Tag Archives: chuck john

EPISODE REVIEW: The Ghoul’s airing of 1935’s SCROOGE (December 17, 1999)

I have no idea what’s happening the rest of the month, so consider this your de facto Christmas and New Year post.  I suppose I could wait till Monday and post this on the 19th anniversary of the original air date, but I’m, uh, not.

But hey, if I’m gonna jump the gun, what a way to do it!

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t do another “Ghoul post” so soon after the last one, even if the last one was in actuality back in August. Not that I couldn’t babble about Ghoul Power every single day if I wanted to; it’s just that I worry about over-saturating all four of my regular readers or something like that.

At any rate, in the months since that August update, some sad and shocking news dropped: Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed suffered a massive heart attack. I don’t know all of the details, other than it happened and that triple-bypass surgery was needed. As far as I know, and hope, he’s had the surgery and is recovering now. Scary, scary stuff; I sincerely pray he makes it through with flying colors and comes out stronger than ever.

Well before that news (and also well before that August post), and certainly continuing afterwards, I had made a habit of revisiting a lot of the old Ghoul shows I recorded off WBNX TV-55 in the late-1990s and early-2000s. For the most part they don’t feel that old to me, and yet it’s been so long since I had watched some of them (or in some cases, taped but never watched at all), that they’ve essentially become ‘new’ to me all over again. I have greatly enjoyed having a regular (sometimes every single night) dose of Ghoul Power!

So, to talk about a horror host in December, it may seem a little strange, until you realize (or at least read the title of this update) that every Christmas season, The Ghoul went all-out in celebration, and he perhaps never went more all-out than he did in December of 1999, when the entire month was dedicated to Christmas-appropriate films. Not only was it intensely festive, but The Ghoul was probably at his peak in both material and visibility on the station.

Over the course of the month, not one but two films that would become personal Christmastime favorites of mine were presented: 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (for me it has become a tradition to watch this movie at some point in December each year), and our subject today, 1935’s Scrooge, which also happens to be my go-to film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Ghoul tackled it on December 17, 1999, one whole week before Christmas Eve! The anticipation was running high, and Santa Ghoul was running rampant!

The episode opens with a really cool intro: old footage of “Santa Ghoul” from the WKBF TV-61 days (i.e., the 1970s) being pulled by a reindeer, and then transitioning to the modern day Santa Ghoul on his set, before transitioning back to the old footage to close the intro out. Neato!

During the ‘current’ portion of his intro, The Ghoul promises not just a movie, but all kinds of “eclectic Christmas vignettes,” and boy, he wasn’t lying! During the Friday 11:30 PM era of his WBNX run, man, there would be a ton material packed into any given show, and this installment was no exception. Some vintage bits, some trips around Cleveland (including visits to the WOIO and WNCX studios), some ice skating, all in addition to his on-set antics and a genuinely good Christmas movie! When it comes to local holiday celebrations, this was a terrific, jam packed example – and there was still a week to go before his actual Christmas special!

Before we get to all of The Ghoul stuff though, let’s look at Scrooge. Look, I wanted to do some kind of tribute to The Ghoul before the year was out, but I also really, really wanted to talk about this movie. I love this movie; not that I’m terribly familiar with the others, but it’s still my favorite film version of A Christmas Carol. Some of that’s nostalgia; for years, WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35 (“The CAT”) annually ran a commercial-free presentation of it each Christmas Eve (I talked about it before, though don’t bother visiting that link; the article is old and terrible). But even beyond the fond memories, I just think it’s a genuinely good film.

Released in 1935, this is not only one of the more underrated adaptations of the story, it’s also one of the more obscure. Both the 1938 and 1951 versions tend to eclipse it, though I admittedly have no real experience with those (they may very well be, and apparently are, better movies).

