Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dr. Paul Bearer Is "Lurking for You!"

Dr. Paul Bearer (Dick Bennick)
hosted Shock Theatre.
My affection for classic horror films can be largely attributed to watching Shock Theatre on Saturday night from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, broadcast on WGHP-TV, Channel 8 in High Point, North Carolina. Shock Theatre  presented a wide variety of horror and science fiction movies. Its programming included Universal classics, Hammer shockers, obscure "B" films (Stranger on the Third Floor), and best-forgotten cheapies (Voodoo Woman starring Michael "Touch" Connors). This horror "late show" debuted in 1963 and ran on Friday nights for a few years. It then shifted to Saturday at 11:30 p.m. and stayed there until 1981.

For a seven-year period starting in 1966, Shock Theater had the added distinction of being hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer, a deep-voiced ghoul played by former radio disc jockey Dick Bennick. Amazingly, Dr. Paul Bearer's hosting duties spanned two TV stations over a 30-year period, making him television's longest-running horror movie host played by the same individual.

A contest at the Carolina Theatre
hosted by Count Shockula.
Dick Bennick started his broadcasting career in radio in 1949. I can vaguely remember him spinning records at WTOB, the only rock'n'roll station in Winston Salem, North Carolina, in the 1960s. In 1966, he took the job of hosting Shock Theatre and created a gruesome skeleton character known as Count Shockula. After a few months on the air, Bennick decided that Count Shockula wasn't working, so he convinced the station to sponsor a "how to kill Count Shockula" contest. Not surprisingly, the winning method was a stake through the heart--which was accomplished by a new character called Dr. Paul Bearer played by...Dick Bennick.

The new pun-making host (his favorite cereal was Lice Crispies) was a hit and Bennick was a fixture on Shock Theatre until 1971. When he moved to Cypress Gardens, Florida, he took the Dr. Paul Bearer character with him. While he worked at radio stations as a program manager and later sales manager, Bennick concurrently hosted horror movies on WTOG-TV, Channel 44, in St. Petersburg. His show, Creature Feature, debuted in 1973 and ran on Saturday afternoons until his death in 1995 at age 66.

Dr. Paul Bearer became immensely popular in "St. Creaturesburg" and often traveled to special events on the weekends in his black 1963 hearse. He would typically tape Creature Feature segments for 13 movies in a single day. At the height of his popularity, the Mayor of Tampa issued a proclamation designating October 30, 1993 as "Dr. Paul Bearer Day" in honor of the 20th anniversary of Creature Feature.

This profile of Dr. Paul Bearer kicks off our Classic TV Horror Host Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. For a list of all the blogathon entries, click here.

Newspaper ads courtesy of Carroll W. Hall at Piedmont Triad Nostalgia.

3 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this host post! Dr. Paul Bearer has a great gravelly voice that goes perfectly with his name. He must be the King of the Horror Hosts with his tenure spanning three decades. I love the use of sound effects on the creaky door, abundant use of shadows, and the plethora of puns. Great job, Rick!

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  2. What a great horror host, and what a voice! I love his name -- excellent. He sure had what looks to be a really fun career, so long-lasting, and so many kids must have loved him. I really enjoyed this, Rick, and the video!

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  3. When the mayor told Dr. Bearer "I hope you never let me down"...I can't believe Bearer resisted the urge to make a "Digger O'Dell" from The Life of Riley pun. ("Rest assured, Riley...it's going to happen...")

    Great essay on a personality who inarguably is the Horror Host king, at witnessed by his longevity. Good reading, Rick.

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