Story by Darl DeVault, Contributing Editor
Grateful for being able to write for Senior News and Living for almost three years, I am now sharing how my writing began.
I met John Ferguson, 91 at the time, at the June 2019 OKC 50+ Better Living Expo at the Oklahoma State Fair Park, where he was dressed as his “Count Gregore” character from decades of WKY-TV fame.
I first saw him standing in his character’s makeup and black cape, talking to a lady well away from any of the booths.
Playing Count Gregore, he was a favorite local on-air television personality for me while growing up. He is most famous for hosting live the 11:30 p.m. Saturday Nightmare Theater, Sleepwalkers Matinee, Creature Features and Horror Theater. He entertained his sizable TV audience as the host of eight movie series from 1958 to 2002 while on KFOR-TV, KOCO-TV, KOKH-TV, KAUT-TV and KOCB-TV.
I introduced myself, telling Ferguson how much everyone appreciated his talented entertainment in this market. He thanked me for remembering him. We talked about other things he had done in the OKC market.
He told me he made a living in other creative agendas. He wrote, produced and appeared in countless radio and television commercials in sales, sales management. He mentioned other places he lived while employed in different facets of the entertainment industry. He spoke fondly about making commercials from behind the camera.
Our conversation turned to how difficult it was to make a living in a small market like Oklahoma City. I told him I was J-school trained at the University of Oklahoma, writing for The Oklahoma Daily, the student newspaper. We agreed OKC is a small market for creative endeavors.
His characters made him a household name for his many fans playing with local legend Danny Williams during those years. He talked about how he enjoyed starring as “Bazark, The Robot” and “Evil Duke of Mukedeen” opposite his hero character Dan D. Dynamo (Williams), on WKY-TV.
He was amazed I could retire as a writer at 55 in 2010. My explanation was the Oklahoma taxpayers spent a lot of money on us at OU. They funded the school’s printing press and an excellent Journalism Department as a significant investment in my learning to write well. Our conversation soon broke up, as I did not want to take up all his time.
Later, while leaving the Expo, I walked down the last row of booths. There was Ferguson again. He was still in makeup, sitting without his black cape behind a booth all by himself, watching people go by. I thanked him again for his time speaking with me and wished him well.
While speaking to him, a guy came rushing up to the booth. He hurriedly told Ferguson he needed him to get his cape on because he wanted to introduce him to people in another booth.
Ferguson started to look for his cape while pointing at me and saying to the guy seeking his help, “he’s a writer.” He found his cape and stood up to put it on. Again, to the person hurrying him to get ready, he said while pointing at me, “he’s a writer.”
The two of them were about to walk away from the booth. Ferguson pointed at me for the third time and said to the guy, “he’s a writer.” By this time, curious about why he kept saying that, I asked Ferguson, “Why do you keep saying that?”
Ferguson then introduced the guy saying, “this is Steven Eldridge, the publisher of Senior News and Living, who is looking for a writer.” At first focused on Ferguson, I finally looked down to notice what booth he had been sitting behind. It was the Senior News and Living booth, a major Expo sponsor.
Ferguson’s effort to point me out as a potential employee caused Eldridge to ask me where I learned to write. I said, “I was J-school trained at OU in the mid-70s.” Eldridge then asked me what I was writing now, and I replied I was retired.
Eldridge told me I could be a good match for his reader’s demographics at Senior News and Living with my writing background and being retired. He asked if I would write a story for him to evaluate for the publication. He said if he liked my work, he would offer me a job writing feature stories. Eldridge told me my articles could start on the front page. He said he would also pay me for photographs.
He asked me if I had any ideas for an upcoming article he could evaluate. I said I did not have any story ideas in mind. He gave me his business card and the last two Senior News and Living issues.
I saw Bobby Anderson wrote for Eldridge when I looked through the magazines. Anderson was also OU J-school trained, having written for the Norman Bureau of The Daily Oklahoman. In looking over the June issue, Anderson, an excellent journalist, had written a front-page feature article about Ferguson, which explained why he was at the event.
I remembered I had taken photographs of Osage master artist Clancy Gray at the Red Earth Arts Festival earlier that month. Gray was The Honored One for that year at the event in downtown OKC.
Knowing how to contact Gray through the Red Earth organizers, I started to craft an excellent front-page feature story about him with good photos. I had taken a compelling photo of the Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, an Osage, and his family with Gray because they bought a painting from him at the event.
A few days later, I finished the article after interviewing Gray. I emailed the article to Eldridge along with the photographs. True to his word, he ran it on the front page. I have now written every month since.
I am grateful to Ferguson for providing me with a meaningful life experience by prompting my interaction with Eldridge. That gratitude also extends to Eldridge for allowing me to write for him during these last two years of COVID-19. The timing could not have been any better for my mental health during the isolation of being careful about the pandemic.
For Count Gregore fans like me, there is a 2008 YouTube video worth watching wherein the Count introduces his top 10 horror movies worth watching at Count Gregore’s top ten (2008-10-23) – YouTube.
Ferguson explains how Danny Williams motivated him to create so many characters in a 24-minute Vimeo video narrative in 2011 of his WKY-TV career at https://vimeo.com/458860008.