It was just over three years ago when the Rondo Award winning Penny Dreadful (Danielle Gelehrter) released her eighth season of Shilling Shockers. Long before she’d share a name with a hit Showtime series, this New England horror hostess was presenting scary movies while treating fans to some rather hex-cellent sketch comedy. Penny Dreadful XIII is also one Salem witch that doesn’t shy away from a challenge either. This was never more apparent than during the aforementioned Season Eight when she shattered conventional wisdom by featuring all silent films; not something today’s viewers generally clamor for. Nevertheless, with an unholy mix of sweat, spells, and skill she’d pull it off with the help of her director, Rebecca Paiva, who worked tirelessly updating the scratchy Public Domain offerings with new “title cards” along with a vibrant storyline that had the host and her feral sidekick, Garou (played by real life husband, Magoo Gelehrter) hilariously venturing into different time periods.
But despite her character’s ability to tread into the future, no one could have predicted the real-life heartbreak that would follow. In late 2012, Magoo was diagnosed with cancer and, despite a courageous battle, would succumb to the disease less than two years later. It was a shattering blow to both Danielle as well as her alter ego and left a legion of shocked fans in mourning while silently pondering the fate of Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers. It was a valid if not morbid question.
If the old adage about the great loves of this world existing between those who “share the love of many things” is true then there could be few better examples than Magoo and Danielle. Their mutual love of classic horror and vintage physical comedy (Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, etc) would inspire them to expand their fandom into the realm of horror hosting. Garou’s comedic skills, though brilliant, never upstaged the host and made him an essential part of the success of Shilling Shockers. He even inspired us Daves to do an Ode to Horror Host Sidekicks blog and interview with him during our earlier days.
However, abruptly ending the show was not an option as, prior to this tragedy ,a successful kick-starter campaign had been waged to raise money for a ninth season. This meant that Penny Dreadful had no choice but to continue whether Danielle was emotionally ready or not.
I’m happy to report that the new and final season of Shilling Shockers was completed and now available for fans to enjoy. Since much of it had been filmed prior to Magoo’s death, it also provides fans the bittersweet opportunity to enjoy Garou’s antics once more. I’ve personally watched the entire season and am not ashamed to say that I shed a few tears along the way. Perhaps it was a chance for us fans to say ‘goodbye’ the way he would have wanted it; with lots of laughter in place of sorrow.
Artistically, the season is masterfully done and illustrative of the tremendous growth this show experienced since its inception. I honestly can’t say enough great things about it and urge all my fellow monster fans to grab their own copies to see for themselves. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed!
I asked Danielle if she would permit me to do an interview with her and if she’d allow me to ask questions regarding Magoo. I felt it was important for us fans and supporters to see how she’s been coping while also allowing her a chance to share her feelings. We Daves are honored that she agreed and would like to thank her for her candor.
Dave: It’s difficult to know what to say to someone who suffered a loss as you have. Magoo (Garou) was your husband both on and off camera and many of us want to know how you’ve been coping since.
Danielle: Some days, I’m fine. Some days, I’m not. I grieve and am learning to live with the sorrow of his loss, which is natural. Magoo and I had a very deep bond and a true, powerful love for one another. While I know that I’ll be with him again someday, I miss him more than words can express. I’m grateful to have family and friends nearby and am fortunate that I have so many wonderful people in my life. That has helped a lot. Also, our little dog Krispy is a blessing to have around. Anyway, I’m hanging in there and taking things day by day while still having some laughs along the way, so don’t worry about me. I’ve also buried myself in a ton of work in an effort to stay focused. Once things wrap up with these extra jobs I’ve taken on, which are mainly sedentary writing-based projects, I intend to refocus my energies on getting into shape and diving full-force back into my passions of comedy and theatre. Lately, I’m feeling a VERY strong need to focus on comedy and theatre again, so that’s the plan.
Dave: Garou makes his last appearances in these episodes. How did his disappearance affect the original schematic of this season’s storyline(s)?
Danielle: He asked if we could tape all of his scenes first because he thought he’d feel too sick to do it later. He was already quite ill at that point, but was well enough to do the attic-based stuff so we shot just about all of his scenes for the season over the course of two or three taping sessions. The first thing we taped for Season 9 was actually the final episode of the series, and I am very glad that Garou is prominently featured in that last show. There was just one Garou segment in season 9 that we weren’t able to record with Magoo. The scene was a pivotal one in that particular episode because it involved Garou stealing a brain from the New England Historical Brain Repository, so we needed to get the bit in order to complete the season. We asked our friend Jesse Tokarz if he could be Garou’s stunt double for the scene. He didn’t have any lines and Rebecca shot him from behind so you couldn’t see his face. Jesse did a fantastic job of channeling Garou’s physicality, and I know for sure that Magoo would have given him two thumbs up. I’m very grateful to Jesse for doing it.
Dave: How did you find the motivation to continue with Shilling Shockers after losing someone who had been such a strong part of the show?
Danielle:During a conversation we had the week before he passed from this realm, he commented on how he hoped kids would enjoy his final episodes as Garou. It was heartbreaking to have this conversation with him, but I knew then and there that we needed to finish it.
We couldn’t get back to doing the show until several months had passed after he left us. None of us had the heart to continue the show for some time, but we knew that we HAD to go back to it. We had to finish it. Magoo wanted us to finish it. We also held an Indiegogo campaign the year before and people were expecting us to deliver on our promise of new episodes. There was no way we were going to let those people down.
