I’d like to wish all the dads out there a happy Father’s Day- in this day and age, I think it’s important to know what it takes to be a father- it’s much more than just being able to create a child- being a father means being there FOR the child. It’s a responsibility- but one of the very best responsibilities in the world. Best regards to the dads who know what I mean- and live it.
So, yes, yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of my hitting the airwaves for the first time as a Svengoolie-appropriately, with Father’s Day in mind, as the “Son of Svengoolie”. It was on Saturday, June 16, 1979 that I appeared on WFLD in Chicago, hosting “In the Year 2889”. The fact that 33 years have gone past since then certainly makes my head spin.
How did it happen? Well, it started with my “dad”-the original Svengoolie- Jerry G. Bishop. Along the way of our working together in radio, he had been approached about doing Svengoolie again, as just a short run summer thing on a local station. Jerry didn’t think he wanted to put on the suit again- at the time, he actually thought he might like to run for a public office someday, and thought having an opponent trot out a picture of him as Sven as a campaign tactic might not be for the best- but he felt that I could be “Son of Svengoolie”- and he and I would write and produce the show. This was incredibly flattering to me- that he had the confidence in me that he would turn over the keys to the character to me! Needless to say- we had some false starts- and it didn’t happen.
Then came the day when Jerry was heading to the west coast for a new job. He asked me what I thought I’d do – and, having had everybody I worked with go to the left coast for work, I was unsure. I said I thought maybe I’d try to pitch a local station on a show- at which point, he said, if I wanted to try to do the “Son of Svengoolie” thing- I had his blessing. Again, that massive vote of confidence.
Well, since I’ve told this story before, let me fast-forward to the moment when they finally, after some mis-steps and tribulations- WFLD decided that I would indeed be their horror show host. Now, in my audition- I had looked exactly like Jerry’s Svengoolie- and they felt that look was a little too hippy-ish. I made a few changes, still maintaining most of the look, but changing the hair color from green to brown- and they felt that, at that point, I looked like some guy who would be sleeping in a cardboard box on lower Wacker Drive (no, not YOU, Walter Jacobson). So, I took a double –breasted tuxedo jacket I’d bought at a formal wear store sale for ten bucks- a top hat I had used making a silent movie with some friends- and a few other odds and ends, and came up with my “Son of Svengoolie” look.
I stood before the program director. “What do you think?” I asked. This dim bulb of a guy, when confronted with a problem or question, invariably would have an expression on his face of wide–open eyes, mouth hanging open- that made him look like a beached halibut. As he stared and seemed unsure of his answer, I came up with an answer for him- “well, I’ve done enough –this is going to be it.” Old Carp-face didn’t object- and that was the look I hit the air with 33 years ago.
…and I’ve been a Svengoolie ever since- even when I didn’t have a regularly running show, I was Sven for appearances, radio shows, TV guest shots, etc. The reason- as I’ve stated before- is you guys out there , who have supported me and WANTED Sven to be a part of your TV viewing- and, of your lives. I can never tell you what that means to me. Thanks- and let’s continue on to the next anniversary!