Dr. Paul Bearer: The Early Years
Most fans of the late Dick Bennick are aware that the legendary Dr. Paul Bearer was not his first attempt at creating a horror host character (if this is news to you then please read The Lost Interview of Dr. Paul Bearer before continuing here). When Bennick was given the opportunity to take over the horror movie program for the Winston-Salem, North Carolina television station WGHP, it came with only one stipulation – the host character had to be named Count Shockula in reference to the program’s title, Shock Theater. Dick Bennick described his first creation as “….a sort of living skeleton proposition. It had a full tie and tails, opera cape and white gloves. For the makeup I wore a white skullcap and had teeth made up at a dental supply house. The teeth stuck out of my mouth like a skeleton and I wore basic black and white makeup”. Fortunately for Dr. Paul Bearer fans, Count Shockula proved to be unpopular and was quickly killed off in a promotion that served as the introduction for Dick Bennick’s second and final horror host character.
While Count Shockula only lasted around a year and very little material on him is known to exist, he was immortalized for horror fans across the country in the July 1967 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Issue number 45 of this Warren publication featured a four page spread on an early promotion Dick Bennick created called the “Mess America” contest. This ghoulish pageant was held in seven cities and sponsored by WGHP television and North Carolina Theaters, Inc. Part of the promotion included a “shock-tail party” at the Barn Dinner Theater in Greensboro for members of the press and local theater managers. This unusual get together was catered by a cadre of creeps dressed as all manner of monsters. Two weeks after the party, voluptuous vamp Gail Frazier was declared the winner and presented with a “Terror Trophy” by the Count himself!
I spent years trying to locate this issue of Famous Monsters ever since Dick Bennick mentioned it to me during the lost interview. He had a complete collection of every issue of the magazine but even he could not remember what issue this article had appeared in. It was actually this very coverage that put Bennick in touch with the publishers and helped him complete his collection. The cover of this issue makes no mention of this feature being inside and I could never find any other references to it. Fortunately I received a little help from the Frankenstein monster and finally figured out which issue it was in!
In 1967, John Henry Scott (a.k.a. entertainer Scotty DuWizard) was just Johnny Gant. His love of magic and monsters made him fast friends with Dick Bennick and he appeared at the “Mess America” press party dressed as the Frankenstein monster. When John originally contacted me in February of this year he had this to say:
Wow Ed, I just stumbled across your article, the interview with and about my old friend Dick Bennick. I worked with him from the beginning, when he was Count Shockula. I portrayed most of the classic monsters at one time or another on his stage shows and an occasional appearance on his show at WGHP High Point. If you looked at the multi page article in Famous Monsters of Filmland about his Mess America pageant, I was the youthful, skinny Frankenstein’s monster…..seems like only yesterday that Bennick discovered me performing side show acts(walking on glass barefoot) at a local theater when I was 16 years old and took me to the local magic club. We were life long friends and I was shocked to hear of his passing. I drifted to New Orleans, became a S.A.G. actor and logged 22 speaking roles in film and TV series. Now at 64 years old I am still working as a wizard etc. When not doing a movie I travel the fair festival circuit, and do ghost stories on the haunted pub crawl in Wilmington NC. I love to remember those golden days.
Best of Luck,
John Henry Scott
John was kind enough to locate his weather beaten and coverless copy of that issue of Famous Monsters and fill me on the details. Now the coverage of that event and a rare glimpse at Count Shockula can be shared with Fanboys everywhere. Thanks John!