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CBS Late Show With David Letterman – Dave Reads MY Letter On The Air! (2002)

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I’m not sure how much you can really see it here on this blog, but David Letterman has been a huge, huge influence on me. From my sense of humor to just how I look at comedy in general, Dave’s contribution to me (that sounds weirder than I meant it to) has been nearly incalculable; only Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the various local horror hosted movie shows from my neck of the woods can claim a larger influence on your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. I’m a pretty big Letterman fan is what I’m saying.

Which is why today is such a bummer for me. For those that haven’t heard (and really, if this is news you’re just now getting from me, well, there’s a serious disconnect somewhere there), tonight Letterman will air the final episode of his Late Show on CBS. All good things must come to an end and so on, I know. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

I guess I can understand it, though. The late night TV climate has changed wildly over the last several years, and Dave has increasingly looked like the odd-man-out. Not to mention, and I say this as a longtime fan, he’s more-or-less been on autopilot the last several years. Not that the show has been bad,  it hasn’t, but from my perspective, it (or rather Dave himself), has been operating at a level markedly below previous years.

At any rate, Dave has always been my favorite, always will be my favorite, and thus I’d be remiss if I didn’t do some kind of post in regards to him on my silly blog. That’s just what I’m doing now, with what was (and is) undoubtedly the most exciting moment for me in my time as a Letterman fan.

‘Course, I’m particularly biased towards this particular moment, because this was the man himself, Mr. David Letterman, reading my letter on national television! As you can see above, that’s him, gearing up to read a letter that, to him, was almost certainly just business as usual, but to me is one of my most legendary “achievements” (such as they are).

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The practice became infrequent in later years (eventually they stopped doing it altogether), but at the time, Friday night was the dedicated viewer mail night on the show. Through an online submission page, you could send an email to the show in hopes of future usage during the “CBS Mailbag” portion of the program. Of course, the trick was to send something they could get a bit out of, because this was no serious question-and-answer deal.

I wound up bombarding them with questions. Most of them were, I thought, good fodder for the segment, though a few were, if I recall correctly, of a more “real question” nature (I don’t know what I was thinking). You have to imagine more than a couple people were writing to the show, and undoubtedly some were doing exactly what I did. With only fours letters read per segment, obviously chances of yours making it on the show were fairly slim. BUT, somehow, someway, through brute strength and sheer endurance (aka: got lucky), one of mine made it on the air.

At the time, I was heavily into the TV ratings/renewals/cancellations game; these were stats I followed as closely as some did their favorite sports teams. In more recent years I’ve only really paid attention to my favorite ‘new’ shows (there’s not many) in these regards, but at the time, this was an area of high interest to me. So, it being early in that fall television season, my question naturally was “What show do you think will be cancelled first this TV season?” Maybe not the most probing question ever posed to Dave, but hey, it got my mail on the air, so in yo’ face.

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That’s me! Thanks for zooming in for that close up of my letter, Late Show!

Dave’s reading of this wasn’t a complete surprise, which is a good thing, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been taping the show that night. I was able to know about the letter-reading beforehand thanks to the the Late Show‘s online Wahoo Gazette, which is still running (for now, anyway). Every Friday, they posted the mail questions that would be read that night, along with the names of the people that sent them. I can not overstate how much I flipped when I saw that one of my submissions had been selected to be on the show that week. In short order, a new blank VHS was obtained and earmarked for an SP mode recording; this was historic stuff, man! Needless to say, I still have it (duh!).

Also, I know I had at least one print-out of the Wahoo Gazette page featuring the revelation my question would be read on the air that night, but for the life of me I can’t find it. And to make matters worse, for whatever reason I didn’t notate the full date of the broadcast on the label of my VHS recording; this was definitely fall 2002, but I can’t remember the exact date otherwise. The fact that I can’t find my print-out irritates me mightily, but then, I really should have this date burnt into my memory. Still, Dave read my letter, so in yo’ face, I guess.

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Dave’s immediate response? “You’re lookin’ at it, Larry!” That wacky guy! I need to make that line a ringtone of some sort. David Letterman: said my name not once, but twice. This, of course, was cool winnins before the term “cool winnins” had been coined by yours truly. Cool winnins!

Just like most of his answers during the mail segment, Dave pretty much ignored the actual question in favor of setting up the respective gag. In this case, he mentions that everyone is excited about the then-new CSI spin-off CSI: Miami, and CBS has another such spin-off in the works.

Behold:

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60 Minutes: Miami. I love it. As per Dave, whenever there’s a hit show, the network makes another one just like it, but set in a different location, which, well, you can’t argue with him there. I mean, this aired nearly 13 years ago (as of this post) and networks still do this sort of thing, though it doesn’t seem like it’s as ubiquitous as it was back then.

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What could a 60 Minutes: Miami possibly entail? Dave wasn’t lying about the spin-offs being pretty much the same as the original shows. 60 Minutes: Miami is little more than regular 60 Minutes, with all of the same hosts, except they’re wearing swimwear (and ostensibly in Miami).

Obviously, they just superimposed tropical attire over the actual hosts as they give their customary “I’m ______________” diatribe. For such a simple gag, this really is pretty funny, and there is a final pay-off to the bit…

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It’s the final shot of a shirtless Andy Rooney that is the punchline to the whole thing. The audience had been laughing steadily at the whole deal anyway, but the topless Andy Rooney (that sounds weirder than I meant it to) causes them to erupt in surprised laughter.

While I’m not sure this gag really qualifies as the best example, I think what attracts me to Letterman’s humor so much is just how weird it is. Not that Andy Rooney without a shirt isn’t supremely weird enough as it is, but I mean, just look at the whole bit in general: it’s the cast of 60 Minutes in swimwear. That’s pretty much it! Dave always had a real streak of non-sequitur in his humor, and that’s right up my alley. I really do love random bits of humor that leave a viewer confused, and Dave’s show has (well, had) it in spades. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but personally, it always struck a chord with me (obviously).

And unless you’re missing the big picture here, let me spell it out: I wrote David Letterman, and it gave the world a mocked-up picture of a shirtless Andy Rooney.

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Dave’s final thoughts on the matter? The combined age of everyone on 60 minutes must be “well over two or three thousand” and Mike Wallace alone is “at least a hundred.” Funny stuff! It may come off a little dark to some people nowadays since both Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney have passed (RIP, fellas), but hey, they were still alive then. Anyone offended by that needs to chill out, man.

And so, that is the saga of my letter being read by David Letterman on national television. HOWEVER…

Now is as good a time as any to mention that in the summer of 2005, I had the good fortune to actually attend a taping of Late Show With David Letterman, with guests Jennifer Connelly and The Eels. It was a terrific show, and Dave really was “on” that night (and no, I’m not just saying that because I was there in person). For a trip that really only had, maybe, three days in advance planning, it went off without a hitch. I got to see Letterman in person, it was a great show, I got to walk around New York City (I’m not normally a sightseer, but NYC is an absolute exception), and to cap it all off, I got to meet two Letterman regulars in person: fan-favorite Rupert Gee of the Hello Deli (right next to the Ed Sullivan Theater) was working that day, and shortly thereafter, I ran into stagehand Pat Farmer taking a break around the side of the building. Both guys were extremely friendly and gracious enough to take pictures with me. I made a concerted effort to find those snapshots amongst the rest of the family photos to post here, but I have no idea where they are. The only thing I got out of the deal was some wasted time and depression from looking at old pictures of myself.

Anyway, those are my memories. It may not be much, but hopefully this is some kind of acceptable tribute to Letterman and what he’s meant to me over the years.

And so, it is with that that I now wait in apprehension for Dave’s swansong tonight. So long Dave, and thanks for all the laughs.

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An Interview With Larry Manetti

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By now, it’s obvious what a huge fan of Magnum, P.I. I am. The show has been such a big part of my life, or at least my TV-viewing life, for so many years that I naturally take a huge interest in anything having to do with the show. It’s why I spent the mighty dollars on a Betamax tape lot to get a copy of the original broadcast of the series finale, and it’s why my mind was completely and continuously blown when I conversed via email with one of the stars of the series, Larry Manetti. Rick himself! Mr. Manetti was gracious enough to grant me an interview, and needless to say, I’m stoked. I can’t thank him enough for the honor.

Of course, Mr. Manetti has been involved with a lot more than just Magnum. He was Robert Conrad’s co-star on Black Sheep Squadron (aka Baa Baa Black Sheep,) he’s appeared in numerous movies and television shows, and he even has a recurring role on CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 remake, as Nicky “The Kid” Demarco. Just take a look at his IMDb page! Pretty darned impressive!

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He’s also an author:  I have been the proud owner of his Aloha Magnum book for years (that’s my slightly wrinkled copy above,) in which he recounts his career, including his time on Magnum, his co-stars, and even some recipes! Believe me when I say it’s a phenomenal read. I mean, sure, I’m a fan of Larry and Magnum, P.I., but even beyond that, it’s just a genuinely great book. I think I’d love it even if I wasn’t a fan. And to be honest, this interview is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; in order to get a look at more of his career than just one facet, inevitably (and I knew this going in) I wound up asking some questions covered much more in-depth in his book. To get the “whole story,” you really gotta read it. Order it here, you won’t regret it! In fact, check out all of Larry’s terrific official website.

With all that said, let’s get down to business! Here now is my interview with actor Larry Manetti…

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Me: What jobs did you hold before becoming an actor?

LM: Selling Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-door. Selling cars and a tile a salesman.

Me: When did you first decide you wanted to go into acting?

LM: After I did a United Airlines commercial.

Me: What can you tell us about your earliest TV work? What was it like getting there, and what did you think when you finally got there?

LM: After my first show, I called my Dad and said, “I did it, I’m in the movies!”

Me: Was there ever a time when you were just completely fed up with the acting business and ready to throw in the towel, before deciding otherwise?

LM: Never.

Me: You had several appearances on Emergency! What can you tell us about working on that show?

LM: Walking on eggs, it was the very beginning.

Me: You had a role in an episode of The Rockford Files [1979’s “Nice Guys Finish Dead”] that co-starred Tom Selleck. Was that your first time working with him? What was it like working with the late James Garner?

LM: First time I met Tom Selleck and working with James Garner was like working with my Dad. Great guy!

Me: That role on Rockford lead to your casting on Magnum?

LM: Yes.

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Me: Did you have any idea that Magnum would become as popular and iconic as it was/is?

LM: Not a clue.

Me: There was a Magnum, P.I. reunion of sorts on NBC’s Las Vegas back in 2007, featuring you, Tom Selleck and Roger E. Mosley. How did that come about?

LM: Selleck’s show was in trouble and they asked TC and Rick to pump it up!

Me: Any thoughts on the long-rumored Magnum movie?

LM: It’s been discussed many times but to no avail. Tom would do a 2-hour television movie with the original cast if NBC took a brain pill!

Me: How often do you see/speak to your Magnum co-stars nowadays?

LM: At least once a month, and I do autograph shows in the USA and Germany.

Me: How often do you see/speak to your Black Sheep Squadron co-Star Robert Conrad nowadays?

LM: All the time. We both do radio shows on CRNTALK.COM.

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Me: Do you have any particularly favorite roles?

LM: I love each and every TV and movie role I made. Only because God gave me the chance to become a successful actor.

Me: You guested in a 1993 episode of Quantum Leap [“A Tale Of Two Sweeties”]; What was it like being on the set of another Donald P. Bellisario show?

LM: I kept looking at Dean Stockwell. Tough show but it came out terrific!

Me: What can you tell us about your recurring role as Nicky “The Kid” Demarco on CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 remake? Will you be back next season?

LM: I’ll be back till the show ends. It’s a great cast! Good to be back in paradise and Peter Lenkov, the producer, is the best! He was responsible for writing “Nicky.”

Me: What do you think about TV nowadays? Any favorite shows?

LM: Think it’s great! There are several shows I love, Castle, Law and Order, New Detective.

Me: Any other projects you’re currently working on?

LM: Producing 2 TV mini-series: The Ronald Reagan Story and Double Cross: The Story of The Chicago Mob.

Me: Besides acting, what are your passions?

LM: Smoking cigars and collecting knives.

Me: Anything you’d like to say to your many fans out there?

LM: Whatever it is in your life, go for it. If you want it bad enough it will happen. Love to everyone and thanks for you loyalty and support! Don’t forget my book, ALOHA MAGNUM!

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Does it get any cooler than Larry Manetti? No way does it any cooler than Larry Manetti. Once again, I extend my thanks to Mr. Manetti for not only granting me this interview, but also for all of the entertainment he’s provided over the years. He is, as we in the hepcat profession say, “the man.”

Visit Larry’s official website here and be sure to check out his book, Aloha Magnum. It really is a phenomenal read, and anyone interested in Larry, Magnum, P.I., 1980’s TV, TV in general, or just plain entertaining reading owe it to themselves to pick up a copy, which can be ordered direct from Larry here.

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There I am, cool readins a cool book. (Admittedly, my attire isn’t very Magnum-esque, but it was the only semi-tropical clothing I had immediately available. I guess my desperate lack of usable aloha shirts is pretty obvious, huh? Such are the perils of living in Northeast Ohio, I guess…)

An Interview With Marty “Superhost” Sullivan.

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Ah, Superhost. Portrayed by Marty Sullivan, he was a bonafide institution on Northeast Ohio television for 20 years. From 1969 to 1989, Mr. Sullivan hosted Saturday afternoons on WUAB Channel 43. Through his program, untold numbers of kids were introduced to The Three Stooges, as well as classic (and maybe some not-so-classic) horror and sci-fi movies. Even those viewers already familiar with the films found an additional reason to watch in Superhost himself. Indeed, my very first glimpse of the Northeast Ohio movie-hosting tradition was through Superhost, specifically the promos featuring him doing “The Curly Shuffle” that aired during the kids’ programming on WUAB. Even if I was a bit too young to “get it” then, the memories of Supe stayed with me, and found a natural place in my heart when I was old enough to “get it.” And the show has really held up. Unlike some similar programs that show their age or are otherwise “had to be there” viewing, I find myself constantly and consistently laughing out loud at Supe.

I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing Mr. Sullivan for this blog. He couldn’t have been more gracious with his time or more forthcoming with his stories. A true class-act all the way (it’s obvious why he was and is so beloved by Northeast Ohioans). Here, now, is my interview with Marty “Superhost” Sullivan.

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Me: First off, thanks again for allowing me to talk with you.

Marty Sullivan: No problem!

Me: It is a huge, huge thrill for me.

MS: Well I’m glad! Thank you!

Me: When did you first become interested in becoming a broadcaster?

MS: Oh, that’s a question! I was always interested in radio as a youngster. It was the year of The Lone Ranger and all those dramatic radio shows. Inner Sanctum and Lights Out and all those radio shows. And I used to listen to those as a child, and the interest just kept on. I don’t know when I actually wanted to become an announcer, but I think it was not until I was in college. I worked in a little theater group in college, and I didn’t have a lot of nerve to get up in front of people! So…

Me: [Laughs] So, who would you say were your early influences that sort of pushed you into becoming a broadcaster?

MS: I took some psychological tests when I graduated from high school, and they indicated I was not really sure of myself. I was kind of a quiet kid, and they advised taking some public speaking courses to build-up my self-confidence. So, I did. I took a course that was run in Detroit by two local broadcasters, two big time announcers in Detroit. I went to their school and I learned about radio broadcasting from them. So that’s how that happened.

Me: When did you first actually go into broadcasting?

MS: Actually, I finished the broadcasting course, and I was going, also at the same time, to the Meinzinger School Of Commercial Art in Detroit. I had some ability as a draftsman, so I was taking a course in commercial art. And the commercial arts school went belly-up! I had only been there through the latter part of the summer, and one day I went in to attend class, and there was a note on the board that said “Don’t bother coming in anymore!” So, then I didn’t know what to do, so I figured I’d finish the broadcasting course, “maybe there’s somebody that needs a pronouncer!” Somebody at the school told me that this little station down in Indiana might be needing a disc jockey or announcer or something. So, I sent them a tape, and they said “Come on down! You’re hired!” And that’s actually how I got started in broadcasting, it was a little station in Peru, Indiana, WARU, a little AM station. But it was just a daytime station. At night they had to go off the air, because radio waves traveled further at night. So they went off the air at local sunset.

