“What am I doing here? I can’t believe they’re giving me carte blanche to walk around and take pictures as though I actually belong in this studio. Maybe this is the week I’ll be thrown out. It has to happen at some point!” These were some of the thoughts that ran through my 20-year-old brain as another installment of Zacherley’s Disc-O-Teen was about to begin. As it turned out I needn’t have given my tenure there a second thought, due to the generosity and kindness of producer Barry Landers and executive producer John Zacherle. I would be there for good; as long as I wanted to come, allowed access to a television show which would become the turning point in my life; a permanent backstage pass for the dancing show hosted by my very favorite celebrity, the “Cool Ghoul” - Zacherley.
What I didn’t know and had absolutely no way of knowing was that 40 years in the future I would be sitting down to write my “memoirs” of this mid-sixties experience as the basis for the first in-depth book dedicated to this legendary personality, this icon of his time, a man who, unbeknownst to himself, influenced a generation of loyal fans and started me on a 33-year career in the world of television. My book, Good Night, Whatever You Are! started out as a casual conversation with two female Zach fans at Kevin Clement’s Chiller Theatre expo about eight years ago. When they asked how I got to know Zach and became one of his close friends, I told them it had all started with a visit to the Disc-O-Teen program back in August, 1965 when my brother’s rock band was competing in the show’s “battle of the bands” contest. The following autumn I returned to the Channel 47 studios in Newark, New Jersey about a half-dozen times, bringing along a different friend with every visit, promising each one an introduction to the famous horror host. Eventually I ran out of interested people and continued the trek to Newark alone, substituting a camera for a friend, a piece of hardware that provided me an opportunity to snap some Zacherley pictures and also serve as a security blanket. The ritual of my Friday night visits there (enhanced by a crush I developed on one of the dancers - the studio was loaded with them) became the highlight of my existence for over two years! The aforementioned fans told me I should write a book about the show, and while I had considered doing that over the years, it didn’t seem to me that my adventures at Disc-O-Teen would be enough to justify an entire book. It later occurred to me that the larger story of one Zacherley fan’s passage from fandom to friendship just might.
Since there had been interest expressed in a book devoted to Disc-O-Teen and I had access to the memories of people who had frequented the show and even people who worked on it, I decided to make Zach’s teenage dance show the focal point of my “journey.” I should inform potential readers that the “bloodline” of the book (pun intended) runs straight through the Disc-O-Teen years, because without John Zacherle’s experiences as host, it’s much less likely that he would have evolved from hip horror film curator to even hipper radio disc jockey. Zach had gotten his foot in the door toward becoming ambassador to a rock ’n’ roll generation with his hit record “Dinner with Drac” in 1958, served his apprenticeship in the mid-sixties with Disc-O-Teen, where he became familiar with pop music, and graduated to the rock big leagues as a full-fledged Deejay at WNEW-FM in 1968.
The next step was to sit down and make a list of all the people I would be able to contact for their recollections of the show, some of them part of the “cast” of regulars who had danced there every day. The hardest job was finding Barry Landers, who rumor had it had passed away (for a second time, the first “report” flying in 1991, shortly before the Disc-O-Teen reunion), but he surfaced out in Arizona, full of life and very brisk for a man who had twice cheated the grim reaper. Barry gave me many entertaining and informative stories about the formation and daily workings of the show, including vivid recollections of dealing with a spaced-out and uncooperative Jim Morrison when the Doors made an appearance. But I saved the best for last, as I was really looking forward to interviewing Zach himself, and not only did I collect hours of his memories spanning his entire career, but he made himself available to me at any hour by my simply placing a phone call. It would be, “H-m-m-m- I forgot - what was the name of your producer on Shock Theater? ” “Oh, Ellis Sard!” “Okay, thanks, Zach!” Easy. I felt very privileged.
After the reunion Zach and I remained in constant touch. I had made a few nervous phone calls to him over the years, each lasting about five minutes, during which we’d compare notes about each other’s lives, but from 1991 on a real friendship began to develop. This eventually led to the release of The Zacherley Archives in 1998 after which Zach became a frequent visitor to my home in New Jersey. From there we took many rides in the country to his favorite place on the planet, Harriman State Park, and it was during these trips that the framework for a book started to take shape in my mind. I had recently read a book about Groucho Marx called Raised Eyebrows by Steve Stoliar, a college student who had gotten himself a job working in Groucho’s house during the last years of the latter’s life, and it had the effect of making me feel that I was right there in the house with him. I started thinking (and hoping) that I might be able to do something to that effect with a book on John Zacherle. The story of myself as a sort of “everyfan”, discovering Zach on TV hosting Shock Theater the way every Monster Kid had, being lucky enough to meet him eight years later at his dancing show, hanging out there and almost “interning” for two years, then spending time with The Man himself so many years later, might be something any Zacherley fan could relate to. I have been extremely fortunate to enjoy his friendship and trust over the last fifteen years.
I was also lucky enough to have the help of my talented friends Tom Weaver and Mike and John Brunas, who, despite being very busy working on a revised version of their classic tome Universal Horrors, provided many ideas and factoids which found their way into Good Night, Whatever You Are! Tom, always at work tracking down people from the Golden Age of Hollywood for a new book, conducting interviews, recording DVD lecture tracks and writing articles for every genre magazine in existence, even found the time to do proof reading and make suggestions for me. He taught me some things about writing that I’ll carry with me forever. My friend Mike Gilks, writer/producer of the new Zacherley CD Interment for Two, and no stranger to the columns of Scary Monsters, was indispensable to my narrative by providing me with a valuable introductory story.
There are also important contributions by friend Paul (Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots) Scrabo, USA Today’s David Colton and some surprise celebrities.
Probably my luckiest break was gaining the attention of Bob Madison of Dinoship Publishing , because with Dinoship I can be assured of a top-rate presentation and be confident that the book will also have a great cover! My remaining hope, and not a small one, is that everyone enjoys the book!