In the city of Cleveland, people of a certain age get all misty-eyed when the name “Ghoulardi” is uttered in their presence. He was a mysterious, anarchic, goofy “degenerate” Beatnik character who hosted a Friday late-night horror movie show from 1963 to 1966 on WJW-TV, Cleveland’s channel 8. Ghoulardi was more daffy than scary. You can see traces of Lenny Bruce, Soupy Sales and Ernie Kovacs in his shtick—the Bruce influence is evident in Ghoulardi’s slogan, which was “Stay Sick!”, whereas the Kovacs influence was demonstrated by Ghoulardi actually appearing in the monster movies thanks to a camera trick that superimposed him over the film chain. He would also use sound effects, shoot off fireworks and employ his own soundtracks for comic effect, often “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” by The Rivingtons. The Soupy Sales influence came with the general anarchy on the live TV set and Ghoulardi’s jabberwocky catchphrases like “Cool it with da boom-booms!” and “Turn blue!” There might have been a soupçon of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the mix, too.
Many of Ghoulardi’s baby boomer fans might be only dimly aware that Ghoulardi—real name Ernie Anderson—was also the father of some big-shot director who’s been making waves in Hollywood lately, P.T. Anderson or something like that? That’s right, Paul Thomas Anderson’s production company is called “The Ghoulardi Film Company” in honor of his father. Ernie Anderson died in 1997 and the movie Boogie Nights is dedicated to his memory.
Given how fondly his fans remember his show, Ghoulardi’s tenure in Cleveland was surprisingly brief—but this was an era in which television dominated everything (and with far fewer distractions). Ghoulardi was a huge influence on The Cramps, so much so that they titled their 1990 Stay Sick album in homage to him. When Anderson died, they dedicated their 1997 album, Big Beat From Badsville to the memory of Ghoulardi. David Thomas of Pere Ubu once complained that The Cramps were “so thoroughly co-optive of the Ghoulardi persona that when they first appeared in the 1970s, Clevelanders of the generation were fairly dismissive,” but from the vantage point of 2013, as John Petkovic wrote earlier this year in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ghoulardi (and his rock and roll progeny) “altered the gene pool, leaving a legion of freaky followers to continue in his wake.”
Ernie Anderson left Cleveland for the warmer climes of Los Angeles, where he became a respected voice-over artist and more or less the voice of the ABC television network. In 1983 he demonstrated some of his voice-over artistry on Late Night with David Letterman.
This November 1 marks the start of the three-day Ghoulardifest in Cleveland to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the show.
Catch some of Ghoulardi’s comedy stylings from 1963. Only 18 minutes of his programs actually survived. In this clip he opens up his mailbag, a format that Letterman himself would later make hay with. Ghoulardi gets away with an “racy” joke about poker that wouldn’t make an 11-year-old blink today.
Below, the Emmy-winning Ghoulardi documentary, ‘Turn Blue: The Short Life of Ghoulardi’ directed by Phil Hoffman: