Saturday, August 3, 2019, 5 PM: The Flashback Weekend costume contest ends and Svengoolie reunites with his crew before we all head, single file, to the main convention hall. Don Johnston takes the lead; helping to reel in celebrities for Sven to interview. I’m the caboose of this entourage doing my best to stay out of the way while taking photos. Suddenly, Svengoolie makes an unexpected detour to visit one of the vendors. She’s a Svengoolie fan who follows him on social media and mentioned how they’ve never formally met despite his passing her booth every year at Flashback Weekend. This time, he makes sure to break tradition and say ‘hello!’
Saturday, August 3, 2019, 4:15 PM: I enter Ballroom 1 at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont and quickly take a seat next to my friend’s, Ron and Angela Urban. Those two always show up to panels and events early and get the best seats. The participants in this year’s costume parade were all lined up against the wall. The first thing I notice is how many kids there are. Usually, the Flashback Weekend costume contest kids division is lucky to have three or four entries. This year, however, they were a force to be reckoned with. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
Berwyn, Illinois’ Route 66 Car Show didn’t just offer a slice of tasty Chicago pizza (courtesy of one of their sponsors, Paisans) but a slice of good ole Midwest Americana as well. Admittingly, my enthusiasm for cars is mostly utilitarian. As long as it gets from Point “A” to Point “B,” I don’t really care what it looks like. What drew me towards this event was the presence of MeTV’s national horror host, Svengoole. I do, however, have a genuine affection for the “Mother Road” – something I mentioned a few years back during a trip I took through the southwest. From 1926 until its fragmentation in 1985, Route 66 stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles; giving birth to the American road trip along with countless references in popular culture. Part of its charm (and the part I like the best) are the numerous novelties and pit stops peppered along the way. These attractions were designed to entice tourists and, thankfully, many of them still stand today. In fact, New Mexico and Oklahoma have recently begun restoring many of their old signage and landmarks. Despite living so close to where it all begins, I’ve been rather oblivious to my Chicagoland Route 66 heritage, and this Svengoolie appearance was the perfect opportunity to appreciate some of the histories in my own backyard. Ogden Ave (named after the city’s first mayor) was once part of Route 66 and runs straight through Berwyn; a city now famous beyond the Illinois border thanks to the chidings of both Jerry G. Bishop and Rich Koz’s Svengoolie. As a fan of Koz and an avid road-tripper, how could I resist the opportunity to celebrate boh…especially on a near-perfect sunny day like last Saturday?
Friday, August 2, 2019, 8:30 PM: When the Svengoolie 40th Anniversary panel ends, I rejoin Don Johnston and the crew before heading upstairs the room. Svengoolie and Jim eventually join us and the host gets to work removing his makeup so they all can leave. As it happened, Robert Englund’s panel took place right after his and the two managed to meet up in-between. They’re old friends who see each at Flashback Weekend just about every year. The challenge, of course, is finding a moment between their busy schedules to do so and this year it happened off-camera. According to Sven, Englund was very kind and shared tips on doing out-of-state conventions with him; a subject that came up during Sven’s Q&A. I must say, the idea of Svengoolie venturing outside of Chicagoland and meeting his newer fans is exciting to me. I’m always fascinated by seeing the impact he’s made on people since MeTV went national back in 2011.
The Following highlights were “transcrammed” from the 2019 Flashback Weekend panel celebrating 40 years of Rich Koz’s Svengoolie. The event began with a video presentation narrated by the original Svengoolie – the late Jerry G. Bishop. The panel was moderated by WGN Radio’s Nick Digilio and proved an entertaining 90 minutes – with a few surprises!
5:30 PM, Friday, August 2, 2019: I walk outside the hotel just as the Svengoolie crew parks. Sven’s in the passenger seat with his producer and assistant, Jim Roche driving. In the back is his director, Chris Faulkner, and “hit the theme for us” Chas Ailing. As soon as they come out I hand them their passes. The last to exit is the host, himself, and I jokingly hold up his lanyard like a Hawaiian lei, prepared to put it over his head. “Well, if you’re gonna kiss him, make sure you do it on his cheek so you don’t mess up his makeup,” quips Jim. When it comes to comedy, these folks are “on” whether the camera’s rolling or not.
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.”