Do you remember what you were doing on the night of Saturday, June 16, 1979? I sure do. Here in Chicagoland there was a bit of fanfare regarding a new horror host hitting the airwaves via our favorite UHF station, WFLD Channel 32. For a young monster movie fan like myself, the idea of watching them on prime time was a gift in and of itself. Having them presented along with hilarious parody songs, skits, and sound effects took it to an even higher level. Even before the big night, I recall my parents discussing the new talent at the dinner table. “Oh, you’ll probably love this Son of Svengoolie,” my mom said, looking up from the Chicago Tribune’s entertainment section. “Your father used to watch his dad back when he was on TV.”
Not only was my dad a fan of the original Jerry G. Bishop Svengoolie, but claims to have been watching him in the hospital waiting room while my mother was in labor with me. So perhaps it was destiny that his protege’ (not his biological son as my mother incorrectly assumed), Rich Koz, would go on to become my favorite entertainer and that we’re still talking about him forty years later. His corny sense of humor seemed to mirror my own and I couldn’t get enough of it. Every Saturday would be an event as I’d camp out on the living floor in anticipation for the “Son of Svengoolie.” The show ended in my mid-teens after FOX took over the channel, though his character would survive off the airwaves via signings and special appearances. Meanwhile, Koz retained his broadcasting presence on FOX-32 as a weatherman and on The Koz Zone. He would resume his career as a horror host with the birth of a new local station – WCIU/The U in 1995. This time around he’d simply be “Svengoolie” with the blessing of Bishop and in 2011 go national with its sister station, MeTV, where he’s remained ever since. This has given many Chicago fans like myself the rare privilege of sharing our childhood horror host with our own kids. For me, it would also lead to the creation of this blog and years of attending his public appearances. So, in honor of Rich Koz’s special milestone, I’ve decided to open up the archives and share some highlights. This October I’ll also have a special article in Scary Monsters Magazine which will center specifically on his show with some behind the scenes. It’ll also feature some anecdotes from other fans including the great Mark Hamill. Hamill took time out of his busy schedule to call me on the phone and share his fervor of Svengoolie which was a surreal experience – one of my childhood idols calling me to discuss another. It stands as a testament to the kind of devotion Rich Koz inspires from fans; be they celebrity or Average Joes.
And now this Average Joe is going to share some of his experiences with you…
Attack on Antioch
Even before MeTV, Svengoolie’s popularity in Chicago was no less than that of a national star. This was never more evident than an appearance he did at a trick shop called JJ Blinkers near the Wisconsin border. His autograph line didn’t just extend around the building but the entire block! In an effort to entice fans, the store offered Svengoolie gift bags and Rice Krispy treats but would soon learn the name “Svengoolie” was enough of a draw on its own!
Horrorbles = Happiness
The world’s only horror store, Horrorbles, was the perfect fit for Svengoolie – especially since it actually stood in the town he and his predecessor helped make famous – Berwyn, Illinois. I remember taking my son, Alex, dressed as Svengoolie to his first appearance there. Alex had worn the costume on Halloween and I emailed Rich a photo, asking if he could wear it to Horrorbles. “Yes, please have him come in costume,” he replied. As we stood in line to get in, Svengoolie arrived and walked right up to Alex. “Your picture is going to be on TV next week!” he said. Alex was excited as was our entire extended family who tuned in to see it. I think my Grandma Francesconi about keeled over from sitting through Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight but Alex was very proud.
On another memorable visit to Horrorbles, I brought my Rondo Award for “Best Blog” 2011 to have Svengoolie sign. It was one of the most humid summer days and by the time the line made it into the air-conditioned building, I looked like I’d just been through a steam bath.
Yes, Svengoolie fans, there is a Sventa Claus!
What began as a favor for his friends at a local comic book shop soon morphed into an annual Chicago holiday tradition. With some festive alterations and embellishments, including a red-nosed rubber chicken, Svengoolie became Sventa Claus, reminding us that no matter what the calendar says, every day is Halloween.
A couple years back I assisted his producer and assistant, Jim Roche, with their annual Christmas card picture. When they’d finished I asked if I could take advantage of the photo-op.
When it comes to Svengoolie signatures, I’ve accumulated quite the collection. Sometimes I’ll even bring him 8×10’s from past encounters and have him write funny things on before returning them to me at the next event.
Will he sign your WHAT?
I remember one of his appearances at the Volo Auto Museum when one overzealous fan wanted to take things a bit too far asking if he’d be willing to sign one of her breasts! The embarrassed host signed the palm of her hand instead.
Visiting the Studio over the Years
I’ve had the honor of seeing Svengoolie at the studio several times. My upcoming Scary Monsters article will discuss my most recent visits but here are some shots from past years…
The Legend of the Squared Circle and Svengoolie Burger
What is it that made his appearances at the now-defunct Squared Circle Restaurant so amazing? Was it the enigmatic owner and pro-wrestler, Lisa Marie Varon? Was it the delicious menu that included the one and only Svengoolie Burger? Or maybe it was because of all the amazing friendships I forged there with other fans? The answer is YES!
Svengoolie Magazine Articles
I’ve lost count of the number of Svengoolie-related articles out there but am happy to say many were authored by yours truly.
Rubber Chicken-Gate…a Svengoolie Scandal!
