By now, I know many of you have heard the sad news- that Jerry G. Bishop, the man who created Svengoolie and got me into the broadcasting business, passed away this past Sunday at his home in San Diego.
I’ve gone through about 5 drafts of this blog so far today- and still can’t seem to say what I want to say.So, let me try to just state a few things about the man who was my mentor and my friend.
Jerry was an incredible talent- so quick-witted,inventive, and engaging as a personality.He was a total pro as a broadcaster in both radio and TV- and could go from being a laugh-riot deejay to hosting a serious discussion of welfare problems in Chicago, and excel at both. He hosted a live 90 minute weekly show on Sunday afternoons at WMAQ, that was at a different location every week- no easy feat. He loved playing his four-string Martin guitar (given to him by one of the guys in the Kingston Trio) and singing various tunes- not to mention a few finely-tuned parodies!
Of course, his run as the original Svengoolie is legendary-his “Yiddish/Transylvanian” accent, as he called it, coupled with his House of Lewis red-white-and blue bellbottoms, sandals, Sven sweatshirt, and green hippie wig all added up to a beloved character that even people who didn’t care for horror movies would tune in to see! (In actuality- Jerry himself was no great fan of horror movies- the show was just a springboard for his entertaining shtick. I think the only time he actually watched one of the movies was when he and the engineers on duty would drop in sound effects to make the film more amusing!)
His run as Sven lasted only three years- a time period during which he became acquainted with a young college student who had been a fan of his for years- that Jerry must have seen something in- since , even after the Sven show ended, they worked together in radio- and he eventually decided that this young goof could continue the Sven family tradition as a sort of “Son of Svengoolie”. (Yeah- I’m referring to me. yeah-it was his idea!)
I have always said- there are a lot of people who would have used my material, said “thanks a lot kid” and walked away. Jerry was generous enough to help me get established.
I laugh to think of how, back when he was on radio in Cleveland, he was such a teen heart throb that they had to keep the fact that he was married a secret! His marriage to the lovely Liz would have lasted 50 years next year.