Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pittsburgh Loses Its Voice..."Chilly Billy" Cardille

Pop in an old wrestling match from the '50s to the '70s and you'll likely be able to identify where it took place in just a few seconds. The venues were unique. The look and feel of the production might be a tip-off. You might even be able to pinpoint it just by who's in the ring. But the most recognizable aspect of a regional wrestling promotional was usually the golden voice behind the microphone. We've had plenty of them over the years and have begun to honor many who are still with us. Lance Russell, Bob Caudle, and Bill Mercer are just a few of those who have lived to see a new appreciation of their past efforts. Sadly, one who isn't as well known for wrestling outside of his home city has just passed away. The man was the voice of Pittsburgh's Studio Wrestling program starring "The Living Legend" himself, Bruno Sammartino. The man was Bill Cardille.

"Chilly Billy," as he was known to his legions of fans, passed away early last Thursday. While any wrestling historian would know his name and his contributions to the business, he is sadly not as celebrated as the other aforementioned announcers. Despite so much of Cardille's non-wrestling work still surviving, there is virtually no filmed record of his Studio Wrestling days. Although many have searched, it appears that Pittsburgh's WIIC-TV, now known as WPXI, taped over every last bit of the Studio Wrestling program. All that exists are some silent home movies and some audio recordings taped off of television by fans. Anything that would be shown these days by an entity such as WWE is long gone.

For a time, Cardille was also an announcer for one of the WWWF's syndicated shows out of Philadelphia. If any footage of that exists, it certainly hasn't been shown in awhile. But ultimately it was his love of his family and the city of Pittsburgh that kept him from becoming one of the main voices of the promotion that eventually took over the wrestling industry. Cardille did not want to travel to Washington D.C. and other areas in the territory, so instead the company began using a youngster named Vince McMahon Jr.

Staying in the Steel City may have been just the right thing for Bill Cardille. He arguably became even better known for his long running "Chiller Theater" program which aired classic horror films on Saturday nights. Many television horror hosts who came after often credit "Chilly Billy" as an inspiration. Cardille wore many different hats in the world of Pittsburgh television and radio, just retiring from the latter around two years ago. In my own childhood days, Cardille was still a fixture on the WPXI-TV news, bringing his easy-going, affable style to the weather forecasts.

It was because of yet another tireless effort of Bill Cardille's that enabled me to see both him and Bruno Sammartino in-person for the first time. Cardille was the longtime host of the local portion of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. The segments were produced out of Monroeville Mall just outside of Pittsburgh and Bruno often volunteered his services to man the phones. Monroeville Mall was also the site of George Romero's 1978 flick "Dawn of the Dead." A decade earlier, Romero produced his classic "Night of the Living Dead" just north of Pittsburgh. Who appeared in the film as a news reporter? Bill Cardille.

Cardille became a fixture on the local convention scene as well as appearing at various Studio Wrestling reunion events in recent years. It was at these appearances that I got to see, first hand, just what a kind man Cardille was. Even in his 80's, the signature voice of "Chilly Billy" was just as rich and robust as it was during all of those years on television. It was evident to this wrestling fan that Mr. Cardille never lost his appreciation for the classic era of the industry and all of its zany characters.

While we don't have much film of "Chilly Billy" in wrestling, we do have plenty of memorabilia. Cardille had several wrestling magazine articles covering his efforts in the '60s. He was also featured in the "Tri-State Wrestling" publications that were produced by the Pittsburgh wrestling office, often with other Studio Wrestling notables such as fan "Ringside Rosie" and Pittsburgh Pirate Hall of Famer-turned-pitchman Pie Traynor. Many print ads featuring Cardille and showcasing Studio Wrestling also still exist.

Not only did I get to meet Mr. Cardille many times, but he also indirectly helped me live out my dream. Several years ago, I answered a trivia question on the Pro Wrestling Illustrated blog. I can't remember exactly what the question was, but the answer was, of course, Bill Cardille. Since that blog and my own were run using the same system, my answer indirectly linked to my blog. My work was noticed by the fine folks at PWI, which in turn led to me writing in the magazine and its sister publications.

Mr. Cardille, thank you so much for giving your talents to Pittsburgh. You informed, entertained, and enlightened us all, yet still had time to aid those in need. You raised and loved a family, and yet somehow managed to make us all feel like we were part of it. I'll never forget our interactions at various events nor your reactions to whatever magazine, article, or photo that I could find for you to sign. The true definition of a gentleman, on-camera and off, is Mr. Bill Cardille.

Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille



Crypt Of Wrestling said...

I never got to meet Bill Cardille but knew him from my crossover interests in Wrestling, Night of the Living Dead, and TV horror hosts. Great piece!

J\/\/ said...

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed!