One of the main reasons I started writing themed blogs for my website was to show the amazing personality and community vibe Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas maintain. Too often, we’re pigeon-holed as a football town, and the reality is our city is so much more. In almost every walk of life, there seems to be a Pittsburgh native we can refer to as an “icon”. Sadly, we lost one of our icons yesterday. A television and broadcasting legend, Bill Cardille was more than just a “Pittsburgh voice”. “Chilly Billy” worked with and influenced some of entertainment’s biggest names.
Billy Cardille is probably best known for his work on Chiller Theater, a horror and science fiction show that ran for twenty years in the late night slot on Saturday nights. Before the days of Saturday Night Live, Chiller Theater premiered locally in 1963, and became a Saturday night tradition. Running in the exact same time slot SNL does today, Chiller Theater would showcase two movies per week (the first starting at 11:30pm, the second starting around 1:00am), with recurring character skits mixed in throughout the broadcast. Chiller Theater’s popularity was so high in the Steel City, Saturday Night Live did not air locally until 1979…SNL’s fifth season! The show often had celebrity guests, including Vincent Price, Phyllis Diller, and Jerry Lewis, to name a few.
Eventually Cardille lost the battle to the emerging sketch comedy show, and was moved to the 1:00am timeslot. Although this marked the beginning of the end for Chiller Theater, Cardille stayed with WPXI in various other roles after the show’s last broadcast on January 1st, 1984.
Ironically, Cardille is credited by SCTV alum and Pittsburgh native Joe Flaherty for being the inspiration behind SCTV’s recurring skit “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre”. For those who may be a little too young to remember, SCTV was a sketch comedy show starring Toronto’s Second City Comedy Troupe, and SNL’s biggest rival for a brief period of time. Along with Flaherty, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, and Harold Ramis are other notable SCTV alum. Needless to say, Cardille has always been in rare air.
Although Cardille had his hand in several projects over his amazing career, he also built quite a name for himself as host of Pittsburgh’s “Studio Wrestling”. Before the days of WWE and sports-entertainment, smaller, “territorial” wrestling programs were all the rage. While Cardille hosted, “Studio Wrestling” was one of the most popular wrestling shows in America, and showcased legendary names like Bruno Sammartino, Nikolai Volkoff (as Bepo Mongol), Dominic DeNucci, and Larry Zbyszko.
Oh, and who doesn’t remember bingo on WPXI?! I remember sitting with my grandmother while she played along, watching ever so intently on what number Cardille would call next. Think about what I just wrote…Cardille could make bingo a fascinating watch. Take that, Mike Lange!
The passing of Bill Cardille will certainly affect several generations all around the Steel City, for all the different ways he entertained us. But that was the beauty of Chilly Billy. He was more than just a character. He was the character. He was larger than life, and humble as pie. He was bigger than us, but still one of us. He entertained us, but made us feel like we knew him for years.
We did know you for years, Chilly Billy. And we’ll never forget you. Rest in power.