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Lake Villa artist designs new Svengoolie coffin

Acme Design Inc. artist Ryan Guenther stands prototype Svengoolie coffhe created Elgmanufacturer. The new coffwill replace original built 1970s.

Acme Design Inc. artist Ryan Guenther stands in a prototype Svengoolie coffin he created at the Elgin manufacturer. The new coffin will replace the original built in the 1970s. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media file

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Coffin-building challenge

Lake Villa native and Antioch High School graduate Ryan Guenther said the primary challenge in crafting a new coffin for Chicago television icon Svengoolie was “making sure it didn’t look like a guy in his garage did it.”

Nearly a year of design and construction included a couple of meetings with the man behind the makeup, Rich Koz.

“His two big stipulations were to keep the portrait at the top and the [rubber chicken] shield at the bottom. Otherwise, we gave us free rein. It was a very organic process.”

And what was it like to meet the erstwhile Son of Svengoolie? “It was interesting to see all the stuff that you see on TV and the guy you’ve watched for years ... They warn you about meeting your idols and how it can be a letdown — it’s not the case with Rich.”

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Updated: January 1, 2013 1:48AM

ELGIN — When it’s time to replace a 40-plus-year-old coffin, which also happens to be a Chicago-area TV icon, who you gonna call?

That would be Elgin’s Acme Design Inc., which does a little of everything — 3-D printing, molding, casting, sculpting, hand fabrication and painting, to name a few of the Union Street company’s specialties.

So, when horror movie host Svengoolie — AKA Rich Koz — was asked to donate his TV coffin to the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, he approached friends at Acme, including Lake Villa native and Antioch High School graduate, Ryan Guenther, about creating its replacement.

The original Svengoolie coffin dates back to the early 1970s and the original horror movie host, Jerry Bishop, explained Elizabeth Haney, the marketing director at Acme. When Koz took over as “Son of Svengoolie” in 1979, he repainted the original coffin with his own image.

Years of hot TV lights, public appearances and thousands of rubber chickens thrown at the coffin have taken its toll.

“You can see the shadow of the old paint job, where he painted over Jerry’s face with his character,” Haney said. “It is delicate at this point,” she said of the original casket.

Built by Bobby Walker and a crew of stagehands at WFLD-TV, the original coffin is a “40-plus-year-old set prop that was not meant to last 40 years,” Haney said.

To better understand what Koz needed for his new coffin, Acme Design owner Clint Borucki and artist Guenther visited the station to measure the set, discuss design elements and practical concerns and to talk about Koz’s vision for the new design.

They also got to fling a few rubber chickens, Borucki said.

The new coffin, set to be delivered late last week, will incorporate animated, 3-D features in the lid, chicken-feet handles, LED back lighting, a separate base for added stability on set and an ultra-quiet fan to circulate air and keep Svengoolie cool under the hot set lights.

Even having seen and been a part of the design process, to see the new coffin was “breathtaking,” Koz said. “To see it in 3D is just amazing, and there is still more to go before they are done with it. It is a special effect on its own.”

He knows there are fans out there who will be sad to see the “’70s day-glow” coffin be laid to rest, but the old one just isn’t holding up, he added.

“It can’t stand on its own — it is screwed in back to a set piece and the original wood is splitting,” he said. The hinges are a little wonky — Koz has to lift the lid just right to close it at the end of every show.

But it’s not like the coffin will be gone forever. When it goes to the broadcasting museum, fans will be able to see it up close, Koz added.

The new coffin will likely last another 40 years — longer than he likely will, Koz said. “It will last as long as I can continue to be doing this,” he said. “I am very flattered and truly grateful to the Acme Design people. Their great talent went to making it a reality.”

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