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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?

VHS REVIEW: Popeye in “Ancient Fistory” (Amvest Video, 1989)

Hey, do you remember when I wrote about that Amvest/Kid Pics Alice in Wonderland VHS tape, and I expressed my desire to find one of their offerings with the “Happy Hamster” intro and outro host segments included? Well, this review comes courtesy of that ongoing quest.

They don’t show up at thrift stores and the like very often, but in the time since I wrote that review, I’ve picked up several additional titles in that bygone line of budget videos. These tapes were your standard kids fare of the time, focusing on public domain cartoons and such (no small field back in the 1980s & 1990s, granted). Think Parent’s Approved Video, except harder to find nowadays.

Anyway, none of those subsequent finds yielded the ‘Ster (and two of them had the wrong tape inside; I still picked ’em up for the sleeves if nothing else, but it’s irritating because I generally don’t find mismatched tapes that often), so it was with that continuing failure that I picked up this Ancient Fistory, starring Popeye. This wasn’t a thrift purchase though; nah, I resorted to online buyin’ for this one. I thought the relatively-later date of 1989 would prove promising (I had been hovering around the 1986/1987 mark, and while you never know with this company and re-releases and whatnot, apparently the Happy Hamster waltzed on the scene around the 1988/1989 mark).

Look, it was $10, the shipping was free, and it came with three other Popeye tapes that I didn’t really need, so I pushed aside the nagging thought that I’ll eventually find it at a thrift somewhere and just bought it.

Of course, it figures the Happy Hamster isn’t on this one either, but I blew $10 on the tape so I’m getting a post out of the thing anyway.

(Actually, truth be told, awhile back I did pick up one of the Amvest releases with the Happy Hamster, a three-tape set of old Disney cartoons. Even though the shorts presented are all presumably public domain, I don’t want to taunt Mickey’s crew, so no-go on the update front where that one is concerned.)

My reference to Parent’s Approved Video (PAV from here on out) a bit ago was intentional; a lot of the earlier Kid Pics tapes featured artwork and fonts similar to PAV’s, so much so that at first glance it’s easy to think a certain one is a PAV title. But, as the years rolled by, the artwork started becoming a bit more sophisticated, relatively speaking. The tape we’re talking about today is a good example; just look at it here! The artwork isn’t just competent, it’s actually pretty good! Seriously, this is no small feat; there were some seriously-lacking budget Popeye tapes out there back in the day. Getting Popeye to, you know, look like Popeye, that didn’t always happen. But it happened here and that means Amvest won that round.

As per the back cover, here’s our line-up: Ancient Fistory, Greek Mirthology, A Haul in One, and Insect to Injury. These are all Famous Studios-era entries in Popeye’s oeuvre; while there are several cartoons from my preferred Fleischer-era Popeye that have lapsed, most of the public domain Popeye shorts are from the later Famous Studios years, and as such make up the majority of budget VHS (and now DVD) releases.

While I feel the Famous shorts pale in comparison to the Fleischer series (particularly the Fleischer series prior to them moving the studios from New York to Florida in 1938, after which they cutesy-upped and watered-down our one-eyed sailor), the Famous cartoons are still pretty solid, consistently good-not-great in my opinion.

Four cartoons on this tape may not sound like a whole lot, but considering that some budget releases around that time got away with three or even only two entries (sometimes with additional PD cartoon filler, sometimes not), four entries is practically a smorgasbord of animated fisticuffs! Even though they omitted my personal favorite Famous Studios Popeye, 1957’s Spree Lunch (the penultimate cartoon in the original Popeye theatrical series), this is still a solid bunch of cartoons, and had they flipped the last two entries, they’d even be in chronological order!

Let’s check ’em out, one by one…

The tape’s namesake comes from the very first cartoon presented (gee, you don’t say!), and it’s one of those ‘fantasy’ Popeye entries that I tend to be ambivalent towards. It’s not bad though, with some pretty funny sight gags (including a literal bullseye) and even an appearance by Poopdeck Pappy!

1953’s (ignore that copyright credit here; Wikipedia says it dropped on 1-30-53) Ancient Fistory is a play on the old Cinderella tale. Here, Olive Oyl plays a princess who is hosting a ball in order to net a hubby find a suitable prince. The kingdom isn’t stated, but considering all the “ye” declarations and “-eth” suffixes, old timey England is the implication.

Popeye works in the kitchen of “Bluto’s Beanery,” in the servile, dressed-in-rags role (it’s a pretty miserable existence, apparently), though Bluto must be doing pretty well with the venture; he’s spiffily dressed and headed to the ball. Enter Popeye’s “Fairy Godfather,” as portrayed by Poopdeck Pappy. Pappy turns a can on spinach into a slick automobile (anachronism?) and gives Popeye some swanky duds, with the expected caveat that it all goes away at midnight.

Like so many of these shorts, Olive falls for both Popeye and Bluto, which sets in motion a series of feats of strength. Popeye doesn’t win before midnight, but then the car turns back into the can of spinach, Popeye consumes said can of spinach, and, well, you know how things turn out.

The second short presented continues the “ancient history” theme. 1954’s Greek Mirthology always seemed to me like Famous’ attempt at getting in on the vibes of those two-reeler cartoons from the Fleischer reign that placed the ‘Eye in situations featuring historical characters (Sinbad Sindbad, Aladdin, Ali Baba) but without recycling footage from those cartoons (which Famous also did).

‘Course, it’s not like these cartoons in general were always strictly “real time,” and this isn’t a two-reeler, so I’m probably all kinds of off-base here. Still, that’s how I’ve thought of Greek Mirthology in the past and how I will continue to do so in the future. And you can’t stop me.

Here, Popeye recounts the tale of great-ancestor Hercules to his nephews Pip-Eye, Peep-Eye, Pup-Eye and Poop-Eye in an effort to get them to eat spinach. (It’s important to note that not only was Popeye given actual teeth by this point in his run, but his one eye is just squinty rather than straight-up missing, which is good, because his nephews all exhibit the same trait.) According to Popeye, Herc had been getting his strength from sniffing strong garlic (glad he wasn’t eating it!), until a marauding bully (Bluto, of course) shows and discovers the weakness in that method. A chance-landing in a spinach patch (naturally from a Bluto punch) produces superior results, and the rest is, erm, history.

Popeye’s nephews naturally remain unconvinced and head outside to get some ice cream from a vendor who turns out to be…Bluto! In a sad turn of events, Popeye doesn’t deliver a beat down upon him as the short concludes.

The third cartoon takes place solely in the present time (I presume), but it’s still more-or-less the same as what we’ve just seen twice-over: Popeye and Bluto competing with each other until Popeye ends it all by downing some spinach. Olive is back as the object of desire again, as opposed to the attempt to gain love for spinach from the nephews in the previous installment. Look, the general plots of these were pretty durable, okay? (Similar or not, they were all pretty entertaining, to the endless credit of the people behind these cartoons.)

1956’s A Haul in One is one of those Popeye cartoons in which he and Bluto are actually pals at the start, before Olive enters the picture and provides the catalyst for punchin’. Here, the two former (?) sailors have their own moving company, an apparently harmonious affair until they stop by Olive’s. It’s never explained why she’s moving, but I’m going to assume it’s due to unpaid rent. (Good luck gettin’ your deposit back, Olive!) Anyway, as you may have guessed, Popeye prevails in the end.

Now is as good a time as any to talk about the print quality of all this. Technically, Amvest didn’t get terrible copies of these shorts; there’s some dust and whatnot, but compared to how they could have looked, these really aren’t that bad. Far uglier things have shown up on budget videos!

The main problem is the VHS duplication. Boy are these blurry! Sure, the prints were probably a few generations removed anyway, but there should still be more sharpness than there actually is. It all just looks like a budget VHS tape. (Go figure!) And I was playing all this on my right sporty RCA SVHS deck, too!

Still, this wasn’t meant to be an archival release. This was for the kids, and on that front, hey, they’re more than watchable, they’re entertaining, they’ve got their opening cred—

Aw c’mon!

Yes, this is how our fourth and final feature commences. Obviously there was some VHS-to-VHS duplication going on at some point! 1956’s Insect to Injury, on my copy here anyway, starts at the beginning, but not the very beginning. Not only were the opening credits MIA, but you’ve got that on-screen VCR info up in the upper-right hand corner!

I’m going to guess this took place when they were creating their “master,” I doubt they made each and every copy from VHS-to-VHS. Unless they were, I dunno. It’s kind of a funny reminder of how laid back things could be in that era of budget video, if nothing else.

As for the short itself, Popeye’s house is besieged by termites. They eatin’ up everything, man! No Bluto or Olive in this one, it’s strictly Popeye vs. bugs. It ends the same though: Popeye fails in his quest to stop the creatures, so he slams some spinach and builds a house out of metal. The termites aren’t destroyed by this, but they are defeated.