Still, when you’ve got the foundation of stellar source material, it’s probably all relative (to a point, anyway). The classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, miserly and anti-Christmas-lovin’, getting a verbal beat-down by the tortured spirit of former business partner Jacob Marley and then put in check by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in order to make him not only get Christmas but get Christmas all year long, hey, it’s legendary stuff. No joke, calling it “legendary” actually seems to downplay the whole thing; A Christmas Carol has become one of the most recognizable, enduring ‘extras’ associated with Christmas.

(In other words, do I really need to explain any more of the plot? Doesn’t everyone know it by now? I’m pretty sure there are kids that are born automatically knowing this story.)

Great source material or not, I’d imagine any filmed version of A Christmas Carol ultimately hinges on the guy in the lead role, and let me tell you, Sir Seymour Hicks makes for an excellent Scrooge. From the onset, he’s not just cranky; he’s downright unpleasant. You’re not supposed to initially like Scrooge of course, and Hick’s rendition is so filled with vitriol, so angry at anything approaching cheer, that you really don’t.

Of course, that just makes his eventual redemption all the more joyful, and Hicks is terrific in demonstrating the transition. He really comes off as a changed man! And his looks of sadness at what he has and is missing out on, as well as his fear at what will be, are all nicely portrayed as well.

1935’s Scrooge also has something going for it that I find continuously appealing: a feeling of authenticity. Sure, the movie is old (duh!), black and white (duh duh!) and a little creaky (duh duh duh!). But it somehow feels like Britain in 1843, as if it was really filmed back then. Sure, there’s probably some time period inconsistencies, but for your average fella such as myself, the vibes are overwhelmingly old fashioned, I guess you could say. It feels like you’re there during an old timey English Christmas, or at least it feels that way to me.

The movie also does a good job of presenting the deeper aspects of Christmas, as you’d expect. Sure there’s the parties and merriment and so on, but ultimately it’s about a generosity and happiness of spirit, with obviously the birth of Christ at the center of it all, even if only by implication. (I should mention now I haven’t actually read the original book, unless you count the mega-abridged and rewritten edition I read when I was in like 3rd grade – which I don’t.)

In its original British incarnation, Scrooge was 70+ minutes long, but for the U.S. it was edited down to around an hour, and it’s those truncated prints that made the rounds on American television and home video for decades. (And the fact that it’s apparently public domain in the U.S. only exacerbated matters.) Obviously it was a common hour-long version that The Ghoul was running, but unlike a good many flicks featured on the show, it wasn’t chopped to ribbons. The only bit I really noticed missing was the “Lord mayor of London celebration” scene, but its exclusion didn’t hurt the plot any. Indeed, by and large, the ‘meat’ of the story is here and is completely coherent.

And of course, since this was The Ghoul after all, there was a bevy of sound effects, music and what have you dropped into the film, including the humorous “fact bubbles” that were a staple of the show at the time, as you can see here to your right.

So, when you’ve got a movie that’s not only fitting for the season but also actually good and whose plot you can easily follow, hey, that’s always something that can get you in the holiday mood. But of course, being only an hour long originally, even after commercials were taken into consideration, there was plenty of time for wacky Ghoul material, and that’s just what viewers got that night of December 17, 1999…

(Indeed, there was so much material, I’m only going to focus on a few of the personal highlights here.)

The Ghoul liked to take little digs at Big Chuck & Lil’ John, albeit digs that were always good-natured in spirit. Given the shared Northeast Ohio-history between the two shows, never mind that both aired at the same time on Friday nights back then, it was only natural. Here, because it was in the thick of the Christmas season, The Ghoul wanted to wish good will to men, all men, even Chuck & John…which was demonstrated by him holding up a Big (wood) Chuck and a Lil’ John (toilet)! This was followed by a “call” to Chuck in which The Ghoul had to remind him not only who he was (“Not Ghoulardi; The Ghoul!”), but also who Lil’ John was!

Immediately following that little bit was footage of The Ghoul, in full Santa regalia, and Froggy visiting the offices of WOIO/WUAB, traipsing around the lobby, talking to some of the staff, and culminating in The Ghoul pulling his beard and mustache off and putting them on a hanging portrait of Denise Dufala, and then making a hasty exit!