Berwyn’s annual celebration of mushrooms (one of the many reasons Svengoolie pokes fun of the town) chose Svengoolie as their parade’s Grand Marshall in 2011. During the procession, Sven hurled rubber chickens at the crowd (my daughter caught one herself). Those chickens would soon find themselves embroiled (or rather broasted) in a political scandal referred to as Chicken-gate! Apparently, they’d been purchased from a store owned by one of town’s board member which was against the rules. Officials cried “fowl” even though the move ended up saving the town lots of money since the chickens were dirt cheap. Of course, Svengoolie had nothing to do with the scandal and participated in the parade again last year.
Svengoolie is Downright Comic(al)!
The host has also made appearances in unexpected places such as an official Wacky Packages card courtesy of the artist & fan, Sam Gambino…
He also ended up in the Dick Tracy comic strip. My fellow Svenatic, Nicholas Cara, was kind enough to make me a poster of Sven’s entire run which I later had signed.
Most recently, Svengoolie was given the ultimate tribute with a full-on parody in the Halloween 2018 issue of MAD Magazine!
The Man Behind the Make-Up
In 2012 I joined fellow Sven fans, “Don and Bunny,” at DePaul University to see a special Rich Koz Q&A. I think this was one of the first times I was around him without makeup and it felt a little strange.
Summers with Svengoolie
Svengoolie is not relegated to Halloween and makes appearances year round. One of the hottest ones was at a minor league baseball game where temps rose to a scorching 107 degrees! The fans didn’t care and showed up in droves anyway. Sven threw a pitch while I intercepted a rubber chicken!
Another item I’m quite proud of is a mounted green rubber chicken that once hung in the back of The Koz Zone (and now over my dresser). Svengoolie gave it to me a couple of years back and I think it’s a cool link to his horror host persona in-between the Son of Svengoolie and Svengoolie shows.
Nightmare o Chicago Street a Svengoolie Fan’s Dream Come True
Every October Svengoolie risks life and limb to enter Elgin, Illinois’ “Safe Zone” during a Zombie apocalypse! It’s one of my favorite nights of the year and here are some highlights…
New Coffin…New Set…Old Fan
Speaking of Acme Design, they were behind both Svengoolie’s new Coffin as well as his new set. They were kind enough to invite me during their creation and even let me paint the walls!
The new coffin design was unveiled during the Nightmare on Chicago Street.
Svengoolie Health Scare!
Less than a week after finishing a rigorous Halloween season of appearances, Rich Koz would suffer a heart attack. Fans and loved ones held their breaths as well-wishes poured in. With a successful medical procedure and Koz’s determination, both Koz and Svengoolie would survive – their best days ahead.
A Family Affair
With a Sven-stalking daddy, my kids definitely participated in their fair share of appearances!
From fellow fans to dear friends…
Jim Verheyen Currie and “Don & Bunny” Urban
Svengoolie and the Zoo(s)!
Svengoolie has aided both major Chicago Zoos with their fundraisers!
Svengoolie and the Celebrities
If you hang around Sven, you’re bound to bump into some notable people!
Svengoolie’s most famous fan is Luke Skywalker, himself, Mark Hamill. When Hamill was filming The Force Awakens in England, Svengoolie asked if I’d ship copies of his current shows to him along with past episodes he might enjoy. OBVIOUSLY, I was ecstatic. Mark was very kind and I decoupaged a box for him to store the episodes in. Mark sent me a photo of himself with my creation and then, on Memorial Day 2018, tweeted that he showed David Dasmalchian from Ant-Man and James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) my Svengoolie box. My kids thought I was the coolest dad ever but that was the power of Svengoolie at work and I’m forever grateful to him for it.
It was a great day when the Svengoolie crew asked if I’d assist them at Flashback Weekend when he’d be interviewing Robert Englund in his full Freddy makeup. I can’t remember what it was they needed me to do, but I sure won’t forget standing backstage next to Freddy Krueger!
The Svengoolie Stomp!
Another superfan Svengoolie inspired was ’50s rock n’ roller, Freddy “Boom Boom” Canon (“Palisades Park”). The singer penned the “Svengoolie Stomp” in Sven’s honor and the performed it together at last year’s “Nightmare on Chicago Street.”
My Fellow Fans
I’ve met far too many extraordinary Svengoolie fans to list them all here. Needless to say, they come from all over the country and are often armed with memorabilia and stories from their years of devotion. Fans like Eric Haschke who drove up from Peoria with a handwritten letter Koz mailed to him back in the ’80s.
Svengoolie Celebrated at the Museum of Broadcast Communications
Svengoolie’s original coffin retires at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Its exhibit debut was a celebration of Koz’s career with politicians, fellow broadcasters, and a room full of grateful fans.
Svengoolie – Best in Show!
Every so often, Svengoolie finds himself in a canine driven event. These are usually fundraisers and make for fun photos.
Jim Roche…the Wind Beneath his (Rubber Chicken) Wings
No Svengoolie appearance is complete without the energetic and quit-witted Jim Roche!
Random Scenes from my Svengoolie Adventures
So you wanna be Svengoolie this Halloween but are unsure how to do the makeup? Thanks to this handy tutorial shared at a Hawthorne Racetrack appearance, you can get a tutorial from the man himself!
Behind the Scenes at the Svengoolie show 2019
Details on the crew and show mechanics in the Halloween issue of Scary Monsters Magazine!
People often ask if I consider myself the #1 Svengoolie fan and I always answer “no.” There are far too many other super fans out there for me to even come close. I would, however, argue that I’m the luckiest.