You know, I realize Popeye’s famous “I takes all I can stands…” line implies a certain amount of patience, but really, shouldn’t he have realized at some point that his natural strength can only take him so far? Just stay powered up on spinach all the time, man!

Anyway, there you have it, four Famous Studios Popeye adventures courtesy of Amvest Video’s Kid Pics division. These tapes aren’t very common, and since Popeye (and Superman, while we’re at it) are top-tier PD cartoon properties in my eyes, I had to nab this one online. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it’s a good example of budget cartoon compilations from that era. If nothing else, I got a post out of it, so I’m saying I got ten bucks worth out of the whole thing.

I just wish the Happy Hamster had been included.

A Ghoul Power Journey, 20 Years On…

CAUTION: Long, drawn out personal memories forthcoming! (Also, it will probably help if you have at least some working knowledge of The Ghoul beforehand.)

The man himself, during a 1999 book signing.

July 10th marked the 20th anniversary of The Ghoul’s return to Cleveland airwaves, courtesy of our WBNX TV-55. (Yes, I’m well aware the majority of August is now over.) 20 years?! It’s almost shocking how quickly time has passed; it (figuratively) seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the 15th anniversary of the occurrence. I don’t know what troubles me more: the fact I’ve kept my silly blog going for five years now, or that I’ve let 20 years slip by without accomplishing anything of lasting importance.

Nevertheless, allow me now to do some reminiscin’ of Ron Sweed’s legendary late night horror host. The time is right, and besides, while I’ve related some of these tales before, it’ll be nice to present them again in an updated (i.e., better written) manner. Bear with me here group, this’ll be a long one…

Backstory:

Ron Sweed was a young associate of the legendary Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson (he of Cleveland horror hosting legend) in the 1960s, and it was by Anderson’s permission that Sweed resurrected the character in the 1970s, albeit with a change in name. Sure, with the fright wig, one-lens sunglasses, fake beard and mustache, and button-adorned lab coat, they looked the same. And yes, with declarations of “Stay Sick,” “Turn Blue” and “Ova Dey” and a similar penchant for blowing things up with firecrackers and adding various drops-in, video and audio, to the (admittedly) terrible movies he ran, they even shared some of the same traits. BUT, The Ghoul developed his own manic persona. His was wild, he was wacky, he was destructive, and his sense of humor was decidedly warped. With his declarations of “Ghoul Power!” he was hero to kids and the hip and enemy to those with supposedly “good taste.” The Ghoul was something special.

He first started hosting horror movies in Cleveland in 1971, on the independent WKBF TV-61, and through the magic of syndication also hit in other markets around the country. Indeed, he was just as big in Detroit as he was in Northeast Ohio. Thanks to viewer complaints and a station on the brink, his first run here came to an end in 1975, though he came back on 61’s successor, WCLQ, in 1982 and enjoyed a few more years in the Cleveland market. Add to that various runs outside of Ohio, and you had a host that really got around across the decades.

That was all before my time, however.

Despite having a vague knowledge of Ghoulardi, knowing of Superhost in my formative years, and having occasionally watched Big Chuck & Lil’ John prior, I was really just learning about the fine art of horror hosting in full in 1997, when I was 11 years old. It was actually a nationally broadcast show out of Minneapolis, Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the Sci-Fi Channel, that introduced me proper to the concept of bad-movie-mockin’, and which in turn led me to The Son of Ghoul Show on The CAT 29/35.

Now, the internet was around then, and we had it (ah, the days of slow, clunky, will-it-or-won’t-it-connect dial-up!), but it wasn’t nearly what it is now. As such, I was very much discovering all of this stuff for myself first-hand, as it beamed from the cathode ray tubes of our television and directly into my brain. In other words, if I didn’t see it aired, I may have had, at best, only the most passing knowledge on a given local subject. To think, there was a time when I wasn’t aware of The Ghoul!

Fast forward to the summer of 1998, when a relative passed along a newspaper clipping that she thought I might find interesting…

The Discovery:

My first glimpse, indeed my first knowledge, of The Ghoul came from an Akron Beacon Journal article covering his return to Northeast Ohio TV. This was fascinating stuff! A new (but not really) host for me to check out! As a 12 year old heavily into this sort of thing by then, this was exciting news! I was also curious; obviously I didn’t know what to expect. How could I? Like I said, this was all new to me.

The fateful newspaper article that led me to Ghoul Power…

You know, one of my favorite things in my entire horror host collection is actually that old Akron Beacon article. As you can see here, it’s yellowed a bit; that’s because it hung on the fridge for awhile. And the picture used wasn’t originally in color; I did that myself some time later prior to, obviously, having him sign it at a personal appearance somewhere (more on those later).

No, it’s not in “mint condition,” and it’s not archival quality in the slightest. I tend to be a perfectionist when it comes to collecting this stuff, but here, none of that matters. Why? Because this article and the history that goes with it, that’s all part of my personal Ghoul Power story, that’s why! Today, it proudly resides in a scrapbook I have dedicated to these sorts of things, and there it shall remain.

ANYWAY, thanks to that article I now had some background knowledge on the man, but I still didn’t know how this was going to play out. I was used to a certain way of local horror hosting, so how exactly was this going to work? It was a curious anticipation, to be sure.

A still from WBNX’s original promo spotlighting The Ghoul’s return.

In the days (weeks?) leading up to the July 10 debut, WBNX began running a promo for the return, and this was my first glimpse of The Ghoul “in action.” There he was, hopping down the street on a bouncy ball, waving at cars, all while the expected “I’m back!” type voiceover gave the pertinent details. Okay, this was different!

So Friday, July 10, 11:30 PM rolls around, and I was…well, actually, I can’t remember if I was there watching it live or if, thanks to the magic of VHS, I first checked it all out the next day. Honestly, I’m remembering it both ways, and I’m not sure which scenario is the truth and which is just my mind playing tricks on itself. And I’ve got a pretty good memory, too!

The first episode was 1993’s Ghost in the Machine, not really my kinda movie but a bit of “B” movie fare typical of WBNX’s offerings at the time. The Ghoul’s segments were a mix of old and new material, mainly his new segments introducing old ones. The following week (1983’s Up From the Depths) continued the trend.

Annnnnd that’s kinda where I dropped off. Over the following months, I’d check in occasionally, but the sad fact of the matter is I wasn’t an instant fan of The Ghoul. It was more of a progressive fandom; the more I watched, the more I appreciated. The good news is, when I finally ‘got’ it, man, I really got it!

The Fandom:

It was in the waning months of 1998 that I really started finding my Ghoul Power voice (I even went as him for my grade school’s Halloween party that year), and by early ’99, I was a young-but-dedicated “Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army.”

At a time when I was still very much developing my own sense of humor, The Ghoul displayed to me a “chaotic absurdity.” The destructive tendencies, firecracker-induced or otherwise, humor that was often positively non-sequitur-ish, it was all incredibly appealing to a 12/13 year old kid. (More than a few G.I. Joes met their demise in my backyard thanks to the influence of The Ghoul, by the way.) There was a warped sense of humor running throughout the entire show; even something as simple as using a toilet as a regular seat on his set was, to me, fantastic. Still is!

The man himself, staying sick and turning blue on set!

Like Ghoulardi before him, The Ghoul would often mock fellow local television personalities. News anchorwomen Denise Dufala (and her then-recent CD) and Wilma Smith were regular targets, as were Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who were running directly against The Ghoul over on WJW TV-8 at the time. It’s important to note that this was all in good fun; there was no real animosity there.

Some of my favorite moments were the simple ones, when he was merely sitting on the set, ostensibly talking about something but really just goofing around and cracking the crew up. Like Soupy Sales used to do, when The Ghoul had the crew laughing at something he said or did, it just made things all the funnier. And add an almost “familial” touch to the proceedings, too!

Indeed, one of my absolute favorite examples of this was “egg in a bottle,” from March 1999.

Some weeks prior, The Ghoul had demonstrated a trick in which an egg was sucked into a milk bottle by lighting a piece of paper and setting the egg over the opening – and it worked! Well, a few shows later, he revisited the bit, this time with the goal of not only getting the egg in the bottle, but then getting it out as well.

The problem was that nothing went correctly that second time around. The lit paper would be dropped in, and the egg would start to ‘go’ but then stall. Multiple failed attempts soon devolved into throwing the eggs around between him and the crew and lotsa ad-libbing. After several minutes of failing to achieve the first part of the goal, The Ghoul coolly stated “I don’t care if we don’t show the rest of the movie…” which caused the crew to crack up. And when the paper wouldn’t stay lit afterwards, he wondered aloud if they had any lighter fluid, which got another boisterous response.

Finally, he just pushed the egg down into the bottle and then sucked it back out with a straw, which was the purpose of the bit in the first place. It wasn’t so much the activity itself that was funny, but the interplay and goofing around between The Ghoul and his crew that summed up exactly how much fun this show could be. Even today, the whole segment is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Froggy being bombarded with some “raven residue.”

Oh, and how could I forget The Ghoul’s nemesis, Froggy! A small frog doll with a red coat and bow tie, Froggy was originally a 1940s & 1950s children show character, and who was later appropriated by The Ghoul for any number of destructive purposes. Summoned by being implored to “plunk you magic twanger, ova dey” and continuously spouting “hiya hiya hiya,” over the years Froggy was subject to being fried, chopped, blown up, immolated, thrown, kicked, stomped, and any other number of indignities The Ghoul reveled in bestowing upon him.

(There was also a full-sized Froggy, as in costumed adult, that appeared frequently on the show.)

It’s also to The Ghoul’s credit that, in the more-jaded late-90s/early-2000s, a lot of the stuff that would have raised eyebrows in the 1970s and even 1980s but would seem tame in the 1990s (especially when compared to, say, professional wrestling or whatever was airing on MTV or Comedy Central) still managed to work. Of course, the guy had been doing this sort of thing since 1971, it was probably all second-nature by that point, and The Ghoul went about it all with such a zeal that even some bits that didn’t quite work were still worth watching.

But you know, I fully realize that The Ghoul was/is a phenomenon that not everyone would get. (Same goes for Ghoulardi, Chuck & John, etc. etc. etc.) Unless you’re from Northeast Ohio or one of those areas that ‘got’ the humor (as Detroit wisely did), there’s a chance that if I were to show you an old episode right this moment, you’d watch and then say “okay…?” The declarations of “Boffo Socko,” “Zowie Scowie,” “Turn Blue,” and constant jabs at news anchorwoman Denise Dufala (“The secret word is DUFALA!”) probably would have left most outsiders scratching their heads.

That was the beauty of regional horror hosts though; their humor was aimed at a specific target audience. Someone in L.A. most likely wouldn’t get it, but they weren’t supposed to. This type of programming instilled a connection, and dare I say local pride, with the audience that, outside of nightly newscasts, seems to be a dying art form nowadays. The Ghoul excelled at it though.

And he fit so well into the vibes of late-90s Northeast Ohio, at least from the perspective of a 12/13 year old. Ernie Anderson’s passing in 1997 and The Drew Carey Show being a comedic force on a national scale, there seemed to be a renewed local interest in all of this stuff that made us, well, us. That feeling seemed to subside as the 2000s dawned and television in general went through increasingly radical changes (even Drew, for his last two seasons, was first moved to a terrible Monday night time slot and then burned off during the summers), but it was a wonderful ride while it lasted.

Over my years with The Ghoul, there were lotsa memorable moments. Beyond the surface stuff of anticipating a new old bad movie and seeing what he had in store for a given week, there are particular high points that stick out in my mind, both from back in the day and in retrospect.

When it began, The Ghoul Show had new host bits with the main maniac, but much of the focus was on the old material from the 70s and 80s. The Ghoul would come on in newly-filmed segments, and then introduce a clip from the past. I was entranced by these moments, and my early reluctance towards the show was almost-certainly due to the fact that the new stuff didn’t look like the old stuff. The material from the 1970s and 1980s, to me, it just looked like how a horror host show should look. The new Ghoul stuff (obviously) had a more modern look, with computerized titles and graphics. These graphics have aged well for the most part, but I wasn’t thinking of that at the time. Anyway, luckily, I came to my senses and realized that all Ghoul Power was good Ghoul Power. That’s why we’re here right now!

When new material took precedence, the 1970s & 1980s sketches were relegated to (usually) a single moment during the show: The Ghoul’s Vault of Golden Garbage. The Vault was a feature going back decades, and given its possibility to introduce me to old bits I wasn’t around for the first time, it quickly became one of my most-anticipated moments each week. (As the years went by, newer 1990s/2000s segments could occasionally show up in the Vault feature; that was always disappointing to me, because, hey, I was probably around for them the first time!)

The Vault, both in that early going and later when it was a separate segment, introduced me to the original usage of the “Ghoulzooka,” Chef Curdle, C. Miller, Froggy destruction, The Ghoul’s MDA telethon Jell-O jump, and other assorted bits of wackiness. I loved so much of it. But, being a Japanese giant monster movie fan, I think my favorite examples were the ones in which The Ghoul interacted with Gamera.

The Ghoul with Gamera, on two separate occasions…

Gamera movies were evidently well-known entities on The Ghoul Show in the 1970s, and The Ghoul took it upon himself to give them some extra-skewerin’ at least twice. The first known to me was the top image to your right: some fans sent in a “rocket powered” Gamera model, which The Ghoul and crew then launched across the studio. It was a very funny bit, mainly because it involved more joking around than anything, including The Ghoul losing it when Gamera’s head fell off during a demonstration of what was going to happen prior to launch.

The second occurrence known to me (but apparently happened first, given The Ghoul’s early set) was even ‘bigger’ and is what you’re seeing in the bottom-right shot: The Ghoul “interviewed” Gamera himself! Another very funny moment, mainly because The Ghoul had to tell Gamera how bad his movies were, much to Gamera’s embarrassment. The segment then ended with The Ghoul pulling Gamera around the set on a dolly, as if to mimic his flying. Simple, goofy, and irresistible. I loved (and love) stuff like that.

Ah, but probably the most memorable moment for me was a then-new one. Understandably, it was the time he opened a package I sent him on the air. I later wrote him emails that made it on, but the first was definitely the biggest and best.

The setting was July 23, 1999, the movie Bride of the Gorilla (a new one to me at the time; bonus!), and following one commercial break, I got probably the biggest thrill I ever got watching the show.

This particular life goal? ACHIEVED.

I had loaded this package up. First was what I deemed a “Parma Yo-Yo,” which was just a cut-out from a box of pierogies with a string taped to it, and which you were supposed to lamely bounce up and down. The Ghoul cracked up, seemed to get a big kick out of it (“And if it don’t do that, you got a bad one!”), but surprisingly I never saw it on the show again.

Then, there was a big “Ghoul Power” banner. I found a huge piece of paper somewhere and had decorated it with a whole bunch of phrases from the show. I think my hope was that it would make it onto the permanent set, and while The Ghoul seemed to like it too, I never saw it again, either.

BUT, the piece de resistance came at the end: I had gotten a cheap, terrible Jackie Chan movie from Best Buy’s fabled $2.99 VHS section, and despite two attempts at enjoying it, it was just too awful. So, what better way to dispose of it than by asking the main maniac to blow it up?

The Ghoul happily obliged, and in spectacular fashion.

I was positively flipping out during all of this. I was cracking up, literally jumping and down, I was so excited. (Hey, I was 13.) It, along with the time Letterman read one of my letters on the air, was probably one of my biggest “TV moments,” even if the two aren’t comparable on a viewership scale. It was, and is, certainly among my top favorites anyway.

Lotsa Time Slots:

As noted, The Ghoul debuted on Friday, July 10, 1998 at 11:30 PM, in what was a 2 1/2 hour time slot. For a good part of that first year, that was how long he ran, and let me tell you, by the time the show ended in the wee hours, it almost felt like you had finished running a marathon or something. It was like a bit that had happened at the top of the show felt like it had taken place eons ago by the time it was all over. It was pretty great.

At some point in 1999, I want to say slightly before the 1st anniversary but maybe slightly after, the time slot was shortened to a straight 2 hours (I recall the 1st anniversary special being 2 1/2 hours and thinking that it was a nice throwback). While this sort of took away the aforementioned “marathon” aspect, the truth is it didn’t hurt the program all that much at all. The Ghoul still packed a ton into those 2 hours, and you know, probably the only real difference was more editing to the movies!

The number of running gags, recurring jokes, and general momentum was a lot of fun to watch build and grow week after week, and by September 2000, the amount of things that had been built upon, expanded, and so on was not inconsiderable. But it was all about to take a serious hit.

Announced on September 15, 2000 (the movie was Karloff’s The Ape) and commencing on September 24, WBNX moved The Ghoul to Sunday nights at 12 AM (technically Monday morning). I had lived for those Friday nights, The Ghoul was such a great way to kick off the weekend, and now, it was being taken away from me! Summer and holidays were one thing, but during the school year (when you needed that dose of Ghoul Power the most!), my staying up for the show just wasn’t feasible. I had a hard enough time getting up in the morning as it was! Still, that’s why they invented VCRs. I was unhappy with the situation, but this was livable – I guess.

Until I saw that first Sunday show, anyway. The movie was 1993’s direct-to-video comedy Remote. There were no sound effects, no drop-ins, and The Ghoul’s host segments were severely scaled back. I was crushed. All that momentum, seemingly gone in one fell swoop. I still remember the day I discovered this; I had to run out to the garage for something, and I have this memory of being in there, sun streaming through the windows, and just feeling totally deflated.

