Svengoolie autograph from the collection of Richard Church!
In 1970, the original Svengoolie hit the Chicago airwaves and the Windy city hasn’t been the same since! The vampire hippy, with his quick wit, rubber chickens, and hilarious commercial/song parodies made for a night of side-splitting entertainment in a region that had been starved of a horror host since Shock Theatre (Marvin’s) departure a decade before.
Prior to the current (and after 32 years, most prolific) Svengoolie – Rich Koz bringing the name to a national audience, the coffin was filled by professional broadcaster, Jerry G. Bishop. While I was too young to have watched the original Sven, he was very much a presence in our household. My father was a huge fan and I am often reminded that he was watching Svengoolie in the hospital waiting room while my mother was in labor with me (remember this was back when they wouldn’t allow fathers in the birthing room). My mom likes to recount this bit of trivia while citing it as a possible cause for what she would later refer to as “my crazy interests.”
While the aforementioned Marvin would influence native Chicagoan, and Washington DC horror host, Count Gore de Vol, Bishop’s influence was the irreverent and quick-witted Ghoulardi from Ohio. Bishop worked at a Cleveland station during Ghoulardi’s run before later relocating to Chicago’s WFLD. Therefore, the Chicago Svengoolie Dynasty (still in full force on commercial television today) is an off-shoot of the Ohio/Ghoulardi family tree.
Svengoolie debuted on WFLD’s “Screaming Yellow Theatre” which began with Bishop doing voice overs – the popularity of which would not only lead to the development of his character but eventually to “live” hosting.
Bishop enjoyed rock star like fame in the Chicagoland area during his three year run and is still fondly remembered by his fans. He even managed to bring in visiting celebrity guests such as Bette Midler, Neil Sedaka, and Barry Manilow. Much more than a TV show, “Screaming Yellow Theater” became a weekend “event” for the local party crowd here in Chicago.
Bishop left at the height of his popularity due to an abrupt change in station management – who made the grievous error of replacing him with Ohio’s The Ghoul. A direct off-shoot of Ghoulardi, so far as Chicagoans were concerned, The Ghoul’s sudden appearance (made worse by his disparaging on-air remarks towards Sven) was an unwelcome visit from an annoying distant relative. While The Ghoul was successful in other states, Illinois wasn’t going to be one of them and his tenure here in Chicago was short. It would be a few years before Bishop and Koz would convince management to bring the Svengoolie name back but, by this time, Bishop felt he’d exhausted his creative energy and was ready to move on. The mantle was passed to Rich Koz and the “Son of Svengoolie” was born.
Bishop now resides in California where he owns and operates his own restaurant. While it has been a long time since donning that green wig, he stated in the 2009 horror host documentary AMERICAN SCARY that being Svengoolie was the most fun he’d ever had in his professional life. This past March, Jerry G. Bishop was inducted to the Horror Host Hall of Fame at the Horrorhound Weekend in Indianapolis. “Screaming Yellow Theater” will forever be a part of Chicago Television history while Jerry G. Bishop’s Svengoolie one of its moved loved personalities.
Among Bishop’s loyal base of fans are a small minority who never completely accepted his successor. Perhaps Svengoolies are like James Bond; you always like the one you grew up with best. For these individuals I can only offer these facts; a)Jerry G. Bishop worked closely with and was friends with the current Svengoolie (who helped write and supply material for him), b) in 1996 Bishop gave his whole-hearted blessing for Rich Koz to carry on with the full “Svengoolie” title, and c) he would be the FIRST person to want to see Koz given the respect and admiration he deserves. We can safely say that after finally being able to watch footage of the first Svengoolie, The Daves are fans of both. While they clearly have similarities (along with playful jabs to the city of Berwyn), they also have brought their own distinct styles to their characters and the heart of a horror host fan is certainly large enough for BOTH.
We’d like to not only extend our heart-felt appreciation and congratulations to Mr. Bishop on a job well done, but to also take this opportunity to wish him today (August 3rd) a VERY happy birthday!
NOTE: In the spirit of all Horror Host Hall of Fame inductees, we encourage any and all fans of Jerry G. Bishop Svengoolie to share their own personal memories via “comments” on this post.
11 thoughts on “Tribute to Jerry G. Bishop’s SVENGOOLIE!”
Daves- what a great tribute! I’m honored that Jerry is my friend and mentor-and feel very fortunate to have gotten the chance to work with my hero and a major influence in my life. All hail the original Sven!
As the first official rubber chicken tosser and bell ringer, I thank you for this tribute to Jerry (and Rich). We had no budget, a friendly program director (who kept wanting us to keep the segments short) and a demented, but loyal audience. SYT (named that becuse the PD liked screaming yellow zonkers…a Crackerjack knock off) was the last vestage of local entertaiment television.
