Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

The Cool Goddamned Ghoul!

zacherley-loulie-jean-normand

The one without the boobs and the raven is John Zacherle, also known as Zacherley the Cool Ghoul, and he died today at the age of 98. He was one of the weird and wide swath of personalities from Wolfman Jack to Donald Trump who have introduced the Dead (or what’s left of ’em) and his intro from Valentine’s Day in 1970 is one of the best. (You might have the version released as Dick’s Picks 4.)

Zacherley was a horror host for midnight movies, which is a show biz job that doesn’t exist anymore. (Blackface appliers, movie theater organists, and the guys that thought up new names for actors also no longer have any work in today’s Hollywood.)

Another in a seemingly-unending series of patronizing lessons for Young Enthusiasts: teevee used to be different. Forget Netflix or Apple TV, cable television didn’t even exist until 1976. Before that, your set had 12 channels.

Here, look:

teevee-80s

There’s no channel 1–it was UHF or ham radio or something–so you had channels 2 through 13. This particular set is from the 80’s  (I am almost positive, in fact, that this is the exact teevee that was in our spare room when I grew up.) but televisions worked exactly the same way for a long time: you had the three networks and public broadcasting that covered the entire country, and then you had local stations that weren’t affiliated with the majors.

In North Jersey (which means New York), there were channels 9 and 11: WOR and WPIX. They didn’t have news shows, or any kind of identity beyond a logo, and they ran mostly syndicated reruns and sports, because the leagues hadn’t figured yet out they could just start their own networks. They showed the most wonderful crap: What’s Happening, and The Munsters and Carol Burnett, plus at least three episodes of M.A.S.H. every day.

But the local stations’ owners had a problem: late-night. The viewership was tiny, so the ad rates were commensurately low. This meant less money with which to buy content, which lowered the quality of the content. What was available were movies, and terrible ones: B-grade horror and sci-fi from the fifties. Universal sold a lot, and they advised the buyers to air them with a host, and the stations did.

Pretty soon, each market in America had a midnight movie on the teevee, presented by their very own genuine horror host, who would keep up a snappy patter–generally at the movie’s expense–before commercial breaks. These were local heroes, one per city, and they had absolutely no budget, and usually no script, but they made do. An attitude of meta-awareness is seen as a modern one, but all the horror hosts knew they were fucking around, and they knew you knew it, and so on until spooky infinity.

There were two varieties: Elviras and Vincent Prices. The very first horror host was Vampira from Los Angeles, and she set the Elvira mold: big tits, black dress, big black hair. Add jokes and too much eyeliner and you’ve got a winning combination. Men almost all went for the Vincent Price: sometimes they were mad scientists, sometimes they were draculas, but they were all fey and given to breaking into recitations of Poe at the drop of a spooky hat.

Sometime in the 90’s, Congress changed a law and station owners were able to sell advertising in half-hour chunks, which led to infomercials, and that was the end of the midnight movies. Ron Popeil killed Elvira; Billy Mays killed Vincent Price.No more midnight movies, and no more midnight at all, really, not as far as the teevee is concerned: you can watch what was on at noon at midnight, or something from last week; it’s almost like everything happens simultaneously.

And no more Zacherley the Cool Ghoul, who had a captive audience–there was nothing else on–and still slapped on the greasepaint and gave it the ol’ graveyard try.

10 Comments

  1. In the San Francisco Bay Area during the same period, the late night horror movie host was a guy named Bob Wilkins, and the show was called “Creature Features.” Wilkins had a sort of Crazed Accountant look, with a suit and giant glasses, which is probably why he never got to introduce the Grateful Dead.

    • Of course, the best expression of this phenomenon was the “Count Floyd Show” on the (imaginary but oh-so-real) Canadian channel SCTV. Floyd Robertson (actually Joe Flaherty, of course) was the station’s news anchor, who moonlighted as the late-night horror movie host. Who can forget Dr. Tongue’s 3D House Of Stewardesses?

      Ridiculous as the Count Floyd skits seem, and the accompanying movies, the actual experience of seeing the cheesy hosts and terrible movies was pretty close to it. Well, if you were 14 at the time.

  2. Thanks for the memory. In Philly it was Stella, Maneater from Manayunk after Dr. Shock retired.

  3. Luther Von Baconson

    October 29, 2016 at 10:30 am

    alex boxtop

  4. Luther Von Baconson

    October 29, 2016 at 10:35 am

    billy & fischka

  5. Mean, Green, Devil Eating Machine

    October 29, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    That is Loulie Jean Norman, who did the vocals on the Star Trek theme.

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