Chicago TV personality Rick Koz, the jovial alter-ego under the black and white make-up that creates funny fiend Svengoolie, admits even he finds it "a little scary" that he is celebrating 35 years as his spooky television show host counterpart.
"When I first created the character, I would never have expected Svengoolie to be around for three decades," said 62-year-old Koz, who is returning to Northwest Indiana this weekend to greet fans over the Halloween weekend.
"But I always knew there was something special about Svengoolie. I first discovered the dedication of fans right after my original 'Svengoolie' show was canceled from Channel 32 after six years, and yet I was still being stopped by people in the street asking me to bring him back."
It was a year ago when Koz as Svengoolie shared the Star Plaza Theatre stage in Merrillville with the Northwest Indiana Symphony for a special costume "Halloween pops" concert performance. On Saturday, Svengoolie is the special guest of honor for a sold-out event in Valparaiso helping Chicago Street Theatre celebrate the 60th anniversary stage season.
Earlier this month, Koz and Svengoolie were honored for their own shared anniversary.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago and the MeTV Network now both share the distinction of being Svengoolie's Chicago home.
On Oct. 10, The Museum of Broadcast Communications honored Koz for his 35 years as Svengoolie by unveiling a new permanent Svengoolie exhibit featuring his original coffin and artifacts from the show's original set.
"Rich is a true Chicago television icon, who I proudly rank with the likes of local TV legends Bob Bell, Frazier Thomas and Ray Rayner," said David Plier, executive board director of The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.
"His Svengoolie character has entertained us in Chicago since the late '70s and now nationally. I am thrilled to have our museum honor him and enshrine his original set, coffin and a flock of rubber chickens into a permanent exhibit for all to enjoy."
Local Chicago TV icon Koz still credits his more than 30 years of hosting his show to his predecessor, who died at age 77 in September 2013.
Since Svengoolie's show first debuted, generations of viewers have become dedicated fans of this movie host show concept, which mixes 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. Bishop, 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, resurrected the scary movie host show in 1979 and enjoyed ratings success until it was canceled in 1986 after the station was sold and national programming blocks replaced locally-produced shows.
Fortunately, two decades ago, Koz and Svengoolie found a new broadcast home on Chicago's WCIU Channel 23.
In 2011, WCIU Me-TV decided to "open up the dungeon door and unleash Svengoolie on the country," allowing the show to broadcast to a national audience which now saturates more than 90 percent of the U.S. market.
Many television stations across the country, from the 1950s until 1980s had beloved horror movie hosts.
Most notably, the Los Angeles television market had some of the most famous local monster movie hosts, some of which enjoyed even more widespread fame.
Vampira, aka actress Maila Nurmi, who counted actor James Dean and director Ed Wood as two of her many famous friends, hosted a popular series on ABC television affiliate KABC-TV for years in the 1950s.
In 1981, five years after the death of Larry Vincent aka host Sinister Seymour of a Los Angeles local weekend horror show called "Fright Night" on KHJ-TV, show producers had planned to invite Nurmi to revive her "The Vampira Show." But after a dispute, the station cast actress Cassandra Peterson from 200 hopefuls to become Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
But unlike these other shows that came and went, Svengoolie's cult-followers never stopped watching and his show and character have remained ever-present.
"We are so proud to be Rich's TV home for the past 20 years, not only because he's Svengoolie, the best horror host ever, but because he's Rich Koz," said Neal Sabin, vice chairman of Weigel Broadcasting.
Koz said he's always happy to attend fan events, such as the special Valparaiso gathering honoring Chicago Street Theatre this weekend with final stage performance of the community theater's runs of "Frankenstein" and "Scary Godmother."
"We're calling this our 'Creature Double Feature,' " said Eric Brant, Chicago Street Theatre director of marketing.
"Besides the final performances of 'Frankenstein," today, and also Halloween night Friday, we've been very excited about the Family-friendly children's theater offering for Halloween called 'Scary Godmother' which runs through this Saturday, Nov. 1 for the final performance, in the upstairs Edith B. Wood Studio Theatre at Chicago Street."
CST's family feature is based on Jill Thompson's books and comic book series made popular by two animated specials "Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktacular" and "The Revenge of Jimmy." Adapted by the author and Heath Corson, the play tells the story of a little girl named Hannah Marie who gets left in a spooky old house on Halloween by her devilish cousin, Jimmy, to learn that she in fact has a Scary Godmother with lots of fun and not-so-frightening friends who live in a world called, "The Frightside."
The CST run of the play is directed by Dona Henry and Kelly Hite, who headed last season's Holiday Double Feature with productions of "Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" and "The Santaland Diaries."
Besides this weekend's special appearance by Svengoolie, on Sunday, Oct. 19 Chicago Street Theatre had another eerily impressive celebrity visitor for the production of "Scary Godmother." Author Thompson, who created the popular series nearly 20 years ago, attended the noon performance of the play that showcases her silly, spooky book character.
"I was hoping that I could be a godparent and thought, 'Wow. Actually I'd make a pretty scary Godmother' and so the character was born," said writer/illustrator Thompson, explaining that she got the idea when her brother was about to have his first child.