New coffin for movie host Svengoolie built in Elgin
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News November 4, 2012 8:54PM
Svengoolie unveiled the Svengoolie coffin Saturday during Nightmare on Chicago Street in downtown Elgin. | Photo courtesy of Dave Fuentes
Updated: November 9, 2012 3:11PM
ELGIN — When it’s time to replace a 40-plus-year-old coffin, which also happens to be a Chicago-area TV icon, who you gonna call?
That would be Elgin’s Acme Design, Inc. The Elgin manufacturer does a little of everything — 3-D printing, molding, casting, sculpting, hand fabrication and painting, to name a few of the Union Street company’s specialties.
So, when horror movie host Svengoolie — AKA Rich Koz — was asked to donate his TV coffin to the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, he approached friends at Acme about creating its replacement.
The original Svengoolie coffin dates back to the early 1970s and the original horror movie host, Jerry Bishop, explained Elizabeth Haney, the marketing director at Acme. When Koz took over as “Son of Svengoolie,” in 1979, he repainted the original coffin with his own image.
Years of hot TV lights, public appearances and thousands of rubber chickens thrown at the coffin have taken its toll.
“You can see the shadow of the old paint job, where he painted over Jerry’s face with his character,” Haney said. “It is delicate at this point,” she said of the original casket.
Built by Bobby Walker and a crew of stagehands at WFLD-TV, the original coffin is a “40-plus year old set prop that was not meant to last 40 years,” Haney said.
To better understand what Koz needed for his new coffin, Acme Design owner Clint Borucki and artist Ryan Guenther visited the station to measure the set, discuss design elements and practical concerns and to talk about Koz’s vision for the new design.
They also got to fling a few rubber chickens, Borucki said.
The new coffin, set to be delivered later this week, will incorporate animated, 3-D features in the lid, chicken-feet handles, LED back lighting, a separate base for added stability on set and an ultra-quiet fan to circulate air and keep Svengoolie cool under the hot set lights.
It’s first public appearance was Saturday in Elgin, when Borucki and Elgin Mayor David Kaptain unveiled the coffin to Koz at the Nightmare on Chicago Street event.
This was the third time Svengoolie had made an appearance at an Elgin Halloween festival, starting out with in 2010 at the Hemmens Cultural Center for “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and the first-ever Nightmare on Chicago Street in 2011.
Haney was instrumental in bringing Svengoolie to Elgin and creating the city’s relationship with the actor. Haney became friends with Koz through a high school friend who later worked with the station manager at ME-TV, which now broadcasts Svengoolie in Chicago and at other stations throughout the U.S.
Although Berwyn is the Illinois city most fans would associate with Svengoolie, Elgin is on its way to becoming a favorite of the character, Haney said.
“We are relocating the horror epicenter to Elgin. We like to consider ourselves Svengoolie’s second home,” said Haney, noting that she was echoing a quote from Barb Keselica, Elgin’s special events coordinator.
“I want this to be his second home away from Berwyn,” Haney added.
Need to replace
Even having seen and been a part of the design process, to see the new coffin was “breathtaking,” Koz said in a phone interview this week.
“To see it in 3D is just amazing, and there is still more to go before they are done with it. It is a special effect on its own.”
He knows there are fans out there who will be sad to see the “70s day-glow” coffin be laid to rest, but the old one just isn’t holding up, he added.
“It can’t stand on its own — it is screwed in back to a set piece and the original wood is splitting,” he said. The hinges are a little wonky — Koz has to lift the lid just right to close it at the end of every show.
But it’s not like the coffin will be gone forever. When it goes to the broadcasting museum, fans will be able to see it up close, Koz added.
The new Elgin-made coffin will likely last another 40 years — longer than he likely will, Koz said. “It will last as long as I can continue to be doing this,” he said.
“I am very flattered and truly grateful to the Acme Design people. Their great talent went to making it a reality.”
And, while he might not start replacing the well known shout-out to Berwyn on the air, his love for the Elgin community “may be close,” Koz said.
Haney and Acme also are very sensitive to ensuring fans are going to like the new coffin, she said. “This is like redesigning Superman’s costume. What if someone is angry?” about the change, she said.
She hopes fans will appreciate the workmanship, along with the change.
“Elgin has a proud history of manufacturing — we make nice stuff in Elgin. This is something … the whole city can be proud of something that happened here in Elgin,” she said.