The horror host has had a long and storied history in radio, comic books and local television. I thought I might compose a series of essays about this latter manifestation, examining certain key figures as a framework with which I could muse on some of my thoughts regarding this fascinating relic of live television, a vaudevillian mash-up of the macabre and the humorous (two topics which entertain me greatly), ephemeral (and yet remembered with profound love by all who experienced it as children) and one of the first DIY type entertainment styles brought to TV.
This month’s picture is Karen Scioli in character as Stella, that Man-Eater from Manayunk and the Daughter of Desire. Ms. Scioli was an actress born in South Philadelphia, a stand-up comic and cabaret performer before creating Stella for an open casting call. SATURDAY NIGHT DEAD started showing on September 29, 1984 on KYW-TV (Channel 3) out of Philly, in the 1 A.M. slot immediately following SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (‘natch). SND must have been something of a local hit, as it lasted 6 years and featured many local celebrities as guests, even welcoming John Zacherle back onto the local Philadelphia airwaves, in character as Roland.
“Stella was born in North Libido, New Jersey, the only child of traveling hecklers…and was raised by pigeons“
Stella herself was a very charming character, a ditzy floozy whose outfit consisted of push-up bra, slinky black dress, feather boa, false eyelashes and mole. While considering herself a diva, the character always was a bit self-deprecating, with many bawdy quips about her nocturnal habits (her “haunted” cleavage was insured by “Floyds of Camden”). Scioli had a Betty Boop delivery style and a patented simpering snigger she could use to underline even the corniest gag for a laugh (not surprisingly, the character was a big hit among drag queens). The show was very vaudevillian, with stock characters coming on to trade set-’em-up / knock-’em-down jokes in funny, shticky situations and the show thrived on borscht belt humor (for example, according to her biography “Stella was born in North Libido, New Jersey, a small village outside of Atlantic City. She is the only child of traveling hecklers. Her parents dropped her in a plastic basket at Fifth and Shunk in front of Guido’s Hair Weaving and Plumbing Supplies, but for all intents and purposes she was raised by a flock of pigeons” You can almost hear the rimshots…)
Stella herself was not a monster character but a “vamp” (in the 1920’s sense) whose biography states she’s been reincarnated 37 times – but that makes her lucky – not a monster. She lived in a haunted condominium in Manayunk (the set a wonderful example of classic Horror Host decor – cheap, flimsy cardboard done up in neon greens, set hangings and black space) from which she showed movies. The projectionist was an unseen giant monster named Iggy – think White Fang from Soupy Sales, except with scaly green hands – and she was served by a butler named Hives named (Bob Billbrough) who was a great comic foil even though you couldn’t understand a word of his silly, gibbering speech. Various pieces if furniture talked as well (mewled, in the case of “Bed”) and she had occasional visits from her nerdy Cousin Mel and mad scientist Dr. Schuylkill (both played by Glenn Davish). Stella can probably best seen as THE CLOWN horror host archetype with a bit of THE SARDONIC CREEP thrown in (because she would mock the movies). The opening to the show, which starts with Stella on South Street, is a good indication of the very local feel the show had and her opening music (Duke Ellington Orchestra’s recording of “The Mooche”) was also very memorable.
The sexy (if sometimes ghoulish) Horror Hostess has been a long tradition (see Vampira & Elvira) and Stella is part of the distaff army of alluring hostesses (deliberately “hideous” female horror hostesses also exist, but were never as popular), joining the likes of Tarantula Ghoul, Moona Lisa, Cosmina, Crematia Mortem, Darcinia the Duchess of Darkness, Misty Brew, Penny Dreadful…and on and on. After the show was cancelled, Ms. Scioli appeared in the film POSTCARDS FROM PARADISE PARK (2000), can also be seen in the excellent Horror Host documentary AMERICAN SCARY, and if you’d like to see what she’s currently involved with, check out the ENCORE SENIOR THEATRE COMPANY on Facebook. Long may her good humor reign!