elionwyr: (spooky)
[personal profile] elionwyr
When we look at the fame of horror hosts, it's easy to believe their fame translated to national broadcastings of their shows. Nothing could be further from the truth. Local markets had local TV program hosts, and so while Vampira's career exploded in California, the gentlemen were slowly picking up the reins on the eastern side of the US.

John Zacherle, a native of the Philadelphia environs born September 26, 1918, took up the haunted mantle after working as an actor on a western themed program at WCAU-TV. His work as varied characters - including an undertaker - were memorable enough so that when WCAU signed on as one of the stations slated to broadcast Universal Pictures' "SHOCK" movie package, Zacherle was called in to introduce the films.

Shock Theater hit the airwaves on October 7, 1957. Zacherle played a character called "Roland" and, like Vampira, was the only actor on the show...though mystery was introduced via his conversations with a woman referred only to as "my dear" and who apparently lived in a coffin. Other unseen characters included Igor, his assistant, and Gasport, his son.

Zacherle introduced the idea of breaking into whatever film was being shown, reacting to the scene for a long moment or two. This became known as a 'break-in' and became something fans looked forward to every week. It was also during his stint at WCAU that Zacherle started recording humourous horror-themed rock songs; his first number, "Dinner with Drac," made it up to #6 on the Billboard charts in 1958.






In 1958, WCAU was purchased by CBS and Zacherle took his show to New York's WABC-TV. The show retained its format and style, though the lead character changed to Zacherley, the show's name was changed to Zacherley at Large, and "my dear" was finally given an actual name..Isobel. It's also worth noting that Shock Theater was a bit more gory than Zacherley at Large, and the crypt set was smaller, though more detailed.

From September 22, 1958 until June 20, 1959, Zacherley graced the airwaves of WABC (for a detailed break-down of dates and show titles visit E-Gor's page); then the show was taken to competing station WOR and set to debut October 9th. Zacherle stayed in the public eye by continuing to record full-length albums, booking personal appearances, and even staging a "Zacherley for President" campaign. WOR offered the show the smallest set to date, but marketed the character harder than anyone else. Also, the show was recorded and rebroadcast on sister station WKHJ in California, making Zacherle the first syndicated horror host. Sadly, most of these tapes were not preserved.

Zacherle's contract with WOR expired in 1960, but he continued to make special television appearances on American Bandstand, telethons, hosted a cartoon program, and even had his own music show, Zacherley's Disco Teen. Though most of his television career was focused in the 1960's, Zacherle has consistently remained in the public eye with his movie cameos, his musical releases, and his regular convention appearances, most notably at NJ's Chiller Theatre.

From his costuming to his professionalism to the length of his continuing career, Zacherle has certainly earned the title "King of the Horror Hosts."

For more information about Zacherle, please visit:
http://www.youtube.com/v/6f7ad5QmGU0 - Shock Theater opening
http://www.zacherley.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Zacherle
http://myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/tvhorrorhosts/hostsz.html - many links and a very succinct time line

April 2009

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