Me: So how did it end up that you came to Northeast Ohio?

MS: I went back and got into Detroit radio, and had a couple stints there. I was working for WJR, the Goodwill station in Detroit at that point in time. And, I got myself fired at WJR! Then one of the chaps I used to work with at WJR, one of the newsmen, had moved to Cleveland as a newsman. And he called me up and asked me if I wanted to be a newsman down in Cleveland. So, I figured “Well, sure, why not!”

Me: Was that WUAB?

MS: WGAR in Cleveland was where I first started as a newsman. Then George left, the guy who hired me in, was news director. He was unhappy there, so he moved to New York, got a job in New York as a newsman. I think it was WNEW New York. And I thought since he left, he was the one who hired me in, I’d be thrown out! Then, I was hired into an advertising agency in Cleveland. It was Ritchie and Sattler, and they specialized in industrial advertising. One of their clients was RicWil, it was a pipe making company down in Akron, I think it was. I stayed with them about a year, but then that’s when WUAB opened up. Somebody told me it was open. So, again, I was canned at the advertising agency, because they knew of a chap who had a client, a big electronics company, that they wanted to get in the office. So they moved me out to move him in, along with his client. That’s when I got in touch with WUAB, the program manager; sent him a tape and he told me to come on in. Put me to work!

Me: You started there as a newsman?

MS: Announcer, newsman, audio man, camera man…

Me: [Laughs] So pretty much everything!

MS: And nighttime switchboard operator!

Me: So how did it come about that they wanted you to host a Saturday afternoon show? What were the origins of Superhost?

MS: This one I know! I’ve recited it several times! I was doing what they call floor directing. That’s where I was wearing a headset, and was talking to the director in the control room. I was out in the studio to impart those directions to people out there. It was kind of like a Dick Clark Show, called Big Beat Dance Party, and they were taping it on a Saturday. I was floor directing, and The Four Lads were coming in to sing “Standing On a Corner.” So, naturally we had a ‘corner’ set there. And they asked me to stand in four different places so they could adjust the lighting, since the Lads weren’t there yet, we were just getting ready. So I’m standing there and the director is shouting at me over the headsets that I’m unzipped! I must have looked very uncomfortable trying to cover up THAT! So Ted Bays, the program manager, happened to be in the control room when all this is going on, and everybody in the control room is laughing uproariously; I can hear them on the headset! After the show was over, Ted Bays came up and asked me if I wanted to come up with an idea for a show for a character to host a movie. And, that’s what I came up with!

Me: Was it a runaway hit? Did you know what early reactions were or how popular it was at the start?

MS: [Laughs] Yeah, it wasn’t popular at all! It took quite awhile for people to discover – back in those days there weren’t any UHF television stations, very few of them. It was TransAmerica that put it on the air, they were taking a big chance with the new technology, the ultra high-frequency television station. Their signal was a little tricky to get around, it didn’t have the coverage that the VHF stations had. So it took awhile for people to discover UHF. And when they did, they discovered the show! A lot of kids liked watching the old science fiction movies on Saturdays.

Me: You said it wasn’t very popular at first. Did WUAB give you any static? Were they complaining?

MS: No, they were selling commercials, so they were relatively happy with it. They were always after me for more ratings, but I did the best I could. But, it just took awhile for people to discover where it was and the fact they liked these old movies!

Me: Did you ever hear from viewers that just didn’t “get it” or that were complaining?

MS: I was doing a public appearance at a store in Cleveland, at that time called Uncle Bill’s. It was like a Home Depot kind of store. So I did a public appearance there signing autographs, and I’m all dressed up in my little super suit, and I’m in the middle of the store. Kids are coming up, signing autographs, and a couple young-ish men, like in their 20’s or so, were walking by. The one guy pokes the other guy, points to me and says “Oh look, there’s the guy that’s on the TV!” and the other guy looked back and said to his friend “Oh, that a-hole!” So that put everything in perspective!

Me: [Laughing] Did you say anything? I don’t know if I’d know what to say in a situation like that!

MS: Well they weren’t talking to me, I just overheard them!

Me: I’d assume that sort of thing was kept to a minimum?

MS: Yeah, that was the only time I ever heard anybody overtly describe me that way!

Me: You showed a lot of the science fiction and horror movies, did you have a favorite? I know the station probably controlled what you played, but…?

MS: They did, the program manager picked all the movies – usually on the basis of how cheap they were! Let me see, there were a lot of good movies. Forbidden Planet, I liked, where The Krell were the monsters. Who was in that? I can’t think of the name of the man now. The comic actor, did a lot of comedy. Anne Francis was the girl in that, I remember her name! Walter Pidgeon was her father in that movie. It was a good movie.

Me: Are there any other films that you particularly like?

MS: There’s been several new ones that I like. One was called The Red Planet. I like Alien and all the modern films, I like them a lot. In fact, I signed up for Netflix so I could watch them without all the commercials!

Me: How about skits? Everyone knows you’ve done some pretty famous skits like “Convoy” and “The Moronic Woman.” Are there any favorite skits you have?

MS: Well, I remember a little background story: I decided to do a little take-off on The Bionic Woman, and I was talking about it to some of the people at the station at night, and one of the cleaning ladies came up with the idea of the long arms. That was the first one, where The Moronic Woman grabbed the bumper and the guy took off in the car and stretched her arms out 20 feet! That was thought up by one of the cleaning ladies!

Me: Would you say that’s your favorite?

MS: I think my favorite bit was The Moronic Woman where she kicked the football and her leg went up over the goal posts!

Me: I was watching the “Convoy” skit not too long ago, and the part I found funniest the last time I watched it was the three guys kicking their feet during the chorus.

MS: [Those guys] all became directors, ultimately. Where they wound up, I have no idea, but they all became directors. The guy that directed the pilot show I did, the station wanted to see a pilot show before they decided whether to put me on the air or not. So we got together one Sunday night and taped it, and the guy was a man named Harry Kooperstein. Harry went on to Hollywood and became one of the biggest directors out there. He directed a lot of the Los Angeles symphony broadcasts and also directed all the Christmas parades out there. So, Harry became a big deal in Hollywood.

Me: Is his name where you got the alter-ego name [Henry Brookerstein] for Superhost?

MS: Well, we had three directors at channel 43: Henry Briggs was one, Harry Kooperstein was the other, and Brooke Spectorsky was the third.

Me: So you just put them all together?

MS: Mashed ‘em all together!

Me: I know you did a couple Big Chuck & Hoolihan/Lil’ John skits. Were you guys friends off-camera?

MS: Oh yeah, they were good guys. We weren’t direct-competition, anyway. They were on Friday night and I wasn’t on till Saturday, so we weren’t at loggerheads. And they’re nice guys; they came over to the station once to do a commercial for their show because it was too busy there at [WJW] 8. And they stole my phone booth as a gag!

Me: [Laughing]

MS: And I think it’s probably still over at channel 8!

Me: Did you ever do commercials for companies/products?

MS: I did one for some boat company in Cleveland. They sold fishing boats and pleasure boats, and I did a few for that guy, but I don’t remember what the name of the outfit was.

Me: Were you in costume?

MS: I’m not sure now. It’s been so long ago! I think I was, but I don’t have a clear memory of it.

Me: Okay, maybe not necessarily a “favorite” moment, but do you have a most-memorable moment from the whole 20 year run?

MS: Well, probably when I finished the last show. Taping the last show, I thought I’d get emotional, and I was doing pretty good. And then we were breaking down the set and I’m walking out and one of the crew members said “How you doing?” and that kinda got to me. Then it all came to me in a rush: this was the end.

Me: I came around sort of at the end of Superhost, I was just a little guy at the end. And actually, the most endearing memory for me, because they would play the commercial during all the cartoons I’d watch, it’s the promo of you doing “The Curly Shuffle.”

MS: Oh, yeah!

Me: I still have it on my old tapes from when I was little, but I guess that was really my introduction to the whole Northeast Ohio movie hosting thing.

MS: Well that’s great, I’m glad you liked it! We always had fun doing the commercials. I remember right in the middle of that I had to go and have triple bypass surgery.

Me: Oh geez!

