hand, could barely move without crying out in pain!
Sven went out into the convention to say hello to friends and I bid him farewell. While he displayed a spring in his step, I felt like I needed a wheelchair’…the man is the same age as my dad and can clearly kick my butt! In a related story, I started hiking 3 miles every day and stocked up on Lean Cuisines that following Monday.
As Steve walked (and I crawled) back to my van, I reflected how, in many ways, this was the perfect venue for Svengoolie to make his return. God knows what that man endured since I’d last seen him 6 months earlier. Now here he was shining brighter than I’d ever seen him before. I suppose if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of reading comic books, it’s that the best stories always have the hero getting knocked down before eventually making his/her triumphant return. Maybe like life imitating art, we sometimes have to completely hit the floor before getting back up on our feet and preparing to leap tall buildings in a single bound. This however, is one story where reality managed to trump fantasy.
And, in a world where many of us can use a little inspiration these days, surely…This is a Job for Svengoolie!