Today is a sad day for some of us of a certain age who grew up in Cleveland. Ron Sweed, aka The Ghoul, passed away while recovering from a massive heart attack. If, like me, you were a fan of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 either in the 90s or its present incarnation on Netflix, you have, among others, Sweed to thank.
Way back in 1963, before even your humble narrator was thought of, Sweed showed up at an event for The Ghoul’s spiritual godfather, Ghoulardi, aka Ernie Anderson. Anderson, TV fans, was the voice of ABC for decades, but before that and before his horror movie days, he was the on-air partner of a comedian known as Tim Conway of Carol Burnett fame. Between Anderson and Conway’s irreverent afternoon show and the voice-over glory at ABC, Anderson played horror movie host Ghoulardi, a mash-up of horror creature and Cleveland’s melting pot of ethnic stereotypes. He existed in an era when 90% of the Polish jokes I heard as a kid were written by Polish kids making fun of their poor relatives just in from the old country and having a bit of trouble adapting to life in Eisenhower’s America. And Ghoulardi celebrated every dysfunctional moment of it.
Sweed showed up at a fan event in a gorilla costume. It landed him a job on Ghoulardi’s late-night show. So when Anderson headed off to Hollywood to become The Voice That Rumbled, he gave his blessing to create a new Ghoul. And kids like me tuned in to watch (on Channel Sixty-ONE!)
The Ghoul, along with Anderson’s successors Big Chuck and Houlihan (and later, Li’l John), as well as sister station Saturday star Super Host, were some of the architects of the modern schlock horror show, most notably MST3K. Sweed was even more merciless to movies than Joel/Mike/Jonah and the Bots ever dreamed of being. He once ended a Hammer Frankenstein movie with the Warner Brothers theme, complete with Porky Pig’s “B-dyah b-dyah b-dyah That’s all, folks!”
Channel 61 went dark for a few years, and sister station Channel 43 had its own movie host. Logically, he would have been a lock for either the Friday or Saturday late night slots. But no one wanted to compete with this new show called Saturday Night Live, and well into the 2000s, Fridays were considered sacrosanct. Only Carson and Leno were permitted to compete with Big Chuck and Houlihan/Li’l John.
But 61 returned in the 1980s as an indie station for a few years. Sweed, as The Ghoul, came back with a vengeance, starting a hilarious on-air feud with Sunday night comedy jock Uncle Vic.
Sweed passed away at the age of 70. His death was announced by his first wife, who gave a moving tribute to “her best friend and (second wife) Mary Therese’s soul mate”.
So let us all take a seat ovey dey, pluck our magic twangers one last time, and maybe fire up an episode of your choice of Joel, Mike, or Jonah on MST3K in honor of the man who likely is responsible for every Generation X kid from Cleveland being so wonderfully dysfunctional.