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The Evel Knievel-Ghoulardi Connection

By admin Published: November 30, 2007

Ernie
You think this thing could jump a canyon? (Photo from bigchuckandliljohn.com)

If you've been reading the obituaries for Evel Knievel, you may have come across passages like this one, from the Associated Press:

In 1977, (Knievel) served five months and 22 days in the Wayside Honor Rancho near Castaic for smashing the left arm of television executive Sheldon Saltman with a baseball bat. Knievel, utterly unrepentant, told the judge he did it because the uncomplimentary book Saltman had written about him was a "filthy lie."

A little over 10 years ago, I was sitting in a California restaurant with Saltman, who had had a long and successful career in TV and promotion. The reason had nothing to do with Knievel. ...

I was there with Tom Feran to ferret out some information for a book we were writing about Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson from Saltman, who was promotion manager for Channel 8 when Ghoulardi was being born, and the fourth person at the table, Ralph Gulko, a makeup man who had played a key role in the birth of the TV host. Tom and I were on to something that had not been in previous stories about Ghoulardi, and ended up spending some late nights rewriting a nearly-finished manuscript for "Ghoulardi" to get in what we learned.

We also got more than a grain of Saltman, who operated on the motto "You can sell anybody anything." As we told in the book (which is still in print), Saltman pulled stunts like telling viewers they would see 15 minutes of color TV in an era when the image was only black-and-white. The station then ran video so quickly that people thought they saw color in the blurred image. He was a master of ballyhoo.

Saltman was one of the people thinking about having a horror-movie host on Channel 8 in late 1962, and one of the people Gulko approached with an idea for the makeup and four possible names, one of which was Ghoulardo. Saltman suggested it be Ghoulardi instead. It was a good moniker.

But to bring the public into the game, the station had a "name the host" contest at the Cleveland Boat Show. It then simply picked the five entries closest to Ghoulardi and gave them a prize, Saltman said. "We weren't really fooling the public," Saltman insisted. "What we did there was creative license."

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