Morgus the Magnificent
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Hello, friends of science and those of the Higher Order.
I didn't grow up in the 50s or 60s, but I've always been fascinated with eras before my time. I've already written about a concept called anemoia when I created a retro creature feature novella set in the 1950s and sent surprise old-time radios to some of my friends. The radios had not only the audiobook version of my novella but also hours upon hours of old music and radio commercials.
anemoia - n. nostalgia for a time you've never known
— The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig
The problem with time is that it's constantly moving forward, and catching a piece of the past is no simple matter. It's even harder to do if the past you're trying to catch was never one you experienced in the first place. Still, I like to try to reach back into time and explore something that's already occurred but is brand new to me.
In 1954, Hunt Stromberg Jr., a Broadway, radio, and television producer, and actress Maila Nurmi launched The Vampira Show, starring Maila Nurmi as the character Vampira. The show only ran for about a year and only in Los Angeles, but it had a massive impact that forever changed the world. Vampira was the very first horror host, and The Vampira Show created the entire horror host format, which still lives on today.
Most people today, even those weirdos who don't like horror or the darker things in life, have at least a passing familiarity with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, portrayed by Cassandra Peterson. But many of the horror hosts of the past never reached the same fame, though residents in their local broadcast areas have incredibly fond memories of them.
Morgus the Magnificent was one of those horror hosts. If you stop any random person on the street and ask them if they know Morgus the Magnificent, you're likely to be met with "huh?" Unless, of course, you're talking to someone who grew up in New Orleans in the 60s.
"House of Shock" on WWL-TV in New Orleans, Louisiana
In 1958, WWL-TV in New Orleans purchased the "Shock!" theater package, which included 52 classic horror films made before 1948. A man named Sidney Noel Rideau, who was a morning radio personality and disc jockey at WWL AM radio, auditioned for a job hosting the upcoming show "House of Shock." Sid Noel won the part of horror host and convinced the network of two conditions: 1) remain entirely anonymous and 2) make the show humorous.
The network had no budget, no set, no writers, and no idea what to do, but they knew they wanted Sid Noel to do it. They agreed to his conditions, and Sid Noel got to work creating the character of Momus Alexander Morgus—a mad scientist whose experiments often went wrong at the last moment. Sid created an entire backstory of the character; some details were revealed throughout his career, and some he kept to himself for a long time—he kept it a secret for nearly 50 years, even (reportedly) from his own children. Sid refused to do interviews or release photos of himself out of character and wanted the public to believe Morgus was real.
Sid liked to describe the character of Morgus as "Don Quixote in a lab coat." Sid and a local deputy of the St. Bernard's Sheriff department named Tommy George came up with Morgus's lab assistant, an executioner named Chopsley. Tommy George designed his own costume and even forged his own executioner's axe from steel plate. Morgus's other lab assistant was a talking skull named Eric, who was connected to a computer in later shows.
When "House of Shock" aired, no one in New Orleans had ever seen anything like it before, and as far as anyone knew, Morgus the Magnificent hit their TV sets from a laboratory over an abandoned ice house in Pirate's Alley of the French Quarter. The show became so popular that within four months, WWL-TV had to add ten extra phone lines to handle the volume of calls for Morgus. Evidently, Morgus was so popular that people claim the crime rate in New Orleans dropped while he was on the air.
"Morgus Presents" on WJBK-TV in Detroit, Michigan
Sidney Noel Rideau moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1963 and brought along the character Morgus with him on WJBK-TV. The Morgus Presents show aired Sunday nights and even spread to Atlanta due to its popularity. In 1965, Morgus moved over to WXYZ-TV as the host of "Shock Theatre," which aired on Sunday and Friday nights.
"Morgus Presents" Returns to New Orleans
In 1965, Sid Noel moved back to New Orleans and started Morgus Presents back up at WWL-TV. The show aired in 1970 for only about a year and then came back in 1987 on WGNO-TV.
