A new book looks back at Cleveland television as it morphed from provincial to polished. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia spoke with Mike and Jan Olszewski about their new book, “Cleveland TV Tales, Volume 2.”
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The new book takes up with a tribute to Ghoulardi, who was the focus of much of Volume One. He’s the horror-movie host played by Ernie Anderson who drew monstrous ratings in the mid-60s with his irreverent and offbeat style.
“‘Dear Mr. Ghoulardi: Like so many Clevelanders, we enjoy Channel 8’s science fiction movies.’ Can you believe there is somebody that enjoys these movies? Wheeeee! He says, ‘Please try to be less obtrusive.’”
“That’s a nice transition because he was part of the first wave of television. When Ernie Anderson first went on the air in 1963, TV had only been in Cleveland for about 15 years. By the time he left, it had become a huge business – much of it centered in Ghoulardi.”
'Dorothy, baby' As Ghoulardi, one of Anderson’s favorite targets on-air was Dorothy Fuldheim, an enduring presence on Cleveland television screens for nearly 40 years. Olszewski’s book ends with a look at her final years.
“The one thing you have to remember about Dorothy Fuldheim – and I’ve said this many times – when you look back at America, right after World War II when TV was first starting out, we were ultra-conservative. We were sexist, we were racist, we were anti-Semitic. Who’s the first person that Channel 5 hires? A Jewish woman in her 50s. And I think that just shows that, honestly, Cleveland was breaking new ground even back then.”
All the news Much of the rest of the book focuses on the TV news business in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, as it came to dominate local TV.
“When you think about it, there’s very little local programming left. There is news, but so many of the other [slots] have been taken over by syndicated shows that are just cheaper and probably more profitable, quite honestly, to put on.”
'The Morning Exchange' But in 1972, the most popular local show was “The Morning Exchange” on WEWS Channel 5. The program set the blueprint for ABC’s “Good Morning America” with its mix of news and entertainment.
“Publicists used to start many of their book authors on the tour in Cleveland.
"What would happen is, they’d call back and say, ‘How’d they do on 'The Morning Exchange?’ If they did really well, they continued on the tour. If they didn’t do well, they went back to New York and got some pointers. But it was a huge show for a long time.”
Fred: “You’re from Mt. Airy, North Carolina.” Andy: “North Carolina.” Fred: “The thing about Aunt Bea [is] she was like the prototype of everyone’s mother. When I was a kid, I always thought, ‘That’s the way that Mom is supposed to look.’” Andy: “I remember going down to a Scout jamboree. Most of them asked me about Aunt Bea. These young boys – 12, 11 – all identified with her.”
Hosting changes Fred Griffith hosted the show for much of the 1970s along with Liz Richards and news anchor Joel Rose.
One chapter of Olszewski’s book focuses on Rose, who in 2000 was questioned in connection with more than a dozen women who had reported receiving mysterious packages in the mail containing lingerie and explicit notes; many of the women had worked in Cleveland media. Rose committed suicide during the investigation, baffling friends and co-workers.
“They never actually filed any kind of charges or made any formal accusations against him. And Jan and I were watching TV one day. And they were talking to some of the people who had gotten these packages. And I said, ‘You know what? I used to work with her,’ -- because I used to work with Joel over at WHK -- and I said, ‘I’ve worked with her, I’ve worked with her.’ And Jan said, ‘That makes you a suspect.’ Meaning, it could be anybody. We kind of let the reader decide their own ending to that story.”
Exhausting research Olszewski usually works with his wife, Jan, who says researching old newspaper columns and magazines can be distracting.
“You’d see articles about your neighborhood. You’d see prices of the merchandise in the day that you’ll never see again. The venues for movies and clubs. You want to read them all.”
The Olszewskis do more than remember the Cleveland of the past – they’ve been part of it.
“I got into broadcasting in the 1970s, when so many of these pioneers were still with us – and we had all these wonderful stories. And so many of the pioneers left us without putting down their stories. So as a result, it’s almost like it’s a responsibility [and] a duty, but at the same time a very happy chore, to do that.”
Olszewski has published a half-dozen books on Cleveland media and he’s already working on the next one.
“Jan and I submitted the manuscript to David Gray and he says, ‘We have to take out a few words.’ I said, ‘how many?’ He said ‘30,000.’ I said, ‘30,000 words?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, that’s part of the next book.’”