Today marks the birthday of a guy who is pretty much reponsible for there being a Svengoolie still in existence- he is the original Svengoolie, and the man who generously helped me get into the broadcast business- Jerry G. Bishop.
Jerry is a Chicago guy- grew up and spent a lot of time in Rogers Park, and went to college at what is now the UIC Circle campus, but back then was located at- Navy Pier! He made his way into broadcasting, first downstate, then in other markets- he did radio in Washington, D.C.-where a regular feature of his show was urging President Kennedy’s little girl, Caroline, to eat her breakfast oatmeal!
He moved up to the Cleveland market,where he did both radio and television- at the time, he was doing a sort of “American Bandstand” style program, and on another channel at the same time was a local guy named Ernie Anderson who was hosting horror flicks as a hip beatnik type named Ghoulardi!
Before long, his hometown of Chicago was calling him back- local radio station WCFL, which was a creative, fun rock and roll outlet with many people Jerry knew on air, needed a morning man when Jim Runyon (best remembered by many as the narrator of Dick Orkin’s “Chicken Man” adventure features) was moving on to another market out east.
Jerry hit the air and immediately became a favorite of the local audience- with his bright likable personality,clever comedy, his singing and guitar playing- in fact, he had a regional hit song on the charts, a tune called “She’s Gone” (with a song called “The Road of Life” as the flipside- uh, see, back then, we had what were called records and singles, and you could play either side…)
Just as he had done both radio and TV in Cleveland, Jerry G. got a job with a TV station as well- WFLD, channel 32, a place that had White Sox games and Bill Jackson doing his “Cartoon Town” show with puppets like Dirty Dragon.Jerry was an announcer, did public affairs shows,and hosted the daytime movie show with a contest built in- “Dialing for Dollars”!They’d randomly call people out of the phone book and, if they knew the “count of the day”- they’d win some money.Jerry always joked that , back then, a lot of TVs didn’t even have a UHF tuner, so, more often than not, the folks they’d call wouldn’t even know what he was talking about, much less the count of the day!
The station decided to schedule horror movies on Friday nights, calling the show “Screaming Yellow Theater”.Often, Jerry G. just happened to be the staff announcer on duty, and he began to do his announcements in (as he called it) a Transylavanian Yiddish accent, adding in jokes- and thus he created the character of -Svengoolie!
The show progressed from just his voice-overs heard over a title slide- then, over slides of him in costume, in various poses-and finally graduated to being a video-taped production, framing the movies with funny songs, skits, and comedy- along with special guest “coffin openers” who, at first, signed the gray surface of his wooden lay-down coffin, then, when his new dutch-door stand-up coffin was built, they’d sign a “guest book”. Svengoolie was a bona-fide hit, which was cancelled too soon, whent he geniuses of Kaiser Broadcasting decided to run their property- “The Ghoul”- instead. He didn’t last a year.
Jerry had moved on to NBC in Chicago, doing radio and TV once again-with mornings on WMAQ radio, and shows on WMAQ TV- including a weekly LIVE on location 90 minute show called Chicago Camera, coming from a different location every week!
Jerry is an amazing talent-he could do serious news and talk, hilarious comedy- he could do it all.He currently resides in San Diego,with his darling wife Liz- and I am always so grateful that he had enough confidence in me to take me under his wing,give me plenty of good advice, and then, actually allow me to bring in another generation of his popular character.
With love, respect and gratitude- we wish Jerry G. a very happy birthday!