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.