Editor’s note: The piece was submitted by Matthew Brassfield, a local filmmaker and the writer, director and producer of Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales of the Macabre.
Ohio has always been a hot bed for what I like to call the “Art of Horror Hosting”, and many amazing characters have graced Buckeye State TVs in the late night and afternoons. Do you remember sitting in a dark living room under the glow of the TV set with a bowl of your favorite snacks and your eyes glued to the screen? While you watched, the host seemed to be your friend and kept you safe from The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the ghouls of the film you were watching alongside him. Yes, I said alongside him. A good Horror Host becomes a friend that watches the terrors on the screen with you and makes it less scary as they joke their way through several hours. Many kids today haven’t experienced the wonders of cheesy horror films on late night television; kids can watch horror films directly on their cellphones or stream them from Netflix. Before the internet of course, we’d find out about older films from books or magazines and then wait for them to appear on TV. I learned about numerous films from seeing them on a horror host programs. Some of the hosts were on national stations like USA Network who had Commander USA hosting his “Groovie Movies.” Rhonda Shear and Gilbert Gottfried kept us “UP ALL NIGHT.” TBS had Grandpa Munster hosting “SUPER SCARY SATURDAY.” Elvira and her “Movie Macabre” filled the syndicated airwaves, and TNT had “MONSTER VISION” with host Joe Bob Briggs preceded briefly by comedy act Penn & Teller.
But it was the hometown hosts that seemed to really connect with viewers, making these ghouls into local super stars. So let’s take a look at some of these amazing late night icons of Ohio Horror. Some you may have watched growing up, some you might watch now and some you may have never heard of.
But first I should explain about the show title “Shock Theater” or “Shock Theatre.” Many Dayton folks think that this exclusively refers to Dr. Creep’s weekly host program, but that’s not the case at all. In 1957 Universal Pictures teamed with Screen Gems to allow 52 of their classic monster films to be aired on TV. This was called “The Shock Package,” and stations around the world employed costumed hosts to introduce the films and entertain viewers during commercial breaks. Most shows were called Shock Theatre, and the hosts were often people who already worked for the station or radio DJ’s. The Shock Package was a huge hit, and it spawned “The Son of Shock Package,” opening the door for more hosts and more films to choose from. Horror Host programs became must-see TV, and people flooded to see the hosts at public appearances. So now that you know a little about the Shock Package that helped start the ball rolling (along with Vampira, the first Horror Host), it’s time for us to take a look at some of Ohio’s hosts through the ages.
Alexander & Troggy
In the late 1950’s, Alexander and his pet troglodyte, Troggy, took over “Shock Theater” in Youngstown, Ohio from David Allen (a floating head who was the show’s original host) and made a small impact with viewers. Today no one is sure how many episodes and years the show ran leaving the scientist and his freakish pet a slight mystery. It’s a shame not much is known about Alexander and Troggy because from what I can gather, they would be Ohio’s second or third horror hosts ever. It also seems as if all shows have been lost, and that’s a heartbreaking for many fans and collectors who would have loved to see what misadventures these two got into. NOTE: Lost shows is a widespread issue with classic host shows. Many times stations would record over the past show to save money on film or the episodes were shot live and never recorded, leaving them lost forever.
Mad Daddy hosted “Shock Theater” for the summer of 1957 in Cleveland. Mad Daddy wore a black cape and would host the movies in all types of crazy ways including being broadcasted upside down. Viewers complained about the weirdness, and Mad Daddy went off the air pretty quickly. Mad Daddy’s run was just for a summer, but the Horror Host went on to be a radio DJ and semi-celebrity who recorded songs like “I Love a Good Practical Joke.” In June 1958, he parachuted over Lake Eerie while writing a poem as a publicity stunt. Mad Daddy continued to work in radio until 1968 when sadly he took his own life. Mad Daddy played his character very creepy and overly happy with a wonderful sinister laugh. After television he took the character on many radio shows for many stations. He also inspired punk rock band The Cramps who wrote the song “Mad Daddy” about the Horror Host/Radio DJ. Much like Alexander and Troggy, his short run of hosting Shock Theater seems to be lost forever as no known episodes have come to light.