I really appreciate yours and Sven’s feedback, Dave. We’re always nervous covering hosts that were a bit before our time because we know how we feel about our classic host (Rich Koz/Svengoolie) and the strong devotion the classic commercial hosts inspire in their fans. I do hope that more fans of Jerry G. Bishop/Svengoolie will leave comments or, better yet, share their memories as those are the ultimate tributes. Thanks again for your comments. First chicken thrower??? From one Dave to another, I am so proud! And what an honor for you to visit our site.
I remember Jerry G. from those first photo voiceovers. And, later the live studio guests. My faves, were the local comedy/folk/country/rock group, Wilderness Road. And the Green Apple Nasties, (a Firesign Theatre type comedy group).
Hang in there Jerry G. !
R.I.P. Jerry. Your legacy will live on!
Thanks for the comment, Daryl. Is has and it will.
Reblogged this on and commented:
Terror from Beyond the Daves was saddened at the news that the first Svengoolie, Jerry G. Bishop, has died. Two years ago we’d published this piece on him and felt it deserved a re-post. We would like to extend our condolences to the Bishop family and our friend, Svengoolie, who was not only the first Sven’s successor but dear friend.
1983, walked into a Greek cafe in Seaport Village on the waterfront, San Diego, and placed my order. While waiting for the food, I heard this unmistakeable voice coming from the kitchen. Next thing I know, Mr. Jerry G. himself comes out. Took me about 3 minutes to get the brain circuits connected. Svengoolie himself made the falafel sandwich I had that afternoon. Good thoughts are coming your way, from a great fan, not only of your talent in front of the camera, at the mike, but also in the kitchen! We will always remember you.
Wow! Thank you do much for sharing this amazing memory with us! You are definitely not just “another,” Dave.
Jerry was a master at the audio dub console, too. The Screaming Yellow Theater program was lightning-fast and whether the skeletons or monsters’ lips matched the sound bites, it really didn’t matter because you were still laughing at the last joke when 3 more came flying by.
It was like a acid trip dungeon carnival sideshow set to the sounds of a mad scientist disc jockey with a huge library of sound bite sound effects–probably all on reel to reel tape, too.
You could hardly tell where the sight gag left off and the sound gag took over.
The knock – knock jokes and creaky door sound effects, were all punctuated with thumps of coffin lids slamming shut and banshee screams at just the right spots. Blitzkrieg timing made it all surreal, and you kept laughing all through the relatively slow paced 1940s horror movie in between the Svengoolie segments.
Anyone old enough to remember? : “Give him some chicken soup” …..”It wouldn’t do any good,”…..”Give him some chicken soup”…….”You don’t get it……it’s too late”….”So, give him some chicken soup already!”………”BUT, he’s already dead, see, he’s a skeleton” ……… “It wouldn’t hu-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-r t…….”
And the commercials for Jean Town USA in Old Town! Remember those? To the tune of Living In the USA by the Steve Miller Band!!!!!! Psychedelic animations and all…….
(In those days in the 70s, Old Town was known as Chicago’s Sunset Strip–where the hippies and flower children went to see and be seen. Strolling around the coffee houses and head shops showing off their far-out outfits, it was all beyond bizarre and a place for Midwesterner tourists not to miss. This was while Rush St. was hot as the nightclub scene was still going, and before New Town became commercialized. Old Town was just fun, and Jean Town USA was always open late at night on weekends, too, I recall–so that meant HIP!! )
Svengoolie looked like any one of the hippies you would see tripping out on Wells St. , and I always imagined his striped jeans and tie dye shirt and beads wardrobe coming from the Jean Town USA backroom and handed to Svengoolie as a “no great loss” transaction from the Sponsor-MAN! I just figured it was Jerry G. letting his hair hang out in that long hair wig and letting his inner “thing” out, and we the viewers got to enjoy every minute of it every Saturday night!
Gosh those were the days! I vaguely remember a bit about the “peace sign”, and the voiceover lady saying “That’ll be two pieces, please!” in a sort of Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” shtick!!
Svengoolie, you were, and still are, the best! Thanks for some real fun times, and happy trails! Yet another Dave
In 1980, Jerry G. Bishop moved his family to California and opened the first of 2 restaurants at Seaport Village in San Diego. On their Facebook page, the family has posted a notice of his passing. Fans and friends are posting all kinds of memories, that you might be interested in. He is very much missed. If you are ever in the San Diego waterfront area, I couldn’t think of a better way to remember the G., than a bottle and a dinner with all his admirers. Here’s a toast, Svengoolie!