It’s been several years since I first heard of a particularly interesting episode of Morgus the Magnificent. In this outing, the good Doctor and his quiet assistant Chopsley are seated at The Prytania Theater, enjoying their movie The Wacky World of Doctor Morgus. They spend the runtime commenting on the escapades, which include quite the finale of a car chase. Once finished, the New Orleans Police Department arrives to arrest them for the antics from the film. All of this predates Mystery Science Theater 3000 by decades, and I desperately want to see it.
Now, it’s possible the footage (or copies of it) might be in a studio archive somewhere. Or with a collector. Or in The Prytania vault (which may or may not exist). Likely, it’s lost, along with plenty of other precious media, from when Katrina hit — washed away. It could be anywhere and in any condition.
Friends have directed me many times to different local enthusiasts, with one group popping up in each conversation: Morgus-O-Mania! on Facebook. This collective of fans and romantics compete with one another almost daily in a game of fond memories and photo sharing, all in celebration of a show that meant so much to so many. It’s heartwarming.
On the chance I could find some information, I joined the group. Mostly deadends came about, which wasn’t surprising. Then – a bombshell of news:
Sid Noel, the actor behind Morgus – a man who has been in the shadows for a long time – would be doing a special one night only stand-up performance at The Orpheum on October 13th!
“For the first and only time in my life, I’m going to do a stand-up. It will be the story behind the story. It will be a biography of two people, Morgus and that clown behind him.”
Net proceeds are going to the Alzheimer’s Association of Louisiana, and the Historic Collection of New Orleans will be taping the show. No less importantly, the event presents a once in a lifetime chance for Morgus acolytes alike to learn something deeper about the mad scientist from the Old City Ice House.
I commented on a linked post through Facebook that I was interested in doing an article about the event, asking if anyone had anything to contribute. To my amazement, a plethora of responses came. Albert Fisher, an original writer of Morgus’ show House of Shock appeared, with many stories and recollections to tell. Then fans.
Then… Morgus himself. Not Sid Noel, but Morgus the Magnificent.
The following statements, tales, and quotes come from what I have dubbed “The Cult of Morgus.” They are a core group of friends, fans, and the scientist himself that sum up our city’s love of a madman that could only reside here. While my search for that Prytania episode rages on, I write in comfort knowing that there’s a like minded and loving group out in the world that also burns for classic New Orleans media.
Grab your tickets to Sid Noel’s show asap: It WILL sell out!:
Albert Fisher (Writer on The House of Shock)
“There were basically three of us who developed The House of Shock series in the earliest days of 1959-1961 … Sid Noel, director Rupert Copponex and myself. Sid was, of course, the driving force both creatively and as Morgus himself. I think the time that we first recognized what a ‘hit’ we had on our hands was the Saturday night when we did the show based around the movie that night: The Abominable Snowman a 1957 British sci-fi/horror film starring Forest Tucker and Peter Cushing. Our concept was that Morgus would build ‘The Morgusathon Snow Machine’ that would make it snow in New Orleans. Since the show was ‘live’ we took cameras out onto N. Rampart Street in front of WWL-TV and covered the front of the station in artificial snow and had Morgus, Chopsley and a fake snowman on the roof. Earlier in the show, Morgus made a brief mention that he would make it snow at the station and if anyone wanted to see it snow in New Orleans, they could come to the station around midnight. We thought it would be fun if a hundred or so viewers would gather at the station that night. As it turned out, thousands of viewers descended on N. Rampart Street causing one of the largest traffic jams in history! Suddenly, we all realized that Morgus and The House of Shock had become a genuine ‘hit’ in New Orleans.”
“I think that everyone who was ever associated with Morgus over the years can look back on this lovable character with fondness and pride … especially Sid Noel. The character of Morgus was a well-meaning scientific ‘genius’ who never made fun of anyone other than himself … who demonstrated that anyone can achieve greatness even in the face of adversity … and that anyone can learn to move forward in life’s pursuits no matter what obstacles they confront. For me personally, my early days with Sid Noel and Morgus as co-producer, writer and playing the character “Sick” on the weather series, launched my long and rewarding career in the entertainment industry. Sid Noel remains my closest friend and I am honored to have had a small role in helping launch a series of shows and a crazy and wonderful character that has remained as a landmark in the culture and history of television in New Orleans. I had hoped to be there on October 13th with Sid to appear at his show, but family obligations got in the way. I will be with Sid and everyone in spirit!”
“Sid Noel is a master showman … as is evident by the 60 year popularity of Morgus. Over those years he has coveted his privacy as the man behind the mask of his character. This appearance at The Orpheum Theater will be his first (and only) time that he steps out of character to reveal the real “genius” behind Morgus. I know that he is breaking this life-long silence so that the proceeds of the evening can go to helping bring about an eventual cure to Alzheimer’s. Like his creation Morgus, Sid Noel makes one final ‘contribution to science’ in helping to fund medical research into Alzheimer’s. The legacy of Morgus lives on!”
