[EDIT: Marty Sullivan passed away at the age of 87 on February 21, 2020. Not only was Marty beloved on-camera, but he was also one of the nicest, most genuine guys anyone could ever hope to speak with, absolutely. He will be missed. Let this interview be an ongoing tribute to him and his television legacy. RIP, Supe.]
Ah, Superhost. Portrayed by Marty Sullivan, he was a bonafide institution on Northeast Ohio television for 20 years. From 1969 to 1989, Mr. Sullivan hosted Saturday afternoons on WUAB Channel 43. Through his program, untold numbers of kids were introduced to The Three Stooges, as well as classic (and maybe some not-so-classic) horror and sci-fi movies. Even those viewers already familiar with the films found an additional reason to watch in Superhost himself. Indeed, my very first glimpse of the Northeast Ohio movie-hosting tradition was through Superhost, specifically the promos featuring him doing “The Curly Shuffle” that aired during the kids’ programming on WUAB. Even if I was a bit too young to “get it” then, the memories of Supe stayed with me, and found a natural place in my heart when I was old enough to “get it.” And the show has really held up. Unlike some similar programs that show their age or are otherwise “had to be there” viewing, I find myself constantly and consistently laughing out loud at Supe.
I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing Mr. Sullivan for this blog. He couldn’t have been more gracious with his time or more forthcoming with his stories. A true class-act all the way (it’s obvious why he was and is so beloved by Northeast Ohioans). Here, now, is my interview with Marty “Superhost” Sullivan.
Me: First off, thanks again for allowing me to talk with you.
Marty Sullivan: No problem!
Me: It is a huge, huge thrill for me.
MS: Well I’m glad! Thank you!
Me: When did you first become interested in becoming a broadcaster?
MS: Oh, that’s a question! I was always interested in radio as a youngster. It was the year of The Lone Ranger and all those dramatic radio shows. Inner Sanctum and Lights Out and all those radio shows. And I used to listen to those as a child, and the interest just kept on. I don’t know when I actually wanted to become an announcer, but I think it was not until I was in college. I worked in a little theater group in college, and I didn’t have a lot of nerve to get up in front of people! So…
Me: [Laughs] So, who would you say were your early influences that sort of pushed you into becoming a broadcaster?
MS: I took some psychological tests when I graduated from high school, and they indicated I was not really sure of myself. I was kind of a quiet kid, and they advised taking some public speaking courses to build-up my self-confidence. So, I did. I took a course that was run in Detroit by two local broadcasters, two big time announcers in Detroit. I went to their school and I learned about radio broadcasting from them. So that’s how that happened.
Me: When did you first actually go into broadcasting?
MS: Actually, I finished the broadcasting course, and I was going, also at the same time, to the Meinzinger School Of Commercial Art in Detroit. I had some ability as a draftsman, so I was taking a course in commercial art. And the commercial arts school went belly-up! I had only been there through the latter part of the summer, and one day I went in to attend class, and there was a note on the board that said “Don’t bother coming in anymore!” So, then I didn’t know what to do, so I figured I’d finish the broadcasting course, “maybe there’s somebody that needs a pronouncer!” Somebody at the school told me that this little station down in Indiana might be needing a disc jockey or announcer or something. So, I sent them a tape, and they said “Come on down! You’re hired!” And that’s actually how I got started in broadcasting, it was a little station in Peru, Indiana, WARU, a little AM station. But it was just a daytime station. At night they had to go off the air, because radio waves traveled further at night. So they went off the air at local sunset.
Me: So how did it end up that you came to Northeast Ohio?
MS: I went back and got into Detroit radio, and had a couple stints there. I was working for WJR, the Goodwill station in Detroit at that point in time. And, I got myself fired at WJR! Then one of the chaps I used to work with at WJR, one of the newsmen, had moved to Cleveland as a newsman. And he called me up and asked me if I wanted to be a newsman down in Cleveland. So, I figured “Well, sure, why not!”
Me: Was that WUAB?
MS: WGAR in Cleveland was where I first started as a newsman. Then George left, the guy who hired me in, was news director. He was unhappy there, so he moved to New York, got a job in New York as a newsman. I think it was WNEW New York. And I thought since he left, he was the one who hired me in, I’d be thrown out! Then, I was hired into an advertising agency in Cleveland. It was Ritchie and Sattler, and they specialized in industrial advertising. One of their clients was RicWil, it was a pipe making company down in Akron, I think it was. I stayed with them about a year, but then that’s when WUAB opened up. Somebody told me it was open. So, again, I was canned at the advertising agency, because they knew of a chap who had a client, a big electronics company, that they wanted to get in the office. So they moved me out to move him in, along with his client. That’s when I got in touch with WUAB, the program manager; sent him a tape and he told me to come on in. Put me to work!
Me: You started there as a newsman?
MS: Announcer, newsman, audio man, camera man…
Me: [Laughs] So pretty much everything!
MS: And nighttime switchboard operator!
Me: So how did it come about that they wanted you to host a Saturday afternoon show? What were the origins of Superhost?
