Thursday, December 22, 2011

Down For The Count: The Life, Times, Trials, and Tribulations of Gregore the Great

The easiest thing to say is that it was a different time. So I will.

It was a different time.

No one knows this better than author Tom Fowler who has written a biography of John Ferguson, who among many other things, was and is a beloved Oklahoma City TV personality. The biography, published by Sabre Enterprises, is an ode to a member of a select group of people that in this media diverse, crass and down right brutal age would seem an anachronistic fraternity at best.

As hard as it is to fathom there was a period, an era, when television in places like Oklahoma City had only three stations and those stations had to produce local programming with local talent. There was of course the news, weather, and sports, but there were also local variety shows, and local programming for children. People at the stations wrote, produced and acted in what amounted to mini serial comedy/drama/action adventures which aired in the afternoons and sometimes on Saturday mornings.

Ferguson was one of those brave souls who did all of the above, primarily in the guise of the sinister Count Gregore. If you are of a certain age and grew up in Oklahoma City the name Count Gregore is synonymous with your youth. He appeared at about the same time your parents would let you stay up late on the weekends, but still wouldn't let you out of the house. You were too old for tucking in and too young to drive.

Fowler has captured the essence of the man who we watched on those quiet evenings alone in the den or living room while everyone else in the house was snoozing. His book, "Count Gregore, Oklahoma Legend: The John Ferguson Story" paints a portrait not only of a unique and talented individual, but chronicles an age when we baby boomers were in awe and wonder of all that was around us and indeed, life itself.

Beginning with Ferguson's up bringing in small town Indiana, Fowler follows his life and career through the decades. As with any such saga there are twists and turns, triumphs and tragedy. Ferguson's persona on TV masked a seemingly unending series of family health crises. From a loving wife with chronic heart disease to a daughter who was first born without a developed hip socket, then suffered not one but two serious injuries in accidents, Ferguson and the Count plowed on.

He was and still is a renaissance man with a strain of the daredevil to him. How else do you understand someone who was a self described mediocre student striking out for Hollywood to find work in the movies. Or, meeting a woman, falling in love with her and moving to a strange town after a Vegas wedding, because that is where she lived. Or, finally, becoming a highly successful television sales rep, who improvs his way through decades of skits during the airing of movies such as "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "The Thing From Outer space."

Years ago, growing up in central Oklahoma meant you were probably fans of four people. HoHo the Clown, portrayed by Ed Birchall. Dan D. Dynamo, played by Danny Williams. Foreman Scotty played by Steve Powell. And finally Ferguson's Gregore. Birchall and Powell have passed away. Williams is retired in Phoenix. Ferguson is doing things like being the grand marshal of the annual Halloween parade in downtown OKC. It would seem you can't keep a good ghoul down.

Some of Fowler's Gregorian chant becomes unstuck in time, leaping back and forth between the ages. It is of minor concern. If you are a boomer, especially one from Oklahoma, this love letter is something that should revive your soul and warm your heart. It is a revealing portrait of a brave, complex, and genuinely kind, man who we all grew up with.

As you read it, just keep in mind his oft repeated warning. Make sure your doors and windows are locked, for the Count lives.

Long live the Count.

12-22-11

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