Everything changed in Cleveland, Ohio when Shock Theater began airing on WJW-TV Channel 8 on January 13, 1963 and viewers got their first look at Horror Host Ghoulardi! In the fine state of Ohio I would say that Cleveland probably has the richest history when it comes to Horror Hosts with Dayton being the only other city that comes close to matching that legacy. The man who started it all for Cleveland is Ghoulardi who is considered by many to be the king of hosts in the Buckeye state. When selecting hosts to cover for the 10 Year Anniversary of the Horror Host Hall Of Fame, I knew Ghoulardi had to be on the list as his impact is still felt to this day in the city’s culture and entertainment. I also feel that this Horror Host Icon update is way overdue as many of you readers and friends have asked for it, so it’s with great honor that I bring to you Horror Host Icon: Ghoulardi. So sit back, turn blue and for gosh sakes, stay out of Parma!
Shock Theater with host Ghoulardi started in 1963 and from the first airing took the viewers by storm as it seemed like the whole city tuned in, and as Horror Host rumors go, when he was on, crime would drop in the city as even the criminals were watching! Shock Theater would last until 1966 and would spawn two other shows hosted by Ghoulardi with one being a kid’s show and the other, another movie show. While Shock Theater only lasted a short three years, Ghoulardi’s popularity knew no bounds and Clevelanders could just not get enough. Ghoulardi himself was a beatnik who had a fright wig on, a fake black goatee and would wear a blue button up shirt covered in buttons. He was a sharp tongued beatnik who could fire off jokes and insults with the best of any stand up comedian and took joy in making fun of many of the nights movies as well as fellow local celebrities. His hosting style at the time was very original as he totally played it from a “too cool for school” standpoint and would even add his own sound bites and soundtracks into the film, at some points even adding himself into the night’s movie for a good laugh. Ghoulardi was also known for having his own catchphrases that Cleveland youngsters would say to each other like “Turn Blue”, “Stay Sick” and “KNIF.” He also was known for using fireworks on models and toys, which made him a target from some parents and schools. He really was a Horror Host that made his viewers feel like he was their strange friend who would spend his time watching Horror Movies with them and like they were part of something very special when they watched Shock Theater, almost like they belonged to a new culture.
Ernie Anderson was the man behind the fake beard of Ghoulardi. He was born on November 12, 1923 in Boston, Massachusetts and was raised in Lynn with his parents Emily and Ernest Anderson. During World War II Ernie joined the Navy and did not see combat or so it’s believed. After the war, he attended Suffolk University for only two years and then took a job as a DJ on a radio station in Vermont, and this would lead to radio gigs in New York, Rhode Island and finally Cleveland at station WHK. But while he enjoyed his time on radio, with a format change his time at WHK came to an end in late 1958 and with this, he started his career in TV. His first major hit was a movie show called “Ernie’s Place” that had him also doing skits with comedian Tim Conway. But like all good things the show came to an end, and in 1963 Ernie was offered the horror show “Shock Theater” that would air Friday nights. This was a mega hit and really did kick start his career in showbiz as besides Shock Theater he would also host “Masterpiece Theater” on Saturdays and weekly kids show “Laurel, Ghoulardi and Hardy” showing that Ghoulardi was Cleveland’s most beloved Host. And like before, all good things come to an end as Ernie would leave Cleveland and end Shock Theater in 1966 to move to Los Angeles. While in LA he would get acting and voice work on such shows as “Rango”, “Hollywood Palace”, “The Carol Burnett Show” and his most iconic non-Horror Host role was when he became the main voice for bumpers used in ABC programming. He would also go on to do voice work for “America’s Funniest Home Videos” as well as commercials for RCA and Ford Motor Company. Ernie would also lend his golden voice to cartoons “Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors”, “The Adventures Of Super Mario Bros. 3” and “The Powerpuff Girls”. During this Ernie was married a total of three times and had ten children, one being famous director Paul Thomas Anderson known for his films like “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood” to name a few. Ernie Anderson was a smoker and sadly on February 6, 1997 he passed away after a battle with lung cancer. While Ernie is gone, his impact in the world of entertainment is still felt to this day and what he did for Ohio Horror Hosting will never be outdone.
