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RETROSPECTIVE: Horror Host #5: JOIN THE HIGHER ORDER WITH MORGUS THE MAGNIFICENT! (NEW ORLEANS, 1959-1962, 1965-1971, 1987-2005)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019 | Retrospective

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.

And #5 is Sidney Noel Rideau in character as DR. MORGUS aka Morgus The Magnificent! I don’t have a lot of info on Sidney Noel and how he started as Morgus – most probably (given the name of the show) a local station in the New Orleans area bought the SHOCK package of Universal horror films and needed a host to show them. Dr. Morgus presided over the HOUSE OF SHOCK on WWL-TV, Channel 4 in New Orleans, Louisiana starting in 1959. For a short time he moved to Detroit (roughly 1964-1965), then returned to the Big Easy, hosting MORGUS PRESENTS on-and-off until the present day:

As might be expected, Morgus was extremely popular in New Orleans (and well-remembered in Detroit, where he sometimes hosted the daily weather report) – appeared at Pontchartrain Beach amusement park and local events in the early 1960s, had a number of songs recorded about him. One was by “Mac” Rebennack (before he himself became more well-known as Dr. John) and the other with The Daringers (in which a beatnik is bitten by a werewolf) and was the first horror host to have a full (if local and independent) movie made about his character, 1962’s THE WACKY WORLD OF DR. MORGUS (I believe this feat wouldn’t be repeated until ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK in 1988).

Morgus also appeared at Mardi Gras (natch)

 

“(Morgus) is the quintessential “mad scientist”

Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus – to give him his full name – comes from a family of gifted scientists (his ancestor, Morgus the First, was the architect of the first pyramid in Egypt). He mastered calculus at five years of age and is reported to have an I.Q. “in the 300s”. He is the quintessential “mad scientist” – has discovered the “speed of dark” and “invented the internet.” Morgus is also Earth’s representative in the “Higher Order,” a super-scientific secret society dedicated to helping the development of intelligence throughout the universe (he will invariably make the two-handed triangle symbol and peer through it with one eye when mentioning the group) – and M.A.M.I. (aka the Momus Alexander Morgus Institute, pronounced “Mammy”) is an (unintentionally) non-profit organization for scientific advancement that he founded. His laboratory is located in an upstairs garret over the Old City Ice House, with a fire escape exit into Pirate’s Alley in the old French Quarter. He’s assisted in his experiments by hulking, executioner-masked factotum Chopsley (a former experiment gone very wrong) and E.R.I.C. (a talking skull hooked to a computer). Dr. Morgus needs all the help he can get because, invariably, his experiments do not work out as he intended… (“Chopsley, you idiot!”).

I actually saw one random episode of MORGUS PRESENTS in the mid-1980s on a Saturday afternoon. In retrospect, this turned out to have been an attempt to syndicate the show around the U.S. (IIRC I saw it on a station broadcasting out of Baltimore). I specifically remember a particularly well done gag with Chopsley (Morgus basically emptied out his head from behind – causing the hood to collapse). On catching up with the character, two things struck me – one was how long Morgus had been on the air, and the other came from watching various clips from his show (more on which in a moment)…

Morgus (Sid Noel)

Morgus the Magnificent is another “Clown” style horror host – in all the clips I’ve seen, I don’t remember him *ever* mentioning the movie he’s showing at all, let alone taking the time to rag on it. And his basic shtick is exactly that – a shtick, repeated in endless variations – Morgus (in his charming and good-natured hubris) plans a grand scientific experiment which will finally prove his genius to the world (and make him some coin on the side). But he inevitably fails, sometimes in spectacular and humiliating fashion. Repeat for 30 years – and that’s a hell of a career! The thing is that while Morgus is self-assured and somewhat egotistical (if not exactly arrogant), you still feel for him. And a lot of that affection for the good Doctor has to do with Sid Noel’s amazing charisma and solid lock on the character – Morgus is always chuckling expectantly while sharing this week’s experiment with *you* – because *you* were smart enough to sit down and watch him (thus, you must be on his side and as smart as he is). And so you both fail together, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. Repeat for 30 years.

Morgus’ look is also classic “mad scientist” – a stained lab coat, instruments and computers, stethoscope, etc. Let us be kind and say that Dr. Morgus was not as gifted by the Gods in his personal looks as he was in intellect – he has vaguely rat-like, weasely features (bad teeth), random tufts of hair on his face (I have a feeling that very early on there may have been intimations of a werewolf character buried in his conception), an unkempt mop of hair and crazy eyes. Noel, it should be mentioned, has an amazing flair for comedic body language (this is what really struck me watching the clips): he commands the screen and holds your attention. I especially like the classic Morgus pose he takes when talking to the viewer – body hunched and bent forward at the waist, arm stiffly extended and planted on his hip, looking both cocky and cock-eyed, wise and deranged. His set (a penthouse laboratory over the Old City Ice House, with windows showing the skyline of New Orleans) is also a smart inversion of the classic horror host “dungeon” set, and a nice way of connecting the audience with the character by connecting the character to the city.

So here’s to Sid Noel, Dr. Morgus – the Big Easy’s resident horror host!

Shawn Garrett
Shawn M. Garrett is the co-editor of PSEUDOPOD, the premiere horror fiction podcast, and is either the dumbest smart man or the smartest dumb man you ever met. Thanks to a youth spent in the company of Richard Matheson, Vincent Price, Carl Kolchak & Jupiter Jones, he has pursued a life-long interest in the thrilling, the horrific and the mysterious – be it in print, film, art or audio. He has worked as a sewerage groundskeeper, audio transcription editor, pornography enabler, insurance letter writer – he was once paid by Marvel Comics to pastiche the voice of Stan Lee in promotional materials and he spends his days converting old pulp fiction into digital form for minimal pay. He now lives near the ocean in a small metal box and he hopes that becoming a Yuggothian brain-in-a-jar is a viable future, as there is NO WAY he will ever read all the books he has on his lists, or listen to all the music he wants to hear. Everything that he is he owes to his late sister Susan, a shining star in the pre-internet world of fan-fiction, who left this world unexpectedly in 2010. He spends an inordinate amount of time reading, writing and watching movies.