Born November 3, 1928 in Asheville, North Carolina, Ernest R. “Dick” Bennick collected monster movie magazines and decided to go into the entertainment industry at age 5 when he saw his first magician. At 18, he joined an illusion show and travelled the country putting on shows and picking up tricks that he would incorporate into his later acts.
Starting out in radio in Charlotte in 1949, Dick went to a station in Winston-Salem where he was one of the ground-breaking DJs who introduced rock and roll music to the city. He had record hops and his own teenage dance club—becoming the most poplar radio personality in town.
Television came calling, WGHP asked him to do interview shows and do the weather. He then hit the station up to do a dance party show like Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and they gave in. In fact, whenever a job would open up, Bennick would put in for it.
When the position of Horror Host opened up on the station’s show “Shock Theater”, Bennick jumped at the chance, but he wanted to do it so that it would draw in viewers with a character. And the character he came up with was “Count Shockula”. The Count was a kind of living skeleton design in tie and tails, opera cape and white gloves. He wore a white skullcap and had teeth made up and black and white skull make-up.
But for some reason the character didn’t catch on. He knew after only a few weeks that he had to do something, otherwise, he could loose the gig. So he ran a promotion called “How Do You Kill Count Shockula?” He already knew how he wanted to kill the character, because of his knowledge of a magic trick.
Finally, after six weeks of waiting, someone wrote in saying “nail a stake through his heart”. This was fine with Bennick as he was stalling for time anyway, trying to come up with a new character—stealing bits from all the horror characters he’d loved as a kid. And so, through the magic of television, Dr. Paul Bearer killed off Count Shockula by staking him in the heart and then took over the show.
The ghoulish undertaker character told corny jokes and used ghoulish puns. His deep, gravelly voice and speech pattern were very distinctive and worked well with the context of the character. He wore a long tailed tux with his hair parted stringily down the middle, heavy mascara, grease paint and a scar. Bennick would also turn his artificial eye outward, giving himself a stranger appearance.
It worked—Dr. Paul Bearer hosted the show for six and a half years in North Carolina. He then moved to Florida and started over in radio again down there at WGTO. A year later, a television station owned by the same folks who owned the radio station he worked at hired him to do two shows, one on Saturday afternoons and one at 11:30pm that night.
For 22 years he was host of WTOG Channel-44’s Saturday noontime horror show, “Creature Feature” in St. Petersburg, Florida. He would refer to the town as “St. Creaturesburg”.
Dr. Paul Bearer gets some visitors and appears on Hee Haw:
Here’s a big playlist of twenty videos from Youtube featuring Dr. Paul Bearer:
At the time of his very untimely death in 1995, during open-heart surgery, he had been in the middle of shooting episodes, having finished a few. Those last episodes were never aired due to the wishes of his family. He once told his wife that he should worry if kids stopped coming up to him asking for his autograph.
He never had to worry.
Just two years earlier, Bearer became the longest running host of televised horror movies in the country. Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman had declared October 30th “Dr. Paul Bearer Day”.
Dr. Paul Bearer would always sign-off his show with the phrase:
“I’ll be lurking for you.”
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