Known to fans as “Chilly Billy”, William Robert “Bill” Cardille is a broadcast personality from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was the first voice heard when WIIC went on the air in September of 1957.
After years of hosting loads of shows (Wrestling announcer, kiddie show host of Tip Top Time, etc.) during a period when local stations provided quite a lot of programming, Cardille became host of “Chiller Theater”, the late night Saturday show that featured horror and science fiction films. The show ran for twenty years from 1963 through 1983.
Episodes began with guitarist Al Caiola’s haunting tune “Experiment in Terror”, from a film score by Henry Mancini. In the beginning, Cardille was more restrained, sticking to dress suit, tux or turtleneck while introducing films. But by the early ‘70s he added skits, paranormal bits and loads of humor.
Chilly Billy soon brought in a recurring cast of characters such as:
“Norman the Castle Keeper” played by Norman Elder
“Stephen the Castle Prankster” played by Steven Luncinski
Amazonian zombie “Terminal Stare” played by Donna Rae
“Georgette the Fudge Maker” Bonnie Sue Barney
“Skeets Skeltino the Pizza Man”, “Sister Suzie” and “Beauregard C. Beauregard”
In 1968, Bill was asked by George Romero to play himself in the classic “Night of the Living Dead”. He appears as Channel 11 reporter Bill Cardille, conducting an interview with Chief of Police McClelland asking about the progress of the zombie hunt.
Although WIIC was an NBC affiliate, they wouldn’t initially carry “Saturday Night Live” due to the popularity of Chilly Billy’s show. However, eventually, in the late ‘70s they pushed back “Chiller Theater” to 1AM after SNL and there it continued to do fairly well.
Then, in ’83 they finally dropped the “host” format and went with a syndicated package called “Haunted Hollywood” in which John Carradine’s off-camera voice-over would tell the viewer to “turn down the sound… but don’t touch that dial!”.
Chilly Billy and “Chiller Theater” were allowed a final farewell to fans during the Halloween season of 1998 with a special called “Chiller Theater: One More Time”. It featured a showing of Romero’s original “NOTLD” and George Romero was Chilly’s guest, discussing the film and how Bill and Channel 11 helped promote and produce the film thirty years earlier. At the end of which, Chilly Billy announced his retirement and said a moving goodbye to viewers.
It’s rare when a show like this can last more than a few years and so when one goes looking for fan testimonials about the show on sites like those at the bottom of this feature, it’s kind of neat to see so many good memories. Twenty years and these folks were having a ball making this little show, let alone the viewers watching at home.
Chilly Billy as Marvelous Maurice the Match Maker
(an extremely sensitive advice columnist):
Chilly Billy as psychic Mr. Magnificent:
They were even able to get television stars to show up for guest appearances… here’s Barbara Feldon as Agent 99:
And part of Lorne Green’s appearance:
Joe Flaherty has acknowledged the show as an influence on his “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre” sketches on SCTV.
Cardille also appeared as himself in the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead”. Bill’s daughter played “SaraH” in the 1985 sequel “Day of the Dead”.
Insightful Sites Cited