MS: St. Vincent’s. And of course it took awhile to recupe from that. I remember the first show I did [after that], I made up a great big band-aid out of colored paper and pasted it on me! Everybody was fussing about the surgery, so I had to put them at ease!

Me: The show’s timeslot: The most famous was an hour of Three Stooges and two movies?

MS: Yeah, originally it was two movies and some other stuff. Sometimes it was Stooges, sometimes it was Superman, the live-action Superman with Steve Reeves or George Reeves or whatever his name was. It changed around over the years, but for the first, I don’t know, 7 or 8 years, 10 years, it was like two movies and short subjects on Saturday.

Me: I read that you ended up showing the Adam West Batman series at one point.

MS: Yeah.

[NOTE: And so, a new video hunting obsession is born. Recordings of Adam West Batman hosted by Superhost are now waaaaay at the top of my “really, really want” list!]

Me: What did you think of those programming changes?

MS: Well, ultimately, when my ratings started sagging, just because people were used to it and all the little kids who used to watch grew up and got a job. They couldn’t spend all day watching the movies! So, that was fine with me.

Me: Was it your decision to end Superhost, or was it WUAB’s?

MS: Well, it was kinda mutual in a sense. We had a new station manager who was brought in from the sales department, and he decided that he‘d do away with Superhost because he could do better with putting wrestling on Saturday. So that was what ultimately caused the end of Supe. And I had told the new program manager that I had rather just kill of Superhost than have him die a slow miserable death. So, he agreed.

Me: I was watching that last one not too long ago and it really does have a, I’d guess you’d say, bittersweet ending. You know how it says “Good Luck, Supe!” at the end.

MS: Yeah. That was the director, his name was Paul Nickerson, who added Thanks” or “Goodbye” or “Good Luck” or whatever it was they put on. I haven’t watched that show in a long time. I’ve got it somewhere on a disc, I think.

Me: what did you do after Superhost ended? You stayed in broadcasting for a few more years, right?

MS: I did, yeah. I stayed at channel 43 still doing the announcing. It was about that time that they put in a whole evening news thing at 10 O’clock on channel 43. I was the only newsman they had for years; I would just change out of the super suit and go out there and do 5 minutes of headline news at 10 O‘clock at night. But then they decided to put in a news department – that took about 35 people to replace me! So that made me kinda smile!

Me: You retired in, 1993, was it?

MS: Right, 1993 and moved over here to Oregon.

Me: Can you still do the Superhost voice?

MS: Yeah, sure! “Hello dere! This is Supe!”

Me: [Laughing] Can you do “Gimme dat shoe?”

MS: Sure! “Gimme dat shoe, y’know!”

[NOTE: I don’t mind telling you I was dying with laughter at this point.]

Me: Would you ever consider coming back and doing a one-off special, or is that sort of…?

MS: No, I don’t think I want to bother with that. Besides, the super suit is getting a little tight around the middle!

Me: Is there anything you miss about broadcasting or Northeast Ohio?

MS: Well, I miss Northeast Ohio. I don’t really miss broadcasting. It was a great run while I had it, but that’s over with. I do miss the people in Northeast Ohio. I mean, they’re just the salt of the earth. They were very faithful to me the whole 20 years I was on television. They were supportive, and friendly, and that applies to everybody in Northeast Ohio.

Me: Well, there’s lots of people that still admire you. You’ve still got a ton of fans here that are grateful, thankful for everything that you did. You’re still very much admired!

MS: Well thank you very much! That’s very kind of you!

Me: Well, thank you very, very much. I can’t tell you how really amazing it has been to talk with you. What a huge, huge thrill it was for me!

MS: Well God Bless you! Thank you!

********************

What an honor it was to speak with a genuine Northeast Ohio television legend. I can’t thank Mr. Sullivan enough for taking the time to speak with me. I know I speak for countless other Northeast Ohioans when I say “Thanks for all the laughs, Supe!”

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An Interview With Keven “Son Of Ghoul” Scarpino

an interview with son of ghoul 1

Having nearly 30 continuous years on the air under his belt, Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino is quite possibly the nation’s longest-running-without-a-break horror movie host, and for good reason: the man puts on a very funny, very entertaining show every week, bringing Northeast Ohioan’s (and now others!) the terrible sci-fi & horror movies and edgy attitude they’ve craved ever since Ghoulardi burst on the scene way back in 1963. From 1986 to 1995, Son Of Ghoul ran on WOAC TV-67, and when the station was sold, without missing a beat he jumped to WAOH TV-29 in Akron / WAX TV-35 in Cleveland, where he remains to this day. At one point, he even hosted a live local call-in game show, titled Son Of Ghoul’s House Of Fun And Games!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 may have introduced me to the movie-mocking world first, and I was casually familiar with Big Chuck & Lil’ John at the time, but the guy more responsible than anyone else for introducing me not only to the legacy of our Northeast Ohio horror movie hosts but to horror movie hosts in general is without a doubt Son Of Ghoul. I discovered his show during a Halloween, 1997 broadcast of Night Of The Living Dead, and I became a huge fan instantly. That image above is all too familiar to me: Son Of Ghoul in the dungeon, introducing us to that week’s terrible movie, it’s something that kicked off countless weekends for me. And you know what? 16 years later, I’m still a huge fan. I still get a charge finding out what each episode’s terrible movie is going to be. A lot of local TV has come and gone over the years, but Son Of Ghoul is still on and plugging away, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

So, when I had the opportunity to interview the man himself, it was incredible to realize that I was conversing with the guy largely responsible for not only shaping my hobby, but even my sense of humor. I’ve met SOG many times over the years, and he’s never been anything but generous to his fans. It’s one thing I really admire about our local celebrities, the fact that I’ve never seen an air of superiority or “I’m doing you a favor by talking to you” attitude when you speak with them. I remember the first time I met SOG: It was shortly after discovering the show in ’97, and he was making an appearance at a local comic book store. I was clearly nervous talking to him (hey, I was 11 years old), but he was completely personable and friendly. Heck, he even checked out a comic book I was buying with me! There aren’t many celebrities, local or otherwise, that would go that extra mile for their fans.

So, all that said, without further ado here is my interview with Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino, horror movie host and badass extraordinaire.

*****

an interview with son of ghoul 2

Me: Thanks again for doing this!

Son Of Ghoul: Oh, no problem!

Me: I really appreciate it! It’s blowing my mind right now!

SOG: Don’t blow your mind out! You still gotta ask questions!

Me: Okay! Well, first off, 27 years as a horror host, continuous, is pretty impressive. I don’t think there’s too many that managed to hang in there that long without taking a break or anything.

SOG: Well, there were a lot of guys, plenty of ‘em, that started before me, such as Svengoolie from Chicago, I believe he started a few years before I did. But, I think he had a 10 year absence, he was gone from the air. Now, I believe I might be, now I’m not sure about this, but I might be the longest continuous-running costumed horror host in the country at this point.

Me: Yep, I think you’re right!

SOG: Now, [Big] Chuck’s been on definitely longer than me, but he doesn’t wear a costume. Or maybe that face of his is a costume, I don’t know! [Laughs]

Me: Yeah, I guess technically they were horror hosts [Hoolihan & Big Chuck & Lil’ John], but they didn’t really do the scary thing. It’s a little bit different.

SOG: Yeah, they kinda moved into just regular movies hosts, and now, their show’s cut down to just skits, which is cool, I’m glad they’re still on. Very cool.

Me: But how’s that feel to basically be the longest one?

SOG: Well, you know, it’s cool. I’m pretty proud of it. You know, it’s no big deal, nobody really cares. [Laughs] It’s one of those non-celebrated factors. And here in Ohio, I think they have a Broadcaster’s Hall Of Fame, and I think one of the thing’s is you have to be on 20 years, 25 years something like that. They will NEVER recognize my existence in the Broadcasters Hall of Fame! Which, I think’s kinda funny, but that’s okay.

Me: Well, you never know.

SOG: No, I don’t believe that’ll ever happen! [Laughs] I think I’m well beyond qualifications! Maybe I just don’t look the part!

Me: Well, sort of going back, there’s a lot of guys that would be on and then sort of, you know, drop out for a few years, come back, drop out, that sort of thing, and you’ve just been going steadily the entire time. Was there ever a point, either at [WOAC] channel 67 or now on WAOH where you thought the show might end or they might cancel you, or…?

