Long before Svengoolie or Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark ever graced the airwaves, a Pennsylvania-born man named John Zacherle slicked his hair down, donned an undertaker’s black coat, and applied cadaverous makeup to his gaunt face to host horror movies on local television in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. He adopted a number of on-air aliases during those years, including “Roland,” but is best known today as Zacherley (a slight variation on his own surname) or the Cool Ghoul, a title reportedly bestowed upon him by Dick Clark. With his macabre humor and hammy theatricality, Zacherle largely set the standard for generations of TV horror hosts, appearing on such landmark programs as Shock Theater and Chiller Theatre. His 1958 novelty hit, “Dinner With Drac,” was a then-revolutionary combination of horror imagery and rock music. Even Frank Zappa did his own knockoff of it. Now 94 and still living in Manhattan in a rent-controlled apartment, John Zacherle is the subject of an affectionate New York Times profile by Corey Kilgannon entitled “Once A Ghoul, Always A Ghoul.”
Now happily retired, apart from the occasional appearance at a horror convention or two, Zacherle is largely content these days to live amid his memorabilia and souvenirs from his ghoulish past. “Let’s face it,” he tells Kilgannon. “I’m nostalgia.” He is happy to recount his show business escapades, including his stint hosting Disc-O-Teen, an appropriately bizarre parody of an American Bandstand-type dance show for teenagers. That particular gig put him in contact with several honest to goodness rock stars, including The Doors’ Jim Morrison, who was left utterly bewildered by his encounter with the madcap Zacherle. But the Cool Ghoul’s life is not one endless episode of The Addams Family. According to Kilgannon’s article, a big part of Zacherle’s daily routine is watching Judge Judy. Even pioneering horror hosts can’t resist the lure of syndicated courtroom shows, it seems.