Goodnight, Whatever You Are!

Rating: 
4
Review by Iloz Zoc
July 14, 2007

But most of all, for kids born under the bomb and black-and-white TV, the revolution that was the 1960s began with Zacherley.
-- David Colton, preface to Goodnight, Whatever You Are.

We take a lot of things for granted. I don't mean all those little inconsequential things that we siphon from our daily wake through the great white waters of life, but the really important things like our relationships with people, the places we go, and the history we take part in. Living our lives takes so much effort, so much involvement, that we scarcely get a chance to look back and reflect before it's all, suddenly, too late.

Richard Scrivani did look back, and his reflections on those things he didn't take for granted back in the 1950s and 1960s are the stuff of history, and childhood culture, and all those really important things many of us, who grew up in those churning and yearning years, have tucked deeply, and absent-mindedly, into our back soul-pockets.

Now I know it would be narrow-minded of me to say that the '50s and '60s were a wonderful time for everyone who grew up then, but I can say with certainty that there was one wonderful part of it that anyone could share in, whatever you were: Zacherley. In Richard's book, Goodnight, Whatever You Are! My Journey with Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul, he reminds us of a time when monsters ruled the nascent airwaves, and Zacherley reigned as the TV horror host with the most, and flaunted it to the horror of many parents and authoritarians.

Zacherley came on the scene when Screen Gems opened the cinematic vaults in 1957 to release the Shock! Theater and Son of Shock! films, unleashing many classic -- and many spastic -- horror and suspense movies onto the little screen, awakening the monster-lust in many a young fan with their arcane terrors. In the middle '50s, the first lady of terror, Vampira, helped open the crypt door to future horror hosts who put their bite on the jocular vein, in welcome contrast to their show's more traditional, or just plain godawful, fright offerings.

As TV stations around the country scrambled to market their Shock! package of films, Philadelphia's WCAU-TV came up with a creepy character named Roland to play host for their show. John Zacherle, already acting in a western aired by the station, was asked to play the surly, acerbic-witted, but humorous crypt-kicker.

Richard Scrivani documents Roland's creation, and the ghastly business-side antics that led to Zacherle's eventual move to ABC-TV in New York to become the nationally known ghoulish gagster, Zacherley. With lots of photos, and a clever interview format that continues throughout the book, this look at Zacherley's rise to notoriety provides a revealing look at early television, which was a roll-up-your-sleeves time when local stations created much of their own programming and broadcast live entertainment.

Scrivani pays close attention to the progression of Zacherley's career across TV stations up to and including the move to UHF and WNJU-TV 47, where pop-music and pop-horror meet in a broadcast-live dance show called Disc O-Teen, aired every weekday at 6 P.M. from the Mosque Theater in Newark, New Jersey, starting in 1965. He attributes his first meeting with Zacherley to luck; the cute girl he danced with, Sami, caught the attention of the camera men and Zach. His luck would lead to a return visit for a Halloween show, and many more visits that spanned the three years Disc O-Teen was on the air.

Notable rock bands and their music in this era of social transition, and the dancers that made Disc O-Teen a happening show week after week, along with Zacherley's uniquely wacky sense of "grumor," are vividly told. Against this backdrop, Scrivani writes about the friendship that grew between him, a shy kid from New Jersey, and the palid punster whose iconic persona became the eternal poster child for monsterkids everywhere, whatever they were.

It's hard to describe a time in American culture when the word "plastic" was confined to model kits, and not used pejoratively, but Scrivani manages to capture the innocence, the angst, and the harsh reality of the black and white TV age. Along the way in this personal journey, his friendship with Zacherley hits its idle periods, but picks up as John Zacherle moves from horror icon to radio announcer and back again.

I was lucky to meet Richard at a little private soiree thrown by the Drunken Severed Head at the 2007 Monster Bash Convention. While I didn't have a cute girl like Sami to grab his attention, we were wedged in tight enough -- small hotel room, many notable guests -- that he couldn't escape my asking a few questions.

How did your friendship with TV horror host Zacherley get started?

It started with a visit to Zach's dancing show, Disc-O-Teen, in August, 1965. My younger brother's band, Herald Square, was competing in a contest on the show and the winning group was to be awarded a recording contract with World Artist Records. My dance partner and I were invited back for the upcoming Halloween show. That was the very beginning of what would become a friendship with Zach.

In your book, Good Night, Whatever You Are, you write about an era of television and culture that, sadly, no longer exists. Why is that?

Because there are no longer any local TV personalities like Zach, Chuck McCann and Soupy Sales to host live programming. Everything is tightly scheduled and sent out like mass-produced cookies. Videotape is also becoming a thing of the past because stations are now broadcasting with hard drives.

The days when you could walk into a studio where a show was being taped (like sneaking under the circus tent), sadly, have long disappeared.

What's your first monsterkid memory?

My very first "monster kid memory" has to have been the first time I saw The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in the movies with my father and younger brother in 1953. I remember the picture had a slight greenish tint to it!

What other monsterkid memories can you share with us?

I remember my first experience with a vampire film. I was about 10 years old and The Return of the Vampire was being shown on a local TV station long before the "Shock!" package was released. It was the scene where Nina Foch kisses her fiance and the camera swings over to reveal Lugosi as Armand Tesla hiding in the shadows. The female vampire was obviously following his command and it terrified me to think that a vampire could pretend to kiss you and instead drink your blood.

Also (probably on the same station around the same period) Glenn Strange changing into a werewolf and stalking an old man in The Mad Monster scared the life out of me. But the most intense memory was Bramwell Fletcher's abbreviated scream in The Mummy after coming face to face with Karloff's reanimated Imhotep, followed by that insane laughter. I watched the rest of the film with the sound so low it was barely audible; I wasn't going to be frightened like THAT again!

Having grown up on the early horror movies, what's your impression of the current crop of movies?

Every once in a while I see one I really like, such as The Others or the remake of The War of the Worlds. For the most part, though, I'm not a big fan of current horror movies. I did actually like M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense and The Village, and I don't know if this qualifies as horror, more likely fantasy, but I thought Pan's Lanyrinth was one of the best genre films of all time.

What's the one question you'd love to be asked, and what's your answer?

The question would be: "What makes Zacherley so unique and appealing?"

My answer: To a kid my age (12) in the uptight, conservative, toe-the-line 1950s, there were no TV personalities who broke the rules by poking fun at the stations' programming and even their bosses. When Zach came on the scene he seemed to be speaking just to us and it felt like he was one of us. He also wasn't afraid to make himself a filthy, disheveled mess while doing his crazy "experiments" and that was very much like the behavior of another kid! I think radio personality Pete Fornatale, who calls Zach a "televisionary", sums it up best - it was like Zach was telling one big joke and we were all in on it.

Goodnight, Whatever You Are is a terrific trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up as a monsterkid. For everyone else, it will make you envious that you missed out on all the fun. But remember, it's never too late, whatever you are.

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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