SOG: Well, I think that every day!

Me: [Laughs]

SOG: That’s true, I do think that every day. I do, at least. You never know. I’ve learned one thing: Nobody is, NOBODY is sacred to the screen. I feel very privileged to have been on this long. I know one day it’ll be over, I don’t know when that’ll be. One of the things everybody keeps on telling me when I go out doing appearances, they all say “Please don’t stop.” So, as long as I get a good timeslot, I guess I’ll stick around for awhile! I’m not really in a hurry to go anywhere any time soon.

Me: Well Saturday at 7’s not bad.

SOG: For the first 9 years I was on at a typical 11:30, 11 o’clock timeslot, and I didn’t know if it would work primetime. But, I found that I prefer to be on early. A lot of people my age can’t stay up that late anymore! [Laughs]

Son Of Ghoul during his 25th Anniversary show in the summer of 2011.

Son Of Ghoul during his 25th Anniversary show in the summer of 2011.

Me: I wish that WAOH, I still call it “The Cat”, I know it’s not technically The Cat anymore but I still call it that, I wish that they would still air you two nights in a row like they used to.

SOG: Well, everybody used to say “I watched it the first night and if I didn’t like it I’d think why catch the movie the next night?!” Well, it was fun being on two nights, and for awhile there I was on three days in a row.

Me: Oh yeah?

SOG: When I was doing the game show.

Me: Right, right.

SOG: We did a live game show Wednesday night, and Thursday they would show the movie show, and repeat it again of Friday. Now since they’ve hooked-up with RTV, now it’s Saturdays at 7, so you know that’s not too bad, that’s okay.

The quality is terrible, but this is and promo for Son Of Ghoul's run at WOAC TV-67. With him is "Zippy."

The quality is terrible, but this is a 1987 promo from Son Of Ghoul’s run at WOAC TV-67. With him is “Zippy.”

Me: Going back to the channel 67 stuff, I know a lot of guys even as late as the 1980’s, other horror hosts, the stations they were on would wipe their shows, record over them, things like that. Do you still have everything you did from both channels?

SOG: Yeah, I have all my shows.

Me: So there’s no worry about something ever becoming “lost”?

SOG: Well, yeah there is: Deterioration from poor storage. All of my shows were produced, back in those days, on U-Matic ¾” videotape, which was a giant cartridge with wider tape. That was 67’s major broadcast output, ¾” tape. All of my shows were produced on that. The trouble with those tapes is they don’t store very well over the years, and we’re talking now 27 years later of poor storage, and they’d really have to be in an air-controlled climate all year round. And, just like any videotape, if it sits on the shelf, it doesn’t move, it deteriorates. Tapes are meant to play. Everybody should fast forward their tapes  and rewind them every once in awhile if they want to keep them longer. The trouble is, some of the oxide has fallen off some of my early shows, like my 1st Christmas show, the New Years show, those are trashed, they won’t even play. You put the tapes in the player, it clogs the heads in about 30 seconds. So, I lost a number of shows through deterioration. I’m in the very, very slow process of transferring the old shows. The old shows, all I have is my segments, I don’t have the movies that go along with them because in those days we actually paid for movie packages and we only had so many runs on each title. That’s the way it worked back then. Unlike now, where I can dip into the public domain library, which is free gratis, and which is “What you see is what you get!” [Laughs]

Me: Were you allowed to do sound effects and things during the channel 67 shows?

SOG: Yeah, we did. And I actually did them live, as the movie was running over the air, for awhile. Then we had about 5 or 6 people that complained to the general manager of the station, who was kind of a panty-waist…

Me: [Laughs]

SOG: …So he stopped me from having sound effects because he didn’t want to have anybody complain. Then, it ended up to be that I’d be able to do it once in awhile, which, I didn’t care, because it was a lot less work for me. Back in those days of 67, I also worked a 40-hour week at the station doing other jobs.

Me: I’m surprised people would complain about it, because anyone watching you would know you were doing the Ghoulardi thing, Ernie Anderson used to do that.

SOG: Well, everybody had something to say about it. “Too much sound effects!” “Not enough sound effects!” “You ruin the movies!”. So, what I do is put sound effects in the movies we’ve seen a thousand times, most of the horror classics. If I run a comedy classic like the East Side Kids or even a thriller classic or suspense like Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone, I’ll leave those movies alone as-is, because I figure they’re pretty good.

Me: I think that’s great you do the East Side Kids, the Bowery Boys, because there’s really nowhere else to see them. I don’t think anyone plays them.

SOG: It’s funny, because people complain about that, “You’re running East Side Kids? I don’t even watch those!” and then other people tell me, just like you, they tell me they like the East Side Kids. So, I learned over 27 years that it’s impossible to please everybody, so what I ended up doing was doing what *I* wanted to do!

Me: [Laughs] That’s the way to do it!

SOG: It saves a lot of headache!

Son Of Ghoul in Stow's 1991 4th of July parade.

Son Of Ghoul in Stow’s 1991 4th of July parade.

Me: How about when you were working with The Cool Ghoul, George Cavender? What was that like?

SOG: When I came in, I was an outsider, George had his production crew in place, and he had his little clique of people that kinda hung around and he did his skits with them. I was an  outsider and kinda came in the side-door. And, slowly, kinda weaseled my way in. I can’t even say that I was part of the crew, I was in a way, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t an official crew member, but I would do different jobs. If one week the camera guy didn’t show, then I might be a camera guy. And another week I might be the hand coming out of the box, or just standing off to the side, or doing a bit part in a skit or something like that. And, then I landed a job at the station as a board-operator, and when Cavender quit, I just slid into place. The thing about having a horror movie package was that they obviously had an audience watching the show. And I went in the office, said “What are you gonna do?” And, a couple other people were up for the job, they inquired about it. This one comedy troupe, they wanted to do skits, and this one person who made a lot of costumes wanted to do some skits. Fortunately for me, I was already an employee at the station, so I kind of had the little bit of the edge on the rest of them as far as that goes. And, my general manager was a native Northeastern Ohioan who grew up and remembered the days of Ghoulardi and The Ghoul and Superhost. Chuck & John and Hoolihan and all that. He was way hip to it. So, that helped, too.

Me: That’s very cool. I mean, 27 years later, he made the right choice.

SOG: It’s a labor of love. And now, the show’s basically into reruns. I’ll shoot something new occasionally and put something new together. I’m not saying we’re as regular as we used to, but, we still do. I’m just keeping the show on the air, and now, I’m on in Lake Tahoe, and also on at The University Of Tennessee.

Me: Well, I think even if a lot of it’s old stuff, it’s still better than not being on at all.

SOG: For new eyes, you never know who’s watching it. People come up to me all the time and say “I’d seen this skit you did!” and I’ll say “Oh yeah, that’s an old skit” and they’ll say “Well I never seen that one before” so you never know who’s watching on what night. I mean, look, Chuck & John have been running these old skits for 50 years.

Me: Yep. And you’ve got such a wealth of material that you could probably do that for quite awhile and still not get to everything you have.

SOG: Oh yeah, there’s stuff I’ve probably never shown. Like I said, I’m slowly transferring the old 67 shows, and a lot of them didn’t have run sheets to them, or it was lost over the years, so I’m always finding new little things.

Me: Are you the only one that has any copies? Like those ones you said deteriorated, unless someone finds a VHS tape somewhere, that’s it, or…?

SOG: The early stuff, who knows who has that. I’ve had tapes sent to me over the years, people say to me “Hey, I bought one of your tapes at a convention!” and the quality looks like 120th generation, just really looked bad. I don’t know, as far as I know, I’m the only one that has the old stuff. Unless, like you people out there with a collection of old VHS, if you have any old stuff, come through! Let me know! I’ll take it!

Me: Between WOAC and WAOH, which one do you think has “run the smoothest”? Do you have any preferences? I’m sure there’s good and bad with both. Obvously with WAOH you’ve been on so long that something’s working.

