Real name: John Zacherle
Years active: 1957-1967, Pennsylvania, later New York
What a long strange trip it has been through the electric corridors of television’s cathode tube-lined hallway. We have come to the end of the list. I had no set order when I started this project. I’m not saying Elvira is better than Seymour, or that Dr. Gangrene lords over Big Chuck and Lil’ John. I mostly made the list to salute the men and women who guided viewers through some scary movies, or at least some really bad ones. However, we’ve reached the last horror host of 2012, and I could not think of anyone more qualified to end the list with than with the cool ghoul himself, Zacherley.
Technically appearing on television a year before Vampira, John Zacherle made his televised debut in 1953 on Action in the Afternoon, which showcased various western serials. Playing an undertaker in one skit created a distinctive look for the actor, and that may have stayed with him when in 1957 when WCAU picked up the Shock movie package.
Dubbing himself Roland, Zacherle hosted the films with a ghoulish sense of style. Fake decapitated heads adorned the set, smeared with melted chocolate. With his unseen wife, first named My Dear before changing to Isobel, Roland hosted from Philadelphia until 1958.
Changing his name to Zacherley, the format remained the same. Zacherley also did a few things first, such as inserting himself into the film at various odd moments. Unlike later hosts, Zacherley didn’t say anything during these breaks, but would simply be there for a brief laugh. In a jungle scene, for example, he would inset himself dressed as a headhunter.
Zacherley didn’t limit himself to television alone. In 1958, with the legendary Dick Clark as a producer, Zacherley released a single, “Dinner with Drac,” which broke into the top ten. Zacherely would go on to release several more albums and even run for public office at one point.
By the 1960s, he started to branch out. He still hosted horror movies, but now he was appearing on afternoon cartoon blocks and teen dance parties. Albums continued, but by now he was mostly known as John Zacherle, radio host, despite the occasional anniversary special on the various networks he once appeared on, he was mostly a heard individual rather than seen. While he was slowing down on television, he was starting to rise in motion pictures, the home video market especially. In the 1980s he released several videos of himself, carrying on the act only with public domain films.
He is semiretired now, but at 94 he is the currently oldest horror host around and certainly the oldest one still working. Trick or trick kids, and know that no matter how scary the films may be, there is usually a guy in greasepaint cracking wise in between the commercials.
The Shock Theatre began on WCAU-10 in 1957 and lasted until 1958. That same year, Shock Theatre headed to New York and WABC. In 1959 the name of the show was changed to Zacherley at Large. That same year he hosted the Zacherley Show on WOR-9 in New York. In 1963 the name and station again, this time to Chiller Theater and WPIX, respectively; in 1964 he hosted Disc-O-Teen in character out of Newark’s WNJU. He stayed on television until 1967 before going into radio nearly full time. Mr. Zacherle is alive and makes the occasional appearance to this day. For more information, check out his website.
“Goodnight, whatever you are”