High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Friday, October 28, 2011

Boo Who? Remembering My Favorite TV Horror Hosts


When I 
was a boy
the king 
of all TV 
John Zacherley.

Zacherley aka Roland aka
The Cool Ghoul hosted Shock Theater on WCAU-TV Channel 10 in Philadelphia from 1957 to 1958.

Zacherley (aka Zacherle) also recorded dozens of spooky songs parodies of popular dance hits.

His stomach turning "Dinner with Drac" impaled the top 20
in the early spring of 1958 and became one of the biggest horror hits of the 1950s.

"Dinner With Drac (pt. 1)" - John Zacherle 
(April 1958, highest chart position #6)

Zacherle's rusty relic "Igor" was the first of three different songs to be released on Cameo 130 as the fab flip side of
"Dinner With Drac," the other killer bees being "The Cool Ghoul" and "Dinner With Drac (pt.2)." "Igor" can also be
found lurking on Zacherle's Scary Tales album.

"Igor" John Zacherle (March 1958, uncharted)

During the late 50s,
I also pointed my TV
antenna southward
to catch Dr. Lucifer
(Richard Dix) hosting
Shock! on WBAL-TV
Channel 11 in Baltimore.

Richard Dix as Dr. Lucifer

Dr. Shock and Bubbles (Joe Zawislak and his daughter Doreen) hosted "Scream In", "Mad Theater" and "Horror Theater" on WPHL-TV Channel 17
in Philly throughout the 1970s. With Zacherley's blessing, Zawislak borrowed the look of Roland for his Dr. Shock character, but made his own distinct mark on the genre with brilliant comic timing, expert showmanship and goofy magic tricks.

But it was the inclusion of a child, "Bubbles" or "Bubzie" as she was often called, that set the show apart from others. Joe brought his tiny daughter on the show to reassure parents that it was safe to let their children watch his Saturday horror fest.

Bubbles, named after the program's soda pop sponsor, eventually opened every show by knocking on the closed coffin, at which time "Shocky Doc" would rise from the dead.

It was heartwarming to watch little Bubbles (Doreen) grow up on the air during the program's ten year run from 1969 to 1979 and to observe the interaction between father and daughter. Joe was gentle, playful and respectful in his handling of Doreen, making it obvious that theirs was a loving relationship.

In 1979 thousands
of horror fans
were stunned
and grief stricken
when Dr. Shock
suddenly died.

Heart failure
claimed the life
of Joe Zawislak
at the age of 42.

Joe's death came four years before that of another Philly broadcast great, Jim O'Brien of Channel 6 Action News.

The two men shared key similarities: 

* Both were extremely likeable and naturally funny 
Philadelphia based TV personalities whose popularity 
extended beyond the Delaware Valley to Central 

* Both men were in their early 40s when they died 
suddenly late in the month of September. 

* Both deaths are examples of what I call 
MacArthur Park momentsThe Action News 
dream team was never the same without Jim, and 
the special chemistry between Shocky and Bubbles 
cannot be duplicated. In each case it can be said 
they'll never have that recipe again. 

Zach, Lucifer, Shocky - thanks for all 
of those great memories, guys. 
You too, Bubbles!

Have a

you are!


  1. What a fascinating group of people, Shady. I felt so sorry at reading of the early deaths, especially Joe Zawislak. I can only assume it was a heart attack since it was sudden. Do you know what became of his daughter?

    This post got me to thinking and I can't think of any recent regional based children's shows, at least not down here, which is a shame.

    Thank you for another hugely informative, although delightfully spooky post!

  2. Hi, Shelly! Bubbles Zawislak is still fondly remembered around the Delaware Valley and she recently posted this message to a Dr. Shock tribute page: << Hi, I just wanted to say that I loved the web page on my father (Dr. Shock). I was going to do that but you beat me to the punch. By the way my name is Bubbles (Doreen). I am the little girl that used to knock on the coffin for my dad. I just wanted to tell you thank you and if you need any pics let me know.

    Bubbles Zawislak >>

    All these years later I am still very sad about the losses of Joe and of Philadelphia disc jockey, TV weatherman and newscaster Jim O'Brien. F.Y.I. - Jim's daughter was also a familiar face on TV for many years. She's Peri Gilpin who played Roz Doyle on the long running sitcom Frasier. Thank you very much for being the early bird, dear friend Shelly, and have a great day!

  3. Although Halloween has not always been my favorite time of the year this was fun seeing some of the pioneers from when I was a little fellow. I guess my favorite tune that goes along with the time of year would have to be the Monster Mash. Have a happy Halloween.

  4. Hi, Odie! Yep, I think "Monster Mash" would be the first record most people would name when they think of songs for Halloween. Bobby "Boris" Pickett milked his #1 hit at Christmas time of that year (1962) with the release of "Monsters' Holiday" which made the top 30. Pickett had another charting single, "Graduation Day" time released at the end of the 1963 school year. It went to #88. Thanks for stopping by, good buddy, and have a wonderful weekend!

  5. IMHO one of the best "Halloween" movies of all times is VAN HELSING with H. Jackman i K. Beckinsale.

  6. Wanilianna - Kate Beckinsale is one of my favorite actresses and Van Helsing was a great movie. It reminds me of Bram Stoker's Dracula which really sent a chill through me. Winona Ryder has also been a favorite of mine ever since I saw her in Beetlejuice. Another super creepy movie is Halloween III: Season of the Witch starring character actor Tom Atkins who enjoys a huge cult following, and the gorgeous Stacey Nelkin. Speaking of creepy, may I suggest another Tom Atkins classic, Night of the Creeps? Thank you very much for visiting today, dear Wanilianna, and have a safe and happy weekend!

  7. Kate is one of my husband's favorite actresses too, Tom. He loves her vampire movies.

    This post brought back a lot of memories of watching the old horror movies. I loved them and was fascinated by Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula and The Werewolf. I never saw these hosts however. In California we had a show called "Chiller" and I don't remember who hosted it.

    I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Zacherle! What a character. I would have loved his show. It is funny how they had to change to weekends because kids fell asleep at school! Dr. Shock was great. I loved how he came out of the coffin and said, "Hello Bubbles." Thanks for the good memories, Shady.

  8. Belle - Every market had their own local horror shows and hosts. Tell me if either of these posted comments are the Chiller TV show that you remember from SoCal:

    << Anyone remember a tv show called "Chiller" from the late 1960s? I was a mere child and images from the intro to this show scared the dickens out of me. I remember something about a man coming out of a cuckoo clock and also a really big eyeball (I was around 4, I think). It must have been a local Los Angeles show. >>

    << Channel 11 on Saturday night: a drawing of a swamp with a dead tree in the background plus eerie moaning sounds. Suddenly, a huge claymation hand with six fingers appears while the words "CHILLER" magically grow in clay out of the animated swamp. The six-fingered creature then swallows the letters and when its appetite is satisfied, it lets out a deep and roaring...."CHILLLLLLLERRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!… >>

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post, dear Belle. Thank you very much for coming. Have a great weekend and a safe and happy Halloween!

  9. Hi, Shady!

    That was a real interesting blog, showcasing Zacherley, Dr. Shock & Bubbles, etc. That was heartwarming watching the father and daughter, and sad to hear of his passing--especially so young. I'm glad you included that letter from Bubbles, as well as the info regarding the disk jockey and his daughter. "Dinner With Drac" was my #1 Halloween song long before "Monster Mash" came out. I remember Dick Clark had John Zacherley on "American Bandstand" around Halloween time during his years in Philadelphia, before he relocated to Los Angeles. Therefore, Zacherley made an indelible impression on me. I had the album which you showed, chuckling whenever I listened to "Hurry Bury Baby" and "Popeye The Gravedigger". I was unaware of the other gentlemen you presented, only watching Leroy, on "Tales From The Tomb" on Channel 43 on Friday nights. FYI, did you know the WSBA-TV, Channel 43, was the first UHF TV station in the country? Yes, your local neighborhood station started it. I miss stopping at Carlos for a steak sub on the way home from the Oaks or Dell, to eat while watching the horror movies. Happy Halloween, and Kate Beckinsale's tops in my book, too!

    Have a good weekend, buddy!

  10. Ron - No, I wasn't aware that WSBA-TV43 was the nation's first UHF. I remember the tower being erected up there on the hill and how it forever changed the view from my back yard. I can remember incidents in which kids tried to climb that thing - not the best idea. WSBA and Carlos pizza were the bookends of that block with the Flying-A gas station, Suburban Bowlerama and the Hillcrest Inn all sandwiched between. I had many good times on Queen Street Hill back in the days before I started going up Violet Hill every night. Thanks for your visit and comments, Ron, and have a happy H-ween, good buddy!

  11. I feel very out of the loop cause I am not familiar with any of these scary dudes. However upon examination the Cool Ghoul would have been right up my alley. (he also has the most fantastic stage name which I have now adopted for myself) Happy Halloween Shady!