SOG: WOAC was a whole different gig. We were an active TV station with a news department, a sports department. There were salesmen and secretaries and engineers on the ground. It was an everyday thing. All cable systems had saturation at the time. I don’t know, it just seemed like it was a little bit more busy, a bit more exciting. To me, at least. By the time I got to 29/35, I didn’t produce the show any longer, at 67 I produced the show on the property, in their studios, with their equipment. So, that was kinda cool too. Once I moved to 29, then I started producing the show away from the station in different production facilities. That alone was a major, major headache. I went from a manageable catastrophe to broken down equipment, to broken down cables, to moving a number of times. From having to buy all of the equipment myself to completely taking over the production myself. Which probably actually saved the show the last almost 15 years. I bought all the equipment and did everything myself. I still have a small crew, like I said, we’re not getting together like we used to. So basically, these movies, I do all of the sound effects, all the edits. Put the show together. It keeps me kinda busy!

Me: So it was much more expensive for you when you moved to WAOH? You had to take care of a lot of stuff that channel 67 provided?

SOG: Exactly. Everything that I thought was a hassle at channel 67, I wish I had that again, I didn’t know how good I had it till it was gone. There, if a camera broke down or someone snapped a microphone cord or something broke, you just wrote up a repair slip and the engineer fixed it the next day. And now, if I broke a mic cord, then I’d fix it myself, or go buy a new mic. If a tape machine goes down, you have to take it into a repair shop, which is $150 before the repairman turns the first screw. So, it was quite costly.

Me: Was it a shock when channel 67 closed down? What were they, sold to some infomercial thing in ‘95?

SOG: They were sold, they had always been for sale, they were sold to a commercial company and ended up, I think, selling out to a religion company.

Me: Was it surprising when it happened, or were you always kind of expecting it, or…?

SOG: The station was always for sale the whole time I worked there. We were told that the new owners were gonna dump a bunch of money into it and everybody’s jobs were gonna be secure. And it was absolutely the opposite of that. They came in one day and fired the entire station, except for the board operators and a few people in the offices! I had a contract that stated that I had three weeks in writing, and they said “Okay, you got three weeks.” So, in those three weeks, I made the deal with 29, and so I made the transition without missing a week.

Me: So you were never actually off-the-air.

SOG: No, I did that last show on channel 67 on a Saturday, and then the following Friday night, I was on at 29.

Son Of Ghoul with sidekick Fidge during a promo

Son Of Ghoul with sidekick Ron “Fidge” Huffman during a promo.

Me: Of your 27 years, what would say was the roughest time period?

SOG: A couple different things. That was definitely rough, that was real rough. When that transition took place, I felt that the production quality of the show was just horrible. The cameras were not even a step above home equipment. Yeah, that was tough, that was real tough. And of course when Fidge passed away.

Me: That was ridiculously surprising.

SOG: The people he was with didn’t look after him real well that night I suspect, so, what can I tell you.

Me: I met him at a Frightvision once, and he was just the nicest guy, he was such a cool guy. I got his autograph and everything And then, just a couple years later, he passed, and I just could not believe it. It just came out of nowhere.

SOG: Yeah, it was a tough transition. But, personally, I went 9 ½ years without him, and I had to become the buffoon again. Now the joke’s on me! [Laughs]

Me: How about Zippy? What happened to Zippy?

SOG: Zippy was a guy that worked at channel 67 and had that mask. He was really tall and when he put that mask on he looked crazy. His name was Terry Zimmerman, and now he lives in Oregon, I think Portland. He was a board operator for awhile and an old friend of mine actually. For a couple years there, he’d put on that Zippy mask once in awhile and did a number of stunts on the show, which was always kinda cool, it’s always fun to see those old bits.

Me: The first time I saw Zippy, it kinda weirded me out. I mean, that’s a crazy mask.

SOG: I don’t know where he got it, and I don’t know if he even has it anymore. I don’t know if it got lost, or actually, it was just real thin rubber, so it might have just kinda disintegrated. Not sure.

Son Of Ghoul and Fidge during a promo for the game show.

Son Of Ghoul and Fidge during a promo for the game show.

Me: What did you think about doing that game show? Was it your idea? Did the station manager’s bring it up?

SOG: The game show came about because at the time Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was the hot new game show and the whole country was crazy about game shows. And [station managers] the Klauses’ thought “Hey, let’s get on the bandwagon” so that was their idea to do the game show. We tried three trial nights of it, and on the 3rd night, I just took Fidge with me just for the heck of it, and everybody liked me beating him up! So, he became the score keeper.

Me: Would you do the live call-in game show again?

SOG: Yeah, it was fun. But, it was fun until they put a time delay on the game. All of a sudden, Janet Jackson exposed herself on national television, and the whole country was now freaked out and afraid to do anything that crossed the line. They even gave me a bunch of rules, “Don’t do this anymore, don’t say that anymore.” And, I just sort of ignored all of them…

Me: [Laughs] Did anything ever happen before the delay came in, where someone said something on the air?

SOG: Oh absolutely! People would curse and stuff all the time, and all I could do was just, I’d just look at the camera and cut everybody off. I’d have to hang up on everybody! Sometimes it would be right down to the last minute of the game and people who actually played the game, did it correctly, they’d get cut off and lost being a winner because somebody would say something foul. We’d go to commercial and just die laughing! Once the delay happened it just took away the spontaneity of the game, because the people that were on, it was no longer fun for them at all. If you’ve ever called a radio show and you have to turn down your radio and all that, it just wasn’t fun for the people at home, I think.

Me: What was the reason for the game show ending? Budgetary reasons?

SOG: The reason was the station took a big hit and lost some money, and they just couldn’t afford to produce it anymore, to pay camera people to come in. They lost a few of their big informercial buyers who bought from them on a yearly basis. And they also lost some overnight home shopping that went on off a satellite, and those big buyers didn’t re-up. That was a big revenue loss for them, and at that point, they just pulled the plug. And in reality, the game show wasn’t pulling in money, we weren’t sold-out, we didn’t have sponsors for it. So that’s really the reason they cancelled that.

Me: It’s probably pretty hard to do pretty much anything without sponsors. That’s pretty much what drives the whole thing.

SOG: Yeah, and I always had to go out and be the salesman, be the sales guy, on-air talent, get all that stuff together at the same, and it was tough, really tough.

Me: When the channel switched over to an RTV affiliate in the summer of 2009, what were your thoughts on that? Were you ever worried about that? A lot of the local shows The Cat had on didn’t make the switch. I think it was basically you, Handy Randy and Steve French. Were you ever worried about not making the switch?

SOG: I didn’t even know they were gonna do it until they already did it. Like I say, every week I expect to hear a phone call, “Well thanks a lot, it’s been a nice long time.” But, I don’t know what’s next around the corner. Nobody’s sacred to the screen. Nobody.

Son Of Ghoul "dropping in" during a movie.

Son Of Ghoul “dropping in” during a movie.

Me: You were mentioning how you like to switch back-and-forth between old horror & sci-fi films and East Side Kids & Sherlock Holmes, which I think is great. I know a lot of horror hosts, they really only have access to the public domain stuff, and they sort of stick to the same couple of horror & sci-fi films. You’ve kinda realized that you don’t have to do just that.

SOG: Well, it’s my show. For me being a horror host, I’m pretty non-scary. I mean, I’ve got skulls laying around and stuff, but I really don’t go for the Dracula-type. My whole thing was always comedy. I was a big fan of The Stooges, Laurel & Hardy and The Marx Brothers and all that. So, I just throw on what I like. Like I said, I do what I wanna do! It’s my show!

Me: Isn’t that basically what Ernie Anderson did? I mean, he had ‘the look‘, but he was basically just going out there and doing whatever he wanted.

SOG: He wasn’t a very scary guy. He didn’t come off like a, a lot of these horror hosts try to be a Dracula-character or whatever, and I just didn’t find that to be believable.

Me: I know you’ve got a lot of movies from different genres, what is your favorite to show?

SOG: I don’t know, something like, there’s so many of them, like House On Haunted Hill, that’s pretty classic. I like doing Plan 9, that’s always funny. Some of those classics are really good. I really don’t have a favorite. My favorite’s the Universal classics that Svengoolie shows. I wish I could show Bride Of Frankenstein and Frankenstein and stuff like that. I’d love to be able to show that. If I had that package, I wouldn’t put sound effects in those classics.

Me: So those would probably be your “most wanted” ones to show, if you could?