Music, Film, & Other Works
Sid Noel starred as Morgus in The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus (1962), a film about an "Instant People Machine" that could transform people into sand and back.
Morgus and Chopsley frequently appeared at Pontchartrain Beach amusement park and other local events throughout the 1960s. Morgus even hosted a syndicated weather report that became popular in various cities around the US east coast.
The weather report with Morgus might have become even more widespread, except the invention of color television made his 120 pre-recorded weather segments obsolete to television stations.
Morgus the Magnificent appeared as a guest on Coast to Coast AM several times and had his name on vinyl—YouTube user happydogg55 somehow managed to find an actual vinyl record of Morgus & The Ghouls from 1959 featuring Frankie Ford on vocals.
Sid Noel co-founded the Internet Story Club of America™, a private 501 (c) (3) nonprofit partnered with the New Orleans Public Library.
"The Internet Story Club of America intends to make use of the time-honored techniques of storytelling by fable, which has a litmus test of over 2,500 years. Historically, fables have imparted morsels of practical wisdom and rules of conduct that helped change the moral character of nations. Our Fables to Grow On are not ordinary fables. They are original, elongated fables and allegorical tales for these changing times."
— Fables to Grow On | The Internet Story Club of America
Sidney Noel Rideau
Sid Noel died of natural causes at the age of 90 on August 27th, 2020. His obituary is available online at nola.com.
"In January, 1959, with his identity kept secret, Sid created and became the mad but hilarious scientist Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus the Magnificent, whose quixotic, scientific experiments caused a sensation as host of WWL-TV's Saturday night movies. The character's popularity was overwhelming, and continued on and off various television stations, countrywide, for over half a century. Throughout the years, Sid generously used the popularity of the Morgus character to raise funds for local charities, civic causes, and WYES-TV auctions. In between, he had other projects that kept him busy in New York, Detroit and New Orleans. He wrote, produced and hosted over 500 television programs, 180 in syndication. Beyond radio and television, Sid was a storyteller."
— Sidney Noel Rideau, 1929 - 2020, via nola.com
The Historic New Orleans Collection on YouTube has an entire two-hour live performance at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans, Louisiana, from 2019, where Sid Noel shared the story behind the creation of Morgus the Magnificent and told anecdotes from the show. It includes video clips, footage of his daughter, colleagues, interviews, and never-before shared stories of his life and career.
An Evening With Sid Noel: Recollections of a Mad Scientist | Morgus the Magnificent
Relevant & Related
- WWL-TV, where Sid Noel made his first appearance as Morgus, has a segment online about his career and his death: Morgus creator and star Sid Noel dies - a look back at his career
- A short interview with Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, from the year 2000: ABC 2000 Tribute and interview with Maila Nurmi
- 45cat.com has tracks A and B from the 1964 record "Morgus With The Daringers."
- There's a book by Elena M. Watson titled "Television Horror Movie Hosts: 68 Vampires, Mad Scientists and Other Denizens of the Late-Night Airwaves Examined and Interviewed." I have a copy of it. It covers a lot of interesting horror hosts and stories from the past.
- A lot more over at morgus.com by fan Chuck Brillowsky.
- New Orleans Living magazine has an interview with Morgus the Magnificent from 2007
See Momus Alexander Morgus in Action
- Interview with Sid Noel on November 19th, 1998
- Morgus the Magnificent Attempts to Cure Vampires
- The Bride of Morgus
- Morgus the Magnificent Will Supplement Our Food Supply!
- Morgus the Magnificent Contacts Beings From Outer Space
- The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus - 1962 Film
- Dr. Chopsley on YouTube has a few dozen recordings of Morgus
- Morgus the Magnificent Graduates a Class at the University Of Morgus
And, finally, there's an unofficial fan's Facebook Group over at "Friends of Science" - Fans of Morgus the Magnificent with a few thousand people who still remember all those years of Morgus the Magnificent.