Being born in Ohio, the name Ghoulardi is one you know as his popularity was talked about here in Dayton and even Waynesville. I can remember Ghoulardi being talked about in many of the old Monster Magazines my brother and I had, and then later of course Drew Carrey on his sitcom “The Drew Carey Show” use to wear a t-shirt that had his picture on it, showing that Ghoulardi was indeed a major part of Cleveland culture and is a Horror Host that helps define the city’s entertainment. I first saw Ghoulardi via a VHS tape that had clips of Horror Hosts from all over and can remember enjoying the little I saw as it was clear his style had made so many others in his area mimic his humor, sayings and even look! I have been a part of the Horror Host trade lists, fan sites, groups and boards for many, many years, and one host that is always on people’s want list is Ghoulardi. But like so many hosts from his time, most of his shows were not saved and no home recording machines like Beta or VHS were in homes yet, leaving the world with only some clips and hope that something more will be found for his legion of fans. While I enjoy Ghoulardi, I am not a major fan like so many other Host fans and friends I have, but even if he is not one of my all time favorites, you have to respect what he has done for Horror Hosting in Ohio as well as the world.
Ghoulardi is such an iconic Horror Host that he has had lots of amazing merchandise items made with his image on it! His bearded beatnik image has graced cups, posters, shirts, magazines, books, toys, magnets, art and even comic books by artist Derf of “My Friend Dahmer” fame as well as Bob Ferguson who made a comic in 1998. So as you can see, if you are a fan of Ghoulardi there is so much out in the world for you to collect and enjoy. I would say Ghoulardi only may be matched by Vampira as a Horror Host who lasted a very short time on TV and yet sparked so many fans and so much merchandise that allows their legacy to live on. In my collection I do own both comic books as well as a magnet.
When thinking about Ghoulardi one thing that always comes to my mind is all the Horror Hosts that followed him that were inspired by his look, humor and style of hosting. The first name on the list has to be The Ghoul who was the chosen successor as Ghoulardi passed the mantel to him! Spawned from there, we have Son Of Ghoul, Dr. Shock, and even Janet Decay’s show was called The Daughter Of Ghoul for a short time before she started hosting “The Mummy And The Monkey” with Grimm Gorri. While many of them did or do the classic Ghoulardi bits, they themselves have also made that style their own. I don’t want to spend too much time on The Ghoulardi Family Tree as I am sure each of the above mentioned will get the Horror Host Icon treatment as some point. But just know that Ghoulardi has inspired many of Cleveland’s Horror Hosts who have shared some of his classic bits with their viewers for generations.
On October 12, 2019 a journey to Cleveland was made by Juliet, myself and our friend Scott Scarborough as we attend Ghoulardifest, and this was a first time to attend for all of us! The event was held at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds and Event Center that was also the site of the haunted house attraction “7 Floors Of Hell.” We arrived a little after 4pm; it was a pretty cool location with a very small town feel. It was $15.00 to enter the convention, which was being held in two buildings. The first room was filled with all types of vendors selling movies, comics, magazines, toys, model kits, books, vinyl records, food and cards with companies like Monster Bash and Cinema Wasteland on hand. In that room as well were guests like Alison Arngrim from TV show Little House On The Prairie who played Nellie Oleson as well as Victoria Price author and daughter of Vincent Price. Plus in the first room was tons of Ghoulardi merchandise at the official table for the Horror Host Icon that had items like buttons, mugs and so many shirts! The second room was really cool as they had a stage set up and a band called the Geeze Cats were playing and also had vendors like Scary Monster Magazine selling goods. But this room’s main attraction for me was the Horror Hosts from the area! The first host as you walked in, was Lamia of Horror Hotel, who was a very nice person as was her crew. Then true Ohio Horror Host royalty Big Chuck, Lil’ John and Hoolihan were meeting with many of their fans. While I saw Chuck and John, I did not spot Hoolihan. Next we spotted