An example of The Ghoul’s changing movie fare and time slot when he was moved out of Friday nights.

If you’ve read this old article (and if you haven’t, don’t bother; it sucks), you’d recall I was pretty down on the “Sunday era.” Now of course it wasn’t like it was when The Ghoul was on at 11:30 PM Fridays, but in retrospect, it wasn’t all bad. While a wider-range of movies was the norm (cheapo action flicks, comedies, dramas, more-modern horror and sci-fi, even the occasional animated fare, most of it without his famous during-movie-drop-ins), some of these actually worked pretty well on the show, especially the “B” action flicks from the likes of PM Entertainment and such. And when The Ghoul got a healthy amount of host segments throughout, it was all the better.

And, once in awhile, he’d do an “old style” show. That is, an old cheapie ‘classic’ loaded with drop-ins and plenty of Ghoul segments. Despite the lack of this happening on a regular basis, when it did occur, The Ghoul hadn’t lost a step.

It was in the midst of that Sunday night/Monday morning era that the world forever changed. I very much tend to look at many things as pre-9/11 and post-9/11, especially things (in this case, television) from the few years both immediately preceding and immediately following the travesty. It seems that pre-9/11, there was an undefinable air of innocence, I suppose, that was taken away afterwards. It was in that darkest of times that comfort was found in those aspects of our life that had become, well, almost a part of us, I guess you could say. I wish The Ghoul hadn’t been so inaccessible to me, a freshman in high school, at the time, because it was shows like his that helped bring a temporary comfort to a world gone mad.

I actually dug out one of my old Ghoul tapes recently, and it featured the episode right before 9/11, and what appeared to be the first one after. The first one was normal enough, but then the one after, where there’s the appropriate tributes and shows of solidarity during the commercials, it was and is heartbreaking. How quickly things can change.

The Ghoul on his “Breakfast Club” set.

It was in that post-9/11 world that the “Ghoul Power Good Morning Breakfast Club” experiment began. On October 8, 2001 to be exact, when the show was moved to 1 AM Monday mornings. Technically a worse slot, though my circumstances didn’t really change one way or the other; I still couldn’t stay up to watch it. The movie was Street Crimes, a low budget action flick from PM Entertainment and starring Dennis Farina that was a good example of what made up a good chunk of The Ghoul’s fare during that time period. It actually worked pretty well with the show – though I suppose your viewpoint on that would largely depend on how tolerant you are of “B” action flicks in the first place.

The gag of the “Breakfast Club” was that at 1 AM, it was Cleveland’s earliest morning show, thus starting your day off right before anyone else. Filmed on a different set and with humorous looks at traffic and weather and guests sharing coffee (typically associates and characters that tended to be on anyway), it was an interesting idea that worked far better than it had any right to, but it only lasted for maybe 6-8 months; by the summer of ’02, the show was back to its normal set and structure.

In September of ’02, the show was finally moved out of the Sunday/Monday hole and back to Friday nights/Saturday mornings…early Saturday mornings; it was slotted at 3:30 AM! I can’t decide if this was more or less accessible than before. On one hand, it didn’t coincide with a weekday, but man, depending on the movie, you’d be finishing up at around 5:30/6:00 AM. Look, I’m a habitual night owl, but even that goes a little too far for me.

(The final “Sunday era” broadcast was on September 2, 2002 with House on Haunted Hill; one of those “old style” Ghoul shows, loaded up with drop-ins and host segments. When he resurfaced in this new, uber-late time slot, the movie was 1996’s Yesterday’s Target.)

I really have no idea why WBNX moved The Ghoul out of Friday nights 11:30 PM or why his movie choices were, to a large degree, altered. Was it a ratings-issue, an attempt at giving him the all-around of Big Chuck & Lil’ John, or…? I just don’t know.

Sadly, and I hate to admit this, it was around that time (fall 2002) that I fell away from watching. Well, taping; the sad fact of the matter was that I kept recording for years, but rarely got around to watching the shows. Heck, I rarely got around to even checking/labeling the tapes! They just kept piling up! Teenagers do dumb things, and in hindsight, I’d have stuck with the program till the end (2003 or 2004, depending on the source), but at 16 years old, I guess you’re not that forward-thinking.

I never stopped liking The Ghoul though. Some of my happiest TV-viewin’ memories are of those Friday nights at 11:30 PM, watching him fool around against that black backdrop with the hazy border or goofing off on that junk-laden set. Indeed, I still have this very clear memory: summer of ’99, relaxing to The Ghoul on a Friday night, all alone, the window behind me open, cool breeze filling my nostrils with the scent of nearby bonfires. It was such a great feeling.

I have memories of tuning in on Sunday nights as well, but they’re not as numerous or as, erm, memorable, for obvious reasons.

The Ghoul in a local Norton Furniture ad.

A fun addendum to The Ghoul’s 1990s/2000s Cleveland revival: in the mid-00s, he appeared in a few local commercials for Norton Furniture, an establishment that specialized (specializes?) in late night advertising. Often of a surreal nature anyway, the two (I think there were only two) spots featuring The Ghoul had him chasing around store owner Marc with the intent of cutting off his ponytail for a new phony beard. (The second spot featured a cameo by Froggy, too!)

Airing around 2004/2005, these Norton Furniture ads were some of the last times, to the best of my knowledge, that The Ghoul appeared on Northeast Ohio television in a regular capacity. (And lest you think commercials shouldn’t qualify as “regular capacity,” bear in mind Norton Furniture ads were all over late night TV in these parts at the time; if you liked staying up late as I did/do, you’d almost have to be trying to not see one!)

The Movies:

Because The Ghoul was on a channel that regularly picked up movie packages (and was affiliated with the WB Network to boot), his movie choices could really run the gamut. Sure, the usual public domain cheapies from the 1930s through the 1970s showed up, as is typical of horror hosted shows, but ‘real’ movies were also part of the regular rotation. A lot of newer, “B” grade flicks popped up on the station, even outside of The Ghoul. Because I was (am) a movie fan as much as I was (am) of the show itself, it was a real trip seeing so many new-to-me flicks week after week, and the announcement of the next week’s movie was a moment of high anticipation for yours truly. The possibilities were (seemingly) endless!

Of course, you didn’t really tune into this show to see a full-fledged movie; the film was just part of the experience. Because The Ghoul would pack so much material into a show, there were times when a movie would be edited beyond comprehension, and indeed, there was so much insanity going on, the movie sometimes seemed almost like an afterthought. Make no mistake though, that was all part of the fun! For 2-2 1/2 hours, it was like you were tuned into an incredibly weird televised circus – and I mean that in the best way possible.

And naturally, one of the main draws as far as the movies were concerned were the various audio and video drop-ins. Inappropriate and/or nonsensical music, sounds effects (who could forget “OW OW OW! when someone got hurt, or the loud BURP whenever a character took a drink?), silly old film clips inserted into the film, and funny “facts” that would pop-up not unlike VH1’s then-popular Pop-Up Video, all were regularly featured throughout a given movie during the earlier years of the show.

My tastes in movies were all over the place around that time. I liked the pioneering silent films in the horror and sci-fi genres (some of them, anyway), the classics and poverty row flicks of the 1930s and 1940s, and the cheesy sci-fi of the 1950s and 1960s; that’s the stuff I ‘started’ with. By the time of The Ghoul, those tastes were expanding to also include the grindhouse and Eurotrash junk of the late-1960s, 1970s and beyond, and even though it wouldn’t peak until the mid-2000s, looking back I guess I had a slight inclination towards the slashers, too. The Ghoul covered them all, in varying degrees of visibility; only one silent I can think of (Metropolis, appropriately the first show of 2000), a healthy dose of 1940s through 1960s stuff, lots of obscure 1970s garbage, and plenty of low-rent 1980s & 1990s fare.