Dufala was another local personality that The Ghoul had a good-natured “feud” going with at the time, and the shot of her picture with the beard and mustache on it was repeated for the longest time afterwards, with the declaration that she was a “bad mamma jamma” later grafted on.

Ahh, a blow up! What would The Ghoul Show be without a little juvenile destruction? It was a tradition going all the way back to the Ghoulardi days of the 1960s, and a show never quite felt complete without one ‘splosion to set the mood.

This time around, it was a model car that got the explosive nod, and it did indeed blow up real nice! Quick, silly, simple, and a lot of fun.

You know, it’s amazing how big of a destructive influence The Ghoul had on both me and my brother. We never really had legit fireworks in which to destroy things, but fire, smashing, what have you, that sort of stuff was within our reach. In fact, I have two related stories that can be directly attributed to the influence of The Ghoul…

1) Once, at a computer swap meet-type convention (of all places), my brother bought a box of already-assembled model cars from a guy. They weren’t particularly old, nor were they particularly intricate pieces (snap-on plastic, maybe some glue, decal stickers), but the dude had obviously spent some time putting them together. You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Over time, all of those cars met destructive ends, mostly by crushing/smashing, I’d imagine. I almost feel bad about it now, because I can just imagine the guy feeling like he was passing these cars, cars he spent time with and enjoyed assembling, on to someone who would (supposedly) appreciate them, and that was the end they met instead. Actually, it’s kinda (darkly?) funny when you think about it.

2) At one point, again in lieu of fireworks, I combined by Ghoul-fueled destructive tendencies with my love of Japanese giant monster movies and created a game imaginatively titled “Gamera.” “Gamera” took place in our backyard, in the circular dirt “arena” in which our old pool once stood, and involved a thick plastic sea turtle I got at SeaWorld or some place being tied to a rope and swung around in the air before attempting to slam it down upon G.I. Joe figures that weren’t deemed important enough to keep. (Since I collect that early-1980s to mid-1990s G.I. Joe line nowadays, this decision was eventually revealed to be a mistake.)

Obviously it wasn’t a very precise game, so a (relatively rare) direct hit was certainly cause for celebration. Since the toy turtle wasn’t exactly indestructible, his limbs began to wear down and break off from the abuse after awhile, plus I got a nasty blister on the inside of my thumb from the constant swinging of the rope. (Those Joes were pretty durable and put up a good fight, too!)

Look, my brother and I were young enough to be amused by things like this, and it was pretty much all thanks to The Ghoul. Anyway…

A short, funny bit in which The Ghoul greets carolers at (ostensibly) his front door, only to then be regaled with loud, out-of-tune, and mismatched Christmas carols. Eventually, he just goes back inside, only to have the carolers continue singing (and even peeking in his windows)!

I recognize some of the Ghoul crew as the carolers; I’m guessing the rest were family members? Oh to be one of those lucky few in a Ghoul skit!

In addition to the opening WKBF material, there was another nice holiday-themed surprise from the past presented on the show, this one from his WCLQ TV-61 run in the 1980s. Here, The Ghoul narrates some of the annual traditions that take place during the Christmas season, including an unlucky-in-love couple but mostly focusing on a big giant brawl (“What Christmas is complete without the traditional holiday fistucuffs?”), which The Ghoul passes through without trying to stop. (This piece appeared to be part of a larger bit that was truncated somewhat for this particular broadcast.)

Now this is really cool: during one host segment, The Ghoul holds up a shirt for the then-new Ghoulardi’s Bar & Grille, a local establishment named (obviously) after the Cleveland horror host who set all this in motion so many years prior. The Ghoul promises to visit there sometime in the “very near future.

That would turn out to be true, as there were multiple instances of footage from Ghoul appearances there run in the following years. And why not? The two were a natural fit!

I never had the chance to visit Ghoulardi’s, and the place has evidently since closed, so that’s something I’m just going to have to live with. (Also, with all of the old local restaurant glassware and such that I come across during my travels, I have yet to stumble upon some Ghoulardi’s memorabilia in-person, and that’s something else I’m just going to have to live with, apparently.)

