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.”
It was Friday afternoon when MeTV’s horror host sensation, Svengoolie, arrived at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2). As soon as I was alerted of this by his Producer, Jim Roche, I rushed outside to meet them. It’s rather surreal seeing Svengoolie in broad daylight but there he was; patiently waiting as Jim and his Director/cameraman, Chris Faulkner, prepared their supplies and equipment. C2E2 is always a frenetic experience for the crew and this year they were adding merchandise sales to the mix (T-shirts and posters). I’ve had a bit of experience selling Svengoolie shirts at past appearances such as Flashback Weekend and Nightmare on Chicago Street but this would be a lot more demanding. Consequently, I’d be “knighted” as temporary paid staff for his Friday signing. With Svengoolie armaments in tow, it was time to kick-off his two-day appearance at C2E2.
Last week saw a milestone for MeTV’s national horror host, Svengoolie. After nearly forty years on broadcast television, Rich Koz’s alter ego received a satirical nod from the legendary MAD Magazine! Sven was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule of Halloween appearances to answer a few questions about it…
Every time I’d hit a stoplight en route to this year’s Houby parade in Cicero (sponsored by Berrrrr-wyn), I glanced up at the sky expecting a downpour. Fortunately, my iphone’s weather app was as wrong Sunday as it is just about every other day of the week and this didn’t happen. With the help of my friends, Don and Bunny, I found a parking spot about half a mile from the event before my daughter, Jade, and I sought them out on foot. This was the 50th year Berwyn celebrated its Czechoslovakian heritage by holding a festival dedicated to mushrooms…or at least that’s how it all began. In an interesting twist, the Slovak tradition has since been embraced by the community’s predominant Latino population, thus making Chicago’s parade (and, yes folks, there are others) rather unique even by Houby standards. Now I do love mushrooms, especially when sauteed and sitting next to a sirloin steak, but confess they weren’t the reason for my being here. Rather, I was celebrating a more personal tradition…stalking national horror host, Svengoolie during his busy Halloween season!
For faithful viewers of MeTV’s Svengoolie, you know some of his best “On the Road” segments feature the host interviewing celebrity guests at horror cons. In this regard, 2018’s Flashback Weekend has given us a LOT to look forward to. Just after hosting the event’s annual costume contest, he and the crew made their way out to the main convention hall where the magic all began. I’d been sitting with the audience and quickly grabbed my camera and dodged other attendees to catch up. The team graciously allowed me to join them and this was always my favorite part insofar as it’s always so unpredictable. You see, pinning down convention guests for interviews is something of a crapshoot – even if you are hosting a highly rated television show on prime time Saturday nights. You just never know who’s going to be available nor who will participate if they are. Fortunately, Svengoolie had the considerable might of the hotel’s manager and friend, Don Johnston, on his side.
The crowd hushed as WGN Radio personality, Nick Digiglio, took the platform. For as long as I’ve been attending Flashback Weekend it’s been his job to introduce Chicago’s local-gone-national TV horror host, Svengoolie, to the audience before the annual costume contest begins. It’s a fitting role for Digiglio as they’re genuine pals and Sven’s been a guest on his program numerous times. Whether delving into the illustrious career of his alter ego, Rich Koz, or dishing on their favorite horror films, it’s always a treat for us listeners. On this occasion, however, it was a one-man show as Sven replaced him on stage. The crowd broke into applause and for good reason. For us seasoned attendees, we knew we were in for an hour of imaginative costumes coupled with Svengoolie’s quick wit and banter.
“I go online and print everything I can find on Svengoolie and then hang them all over my kitchen walls,” said the older lady to my right. “I’m just worried since I saw him at last year’s Flashback Weekend he’ll think I’m stalking him by coming to this one.” Considering the number of Svengoolie appearances I had under my belt, I confidently gave her some reassurance. It was just a few short weeks since G-FEST and I was back at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, this time swapping Godzilla for slashers. Somehow the two conventions still seemed related thanks to the presence of my friend, Don Johnston. Don’s a powerful presence at the hotel and it’s never more apparent than when his venue hosts events such as these. He’s a larger than life character that appears to be everywhere at once – a titan with a heart of gold who shares my love of comics, horror, and Svengoolie. He was definitely in the “convention zone” on this day as he barreled past me near the photo op area asking if Sven’s crew had arrived. Minutes later, MeTV’s national horror host and company materialized; ready to take on Flashback Weekend as they’d skillfully done at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) last April. And, just like that occasion, they permitted me to stay amongst them where I could observe the broadcasting legend interact with fans, host the annual costume contest, and interview celebrity guests. In exchange, I’d assist them in selling T-shirts and posters while snapping a few fan photos when needed. This gave producer (Jim Roche), director (Chris Faulkner), and cameraman (Chas Ailing) more freedom to keep the appearance running smoothly while capturing material for his upcoming Saturday night shows. So to be put things into perspective – I get the best seat in the house doing something I enjoyed doing anyway.