The Bargain City Kid & Willie Thall
Cincinnati’s “Shock Theatre” was hosted by The Bargain City Kid and his sidekick Willie Thall in the early 1960’s and was sponsored by The Kid’s own discount store called Rinks. The Bargain City Kid wore a cowboy hat and toy guns and would spend most of the show doing silly things and featuring items that were on sale at the store. Many times they would also do skits with pro wrestlers like the original Sheik to promote the wrestling shows on the air or currently in town. The Bargain City Kid and Willie Thall would also announce for pro wrestling and are Cincinnati’s first horror hosts. Sadly, Thall passed away in 2005, and Kid passed away in 2007. Like the hosts mentioned above, all known shows are missing and are much sought after by fans of this classic host team.
In 1963 Ghoulardi began hosting Cleveland’s “Shock Theater” and would go on to become a local icon and one of Ohio’s most popular hosts. In addition to Shock Theater, Ghoulardi hosted numerous other shows around the area, always keeping him in the minds of the viewers. Ghoulardi was a hipster kind of guy with a quick wit, fake goatee and a mess of a wig. The fun, kid-friendly host opened doors for many hosts that followed, not to mention was the direct influence to such hosts as The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck. In 1966, Ghoulardi stepped away from the show and went to California where he became the voice of ABC and did voiceovers for shows like McGyver and America’s Funniest Home Videos. Ghoulardi passed away in 1997 leaving a great legacy. Ghoulardi’s image was also shown many times in “The Drew Carry Show,” that was set in Cleveland. Another fun fact is that his son is Paul Thomas Anderson, director of films like “Boogie Nights” and “There Will Be Blood”. Ghoulardi’s show has some episodes floating around. While not available to the masses, they can be found on tape trade lists. In 2011 Ghoulardi was inducted into the new Horror Host Hall of Fame, making him one of three Ohio hosts to receive this high honor.
Hoolihan, Big Chuck & Little John
1966 in Cleveland saw the exit of Ghoulardi but the start of “The Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.” It took the true horror out of hosting but mixed in lots of humor with a sketch comedy approach, and the show proved to be a hit. Big Chuck, who worked on Shock Theater with Ghoulardi, was chosen alongside his friend Hoolihan to fill the time slot and host the night’s movie. The two were a beloved team until 1979 when Hoolihan left the show, and Little John stepped into the mix to co-host. The combo of Big Chuck and Little John was a perfect fit, and the two worked together until 2007 when the show finally came to an end. Big Chuck has over 40 years of hosting under his belt and still remains a popular local celebrity. He even wrote a book called My Favorite Stories From 47 Years On Cleveland TV. Many continue to argue about who was better to host the films with Big Chuck. Some say that it was Hoolihan because he was there when the show was fresh and new, but others say Little John who had great comedic timing. Whoever you prefer, the show was a great time, and lots of the Big Chuck and Little John shows are still around.
The Cool Ghoul
In 1969 Cincinnati got another host by the name of The Cool Ghoul with a show called “Scream-In.” The Cool Ghoul wore a red wig, a goofy hat and cape and would spend time reading fan mail, talking to his off screen friend and being your every day silly ghoul. He became a hit and even recorded an album called “The Cool Ghoul’s Phantasmagorical Funny Fonograf Record.” There was also a dance called Cool Ghoul, naturally. The Cool Ghoul also made public appearances much to the delight of fans of all ages. Scream-In’s time was up in 1972, but despite such a short time on the air, The Cool Ghoul became an Ohio hosting icon and has inspired many other local hosts. The Cool Ghoul passed away in 2004, leaving behind many great memories for those who watched him late nights. Some of The Cool Ghoul’s show footage has survived and can be found in the hands of collectors and on trade lists. In 2011, the Cool Ghoul was inducted into the first class of hosts in the Horror Host Hall of Fame, acclaiming his importance in the community of hosts.
Superheros wanted to host films too, and in 1969 Cleveland had one who just did that when Superhost brought his “Supes On” pre-show and more important “Saturday Afternoon Mad Theater” to viewers. Superhost was a goofball of a hero who would wear a Superman inspired costume and a red clown nose. He would introduce the films, tell jokes and do a few sketches. His antics would entertain viewers so much that even when Saturday Afternoon Mad Theater was cancelled, Superhost continued to host Three Stooges shorts, cartoons, The Munsters and Batman for the station. He’s the first host I know of who had his own pre-show! Superhost was a child-friendly host who made his way into Cleveland culture by lasting on TV for many years. Superhost would hang up his cape in 1992 and step away from hosting. Clips and a few full shows can be found on trade lists and on Youtube.
