We end our Countdown of Horror Hosts with the Granddaddy of all Ghouls, Zacherley...
John Zacherle was born in 1918 on September 27th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents who wouldn’t allow him to go see the popular horror films of the time. Upon graduation from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in english Literature, America entered the war and Zach enlisted in the army—seeing action in North Africa and Europe, for which he attianed the rank of Major.
In an attempt to enjoy the postwar world, Zach joined local repertory group the Stagecrafters and picked up a job as a radio announcer. Eventually making his way to television, Zacherle had many bit parts in a local serialized western called “Action in the Afternoon”.
At one point it was decided that Zach would play the town undertaker. The budget sensitive costume department dressed him a long black frock coat and this would be come one of Zacherle’s most important props, which still remains with him.
And then over 70 films were released and stations all around the country lined up to make deals to play them in the fall of 1957. WCAU-Channel 10 in Philadelphia and WABC-Channel 7 in New York both signed up to play these movies during late night.
Zach got a phone call from WCAU and was asked to host “Shock Theatre” out of the blue. Someone had remembered him from that western show and he never even had to try out. Out came the black coat he wore as the undertaker and he parted his hair down the middle—an application of the ghoul makeup and the original cool ghoul, “Roland”, pronounced Ro-LAND, was born!
Roland would have an assistant named Igor, and his wife lived in a coffin and was only referred to as “my dear” , and finally there was Gasport, Roland’s son who hung from a wall in a burlap sack and only moaned.
Roland would sometimes thrust a wooden stake into his wife’s coffin much to her delight and would occasionally climb in with her to enjoy the film. On one occasion he fired his unwilling son, Gasport, into outer space on a guided missile.
Occasionally, Roland would “break-in”—inserting himself into the actual film, this first occurred during “The Black Cat” where Karloff is presiding over a satanic ceremony and as the camera panned to close-ups of the participants, Zach made a face and the shot was inserted. It was so funny that it became a regular bit.
The show was so popular it was moved from late Monday night to Friday and Saturday. This only increased Roland’s popularity—so much so that there were over 800 fan clubs in Philadelphia devoted to the ghoul. Kids all over the city sported large black buttons that read “Roland” or “I Like Igor”. By August of ’58 Zach was featured in the Saturday Evening Post.
WCAU held an open house at the studio so that Roland’s fans could meet him. Executives expected 1,200 or maybe as many as 2,000, but 14,000 arrived, stopping Philadelphia traffic and damaging the facility. They dared not to hold another meet-and-greet.
Record label owner Bernie Lowe found his daughter glued to Roland on television and discovered his popularity, charisma and even watched him recite horror limericks that fans had sent in and got the idea to record the ghoul.
“Dinner with Drac” was the record, a rock song which had Zacherle singing and reciting while being back by Dave Appell and the Applejacks, the house band at Cameo Records. Rumor sez that because Dick Clark refused to play it on “American Bandstand”, so it was recut with milder lyrics. The record was a big hit and made it to number 6 on the Billboard chart, getting the ghoul on shows like “American Bandstand” and other teen-oriented fare.
Around this time, John made the move to New York, ending his run on WCAU prematurely due to general dislike on both sides regarding salary and ownership of the character, etc. WABC in Manhattan had been airing the shock package without a host, but picked up Zacherle just as his other contract ended.
Being that the name of Zach’s character was in dispute, they simply added a “Y” to Zacherle’s name and that both made the character his and made it easier to pronounce for the kids. Zach’s wife “My Dear” became “Isobel” at WABC, though Gasport stayed the same.
Zacherley became a household name in NYC and he made crossover appearances on The Steve Allen Show, The Jack Paar Show and Pat Boone’s show as well. A third single was released pairing “I was a Teenage Caveman” with “Dummy Doll”. In March of ’59, WABC announced that Zach was being given his own show Friday and Saturday night called “Zacherley at Large” in place of Shock Theatre. But by late June, the ghoul appeared on the show for the last time, announcing that he would be moving to WOR- Channel 9.
Zach’s carreer as a horror host eventually led him to WPIX in ‘63 where he hosted first cartoons and, later, films.
By 1965 “Zacherley’s Disco Teen” hit daily air in Newark, NJ on the UHF station, Channel 47 WNJU-TV. It was a kind of Transylvanian Bandstand that featured local bands and dancers. Because of the subpar reception.
And then the ghoul went into radio, where he stayed, for the most part, for more than a decade. Zach has continued working for all these years since making personal appearances and doing signings.
We know that he is Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul, but as he usually says to viewers, unable to see them through the magic of television as we can see him:
Goodnight… whatever you are!
Zacherley hosts his own classic clips:
Zach kills on Mike Douglas:
Among others, Zacherley:
A tour of Zach’s place from just a few years ago: