By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor
March 24, 2010
Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...
Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.
This weeka Chicago television legend who has entertained audiences for over 30 years as alter ego star and host of Svengoolie (Saturday nights at 9:00 PM on WCIU-TV)he also hosts the popular Stooge-A-Palooza collection of Three Stooges short films (Saturday nights at 7:00 PM on Me-TV)hes a Chicago TV icon who actually doesnt sleep in a coffinhere are 5 Questions withRICH KOZ!
BIO: Rich Koz cut his teeth in broadcasting at WMTH, a small low-powered non-commercial FM station operated by the students of Maine High School (now Maine East) in Park Ridge. Broadcasting at 88.5MHz since 1959, the school district owned station gave aspiring disc jockeys, writers, producers, and future station managers a chance to learn in a real environment.
Rich found his calling and later, while still a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, known for its extensive performing artsbroadcast facilities and curriculum, he sent comedy material to Jerry G. Bishop at WFLD-TV. Bishop, a popular WCFL radio personality had been doing voice-overs during the commercial breaks of "Screaming Yellow Theater." Bishop, impressed by Koz's work, hired him when the show advanced to short comedy sketches from just simple slides between breaks. In 1973, when Kaiser Broadcasting decided to use their own horror movie host "The Ghoul," Bishop and Koz moved to WMAQ Radio where Koz worked as writer, producer, and on air talent on Bishop's morning show.
Rich also had the chance to work with the great Dick Orkin, who created the well known "Chickenman" and "Tooth Fairy" radio serials. Koz co-wrote with Orkin 65 episodes of the serial "Chickenman Returns For The Last Time Again." In 1979, with Bishop's blessings, Koz returned to WFLD as "Son of Svengoolie" from 1979 to 1986. However, ownership changes would force Rich off the air again as Fox purchased the station and found the award winning local program beneath them. However, about three years later Koz would find himself back at WFLD, this time as himself and again hosting movies. Rich appeared as a pirate broadcaster breaking in on WFLD signal so he can do his stuff. The show was so well done that it prompted inquiries by the FCC. Koz won a Chicago Emmy award for Best Entertainment Series. In 1995, Koz came back on the air as part of the launch team for newly independent station WCIU-TV Channel 26. He became Svengoolie (after Bishop told him he could drop the "Son of" because he "was all grown up now") and resumed weekly horror movie shows, along with hosting the popular Stooge-A-Palooza show airing classic short films of The Three Stooges.
The name Rich Koz may not be as common to Chicagoans as Dave Garroway, Don McNeil, Ray Rayner, or Fahey Flynn, among many others, but it should be. Well respected by his peers in the industry and admired by his legion of fans, not just in Chicago but across the country, Rich Koz, like those pioneers of Chicago television, has continued the tradition offering quality and original programming from a local station.
Rich's hard work was acknowledged in June of 2004 when he was inducted into the ChicagoMidwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences prestigious Silver Circle.
1) CSNChicago.com: Rich, youve entertained millions of Chicago TV viewers over the past 30 years as your alter ego Svengoolie highlighted by your legendary comedy sketches, song parodies, along with numerous celebrity impersonations and jokes. Why do you think this character still continues to resonate with todays younger generation?
Koz: Its just another example of how misguided todays youth areno, actuallyhopefully, its because theyre finding what I do funny andor entertaining. They enjoy the jokes and parodies of stuff they recognize, like the old vaudeville-type shtick they may not have ever been exposed to, along with all the smart-aleck comments. Also, I think, for the same reason I liked locally-hosted shows when I was a kid, the fact that this show IS done right here in Chicago, and that they feel that Im communicating with them, one on one, like those classic personalities did and that they could indeed run into me on the street or at a local event. Its probably one of the few cases where they feel someone is doing that, since so few stations do this kind of programming. I also think they are attracted to the horror flicks, so thats icing on the cakeor coffin.
2) CSNChicago.com: Rank the top three worst of the worst B-movies ever to appear on Svengoolie and tell us briefly why each one is so horribly bad?
The Creeping Terror its so bad because the monster appears to be a combination of one of those Chinese parade dragons and a throw rug. Plus, the producers lost most of the soundtrack...which probably was a good thing.
Plan 9 from Outer Space yes, the Ed Wood classic highlighted by flying hubcaps, cardboard tombstones that jiggle, a faux Bela Lugosi who did the cape over the face thing to hide the fact that he really wasnt Bela at all, and Criswell acting as the whistleblower to the plot of Grave Robbers from Outer Space.
Creatures The World Forgot -- after seeing this, youll know why. I had high hopes for this one. A film about cavemen, but then, no dinosaurs, mastodons, etc. Just a guy in a cheap bear suit, no dialogue, and a lot of nudity we had to edit around. The only saving grace was then-supermodel Julie Ege as a hot cavewoman.
3) CSNChicago.com: As host of Stooge-A-Palooza, youre no doubt one of the top Three Stooges experts in the country. Since CSNChicago.com is a regional sports network website dedicated to the Chicago sports fan, enlighten us on two Three Stooges fronts if you dont mind: Are there any stories out there to your knowledge of Moe, Larry, Curly (cant forget about Shemp, Joe and Curly Joe of course) ever making any appearances in Chicago back in the day?...and which Three Stooges sports-themed episode is your favorite?
Koz: Oh, sure - Moe, Larry, and Curly appeared at the Chicago Theater! And before forming their own act, when Moe and Shemp were stooges (comedic underlings) to boss comic Ted Healy, they actually discovered Larry here in Chicago, appearing with the Haney Sisters at the Rainbow Gardens, and offered him a job right then! I just read about Moe and Shemp dining at Blackies (not Boston Blackies which has been in the news lately) and supposedly getting into food fights with the Marx Brothers! In the later years, when the shorts first hit TV and the boys became stars to a new generation, they appeared at a Hillside Theater (Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe De Rita). I occasionally get letters from people who met them there as kids! I know they were sports fans too - baseball, boxing, horse racing, etc. - but havent read anything about them attending events here. Of course, some people swear that Stooges show up at every Chicago city council meeting
My favorite sports-themed Stooge short just beating out Three Little Pigskins, their football short that featured a very young and very blonde Lucille Ball, has to be their second short Punch Drunks. That one starts out with the boys as separate characters who dont know each other, and fight manager Moe finds out that Curly becomes an unstoppable fighting machine when he just so happens to hear Larry play Pop Goes the Weasel on his violin. They team up, and we see Curly train and rise through the ranks until he has a title shot - but, just as the match starts, Larrys violin gets broken, and the rest of the short involves him trying to find SOMETHING that will play Pop Goes the weasel to give Curly enough steam to win the championship (they re-used the idea of something driving Curly crazy a few times, like in the wrestling short Grips, Grunts, and Groans where the scent of the perfume Wild Hyacinth starts Curlymania running wild!).
4) CSNChicago.com: Youve probably answered this question a thousand times, but please explain to CSNChicago.com readers the whole BERRR-WYNNNN! thing on Svengoolie and did the residents of Berwyn ever give you a hard time or demand that you stop poking fun at their town?
Koz: Well, theres a two-pronged reason. When the original Sven, my mentor, Jerry G. Bishop, started doing his Sven show, Rowan and Martins Laugh-In was just dying down, and they, along with Johnny Carson, made small-town jokes about beautiful downtown Burbank. Jerry liked that idea, and also was reminded of his days in Cleveland, where famous beatnik horror host Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson- the guy who later was the ABC announcer who always read the promos for the LOOOvvve Boat) would make fun of the Cleveland suburb of Parma in a similar way.
Jerry decided on Berwyn when he discovered it was, at the time, chock-full of used car dealerships and savings & loans and that it held a parade each fall in honor of mushrooms (a.k.a. the famed Houby Day festival). He thought it would be good fodder for the jokes, and so it was. I just picked up the torch. Honestly, almost anyone Ive ever ran into from Berwyn enjoy it. They realize its just jokes and enjoy the ribbing. They feel that it put them on the map. They have always been very kind and supportive. Theyre good, salt of the earth hardworking people, the kind of people I grew up with. To this day, you can say Berwyn almost anywhere, and SOMEBODY will respond - in our TV inflection - Berrr-Wynnn? Whenever radio guys have to read a spot that mentions Berwyn, nine out of ten times, theyll also read it that way. The only person who seemed upset by it was a former mayor and his cronies, who felt that my jokes didnt contribute to people thinking Berwyn was the hip and happening place they wanted the public to think it was. They just never got it, I guess.
5) CSNChicago.com: As you well know being native of our great city, Chicago is one of the greatest sports cities in the world. Do you ever get a chance to go and watch any of our teams in person? Also, what was your favorite all-time Chicago sports team growing up?
Koz: I do get the chance every so often to see games. Ive been to Bulls games, actually shot the puck at a Hawks game, have seen the UIC Flames play, and have been to many White Sox games. Im always amazed when I run into athletes and announcers and they know who I am! I was a White Sox fan as a kid and became a fan during their big World Series push in 1959 and the Go-Go Sox era. I got caught up in the excitement of them winning the pennant race and going on to a first game win in the series. When The U first went on the air, we had a special day at the park, and I was thrilled to meet Bill Melton - and Sven even got to meet Ozzie! My brother, a Cubs fan, gives me hell every time I mention Im a Sox fan in an interview, since he gets razzed by his pals. Sorry, Johnhes promised to get me to Cubs game this year! Hmmmfunny how they havent had me sing for the 7th Inning Stretch, but Jim Belushi has done it forty-seven times!
BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: You have solidified yourself as an icon in Chicago TV history. How much longer do you see yourself doing this before the coffin finally closes on Svengoolie for the very last time?
Koz: The whole reason Im still doing this is, other than the paycheck, goes back to when I wasnt doing it for a while. Just about every week, somebody would recognize me and ask when are you going to do it again? Today, people constantly tell me how much it means to them, and thank me for the years of laughsthat still blows me away. They tell me I watched you as a kid and now I watch you WITH my kids. Its so cool that its a family thing that brings generations together. I guess that, until I can actually afford to retire, and as long as people really enjoy it, and as long as Im healthy, and as long as management will allow it, Ill be opening that coffin liduh, if I ever DONT open it, would you check on me?
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