Ghoulardi, Channel 8’s hepcat horror host, transfixed Cleveland for all of 1963 and 1964 with his bizarro blend of Bela Lugosi and Groucho Marx, wisecracking in shadows over sultry jazz and rock between B-movies such as Queen of Outer Space and Brain Eaters. “Watch out for the boom-booms!” he’d shout while lighting firecrackers. His shows, Friday at 11:20 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m., propelled WJW to first place in local Nielsen ratings. He dominated Cleveland late-night TV, crushing Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
So when Ghoulardi agreed to join Parma’s 1964 Christmas parade, the town’s leaders came to him. Parma Mayor James Day (right) and parade marshal John Bellas posed for a publicity shot with the fright-wigged freak (real name Ernie Anderson) in a convertible outside WJW’s Playhouse Square studios. Ghoulardi is wearing 1964 all over him: President Lyndon B. Johnson had just swept Cuyahoga County by more than 2-1 on Election Day, and 11,000 fans had mobbed Public Hall to see the Beatles in September. (The Nixon button is a 1960 souvenir.)
Mayor Day wasn’t smiling a year later when Anderson debuted his “Parma Place” skit, a giant Polish joke that permanently pinned white socks, kielbasa and polka to the town. It was “a dangerous slur to the community,” Day complained. “Parma was being made to sound like a foot disease.”