Hawthorne Racecourse (10/15/11)
Contact: Ron Uchman
Svengoolie comes to Hawthorne
Actually, he wasn’t scary at all. It turns out that Svengoolie (Rich Koz) is a really nice guy. He was kind enough to give me a call Tuesday, despite a demanding schedule of live appearances and a full slate of television shows.
Svengoolie, in full regalia, will be a Hawthorne Race Course Sunday, October 16. He’ll be sharing top billing with ostriches and camels and horses, oh my, but he is the true star.
The character started off way back in 1970 with Jerry G. Bishop as the original Svengoolie on the Screaming Yellow Theater on WFLD. That series aired for about three years. A young Rich Koz was one of the writers in the later stages of that show.
In 1979, Koz had the starring roll in a series on WFLD called the “Son of Svengoolie.” That version of the show only lasted until 1986. But, they couldn’t keep a good idea, and a good guy, down.
Since New Year’s Eve, 1994 Rich Koz has been back on the air, this time on WCIU, and has been known as Svengoolie.
The program is filled with corny jokes, hilarious gags, references to Berwyn and flying rubber chickens. Koz holds it all together. It’s almost like watching an old vaudeville show, and it’s certainly entertaining for the whole family.
“The references to Berwyn go all the way back to Jerry G Bishop. He started Svengoolie about the same time that Rowan and Martin and Johnny Carson used to joke about “beautiful downtown Burbank” and he wanted a local equivalent to that so he could make jokes about a small town. When he found out that Berwyn had a yearly parade celebrating mushrooms, he figured that would work. I just kept up the tradition.
“Actually, we’re on the air three times on Saturdays,” Rich told me. “We’re on WCIU at 11:00 am, the U Too channel at 3:00 pm, and MeTV at 9:00 pm. MeTV is seen all over the country. The show we run on Saturday night on MeTV reruns the following Saturday on WCIU. The show on the U Channel is usually an older, vintage show that we plug in there. So, actually, every Saturday we show three different movies.
“We started on MeTV in May of this year. Now we’re seen in about 60 percent of the country and there are still stations signing on.
“Shows like this have become more and more rare. There are fewer and fewer of these horror-movie hosts in any broadcast stations across the country. So, that’s why it's pretty cool that we’re seen across the country now.
“I’ve always been a fan of horror movies. I remember when I was young and everybody was asleep, I would often sneak downstairs, turn on the TV, keeping the sound low so I wouldn’t wake anybody. I like all kinds of horror movies, from the original Dracula and Frankenstein to the original Nightmare on Elm Street and the original Halloween. I can still get scared at movies. I remember one scene in a movie called Blackula. Detectives were in a morgue and all of a sudden a body sits up and starts shrieking. Oh my God. I think that would scare anybody. That’s what’s so cool about movies like that. They could be less than memorable but all of a sudden you get that one shock and it’s something you remember for the rest of your life.
“I’m really looking forward to Sunday. I’ve never been to a racetrack, even though I’m from the Chicago area, originally from Morton Grove. My dad always enjoyed going to the tracks but I never really had the opportunity. This should be a lot of fun.
“I really want people to know how grateful I am for their support. I’ve been doing this for so long and shows like this don’t often last. It’s because it means something to the viewers, their support is what allowed this, going national, to happen.
Hawthorne Race Course opens for live racing on Saturday, October 1 and races live through Saturday December 31. Live racing will be conducted five days a week, racing Wednesday-Sunday. Live racing will also take place on Monday, December 26. First post daily is 1:35 pm. On Fridays through November 25, first post will be 3:00 pm. Hawthorne Race Course is located in Stickney IL at 3501 S. Laramie Ave. For information on live racing or groups at Hawthorne Race Course, contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700 or visit Hawthorne online at www.Hawthorneracecourse.com.