January 26, 2018
Starting in the late 1950s, just about every major city in America had a horror movie host. In 1957, Screen Gems made available to TV stations a package of old Universal Studios horror movies, dubbing the collection Shock Theater. The syndicator encouraged local TV stations to have hosts show the films and many obliged. In many cases, someone who was already employed by the station in some capacity was recruited, often a weatherman or newscaster.
To name just a few, Philadelphia had Dr. Shock. Indianapolis had Sammy Terry and Cincinnati tuned in to watch the Cool Ghoul.
WJW, Channel 8 in Cleveland, turned to former disc jockey Ernie Anderson, who had recently joined the station as an announcer and morning show host. Where horror hosts in other cities played off the genre and dressed as vampires or zombies, Anderson’s Ghoulardi was portrayed as a hipster and often made fun of the films being shown. Sound effects and commentary were commonly inserted into the movies. On-camera high-jinx included the setting off of fireworks in the studio among other stunts. It could be argued that these elements would later influence programs like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax.
Anderson’s final broadcast as Ghoulardi came on December 16, 1966. At the behest of close friend Tim Conway, who had left Cleveland for Los Angeles a few years earlier, Anderson headed west. It was Anderson who got Conway a job at Channel 8 which lasted until station management discovered the future Mchale’s Navy and Carol Burnett Show star had greatly embellished his resume.
In Los Angeles, Anderson went on to become a much sought-after announcer most famously being the voice of ABC television in the ‘70s and ‘80s. A generation can still hear him saying “the Love Boat,” in his unique tone.
Cleveland would eventually have four horror movie programs, with three running in the 70s and 80s. Superhost aired on Channel 43 on Saturday afternoons, Hoolihan and Big Chuck (later Big Chuck and Lil' John) took over the Channel 8 airwaves on Friday nights.
“Big Chuck” Schodowski had worked on the Ghoulardi show before teaming with weatherman Bob “Hoolihan” Wells in 1966 following Anderson’s departure. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Ghoul had Saturday nights on Channel 61. The Ghoul was portrayed by Ron Sweed, a former intern of Anderson’s who developed the character with the blessing of his former boss.
Anderson’s son, Paul Thomas, is an award-winning filmmaker (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Hard Eight).
In 2012, a documentary called True Blue: The Short Life of Ghoulardi was released. The title might be a bit misleading as Anderson passed away in 1997 at the age of 73.
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