OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Original Chicago horror TV movie host Svengoolie dead at age 77

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-10-21T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Original Chicago horror TV movie host Svengoolie dead at age 77By Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

In 2011, I reported in my column that Chicago's Rich Koz and his alter ego Son of Svengoolie announced their weekly TV hosting gig of classic horror films was going to national syndication.

And this fall, Koz, 61, has been touting his famed (more-funny-than-frightening) character was even getting a new coffin for his studio broadcasts, with his former satin-lined abode for the great beyond being donated to the Chicago Museum of Broadcast.

By 1980 and junior high, I had discovered a new TV favorite to watch on my bedroom's tiny black and white television, complete with "rabbit ear" antennae.

Local Chicago TV icon Koz still credits his more than 30 years of hosting his show to his predecessor, who died last month at age 77.

Since Svengoolie first debuted, generations of viewers have become dedicated fans of this movie host show concept, which mixes up horror and humor.

Despite a more than 40-year career as radio and TV host, Jerry G. Bishop, who held three Emmys and even toured with the Beatles, still had faithful fans of today who recalled his short stint as the original Svengoolie. According to his family, Bishop, 77, who lived in San Diego and worked in later years as a restaurateur, died of a heart attack on Sept. 15 at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center. Born and raised in Chicago, his career included hosting duties in Chicago broadcast for a program called "Screaming Yellow Theater," a horror-film show on WFLD-Ch. 32 from 1970 to 1973. It was Bishop who created his character alter ego of a coffin perched hippie known for a silly sense of humor and wise-cracks about Berwyn, Ill.

Koz, in the guise of his Son of Svengoolie character, will be at Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville Thursday night to appear on stage for the Northwest Indiana Symphony's Halloween Pops concert.

Here's what Koz wrote for his tribute to Bishop on his svengoolie.com website:

"By now, I know many of you have heard the sad news- that Jerry G. Bishop, the man who created Svengoolie and got me into the broadcasting business, passed away. Let me try to just state a few things about the man who was my mentor and my friend. Of course, his run as the original Svengoolie is legendary-his 'Yiddish/Transylvanian' accent, as he called it, coupled with his House of Lewis red-white-and blue bellbottoms, sandals, Sven sweatshirt, and green hippie wig all added up to a beloved character that even people who didn't care for horror movies, would tune in to see! In actuality, Jerry himself was no great fan of horror movies. I think the only time he actually watched one of the movies was when he and the engineers on duty would drop in sound effects to make the film more amusing! His run as Sven lasted only three years, a time period during which he became acquainted with a young college student who had been a fan of his for years. He eventually decided that this young goof could continue the Sven family tradition as a sort of 'Son of Svengoolie.' Yeah-it was his idea! I laugh to think of how, back when he was on radio in Cleveland, he was such a teen heart throb that they had to keep the fact that he was married a secret! His marriage to the lovely Liz would have lasted 50 years next year."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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