A modest gray house on a suburban Moore street is a far cry from the eerie mansion generations of viewers envisioned. And it's a cadre of dogs and cats that greet visitors, not a colony of bats. Then again, John Ferguson is not, contrary to popular belief, anything like the sinister Count Gregore he created more than 50 years ago.
For decades, Ferguson made it his job to spook ghoulish horror enthusiasts on late-night TV, but now he's trying to survive a scare of his own. Years of traumatic accidents and near-fatal family health issues have brought the affable 82-year-old to the brink of foreclosure on the home he's lived in since 1995.
Ferguson is $13,000 behind on house payments, with $64,000 left on his mortgage, he said. On July 31, he received both a notice that Chase Finance had filed for foreclosure and summons to appear in court within 20 days regarding the house.
"It's not like I'm out bar-hopping," Ferguson said. "I'm an 82-year-old responsible person trying to save his house."
As unassuming as it may look and as seemingly ill-fitting for a Count as it may be, this brick-and-mortar foundation is more than just a house. Its walls contain memories and hold a history, both of pain and joy.
On the ground floor is the bedroom that Ferguson shared with his wife until she succumbed to dementia and congestive heart failure. Her ashes now sit in a simple urn on the mantle. Upstairs is the bedroom shared by Ferguson's daughter, Pam Hobbs, and her husband. And down the hall, behind a door with a hand-scrawled "Do Not Disturb" sign, is the place where Ferguson goes to "hide out."
In that room, mementos of a diverse lifetime mingle and accumulate. Golf plaques and photos hang on one wall. Awards and honors bestowed to both Ferguson and his Gregore character adorn another. There are also the unique souvenirs, like the handmade Count Gregore bust fashioned by an anonymous young male viewer in 1958.
It's a treasure trove, one that friends like Pam Fields and Robert Curry are trying to save. The pair started the Facebook page "Count Gregore Benefit Group," which now counts more than 200 members. Their aim is to get Gregore's (and Ferguson's) friends and fans to donate money to The Count Gregore Benefit Account at the Bank of Oklahoma.
"I kind of had a preconceived notion," said Fields, who worked with Ferguson in a production at the Jewel Box Theatre. "He'd been on TV, and I thought he'd live in a big fancy house and have everything he could ever want."
Fields said the situation was all the more heartbreaking because of the story " a series of unfortunate events " that got Ferguson to this point.
Hobbs was born in 1965 without a hip. Surgery followed. In the 1970s, she and her mother were involved in a horrific car accident, requiring long recovery times for both. Ten years later, Hobbs was flipped from her horse in a barrel-racing competition and fell into a two-month coma. That injury left her with long-term rehabilitation, double vision and seizures. The medication for those seizures and the cost of rehab coupled with Ferguson's wife's heart medications and less-than-stellar insurance coverage took a heavy toll on family finances.
Still, they survived. But by 2002, his wife was in need of another heart surgery and in the throes of progressing dementia. Four years later, she entered a nursing home, and Ferguson lost his job at a golf course. In July 2009, she passed away. A horrible loss in and of itself, her death also meant the end of her monthly Social Security checks, and another revenue stream evaporated.
Ferguson's sole source of income today is his monthly $1,500 Social Security check, and it's not enough to spread across house, car and insurance payments, as well as utilities. In a perfect world, Ferguson said he would be able to pay off his back pay with the help of the Facebook group and revenue generated by a DVD biography he hopes to release by the fall. At that point, he'd like to refinance the home and set up smaller monthly payments.
As to what happens if he does lose the house, "I don't know," he said.
His friends hope he doesn't have to figure that out. Curry said he still hopes the group can raise enough to stall Chase's foreclosure proceedings.
"I think there are probably several thousand people like me that grew up watching the Count," he said. "And if they hear about this, maybe they'll be moved to help, and we can get this done." "Nicole Hill
Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, Count Gregore will serve as the grand marshal in the Gazette's Ghouls Gone Wild Halloween Parade on Oct. 23.
photo Count Gregore, aka John Ferguson, hopes to scare away foreclosure efforts involving his Moore home.