Ah, my buddy, Jungle Bob! Yep, JB was a regular guest on The Ghoul Show at the time, for awhile there having a weekly segment.

This time around, he had some parrots with him, including “Booger,” the green one from the Amazon, and “Orion,” the African grey parrot. Both were only a few years old at the time, which means it’s a safe guess that they’re still alive. (Parrots, as JB points out in the segment, are pretty long-lived creatures!)

That’s the recently-retired (*sniff*) Mr. Classic of WNCX holding “Orion.” At the time, The Ghoul would join him during his weekly Saturday night request show on the station.

As I said earlier, there was a lot packed into this show, and more than what I’ve described happened during it. Other shenanigans included some ice skating, visits around Cleveland, chats with citizens, and even an interview with Michael Stanley during a trip to the WNCX studios. And through it all, The Ghoul was in his Santa suit, keeping things in the Christmas spirit.

But, I’m going to close out this article with the image above: Santa Ghoul, hopping out on his bouncy ball as the show drew to a close, Ghoul Power just about done for the night. It was one week till Christmas Eve, or, if y’all wanna get technical, a week till Christmas proper, since it was well after midnight by that point.

(A funny email moment before The Ghoul exited: someone wrote in asking if he was interested in getting some audio copies of his late-1970s WXON TV-20 shows from Detroit. The Ghoul declined, because as he himself bluntly put it, those shows “sucked.“)

So, like The Ghoul, I’m gonna hop on out of here (figuratively), because that just about wraps up the big Christmas update; a more fitting post I could not think of. A terrific Christmas movie, a generous helping of Christmas cheer throughout the skits and host segments, and what I hope is a fitting tribute to Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed as he faces his health crisis. My prayers, thoughts and best wishes are with him, and I’m sure it’s the same for countless other 10 Star Generals in the Ghoul Power Army.

I truly hope you all have a blessed Christmas and a happy, safe new year. Ignore the constant drive for more and more gifts and instead remember the true meaning of the holiday, what it’s all about and what’s really important. That is my hope for you all.

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Happy Halloween! (Also: Ghoulardifest 2018)

Well, what I wanted to do for this update was review 1940’s The Ape. You know, the Monogram poverty row opus that somehow starred Boris Karloff and subsequently became undeniably, indisputably public domain.

That’s what I intended to do, but apparently no one will let me. Y’see, I didn’t want to review just any copy of The Ape – I wanted to spotlight an old VHS copy because I’m insanely arbitrary. I had my heart set on the old Kartes Film Classics release; I’ve been looking to cover something by them for awhile now, and that would have taken care of two things at once.

Well, it never showed up for sale anywhere (one copy I thought might be it and ordered from a 3rd party on Amazon was later cancelled because it was “out of stock”), nor did any other standalone copies turn up, any of which I would have happily settled for. Compared to The Corpse Vanishes, releases of which you, yes YOU, practically trip over whilst walking down the street, stupid dumb The Ape was essentially nonexistent on videotape when I most needed it to, uh, not be nonexistant. Evidently the world has conspired against me in an effort to cause severe irritation.

(And to top it all off, a Kartes release of John Wayne favorite Blue Steel I ordered on eBay for cheap buck bills and intended to cover next month was also later cancelled, because it was “damaged or out of stock.” What, is there a sign on my back?)

Anyway, not wanting to mess with a newer DVD release, though I could have, I wound up with two options where VHS was concerned: buy a still-sealed two-pack VHS put out by Madacy back in the 1990s that paired The Ape with Doomed to Die, or crack open my still-minty-sealed fresh Grampa Presents copy (purchased for cheap well before, near as I can ascertain, I inadvertently caused prices of titles in the series to rise to ridiculous amounts through my writing, research and sharing of information on them). The Madacy edition was tempting but didn’t give full-props to the only movie I cared about in the set (that is, The Ape wasn’t front-and-center), and opening my Grampa version, well, that actually wasn’t a viable option at all, so what am I even talking about?

