Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Late Great Zacherley

Pioneering horror host and DJ John Zacherle, better known by his stage name Zacherley, died on October 27 2016 at the age of 98.

John Zacherle was born on September 26 1918 in Philadelphia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a bachelor's degree in English Literature there. During World Warr II he enlisted in the United States Army and served in both North Africa and Europe. Following the war he returned to Philadelphia and took part in a local repertory theatre. It was in 1953 that he appeared in a live TV Western called Action in the Afternoon that aired on WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. On the show he played the Coroner. This led directly to him becoming the host of WCAU's Shock Theatre. On WCAU's Shock Theatre he went by the name "Roland". Roland lived in a crypt in which his unseen wife ("My Dear") rested in a coffin. As Roland he would often interrupt the films with horror-comedy gags. In the end, John Zacherle's stint on WCAU's Shock Theatre would not only influence other horror hosts at the time, but nearly all horror hosts ever since.

In 1958 WCAU was bought by CBS and as a result John Zacherle moved to WABC in New York City. Initially at WABC he continued as Roland and used essentially the same format as he had at WCAU. It was after March 1959 that he became known as "Zacherley" (WABC having added a "y" to his surname) and his show was renamed Zacherley at Large. His wife, who still rested in a coffin, was then called Isobel. In the Sixties, Zacherley would occasionally fill in for his friend Dick Clark on touring shows of American Bandstand. It was reportedly Dick Clark who dubbed Zacherley "the Cool Ghoul".

Zacherley would move from WABC to WOR and finally to WPIX where he hosted Chiller Theatre. In 1963 at WPIX he hosted  animated cartoons. Starting in 1964 he hosted a horror themed, American Bandstand type show called Disc-O-Teen at WNJU in Newark, New Jersey. It ran for three years. Starting in 1967 he was a morning radio host for WNEW-FM. In 1969 he became a nightitme DJ there.

From the late Fifties into the Sixties Zacherley also released various novelty records. In 1958 he released the singles "I Was a Teenage Caveman", "Dinner with Drac", and "Eighty-Two Tombstones". In 1960 he released  "Ring-A-Ding Orangoutang". In 1962 he released "Hurry Bury Baby". He also released several albums, including Spook Along With Zacherley (1960), Monster Mash (1962), Scary Tales Featuring John Zacherley ‎(1962), and Zacherle's Monster Gallery (1963). He appeared in the film Key to Murder (1958), and guest starred on the shows The Dick Clark Show, What's My Line?, and Play of the Week.

In 1971 John Zacherle moved to radio station WPLJ-FM. He remained there for ten years. In 1982 he appeared in an edition of Saturday Night Live. In 1986 as Zacherley he was the host of a series of VHS tapes called Horrible Horror, which featured sci-fi and horror films in the public domain. He provided the voice of  Aylmer in the cult film Brain Damage (1988) and had a cameo in Frankenhooker (1990).

In the Nineties he appeared in the film Niagaravation (1995). In 1995 he released the album Dead Man's Ball. Over the years John Zacherle appeared in many retrospectives about horror hosts and the horror genre in general. He appeared in the 2006 documentary Vampira: The Movie and the 2010 documentary The Aurora Monsters: The Model Craze That Gripped the World. In 2005 he released one last album, Interment For Two. He also edited two anthologies of horror stories during his career, Zacherley's Vulture Stew and Zacherley's Midnight Snacks. Mr. Zacherle attended horror conventions well into his nineties.

Zacherley was not the first horror host (that would be Vampira), but he was among the earliest and arguably the most successful. He blended horror with comedy and did so with a theatrical flair few have ever matched. Not only his format, but even his routines have been imitated by television stations to this day. Without Zacherley, there would be no Svengoolie, no Elvira, no Dr. Gangrene. What is more, Zacherley's success went beyond television. He released records. He edited books. He appeared in films.

I have many friends who had the opportunity to meet Zacherley at the various monster conventions over the years. All of them have said the same thing. He was one of the nicest gentlemen one could hope to meet. He was friendly, jovial, and extremely generous to his fans. Zacherley was not simply "the Cool Ghoul" on television. He was very cool in real life too.

No comments: