By Jason Diamond
My Nana and Papa lived in a condominium complex called Winston Towers, located in the in the Rogers Park neighborhood, right near where you could say Chicago either begins or ends, as the city of Evanston and the North Shore is a few blocks away. The series of buildings is well-known among many who grew up in the surrounding suburbs as “Cabrini Greenberg” for its large number of middle aged and senior Jewish occupants. Looking back, it would be easy to say they look like just about any other set of buildings — in that they are totally unremarkable save for the swimming pool with the huge smiley face — but in one of those buildings, I found refuge from the turbulence of my childhood much the same way many kids do: television. And for kids, the world of Chicago television was a wonderful place, which I guess according to the book The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television (Lake Claremont Press, 2004), I missed out on. But maybe missing out on Kukla, Fran & Ollie, Garfield Goose in the 1980’s was what helped me discover a television personality that maybe wasn’t created for kids, but certainly spoke to some. His name was Svengoolie*, and looking back, I could say he was one half Marx Brothers, and one half fodder for songs by The Cramps. Back in those days, though, he was more than just a simple comparison, he was the coolest guy on the television set.
For all the love of trash culture that many of my friends and I throw around, Svengoolie seems to have never been given his proper credit, past a cult following of ADHD kids who stayed up late to watch 3 Stooges re-runs only to find some weirdo in corpse paint talking about “Berrrwyyyyn” and getting rubber chickens tossed at him as he re-introduced an entire generation to the wonders of b-horror flicks.
So, in honor of nostalgia, and of course, the spookiest day of the year, I present Svengoolie.
One thing I should point out, is that the Svengoolie I grew up with is actually the “Son of Svengoolie”. Here, for your viewing pleasure is the original Svengoolie, played by Jerry Bishop in the early 1970s for WFLD, channel 32: the channel that would become the Chicago Fox Television station.