When I was living in Sarasota in the 1980s, I tuned in regularly to WTOG 44, a UHF station out of St. Petersburg/Tampa, Florida. On Saturdays, they would air a horror show called Creature Feature, hosted by a tuxedo-wearing ghoul who called himself Dr Paul Bearer. Looking like a greasy undertaker, Dr Paul Bearer would host horror movies, popping in occasionally for commentary on the “horrible movie” that happened to be playing for that day’s Creature Feature. His commentary usually involved intentionally-bad puns. For example, he would break out a bowl of eyeballs and say to the audience: “While I am enjoying my Eyes-Cream, please enjoy more of this horrible movie!” His signature sign-off was: “I’ll be lurking for you!”
Dr Paul Bearer’s real name was Ernest R. “Dick” Bennick Sr. He was born in 1928, and got started in radio in 1949. In the 1960s, Bennick was living in NC and created a character called Count Shockula, for a program called Shock Theater (WGHP, channel 8, High Point,NC).
The character wasn’t very popular, so Bennick created a new personality – Dr. Paul Bearer – and killed Count Shockula off!
Someone once said that you are the sum of all your yesteryears, that is what makes you what you are today. I brought together the fact that I have always had a hobby of magic, I have always loved puns, I always liked to dress up, I’ve always liked horror movies, and I enjoyed acting. You bring all this into play and this is what comes out in Dr. Paul Bearer.
After the good doctor became popular with viewers, he moved to Florida and worked for WTOG, doing two shows – one on Saturday afternoon and one on Saturday night at 11:30pm. The afternoon show – Creature Feature – did not have a host at the time, so Bennick was an obvious fit. The nightly show was called Fright Theater.
To become someone you have to figure out who he is. Once again I turned to things I like and made a composite out of them. I like the Three Stooges, Groucho Marx, Mad magazine, and Charlie Chaplin. You will see elements of all these things in the character. Dr. Paul Bearer’s world is very real to him, it’s everyone else who is out of step and when you stop and think about it, isn’t that how most of us really are? .
Other facts about Dr. Paul Bearer:
He owned every issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland
He lost an eye in an auto accident
His casket was actually a shipping casket, which he had for over 25 years
He appeared on Hee-Haw, and didn’t even have to wear overalls
He bought his first hearse from the TV station for only a dollar.
He had no say in the movies shown; they were usually part of a Shock package
Unfortunately, Dick Bennick passed away after heart surgery on February 18, 1995. At the time of his death, he was still doing the Creature Feature shows. Since 1993, October 30th is “Dr. Paul Bearer Day” in Tampa, FL.
I still miss the good doc and all of his craziness. After his death, there was no horror host good enough to replace him.