A legend of local Chicago television, Svengoolie is a class act all the way. As you can see from the picture above. That's the current and most beloved Svengoolie, Rich Koz. But he was preceded in the role by Jerry G. Bishop, who originated the character on a horror movie show called Screaming Yellow Theater (which is, hands down, the single best name for a TV show EVER). Bishop played Sven from 1970-73, and his version was essentially a ghoulish hippy. The YouTube is full of Jerry Bishop Svengoolie segments, so many that I can't really choose between them. So here's a bit of the Svengoolie segment from American Scary, the horror host documentary:
(As often happens to us here on the Dork Forty, the videos in this post aren't showing up on the front page, but are all intact and viewable if you go into the post itself.)
American Scary is well-worth a watch, by the way, if you've been enjoying these horror host posts we've been doing here on the Dork Forty. Virginia Creepers is also good; it covers the long tradition of Virginia/Washington DC area hosts.
But here's another Jerry G. Bishop clip, chosen specifically because it features Svengoolie's primary contribution to the culture of the greater Chicago area, from which I took the title of tonight's post:
There you go. That exasperated, disgusted exclamation of "Ber-wyn?!" is apparently in the vocabulary of everybody who grew up in the Chicago area, to this day. Crazy the impact a horror host can have. (Oh, and "Berwyn," by the way, is the name of a local town that Svengoolie long ago decided, for no apparent reason, to make an object of scorn. I have friends who live there now, and they say it's very nice. Plus, it's got to be cool to live in a place that's the source of such a universal local joke.)
After three years in the make-up, Jerry G. Bishop left Chicago for a fabulously successful career in Hollywood voice-over announcing (I'm told that, if you've watched American television at all in the last 30 years, you've heard his voice thousands of times). But a few years later Rich Koz (a former fan of Bishop's who'd worked as an assistant on Screaming Yellow Theater) resurrected the character with Bishop's blessing. But Koz didn't want to just repeat his mentor's act, so he debuted as The Son of Svengoolie. About whom, more after the jump...
Koz moved away from Bishop's very colorful outfit and into a basic "undertaker black" ensemble. His show is also a bit less chaotic than Bishop's, and more centered on knowingly cheesy gags and sound bites. Dear god, the sound bites. Sven sometimes does something he calls "Svensurround," where he inserts "funny" sound effects and clips into the film. It's honestly pretty annoying. As My Friend In Berwyn put it, "I've never heard so many Simpsons and Animaniacs clips in my life!" Koz did start off mimicing Bishop's "Jewish Dracula" accent, but dropped it as the years went on and he made the show his own. And... Well, I could tell you the Rich Koz Svengoolie story, but wouldn't it be more fun to hear the story in song, from Sven himself?
Yeah, I know, right? That's... special. And he does one of those in every freaking episode! (Though they're usually about the movie rather than himself.) Tons of those Sven songs on the YouTube, as well, so go look 'em up if you're curious.
Much as I've been bitching about Svengoolie's cheesy-ass humor here, though... his show is really fantastic. I've had the good fortune to see three or four complete episodes of Svengoolie in the last couple of years, thanks to My Friend In Berwyn (the tape is still very much appreciated, Girlie!), and he's just damn good at this horror hosting thing. He talks about the film, tells bad jokes, does a skit or two, and sings a song, all designed to enhance your enjoyment of the movie. Classic. But maybe best of all, he has no pretentions. He acknowledges that many of the movies he's showing are awful, but he doesn't try to pretend that he's better than the material he's showing. He just has fun with it. And in doing that, he creates a very pleasant atmosphere to watch B-Movies in. Here's an example of what I'm talking about, with his introduction to The Killer Shrews...
See? That's kinda nice. I'd seen all the movies on my Svengoolie tape before, and I probably wouldn't have willingly watched a couple of them again on my own. But because of Svengoolie's host segments, I actually looked forward to seeing them, and enjoyed them much, much more than I would have without him. His sheer amiability just enhances the viewing experience. No matter how bad the jokes may get.