An example of the type of film The Ghoul would show during his stay at 11:30 PM, Fridays…

Nowadays, I pretty much like what I did in the first place: some silents, the classics and the poverty row offerings of the 1930s and 1940s, cornball 1950s/1960s sci-fi and horror, the giant monster flicks out of Japan. My interests wane considerably after Night of the Living Dead, both because NOTLD is a masterpiece and legitimate contender for greatest horror film of all-time (in other words, how y’all gon’ top it?), and more importantly because later, more ‘extreme’ horror films may have been bloodier, nastier, but they didn’t have the brains or heart behind them, barring some exceptions, such as the original Dawn of the Dead (though I still prefer Night…)

Yep, The Ghoul’s movie selections of the late-90s/early-00s were certainly wide-ranging, and I have plenty of favorites from those years. The 1930s and 1940s flicks featured (alliteration), some being staples of these types of shows, are movies I particularly enjoy. Three Bela Lugosi films come to mind: The Devil Bat, Invisible Ghost, and White Zombie. Also, Boris Karloff’s The Ape (a movie I didn’t much care for at the time but have really warmed up to in recent years) and the 1941 Monogram wartime poverty row opus King of the Zombies. 1950s cornball drive-in fare like Indestructible Man, The Screaming Skull and The Giant Gila Monster and ultra-cheap trash like 1966’s Curse of the Swamp Creature also get high marks from yours truly. (And of course, Night of the Living Dead, which ran for Halloween ’98, though oddly enough, that’s the only time I recall it running…)

There weren’t many Japanese monster movies shown, and those were/are a favorite genre of mine. But, Attack of the Mushroom People made it on, and that was a big, big one (a far darker film than that American title implies). The 1956 Daiei opus Warning From Space (the second anniversary show movie) also stands out.

From later years, Best of the Best 3, Ring of Fire III, and Street Crimes stick out as favorite low budget action flicks; I genuinely enjoyed all three. And, my first full viewings of Deliverance, Cocoon and Poltergeist came via The Ghoul. Even with the appropriate editing-for-television, they made for great Ghoul Power features.

And when it came to Christmas, The Ghoul went all out, especially in 1999, when the entire month of December was dedicated to the holiday. 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is my go-to “bad Christmas movie” flick, and that’s the only time I saw him run it. Also, 1935’s Scrooge, my personal favorite movie version of A Christmas Carol.

Oh, my least favorite films featured (alliteration) on the show? Of the “classics,” try as I might, I could never really get into Gorgo, which was the subject of his first anniversary show. The special effects are terrific, granted, but as a whole it’s nowhere near as fun as a comparative Japanese release. Frankly, Gorgo bores me. Also, and this may be anathema to admit, but House on Haunted Hill (which I believe The Ghoul ran at least three times over the course of his run) is a movie that has just never done much for me. I don’t actively dislike it, but I don’t really like it, either. Even when I first saw it at 12/13 years old (after much hype from family members and when I was an easy audience for this sort of movie), I was left severely neutral on the subject. If it wasn’t for Vincent Price, well…

Nowadays, I don’t like slasher movies at all, so the Leprechaun flicks (if they’re even considered slashers; I think of them in the same territory, if nothing else) are in retrospect not to my personal tastes – though I kinda liked them back then. (The Ghoul ran several entries over the course of his run.) And a lot of the newer movies that made it onto the show such as Pumpkinhead II, Hellraiser IV, Pinocchio’s Revenge, Doppelganger, Ghoulies, the 1989 Phantom of the Opera, my views on those range from severe disinterest to outright dislike. 1985’s Eternal Evil is also a terrible, terrible movie – and not in a fun, Ghoul Power way, either.

A lot of 1970s stuff hasn’t worn well for me, though I took an interest in them then. Mainly the European films; Lots of people love ’em, but I’m not one of them, not anymore. Flicks like Lady Frankenstein were/are so covered in depressive grime, forget wanting to take a shower; I feel like I should go soak in some 91% isopropyl for 17 hours after watching that one.

Also, I know he has his fans, but from a strictly personal standpoint, I just don’t get the love for Paul Naschy movies; every one I’ve seen has been essentially unwatchable. The Ghoul ran Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, and even he couldn’t save it! And isn’t that considered a top-tier Naschy film? *shudder*

Personal Appearances:

I had the great benefit to meet The Ghoul in person not once but several times. I can tell you, each and every time, he was absolutely phenomenal with the fans. Not only was he energetic and ‘on’ the entire time, but he really spent time with his admirers; he’d talk, he’d joke, he was everything you hope for when you meet a celebrity.

There’s yours truly with the main maniac in 1999; evidently I wasn’t always the suave hepcat I like to imagine myself to be.

My first meeting with him was in 1999, at the Chapel Hill Borders Books where he and Mike Olszewski were signing copies of The Ghoul (S)crapbook, a terrific collection of old photos, information, hate mail and general wackiness. As you’d expect of The Ghoul, basically. (While very informative, it also came off as the warped counterpart to the 1997 Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride book – again, as you’d expect of The Ghoul.)

There was quite a line to meet him that night, and while it wasn’t like I had to stand in it for 8 hours or anything, there was a bit of a wait. When I finally got to meet him, it was obvious why: The Ghoul really gave you his attention, spoke with you, all while staying in character. And you know what? The saying “you can be anything you want to be” is endlessly repeated to us in grade school, but I can tell you from experience that it means so much more when it comes from The Ghoul.

Truth be told, I can’t remember how many times I met The Ghoul. It feels like more than what I’m writing about here, but that might be my memory playing tricks on me – or maybe I really am forgetting an appearance or two. Anyway, the next one that comes to mind is his appearance at B-Ware Video in Lakewood, OH, on April 14, 2000. B-Ware was run by “Sick” Eddie and his wife, both of whom worked on The Ghoul’s show. Man, in those days before anything and everything had been issued (or reissued) on DVD, B-Ware was a haven of weird, out-of-print, obscure horror and science fiction titles on VHS, some for sale, some for rent. Seriously, the only place to get some of this stuff was eBay – and certain titles were selling for mighty dollars at the time. Even though I was only there once, B-Ware was amazing.

In addition to Mike Olszewski, there were even more of The Ghoul’s crew there at this appearance. Froggy, Jungle Bob, Jeff “The Sickie,” even Dinky, the big pink flamingo mascot of Destination, the heavy metal band who did The Ghoul’s opening music at the time (he even gave me a free CD of theirs!). Aside from The Ghoul and Olszewski, it was my first time meeting all these people, and everyone was ridiculously friendly. And The Ghoul, who as I recall it had had not one, not two, but three personal appearances that day, of which this was the third, showed no signs of running out of gas.

I’ll never forget this: he didn’t know me in the least, but when they brought the camera in to film for the show, Olszewski implored me to get up front and get on. I’ll never forget how nice that was of him, and thanks to his insistence, I showed up in the crowd when the bits aired a few weeks later during Indestructible Man (and one of them repeated during the second anniversary special that summer, as well). You don’t get to see a screenshot because I was a goofy lookin’ 14 year old (even goofier than the pic you just saw of me a bit ago), but nevertheless, it was a thrill.

Next: the grand opening of High Point Furniture in the Midway Plaza in Akron, where I met him one night, and then again the next. I could be wrong, but I think it was the fall of 2000; I’m pretty sure this was where I asked him about the whole move to Sunday nights. (His suggestion was a VCR, which, you know, what else could he say?)

This isn’t a pic from that grand opening; I went and snapped it specifically for this article. This Midway Plaza location still stands, but has been closed for a number of years now.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that first night, other than they had free Domino’s Pizza, pop, and a KISS tribute band in the parking lot. I sure remember the second night though, when I went back. (This wasn’t exactly a four hour round trip; Midway Plaza was pretty close by.)

I had a box of stuff for the show that would have been prohibitively expensive to ship (and I had even less money then than I do now), so I brought it all direct to The Ghoul. It really was a bunch of junk, I don’t think any of it made on the show (I wouldn’t blame him if none of it made it beyond the dumpster that night!), although methinks the replica of Rodin’s “The Thinker” mocked up to sorta look like The Ghoul was at least semi-clever.

I wasn’t expecting him to open the box there, but he did, and when he was done sifting through it, he stood up and presented me to the sizable line of people waiting to meet him. Right then and there, he declared me to the crowd as a Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army – and they cheered for me! It was an incredible surprise, and to me it sums up just how fantastic The Ghoul was with his fans. He didn’t have to go that extra mile, but he did, and I will always be grateful for it.

The Ghoul promoting Frightvision 2001 on his show.

Finally, there was Frightvision 2001. Now, truth be told, I don’t know if I met him there, I don’t recall doing so, but having been to the previous two Frightvision conventions held in Akron, it was still pretty cool when The Ghoul was announced as host of the third (in Cleveland). Frightvision was my first horror & sci-fi convention in 1999, and by 2001 I had long realized what a bastion of collectibles it was. If I didn’t take advantage of the numerous celebrities in attendance that year (and I didn’t; I don’t think I met any of them at the show), it’s only because I was so focused on netting me some cool winnins from the dealers there.

Speaking of cool winnins…

Memorabilia:

I’m a collector of pop culture, especially as it pertains to broadcasting, television broadcasting specifically. Mugs, glasses, shirts, keychains, assorted promotional memorabilia related to this sort of thing, I’m almost always interested in that – especially when it hails from the 1960s through the 1980s.

While I take an interest in television in general, local broadcasting is a facet that really perks up my ears. I don’t necessarily mean local to me; local TV from across the U.S. is something I find endlessly fascinating. BUT it goes without saying that the area of my greatest interest lies in Northeast Ohio’s television history. And since I’m a big fan of horror movie hosts, that’s the sort of memorabilia I’m always, always after.

That was my long-winded way of saying I’ve amassed a sizable Ghoul collection over the years, both first-hand and online. T-shirts, autographed photos promo flyers, articles, assorted things like that are littered throughout my collection. Here now are just a few of the items that help keep the Ghoul Power burnin’.

Endlessly pushed on the show for much (all?) of his WBNX run, Turn Blue Ghoul Brew was The Ghoul’s very own beverage, and it really turned you blue! Well, your tongue anyway. I got this bottle during the Borders Book appearance, and since he signed it to me, I never had the heart to open and drink it. I did try the stuff though; it was basically blue root beer. Non-alcoholic and pretty tasty, I wish they still made it. They later came out with “Froggy Squeezins,” a green lemon-lime drink. Besides personal appearances, you could only get these at select locations in Northeast Ohio.

Luckily, one of those locations was mere minutes away from me: DeVitis & Sons Italian Market. In fact, during our 8th grade fundraiser for a trip to Washington DC, one of my grade school’s stops was the Acme that was next to DeVitis at the time (it’s a Save-a-Lot now). Ostensibly we were supposed to be selling hots dogs and hamburgers, but I don’t remember really having all that much to do. At one point, I broke away to DeVitis, where I purchased my first bottle of Froggy Squeezins. It was pretty good, but I unfortunately never got another, and I stupidly didn’t keep the bottle. Mistake! I didn’t really like that trip to Washington, but at least I got a bottle of Froggy Squeezins out of the deal.

Turn Blue Ghoul Brew’s bottle went through a couple label variations. Originally it had a simpler label and was in a brown bottle (it looked like a beer), which was then switched to the variant you’re seeing here. (They occasionally sold old “brown bottle” variants, as collectors items, at personal appearances; I’m this sure I got one at Frightvision 2001, but if I did, I can’t find it. EDIT: Of course I found it after this article had been published!) The third label variant (that I know of) switched up the font and added a hypnotic swirl behind the Ghoul caricature.

I really wish they still made this stuff.

Hey, remember how I told you I loved the Vault of Golden Garbage segment on the show? Well, in the late-1990s, The Ghoul released a VHS tape that was nothing but the Vault of Golden Garbage! I had to have it, and as you can see, I did.

I haven’t watched this since probably 2000 and I can’t remember if it was all 1970s material or a mix of 1970s and 1980s, but I do remember it as being terrific. My only complaint? I don’t recall there being any Froggy skits included! I guess I could play it, but knowing my luck, that would be the exact moment my VCR decides to start eating tapes, despite having never shown an inclination for such things prior.

As you can see, I got this signed by the man himself at a personal appearance somewhere. I don’t remember which one, but I’m positive it wasn’t Borders or Frightvision. It might have been B-Ware Video, I know had some stuff with me to get signed, but I’m guessing this was the first night at High Point Furniture. (I take solace in the fact none of this really matters to anyone but me.)

Hey, dig this: an original program and wristband for Frightvision 2001! Yes, as proof that I always saved everything pertaining to this sort of thing (except that Froggy Squeezins bottle apparently), I still have the wristband from this show. Call it hoarder-ish if you like, but since there’s a real possibility that the number of people who still own these number in the single digits and I’m one of them, that means I win. Right?

I’m not going to go through it page-by-page, I don’t think anyone that has stayed with me this whole time (yeah, sure) will care, but I will say they had a pretty great line-up of guests that year. I wish I had taken advantage of that, but I didn’t, and now I have to live with it.

“Hiya gang! Hiya hiya hiya!”

This little (4 or 5 inches in height) Froggy doll isn’t an official Ghoul product, but rather something hailing from 1948! A whopping 70 years old! Yes, this is an original Froggy, made of rubber and fittingly manufactured in (where else?) Akron. Rempel put these out in conjunction with Smilin’ Ed McConnell’s Buster Brown Show, which is what Froggy is originally from. There were two versions of this doll that I know of: this smaller one, and a larger 9″ model. Both were made of rubber and squeaked when you squeezed them, though the squeaky feature of mine is long gone. Not that I really care about that; I just want my own Froggy to plunk his magic twanger whenever I come calling.

My brother actually bought this for himself years ago, and knowing what a Ghoul fan I am, gave it to me for Christmas sometime later. In the years since he first purchased it (it wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t unreasonable either), these things have really gone up in price, especially if they still squeak and are in decent shape. And if you’ve got the original box, the pricey meal is on you tonight! The larger 9″ one is my new personal chaser; I could pathetically reenact Ghoul skits all by my lonesome with it if I so desired! (Minus the destruction, of course; these guys cost too much!)

This item is something I myself found in an antique store several years ago. They had gotten a load of old magazines, newspapers, and the like. Man, I cleaned up. Music mags with Springsteen on the cover, M*A*S*H final episode tributes, and the big find, this: a 1983 Scene Magazine featuring The Ghoul! This was one of those cases where you find something, and you’re so excited that you immediately become overly-protective of it, as if someone is gonna take it away from you. At least, I tend to get that way. (Is it just me?)

Oddly enough, I still haven’t read the Ghoul article in it; I’ve spent all my time finding a safe, flat place for the issue, with an eye towards getting it framed at some point in the future. Plus, with old newsprint, especially large-sized as in this case, I like to handle with the figurative kid gloves.

I have old promo cards from the WKBF days, but this artifact that popped up on eBay about two years ago is interesting enough to share here. I’ve never seen one before or since, so I had to snap it up. According to the seller, this flyer hails from the Halloween season and the gimmick was for kids to pin them to their costumes while trick-or-treating so they’d be more visible in the dark. Not a bad idea, and since it was The Ghoul, you know, it just fit with the season!

And dig that: “Courtesy of Clarkins.” Talk about a blast from Northeast Ohio’s past! I have no idea what year this flyer is from or how many times The Ghoul appeared at Clarkins (that or any other location), but the WKBF-TV notation is obvious proof it hails from somewhere in the 1970s.

And finally, a small piece of memorabilia, but one that gets more ‘use’ than anything else I’ve just shown you: a 35th anniversary Ghoul keychain, which proudly hangs with my keys. (As you’d expect of a, uh, keychain.) It’s about the size of a quarter, maybe a little larger, and man is it snazzy! (Of course, I have two of them; this one, and one still sealed brand new in its cute lil’ baggie.)

My pic makes it a little hard to see, but these were released in 2006, in conjunction with The Ghoul’s (say it with me) 35th anniversary. He was unfortunately no longer on local airwaves by that point, but nevertheless, he certainly came out with a boffo socko keepsake!

Looking Back:

The Ghoul really exemplified what I like to call “Cleveland Style Horror Hosting.” Sure, there was a general ‘spooky’ look and feel to the proceedings, but unlike many other hosts nationwide who tried to play into the vibes of their look and/or movies they were presenting, here it was all just a vehicle for wacky comedy. Not that comedy was anything new to horror hosting, it goes back to its earliest days, but just like there was a style of Polka music commonly deemed “Cleveland Style” (yes there was), around these parts there was a specific set of ingredients. Yes, there were the sets and the films presented, but underneath it all was a cacophony of (innocent) ethnic jokes, wild behavior and homemade lingo that gave our guys a specific “flavor.”

Sure, that can be leveled at other hosts outside of Ohio, but you know what? We’ve had such a preponderance of them, going back to the revolutionary Ghoulardi, that I’m calling it our own. Your mileage may vary, naturally.

Even though he’s out of Chicago, Rich Koz’s Svengoolie actually does a good job of presenting to a nationwide audience what I’m talking about. Sure, he has the look and movies down (better movies than anyone else, in fact), but comedy is the ultimate goal. It makes sense though; there’s a very real Ghoulardi/Cleveland connection with Sven. The original Svengoolie, Jerry G. Bishop, was a Cleveland disc jockey when Ghoualrdi ruled the town, and when Bishop started Svengoolie in Chicago in the early-1970s, the influence was apparent. He wasn’t a beatnik vampire, he was a hippie vampire. Instead of “Parma,” it was “Berwyn.” And so on and so forth. (I don’t mean to claim Bishop was a copy or rip-off of Ghoulardi in the least, just that Ghoulardi’s influence reached wider than the Northeast Ohio area.)

In fact, while I don’t find much of the current Svengoolie’s humor to my personal tastes, I appreciate that he keeps these ideals in play. Underneath that horrific exterior is a mostly-comedic interior. Also, the fact he keeps things relatively-light (whereas many current internet hosts go for an ‘extreme’ look and feel) recalls the “classic era” of horror hosting, of which he hails from anyway, and that I certainly like.

