John Zacherle (born September 26, 1918, he is sometimes credited as John Zacherley) is a U.S. television host and voice actor known for his long career as a television horror host broadcasting horror movies in Philadelphia and New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. Best known for his character "Roland/Zacherley", he also did voice work for movies, and recorded the top ten song novelty rock and roll song "Dinner With Drac" in 1958. He also edited two collections of horror stories, Zacherley's Vulture Stew and Zacherley's Midnight Snacks.
John K. Zacherle was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of four children of a bank clerk and his wife. He grew up in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood, where he went to high school. He received a bachelors degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania. In World War II he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in North Africa and Europe. After the war, he returned to Philadelphia and joined a local repertory theatre company.In 1954 he gained his first television role at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, where he was hired as an actor playing several roles (one was an undertaker) in Action in the Afternoon, a Western produced by the station and aired in the New York City market. Three years later, he was hired as the host of WCAU's Shock Theater, which debuted on October 7, 1957. As the host, Zacherle appeared wearing a long black undertaker's coat as the character "Roland", who lived in a crypt with his wife "My Dear" and his lab assistant Igor. The hosting of the black-and-white show involved numerous stylized horror-comedy gags that have become standard on television. In the opening sequence, Zacherle as Roland would descend a long round staircase to the crypt. The producers erred on the side of goriness, showing fake severed heads with blood simulated with Hershey's chocolate syrup. The show sometimes featured live "cut-ins" during the movie in which the soundtrack continued to play on the air, while the visual feed switched briefly to a shot of Zacherle as Roland in the middle of a humorous stunt, such as riding a tombstone. The show ran for 92 broadcasts through 1958.
He was a close colleague of Philadelphia broadcaster Dick Clark, and sometimes filled in for Clark on road touring shows of Clark's American Bandstand in the 1960s. Clark reportedly gave Zacherle his nickname of "The Cool Ghoul". In 1958, partly with the assistance and backing of Clark, Zacherle cut "Dinner with Drac" for Cameo Records, backed by Dave Appell. At first, Clark thought the recording was too gory to play on Bandstand and made Zacherle return to the studio to cut a second tamer version. Eventually both versions were released simultaneously as backsides on the same 45, and the record broke the top ten nationally. Zacherle later related several LPs mixing horror sound effects with novelty songs.
The purchase of WCAU by CBS in 1958 prompted Zacherle to leave Philadelphia for WABC-TV in New York, where the station added a "y" to the end of his name in the credits. He continued the format of the "Shock Theater", after March 1959 titled "Zacherley at Large", with "Roland" becoming "Zacherley" and his wife "My Dear" becoming "Isobel". He also began appearing in motion pictures, including Key to Murder alongside several of his former Action in the Afternoon colleagues.
In a 1960 promotional stunt for his move to WOR-TV, Zacherley staged a Presidential campaign. His "platform" recording can be found on the album Spook Along with Zacherley, which originally included a Zacherley for President book and poster set which is highly collectible today.
In 1963 he hosted animated cartoons on WPIX-TV in New York. He also hosted the TV show Chiller Theatre in New York on WPIX. In 1964 he hosted a teenage dance show at WNJU-TV in Newark called Disc-O-Teen, hosting the show in full costume and using the teenage show participants in his skits. The show ran for three years until 1967, when he became a morning radio host for WNEW-FM. Two years later in 1969, he became the station night broadcaster (10 PM–2 AM) for a progressive rock format. The success of the show led to the use of the same format in Philadelphia. In 1971 he switched his show to WPLJ-FM, where he stayed for ten years.
On February 14, 1970 he appeared at Fillmore East music hall in New York City to introduce rock act the Grateful Dead. His introduction of the band can be heard on the Grateful Dead album Dick's Picks Volume 4.
In the early 1980s he played a wizard on Captain Kangaroo, appearing without his trademark Roland costume and make-up. He continued to perform in character at Halloween broadcasts in New York and Philadelphia in the 1980s and 1990s, once narrating Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" while backed up by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
In 1988 he struck up a friendship with b-movie horror director Frank Henenlotter, voicing the puppet "Aylmer", a slug-like drug-dealing and brain-eating parasite, one of the lead characters in Henenlotter's 1988 horror-comedy film Brain Damage, and cameo's in his 1990 comedy Frankenhooker, appropriately playing a TV weatherman who specializes in forecasts for mad scientists.
Zacherle continues to make appearances at conventions, and to this day, Zacherle collectibles are still selling, including model kits, T-shirts, and posters. The book "Goodnight, Whatever You Are" by Richard Scrivani, chronicling the life and times of The Cool Ghoul, debuted at the Chiller Theatre Expo in Secaucus, New Jersey, in October 2006.
Inducted to the Monster Kid Hall Of Fame at The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards
- ↑ Watson, Elena M. (2000). Television Horror Movie Hosts: 68 Vampires, Mad Scientists and Other Denizens of the Late Night Airwaves Examined and Interviewed. Jefferson, North Carolina, United States: McFarland & Company. p. 265. ISBN 0786409401.