From January of 1963 to December of 1966 Ernie Anderson, AKA Ghoulardi, ruled the Friday night airwaves in Cleveland with his b-movie show. To give you an idea of how popular his show was, Ghoulardi did what some of the top entertainers of their day consistently failed to do – HE BEAT JOHNNY CARSON’S TONIGHT SHOW IN THE RATINGS! Carson may have owned the rest of the country, but on Friday nights in Cleveland and vicinity Ghoulardi was the REAL king.
Ghoulardi, along with Vampira and Zacherley, is part of the Holy Trinity (or Trimurti if you prefer) of the early b-movie show hosts who proved so popular they ensured that the American folk art of hosting Grade Z films would not be just a passing fad. Those three pioneers (if you’re from Chicago you can add Mad Marvin) became pop culture icons and helped demonstrate how much fun bad movie culture can be. In Ghoulardi’s case his catch-phrases like “Stay sick” and “Ova dey!” were the “Hikeeba!” of their day. Anderson’s look was iconic, too, and his green lab coat predated Doctor Madblood’s and Trace Beaulieu’s similar outfits by decades while his pair of sunglasses with one lens missing was just one of the attributes adopted by Ghoulardi’s official “heir”, Ron Sweed’s character the Ghoul. (The Ghoulardi name was owned by the station so Sweed had to alter the handle when he launched his own movie host show in 1971)
Ernie Anderson projected a beatnik mad scientist persona for Ghoulardi and often used jazz and blues as background music for his host segments. Like with movie hosts before and since Anderson’s host segments were used to poke fun at how bad or just plain weird the schlocky films being shown were. Even more than either Vampira, Zacherley or Mad Marvin, Ghoulardi pioneered the whole “so bad they’re good” attitude toward the campy sci fi and horror films of the past. Perhaps only Bob Wilkins would exceed Ernie in the art of verbally demolishing the films he presented. Anderson would not just bluntly tell his viewers how lame the night’s flick was, he would even edit himself into the movie at times to offer sarcastic comments or to appear to be fleeing monsters in crowd scenes, etc.
Replacing the movie’s background music with kitschy songs or polka instrumentals was another Ghoulardi way of making b-movies fun, but he often seemed to reserve his most anarchic moments for his host segments. He would take shots at other popular on-air personalities at the station, most notably a young Mike Douglas before he became a star, he turned Cleveland’s Polish suburb of Parma into a running joke and, worst of all from the station’s viewpoint, Ernie encouraged fans to send in items that he would blow up with firecrackers on the air, once almost setting the studio on fire.
The “Ghoulardi attitude” was not purely a Cleveland phenomenon however. Anderson’s character was written up in Time magazine in the 60’s, and Cleveland’s own Michael Weldon was a huge Ghoulardi fan who made his own contribution to the nation’s bad movie subculture with his publication Psychotronic. One of Weldon’s articles on Ghoulardi inspired Denmark’s Jack J to name his movie fanzine Stay Sick!
The band called the Cramps likewise named an album of theirs Stay Sick as a nod to Ghoulardi and other Cleveland/Akron bands of the 70’s and later, like the Electric Eels, the Mirrors and others, have been called “the Ghoulardi kids” because of the way they carried the Ghoulardi attitude into the music scene. Sitcom star Drew Carey has cited Ernie Anderson’s creation as a major influence and wore Ghoulardi T-shirts in several episodes of his television show.
Eventually Anderson left Cleveland to join his former sidekick from the Ghoulardi show, Tim Conway himself, in Hollywood. Anderson never starred on a television show like Conway did, but he became an announcer for ABC and was the voice inviting viewers to “stay tuned for The Loooooove Boat” on many a Saturday night.
Never one to take himself too seriously, Anderson obligingly made with an encore of that famed promo announcement for the great Joe Bob Briggs in the early 90’s when Joe Bob had Ghoulardi, Zacherley and John Stanley as guests on his show.
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