Anyway, The Ghoul, perhaps more than any other save for Ghoulardi, was a “Cleveland Style” host. At first glance, you’ve got this guy in an appropriately ghoulish get-up, but then you start really watching; he’s wild, he’s wacky, he’s got his own language, his own madcap style, and you realize there’s so much more to him than a “mere horror host.”

I would have loved to have grown up with him in the 1970s and 1980s, when his style of humor wasn’t only hip and dare I say subversive, but also capable of eliciting complaints from certain viewers in that more-staunch time period. When I began watching in the 1990s, no one was going to pitch a fit over blowing up a model car with a firecracker or making a gigantic mess of food as Chef Curdle.

What he instead attained was a level of, as I like to call it, “comforting mania.” It was a welcome respite from the real world, from school life, from more conventional comedy. Tuning in each week was a carnival of fireworks, wacky catchphrases, and terrible movies, and it was irresistible.

I couldn’t be there beforehand, but I’m appreciative of the years I did spend with The Ghoul. He mangled my medulla on a regular basis, and as a Ten Star General in the Ghoul Power Army, I’m grateful for that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some glass to scratch and walls to climb…

Vintage WTRF TV-7 Matchbook Covers

“W-where ya been, North Video Guy?”

Yes, I’m still around. The long (well, long-ish) absence has been due to my Wi-Fi at home being extremely spotty. Like, only working 1/4 of the time spotty, and when it does go, it’s generally only at night when I just don’t feel like assembling anything resembling a cohesive article to my eight loyal readers. Plus, I’ve been busy with other idiotic projects and whims and so ons and so forths. You know how it goes.

But, the Wi-Fi, as of this moment, seems to be working adequately enough to try for a quick update. Don’t expect an incredibly long article here gang, but luckily, there’s only so much I can say about the subject(s) at hand, so it’s unintentionally kinda fortuitous.

As is evident from my last post 17,000 years ago, I love promotional television memorabilia. I’d say the older the better, but frankly, things from the 1960s to 1980s time span are what I prefer to search for. (Not that I’d turn away anything older or newer, mind you.) And on that front, I recently, as in just last week, obtained some incredibly cool pieces. Did you look at the title of this article? Look at the title.

A recent trip to a nearby thrift store presented me with a big honkin’ bag of old matchbooks, most from long gone local locations, but also plenty from vacation destinations around the U.S. Assuming they all came from the same person originally (as opposed to the store merely throwing a bunch together to entice suckers like me), this party apparently enjoyed traveling and had a burning desire to get a unique matchbook from every square inch of their journey. This was ultimately to my benefit, because even though the bag was sealed up tight, I could see several matchbooks just on the outside that told me this was worth the purchase, including one featuring the logo of WTRF TV-7. And so, here we are.

WTRF is the CBS affiliate for the Steubenville, Ohio / Wheeling, West Virginia area, and while my personal location in this country of ours means that I’m infinitely more familiar with the Cleveland/Akron television market, I do have some experience with WTRF. Enough to get me fired up when I saw the matchbook, anyway. (Read all about WTRF on Wikipedia.)

I found lotsa good stuff in the bag, and there were actually two WTRF matchbooks included, both of which we will now take a look at. Both also featured advertising info for Elby’s Restaurants, which either was or eventually became part of the Big Boy chain, on the opposite sides. Because I’m on a time limit of unknown duration (Wi-Fi, you know) and because I couldn’t get acceptable pictures of those sides on my phone (flash, you know), I’m going to forego those aspects of the matchbooks and keep the focus on the TV-stuff. They’re more conducive to the purposes of this blog as a whole, anyway.

This book here was the second I found in the lot, buried deep within its confines and thus not visible from the outside. According to the WTRF page on Logopedia, it’s the older of the two, and as such, is also my favorite of the two. Logopedia sez this exact style of logo was only used from 1972 to 1976, though a similar one was present from 1967 to 1972. It’s either old or older, and either way that’s mega cool winnins for yours truly.

I really like the “7” in the TV-like border, but you know what makes this one? It’s the slogan: “The colorful TV station.” That’s just such a cool reminder of the time in which it hails; when stations could still play up the whole “we’re in color!” aspect. I don’t know how much longer channels could get away with that (wasn’t color the de facto norm by the 1970s?), but its presence here instantly marks this matchbook as a true product of a bygone era in television broadcasting. I dig it!

Now, this second matchbook is actually the first one I found; it was the one visible from the outside of the bag in which the entire lot was housed. Seriously, I pretty much bought a hundred or more matchbooks for this one alone. (Well, this one and the promise of more neato finds to be had – a promise that was eventually fulfilled!)

When it comes to WTRF, this was the logo I was most familiar with. (Remember, my familiarity with channel is relatively limited in scope.) That “7” featuring the Ohio-West Virginia-Pennsylvania borders within is ridiculously clever, and the “Call it home” slogan apropo; lotsa people from different territories finding common ground in one aspect of life. Or something like that (it plays out more articulately in my head).

Logopedia sez this particular style of identification was long-lived, lasting from 1980 to 1999. As such, this one is a bit harder to date than the other matchbook. But, compared to the other covers in the lot, I’m inclined to say this one hails from earlier in the 1980s than from later. But heck, even if it came from the extreme of 1999 (highly unlikely), it’s still promotional television advertising, and thus worthy of inclusion in my collection of…stuff.

So there you have it. Not a long update, but an update nonetheless, and one featuring some very cool TV-related pieces to boot! Like I said before, most of my expertise (ha!) resides in the Cleveland-Akron television markets (and to an extent, Canton, too). As such, stations that also reside (or at least air) in Ohio but are out of my reach tend to have an almost “exotic” feel to me, and I mean that in absolutely the most complimentary way possible. These matchbooks certainly qualify, and I count myself fortunate to have stumbled upon them.

There! Maybe I’ll update again sometime within the next 20 decades! We’ll see!

Vintage WDSM TV-6 DIALING FOR DOLLARS Keychain

I’m going to go outside of Northeast Ohio (but not the Midwest) for this update, because it’s my blog and I’ll do whatever I want. There’s only so much I can say about the subject, both because of its nature and because I’m neither from the area nor era in which it hails, but this is such a neat piece of vintage television memorabilia that it needs to be archived. Even if said archiving is on my stupid dumb website.

Backstory: I’m a big fan of the various incarnations of the Dialing For Dollars franchise that aired nationwide (though each market got their own locally-produced version). You may or may not recall this was a daily program, typically airing in the late morning or early afternoon, in which a movie was shown and viewers were phoned live on-the-air during breaks and given the opportunity to win a cash prize – a jackpot that would increase for the next lucky person called if the one prior failed to win it. Certain game play details could vary from iteration to iteration, but Wikipedia has an excellent write-up on the normative format and program in general.

Obviously, with the live, daytime format and lengthy block of time it would take up, having a regularly-scheduled Dialing For Dollars today just isn’t feasible. Too many people work during the day or are busy streaming inconsequential crap on their smartphones to pay enough attention to something like this now. Still, there’s little doubt it was a wildly successful movie showcase across the U.S. for decades, and as an example of not only television history but local television history, the “cool factor” is off the charts.

Here in Northeast Ohio, we had Prize Movie on WUAB TV-43, which wasn’t quite the same format as Dialing For Dollars but still had the ideal of live callers, daily movies and (potentially) big money prizes at heart. ‘Course, if you headed Youngstown way, you could see WFMJ TV-21’s Dialing For Dollars, as well as the Money Movie over on WKBN TV-27. Whether you could get those stations in my particular neck of the woods probably depended on weather conditions and/or how cheap you decided to be when you purchased your rabbit ears. You better reach deeper in them pockets if you want extra channels, sport!

(There was also something called the Bingo Movie on Canton’s WOAC TV-67 in the 1980s, which I can only guess was similar in spirit if not in practice.)

ANYWAY, Finding artifacts pertaining to Dialing For Dollars is a little tricky; for obvious reasons, there weren’t any official video releases of these programs (to the best of my knowledge), and besides, a good many of these aired either before or during the infancy of the home video era. (Though some, such as our Prize Movie, ran well into the 1990s; it really all depended on the market.)

So, that leaves the, as I like to call them, “supplementals.” You know, the promotional items. Things like glasses, mugs, TV listings and advertisements, and as our subject today demonstrates, keychains. I collect television-related stuff like this anyway, but Dialing For Dollars is an area of extreme particular interest in that, erm, area.

(Boy, I sure killed the end of that paragraph dead.)

And that brings us to the eBay-purchased promotional item you’re seeing to the right. From WDSM TV-6 of Duluth and Superior, MN, it’s a vintage keychain spotlighting their local version of Dialing For Dollars. I don’t know what year(s) it hails from exactly, but since Wikipedia tells me WDSM became KBJR in 1974, it’s at least as old as that. Neato!

The ring and chain project some old-timey vibes, as in I can’t see a modern day keychain using either style (unless they do; it’s not like I keep heavy tabs on this stuff) but it’s really all about the Dialing For Dollars fob here. It looks like a film reel! And check out the “R,” or rather, the swoop (?) coming off of it: it looks like a strip of film! Apropo! Also, lotsa dollar signs, because big money was at hand and it was just waiting for you, yes you, to win it!

Look, the thing is just cool, okay? I’m going to assume it’s an approximation of the actual logo used for the show, but that’s merely guesswork on my part and based on nothing substantial whatsoever.

I don’t know who hosted WDSM’s iteration of Dialing For Dollars, nor do I know for how long. A Google search told me nothing. TV Guides from the area would probably reveal some print ads for the program, but without knowing some rough dates, searching out appropriate issues on eBay could quite conceivably be like the proverbial needle in a haystack, and while I’m always up for a quest, I’m far too broke to attempt such a thing right now.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that anyone with any memories and/or info pertaining to WDSM’s Dialing For Dollars is invited to hit the comments and share what they know. See, this is an interactive site!

The other side of the fob features the station identification and location. More $$$igns, and look close for the covert, kinda-easy-to-miss “6.”

I wonder how people could obtain this keychain back in the day? A giveaway at personal appearances by whoever hosted the show? A consolation prize to those who failed to win the mighty dollars? I don’t know, but it’s definitely cool.

You’re not getting a true sense of scale from my pictures, and I don’t really feel like digging out a measuring implement to give exact dimensions, but the fob is about the size of a larger coin, as in it’s positively quarter-ish. Minus Abraham Lincoln’s George Washington’s visage plastered all over it, of course.

In fact, remember those Sacagawea dollar coins nobody really liked? Maybe they still strike them, but either way, I refuse to believe their inspiration was anything other than this Dialing For Dollars fob. Yep, you can spit facts about the legendary woman and her helping Lewis & Clark at me all day, I’ll still maintain an obscure, regional keychain was the actual catalyst. An exercise in frustration for you, an excerise in amusement for me.

I don’t know what this keychain is made of. Obviously the fob is shiny and plated in gold or some gold-like substance. Could be 22 karats for all I know. The actual ring and chain look to have some mild tarnishing, as you’d expect of something this age, but there’s no rust anywhere on it, so it’s made of whatever is resistant to those substances.

All things considered, it’s in exponentially good condition. A little tarnishing, a little wear, but since it’s at the very least 44 years old, that’s beyond minor. I’ll guess whoever originally owned this never actually used it. However they got it, maybe they either babied it, or it got thrown in a drawer and forgotten about. Hey, we’ve all got stuff like that. I know I do.

So there you have it, WDSM TV-6 of Duluth and Superior, Minnesota and their local incarnation of the Dialing For Dollars franchise, immortalized as an old promotional keychain. Like I said before, I don’t know who hosted the series or for how long, and I have no idea as to the specific details of its format, either. And you know, it occurred to me that this exact keychain could have shown up nationwide, with only the station I.D. on the back varying from location to location. I mean, I’ve never seen one, but then, I’ve never seen another one like this, either.

WDSM wasn’t the only Minnesota television station to have a program of this nature, by the way. WDIO TV-10 (also of Duluth) and WIRT TV-13 of Hibbing ran the Matinee Money Movie, hosted by Lance Parthé, for a period. Maybe its run coincided with this Dialing For Dollars at some point, I dunno. I’d like a keychain representing that show too, though.

Spartus AVT Audio Visual Time Alarm Clock – Model No. 1410 (1982)

Here’s a neat little electronic find from this past weekend. I normally don’t go in for old alarm clocks when I’m out thrifting, because really, they’re a dime-a-dozen, and while some may be interesting to look at, rarely do they have that extra ‘oomph’ to push them into the “ah gotsta buy dis” category for me.

Our subject today, however, is a big time exception to all that. That’s why we’re here right now, after all! Plus, I can find very little info on it out there in internet-land, and thus it’s my duty to inform, educate, and annoy entertain on the subject.

Behold: it’s the Spartus AVT Audio Visual Time alarm clock, model number 1410, from, near as I can tell, 1982 (there’s no date listed, but what info I’ve found online tells me it originally came out in ’82). Spartus made more than a few alarm clocks back in the day, often with something cool to make them stand out, either feature-wise or aesthetic-wise, and this piece here ably hits both of those marks.

Indeed, I was enamored by the AVT as soon as my eyes fell upon it, and despite a failed attempt at putting it back and going on without it, I just couldn’t resist – despite the relatively-hefty $6 price tag. (A 35% off coupon helped ease that blow, however.)

That cool brushed metal (aluminum?) face plate, the woodgrain sides, it’s almost like a meeting of 1970s and 1980s sensibilities, even though it’s probably not and I’m a dolt for even mentioning it. It looks cool, okay?

And since red is my favorite color, the red LED display is enormously appealing to yours truly. Don’t let the picture above fool you; my phone’s flash makes it look dimmer than it is (it was either a pic with flash and sharp focus, or none and, uh, not), but the red LED is pretty bright. It’s actually so bright that when it’s turned up all the way, there’s an audible buzzing! (Hope that’s not a bad sign of anything!)

So that’s all well and good, but there was a more substantial factor in the AVT coming home with me, and the clue is in the name: the “Visual” and “Time” portions are self-explanatory, but it’s the “Audio” bit that figuratively raised my eyebrows. That’s right, this thing talks!

I always like it when a vintage piece of technology tries to go the extra mile and stand out with a quirky gimmick, and if the AVT doesn’t qualify, what does?

I could attempt to explain it in words, but since this is for informational purposes, I’d think a short demonstrative video of the AVT in “action” should fall under fair use okay…

THE FUTURE IS NOW!

And it doesn’t just tell you the time, either! It can also audibly inform you of the date, what time your alarm is set for, and maybe some other things I ain’t even figured out yet! I’m not sure if you can tell from my sad video demonstration here, but the volume is pretty crisp and clear, especially considering this was early-1980s technology.

(Also, hope you enjoyed my shaky camerawork and puke-green carpet!)

Underneath a smoked-plastic cover resides all of your clock-settin’ options – literally at your fingertips! I had to really press to get the hour/minutes to register, but since this is over 30 years old and (I presume) well-used, I’m not complaining. The volume toggle is self-explanatory, and the dimmer is handy; there’s only the two settings, but even on the lower one, it’s nice and easily-discernible.

On the bottom of the unit is  a handy instructional sticker, though as per my usual MO, I didn’t really bother paying attention to it when it came time for testing. Typical me.

Also, notice the battery compartment here. (If you scroll back to the previous picture, you’ll also see the “battery test” button on the panel.) The AVT can use a single 9 volt battery for backup purposes should the electricity cut out. It’s not mandatory to have one, but probably a good idea if you were to keep this in use all the time. There was actually a battery still in this thing when I found it, though perhaps amazingly, it had not leaked or corroded in the slightest. Maybe the original owner continued using this clock until only recently?

I couldn’t find much about the AVT online. Google gave me a couple old newspaper advertisement scans, but I couldn’t really see them unless I registered to the respective sites, which I wasn’t prepared to do. Nothing turned up on eBay either; oh sure, tons and tons of vintage Spartus alarm clocks, many of them very cool, but I scrolled through ’em all and there wasn’t a single listing for the AVT – current or completed!

I only found two real pieces of online information regarding the unit: this page regarding the original trademark and its filing date and all that. But more importantly, I found this page on the official Farm Magazine website, which has actually preserved their original 1982 entry for the AVT! Cool! This is wildly important, not only because of a better description of the features present, but also because it presents the original suggested retail price of $37.25.

Usually I’d make an exaggerated inflation joke here, but I actually looked it up: in today’s dollars, this thing would be over 90 bucks! Whoa! So would an alarm clock that cost $37.25 back then be considered “high end?” Maybe the price was too prohibitive and that’s why I can’t find any for sale online right now?

Here’s a final “straight ahead” shot of the clock. My flash gave a cool reflective effect off the metal face plate, though it also made the two ‘main’ buttons hard to discern. On the left is your typical snooze button that also doubles as your calendar; press it and it tells you the month and day. And on the right, you’ve got the “time” button, which I’ve already shown you in action.

My only disappointment, and this is really pretty mild, is that they weren’t somehow able to fit an AM/FM radio into this unit. BUT, that might have ruined the compact, elegant, relatively-simple design the AVT displays, so it’s actually not a big deal.

As I said at the start of this article, I’m not much of an alarm clock collector. But you know what? The Spartus AVT certainly threatens to make me one! Forget the lack of radio; I love everything about this one. The design, the color scheme, the fact it talks to me, all of it.

Suddenly, $6 doesn’t seem like that high of a price tag anymore…