MS: This one I know! I’ve recited it several times! I was doing what they call floor directing. That’s where I was wearing a headset, and was talking to the director in the control room. I was out in the studio to impart those directions to people out there. It was kind of like a Dick Clark Show, called Big Beat Dance Party, and they were taping it on a Saturday. I was floor directing, and The Four Lads were coming in to sing “Standing On a Corner.” So, naturally we had a ‘corner’ set there. And they asked me to stand in four different places so they could adjust the lighting, since the Lads weren’t there yet, we were just getting ready. So I’m standing there and the director is shouting at me over the headsets that I’m unzipped! I must have looked very uncomfortable trying to cover up THAT! So Ted Bays, the program manager, happened to be in the control room when all this is going on, and everybody in the control room is laughing uproariously; I can hear them on the headset! After the show was over, Ted Bays came up and asked me if I wanted to come up with an idea for a show for a character to host a movie. And, that’s what I came up with!
Me: Was it a runaway hit? Did you know what early reactions were or how popular it was at the start?
MS: [Laughs] Yeah, it wasn’t popular at all! It took quite awhile for people to discover – back in those days there weren’t any UHF television stations, very few of them. It was TransAmerica that put it on the air, they were taking a big chance with the new technology, the ultra high-frequency television station. Their signal was a little tricky to get around, it didn’t have the coverage that the VHF stations had. So it took awhile for people to discover UHF. And when they did, they discovered the show! A lot of kids liked watching the old science fiction movies on Saturdays.
Me: You said it wasn’t very popular at first. Did WUAB give you any static? Were they complaining?
MS: No, they were selling commercials, so they were relatively happy with it. They were always after me for more ratings, but I did the best I could. But, it just took awhile for people to discover where it was and the fact they liked these old movies!
Me: Did you ever hear from viewers that just didn’t “get it” or that were complaining?
MS: I was doing a public appearance at a store in Cleveland, at that time called Uncle Bill’s. It was like a Home Depot kind of store. So I did a public appearance there signing autographs, and I’m all dressed up in my little super suit, and I’m in the middle of the store. Kids are coming up, signing autographs, and a couple young-ish men, like in their 20’s or so, were walking by. The one guy pokes the other guy, points to me and says “Oh look, there’s the guy that’s on the TV!” and the other guy looked back and said to his friend “Oh, that a-hole!” So that put everything in perspective!
Me: [Laughing] Did you say anything? I don’t know if I’d know what to say in a situation like that!
MS: Well they weren’t talking to me, I just overheard them!
Me: I’d assume that sort of thing was kept to a minimum?
MS: Yeah, that was the only time I ever heard anybody overtly describe me that way!
Me: You showed a lot of the science fiction and horror movies, did you have a favorite? I know the station probably controlled what you played, but…?
MS: They did, the program manager picked all the movies – usually on the basis of how cheap they were! Let me see, there were a lot of good movies. Forbidden Planet, I liked, where The Krell were the monsters. Who was in that? I can’t think of the name of the man now. The comic actor, did a lot of comedy. Anne Francis was the girl in that, I remember her name! Walter Pidgeon was her father in that movie. It was a good movie.
Me: Are there any other films that you particularly like?
MS: There’s been several new ones that I like. One was called The Red Planet. I like Alien and all the modern films, I like them a lot. In fact, I signed up for Netflix so I could watch them without all the commercials!
Me: How about skits? Everyone knows you’ve done some pretty famous skits like “Convoy” and “The Moronic Woman.” Are there any favorite skits you have?
MS: Well, I remember a little background story: I decided to do a little take-off on The Bionic Woman, and I was talking about it to some of the people at the station at night, and one of the cleaning ladies came up with the idea of the long arms. That was the first one, where The Moronic Woman grabbed the bumper and the guy took off in the car and stretched her arms out 20 feet! That was thought up by one of the cleaning ladies!
Me: Would you say that’s your favorite?
MS: I think my favorite bit was The Moronic Woman where she kicked the football and her leg went up over the goal posts!
Me: I was watching the “Convoy” skit not too long ago, and the part I found funniest the last time I watched it was the three guys kicking their feet during the chorus.
MS: [Those guys] all became directors, ultimately. Where they wound up, I have no idea, but they all became directors. The guy that directed the pilot show I did, the station wanted to see a pilot show before they decided whether to put me on the air or not. So we got together one Sunday night and taped it, and the guy was a man named Harry Kooperstein. Harry went on to Hollywood and became one of the biggest directors out there. He directed a lot of the Los Angeles symphony broadcasts and also directed all the Christmas parades out there. So, Harry became a big deal in Hollywood.
Me: Is his name where you got the alter-ego name [Henry Brookerstein] for Superhost?
MS: Well, we had three directors at channel 43: Henry Briggs was one, Harry Kooperstein was the other, and Brooke Spectorsky was the third.
Me: So you just put them all together?
MS: Mashed ‘em all together!
Me: I know you did a couple Big Chuck & Hoolihan/Lil’ John skits. Were you guys friends off-camera?
MS: Oh yeah, they were good guys. We weren’t direct-competition, anyway. They were on Friday night and I wasn’t on till Saturday, so we weren’t at loggerheads. And they’re nice guys; they came over to the station once to do a commercial for their show because it was too busy there at [WJW] 8. And they stole my phone booth as a gag!
