Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Anderson planned to go to law school but was instead drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II. In an interview, his son Paul Thomas Anderson spoke of his military service:
“He (Ernie) was in the Navy stationed mainly in Guam. I don’t think he did any fighting. I think he was trying – he was fixing airplanes and knew just where the beer was stashed and played the saxophone in bands and stuff like that. You know, every picture I have of him [shows] a beer in his hand. Every single picture from the war he’s got – so he was pretty good about probably finding ways to get out of fighting. But again, you know, we never really talked that much about it.”
After the war, Anderson became a disc jockey at WSKI in Montpelier, VT. Anderson worked as a disc jockey in Albany, NY and Providence, RI before moving to Cleveland to join WHK. After WHK switched to a Top 40 format in late 1958, Anderson was let go as his persona didn’t fit with the format’s newer, high-energy presentation. Or, as his lifelong friend, comic actor Tim Conway put it: “He was working at WHK radio and was at a Christmas party. So he was telling this long elaborate joke and just as he’s about to deliver the punch line his boss cuts in and says it. So Ernie looks at him and says, ‘Why did you do you that?’ And his boss says, ‘I anticipated it.’ So Ernie said, ‘Anticipate this’ and tells him ‘(expletive) yourself.’ Well, Ernie got fired.” From there, he went to NBC affiliate KYW-TV (now WKYC), where he first collaborated with Conway for some on-air work.
Both Anderson and Conway moved to then-CBS affiliate WJW-TV to host a local morning movie show called Ernie’s Place, which also featured live skits and comedy bits reminiscent of then-popular comics Bob and Ray. When the two joined the station, Anderson sold Conway to WJW’s management team as a director for the program, even though Conway never held any qualifications or had experience for that position. Unable to do the work, other staffers were called in to assist – including technician Chuck Schodowski – before Conway was ultimately dismissed. With Anderson deprived of his comic foil, Ernie’s Place was canceled, but management soon offered him a horror host role for a local incarnation of Shock Theater that WJW acquired the rights to air late-nights on Fridays.
From 1963 to 1966, Anderson presented the program under the alter ego of Ghoulardi, a hipster that defied the common perception of a horror host. While this version of Shock Theater also featured grade “B” science fiction and horror movies, Ghoulardi mocked films he was hosting, and spoke in an accent-laden beatnik slang. Often, comedic sound effects or music would be inserted in place of the movie’s audio track. Occasionally, Ghoulardi would even insert himself into a film and appear to run from the monster, using a chroma key system that WJW normally utilized for art cards. He loved firecrackers (possession was illegal in Ohio) and started by blowing up apples and leftovers and graduated to blowing up model cars, statues and other items sent in by viewers.
One remnant of Ernie’s Place was also revived: the live comedy sketches and skits, only with Chuck Schodowski assuming Conway’s role as Anderson’s primary sidekick. On occasion, Conway – by this point assuming the stage name Tim Conway – would make cameo appearances on the program and serve as a writer, but had also become a star on ABC’s McHale’s Navy.
Anderson’s “Ghoulardi” persona often lampooned “unhip” targets, the most famous having been Dorothy Fuldheim. The first woman to anchor a TV news show in America, and a lifelong staffer for the city’s ABC affiliate, WEWS, Fuldheim openly expressed a dislike for Anderson, feeling that the youth of Ohio were under attack with his pot jokes and childish antics, which she found distasteful. Ghoulardi responded by mocking her every week, usually referring to her as “Dorothy Baby.” Their mutual on-air jibes created what viewers considered a battle of “the beatnik and the empress of Ohio news.”
A weekly series of vignettes also debuted that parodied both the popular soap opera Peyton Place and also another “unhip” target of Ghoulardi’s, the bedroom suburb of Parma. Parma Place became an instant hit among the viewers, but its heavy usage of ethnic jokes and asides toward Parma eventually caused that city’s elected officials to complain to WJW management. While the station acquiesced and ordered the cancellation of Parma Place, the publicity from that incident and the Fuldheim feud put the Ghoulardi character at the peak of his popularity.
By 1965, Anderson not only hosted Shock Theater but also the Saturday afternoon Masterpiece Theater and the weekday children’s program Laurel, Ghoulardi and Hardy, all of which were ratings successes. Anderson also created the “Ghoulardi All-Stars” sports teams, which would often attract thousands of fans to as many as 100 charity contests a year. With some help from Conway, Anderson even went to Hollywood to shoot a TV pilot, and featured the audition and films of his trip on his show, highly unusual for local TV in 1966.
However, the promises of becoming an actor in Los Angeles, California, as well as some strains of fatigue on Anderson’s part, led up to his decision to leave Cleveland permanently that summer. Shock Theater ended in October 1966, and the Ghoulardi name was retired. WJW tapped both Schodowski and meteorologist Bob Wells (aka “Hoolihan the Weatherman”) to co-host the successive program, Hoolihan and Big Chuck. After moving to Los Angeles, Anderson first appeared on the first two episodes of Rango, a short-lived comedy that starred Conway. Anderson and Conway soon collaborated on a comedy act, appearing together on ABC’s Hollywood Palace and later released two comedy albums together. Beginning in 1974, Anderson replaced Lyle Waggoner as announcer for The Carol Burnett Show, on which his old performing partner Conway became a regular starting the following year.
After finding limited success in front of the camera, Anderson moved behind the microphone when Fred Silverman made Anderson the voice of the American Broadcasting Company. Anderson’s voice is likely best remembered for his newscast introductions for various ABC stations across the country: “Eyewitness News…starts…NOW!” (WEWS would be one of these affiliates, utilizing Anderson’s voice throughout the 1980s.) Ernie was also the voice of “The Love Boat” and lent his vocal talents to introducing that show Anderson’s signature was putting emphasis on a particular word. An example was his enunciation of “Love” in “The Love Boat.”
Another would be “The Man… The Machine… Street Hawk!” from the 1985 motorcycle action series. His voice was also heard in the ABC bumpers as he was saying “This is… ABC!” Anderson was also the announcer of America’s Funniest Home Videos from 1989 to 1995 and did the voiceover for the previews of new episodes during the first three seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation until he was replaced by Don LaFontaine. Anderson told the San Francisco Chronicle that his goal as an announcer was to “try to create a mood. I have to concentrate on each word, on each syllable. I have to bring something special to every sentence I say. If I don’t do that, they might as well just get some announcer out of the booth to read it. I want people to hear me talk about a show and then to say, ‘Hey, this is going to be great. I want to watch this.'”
Anderson died of cancer in Los Angeles on February 6, 1997. His son, director Paul Thomas Anderson, dedicated his 1997 film Boogie Nights to his memory. In addition, The Drew Carey Show episode “See Drew Run” was dedicated to his memory. His death was also mentioned on an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos that same year. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, much of the material regarding Jason Robards’ character was based on Paul Thomas Anderson’s experiences while watching his father die of cancer. More than a decade after his death, radio stations can still license Anderson’s voice for promotions. By paying a licensing fee, stations including New York City’s WHTZ use Anderson’s voice for positioning statements such as, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old” and “Lock it in and rip the knob off!”
- November, 12, 1923
- Lynn, Massachusetts
- February, 06, 1997
- Los Angeles, California
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
- Los Angeles, California