TV and radio personality John Zacherle, known to generations as horror-movie host Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul, died Thursday at age 98, his official website announced.
“He was Halloween incarnate but he was really from the same school of so-called sick comedy as Lenny Bruce and Vampira,” recalled horror maven Tim Lucas, editor of the long-running genre-movie magazine Video Watchdog. “He just did his stand-up act in the laboratory of live television.”
“Zacherley was the granddaddy of TV horror hosts,” said Tony Timpone, editor emeritus of Fangoria. “A true terror trailblazer. His tongue-in-cheek delivery was unique and hilarious. I also loved his DJ work on WCBS-FM for the annual Halloween broadcasts. He had such a warm, yet macabre voice.”
As Zacherley, he hosted the late-night “Shock Theater” on WABC/7 from Sept. 22, 1958, to June 20, 1959, transferring to WOR/9 that Oct. 30, where he hosted “Zacherley at 12” through at least Dec. 9, 1960. He moved to WPIX/11 in 1963, where he hosted afternoon cartoons before taking over the extant “Chiller Theatre” the following year. Staying in character, he hosted the teen dance show “Disc-O-Teen” on WNJU/47 from 1965 to 1967.
Quickly segueing to radio as himself, Zacherle hosted a morning show and later the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. slot on WNEW-FM, where he was a pioneering progressive-rock DJ. Beginning in 1970, he spent a decade at the prog-rock station WPLJ-FM, all the while making appearances in person and on TV and radio as Zacherley. He continued playing that iconic role through at least last year, and was a host and longstanding personality at New Jersey’s Chiller Theatre Expo conventions.
Zacherle was born Sept. 27, 1918, in Philadelphia, and raised in the Germantown neighborhood. He received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania, then enlisted in the Army and served as a quartermaster in Europe and North Africa during World War II, reaching the rank of major, according to his official biography.
After the war, he joined the Philadelphia repertory-theater company Stagecrafters, and entered television as a regular player on the local Western series “Action in the Afternoon” on WCAU -- eventually playing an undertaker in a long black coat that was reused, three years later, when he debuted as horror host Roland (pronounced “ro-LAND”) on the channel “Shock Theater” on October 7, 1957. He adopted the persona of Zacherley -- the “y” was added to make pronunciation easier -- when he moved to New York for WABC’s “Shock Theatre.”
He was given the sobriquet “the Cool Ghoul” by producer Dick Clark after Zacherle, as Roland, recorded the novelty record “Dinner with Drac” and began making appearances on “American Bandstand.” He went on to release records including the 1960 album “Spook Along With Zacherley,” which included the song “Zacherley for President” -- a tie-in to his promotional-stunt mock presidential campaign. Zacherley collectible merchandise throughout the years included the paperback anthologies “ Zacherley’s Midnight Snacks” and “Zacherley’s Vulture Stew,” featuring his introductions to short stories.
Zacherle lived for more than 50 years in a souvenir-filled, rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment on W. 96th Street in Manhattan. Never married, he outlived four siblings. Survivors include his nieces Diane Hanson, Linda Marston and Bonnie Zacherle, creator of the My Little Pony toy line, said The Hollywood Reporter.