MS: And I think it’s probably still over at channel 8!
Me: Did you ever do commercials for companies/products?
MS: I did one for some boat company in Cleveland. They sold fishing boats and pleasure boats, and I did a few for that guy, but I don’t remember what the name of the outfit was.
Me: Were you in costume?
MS: I’m not sure now. It’s been so long ago! I think I was, but I don’t have a clear memory of it.
Me: Okay, maybe not necessarily a “favorite” moment, but do you have a most-memorable moment from the whole 20 year run?
MS: Well, probably when I finished the last show. Taping the last show, I thought I’d get emotional, and I was doing pretty good. And then we were breaking down the set and I’m walking out and one of the crew members said “How you doing?” and that kinda got to me. Then it all came to me in a rush: this was the end.
Me: I came around sort of at the end of Superhost, I was just a little guy at the end. And actually, the most endearing memory for me, because they would play the commercial during all the cartoons I’d watch, it’s the promo of you doing “The Curly Shuffle.”
MS: Oh, yeah!
Me: I still have it on my old tapes from when I was little, but I guess that was really my introduction to the whole Northeast Ohio movie hosting thing.
MS: Well that’s great, I’m glad you liked it! We always had fun doing the commercials. I remember right in the middle of that I had to go and have triple bypass surgery.
Me: Oh geez!
MS: St. Vincent’s. And of course it took awhile to recupe from that. I remember the first show I did [after that], I made up a great big band-aid out of colored paper and pasted it on me! Everybody was fussing about the surgery, so I had to put them at ease!
Me: The show’s timeslot: The most famous was an hour of Three Stooges and two movies?
MS: Yeah, originally it was two movies and some other stuff. Sometimes it was Stooges, sometimes it was Superman, the live-action Superman with Steve Reeves or George Reeves or whatever his name was. It changed around over the years, but for the first, I don’t know, 7 or 8 years, 10 years, it was like two movies and short subjects on Saturday.
Me: I read that you ended up showing the Adam West Batman series at one point.
Me: What did you think of those programming changes?
MS: Well, ultimately, when my ratings started sagging, just because people were used to it and all the little kids who used to watch grew up and got a job. They couldn’t spend all day watching the movies! So, that was fine with me.
Me: Was it your decision to end Superhost, or was it WUAB’s?
MS: Well, it was kinda mutual in a sense. We had a new station manager who was brought in from the sales department, and he decided that he‘d do away with Superhost because he could do better with putting wrestling on Saturday. So that was what ultimately caused the end of Supe. And I had told the new program manager that I had rather just kill of Superhost than have him die a slow miserable death. So, he agreed.
Me: I was watching that last one not too long ago and it really does have a, I’d guess you’d say, bittersweet ending. You know how it says “Good Luck, Supe!” at the end.
MS: Yeah. That was the director, his name was Paul Nickerson, who added Thanks” or “Goodbye” or “Good Luck” or whatever it was they put on. I haven’t watched that show in a long time. I’ve got it somewhere on a disc, I think.
Me: what did you do after Superhost ended? You stayed in broadcasting for a few more years, right?
MS: I did, yeah. I stayed at channel 43 still doing the announcing. It was about that time that they put in a whole evening news thing at 10 O’clock on channel 43. I was the only newsman they had for years; I would just change out of the super suit and go out there and do 5 minutes of headline news at 10 O‘clock at night. But then they decided to put in a news department – that took about 35 people to replace me! So that made me kinda smile!
Me: You retired in, 1993, was it?
MS: Right, 1993 and moved over here to Oregon.
Me: Can you still do the Superhost voice?
MS: Yeah, sure! “Hello dere! This is Supe!”
Me: [Laughing] Can you do “Gimme dat shoe?”
MS: Sure! “Gimme dat shoe, y’know!”
[NOTE: I don’t mind telling you I was dying with laughter at this point.]
Me: Would you ever consider coming back and doing a one-off special, or is that sort of…?
MS: No, I don’t think I want to bother with that. Besides, the super suit is getting a little tight around the middle!
Me: Is there anything you miss about broadcasting or Northeast Ohio?
MS: Well, I miss Northeast Ohio. I don’t really miss broadcasting. It was a great run while I had it, but that’s over with. I do miss the people in Northeast Ohio. I mean, they’re just the salt of the earth. They were very faithful to me the whole 20 years I was on television. They were supportive, and friendly, and that applies to everybody in Northeast Ohio.
Me: Well, there’s lots of people that still admire you. You’ve still got a ton of fans here that are grateful, thankful for everything that you did. You’re still very much admired!
MS: Well thank you very much! That’s very kind of you!
Me: Well, thank you very, very much. I can’t tell you how really amazing it has been to talk with you. What a huge, huge thrill it was for me!
MS: Well God Bless you! Thank you!
What an honor it was to speak with a genuine Northeast Ohio television legend. I can’t thank Mr. Sullivan enough for taking the time to speak with me. I know I speak for countless other Northeast Ohioans when I say “Thanks for all the laughs, Supe!”