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Svengoolie packs ’em in for autograph session in Volo

Ann Marie Westfall Bartlett chats with televisihost Svengoolie a.k.a. as actor Rich Koz during an autograph sessilast Saturday. | DAN

Ann Marie Westfall of Bartlett chats with television host Svengoolie, a.k.a. as actor Rich Koz, during an autograph session last Saturday. | DAN MORAN~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: December 2, 2013 3:32PM



It might come as a shock to anyone who remembers watching “Son of Svengoolie” during their high school years in the 1980s, but fans of the Saturday-night horror-movie host are leaping across more than one generation gap.

“I’m a fan, and my grandma was a fan, too. She basically started me on it,” said Brandi Largen of Lake Zurich, one of hundreds of Sven followers who waited up to two hours in line on last Saturday, to meet the Chicago-television icon at the Volo Auto Museum and Antique Mall.

With her two children in tow — 5-year-old Bryce and 3-year-old Brooklyn — Largen said her late grandmother’s lessons are being passed down through the family.

“Every Saturday,” she said, “that’s our routine — Svengoolie.”

Judging from the crowd in Volo, quite a few people have that routine. Auto Museum director Brian Grams said Sven — a.k.a. actor Rich Koz — was making his second consecutive autumn appearance at the Lake County attraction (just west of Route 12 and just north of Route 120), and Saturday’s turnout was at least twice as large as what was seen in 2012.

“We got people through in an hour last year. This time, we’re doing a third hour and cutting off the line because there are so many people,” said Grams, adding that Svengoolie is a good match for the museum’s Halloween programming.

“Today’s the kickoff of our Haunted Trolley tours and our fall season, and he’s a great way to kick it off,” Grams said. “You see a whole different clientele who come out to see him, so it’s good for us because we’re being exposed to new people — people who thought, ‘Oh, I’m not going to a car museum,’ but they’ll come to see him.”

Among those faithful was Ann Marie Westfall of Bartlett, who arrived more than a half-hour before the meet-and-greet’s scheduled 1 p.m. start and was among the first to get an autograph — in her case, on a biography of the Three Stooges.

“I’m a big-time fan. I follow him everywhere,” said Westfall, adding that Koz and his staff are “so accommodating to all the fans. They go beyond what they need to do. They’re amazing.

“And he makes it so much fun,” Westfall said. “It’s not like it’s gone to his head — ‘Oh, I’m a big star.’ He doesn’t act like that.”

Mike Mercado and Natasha Munshi, who waited more than an hour in line, said Svengoolie connects them to past television favorites during their Baby Boom upbringing.

“I’ve been watching him forever, and he just makes me laugh. He reminds me of a Chicago version of ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000,’” Munshi said. “I’m also from Cicero, so I appreciate the Berwyn jokes.”

Svengoolie fans got a scare last fall when news spread that Koz had suffered a heart attack, but “Svengoolie” producer Jim Roche said Svengoolie is back not only to his broadcast duties but also to his regular schedule of appearances, which can ramp up to three or four a week during the Halloween season.

On Saturday, Sven/Koz was fighting an autumn cold, and he fought off a rasp in his voice with Ricola cough drops. But he welcomed every photo opportunity and autograph request, even when a random fan would appear with, literally, a trash bag filled with rubber chickens.

Asked afterward for the secret to handling a three-hour autograph event, Koz said “probably hypnosis. Actually, the Ricola has helped a great deal. And it means a lot to me that these people come out here.”

“I’m just always blown away by the fact that so many of these folks come out and they’re willing to stand in line for so long,” added Koz, guessing that the number of generations who follow “Svengoolie” is “probably getting close to four at this point.”

With a new coffin unveiled this month that was drawn up by Lake Villa resident Ryan Gunther and constructed by ACME Design in Elgin — “everything I asked for, they gave me and more, so it’s pretty incredible,” Koz said — a fan might wonder if Svengoolie is settling in for another 30 years.

“No, not quite,” Koz said, smiling behind the greasepaint. “At this point, if I make it through another five years, I’ll be happy.”



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