Jerrytt Mon (of Morgus-O-Mania on Facebook)
“Morgus was ‘Mr. Saturday Night Live’ to us before SNL was on the drawing board. Many of we Morgusian followers worked around late Saturday Night airings (10:30 PM to many). We dated – before and hurried back to the TV show. If it were late dates, we waited until the program concluded before going to the clubs.”
“We didn’t have DVDs, or recording devices in the 1950s to late ’70s, so it was ‘live all the way’ with/for the Good Dr. Morgus & Co. Sometimes, we had to wait until the local news ended, but it was worth the wait to hear the opening ERIC scream in the House of Shock’ 59-’62 days, then the laughter got louder during the ’60s as Morgus Presents introduced computerized ERIC, (Eon Research Infinity Computer).”
“I remember the ’87-’89 – 52 episodes being TV live recorded (every one) on my old Quasar VHS model video recorder. Loved recording my collection which stayed in my collection with me until 2005 (Katrina). I was crushed after its absence, and ultimately only have 4 of the episodes (DVD available) and any YouTube videos to rely on. Someday, we’ll see the release of any/all existing ’87 recordings, … but alas, it might not be too soon for those who believe in “The Higher Order.” (but, we can hope).”
Lewis D’Aubin (from Morgus-O-Mania)
“I can still recall, as a kid growing up in NOLA in the 70’s, my parents pointing knowingly to the maniac on my television screen dressed up as Wild Bill Watson (a car dealer mascot whose function was to shout ‘I’m Wild!!’ while getting hit in the face with a pie): ‘Son,’ they asked me – ‘…do you know who that REALLY is? That’s actually Morgus the Magnificent!’ ‘Who?’ I replied…”
But a decade later, I (not to mention, everybody else in the city) knew exactly who Morgus was – because in 1987, he had come back following a 20 year hiatus, to capture the imaginations of a new generation of New Orleaneans – his third audience, really. And in televising what was basically a 1950’s TV show in the 1980’s, he inspired probably hundreds of thousands of kids just like me to grow up to be scientists, doctors, engineers… not to mention, aspiring filmmakers and eager students of the imagination-fueled worlds of science fiction and horror.”
“By the time I was working at repaying the favor by co-producing the documentary Mystery of Morgus in 2009 with a couple of friends – Randy Perez and Barry Vedros, who themselves had been influenced by Morgus to become filmmakers and professional TV producers, I had spoken with dozens of people who all shared the same story – the story about this amazing television personality who had seemingly solidified from the detritus of the dusty attics of the French Quarter – or maybe congealed from the collective id of New Orleans itself – and immediately captivated their Saturday nights with laughter, horror, anarchistic merriment and bewilderment.
Morgus brought out something different in each of them – one followed in creator Sid Noel’s footsteps and became a nationwide radio announcer. Another became a prop and set builder. Still another made claymation puppets that became a fixture on SNL in the 70’s. (I myself felt compelled to put together a mad science-themed rock band, and keep it going for over 23 years…) Why do crazy crap like this? Simply because it’s fun to create! You only had to look at the guy on your TV screen obviously having the time of his life, completely free of any hangups regarding how a person is supposed to act in public. Morgus made every day like Mardi Gras – no wonder he didn’t make much sense to anybody outside the New Orleans area. But this kind of NOLA sense is one of the reasons I couldn’t see living pretty much anywhere else in the world.”
“Here’s to you, Morgus & Sid Noel: 60 years is but a blink of the eye to a character that will live on, hopefully eternally, as a perfect symbol of the individuality and proud eccentricity of our great city. MORGUS FOREVER!”
Aaron Angelo (Fan)
“When I first signed onto FB back in 2009 and started exploring what the site was, I was surprised to find no mention of Morgus. It was then that I started the first fan page on FB called “Friends of Science, Fans of Morgus the Magnificent.” Since that time, other groups have popped up, and that’s all great because it widens the audience and we share things back and forth, but Friends of Science was the first and the largest group to date. It’s been awesome because we’ve attracted so many people who were on the show who share stories and behind the scenes photos and it’s kind of a reunion page for all of them. We also have the daughters of the two guys who played Chopsley over the years on there who share stories about their fathers, that’s really neat.”
“Sid is an extremely private guy, and it has taken all of us by surprise that he’s even doing this show – I can’t wait. I started watching the show back in the ’80s, and I think it’s awesome that two generations of people separated by 30 years can say “they grew up watching Morgus.'”
Morgus (The Magnificent), regarding Sid Noel’s event
“I, Morgus, am not mad at being called a Mad Scientist because I am Mad at those boneheads in academia who call my experiments monstrosities of idiotic proportions.”
“Questions about the Higher Order will be told. Also, the world needs to know if there is another Earth like ours in the universe.”
“The scientific world will learn that very night, whether the speed of Dark is faster than the speed of Light.”
“It’s Sid Noel, in person, but I will be on the big screen, and we are going to reveal untold secrets that I have never let known before.”
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Follow him on Twitter: @billreviews