SOG: Oh sure! I think every horror host dreams of showing those classics. You get these new guys, they show these new movies with a bunch of gore, blood & guts, and it’s just a little bit over the edge, they don’t leave anything to the imagination.

Son Of Ghoul with a custom album cover, sent in by yours truly!

Son Of Ghoul with a custom album cover, sent in by yours truly!

Me: After 27 years, what is your biggest thrill as a host? Is there a particular moment that stands out?

SOG: Wow. Different things at different times. It was a great honor to be a co-host of the Jerry Lewis telethon back in the say, for 9 years I was a local co-host, that was an honor. It was an honor to do interviews and get backstage to meet people like Paul McCartney and Stevie Ray Vaughan. That was a big honor over the years. I was really knocked out to be able to do that. And it was an honor to be featured in a Hollywood movie, it was honor to be flown out to the West Coast to do appearances. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs, it’s been one big roller coaster ride. “Big tall ups, big bad downs!” A lot of big ups, a lot of big downs.

Me: Now, after all that, all the things you’ve done, I know there’s the Ghoulardi book, Big Chuck has done a book, would you ever do a book?

SOG: I don’t think anybody would be interested!

Me: [Laughs] I would read a Son Of Ghoul book!

SOG: I’d sell one! I’d sell about one, you’d be the only one to get it!

Me: [Laughs] You think?

SOG: I don’t know, I’ve toyed with idea, I thought about it, and I don’t know. The stories I’d like to put in the book, I couldn’t tell, because I’d get too many people in trouble!

Me: [Laughs]

SOG: Those are all the good stories!

Me: So you’d have to sanitize it a bit?

SOG: Oh, that would be no fun! I’m not candy-assing the book if I do one! I mean, if I put this out, people’d be getting divorced, all kinds of trouble!

Me: [Laughs] But you know what, I think there’d be a market for it! I’ve seen the people at Ghoulardifest! You sell some stuff at Ghoulardifest!

SOG: You know what? I’ve never seen a larger gathering of homeless people in all my life!

A promo featuring Son Of Ghoul's channel & current timeslot in Northeast Ohio.

A promo featuring Son Of Ghoul’s channel & current timeslot in Northeast Ohio.

Me: [Laughs] Alright, where to see your show. Some of the people reading this, I know they’re not from around here.

SOG: Channel 29/35 in Northeastern Ohio, and then you can see it on TNTV, Lake Tahoe, California, and they stream on the internet if you’ve got Firefox. I don’t know what they’re doing out there, you can get it over the internet.

Me: But it’s an actual channel out there besides the internet thing?

SOG: Yeah, it’s an actual channel and they also stream over the internet. That’s one of the reasons I did it, kind of like a webcast. If you’ve got Firefox, you can get that over the internet every week for free. And they show, also, my cartoon show. I produced 14 hours of me hosting classic old cartoons. Also, if you’re down along the University Of Tennessee, you can us on a volunteer channel down there, it’s an on-campus, closed-circuit TV channel, Plus, I believe, it’s on the cable system that surrounds the University. So, Tennessee, Lake Tahoe, and here in Northeastern Ohio!

 

Son Of Ghoul with a "custom bar sign," sent in by yours truly!

Son Of Ghoul with a “custom bar sign,” sent in by yours truly!

Me: Alright, one more: After 27 years, is there anyone you would like to work with again? Whether it was a celebrity or a special crew member? Is there anyone you got along so well with you’d like to get in touch with them again?

SOG: I’m pretty much in touch with practically everybody I’ve worked with. There was a director in the early days, his name was John Case. If I had to work with somebody, I’d work with John Case, because he was probably the single most talented person that ever worked on the show.

Me: That is very cool! That is great! I can’t thank you enough for talking with me. My mind is blown!

SOG: [Singing] My mind is blown!

Me: [Laughs] This is just terrific, I can’t thank you enough for talking to me!

SOG: Anytime!

*****

How do you describe a conversation with a guy you’re a huge, huge fan of? I think “awesome” works pretty well. During the entire (roughly 49 minute) interview, SOG was never anything but completely friendly and generous with his answers. And what an absolute wealth of information! I don’t know gang, I don’t think it gets much cooler than this!

Once again I’d like to extend my thanks to Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino for his generosity in granting me this interview and his time. The man is a legit badass.

Your NEO Video Hunter with the man himself at Ghoulardifest 2011. Sorry the picture's a little blurry, blame my brother's camera.

Your NEO Video Hunter with the man himself at Ghoulardifest 2011. Sorry the picture’s a little blurry, blame my brother’s camera.

An Interview With Dennis Donnelly

dennisdonnelly

That credit is a familiar one to me. In the late-90’s, TV Land was rerunning the, as I consider it, “Jack Webb Trilogy”: Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency! In short order, I was addicted to all three. The man behind many of the best episodes of Adam-12 and Emergency! (and, indeed, a LOT of great shows) was Dennis Donnelly. So, when I had the opportunity to speak with him, it was actually kind of a surreal experience for me. I mean, I was actually conversing with the guy behind not only some of my fondest TV memories, but also shows that have held up incredibly well and that I still love very much today. On any given day, I can turn on MeTV, and there’s a good chance I can watch an episode of Adam-12 or Emergency! that was directed by him. How cool is that?

Because the interview wasn’t exactly scheduled, I didn’t want to take up too much of Mr. Donnelly’s time, although he was never anything but completely friendly and forthcoming with his stories. I have no problem saying that I was a bit nervous on the outset, but Mr. Donnelly quickly put me at ease. The interview was less of a question-and-answer session and more of an actual conversation (shortly into that roughly 30 minute conversation, I was too enthralled to be nervous), and that’s the way this article will really read.

We spoke mostly of his work on those Jack Webb shows, but Dennis Donnelly has been behind a LOT of TV shows over the years. He has a seriously, seriously impressive list of credits; one look at his IMDb listing will make your eyes pop at the sheer number of great shows he was involved with. My first experience with Mr. Donnelly’s work outside of those Jack Webb shows was the 1978 film The Toolbox Murders, except that was in the days before DVD, when VHS copies of films such as that went for big bucks on Ebay. Being a fairly broke kid (as I opposed to being the fairly broke adult I am nowadays), I was never able to snag my own copy, but to me it’s still fitting that that’s the subject our interview started proper on:

Me: Now, you did, correct me if I’m wrong, you did The Toolbox Murders?

Dennis Donnelly: Right.

Me: That’s got kind of a following nowadays.

DD: Yeah it does.

Me: I know there was a remake a couple years ago.

DD: Tobe Hooper made another one, this time they just called it Toolbox Murders, not The Toolbox Murders, and it was a totally different story.

Me: I Haven’t seen the original one, I know that was sort of the start of slasher films and those more extreme sort of things around that time.

DD: Right.

Me: I understand that had a big following on video when that first came out.

DD: Yeah. Yeah, I remember when it came out video. I think I even got it on Beta.

Me: Oh yeah! [Laughing]

DD: That’s how long ago that was!

Me: That was one years ago I always tried to get and I could just never get ahold of it.

DD: I had it on ¾” tape and I don’t have anything that plays ¾” tape, nobody I knew had a ¾” tape machine. That’s what they had in studios. The professionals, you know, all had ¾” cassette videos so they could watch actors they were going to interview and things like that.

[At that point the possibility of another video format that I could potentially learn more about led me to ask some fairly amateurish questions on ¾” tapes.]

DD: It was exactly the same as Beta except it was ¾” tape. It was a much bigger cassette and I’m sure much more expensive. It wasn’t anything you could rent anywhere.

Me: That was all sort of in the hands of the studios?

DD: Yes.

Me: Unless you had really, really deep pockets you probably couldn’t get that for the house?

DD: No, and if you did, you wouldn’t have a player for it!

[For as much as I know about old VHS and Beta VCRs, I really didn’t know much at all about the ¾” format at all, so it was invaluable to me to learn this information. It was shortly thereafter that our conversation turned to his television work.]

Me: Now, I know you directed episodes of Emergency!

DD: Yeah.

Me: And you did other stuff with Jack Webb?

DD: I did Adam-12, which was where I started directing. I did more than anybody of that, I did 28 of them!

