Q&A with Mike and Janice Olszewski, authors of Cleveland TV Tales
Q: In your new book, Cleveland TV Tales, you mention in the introduction that this book isn’t a complete history of Cleveland television. What criteria did you use to make your story selections?
A: A complete history would fill volumes, so we wanted to select stories that would give the reader an idea of what made Cleveland television so special. When my wife Janice and I were doing the research on this, the toughest part was not getting so swept up in the history and the memories that we forgot to write a book.
Q: Were there any local television shows or trends that were particularly innovative?
A: McDonald’s based its national advertising strategy on the tremendous success in Cleveland of its ads on local children’s shows. And then you have The Morning Exchange. Network producers came to Cleveland to see what made the show a success. They replicated the format, and eventually Good Morning America took over the time slot that the Morning Exchange had.
Q: Who were some of the Cleveland TV personalities who made the big time?
A: There were a lot of them. Ernie Anderson was Ghoulardi, but went on to become one of the highest paid and most in-demand voiceover artists in the world, really. As far as news is concerned, you had Carl Stern and Al Roker. Jack Riley was with Baxter and Riley at WERE, did a lot of TV here and went to become Mr. Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show.
Q: Why did Gib Shanley light an Iranian flag on fire live on TV?
A: There were protests against the US going on during the Iranian hostage crisis and Gib took it upon himself to light the flag. When you watch that clip you see everyone in the studio looking at each other rather uneasily, thinking, “Oh no, what’s going to happen?” Were there complaints? Sure, but there were a lot more people who supported him, too.
Q: Dorothy Fuldheim is described as being “tough as nails.” What are some examples of how she might have been tough in her interviews?
A: Yippie Jerry Rubin came to town promoting his book, Do It! When Rubin came on the set, she told him, “I don’t understand this book. You refer to the police as ‘pigs.’ Some of my best friends are police.” He said, “Oh really? Some of my best friends are Black Panthers.” She physically threw him off the set. He wasn’t prepared for that, and Dorothy became a hero.
Q: There have been more than a few pranks pulled in local television, but what were some of the most outrageous?
A: Nothing could shake Jim Graner while he was on the air. In an attempt to throw him off, some coworkers went down to the Roxy Theatre and brought back a stripper. They brought her behind the cameras and she dropped her coat. She was totally nude. Jim Graner saw it, didn’t want to let the audience know what was going on, and kept giving the scores, but forgot to give the names of the teams.
Q: Is it true that Channel 3 tried to adopt a live wallaby as a mascot?
A: Big Wilson and the station wanted to have a mascot. They were able to pay some Australian dignitaries and get a wallaby. Big Wilson lived on a yacht most of the year, so he brought the wallaby home and it really made a mess. He finally brought the wallaby to the studio and it did not like the lights. They ended up giving it to the Cleveland Zoo.
Q: Ghoulardi and Big Chuck and Lil’ John were memorable late night hosts, but were they the only ones in Cleveland TV history?
A: Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers portrayed a gothic beatnik who wore a cape and a hood. He hung upside down like a bat for a month when he was on the air and the blood would rush to his head—especially after three martinis. There were some phrases that Mad Daddy used that showed up in Ghoulardi’s vocabulary, like Amrap instead of Parma.
Q: Music has always played a big part in TV programming. What were some of Cleveland’s popular music shows?
A: There were a lot of them, but you can’t beat Gene Carroll, who presented so many acts over the years. Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders and Ben Orr from The Grasshoppers were on there. Motown acts would play on Upbeat and music producers would see how the Cleveland audience reacted to the groups. If they were big in Cleveland, they could make it big anywhere.
Q: What made children’s show hosts so popular, and why do they stick with us today?
A: Captain Penny had this quality about his voice and his demeanor. He was sort of like everybody’s dad. He would give you some homespun humor and some direction. Barnaby had this endearing quality that made him seem bigger than life, but at the same time you could picture yourself just sitting and talking with him. Linn Sheldon was multi-talented, and he could relate to everyone on every age level.
Price and Availability
Cleveland TV Tales ($15.95 / softcover / 192 pages) is available at Northeast Ohio bookstores and online at Amazon.com.