1959: Morgus the Magnificent premieres on New Orleans TV
The night of Jan. 3, 1959, was cold and someone else’s computery in New Orleans, but it’s more fitting to imagine it as dark and stormy. That’s the night, after all, that Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus made his debut on the city’s television screens, with the premiere of “House of Shock” on WWL-TV. For parts of four decades — the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — the wacky horror host, known as Morgus the Magnificent and portrayed by actor Sid Noel, would conduct ill-fated “experiments” from his Old City Ice House, ostensibly just off Pirate Alley in the French Quarter, airing before and after the commercials on repacked B-movies. In the process, Morgus — with his snaggle-toothed smile, his tangled hair and his perpetually stained lab coat — would become a New Orleans TV icon.
While there aren’t any current plans to return Morgus local airwaves, his wraparounds have been occasionally resurrected and repackaged for local TV. A DVD, “Morgus Presents: Vol. 1,” is also available through the good doctor’s website, www.morgus.com.
- With a purported IQ of 300, Morgus was the brains of the outfit, but he didn’t work alone. Helping him was assistant Chopsley, a silent, hooded giant played by former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office motorcycle cop Tommy George, and Eric, a former assistant whose brain was preserved as a talking skull.
- Through his five- or six-minute segments, Morgus established a fairly deep mythology. A member of the secret scientific society known as “The Higher Order,” he is 96th in a long line of Morguses. Morgus I is said to have been architect of the Egyptian pyramids.
- In addition to claiming to have invented “the speed of dark,” Morgus claims authorship of such scientific tomes as “Molecules I Have Known.”
- The character was so popular that WWL gave Morgus a five-minute weather show during the 1960s as a lead-in to the 5 o’clock news. Among other things, he was known for reading the humidity by wringing out a wet rag. He also used a weather map called the “Morgusboard,” as well as his “Morgotronic Weather Prognositcator” machine” — essentially a souped-up slot machine.
- Morgus occasionally hosted celebrities on his show, including Steve Allen, Jerry Lewis and Marty Allen, all of whom stopped in while in town for performances at the Roosevelt Hotel’s swanky Blue Room.
- Over the years, Morgus has appeared on four New Orleans TV stations: WWL, WDSU, WVUE and WGNO.
- In 1962, Morgus made the jump from the small screen to the big screen with the New Orleans-shot B-movie “The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus.” It was distributed regionally and opened in local theaters on Nov. 1, going up against the likes of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”
- Dr. John immortalized Morgus in 1959 by contributing to the novelty song “Morgus the Magnificent,” recording with Frankie Ford, Earl Stanley and others as Morgus and the 3 Ghouls.
- Though created in New Orleans, Morgus also had a following in 1960s Detroit, where he recycled his weather shtick and late-night horror hosting duties for station WXYZ after leaving WWL briefly in 1962. A late-’80s reincarnation was also picked by stations in New York City, Atlanta, Little Rock, Wichita and Albany, N.Y.
WWL-TV had been on the air for less than a year and a half when Morgus first took to its airwaves in 1959. He was an instant sensation, helping to put the fledgling station, which would go on to become a local ratings juggernaut for nearly 40 years, on the map. In the process, Morgus — with his wacky sensibilities and jabs at local politicians — also provided the city with yet another indelible character in an already character-rich landscape. Morgus might be currently off the air, but among local TV fans, he most certainly is not forgotten.