American horror host and media personality (1918-2016). Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was not allowed to watch horror movies as a child. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English literature, Zacherle enlisted in the Army, where he fought in Europe and North Africa during World War II.

After the war (he'd eventually been promoted to the rank of major), Zacherle returned to Philly and began acting with a repertory theatre group called the Stagecrafters. He worked in various show business jobs, including announcing for a radio station, and he won an award at a local garden show for some of the flowers he'd grown.

His first television role was on a live, low-budget, locally-produced Western serial called "Action in the Afternoon." Zacherle played various bit parts and was chosen to play a small recurring role as the town undertaker. In 1957, not long after this, Universal Studios announced that they were going to release their classic horror films from the 1930s and '40s for television broadcast. This included over 70 films -- everything from "Frankenstein," "Dracula," and "The Wolf Man" to a horde of sequels to lower-budget B-movies and Lon Chaney, Jr.'s "Inner Sanctum" films. Someone from one of the local stations, WCAU, remembered Zacherle's undertaker performance and decided he'd be the perfect host for their late-night movie block.

Zacherle debuted as the host of WCAU's "Shock Theatre" in September of 1957 as Roland (pronounced Ro-LAND), a creepy, crypt-dwelling guy wearing a black undertaker's coat, with his hair parted in the middle. He had a ghoulish voice that sounded vaguely like a very happy and much loonier Boris Karloff. His wife, who was never actually seen, lived in a coffin and was referred to only as "My Dear." He had an assistant named Igor, and his son, Gasport, didn't do much but moan from his burlap bag on the wall.

"Shock Theatre" ended up being much more popular than anyone had expected. It was quickly moved from Monday and Tuesday nights to the weekend, when people had more time to watch TV late. About 800 fan clubs for Roland sprang up all over the city, and Zacherle was even featured in an article in the Saturday Evening Post. When a station open house was announced that would let fans meet Roland, station execs expected up to 2,000 people; fourteen thousand showed up, snarling traffic all over the city and causing some minor damage to the TV station.

Part of what made Zacherle's show so popular was the strong sense of humor and fun that the star and the crew injected into the broadcast. For instance, during a broadcast of "The Black Cat" (starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi), there was a scene during a Black Mass when the camera panned through some closeups of the Satanic worshippers. The film briefly cut to a studio shot of Zacherle, dressed as one of the cultists and glaring dolefully at the camera as if he were actually in the movie. Something like this was done at least once during every movie, and many viewers tuned in just to see where Roland would turn up this time.

Zacherle left Philadelphia after about a year for the greener pastures of New York City, where he signed on at WABC in Manhattan. He could no longer use the name "Roland," so he was billed as "Zacherley" instead. Gasport made the transition intact, but "My Dear" became "Isabel." The studio he worked out of was smaller, but appropriately decorated like a combination of a crypt and a mad scientist's lab. He also had access to a live band during the broadcasts. During this time, Zacherle's popularity enjoyed a major surge as he appeared on talk shows with Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dave Garraway, Pat Boone, and others.

Zacherle bounced from WABC to WOR across town after less than a year. (He appeared on his WABC program without makeup to announce the move to his fans.) His set at WOR was pretty bare and cheap -- nothing too overwrought or morbid -- but Zacherle's hosting duties had never required a spooky backdrop to set the mood, and he was able to make his shows funny with a minimum of props. Still, WOR wasn't committed to their late-night movies, and the station soon stopped producing new broadcasts. Still, Zacherle merchandise was all the rage, including maps, books, posters, a "Zacherley for President" packet, and novelty records. He even filled in for Dick Clark (who reportedly gave Zacherle his long-standing "Cool Ghoul" nickname) on some episodes of "American Bandstand" in the early '60s. He got picked up hosting cartoons and movies on WPIX in New York.

By 1965, Zacherle had moved on to UHF broadcasting, hosting an "American Bandstand" ripoff called "Zacherley's Disco Teen" on WNJU in Newark. He spent the late-'60s and 1970s working in radio and making personal appearances.

Nostalgia for retro horror helped revive Zacherle's career in the 1980s. "Fangoria" magazine started a campaign to get him back on TV, and he was soon chosen to host some films back on WOR. He also appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra for their Halloween concert, made a couple of unsuccessful TV pilots, and made a short guest appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in 1982. He also enjoyed regular Halloween specials on various television and radio stations during the 1980s and '90s.

Zacherle had a couple of small roles in Frank Hennenlotter movies -- he was the voice of Aylmer, the alien, in 1988's "Brain Damage," and he played a weatherman in 1990's "Frankenhooker." He's a frequent guest at horror conventions, and he's recorded a number of ghoulish novelty songs, including "Dinner with Drac," "Eighty Two Tombstones," and "Happy Halloween." He even recorded a couple of songs for "Halloween Hootenanny," a CD of monster-themed surfpunk put together by the retro-horror-loving Rob Zombie in the late 1990s.

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