This story was corrected on Jan. 29, 2013. An explanation of the correction is at the bottom of the story.
Forty years ago, local television stations competed against each other for entertainment superiority. Children would watch TV early weekend mornings and teens and adults alike would stay up to watch whatever spooky movie was playing.
Times have changed, but the hosts of those shows remain. And those hosts have a multitude of fans today.
One of the bigger names in spooky movie culture is Count Gore De Vol, a rather haunting fellow who would love to get you into his dungeon, or make fun of a bad horror movie ... either one.
The Count, who got his start at WDCA Channel 20 in Washington, D.C., 40 years ago, is brought to, um, death by Dick Dyszel.
The warm and fun-loving Dyszel will bring the Count to AFI Silver in Silver Spring on Friday for a 40th anniversary celebration, which will feature a film and skits from the show.
“Dick and I have been talking for awhile, actually, probably almost about a year, of what he was going to do for his 40th anniversary year,” said Curtis Prather, who is in charge of Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival at AFI Silver and who also created “Every Other Day is Halloween,” a documentary about the career of Dyszel as the Count. “I’m huge into recognizing stuff like that. Dick and I have been friends for going on 12-13 years and in 2009 I did a documentary about his career.”
The Count has been making regular appearances at each Spooky Movie fest, save one when he was sick, Prather said.
“I’ve done, outside of the film festival, standalone events at AFI and some of them have included the Count. So this seemed like the perfect place to pitch it,” Prather said. “We looked back to see what his first movie that he hosted was and it was the Universal film ‘House of Frankenstein,’ and he and I actually watched it at one point during the summer to sort of get an idea of what could be done that night.
“During the course of the film festival, I pitched it to AFI. They loved it.”
Dyszel, for the most part, wasn’t thinking too far ahead when he created the Count.
“I never thought 40 years into the future at all in 1973,” Dyszel said. “When you’re that young you don’t think 40 years into the future, you think ‘OK, what’s going to happen next rating period.’”
Dyszel spent time on Channel 20 as Bozo the Clown and Captain 20, both characters created for the sole purpose of entertaining children. While Dyszel enjoyed that, he wanted to spread his wings into something a little darker. So he created the Count and 40 years later, people still want to know the origin of the name.
“Most people say, ‘Ahh! It’s a takeoff of Gore Vidal!’ And it could have been,” Dyszel said. “I really wanted to do this character; I really wanted to do the vampire character. I didn’t care what we named him. I had done this under the moniker of M.T. Graves in another market before I came to Washington. It was just a lot of fun. ...
“I said, ‘You know, I’d really like to do something for adults.’ I badgered the general manager for months. [He finally] said, ‘Hey, we’re going to let you do it, but I don’t like the name M.T. Graves. We need to come up with a different name.’”
Dyszel said he really didn’t care what the Count’s name would be, just so long as he got to do it.
“[The GM] goes, ‘Well, we need something with some gore in it,’ Dyszel said. “I said, ‘OK, how about Count Gore?’ He sat there and said, ‘Um, we need something a little more than that.’ I was really frustrated and I kind of turned around and said, ‘You mean like something off the wall?’ He said, ‘Eh …’ And I threw out the name ‘De Vol.’ I said, ‘How about Gore De Vol?’ He goes, ‘Yes, I love it.’
“Now, where did that come from? There was, sitting on his desk, a copy of a book by Gore Vidal. No question. I saw it and made of note of it in my mind. But on the other hand, I also, every day, drove past the De Vol Funeral Home on the way to the station. I cannot give you a definitive answer what was what. ... It’s too complicated. It would be easier if I was just to say it’s a takeoff of Vidal, who I understand, was not at all impressed.”
The Count was alive and for four decades has brought cheesy horror films into houses everywhere, although since 1998 it’s been via the Internet.
One thing the Count hasn’t lost over the years is fans. Don’t expect Dyszel to rest solely on what he’s done over the years.
“I’m not a person that relishes the past,” Dyszel said. “I’m terribly excited and grateful that people have a very good memory of what we did. I mean, when we did it, no one was thinking about trying to create a legacy. We were just trying to have some fun, create an entertaining program, and make fun of some really bad movies. Basically, I’m still trying to do that.
“One of the things I’m mostly looking forward at this thing on Feb. 1 at the AFI is actually meeting and greeting everyone at the door as they come in and thanking them for being supporters and thanking them for watching and welcoming them to what I hope is a very fun evening. That’s what an entertainer does.”
The website for AFI Silver was incorrect in the original story. The website is afi.com/silver.