BOB GARFIELD: Up until the mid-70s, late night TV was a haven for zombies. Dozens of markets aired locally-produced weekly fright shows, each featuring their own uniquely crafted horror host. Performers with names like Jeepers Creepers, Sir Graves Ghastly and Dr. Shock All became local legends. OTM's Rex Doane takes a look back on TV's old horror show hosts and says "Fangs for the Memories." [MONSTER MOVIE MUSIC]
REX DOANE: As a child, growing up in northeast Ohio, Michael Weldon became addicted to monster movies. By his own admission, this consuming passion eventually rendered him unfit for conventional employment.
MICHAEL WELDON: Yes. Since early childhood, I was really obsessed by horror movies. You know, my schoolwork suffered, it's true. But I became a, a film fanatic.
REX DOANE: In fact, Weldon became one of the leading authorities on fringe films. Psychotronic, Weldon's movie magazine, along with the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film are considered to be indispensable by movie mavens with a taste for the unusual. For Weldon and his many readers, entry into the weird world of monster movies began under the tutelage of their local shock theatre program.
MICHAEL WELDON: For the most part, the horror-- the TV horror movie host phenomenon started in the late '50s. The reason that happened was that packages of old horror movies were released to local stations all over the country, and they decided to create horror movie hosts, locally, [ZACHERLY INTRO MUSIC UP AND UNDER] and Zacherly by far was the most famous and most successful of the late '50s horror hosts. [GHOULISH WAILING IN ZACHERLY CLIP]
ZACHERLY: Will you turn off the radio? I can't stand [...?...].
REX DOANE: Horror hosts like Zacherly in New York and the dozens of others working in smaller local markets not only invigorated late night television. They singlehandedly re-introduced important and influential films like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Invisible Man to a whole new generation. But as Michael Weldon is quick to note, there was never a shortage of trash.
MICHAEL WELDON: Even the original shock theatre package that some people like to remember as all classic films was only partially classic films. They were padded with really mediocre ones and ones that had nothing to do with horror.
ZACHERLY: [LAUGHS] Ah, we've got some bad movies here to Channel 7, but that one's one of the worst. Mmmmm.
MICHAEL WELDON: Part of the reason why most of the horror movie hosts got into making fun of the movies, because a certain percentage of them really were bad.
ZACHERLY: I wish I didn't have to say it, but we have a film this evening called Horror Island.... It's on an island, and it's pretty horrible. [LAUGHS]
REX DOANE: The cheap props Zach used during his intermission breaks only added to the mood.
ZACHERLY: I think for, for hearts we used a, a big hunk of liver, and we'd have it jumping up and down on the, on the table in front of us, and my brains of course were cauliflower, and the, the nerves were spaghetti and--
REX DOANE: You also had a giant amoeba, didn't you.
ZACHERLY: Giant amoeba! My Lord. I almost forgot that. Yes, I was having dinner in a diner one night, [LAUGHS] and we ordered jello, and the guy drags this big tray of jello out and slices it up and hands it to us, and I said my Lord, why don't we try that. So I, I made a bucket of jello-- and took it into the studio, and it looked horrible. It [LAUGHS] really looked horrible.
ZACHERLY: [LAUGHS] Yes, my dear, I hear, I hear-- I'm, [ANIMAL FRIEND NOISES] I'm-- yes - I'm just sewing up the old, the old amoeba here. It'll heal properly, and who knows, maybe something will come of it. [LAUGHS]
REX DOANE: Which is popularity continually on the rise, Zacherly even made a run at the Oval Office.
ZACHERLY: Yeah, the slogan was "Put a Vampire in the White House Just for Fun." [ELECTRIC GUITAR MUSIC]
REX DOANE: Despite his failed presidential bid, Zacherly did hit the top 10 in 1958 with his hit record Dinner with Drac--
ZACHERLY: A DINNER WAS SERVED FOR THREE AT DRACULA'S HOUSE BY THE SEA. THE WOLF MAN WAS THERE, THE MONSTER WAS THERE, AND THE NORMAL PERSON [ZACHERLY LAUGH] WAS ME! [GUITAR SQUEAL]
REX DOANE: In 1960, some New Orleans musicians cut a record in honor of their own local horror host, Morgus the Magnificent.