Me: No kidding! That’s very cool! It’s funny because I grew up when they were playing all this stuff on TV Land. That’s the kind of stuff that I still love watching today. It’s on MeTV now, they do all three in a row, Dragnet, Adam-12 and Emergency!

DD: Oh really!

[I’ve noticed of late that despite no affiliation with the channel whatsoever besides watching a lot of it, I tend to promote MeTV quite a bit.]

Me: Now what was it like working in Los Angeles in the 1960’s? There was so much stuff going on then.

DD: Well, I was born there, so it was like “because it’s Los Angeles” didn’t mean a thing. I left for two years, I was in Hawaii doing Hawaii Five-O as an assistant, and I would talk about directing to Jack [Lord] and he kinda laughed it off thinking I was kidding, so I left, came back, did Adam-12, got promoted and did more of them than anybody, and then I did The Toolbox Murders. And then I went to Hawaii on vacation and I stopped by the set. Jack said “Come into the dressing room, let’s talk!” So, he said “What have you been doing?” and I said “Well, I just directed my first movie!” He said “Really!” I said “Yeah, but you know Jack, I don’t really wanna give up TV, I’d really like to do this show.” And he says “Well, I can’t really make those decisions, but I’ll certainly put in a good word for you.” And then a couple of weeks later I was there!

Me: Now, Jack Webb, he was always so meticulous and a stickler for details on his shows. Was he sort of like that behind the scenes? Or was he real easygoing or…?

DD: He was EXACTLY like that behind the scenes!

Me: [Laughing]

DD: I mean, if he liked you, you could do no wrong. But, he was a tough guy. When he was directing, which he directed all of the Dragnets while he was alive, nobody made a sound on his set. On every other set, if the director was a nice guy like I was on Emergency!, [the crew] they’d just start getting louder and louder. Until one day I just yelled at them! I said “That is TOTALLY disrespectful! If you wanna talk, go outside and talk!” and everybody was going “Oh wow! What’s wrong with Dennis?!” but they were quiet!

Me: [Laughing] Wow!

DD: Sometimes you just gotta do that. Jack didn’t have to. He could just look at people and they’d shut up!

Me: I know watching it on TV he looks like a guy someone probably wouldn’t wanna mess with!

DD: Did you ever see the movie The D.I.? You should try to get that. That was Jack Webb, playing himself as a drill instructor. He was so perfect. That’s exactly what he was like.

Me: Well, I’m definitely going to look into that. Of his movies, I have the 1954 Dragnet and Pete Kelly’s Blues.

DD: Pete Kelly’s Blues I think was his favorite.

Me: Because he was into Jazz and that sort of thing?

DD: Oh, absolutely! I mean, he had the best stereo, and he had a lot of friends that were, you know. I mean, Bobby Troup, he used to go to The China Trader where Bobby Troup played piano, and he’d go in there almost every night after work. So, he and Bobby were close friends, and Julie, I think that’s maybe how Bobby and Julie met. Julie London, because she was at one time married to Jack. So, interesting stories!

Me: Yeah! I mean, I love hearing this stuff! Like I said, I grew up watching this stuff on TV Land, and it holds up. A lot of the stuff today, I just, I don’t really have [an interest in]. There’s a couple shows I like, but there’s really not a whole lot that holds my interest.

DD: I totally agree with you.

Me: I Just think a lot of its got no soul.

DD: You’re exactly right! I mean, like today, nobody would hire me as a director. Of course, not that I’d want to, but it’s just so different today, it’s really hard to follow a lot of stuff.

Me: Yeah. I guess that sort of goes back, I mean, I understand you were born in L.A. It’s all sort of, I guess, second-nature, commonplace to you, but it just seems like, to me, being in Los Angeles in the 60’s and everything that was going on during that entire decade and everything you saw come out of Los Angeles, it seems like it was a great time to be a part of.

DD: Well, then it started changing, and fortunately, that’s about the time I could get out of it. And, as soon as I was through working in Los Angeles, I could hardly wait to move out.

Me: When was that about?

DD: I’d say it was 8 years ago.

Me: What were the last things you were working on? Were you still working in [TV]?

DD: No, I was a superintendent of construction for a remodeling company. That follows, doesn’t it?

Me: [Laughing] It seems like now, I guess to me, I mean, I’ve done a little bit of acting and things like that but I’ve never been to Los Angeles and worked there. From what I’ve sort of heard and read about, it seems like it’s very, uh, I guess you’d say “corporate”, not as ‘loose‘, or maybe…?

DD: You know what, today the writers run everything.

Me: Really?

DD: Yeah, they all become directors, they’re all the producers, and you know, that became a real pain.

Me: Yeah, I can imagine.

DD: As soon as you take the writer and name them a producer, he gets pretty lazy. Like he knows everything.

Me: I actually read Dwayne Hickman’s autobiography not too long ago and he sort of said the same thing about producers. There’ll be a bunch of producers, but only one or two have any real power. [The rest] are just sort of there in-name-only.

DD: When you’re doing a show, and you look at the call-sheet, and there’s more producers than drivers. When that happened, it changed everything. More producers than drivers! I mean, you have 13 producers on a show! What do they DO? They’re all lazy and they want somebody else to do their work.

Me: Were you with Emergency! until the very end then?

DD: Almost. When they finally stopped doing the series, they did several TV movies, I had nothing to do with that. But I was there until pretty much the end.

Me: I understand there’s always going to be stress and pressures doing a TV series like that, but was everyone pretty cool?

DD: Yeah, everybody was. Otherwise we never could have made it. Every other show at Universal was a 7-day shoot for an hour show, ours was 6, and then they cut us down to 9 hours a day. And, to do a show that’s mostly action, it’s almost impossible. But, we did it!

Me: I tell you what, it still holds up. Of those three Jack Webb productions, I think Emergency! really is my favorite because it really has held up so well.

DD: And it’s just got so much action in it. It just lends itself to more action just like Adam-12 would. Every once in awhile you’d have a show where hostages were taken or something like that, and that would make it pretty exciting, but I’d say a fire was a lot more interesting.

Me: Plus, you sort of had both sides of it. You’d see someone be injured and rescued, and then they’d take them to the hospital, and you’d see the follow-up there.

DD: Exactly.

Me: I know when I was watching these shows for the first time, they really gave me a whole new appreciation for our firefighters and doctors.

DD: Paramedics.

Me: Paramedics, absolutely.

DD: That’s what started the paramedic program. That show started it. Jack Webb worked with the fire department and all the people at city hall and everything, and they were thinking about starting something like that. And, he encouraged it, and he got it on television before they were actually in the field! We had a technical advisor on the set who was a paramedic all the time, and we had technical advisors from the fire department whenever we did a fire rescue, they were there.

Me: That’s gotta be great knowing you were a part of all that.

DD: Yeah! And you know, they’ve got a fan club and everything.

Me: Well, I know after watching it, I was like “Man, I’d like to be a paramedic!”, but I uh, don’t really think I’ve got it in me to do that.

DD: Well, you talk to a paramedic almost anywhere, and they’ll tell you they were influenced to do that by Emergency! I’ve talked to guys here, and they’ve said “Yeah! Sure, that’s what made me do this!”

[Over the course of nearly 30 minutes, my conversation with Mr. Donnelly covered a lot of ground, but perhaps the most important thing touched on was the fact that Emergency! was a huge inspiration to an entire generation (and beyond) of people that later became paramedics, firefighters, doctors, nurses. That being as it is, it’s not a stretch to say that, in a way, the show was responsible for saving lives.]

***

I cannot overstate how amazing it was to speak with a guy that was involved in not only some of the greatest TV series of all-time, but also worked in the industry during some of its greatest years. And what’s more, I’ve spoken with celebrities before that had an air of superiority, as if they were doing you a favor by speaking with you, even if they were actually speaking down to you. I can honestly say that was definitely NOT the case here. Mr. Donnelly was completely personable, informative and generous. Truly a class-act all the way, and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to talk with me.

I’ve never done an interview on this blog before and I don’t know if it’ll become a regular feature. I’d certainly like it to be, but if this ends up being my only one, I couldn’t be any happier with the outcome. I couldn’t have asked for a better interview, and I once again extend my gratitude to Dennis Donnelly for his time.