John Ferguson as Count Gregore
Strangers still give John Ferguson that deja vu look, like they know him but they’re not sure why.
“They get suspicious when I start talking to them,” he said. Some recognize his voice, others his face. Sort of.
It’s because Ferguson is so good at bad, or at least acting that way. For decades, he was known for his alter ego, the sinister but strangely beloved local TV character Count Gregore.
It began more than 50 years ago at WKY-TV when the king of local children’s programming, Danny Williams, needed a villain, someone to play opposite Williams’ hero character, Dan D. Dynamo, aka 3-D Danny.
“I wanted to be on that show,” recalls Ferguson, 80, of Moore.
So Ferguson, an actor from Indiana who had tried the Hollywood thing for a few years, sat down with some makeup. He fooled around until he had created a despicable guy in the mirror. Williams went for it, and the Duke of Mukeden was born. The who?
The Duke was only one of many characters Ferguson would play, including the tycoon, Redbeard, Bazark the Robot, Dr. Person, even a good-guy character, Danny’s sidekick Ubick. “Like Spock to Kirk,” as Ferguson described it. All would soon fade from the growing TV scene, though. But an unrelated character would make Ferguson an enduring local celebrity, a persona for which he’s still known.
Keith Mathers, operations manager, asked Ferguson to come up with a character to host a series of horror movies, a late-night TV show called “Shock Theater.” At 11:30 p.m. Saturday, May 10, 1958, Count Gregore was unleashed on Oklahoma. The mysterious and macabre yet chummy Dracula-esque fellow with a sense of humor struck a nerve with local audiences.
Station officials didn’t realize it immediately, though. They replaced Ferguson, who went to work acting in gunfights at a new amusement park, Frontier City, and the count seemed down for the count. But public demand for him was so great that within two months, a station official went to the amusement park to tell Ferguson “we’ve got to have you back.”
Over the next couple of decades, the count made the rounds of local TV stations, hosting horror and even general oldies movies shows, including “Nightmare Theater,” “Sleepwalkers Matinee,” “Creature Features” and “Horror Theater.” Through it all, Ferguson and his campy count adapted to the times, going hippie in the ’60s and discoing through the ’70s.
The count also was a favorite at parties, sock hops and drive-in theater appearances. When he wasn’t the count, Ferguson was an announcer or sales representative at stations.
The count’s regular TV appearances finally ended in 1988. But Ferguson never retired, he said, always finding things to make financial ends meet. In the late 1990s, for instance, he spent five years as a “course cosmetologist” for Oak Tree Golf Club.
The count, like the undead persona he was modeled after, lives on. He reappears occasionally, showing up last week as a guest with KAUT’s “2 Movie Guys.” And Ferguson still can’t quite put his finger on why the count was — and is — so popular.
“I’m surprised to this day,” he said.
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