Bay of the Living Dead: The Real Penny Dreadful
Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice-a-month column dedicated to the horror genre, past, present and future.
Penny Dreadful (the character, not the series) is a New England based witch who loves to watch horror movies. For nine years she co-hosted Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers with her husband, Garou Wolfman, the world’s cutest werewolf.
Much like ME-TV’s Svengoolie, they would run a classic horror movie – Penny would discuss the film during breaks while Garou howled in agreement. In between the corny jokes, Penny revealed an impressive knowledge of cinema history and a genuine love for whatever movie she was running–most of which were B chillers from the 1930s-60s.
“People often ask me if I have anything to do with the Showtime Penny Dreadful series,” Dreadful told us. “That show was originally going to be the story of my life, but they quickly decided that my life is FAR too scary even for them, so they ultimately didn’t put me in the show at all. However, I let them use my name because I’m cool that way. I do look forward to the royalty checks.”
Last we heard, those checks had not yet been mailed. After putting in a call to Danielle S. Oliveira Gelehrter, Penny’s alter-ego, we got a little background info on the origins of the Penny Dreadful name.
“The Showtime Penny Dreadful series got their name from the same place I did – the lurid, serialized tales of horror, crime, and the supernatural from the 19th century,” Gelehrter said. “They were called ‘penny dreadfuls.’ Many others have used the moniker – there’s a band, a steampunk troupe, a pro wrestler, and there was even a classic horror hostess in the early 1960’s who all used the name.”
From it’s modest origins on public access in New England the series grew to become something of an underground hit. Much to Gelehrter’s surprise, her baby was twice honored at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, where she was named Favorite Horror Host in 2007 and 2010.
“I was definitely not expecting to win the Rondo, especially twice,” she said. “That was actually a shock to me, but I was really happy of course. We all were.”
She’s also stunned – but delighted – at the extent to which Shilling Shockers has grown.
“The show has been on TV in New England and other locales for over 10 years,” she said. “We air in over 200 cities and towns. All 9 of our seasons are available on DVD at our website. I present classic horror films as Penny Dreadful the witch. Garou the werewolf and Dr. Manfred Von Bulow the monster hunter assisted me on the show as my sidekicks or co-hosts. Rebecca Paiva is the show’s director, camera operator, and editor. She also plays Luna, who shows up from time to time. Eric Parks is the assistant to the director and plays a bunch of supporting roles as needed.”
Gelehrter and her friends are strictly old-school horror buffs.
“I love Boris Karloff,” she explains. “He’s probably my favorite horror star. But I also love Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney, Jr., Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Barbara Steele, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee. For TV horror, Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker from Dark Shadows for sure. I mean these are just some of the people whose performances I admire.”
We wondered how much of an influence these iconic horror stars played in the creation of her onscreen persona. “Penny Dreadful is something of an amalgam of Endora from Bewitched, Barbara Steele in Black Sunday, and Stewie from Family Guy,” Gelhrter replied.
Though Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers continues to be seen, Gelhrter has announced – admittedly with a heavy heart – that the recently aired ninth season will be the last. In 2014 her beloved husband Magoo passed away after a difficult battle with male breast cancer–a disease usually associated with women. Occurrences in men are rare, which may make the illness difficult to diagnose. Magoo Gelhrter shot his final scenes as Garou Wolfman during a period of remission from his illness. For awhile it looked like he might survive, but then the disease came soaring back. On May 16, 2014, Magoo Gelhrter passed away at age 51.
“Magoo was meant to play Garou,” Gelhrter said of her co-star and spouse. “He’d pull all kinds of faces all the time. I really wanted him to play the werewolf in the show. I described it to him as a ‘non-speaking role’ and told him he’d just growl and stuff. He said, ‘sure, baby’ and then proceeded to turn that character into something all his own – something very special. One of Magoo’s biggest influences was Harpo Marx and he drew some inspiration from him.”
And after losing the most important person in her life, Gelhrter didn’t have the heart to continue with their series. “I miss him so much. It’s difficult to think of him sometimes, because I start to laugh and cry at the same time. He made me laugh every day of our 12 years together. We made each other laugh. I’d say it was a personal goal of ours to make each other laugh every day. And we did!”
But don’t say goodbye to Penny and the gang just yet. Gelehrter assures us that she’ll continue making occasional appearances. “We’ll do Halloween specials, I’m sure,” she said. “Even though Shilling Shockers the series is ending, I’m not ready to hang up the cape just yet.”
Other ideas under consideration include charity events for Halloween and a novelty album in which she’d perform monster themed tunes.
“And of course, we’ll do a few local convention appearances here and there,” she promises.
You can keep track of Penny Dreadful’s comings and goings at her website, where DVDs of Shilling Shockers are available for sale. We highly recommend that you do!
Of course there are many delightful “monster kids” to be found online. These days our favorite You Tube series is Dusty Old Movies. Hosted by the highly talented Bobby Collins, a young man with a very old soul–Bobby also has a wonderful flair for comedy. Like Shillimg Shockers, Dusty Old Movies pays homage to the classics of previous generations.
Dusty Old Movies segments vary in length from 10-15 minutes, during which time Collins provides a wealth of of information about the film or TV series under discussion – pieces from the host’s massive collection of classic horror memorabilia can often be seen lurking in the background.
Though Collins inserts a number of film stills into each segment, he doesn’t show clips. Instead, he performs hilariously over the top impersonations of his favorite lines – why isn’t this guy on Comedy Central? Like Penny Dreadful, Collins’ knowledge and love for the films and TV shows he’s talking about are encyclopedic.
There’s a lot of crap on You Tube. It’s therefore particularly nice to find something as fun, entertaining and well made as Dusty Old Movies. Check out Collins’ review of Dracula’s Daughter (1936), the original lesbian vampire flick.