Sunday, August 8, 2010


Zacherley is one of the earliest horror hosts to appear on television and therefor this freak never had the opportunity to see him "live". However, I have watched some of his classic shows on video tape I bought about ten years ago called The Zacherley Archives, which features nearly two-hours of his sketches on TV in the 50's transferred from old kinescopes. Zacherley's dark humor was revolutionary for its time and watching these tapes you can understand why kids loved him and parents hated him. Zacherley's history is fascinating and quite convoluted. I have taken some excepts from his "official" biography, but you can read the full story at:

John Zacherle was born on September 27, 1918 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His childhood was normal and seemingly uneventful. One interesting fact about Zach's youthful years was that his parents were strict and refused to allow him to see the horror films that were all the rage among young theater goers in the 1930's. Returning home to Philadelphia at the conclusion of the war, and in the army reserves. Zacherle took his time finding the right job. Someone mentioned acting and this lead to Zach's audition with a local repertory group called the Stagecrafters, who were based in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania.

Gradually, Zacherle made his way to television where his first notable appearance was in a fateful role in a daily live serial-styled western, Action in the Afternoon. At one point, it was decided to hire an actor to portray the town undertaker, a onetime role that could be used to dispose of the recent victims of gunfights and hangings. Somehow, it was decided to award the part to Zacherle. The budget conscious costume department decided to dress the town's new undertake in a long black frock coat and this item of apparel would become one of Zacherle's most important visual props, one which remains with him to this day.

Not long after the undertaker role, Zach received a phone call from Philadelphia TV station WCAU and was asked to host Shock Theatre. Zach adds, "Someone remembered me from the western. I never even tried out. I whipped out the old black coat I wore as the undertaker on the cowboy show." Zach parted his hair in the middle and applied the famous ghoul-like makeup and the rest was history.

Shock Theatre debuted in September of 1957 with Zach appearing as Roland, a crazy character who lived in a crypt. Charlie Vanda, the president of WCAU came up with the name and as Zach is quick to point out, the accent was on the second syllable -- Ro-LAND. Roland had an assistant named Igor, and his wife lived in a coffin. The wife was referred to as "my dear" and occasionally Roland would make her day with a well-placed thrust of a wooden stake. Originally, the program was aired in the 11:15 late night movie slot on Monday and Tuesday. However, the show was popular not only among adults but among children as well. Therefore, the program was moved to Friday and Saturday and Roland's popularity increased in leaps and bounds. It was at WCAU that Zach, in the guise of Roland, stumbled upon his most unique and creative bit of satire. This was known as the "break-in" or "jump-in", whereby, Zach would insert himself into the actual film, usually, to great comedic effect. The first time this occurred was during a broadcast of The Black Cat with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Writer/Producer, Ed White, originally got the idea. In this instance, Karloff was presiding over a devil worship ceremony and at one point the camera panned to close-ups of the various participants. The WCAU cameraman shot to Zach making a face and then back to the film.

[Reasons for Zarcherley's] move to New York, have never been 100% clear, but it appears that a great deal of unpleasantness on both sides regarding salary, ownership of the character, and other details may have precipitated the change. Zach had made some contacts in New York City as a result of the success of "Dinner with Drac" and was able to negotiate a deal for himself at the WABC affiliate, Channel 7, just at the time his one year contract with WCAU was ending. The Manhattan station had been airing the Shock Theatre package since 1957, around the same time that WCAU started to run them. As the premiere of Zach's WABC show came closer, TV Guide and the local papers were utilized for a promotional campaign. Coming September 22, 1958, Master Ghoul Zacherley will host Shock Theater Monday and Friday". The letter "Y" was added to Zach's name to make pronunciation easier.

Zach made his New York debut on September 22, 1958, at 11:15 pm, hosting The Mystery of Edwin Drood. As the weeks passed he hosted many of Universal's second line productions,including The Mad Daughter of Market Street and The Mystery of Marie Roget. Many tuned in strictly to see Zach and laugh at the "break-ins". Some of Zach's bits from this time included "Zach's discussion of the nervous system", "Zach's attempt to cure Isabel of insomnia", and "Gasport's medical check-up."During this period of time, Zach also appeared in a pictorial in issue #4 of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which was released in the spring of 1959. Also, during March of 1959, WABC sent out a press release that announced that "Ghoul Zacherley will be given his own show of creep films to host Friday and Saturday night called Zacherley At Large." It was also announced that the name Shock Theatre would be retired. Unfortunately, Zacherle's tenure at WABC was coming to an end. During the June 20, 1959, show, Zach appeared during the last commercial interruption without makeup and announced that this was his last show for the year and when he returned in the fall it would be on WOR - Channel 9.

Although Zach's Channel 9 show didn't debut until October 30, he was far from dormant during this time. Beginning May, Zach embarked a series of personal appearances in large theaters, such as the Astoria (Long Island), the Fabian (Paterson), the Branford in Newark, the Jefferson in New York City, and the Stanley in Jersey City.

Zach's first WOR show saw him hosting Zombies On Broadway. As the show opened Zach was thrown forcibly into his new crypt. Zach yelled, "Let me out of here," a few times then settled down to eat a banana and host the film. Unlike WCAU and WABC, Channel 9 spent very little on the Zacherley show set. A canvas mail cart was used for Isobel's "box" and no attempt was made to give the set a crypt-like appearance. While repeats of Zach's Channel 9 programs aired occasionally very late at night, no new programs were taped and Zach's contract expired.

During 1964, WPIX made a number of programming changes in an effort to improve ratings. Zacherley was made the host of Chiller Theatre, thereby allowing him to do what he does best - host films. Unfortunately, Zach's deal with WPIX ended during 1964.

[Well into his in his 80's , Zacherley continued] music recording, television, and live appearances, Zach appeared on radio station WXRK where he occupied the Saturday morning slot with a nostalgic 1960's revival program. The station, K-Rock, is noted for being one of the highest rated in the New York area and includes among its on-air personalities several very popular disc jockeys.

Zach's still got it! Zacherley with Elvira!
Zacherley is a true original and well deserving of being in my horror host hall of fame! Goodnight, Zacherley... whatever you are.


  1. One of the true legends in the biz! What a wonderful post. Great job, Doc!

  2. Thanks, J.T.! From you that is high praise indeed. I have a deep abiding need to express my love of Horror Hosts in general and the specific hosts that I've watched and loved over the years via TV, Internet or video recordings. Despite the minor interest that most of blogger-dom has in Horror Hosts, I will continue to feature articles and news about them here at Guardians of the Genre. After all... isn't the purpose of a blog to have the freedom to write about whatever subject that you are most passionate about?

    BTW: I appreciate the updates that you've been posting on your Midnight Spook Frolic blog about Elvira's new upcoming show. I'm not a huge fan of her somewhat juvenile humor, but I will be tuning in to see her new show. Thanks again for checking in, Johnny!