We interrupt our regularly- scheduled Zombie programming to bring you a look at an unsung great in Horror history, New Orleans TV legend, Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus.
I grew up hearing my mom's stories of Dr. Morgus. When I was twelve, he returned to the airwaves, and I became hooked. A good friend, Chuck Brillowsky, webmaster of Morgus Online, reminded me that today marks the 50th anniversary of the Doctor's televised experiments. So I wrote the following:
A Morgusian History: The Condensed Version
In 1957, Screen Gems struck a $20 million deal with Universal-International, obtaining the television distribution rights to over 500 pre-1948 Universal films. One of the first packages offered to television programmers across the US was Shock!, a collection of 52 Universal Horror films. Stations were encouraged to produce wrap-around segments, and the Horror Host was born.
In Pittsburgh, there was "Chilly Billy” Cardille. San Francisco had Bob Wilkins and his Creature Features (on which Night of the Living Dead made its broadcast television debut). Cleveland had Ghoulardi; Philly and New York had Zacherly.
New Orleans had Morgus the Magnificent.
On January 3rd, 1959, fifty years ago tonight, The House of Shock premiered. A New Orleans icon was born. With production values higher than those of the typical Saturday night Creature Feature, House introduced New Orleanians to Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus, a whacked-out nut-job of a scientist toiling away in his lab atop the "Old City Icehouse" in the French Quarter. With his caveman brow, nasty teeth, and heavily-soiled labcoat, Morgus was both horrific and comedic. Each week, he'd unveil a new invention destined to make the world a better place. Each week, said invention would blow up in his face.
Beneath it all, there was a subversive heart: Morgus lived among the Bohemians and railed against the establishment. The handprint on his shoulder was more than an example of his filthy working conditions; it was the Hand of the Man, holding him down.
The creation of talented New Orleans radio and TV personality, Sid Noel, the character of Morgus evolved, over many years, from diabolical mad scientist to Quixote-inspired “secret scientist” working to bring about a “Higher Order” of humanity.
(In one of the earliest surviving examples of Morgusian Entertainment, a WWL radio production that possibly pre-dates the January '59 premiere of the television show, Dr. Morgus, sounding like a deranged Karloff, reveals his plan to fill the atmosphere with bubbles containing mind-control gas-- he'd soon control us all! Thirty years later, during the Doctor's '80s return, the Bubble Machine made a comeback, but this time it produced "Love Bubbles." One whiff, and you felt like loving the one you were with.)
Assisting Dr. Morgus across three decades and several incarnations was the mute and hulking Chopsley, a towering masked man whose hood concealed the results of a botched plastic surgery job by the Good Doctor. Also on hand was Eric, a talking skull-- all that remained of the assistant who'd preceded Chopsley.
The House of Shock was an overnight success. Everyone loved Morgus. It was reported at the time, perhaps in jest, that crime stats went down on Saturday nights. While Morgus was carrying out yet another ill-fated experiment, everyone in the city was sitting in front of the television--even the criminals. And when Morgus was "robbed" live on his own show, the NOPD switchboards lit up.
The House of Shock became Morgus Presents and spawned a motion picture, The Wacky World of Doctor Morgus (1962), a little-seen example of independent New Orleans cinema that influenced both the original Nutty Professor and the big screen version of the Batman television series.
In 1964, the Master took his experiments to Detroit, but returned to New Orleans shortly thereafter. In one form or another, Morgus Presents ran until the mid-seventies. The Shock! and Son of Shock! packages of the early '60s were a thing of the past, and Morgus eventually found himself hosting episodes of Star Trek.
Not long after, the cameras within the Old City Icehouse fell dormant.
Sadly, little from the Magnificent One's early years has survived. A five minute snippet of The House of Shock is all that remains, as well as a few tantalizing odds and ends-- Morgus and the Weather segments from both New Orleans and Detroit, a color film pilot from the early sixties, and the Wacky World feature.
To the delight of two generations of New Orleanians--those who grew up with Dr. Morgus and those who grew up hearing about him--January of 1987 brought the triumphant return of Morgus Presents, nearly thirty years after The House of Shock premiered.
Today, those 52 slickly-produced episodes of Morgus Presents have been repackaged and, fittingly enough, retitled Morgus Presents: The House of Shock. (They air every Saturday night on Cox 10, and your humble scribe would be watching an episode right now if he didn't live a little too far out in the middle of nowhere. With any luck, all 52 episodes will get a DVD release one of these days...)
Alive and well, the Good Doctor still makes the occasional TV and personal appearance, and has become a regular on George Noory's Coast to Coast.
Thanks, Dr. Morgus, for fifty years of Morgusian Science. Here's to at least fifty more.
Dr. Morgus and Chopsley, from the premiere episode of The House of Shock. The feature film that night was, of course, Frankenstein. (Edit: recent research suggests that this pic is not from the premiere episode.)
1987 promotional photos from a local donut shop. You got one with each purchase. Toward the end of the promo, they put stacks of the things on the counter for all to take. An entire section of my bedroom wall was covered in them.
Morgus and Chopsley in 1998 with something far more terrifying than a faux Frankenstein's Monster: me at twenty-three. Run, friends of Science, run!