MEN: [SINGING] OH, OH ON SATURDAY NIGHT WHEN I GO FOR MY DATE, MY BABY AND I JUST SIT AND WAIT FOR--
MEN: MORGUS-- THE MAGNFICENT.
REX DOANE: Morgus Presents first aired in 1959 and ran on and off for 12 years, including a brief comeback in 1987. Eager to return again to television, Morgus still waits for the big call. [PHONE-CONNECTING TONES] [PHONE RINGING]
REX DOANE: Can, can I speak to Dr. Morgus please?
MEN: Ah, yes -- thi--this is Dr. Morgus. By, by the way, who is this?
REX DOANE: Oh, this is Rex Doane. I'm calling with the National Public Radio show On the Media.
MEN: Oh, that's right. Well, yeah, they told me you, you might be calling here. By the way--where are you located?
REX DOANE: We're in New York.
MORGUS: Oh, yes. Oh, I'd love to go up there. One day I'll be invited to one of the big five symposiums. [LAUGHS] [OUTER SPACE/SPOOKY MUSIC UNDER] Ah, they'll be knowing more about me very shortly, I'm sure.
MORGUS: Good evening... Welcome to Morgus Presents.
MORGUS: Like a reality show. In fact, we were the first to do reality shows. We started in 1959, would you believe. [LAUGHS]
REX DOANE: But reality was something that Cleveland's fabled horror host Ghoulardi never seemed to really grasp.
GHOULARDI: Here we are.... Yeah, just as I thought. You saw this a couple of times. That's a Ghoulkateer. G O U-- [LAUGHS] L E Y-- Why? Because you're sick! That's why. [R&B MUSIC UNDER]
REX DOANE: With raunchy R&B records blasting in the background, exploding fireworks and his own cryptic commentary, Ghoulardi achieved a level of anarchic reverie rarely seen on television. Michael Weldon.
MICHAEL WELDON: Ghoulardi was using the sort of beatnik sick humor that was around at the time which was very negative. Sometimes funny, sometimes in bad taste.
GHOULARDI: Ghoulardi plays nothing but poker. See what you do in poker, you get a girl, and you poke her.
REX DOANE: To the chagrin of his teenage viewers, and to the delight of the local PTA, Ghoulardi left Cleveland in 1966 to embark on a long and profitable voiceover career in Los Angeles. Eventually syndicated sitcoms, late night talk shows, music video programs and infomercials began to compete for the after hours TV audience. By the 1980s horror show hosts became an endangered species, and as Michael Weldon notes, everything else about local television began to change too.
MICHAEL WELDON: Today, we're missing out on the, the sense of community that went along with local television programming. Every local station throughout the country had their own talk shows and kiddie shows and movie shows and quiz shows, and, I, I think the loss of these shows was a, was a bigger deal than, than people realize.
REX DOANE: Happily there is some hope on the TV horror host front. But you may have to travel to find it.
MICHAEL WELDON: Cleveland currently has three rival horror show hosts, all deriving from the Ghoulardi show. So, it seems like Cleveland's television is in a time warp, which I think is wonderful.
GHOULARDI: Okay... Ghoulardi says come back, we'll see you next evening. Be good. Stay sick. [LAUGHS]
REX DOANE: For On the Media, in New York, I'm Rex Doane. [GHOULARDI LAUGHTER ECHOES] [ROCK & ROLL MUSIC W/WEIRD ANIMAL CALLS UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price, Katya Rogers, Megan Ryan and Tony Field, engineered by Dylan Keefe, Rob Christiansen and George Edwards, and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Sharon Ball and Dave Goldberg. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BBROOKE GLADSTONE:Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and get free transcripts and MP3 downloads at onthemedia.org and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.