Monday, January 24, 2000

Interview: Toledo Blade

The Toledo Blade, Written By Chris Borrelli
January 24, 2000

Son of Ghoulardi-Hot Hollywood Director

Paul Thomas Anderson is 30 years old, with stylishly rumpled hair and seemingly permanent stubble. He looks the stereotype of the handsome, tortured artist, which works well for him because he makes big sprawling movies that weave and connect multiple plot lines, grand statements about epic subjects like family and home, compassion and love. He's what is called by the media a "hot young director."

His latest, Magnolia, is the kind of self-indulgent but exciting opus that great artists attempt: 3 hours and 15 minutes of gut-wrenching anguish and soul-searching.

This is not the kind of guy you might expect to spring from the loins of Ghoulardi.

But, hey group! - as Ohio's famous horror-movie host might have screamed.

Mr. Hot Serious Director of the Moment is the son of the late Ohio legend Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson, who became a local phenomenon during the 1960s when he threw a ratty fright wig on his head, popped one lens out of his sunglasses, and hosted horror movies - from Little Shop of Horrors to House of Wax - on Toledo and Cleveland TV.

Ghoulardi was a bane to parents, telling his audience to "Turn blue!" and "Stay sick!"

He turned the Cleveland suburb of Parma into a running joke. He even made fun of Mike Douglas.

And through most of his fame, Ernie Anderson was shuttling between Cleveland and Toledo, taping one day at WJW in Cleveland and the next at Channel 13, which was then WSPD and the studio was on Huron Street in the building that now houses WGTE.

But Paul Thomas Anderson hadn't even been born yet when Ghoulardi was loved by children and reviled by parents. Last week the young director talked about a lot of things, including Toledo-born actor Philip Baker Hall, whom Anderson casts in all of his films. On the subject of Ghoulardi, the filmmaker almost lapses into the familiar excited rhythms of his father.

"As I got older," Paul Thomas Anderson said, "I kept thinking, 'What is this Ghoulardi thing? What is it? What? What?' We went back to Cleveland once when I was 14 and we were mobbed at the airport by people chanting 'Ghoulardi! Ghoulardi!' And when I do interviews anywhere in the country, constantly, constantly, people who are enamored of my father or who grew up with him bring him up or even thank me for Ghoulardi!"

When Anderson was growing up, his dad was best known as the voice of ABC, and later the announcer on America's Funniest Home Videos.

Since Ernie Anderson's death three years ago from lung cancer, there have been Ghoulardi conventions and a book written about him. Drew Carey even dedicated an episode of his sitcom to Ghoulardi.

"But when I was a kid," Anderson remembered, "he used to tell me, 'I was a really big deal. No, really, I was!' I just couldn't fathom it. We lived in the San Fernando Valley [outside Los Angeles] and his existence was so pedestrian. He would just get up and go to this little recording studio and say a few words and come home."

Anderson's first experience behind a camera, though, was because of his dad.

"He worked on the technical side of ABC," he said, "and knew all these engineers and so he was privy to all these new kinds of VCRs that were coming out in the '70s. Some of those friends stole him a VCR from ABC, and we had a bootleg copy of Jaws. . . . That's how he got an early videocamera, and I think I just took it from him."

Anderson walked out of New York University film school after two days but later headed for Utah where he attended the Sundance Institute's filmmakers' workshop. In 1997 he made a huge critical splash with two movies: Hard Eight and Boogie Nights.

There's a scene in Boogie Nights where a kid heightens the tension of a drug deal by setting off firecrackers in the background. "As Ghoulardi, my dad blew models and stuff up with firecrackers, and that was certainly the inspiration for that scene."

In Magnolia, the estranged father-son relationship between Tom Cruise and Jason Robards is "not at all, not even close" to how Anderson and his father were. But as actor Philip Seymour Hoffman nursed Robards in the film, Anderson says he kept long vigils by his father's bed when he was sick.

"I'm only now starting to see how my dad influenced my work," Anderson said. "When I first saw a tape of his show I cracked up. Some of it was funny, and some of it was pretty bad, actually. But he loved the bad stuff and would comment on how bad it was. Every once and while, though, he would do something legitimately clever and inventive, and to me that was when he had the most important influence.

"What I do and what he did is so different, but he hated authority and he wanted to stir things up. And I hope my work always has that kind of spirit."

So as Magnolia begins, the following title card appears:

"A Ghoulardi Film Company Presentation."

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