NEW ORLEANS — It’ll be a treat – and no tricks – this Halloween for fans of Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus, as WUPL-TV broadcasts a vintage episode of one of the famed scientist’s televised experiments.
A special broadcast of a 1961 episode of “Morgus the Magnificent” will air on WUPL-TV Channel 54 (Cox Cable Channel 2, Charter Cable Channel 16) on Saturday, Oct. 31 at 10:30 p.m.
It’s the same time slot where Morgus premiered to great fanfare on WWL-TV in January 1959. His shows ran in that time period for nearly six decades on Channel 4 and other local television stations.
The special showing on Halloween, a holiday which Morgus particularly enjoyed, is a tribute to his creator, Sid Noel Rideau, who died in August.
The episode, created just two years after Morgus premiered on WWL, was shot in color on 16mm film. It was recently transferred to video by a Burbank, California film company. Lewis D’Aubin, a longtime Morgus fan and friend of Rideau’s, coordinated the restoration project and has worked for several weeks to meticulously enhance the film for its television airing.
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Segments of the episode have been shown in various forms over the years, including in WWL stories paying tribute to Rideau last summer, but it has not been seen in its entirety since 1961.
“The film itself was acquired off of eBay 20 years ago by R.J. Sevin and Chuck Brillowsky, who runs the morgus.com website and is a longtime fan,” D’Aubin said. “It was shot in an attempt by Sid to market Morgus to television stations in other cities.”
Even the thousands of fans who remember watching Morgus on WWL in his earliest days have rarely seen him like this in full color, since that technology was still new in 1961. He and his lab are also more disheveled and garish than in later video incarnations.
“People like me who remember watching him in the 1980s will notice this is a much different-looking Morgus, even though all of the best elements are there,” D’Aubin said. “Sid was 32 at the time, so he’s also at the top of his game when it comes to the character and his physical comedy.”
The episode begins with the familiar opening sequence – the eerie sounds of a theremin, followed by a close-up shot of the skull of Morgus’ yes-man and lab assistant Eric. He intones, “Greetings! It’s time to join the master, Morgus the Magnificent.”
We find Dr. Morgus, often described as a modern-day Don Quixote, at work inside his lab atop the old city icehouse. “Once again my genius shall be put to a test before the entire scientific world,” he proclaims at the start. “Those bonebrains at the university who kicked me out years ago shall regret the words they spoke against me,” he says with a laugh. “They said I was a nut! They said I ran nothing but experiments that were monstrosities of idiotic proportions. We’ll soon see where the word idiotic belongs.”
He proceeds to explain his latest innovation which will be explained and demonstrated in detail: the Morgus-o Perpetual Cardio Machine, “a heart machine designed to give endless life to the human body.” A person who is hooked up to it, Morgus claims, will live to be “about 200 years old.”
His initial plan is to demonstrate it using his ever-present silent hulk of an assistant, Chopsley (played by Tommy George). “Your name will be in headlines right next to mine,” Morgus promises. Chopsley knows otherwise and leaps off the operating table when Morgus mentions making an incision and pulling his heart out.
Instead, Chopsley helps the master perform the operation on a visiting colleague, Dr. Hugo Belcher. “If this machine does half of what you claim, it will be the greatest discovery in cardiovascular research!” Belcher exclaims, before consenting to become the first man to undergo the procedure. The rest of the televised operation (“heart-throbbing,” as Eric puts it) goes about as well as longtime Morgus viewers would expect.
The episode was directed by longtime Morgus collaborator and WWL pioneer Rupert Copponex.
Viewers living through the coronavirus pandemic will get a chuckle when Eric reminds Morgus – mid-operation – that he’s forgotten to wear his surgical mask. “Pardon me, I don’t want to frighten you,” the doctor says as he covers his one-of-a-kind face. “I have to put a mask on naturally, to keep the germs away from the patient.”
Unlike most Morgus airings, this time there’s no horror or science fiction movie to sit through in between science lessons. It’s all Morgus and a magnificent way to appreciate the creative genius of a New Orleans icon.
“This is Morgus at his very best,” D’Aubin said.