So da heck wit all it, I’m going to briefly talk about Ghoulardifest 2018 instead. Happy Halloween, by the way.

I didn’t intend on getting a post out of the convention, but I’ve got to get something up for not only today but the month of October as a whole. And since I didn’t even bother to talk about Ghoulardifest last year (though I did go), well, the time is right. I mean, it’s Halloween right now this very moment, and while I’ve got lotsa material, there’s been little fire, so this is the best I can do.

I held off on writing about the show last year because, frankly, I didn’t have all that much new to say about it. I didn’t want to just keep repeating myself year after year, but things were just different enough this time around that I think I can swing it. Maybe.

Ghoulardifest: the annual three-day convention held in honor of Cleveland’s legendary horror host Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson, Big Chuck & Hoolihan & Lil’ John, and all things related. You want to know the honest truth? Attending this has become my go-to fall event. It says “October” to me in a real, tangible way; Halloween comes and goes, maybe I’ll watch an appropriate movie, soak in the general vibes, but Ghoulardifest, that’s something I really do.

For the past several years, the show had been held at the LaVilla Party & Banquet Center, but this year, they moved back to the location of the first Ghoulardifest, the Cuyahoga Country Fairgrounds, which you’re kinda sorta seeing to the left here.

I was mildly apprehensive about this, because I generally have no idea where any of these places are located beforehand, but as it turned out, it’s always been in the same general vicinity since I started going back in 2011.

Don’t let the “fairgrounds” thing fool you; this was held indoors, as usual. Interestingly, it was spread over two buildings this time around. You walked in one, and that’s where most of the vendors and some of the guests were located. A walkway led out the back door of that building and directly into the other, which is where Big Chuck, Lil’ John, Hoolihan, Son of Ghoul, Jungle Bob etc. etc. etc. were located. (Plus, some more vendors, of course.)

I was happy to see Dick Goddard back in attendance this year; I don’t think he was there for the last show, maybe the last two shows even. It’s always a pleasure meeting him, and this gave me a chance to get one of his old almanacs I found at a thrift store signed. Dick Goddard is always a good guy and a class act.

(Some other WJW personalities were also supposed to be in attendance, and I brought my Dan Coughlin book in hopes of getting it signed, but if he was there, it was before I made it in.)

Truth be told, the visit to Ghoulardifest was a bit shorter than usual this year. I didn’t exactly make a quick pass-through and then call it a day, but there was only so much spare $$$ to spend, so the haul was somewhat smaller. Some DVDs, a vintage Big Chuck & Lil’ John shooting script, two old TV Guides with Lawrence Welk on the cover, a couple VHS tapes, that’s really all I bought. Still spent more than I should have, but whatever.

Most of my time was spent in the “Chuck & John room.” Fun moment: it came to my attention only a few weeks before that Lil’ John used to have his own pizza place back in the 1990s. This was something I was completely unaware of until I stumbled upon an old menu/coupon flyer. Naturally I had to ask him about it, and when I showed him a pic of the flyer on my phone, he got a huge kick out of it!

Loved catching up with Son of Ghoul and Jungle Bob, too. It’s always a pleasure chatting with them. SOG was in rare form; cracking jokes as usual, and hilariously ragging on my, as you can see here, “zig zag jacket.” I found it at a thrift store for, I think, $8, and when I informed SOG of this, he replied “I hope you got $9 change back!”

(I’ve taken plenty of pics with this guy over the years, but this one here, with his disgusted look regarding said jacket, is instantly one of my favorites. I wish it wasn’t slightly out of focus, but that won’t stop me from getting it tattooed on my face if I’m ever feeling particularly impulsive and/or insane.)

