By Rick Houser –
When you are a teenager and even into your early twenties, staying out late or just staying up late were more than just a challenge. It was a goal we strived for. It is probably safe to say the youth of today long for the night life just like us older folks, but might not understand how much fun there was to be had in the wee hours of a Saturday night, considering that rural southern Ohio was sparsely populated and unless you went into Cincinnati nothing really was available to the youth of my time.
That was unless we took it upon ourselves to gather at the house that my cousin Walt and I were “bacheloring” in after the theaters and pool halls all closed. Of course, it is well known that they roll up the sidewalks after midnight in Felicity. (If you want, install any rural town name to that statement.)
Fortunately for kids of my age we could tune into Channel 9 from midnight to 1 a.m. and there he was. The man we had waited for all week. Bob Shreve! Bob Shreve was a long-time veteran of live television and hosting shows in southern Ohio, so he was always a welcome face to see. He had become the host of The Schoenling All Night Theatre.
This show every Saturday night ran from midnight until 6 a.m. and became the show a teen just didn’t want to miss. Shreve had been a well-known singer earlier in his career and had performed with many well-known singers such as the Clooney Sisters but his voice had failed him. Fortunately for us, his humor didn’t and was just what we were looking for.
The Shreve humor was to a large degree slapstick, but his topics were aimed towards the youth. He was viewed by all the fraternities and sororities on all the college campuses. Kids from all over would call in and talk to him as the mostly corny movies were playing and give him their names, hoping he would mention them over the air. Many of the names were just made up and they hoped bizarre enough to draw his attention. His cast consisted of things such as Chickie the rubber chicken (Often stretched to the breaking point), Garoro the monster-looking severed head, or Spidel the stuffed spider that would swing into sight on a string and attack the hats on Bob’s head.
Along with the weekly ongoing bits that were one crazier than the one before, and even though all of us were aware of what was going to happen, we were thrilled to be a part of his audience. Local athletes or visiting stars would also drop in to make an appearance because if you were on his show your popularity was sure to increase. I recall a very young man trying to make a go of a car dealership by the name of Jeff Wyler who would show up often in the wee hours of Saturday night. (I guess his appearances didn’t hurt him much.)
Bob Shreve was sponsored by Schoenling Beers and in those days parents weren’t thrilled at sponsors like that. But there were two things going for them. One, they were on in the middle of the night and two, with Shreve’s zaniness going on constantly, the alcohol sponsor was mostly forgotten. This show went on for about a decade and for almost five years Shreve did his show on a channel in Dayton on Friday night and then again in Cincinnati on Saturday night. When all the conditions were good, we would watch him both nights.
Of course as the show was grinding on and the chatter on the screen was going on, the same was happening in our living room with our friends who had come to spend the night and watch the movies. We had a set group who would gather in the house about midnight and maybe we would gain a new friend or two each week, the more the merrier. We had stocked up on food and beverages to carry us through to breakfast or for many of them it would be lunch as they slept the morning away. It was good fun and Bob Shreve kept his show zany and maybe corny but never vulgar or in bad language. I think that might have been a big part of the monstrous following.
He spent every commercial break advertising the product and naming off those who had called in. Group after group. Crowd after crowd .such as ours and other individuals. I know that almost every week he would mention he had a call from a group out in Winchester Ohio. Folks, that is out in Adams County and this was way before there was Interstate 32 to get there. Also every time someone called Shreve, they placed an expensive toll call. That says just how important it was to get mentioned by Bob Shreve in the wee hours of the morning.
As much fun as the show was and as much as we enjoyed it, we had still worked all day out on the farm and been up town all evening, so no matter how hard we would try to see the end of the show, sleep would overtake us. One by one we would curl up or just drop where we were seated. But even though we didn’t make it, we would rehash all that we had seen and thought was funny. Before a new week would get too old, the plans for who was coming and who was to bring what the next week were in the works.
I’m not sure that after all those years of watching the all-night theatre, I can’t for the life of me remember the name of one single movie ever shown. All I remember is a group of guys had fun and Bob Shreve made it happen. But I can tell you that he sure did make Chickie stretch out longer!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.