I hadn’t seen Svengoolie in person since December 2019 when he was dressed as his holiday alter ego, Sventa Claus, at the Mystic Market in Lyons. It was a fun occasion and, in the spirit of giving, I brought him an animatronic Creature from the Black Lagoon figure I’d purchased from Days of the Dead. I recall it ending with my friends and I toasting another successful year of Sven-chasing since, for us, attending his appearances was not unlike following a favorite band on tour. In this regard, the Mystic Market was something of a finale’ – though we could never have known at the time just how final that would be. We took for granted the tradition would continue on into the coming year not knowing a Pandemic was lurking just around the corner. So, with 2020 a wash, we looked at the summer of 2021 as a bastion of hope.
By July, Chicago had lifted its indoor mask mandate and, further cementing a feeling of normalcy, Svengoolie signed on for his first public appearance in over a year. Unfortunately, the closer Flashback Weekend loomed, the more news of the virus’ Delta variant started making headlines. Suddenly, what should have been a joyous occasion had a giant black cloud hanging over it. I was excited to join the Svengoolie crew and see my favorite horror host again but with a fair share of trepidation.
That Friday night, Jim Roche (producer of the Svengoolie show), stopped at the hotel and dropped off some duffle bags of T-shirts, hats, and camera equipment for the next day. For this event, there’d be five of us in Svengoolie’s entourage. Jim would directly assist Sven, “Mayor” Don Johnston would reprise his role from the Crown Plaza and act as the Svengoolie/convention liaison, Director, Chris Faulkner, and cameraman, Chas Alling, was in charge of getting footage for the show, and my job was to sell the merchandise; something they insisted on paying me for. Aside from Jim and Sven, the crew had not all been together since before the pandemic, making Flashback Weekend something of a reunion. Getting fresh shows on the air each week during Covid wasn’t easy; especially when the team had to perform their roles separately to make it possible, but they managed to pull it off beautifully. So while Sven’s public appearances came to a halt, his programming never wavered.
Sadly, this would be Chas’s final appearance with the crew as he was leaving the MeTV family and would not be an easy man to replace. On the many occasions, I was fortunate enough to be on the set, he was a master of Svengoolie sound FX. One of the most awesome things about attending a taping is that the banter and sound FX continues off-camera, making it a show in itself. Chas could hear all the personal conversations on set from the control room and then would throw in hilarious Sven sound surround to make it even funnier.
Once the team had assembled, Chas and Chris grabbed a camera and took off for the convention hall while Jim, Don, and Svengoolie went to his photo op. Meanwhile, I set up a table for the merch while watching his autograph line slowly stretch down the hall.
When his photo op ended, I watched him approach, and have to say, he looked fantastic. Unlike most of the world, he appeared to have lost weight during the Apocalypse and his costume seemed to hang on him. When I mentioned this to Jim, he explained that it was always that way and Svengoolie wears a different, looser, costume in public than the one he dons on set. Regardless, I’ve done over a hundred Svengoolie appearances (a fact I may have etched on my tombstone) and it still seemed looser than I remembered.
Regardless of the current mandates, Jim insisted that everyone meeting Svengoolie wear a mask and brought along a box of disposables for those who didn’t have one. We, the crew, all wore masks as well in solidarity. Svengoolie is high risk and his safety was of the utmost importance. Aside from masking, Jim also made sure a table always stood between Sven and his fans.
The signing went well… for the most part. One overzealous fan crossed a personal boundary resulting in Jim having to give them a little chat. Unfortunately, no matter how nice he tried to be about it, they just weren’t getting it, and things escalated. The conversation needed to happen but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the person. The only other time I recall an incident at a Svengoolie signing was when some drunk gal mooned him at “Nightmare on Chicago Street” a few years ago. Actually, that was pretty hilarious, especially when Jim reported her to a policeman standing nearby. “First she waved and then the next thing you know she’s got her hams pressed up against the window!” he told them, while I choked back the laughter. Unfortunately, this instance was a lot less amusing.
After the signing was over and a good chunk of his merchandise had sold, we headed up to my room where Sven could relax a bit before his next assignment. It was nice getting to talk to him in person again.
Next was a quick interview with D.B. Sweeney and cast members from the new film The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre (2021).
I believe you can see that whole interview on YouTube. It was about a half-hour and served as pre-game for the main event – Flashback Weekend’s annual costume contest. And this year’s was one for the books!
Coming up…Svengoolie Meets Stone Cold E.T.!