  12. Amber Blue Bird - These ghost hosts were light years before your time, my dear fiend...uh friend. It's like I was telling you the other day, the poor picture quality of TV was already enough to give you a creepy feeling. Putting these ghoulish characters on the screen introducing segments of old black and white horror flicks made for a fantastic fright fest. Thank you very much for entering my chamber of horrors, dear Amber, and have a safe and happy Halloween!

  13. Just as I thought it was safe to get back into the murky waters of the Shady Dell, I was mistaken. I was overcome with a severe case of the vapors when I saw the film footage of The Creature from the Black Lagoon touching that girl's foot! I suppose we're even, Shady, your creature and my wax head ;~) I watched every video, Shady, and enjoyed so much learning about these talented men and the young girl, Peri Gilpin. What a story about the two similarities and their premature deaths. Looking at the photo of Zacherley and Bubbles together, the obvious jumps out at me ... good/bad, Jekyll/Hyde and this magical formula of conflict. I can understand how, as you put it, "they could never have that recipe again" after the untimely death. Thank you so much, Shady, for sharing your fond memories during this truly Golden Age of television.

  14. What I remember about Chiller was the word was written in blood and the blood would drip down the TV screen.

  15. Cindy -I was wondering if you watched Shock Theater in Nashville when you were a girl but I suspect that market was too far across the state from the Knoxville area for you to get a signal. As you might remember the gill man caused the same widespread fear of swimming in natural bodies of water that Jaws did some 20 years later. I was shocked when I found out that Peri Gilpin of Frasier fame was the daughter of Texas born Jim O'Brien, my favorite TV personality on the Channel 6 news team. Jim died in a skydiving mishap in late September of 1983 and I am still reeling from that loss. It was sweet of you to come by, dear friend Cindy, and I hope that you have a great weekend and a happy Halloween!

    Belle - Do you remember Boris Karloff's Thriller, the hour long horror anthology series that aired in the early 60s? I never missed an episode and liked it better than Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Thanks for the follow-up, dear Belle, and have a nice afternoon and evening in B.C.

  16. ewww creepy stuff my friend Hugs and smooches!

  17. Katie - Thanks for checking out my creep show. Hugs and smooches right back at ya, dear friend! Happy Halloween!

  18. Hi Tom,
    I've saved reading this blog for the 'Day'...Halloween! I was really thrilled to listen to all the different 'shock jocks'! In New Orleans we had our own shock jock...Sid Noel aka Morgus the Magnificent and his sidekick 'Chopsly'. The theme for the Saturday night late night shock show was 'eerily similar to Zacherly's! Sid Noel was a tv/radio personality and beloved in NO.

    I have to agree with Shelly...I don't recall any recent local based shows. As for my favorite scary movie...there was a really 'campy' movie called The Queen of Outer Space. It starred Zsa Zsa Gabor. I am fairly certain my Mother was out of town when my Dad thought it would be a fun outing for him to attend with his daughters in tow. We were frightened out of our minds, no sleep for several weeks and he never quit got why! LOL he also brought us all to see Some Like It Hot when Mom was out of town. No flies on that man!

    I love your presentation on this day...I know it was posted earlier but as I said I saved it for the big day for my reveal!

    Happy Halloween!

  19. Hi, Sush! Your timing was perfect and I'm very happy to see you. I remember Queen of Outer Space very well. I must have seen it a dozen times. If you dissect the movie you realize it was ahead of its time because it made statements about the balance of power between men and women and Western culture's obsession with youth and beauty. I think your dad looked at the ads, picked movies that he wanted to see, and took you girls along with him. :) If you saw Queen of Outer Space and Some Like it Hot as a girl then you received an early adult education albeit well within the bounds of decency. I had a similar experience at age 10 when my parents took me to Circus of Horrors which was chock full of cleavage, steamy love scenes and violence. You are a sweet friend for coming by, Sush, and I hope you and your family have a delightful Halloween!

  20. Unfortunately, most of the plug-ins are not available to me today. We've been having internet service glitches for several days and, apparently, the problem is more widespread than merely local. I did enjoy reading all the text and looking at the ghoulish caricatures and felt some prickles up my spine. I hope you had a thoroughly frightful Halloween, Tom. You can now turn your attention to Christmas ditties and put away those scary masks.

  21. Hi, Desiree! My plug-ins have been crashing, too. It was very kind of you to come by and read about my favorite horror movie hosts. Two of the big names that were not yet mentioned in all of this discussion are Elvira, Mistress of the Dark played by Cassandra Peterson, and Vampira, the mother of all horror hosts who was the inspiration for the Elvira character. I saw Vampira in Plan 9 from Outer Space and never missed an episode of Elvira's program Movie Macabre. Thank you very much for visiting me today, dear Desiree. Have a safe and happy day, dear friend!


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