As kids in the 70’s we would rush home on Saturdays evening to the words;
Gruesome ghouls and grisly ghosts,
Wretched souls and cursed hosts.
Vampires bite and villains creep,
Demons scream and shadows sleep.
Blood runs cold in every man,
Fog rolls in and coffins slam.
Mortals quake and full moon rise,
Creatures haunt and terrorize.
Those creepy spoken words were accompanied by haunting music, the slow motion images of the original Universal movie monsters, Dracula, his sidekick Renfield, Frankensteins Monster, the wolfman, the mummy scrolling across the TV screen. The words and the music were the intro to the now famous “Creature Features” show in Chicago during the 1970’s and produced and aired on WGN TV in Chicago.
Creature Features normally showed all the classic Universal Horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s, including, the Mummy Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature From the Black Lagoons and others. They also aired old RKO films like King Kong, Son of Kong, and the original Mighty Joe Young. They also showed movies produced and distributed by American International Pictures. This included all the Roger Corman Bmovies of the 1950s and 1960s like The Raven, and The Terror, plus most of the Japanese “monster movies” produced by Toho Studios, and Daiei Motion Picture Company (famous for their Godzilla and Gamera movies). Adding to the line-up were the Britishmade horror films by Hammer Film Productions, like The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Phantom of the Opera, The Curse of the Werewolf, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. But many also admired the fact Creature Features aired of all the “nuclear monster” and “space alien” science fiction movies Created in the 1950s. These movies covered the nuclear age and held the idea of giant mutant monsters or aliens from outer space terrorizing Earth. Some of these movies included Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Amazing Colossal Man, Them!, Tarantula, The Thing from Another World, It Came from Outer Space, The War of the Worlds and Forbidden Planet which was a cutting edge sci-fi movie and laid the ground work for future scifi genre / space movies. Whereas Creature Features may have for the hardcore horror sci-fi genre fan, we also had a horror host alternative in the horror show host Svengoolie.
Unlike the somewhat serious opening of creature features intro, Svengoolie greeted us with a macabre smile, and was surrounded by talking skulls, dis-embodied voices, corny humor, a peculiar taste in filmography, and of course Svegoolies signature flying rubber chickens.
Svengoolie first appeared on the Screaming Yellow Theater, which aired on WFLD (Channel 32) from September 18, 1970 until late summer 1973. Svengoolie was played in this series by Jerry G. Bishop. In later seasons, Rich Koz—a fan of the show who used to send in sketch ideas—became one of the show’s writers.
On June 16, 1979, Son of Svengoolie began showing on WFLD, Chicago, with Koz in the title role. The show also aired briefly on other sister (i.e., Field Communications-controlled) stations in Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and Detroit. The series ran until WFLD (at that time owned by Metromedia) was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television Stations Group in 1986 to become a part of the newly-created Fox network. However management canceled the show after deciding it was not an appropriate fit for their new programming . After 334 shows, the final episode aired January 25, 1986. But Svengoolie could not be kept in the coffin and Koz later returned to WFLD in various roles, mainly as the host of its Fox Kids Club and The Koz Zone weekday afternoon children’s programming, even appearing as an announcer on the Fox network’s 1988 New Year’s Eve broadcast.
The series returned to the air on December 31, 1994 on WCIU (Channel 26), using just “Svengoolie” as its name; Koz took over the role of Svengoolie when Bishop told Koz that he “believed he was grown up enough now to no longer be just the Son.” The show opens with a reference to early radio broadcasting:
“Calling all stations, clear the air lanes, clear all air lanes for the big broadcast “Koz also hosted a weekly Three Stooges Stooge-a-palooza show on WCIU.A running gag throughout the series is the repeated utterance of the word “Berwyn”, the name of a Chicago suburb. (This was a parody of the way “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and Johnny Carson would jokingly refer to “Beautiful Downtown Burbank.”
Another recurring gag involves the flying rubber chickens being thrown at Svengoolie after a one of his signature corny jokes, usually at the end of each show. Koz and the show have won numerous regional Emmy awards, and Koz was admitted to the Emmy “Silver Circle” in 2004 for “outstanding contributions to Chicago television.”
Today Svengoolie, (Rich Koz) is a Chicago icon with a huge following. Koz has taken Svengoolie on the road and makes regular appearances around the Chicago area, where he meets and greets his followers, helps to judge costume contests and signs his much coveted autograph.
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