Cleveland had its share of hosts that include Hoolihan & Big Chuck, Superhost and Mad Daddy. All made their mark on the area but none made as massive an impact as Ghoulardi who inspired this next host: The Ghoul. The Ghoul hit Cleveland airwaves in 1971 with his self titled show and would become yet another icon in Cleveland horror. The Ghoul was an almost re-birthed version of Ghoulardi, a quick witted hipster who wore the fake goatee, mustache and crazy wig like his idol. The Ghoul, who could have easily been a carbon copy of his idol, quickly showed he had his own oddball style that fans were quick to embrace. The Ghoul would go on to have his show in syndication and would make numerous public and radio appearances. With his show no longer on traditional television, he continues to make episodes that can be viewed via a subscription on his website. The Ghoul also started his career working for Ghoulardi as well as Hoolihan & Big Chuck as an assistant, gearing him up for his run as a beloved horror host. His show can be found on trade lists, youtube in clips and via his official website.
For years Dayton, Ohio got their horror host fix from bigger cities like Cincinnati and hosts like the Bargain City Kid. But in 1974 Dr. Creep hit the airwaves hosting “Shock Theatre,” and a true Dayton original was born. Dr. Creep started out as a spooky vampire-like ghoul named Dr. Death, but very quickly his character and name changed to a kid friendly goofy ghoul named Dr. Creep. He became so popular that he also began hosting Clubhouse 22, an after school kids’ show. In 1980 Shock Theatre ended, switched air-date and time and became Saturday Night Dead running until 1985. Years would go by and other horror hosts begin shows, but in 1999 New Shock Theater was unleashed on public access and Dr. Creep brought horror and laughs to another generation of viewers for six years. Dr. Creep was also a man with a big heart as he ran charities, hosted a horror movie marathon called Horrorama for years, did numerous conventions and guest spots on many other shows. One of the big attractions for The Creeper was his schedule of October public appearances at Foy’s Halloween Shop in Fairborn where he would make the Halloween season feel even more special. Sadly Dr. Creep passed away in 2011 leaving a legacy that will never be matched. Dr. Creep merchandise and episodes can be found on DVD via his official site and clips can be seen on Youtube. In 2011, Dr Creep was inducted into the Horror Host Hall of Fame, one of the first 13 hosts to receive this honor.
Fritz The Nite Owl
Fritz The Nite Owl started in 1974 and was Columbus’s first local horror host/ He hosted films 7 days a week,and became a staple of TV sets all over the city. Fritz is a laid back host who peppered witty comments into his segments and was known for his trademark owl sunglasses. The show had a very psychedelic feel with lots of bright colors and special effects. “Nite Owl Theatre” would run Monday-Thursday, Saturday and Sunday while “Double Chiller Theatre” would have Fritz hosting two films on Friday. His first run lasted until 1991, and he would come back two other times for other stations in smaller runs finally ending in 2003. But in 2010 he returned to hosting duties and is still going strong and building an even bigger fan base. Fritz became so big that he won 5 Emmy’s and even had a cameo in a DC comic book were he helped Superman and Captain Marvel save the world! If you would like to see episodes of Fritz The Nite Owl, you can get DVDs from his official website, watch clips on YouTube or find some on trade lists.
In the early 80’s Elvira became the “it” ghoul of horror hostesses and many imitations popped up, including Moana who hosted “Moana’s Place” in Columbus beginning 1983. She lived up to being a sexy goth ghoul in a tight black dress. The show, while short lived, did manage to gain a fan base who enjoyed Moana’s silly skits and her easy on the eyes look. At this time no known episodes are around leaving this Ohio horror hostess’ show a much sought after piece of horror host history.
We’ve made it to the early 80’s and there are many more hosts to explore. So look for part of Ohio Shock that will cover the rest of the 80’s to present day hosts. And if you would like to learn more about horror hosts, you can visit Horrorhound Weekend March 23-25 2012 in Columbus where hosts from around the world will gather to greet fans and induct the 2012 class into the Horror Host Hall of Fame. For more info visit www.horrorhoundweekend.com.
Till next time: stay scary Dayton!
Thanks to: Norman N. Brassfield, Bob Hinton, Richard Martin, Juliet Fromholt, Stephen Alexander II and Corpse S. Chris for their help with this article.