We eventually shot a new episode in Fall of 2014 and then, ta-da, I had to have a laminectomy to remove a benign, but very painful, nerve sheath tumor from my spine. That put me out of commission for a few more months. When we finally went back to the show again, I thought it was going to be arduous and emotionally painful, but I have to say, it was actually really fun going back to it. It reinvigorated my spirit in a way. In particular, shooting the “Creature from the Haunted Sea” episode was so much fun. Rebecca came up with this great idea for a “tropical drinks/beach” episode and we wound up taping it on Magoo’s birthday. It was just this very silly episode that Magoo would have adored. My husband and I shared this love of Vaudeville and goofball gags, and this is the type of show he definitely would have loved. I’m convinced he was with us that day, on his birthday, laughing at the silliness taking place. It is my favorite episode of the season. We had so much fun.
Dave: How integral was the support of your other cast members in continuing on with this season?
Danielle: It’s funny hearing them described as “cast members” because, really, they are family. Eric, Ivan, and Rebecca all loved Magoo too, so everyone was devastated by what happened, but we were all there for each other and came together when the time was right to finish up the season. When we shot that outdoor episode five months after Magoo passed away, Ivan showed up in the Von Bulow garb. He wasn’t scheduled to be in the episode, but it was wonderful that he came to be there with us, and so we wound up putting him in at the end of the episode and we adlibbed a scene together.
I’d go to Rebecca and Eric’s place to hang out or go over footage on some nights and we’d talk, cry, and laugh together as we reminisced about past adventures. Ivan would come down (he lives about an hour away) and we’d grab dinner and talk about ideas for the show or come up with wacky scenarios that we knew Magoo would get a kick out of. Many of our other good friends and family members came out to play extra roles in the various episodes; too many to name but all who loved and cared about Magoo. We all encouraged each other and helped each other cope with our loss. I’m immensely grateful to have such wonderful friends in my life.
Rebecca put in a lot of long months editing the Season 9 shows in order to get them out to the TV stations for Halloween. She thought it was going to be difficult going over all of the footage with Garou, but found that seeing him on those tapes made her feel like he was there hanging out with her while she worked.
Dave: In past seasons of Shilling Shockers, you’ve had ongoing storylines running throughout the season. Is this also the case for Season 9 or is each show a standalone.
Danielle: The first portion of Season 9 features an ongoing storyline that takes place over four episodes. The final three episodes of the season are standalone shows and not part of any storyline.
Starting in season 7, we wanted to live up to the name of the show and evoke the essence of the shilling shockers and penny dreadful of the 19th century, which featured serialized stories.
The standalone shows are so much fun too. I like playing with both styles. We actually experimented with one of the standalones and did something pretty different this time. It’s like that episode is a whole different show entirely. The last episode, however, is very much a throwback to season 1 of Shilling Shockers with some nods to our earliest stuff.
Dave: Without giving anything away, I noticed some really neat creative touches in your recounting of Penny Dreadful’s background story. What inspired you to delve deeper into your character?
Danielle: I guess I just wanted to do an “origin story.” I wrote a show bible early on and a lot of that material was in there. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever get to it, but I hoped to tell that story. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a fan of comics where the origin story is a staple. Awhile back, we did an episode about how Penny became a horror hostess, but we never saw how she became a witch. There’s some pretty dark stuff to be found there. Maybe what we did was too tragic or tonally inappropriate for a show of this nature, but I stand by it. It’s fun to experiment with the format and try new things, while celebrating the traditional elements of the format as well.
Dave: Recently the other Terror Dave met up with you at The Rhode Island Comic Con. Are there any other future public appearances planned at this time?
Danielle: It was great seeing him again! I had a blast at the con. As for future appearances, we’ll be at Super Megafest on April 8th, 9th, and 10th in Marlborough, Massachusetts. We scaled back on guest appearances at cons and will only do a couple a year from now on, and these will be local ones in the New England area. Garou was a big part of the convention experience, and I just don’t have the heart or the desire to go traveling all over for these anymore. However, I do VERY much miss the many friends I’ve spent time with at all the cons, and I hope that they will make it up this way for some of the conventions here. I’m not saying I’ll never travel long-distance to do a convention again. We might do that again someday, but for now I’m content keeping it local and limited to maybe one or two a year.
Dave: With this being the final season of Shilling Shockers, many are speculating if this is the end of Penny Dreadful as well. Is this true?
Danielle: What is it they say about a “bad Penny?” *wink wink*
The ongoing Shilling Shockers series is over. People have asked me if I’m going to continue hosting Shilling Shockers solo. I’ve hosted plenty of the episodes solo in the past. That wouldn’t really be anything new. However, Garou was the heart of the series. He was an integral part of the Shilling Shockers as a whole even if he wasn’t in every single episode. We were a team. I just don’t feel right continuing Shilling Shockers without him.
Now, just because the show is ending, that doesn’t mean Penny Dreadful is ending too. Penny Dreadful is certainly NOT disappearing. As we finished the new season, I realized that I was having a great time doing it. Penny isn’t ready to let me go yet, and I’m not ready to hang up her cape just yet either.
We’ll surely do some Halloween TV specials, and I have an idea for a live charity event that I’d like to get off the ground. I also very much want to record a novelty monster music CD.
So let’s set the record straight: Shilling Shockers is done. Penny Dreadful is not. See you in the Halloween Special!
The Terror Daves would like to thank Penny Dreadful for her candor. Season 9 and all previous seasons of Shilling Shockers are available at her official site!