For those of you who grew up in the 'burgh and moved away, raise your glass tonight in a toast to Chilly Billy Cardille.
In the rarest of honors, the City of Pittsburgh, and his hometown of Sharon, PA and Mercer County all proclaimed today Bill Cardille Day. It's hard for a Pittsburgher to mention Bill's name without breaking into a smile. He's all aces.Bill has had a 53 year career on Pittsburgh radio and tv and is still going strong. His was the voice that signed on WIIC-TV Channel 11 in September, 1957.
As President of the Pittsburgh Chapter of AFTRA, he personally raised hell to get the union's insurance carrier to cover the medical condition of the son of fellow AFTRAn, Myron Cope. At that point, autism was considered mental illness and Danny's medical expenses were not covered under Myron's policy. In Cope's book, Myron specifically mentions Bill's successful efforts, saying that Cardille saved him and Mildred from financial ruin. In Myron's words, Bill, "had rescued me by putting fierce pressure on New York union headquarters." When I tried to ask Bill about his role in all this while preparing an article on Myron, he declined to be interviewed. Bill is not just a good and decent man, he's modest to boot.
Bill was the host of the enormously popular Studio Wrestling program on Saturdays on WIIC for about 15 years. Like Cope, he could have parlayed that into a national career, but his loyalty was to the 'burgh. Still, the program was syndicated, and Bill was also a popular personality in Boston and a number of other cities where it ran.
For twenty years, he was host of Chiller Theater, every Saturday night. Double feature make-out time! And if you can remember SCTV, comedian Joe Flaherty's Monster Horror Chiller Theater was a loving tribute/knock-off of his fellow Pittsburgher's Saturday night ritual. Bill also had a major role in the horror classic "Night of the Living Dead."
Bill is still active, in his mid-80's, doing a midday shift, playing oldies on WJAS. And he's still doing the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon every year. And still happily married. And daughter Laurie has her own career as an actress. It's been a wonderful life - and still is - for someone who is like a great friend and member of the family for so many of us.
My grandfather used to love to watch Studio Wrestling. Now admit it, so did yours! And we all loved Bruno and the Crusher. And Pie Traynor. And those interviews. And Ringside Rosie and Izzy the semi-blind referee.
For those Steeler fans who have never been to Pittsburgh, please bear with the rest of us. Chilly Billy has been a member of our extended family, much like the Rooneys and Myron and Franco and Jerome and Maz and Bob Prince. Special people for someplace special.
From all of us in the Pittsburgh diaspora, and all of us still in the Greater Pittsburgh area, here's a toast: To Chilly Billy! Who can? (all together now: AMERICAN!)