John Zacherle died today. He was 98.

For me, no other personality – not Forrest J Ackerman, not Bradbury, not Steve Allen, not Dylan nor the Stones – shaped my view of life more than Zacherley in the 1950s and 1960s

Below is an excerpt from the ‘Preface’ I wrote for Richard Scrivani’s book on Zacherley, GOOD NIGHT, WHATEVER YOU ARE (Dinoship, 2006). It still reads true today.

By David Colton

Revolutions start slowly, quietly, sometimes subversively and, in Zacherley’s case, with a deep and unmistakable laugh.

Most historians say the cultural shift of the ‘60s began with the assassination of JFK and the anguish of the Vietnam War. But we children of the 1950s know better. We know the 60s really began much earlier.

The 60s began when MAD Magaizne put Madison Avenue through its merciless, gap-toothed comb; when Jerry Lewis, looking like a proper grown-up in his tuxedo, suddenly put a glass in his mouth and clapped his hands like a walrus; when kiddie hosts like Chuck McCann and Paul Winchell added just a tiny wink of pre-adolescent civil disobedience as they pushed Ovaltine, citizenship – and that anarchist Daffy Duck. Don't believe what the teachers are telling you, they all seemed to say.

No wonder a generation, taught these truths at an early age by Knucklehead Smith, a decade later spilled into the streets.

But most of all, for kids born under the bomb and black-and-white TV, the revolution that eventually was televised in the 1960s began with Zacherley.

As one of the first TV horror hosts, Zacherley was a pop phenomenon, as big for a time in Philadelphia, New York City and New Jersey as Davy Crockett, Elvis or hula hoops. He was the Cool Ghoul, after all, a Transylvanian hipster who was the host of SHOCK THEATER, Drac’s best friend, a presidential candidate in 1960, and along with Steve Allen, the hippest man ever to be on television.  And we kids knew it from the start.

Best of all, Zacherley was forbidden. He was every parent’s nightmare, appearing on late late TV – on school nights! – and enlisting a growing army of young lab assistants (us!), in the eternal struggle to stay up as late as possible.


He showed classic horror movies on Channel 7 in New York City. Then on Channel 9. Zacherley was our introduction to the movies that scared our parents when they were young – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, all from the 1930s and 40s.

Plus, he did things never done before on television. He’d dress in costume and interrupt the movie in quick cutaways. Sometimes he’d be a villager with a pitchfork. Other times a gravedigger, commenting on the action. It was startling, audacious, revolutionary. And all long before Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Zacherley’s late-night set was dark and gloomy, with things that moaned and chittered and hung on the wall. His wife, Isobel, lived in a box. She had none of Donna Reed’s cheer. Instead, she made eeh-ooh-ah monkey sounds like you’d hear on RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE or SHEENA. When the reception cleared, you could see that Isobel’s box was a mail cart they found at the station. Zach’s lab was occupied by gelatinous amoebas, wind-up toys and all kinds of marvelous electrical contraptions that sparked and arced and sometimes, when things got a little loopy, even caught fire. And wasn’t that exciting!

He was anti-establishment in every way. He’d make fun of the station, or the movie he was showing. He’d get filthy with powder or goop during experiments. Kids could tell that he wasn’t very clean, not in a wash your hands before every meal way.  Instead, he was always wiping his hands on his tattered coat or clapping up dust, all on live TV. He was sinister and sly, naughty and wise. And without ever saying it, Zacherley taught every kid watching, every night, that the point of his show – and of life itself – was to enjoy the absurdity of it all.

Zacherley was the real deal. He was television jazz, Lenny Bruce in monster drag, so be-bop perfect that his late-night cameramen, after a long day of jingles and bad weathermen, would laugh at his jokes. They’d laugh so loud that we could hear it at home, a mind-bending break in the Sylvania fourth wall. It was meta to the max. And when kids heard the honesty in the guffaws from these hardboiled union men on the set, well, it just made it even more special to be in on the joke while out parents slept.

And then there was the character of  Zach himself, a cadaverous undertaker with hollowed cheeks, white pasty skin, hair parted in the middle like Alfalfa and a delicious and droll delivery that signaled to every kid watching that this indeed was where the underground army of the 60s would truly begin.

“Confound it all!’’ he’d say when things didn’t go right. As we said, lessons for life.

Zacherley was on the cover of Famous Monsters by the seventh issue. National magazines did feature stories.  He recorded hit records. Other cities grew their own horror hosts. A monster tsunami was born.


Then, abruptly, Zacherley was gone. Well, not gone, but it was clear the Establishment had finally found wolfbane. Even as Soupy Sales arrived to make the kid connection more  commercial, Zach turned up on Channel 11, but this time showing Hercules cartoons, of all things, in the afternoon. He was still Zach, but like all things undead, even hip ones, something died in the glare of afternoon TV. And we kids knew it, too.

Zach's eviction from the castle was not yet done.  Before HDTV, before satellite and cable, there was something called UHF, odd channels beyond the usual 2-13. And there, on Channel 47 if your TV could pull it in from Jersey, was Zacherley hosting something called DISC-O-TEEN, a Transylvanian bandstand with rock and roll bands, kids dancing to the Doors and Four Tops and good ol’ Zach grooving with the times.

His transformation was completed a few years later when he turned up on New York’s album-oriented rock station, WNEW-FM. He was John Zacherle by then, a smart and mellifluous DJ for the music of a monster-schooled generation. But between the Jefferson Airplane, Stones and Velvet Underground, we Monster Kids who had gone to college, Woodstock or even Vietnam never doubted for a minute that the man behind the microphone was in greasepaint, wearing funeral coat and medallion.

Zacherley would rise again – on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in a memorable Halloween cameo; in commercials, in taped compilations, playing with the Dead Elvi st Chiller or introducing the “goddam Grateful Dead’’ at a pay-per-view. In many ways, this proud, gentle and wonderful man was as popular in the second half of his long life as he had been when it all began.

Because in the end, Zacherley’s undead celebration of life and revolutionary spirit, his uncanny ability to see through the nonsense around us, will always ring true, whatever your politics or, as Zach liked to say, “whatever you are.''

Thank you, John Zacherle.

-- David Colton


Last Edited By: taraco Oct 28 16 1:30 PM. Edited 8 times.