A deluge of rain wasn’t enough to deter fans from descending on the Museum of Broadcast Communications to celebrate Svengoolie’s 40th Anniversary. I met up with my fellow super fans, Ron and Angela Urban, who graciously allowed me to join them for the ride into the city – something a suburbanite like myself dreads even when it’s dry out. It was the same arrangement we had five years ago for his 35th. We stopped for a drink at Chicago’s famous Harry Carey’s – hoping the downpour would stop before our walk the museum. It didn’t. When we reached the building we were still too early and asked the young gentleman sitting inside the museum’s lobby if he’d let us have shelter inside. Thankfully, he agreed and we stood to wait next to ZZ Top’s famous car, The Eliminator. This was the official one seen in their humorous videos back in the ‘80s – usually featuring downtrodden individuals getting a much-needed boost from the band.
As if this blast from the past weren’t surreal enough, an employee dressed as Joaquin Phoenix’s recent Joker sensation came walking down the museum steps. Although completely unintentional, it totally reminded me of that famous still from the movie.
Moments later, a woman with a walkie-talkie arrived to check on her crew. Although she gave us a smile, I’m guessing she disapproved of our presence as she quickly locked the front door entrance. Unfortunately, the only people she managed to lockout was Svengoolie’s wife, daughter, and later his cameraman, Chris Alling (naturally we let them in).
“Gray Ghost” author, Nicholas Cara, arrived too, having flown in all the way from Alabama. He was sharply dressed in Svengoolie colors – red and black. As more people arrived it seemed the only ones who hadn’t shown up the guest of honor, himself, Svengoolie and his assistant/producer, Jim Roche. This was due to their getting clobbered at an earlier appearance at the Volo Auto Museum. I’ve attended the first couple Svengoolie/Volo events but now avoid it like the plague. Whenever Svengoolie does an event near the Wisconsin border, it’s always pandemonium and Volo is no exception. There are so many fans in that region who normally don’t have the opportunity to see him that he’s guaranteed to go into overtime.
Ron & Angie, Nicholas, and I all had VIP tickets which cost $150 (regular admission was $50). In addition to celebrating this Svengoolie milestone, the event was a fundraiser for the museum who recently sold its top two floors in an effort to cover operating costs. Consequently, space was a bit tighter than it was at his 35th celebration though that didn’t stop the museum’s chairman, Dave Plier, from going all out.
We were allowed earlier access and it wasn’t long before we took the elevator to the second floor. I saw the Svengoolie exhibit that had been unveiled five years ago, minus the plexiglass barrier to allow for better photography. A video monitor was off to side showing Svengoolie clips which included his modern classic “Boa Brace” parody commercial co-starring my friends, Ron and Angie. I kept trying to goad them into standing next to the screen for a photo but Angie would have none of it.
The second floor of the museum consisted of several adjoining rooms, the first featuring a table of treats and another with Svengoolie shirts and posters for sale. The third room featured a table with free beverages including Coca-Cola products as well as beer and wine.
While Svengoolie was MIA, we checked out some of the museum’s latest displays; many of which I was surprised to see were music-related. These included the metal outfit worn by Lady Gaga in her “Bad Romance” video as well as one of Joan Jett’s leather jackets.
As more familiar faces (friends made during our Svengoolie fandom) arrived we took full advantage of the Svengoolie exhibit backdrop. It was a great photo op for Nancy Pionne and Lee Darrow who were celebrating their anniversary.
When Svengoolie and Jim finally arrived, we assembled in line for photos. The MeTV national horror host stood in front of his exhibit while a photographer commissioned by the museum took the shots. Although it probably wasn’t obvious to most of the attendees, I could tell that the Volo appearance had worn them out.
Meanwhile, Dave Plier was running around like a rubber chicken with his head cut off. He announced that the food had arrived (hamburgers and chips) while doing his rounds and making sure everyone was happy – I particularly enjoyed their mummy-wrapped Rice Krispie treats!
Afterward, we were squeezed into a much smaller room that had a makeshift stage. Here Svengoolie was given accolades along with an official Chicago Proclamation from Alderman Ray Lopez.
In an unexpected turn of events, Svengoolie temporarily left the stage so that his onscreen assistant, Kerwyn, could take over. Kerwyn, of course, is the prehistoric rubber chicken who’s been Sven’s sidekick during the viewer mail portion of the show for the last decade. He also hosts his own webisodes where he reads jokes submitted by fans; something he’d be doing “Live” here. Kerwyn was created by the talented Jessica Carleton who now writes for Sesame Street and this event represented the first time he’d ever left the station. “Random” people from the audience were selected to stand up and guess the punchline to his jokes including Nicholas Cara.
Svengoolie returned soon after to host the costume contest. I didn’t get much of a view from my vantage point and saw most of them standing against the wall awaiting their turn on stage. I believe the Mummy won but I can’t remember…a natural consequence of blogging an event that happened two months earlier.
Afterward, we hung out a bit before saying congratulating and saying goodbye to Sven. It not only marked the end of a very busy October season of appearances for the host which included Chicagoland, Indiana, northern Illinois, and even New York City. With Halloween just days away he’d finally get himself a much-needed break. Or at least until Sventa Claus came to town (which, thanks to my bouncy timeline, you’ve already heard about).