My buddy Pete G. made it to Ghoulardifest this year, but I apparently just missed him. I got there about 2 PM, he left at 2:30, so we were there at the same time, but, you know. Pete G. is a good dude and hopefully we can meet up at next year’s show. (Also, Pete picked me up the swanky Kino-Lorber Blu-ray of Invisible Ghost at Cinema Wasteland like the week prior, so huge props to him for that; thanks Pete!)

So yes, a good time was had at Ghoulardifest 2018, and as usual, I’m already looking forward to the next one.

You know what the biggest piece of worry was regarding the new location this year though? I didn’t know if the also-annual visit to Big Boy was going to happen this time around. No joke, I look forward to heading there after the show as much as, you know, actually going to the show.

Fortunately for me, it was only about 13 minutes away, which is good, because not only is the food and service always fantastic, but a Ghoulardifest trip just wouldn’t feel complete without a Super Big Boy sammich to top it all off.

So, that was that. Even though Ghoulardifest was a bit earlier this year (October 12-14), it still felt perfectly “Halloweeny” to me. Maybe it’s more “fall” than “Halloween,” but meh, they kinda go hand-in-hand anyway.

So Happy Halloween and all that. There, I got a post up in time. Maybe I won’t wait 6000 years between now and the next update?

Big Chuck & Lil’ John Promotional Flying Disc (Circa-1993)

Look chief, when I said back in February that I wanted to spotlight more Cleveland television memorabilia, I wasn’t lying. I certainly like seeing original broadcasts, or obtaining promotional photos, or finding vintage print ads, but here’s my hidden secret: one of my great passions in this hobby is collecting the, as I have deemed it, “solid memorabilia.” That is, mugs and glassware, pins, shirts, hats, or anything randomly emblazoned with the names/stations/logos of Northeast Ohio broadcasting. For whatever reason, I place these types of items in a different mental category than I do paper ware and video tape. So there.

Today’s subject fits my weird “solid memorabilia” ideal and new decree that I spotlight such on my stupid dumb blog to a tee, because this, this is legit. Dig this: it’s a vintage (from somewhere in the early-1990s) promotional flying disc for WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show. Yep, the iconic late night horror hosts/comedy duo of everlasting Northeast Ohio fame had their own promotional toy. Neato! As you can see, it features their classic caricatures and the old school WJW logo, all printed on a flashy green disc. Rest assured, this is exactly the kind of memorabilia I’m always on the lookout for!

I’m not totally positive on when it’s from, mainly because I don’t know how long they were pitching these. They were definitely pushing them in 1993, and thus that’s the “circa” date I’m going with, but I’m unaware of when they were first produced for sure, nor do I know when they stopped making them. So yeah, circa-1993.

I’m also not completely sure as to how the common dude-on-da-street could obtain these. I’d imagine they were sold regularly, probably at personal appearances and maybe at stores around town, but don’t quote me on any of that; it’s merely a guess on my part. I do know that they were given out as prizes for correct trivia answers on their show. That is, to studio audience members lucky enough to be called on and lucky enough to have a satisfactory answer to a given question, not to mention lucky enough to be in attendance at a show taping in the first place. If these flying discs were uniquely given out as show prizes, well, that’s just plain cool, and not something easily obtainable, either then or now, I’d assume.

Also, it’s important to note that it’s not a “Frisbee,” but a “flying disc.” Y’see, “Frisbee” is a Wham-O product and a trademarked name, but like “Band-Aid,” it’s often used to describe all similar products. But no, this is technically speaking a “flying disc.”

There were actually two of these discs out at the same time: a large (standard-size) disc, pink in color, and a smaller green one. The smaller variant is what you’re seeing above; I haven’t picked up the big one yet, mainly because I’m at the mercy of what comes up for sale and enters my line of vision. Plus, you know, there’s that whole scraping-together-enough-money thing, too.

The reason for the two different sizes? Well, obviously the big one signified Big Chuck, and the small one signified Lil’ John! That’s actually a pretty great gimmick, one that fits the duo perfectly.

So, not a long post, but then, there’s only so much I can say about a 25 (?) year old flying disc. Oh, and happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way; the disc is green, so it works here, right?