ZACHERLEY 2018 fine art print / edition of 25 / $150.00 each
Zacherley was once a fixture of late night television, a spooky, sardonic monster of ceremonies whose chilling puns and weird sight gags inspired a generation of kids into taking a walk on the weird side. Zacherley was the Ernie Kovacs of TV horror show hosts, half Dracula and half a goyishe Shecky Greene. His gimmick of breaking into scenes of horror movies, all while mumbling brilliant stream of consciousness commentary was groundbreaking entertainment for 1957. At the height of his fame, Zacherley received a thousand fan letters a week and his personal appearances often erupted in riots. More than just a lowbrow Lugosi, Zacherley was also a Top 10 recording artist, a late night freeform FM disc jockey, and a sought-after emcee for gigs that often were bettered by his macabre touch.

John Karsten Zacherle was born September 26, 1918 to a strict couple of Presbyterians in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Afraid of the dark as a child, Zacherley was forbidden by his mother to see any horror movies at the local theater for fear they would warp his brain. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and rose to the rank of major during WWII, where he saw action in Europe and North Africa. Returning home, he helped his father maintain tombstones in a local cemetery and soon joined an acting company called The Stagecrafters. He snagged a few radio announcing jobs and posed in a pharmaceutical ad as a husband chasing his wife with a hatchet in the "before" photo and as a kind and loving spouse in the "after" shot.

Zacherley's break came in 1953 as the ominous undertaker, Grimy James, in the live soap opera western Action in the Afternoon on Philadelphia's WCAU. Zacherley's ghoulish demeanor wasn't lost on producer Ed White when he was looking for a way to package 52 Universal horror movies he thought were too crummy to broadcast on their own.

On October 7, 1957 at 11:15 pm, The Million Dollar Movie Presents Shock Theater debuted on WCAU. Zach plastered down his hair, shoveled on sunken cheek makeup, and now going by the name of Roland (pronounced RO-land) meandered through a creepy dungeon set riffing on the cheap props. He'd pause occasionally to fix himself a "Dracula Fizz," which he would inject himself with via a comically oversized hypodermic needle. The highlight of Shock Theater was when he'd insert himself into the cutaway shots and crowd scenes of these creaky horror movies. As he later recounted, "It was all live and a hell of a lot of fun. We'd impose ourselves into the films and just goof off a lot. Then the bean-counter came in, introduced tape machines and it took the live spontaneity out of it."

Zacherley's fans were rabid. They formed fan clubs and inundated the WCAU mailroom with nooses, skulls and pickled hearts. American Bandstand host Dick Clark dubbed Roland "The Cool Ghoul" and soon Zacherley (under the name of "John Zacherle") blasted into the Top Ten in 1958 with the Cameo Records novelty single "Dinner with Drac."

The ratings tripled when Zacherley moved to WABC-TV in New York City in 1958. The studio added a "y" to his name, rebranded the show Zacherley at Large, and the cauliflower brain surgeries and ghastly puns staggered on. Zacherley's gags got more elaborate. He set off rockets in the studio, dug a hole (and then fell in) to the center of the earth, and got caught up in his own mummy-wrapping machine, all while cracking wise for the benefit of the camera crew and the rapt audience at home. Laughing at his own jokes was part of the schtick, and Zach would cackle "Ha! Ha! Ha!" at the end of many quips, whether they landed or crashed.

His sidekicks were not for the faint-hearted. A pet amoeba—a large lump of Jell-O wrapped in cheesecloth, was pulled around by a string. Her name was Thelma and she allegedly cheated at checkers. His Shock Theater wife, Isobel (sometimes referred to as "My Dear") was a hand that crawled around the opening of a moaning coffin. Hanging from a potato sack on the wall was the ever-trusty companion Gasport, who groaned and twitched in response to Zacherley's lousy jokes.



Next up was WOR-TV in 1960 where Zach announced he was running for president (his platform can be found on the Spook Along with Zacherley LP). Blessed with unearthly baritone pipes, Zacherley frequently sang on the show and once composed and performed an opera in celebration of Transylvania's admission to the union as the 51st state. Over the next couple of years, he haunted the studios of WPIX-TV, where his hosting duties included the holy trifecta of TV kiddie programs: Chiller Theatre, The Mighty Hercules Cartoon Show, and The Three Stooges Show.

A jump across the river in 1965 landed Zach a hosting job on an afternoon teenage dance show out of Newark, NJ called Disc-O-Teen. The newly knighted "Groovy Ghoul" brought along Thelma and Gasport to mingle with the awkward teens, and the show was a requisite stop for touring rock acts like The Box Tops and The Doors. His "Transylvanian Bandstand" years led to a newfound appreciation of rock & roll, which would serve him well in his next show biz incarnation.

Ditching the Dracula drag (along with Thelma and Gasport), Zacherley DJ'ed the morning shift and later hosted a popular late night spot on WNEW-FM. In the early days of commercial FM rock radio, DJs were allowed to select their own music and Zach was an inventive freeform pioneer. In 1977 he moved down the dial to WPLJ-FM where he embraced punk rock and eschewed disco as "Drekula." (That didn't stop him from recording a disco version of "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha- Haaa!") He joined WXRK-FM in 1992, but with the station's format switch from classic to alternative rock, the jig was up.

The cadaverous Cool Ghoul spent his final 20 years amongst the mortals, happy to once again don his moth-eaten frock coat and reconnect with Thelma and Gasport. He lectured on the college circuit, popped up as a TV weatherman in the cult splatter classic Frankenhooker, and commandeered the airwaves every Halloween on oldies outlet WCBS-FM. Dispensing with the aging makeup (he grew into the role), Zacherley sought repose at Chiller Theatre and other fan conventions where generations of grateful grown-up kids expressed their Igor-like allegiance to the caustic creature of the night. A lifelong bachelor, he lived for decades in a modest one-bedroom apartment crammed with fan art on Manhattan's Upper West Side. A true mensch, Zacherley relished his role as an elder spooksman and dispensed advice for those that might seek a career in the goose-pimple and spine-tingling racket.

Zacherley died of natural causes in 2016 at age 98 in New York City. Eerily pragmatic to the end, in one of his final interviews he intoned, "Someday we'll all be dead and then we'll finally have something in common. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Goodnight, Zacherley, whatever you are.

Dave Abramson (a.k.a Dave the Spazz, host of Music to Spazz By on WFMU radio)

Drew Friedman's portrait of Zacherley is based on a black & white image he created in the mid-1980's. Filmfax magazine commissioned a new color version for the cover of their fall 2018 issue to commemorate Zacherley's centennial. Zach almost lived long enough (98) to attend his own celebration.
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Only twenty-five (25) prints of ZACHERLEY were produced for this edition. Each print is signed in the lower right, hand-titled in the center, and numbered in the lower left (all beneath the image). We are now offering numbers 1/25 thru 5/25, unframed, for $150 each (plus shipping & handling). Prices will increase for subsequent prints as the edition sells down.

The image area is approximately 18" high x 14" wide on an untrimmed 22" x 17" sheet. Paper, ink, and production specifications, as well as shipping details, are available on our PRINT SPECS page.