I had a seminal moment one June night in 1973. It was the first weekend of my summer vacation from Jr. Hell-school and I had noticed in the TV Guide that local UHF channel 56 was running a horror movie on Friday night at 11:30. I don’t remember the movie at all, but what I do remember is that before the film began, some weird looking guy - wearing a lab coat, beard and mustache, and sun glasses with a lens missing – stood on a messy set strewn with odd horror movie paraphernalia and spent the next few minutes telling us how bad the movie was that we were about to be subjected to. Before my young brain could process what it had seen, the movie began, but I knew that no matter how awful the movie was, I was staying glued to the TV to see more of this bearded freak. His name was The Ghoul and little did I know then that he would change my Friday and then Saturday nights for the next six months! In a time before cable, the VCR or the Internet, when fans of sci-fi and horror films wanted to watch a classic flick, we usually had to stay up late at night to watch. Thanks to The Ghoul, even when the film was a stinker – and The Ghoul ran more than his fair share of them – his zany antics more than made up for staying up till 1 AM. Little did I know how much history there was behind The Ghoul’s unique brand of horror hosting.
The Ghoul, who in 1963 was then only a 13-year-old kid named Ron Sweed, wore a gorilla suit to a live appearance of Ghoulardi. Ghoudlardi was a popular Cleveland television personality and early horror host, played by Ernie Anderson on WJW-TV. Ghoulardi took notice of the energetic kid in the costume and brought Sweed on stage. Ghoulardi invited Sweed to a taping of his show and over the next few weeks Sweed went from answering Ghouldardi’s fan mail to becoming Anderson's production assistant. Ernie Anderson left Cleveland and the Ghoulardi character for Los Angeles in 1966. Sweed left for Bowling Green State University, but did occasionally help out with the production of the Hooligan and Big Chuck show, which had replaced Ghoulardi’s time slot. When Ernie Anderson returned to Cleveland to film a television special, Ron Sweed approached him with a proposal to revive the Ghoulardi character. Anderson was not interested in returning to local television, but he gave Sweed his permission to play the character of Ghoulardi himself. Sweed shortened the name to The Ghoul to protect himself from the legalities of WJW, who still owned the rights to the Ghoulardi character.
Finally, The Ghoul’s run seemed at an end, so Sweed returned to college to seek a degree as an English major and to get a job teaching. As fate would have it, The Ghoul made a triumphant return to the Cleveland airwaves in 1998 on WBNX-TV Channel 55, where he remained for the next six years airing on Friday, then later Sunday nights. The Ghoul currently hosts a twice-monthly paid subscription program on his web site theghoul.net. and sells DVDs and other Ghoul merchandise on theghoul.com/.
When the Ghoul’s last show on channel 56 aired in late December of 1973, I thought I had lost him forever. I had made several hours worth of audio cassette recordings of his shows and I entertained myself with them for a time. In 1976, I received a Fuji super-8 film camera as a graduation present, and the first film I made was a Ghoul movie; with my then best friend (also a Ghoul fan) acting as the Ghoul and myself acting as “camera four” and many other characters. We also made a video taped Ghoul show in 1984, which replicated the Ghoul’s program in even greater detail. Thanks to the Internet, I discovered that the Ghoul had been on the air much longer than the mere six months I had been able to watch him, and soon I was buying video tapes (and later DVDs) of many of the great shows that Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed had done over the years. I have since discovered many other horror hosts via the ‘net, but The Ghoul will always remain number one with this fan!