Thursday, October 08, 2015

BOOK REVIEW! BIG CHUCK!, MY FAVORITE STORIES FROM 47 YEARS ON CLEVELAND TV by Chuck Shodowski with Tom Feran (Gray & Company, 2008)

In typical suburban-slob-laden BLOG TO COMM terminology, the first Golden Age of Tee-Vee certainly wasn't the 1950-1960 live PLAYHOUSE 90 intellectual garble that big city newspaper crits say it was. In our definitely against-the-grain yet true-to-form minds, the original GA ran from the 1957 season (first year for LEAVE IT TO BEAVERHAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL and THE REAL McCOYS) until 1967 (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND off the air and the survivors of the original GA petering out), although some wisenheimers out there might argue that the real last year for GA tee-vee was 1970 when CBS dropped SULLIVAN, GLEASON and GREEN ACRES not forgetting ABC and LAWRENCE WELK which was too hokey for the acid eaters out there anyway. Even then those shows (other'n the terminally cornballus WELK) weren't quite what they were when they first popped up on the screen, and although I sure felt the pangs of growing old (at age ten even!) when I found out those programs were to be no more it wasn't like they were going to be missed THAT much!

The second Golden Age, again according to our own maybe not-so-arbitrary BLOG TO COMM rules and regulations, ran from roughly the mid-seventies until late-seventies or perhaps early-eighties at the very latest. A short timespan indeed, but for all intent purposes one of the better eras to be situated in front of a boob tube what with shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY getting better due to the lack of a Vietnam War or radical libberism to pump into everyone's psyches, not forgetting the rerun circuit being filled to the brim with various fifties/sixties leftovers we just couldn't get enough of the first time around. You might find this strange, but although shows like BARNEY MILLER, WELCOME BACK KOTTER and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW were rather hit or miss by BTC standards and clearly were the forerunners of today's absolutely unfunny and unwatchable fare, at least they had more'n just a few sparks of previous tee-vee generations energy to 'em. And who could deny that those episodes of MTM where Ted Baxter was getting Lou Grant all mad with his antics just weren't the best that the seventies could muster up in a Ralph Kramden/Ed Norton sorta way!

Local tee-vee was doing pretty good 'round then too. True the kiddie shows were pretty much dried up by this time (though I remember channel 17's JEEPER'S CLUBHOUSE doing a good enough BARNEY BEAN imitation complete with DEPUTY DAWG cartoons, not forgetting this old fogey on Pittsburgh's channel 11 throwing these SESAME STREET "one of these things does not belong here" games in between MR. MAGOO) but there were programs like channel 61's GHOUL and 43's SUPERHOST giving us those funtime adolescent thrills that were so good they didn't even seem that silly when we got older! And of course there was THE HOULIHAN AND BIG CHUCK SHOW on channel 8, a program which the aging hipsters and usual teenage snoots amongst us didn't like one iota, but for doofuses like myself it was television like this that I thought exemplified MAN AT HIS FINEST! And really, if you don't agree maybe you should check which rung you're on in the evolutionary ladder and if you're five or six above me well then, so what!

Sure the jokes and skits were cornballus as all heck what with Big Chuck Shodowski rehashing old Ernie Kovacs and 1965-era MAD humor for an era that was rollin' on the floors to George Carlin, but even a casual look at the various skits that appeared on his show (via. youtube 'natch) shows that the guy was, if anything, the last harbinger of that old college-styled humor doin' it at a time when the only ones who really got the gags were those necktie 'n underarm stain guys who'd huddle around the coffee pot Mondays and relay their favorite skits from the show. An aside, THE GHOUL holds up well too even though alla the Ghoulariacs used to hate him with a passion, but (back to Big Chuck) ya gotta admit that, even when the mooms were goin' from horror to Grade-A and the jokes were beginning to reek of Michael Jackson and Madonna references, Shadowski was helping to extend that great era of early tee-vee farther than anyone else out there at that point in time would dare (if they really "cared") to do.