Janet Decay and Grimm Gorri from the show “Mummy And The Monkey”, these two are true class acts and are some of my favorite people to chat with at any convention. Drac and his lovely wife Carita were next to them, and I wanted to chat with them but they also had a line of fans, so sadly I did not…one day, Drac, we shall talk in person. Next up was Dale Kay from Dale Kay’s Spookshow, he was not at his table and crazy enough I did not see him at all the whole time we were there. Also on hand was The Midnight Movie cast as well as Don O’Malley from Don’s Breakfast Serial and lastly Son Of Ghoul was on hand! It was very cool to see that many of Cleveland’s talented Horror Hosts in one room and to see fans around them talking and supporting their hometown ghouls. The show closed at 6pm and we spent the whole two hours we had soaking up all the cool people and stuff around us. I ended up getting a few DVD’s from Lamia and Janet & Grimm, as well as picked up a cool mini Phantom Of The Opera figure, a Ghoulardi comic book and some bags of homemade cheese popcorn! Over all this was a very cool event for fans who love Horror Hosts as well as classic monster stuff and I am glad I got to do and see what Ghoulardifest was all about! And on that note it was very cool to see Cleveland come out and support their local hosts like this and they showed them all so much respect. This was an event I am glad I attended and it’s one that I think if you love the rich history of Cleveland Horror Hosts you should at least attend once. Below are some pictures from that day that include me with Hostess Lamia
So as you can see, Ghoulardi is the definition of Horror Host Icon as well as Horror Host Hall Of Famer as his popularity and impact have held strong for decades! Now we are at the point of our update where we will take a look at the episodes of Shock Theater I own, and sadly as I said before, most of Ghoulardi’s episodes are gone for the ages and only some video clips have survived and the one episode I have is in fact a fan reproduction of some of the surviving clips. I want to also remind you all that I will not be giving this episode a star rating and I will be taking the film’s write up from our pals at IMDB and the host segments portion will be written by me. So if you are ready to Turn Blue, let’s take a look at Ghoulardi.
Shock Theater: The Atomic Man
Starring – Gene Nelson & Faith Domergue Not Rated 1955
Host: We start with Ghoulardi smoking cigarette and showing footage of a baseball game he was apart of. It’s the highlights with Ghoulardi giving commentary as a version of Take Me Out To The Ball Game plays. He then fans himself with a Stay Sick Fan and we go to the movie. We next join Ghoulardi who has blown up a hat and puts on glasses and makes an off color joke and then back to the movie. Next Ghoulardi sets off a boom-boom next to a monster head and then once more smokes a cigarette and shows his book “The Life Of Ghoulardi” and reads from it. Ghoulardi next is playing skull bongos and then reads a fan letter about a club that hates him, he of course roasts them in his own smooth way and then answers more letters. Ghoulardi ends the show showing off a “Ghoulardi Box” that shocks one of the station workers and then laughs as the episode ends.
Movie: An atomic scientist is found floating in a river with a bullet in his back and a radioactive halo around his body. The radioactivity has put him seven-and-a-half seconds ahead of us in time. He teams up with a reporter to stop his evil double from destroying his experiments in artificial tungsten.
Note From Matt: This episode is a fan reproduction as no known broadcast versions of the show exists. And while a fun watch at times, the reproduction gets a little sloppy with static and picture role.
While Ghoulardi is gone, I feel his legacy will never die in the state of Ohio and beyond as his iconic voice, sayings and image will forever have its place in American pop culture. And while Ghoulardi has been off the air for over 55 years as of this updates posting, Cleveland is still in good hands for all the hosts who have been inspired by him and those hosts of years ago he inspired. And with that we will be leaving the magical land of Cleveland and Ghoulardi behind and will be heading to Parma…no wait, I mean back to the world of Mighty Max as we spend Christmas Eve with him and his crew! So as always, read a comic or three, watch a movie or two and as always support your local Horror Host. See you on Christmas Eve friends and readers!