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Fuzzy Memories Debuts Svengoolie Episodes Not Seen in Nearly 40 Years Monday

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 16, 2011 3:00PM

For at least two generations of Chicagoans Rich Koz is identified as Svengoolie. Koz is upholding a character and tradition started by Jerry G. Bishop at WFLD-TV in 1970. Koz would send Bishop jokes to use on the air. The two later became close friends and, when Bishop retired from Chicago television, handed the character to Koz as "Son of Svengoolie."

When Koz brought Sven to WCIU in 1995 - and it's hard to believe he's been at the "U" that long - Bishop gave his blessing for Koz to drop the "Son."

The Koz and Bishop versions of Svengoolie share a love for song parodies and picking on Berwyn -- BER-WYN!?!? -- but they also have some differences in portrayal. One of the reasons I feel Koz's Svengoolie resonates today is because you're getting more Koz these days than Sven. take a look at Koz as Son of Svengoolie and Koz as Sven today. There's less makeup and costuming and much of the time Koz doesn't even bother to do a Transylvanian accent. It isn't laziness; Koz has played the role for so long at this point he's almost synonymous with Sven.

Now take a look at Bishop's origination of the character. There's still a lot of camp but, in the freewheeling early days of UHF television, there were some not so subtle nods to the counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s in Bishop's portrayal.

Koz's Svengoolie is your nerdy uncle. You wanted to roll up a fatty and smoke it with Bishop's Svengoolie.

A YouTube search of "Jerry Bishop Svengoolie" turns up scores of clips. Rare full episodes of his tenure as Sven are harder to come by. Rick Klein of the Museum of Classic Chicago Television, who for years has preserved countless hours of classic local television, recently came upon three never before seen full episodes of Bishop as Svengoolie. they were saved by the late Don Shannon, a former WFLD-TV director, on two-inch Quadruplex videotape. Klein was able to remaster the episodes through the help of donations and is set to premiere the shows, in their entirety, Monday.

As examples of the things Bishop's Sven could get away with, one episode features a local rock band, Wilderness Road, a band that was active in local counterculture movements of the period.

Another episode features guest Tina McDowall, Penthouse's 1972 Pet of the Year, visiting the set in a French maid's outfit to promote her spread in the magazine while suggesting Bishop's Sven check out the articles "to keep abreast of things."

Thee final episode features a guest appearance from radio legend Larry Lujack, a few years before he went on to attain legendary status as "your charming and delightful ol' Uncle Lar" on WLS-AM.

None of these episodes have been seen in close to 40 years. If you're nostalgic for the golden days of local television, this is an early Christmas.