Halloween is mere days away, and in that evil spirit I dig up an oddity from my dark and misguided youth. Horror…those black, velvety horror honeys that paraded around on late-night TV. You know, the ones where some scantily clad vixen would roll monster flicks like, Them, I Spit on Your Grave, and Hill House, while you swigged cheap cherry brandy and ate popcorn. And for years, thousands of New Jersey and Pennsylvania youth were hypnotized on Saturday nights by a buxom zombified beauty named Stella, The Man-Eater from Manayunk, played by Karen Scioli. Her show was called Saturday Night Dead, and it was on every weekend throughout the New Jersey and PA areas.
Scioli’s slapstick “can’t win” delivery is what made her series memorable. Using a combination of decadence, innuendo and shady-natured hijinks, she led the cast and viewers right into the flick of the night as only she could. Most of us relished the combination as did WKYW, the NBC affiliate that kept her on air and following Saturday Night Live for several gore filled years. And while Stella never became a national name like Vampira or Zacherley, she will always be remembered as the “Daughter of Desire” in this genre of American folk art.
But Scioli didn’t stop there. In 1997, Karen and author Robert Dunbar wrote Bats, in which Karen starred in a one-woman show at the Society Hill Playhouse. It received Honorable Mention from the ALR New Play Search and made it into the semi-finals of the Pennsylvania State Theater’s New Plays Festival. Karen was also featured in the indie film, Postcards from Paradise Park, in the year 2000, which successfully hit the film festival circuit.
Aside from her TV, stage and Radio career, Karen also worked behind the scenes as Production Coordinator for the TV show, Cops, and traveled across the country for two years with the crew filming the nitty gritty streets of America’s big cities. She was also the coordinator for ten years for Curt Crane Productions, a TV and film commercial production company.
Karen went on to create a web series on YouTube called, The Goth Mothers of Transylvania, an episodic show about the filthy dead rich women of Transylvania, and “Rere” can occasionally be found performing stand up around town. She is also teaching “The Actors Journey,” an adult acting class in Haddon Heights, NJ, and film/TV workshops for teens at Rowan College.
And now the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is inducting Scioli into the Pioneers’ “Hall of Fame.” The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is a non-profit membership based organization, founded in January of 1962 as a chapter of the national group of the Broadcast Pioneers.
Karen very graciously took a few minutes to discuss her past and present and future with me and get some inner-demons off her chest.
So, you’re being inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, that must be a big compliment, yes?
Oh my god I’m very honored. It’s that strange feeling of, “Oh my god, I’m being inducted!” It sounds sexual almost you know? [Laughs] Not to be confused with being abducted, that’s different. Yeah, but I’m so flattered, and in a way, it makes me feel like I’m at that age where I’m being inducted but on the other hand it’s like I’m lucky. I’m here at this age to experience this fun thing, and fun time. A lot of people die early right? How many times do we hear people bitch about being old?
So, I must say I’m beginning to embrace it more. I’m honored to be here and experience this now. I’ve been digitized up the wazoo and archived over this, and they have saved my shows to their archives. 141 shows have been digitized, and they asked for photos to which I replied, “Well the truck will be pulling up shortly!’ [She took a lot of photos from the show] Sort of like, This is Your Life. So, I’m kind of terrified to go to the dinner, because I have no control over the little speech they put together but I’m very flattered. So, it will be a dinner and a speech so I’m very nervous, I’ll have to not drink until it’s over, but I plan on making an event of it. I’m gonna milk it!
Has Stella and Saturday Night Dead gained popularity due to the internet?
Yes! Does it mean I made any money out of it? No, but yes for sure. I have 2,100 Facebook friends [She said that’s nothing for the social media world] but for me, I’m thrilled and honored that people contact me and share their memories about Stella and Saturday Night Dead. So, they’ll send me a Facebook friend request, and I’ll accept. Then over the next week, 25 more people because of them will be like, “Oh, right! Stella! I want to know her too.” So, they become members.
People share things with me, their memories and their lives and it has made me sometimes cry because you never know that when you put stuff out back then on TV that it’s going to cause such a lasting reaction. It’s a job, a fun job that carries a permanent karma into the present day through fan recollections and personal stories. So many people remember getting lost in the memories of Stella and the nights they spent while watching.
Do you still get together or work with old cast members?
Well, Bob Billbrough (Hives, the butler) and I are close, we have worked on things since Saturday Night Dead. We’ve done murder mysteries together and were always looking to work on things as a team. Bob will come into my acting classes and do Poe and Mark Twain monologues for me. But you know you must work and make money, so it’s hard to squeeze in the creative things.
My friend Glen Davish (Davish played Cousin Mel and everyone else), he is a very close friend that I stay in touch with. Mainly those two. Producers that I’ve worked with will stay in touch on Facebook but they’ve spread to different parts of the world to continue what they do, but I do try to keep in touch with the cast when possible.
Tell me about your acting workshop?
For the past four summers, I’ve been doing TV/Film camps for Rowan University through Kathy Wickline Casting in Philadelphia. There’s just something about seeking out an inner artist as art elevates us. So, Haddon Heights (her town) had decided they wanted to do something for seniors, so I sent them a proposal for a murder mystery workshop for a course total of eight weeks. It’s an acting class for seniors, but we also write and develop a do a murder mystery performance at the end, and they accepted it!
So that starts tomorrow (10/12), and I also have my new session teaching acting to seniors. Because I thought wouldn’t it be a fantastic documentary to do Romeo and Juliet because we go through life, more and more experiences so with that the better of an actor you become. So, yea Juliette is a 17-year-old, but a 17-year-old actress doesn’t have the expertise to really play that part. She looks the part, but when you give that monologue to someone who is 75, it blows you away. I know no one wants to see 75-year-olds having sex. I get that, but the emotion and everything really works.
So, I want to base it on a loving couple that are in their ‘70s or ‘80s. I’m finding it very rewarding working with seniors. We kind of brushed them to the wayside, and they are a resource of wisdom that we need to tap into more. There are so many cultures that honor their elderly, and I don’t think we do that, and I’d like to dig deeper into that. Thus, it starts tomorrow, and we’ll see. God knows what’s going to happen.
So, what else is on the horizon?
I really really want to do another episode of Goth Mothers. I’m talking to the girls now. I want to do an episode where we’re out promoting, like on tours like a Hollywood extra or something. Interviews and stuff kind of feel. Maybe we will just put it online. That’s what everybody does now right? All the Goth Mothers are on board to do some fun stuff. Besides that, I just want to get through the next year, run my workshop and attend my induction ceremony!
The induction ceremony takes place on Nov. 17, and tickets must be purchased in advance if you plan to attend. For more information, go to broadcastpioneers.com.