It’s been far too long since we’ve featured a “Horror Host Spotlight” and focused our attention on the career and antics of one who presented horror/monster movies back in the days of local, commercial television. Both Terror Daves grew up with the still active (and now national), Rich Koz Svengoolie but many monster fans across the country were raised with their own local hosts as well. Today we’ll be featuring one of the country’s most prolific examples while directing your attention to the book Dr. Paul Bearer’s Creature Feature dedicated to a career that spanned thirty years and multiple states!
Dick Bennick Sr. began his broadcasting career as a radio disc jockey in 1949 before also working various jobs at WGHP, a local North Carolina TV station. In 1965, after the the station’s first horror host (Count Shockula) quit, Bennick actively sought the vacancy. A good horror host, however, isn’t simply a role one steps into, but rather an amalgamation of both the character and the man or woman behind it. Unsatisfied with simply filling the shoes of an established character, Bennick staged a contest where viewers could choose the host’s “death.” Once the deed was carried out (a stake through the heart), he was ready to create a horror host persona of his own!
Bennick grew a goatee after a Vincent Price role, parted his hair down the middle as a nod to the horror host Zacherley, and added a facial scar. Further adding to his character’s appearance was an authentic glass eye after losing his left one in a car accident. Thus Dr. Paul Bearer, the gravely voiced undertaker who spewed puns while introducing his captivated viewers to their favorite scary movies, was born!
Dr. Paul Bearer would further entice viewers before and after commercial breaks with his off-beat skits, special ghoulish guests (including his “Mummy” on Mother’s Day weekend), and hilarious product parodies such as “Frite Nuts” (Fruit Nuts), Goritos (Doritos), and Hearse’s Milk Shocklate.
After over six successful years on North Carolina television, Bennick moved south; bringing the shenanigans of Dr. Paul Bearer to Florida’s WTOG which, according to the host, was located in “St. Creaturesburg.” There he’d remain the popular horror host of their afternoon Creature Feature show, which often ran three hours and consisted of two films. It would dominate its Saturday afternoon time slot and become such a hit that in 1985 Dr. Paul Bearer would gain a second program on Saturday evenings. Fright Theatre would prove every bit as successful as its afternoon counterpart with its local ratings often beating out those of Saturday Night Live.
Bennick was a true monster fan, boasting a collection of EVERY issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland while also driving in his own 1963 hearse which he’d take to his numerous public appearances. His second wife, Susan, was an artist who helped create his set as well as props while he’d write his own gags and scripts. He also worked hard behind the scenes to get the station to show the higher calibre films his fans loved the most; the Universal Shock package, Hammer Studios, as well as American International films which included Godzilla.
In 1993, the Mayor of Tampa would declare October 30th (and later Halloween itself) as “Dr. Paul Bearer Day(s)!” At the time, Dr. Paul Bearer was the longest running horror host in TV history until his death in 1995. Over twenty years later, his legion of fans still keep him alive and his iconic hearse is displayed every Halloween at the Tampa Busch Gardens. Thanks to one devout fan eager to share his enthusiasm for the beloved host, the world of Dr. Paul Bearer can be delved in further! Roger L. Boyes Jr. penned the new book Dr. Paul Bearer’s Creature Feature; a small book chock full of material guaranteed to please those who remembered the host while familiarizing him for those of us less fortunate!
Dr. Paul Bearer’s Creature Feature features a plethora of photographs and anecdotes along with fan interviews who recall their favorite bits. It’s a nice addition to your horror host library and you can order yourself a copy HERE!
Any fans of Dr. Paul Bearer who’d like to share their own memories of the host are encouraged to do so in our comments section. Tell us your favorite skits, stories, or what it was like meeting him in person! And don’t forget to buy the book! We Daves believe it’s important for all of us horror host fans to celebrate the careers of those colorful characters who helped make us the adult monster kids we are today!
Until next time…