Shodowski's autobio's been out for over seven years now, but it's now been cheapified and if you're as much of a fan of pre-hippoid/sophisticado brainy tee-vee as I am you'll probably eat this up faster than Brad Kohler goin' down on a bean curd patty inna Strip District. I like it because it's got that down home straight-from-the-guts sorta feeling you never did find in Nora Ephron, and reading his story of growing up Polish in Cleveland and just lucking his way into tee-vee and his own show does remind me of just how great things coulda been for some people who just had that knack to break outta the usual doldrums and do something really worthwhile that would satisfy a lotta hard-working and proud-loafing pimplefarm fanablas like ourselves!

Lotsa funny stories abounding in BIG CHUCK! that sound typical of the kinda antics that you would expect go on in some tee-vee stations filled to the brim with guys who would probably be better put to use as lab rats for hemmorhoid research than in front of or behind the cameras. Of course the actions of Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson himself made a good book in itself (one worthy of me re-reviewing once I dig into my old stored away boxes) as doe the advent of the Houlihan-era show with Bob Wells itself, and between the stories, the pix and the general atmosphere this read exudes you'll be reminded of just what a powerful force and friend to the fambly television was, at least until the Politically Pious and proper began relegating LITTLE RASCALS shorts and even early episodes of ALL IN THE FAMILY to the furnace because well, like, they know better and we can only trust them because like, they know better!

Of course there are some things left outta here and it ain't like I woulda expected them to be put here inna first place but if they were...WWWWHHHHHOOOOAAAA!!! Like f'rinstance, supposedly Chuck and original sidekick "Hoolie" either hated each other to bits throughout the show's run or began to hate each other at some point in time (and if you can't believe them high school rumors goin' 'round, who can you believe?) but nothing was brought up about that. I guess it was a temporary thing since the pair ultimately patched things up for some tee-vee special and perhaps another soiree, but dangle enough fame in some people's faces and maybe even I'd appear chummy in a photo shoot with Dave Lang!

What perhaps is not that much of a rumor but recorded fact is Ernie Anderson's very last interview before his own passing, one which reportedly had him cussing not only Big Chuck but Houlihan's replacement Li'l John Rinaldi up and down the swear-strewned page for reasons I'm not quite sure about! Chuck has nada but praise for the once-goateed Cleveland host so perhaps he never got to read the thing, or perhaps he's being kind because well, Anderson was on his last legs at the time and who knows what them meds were doing to his mind. But y'know, I really would like to know what was really REALLY goin' on behind the scenes.

And of course there ain't a word about Ron Sweed a.k.a. the Ghoul, the gorilla-suited kid who used to pop up on GHOULARDI and, after calling his new employers "Houlihan and Upchuck" skeedaddled over to 61 to do his own take on his previous employer's role in a rather new if slightly not-quite-"there" according to the experts adaptation. Obviously the two hate each other, but sheesh, wouldn't you have liked to have seen Shodowski lash out at the guy perhaps causing a bigger rift on Northeastern Ohio tee-vee since Sweed himself sued "Son of the Ghoul" back inna late eighties???

And in no way would I expect THIS to happen, but since Chuck goes outta his way to mention just about every celebrity both local and international he was met or worked with, howcum nothin' here 'bout the time that David Thomas aka CROCUS BEHEMOTH took on Mushmouth Mariano Pacetti in a pizza eating contest, losing to the longtime champ and occasional Big Chuck skit actor? Guess he just wasn't that much of a celebrity for this book....hisssssssssssssssssss.............

Needless to say despite the omission of the future Rocket From The Tombs frontman I liked BIG CHUCK! complete with alla the tales of fambly matters and behind-the-scene jagoffs that shouldn't matter to me because, like, I wasn't there though they read so good. But after reading this I kinda wish that I was, even though I prefer the "confines" of UHF-TV to big city impersonal VHF which never did have that low-fi down home zing.  It's a nice period piece about a nice time when the social planners and do-gooders who run things today didn't quite have the same influence on us like they do now (meaning people could get away with rather innocuous yet chortling humor dealing with blacks, Polish and Eyetalian types like they did on this show!), and with a whole load of those old time tee-vee faves long gone and the spirit of tee-vee with 'em, I'm sure glad that Chuck is at the very least still alive and beating!

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