| It has been 18 years since a Channel 11 camera first zoomed in
on a tall, well-groomed, immaculately dressed man sitting on a stool
in front of two prop movie projectors marked simply "Chiller One"
and "Chiller Two".
Those movie projectors are now a distant memory, victims of an
evolution as inevitable as the one which stole the svelte from the
man's physique. The projectors were replaced first by a laboratory
and then a castle; the athletic body by a heavier, middle aged
model complete with rebuilt heart and, away from the public, read-
"Chilly Billy is my name, Chiller Theater is my game," sings
William Robert Cardille in his theme song. "Come now, and follow
For a generation, Pittsburghers have done just that, watching
Cardille and his "Chiller Theater" close the coffin on Saturday nights,
as much a part of those wee hours as a final bite of a pepperoni
pizza and the last cold Iron City.
Pittsburgh had no trouble adopting Cardille, a man of Italian,
German and English extraction who was born in Farrell during the
Great Depression and raised in nearby Sharon.
"I first appeared on stage as the master of ceremonies at a pep
rally when I was in the ninth grade," Cardille says. "I told them,
'You probably think I'm nervous and you're so damn right.'
Everybody broke up and I haven't shut up since."
Cardille attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania on a
basketball scholarship, earned in part by the quickness and agility
that helped him during his years as part of two dance teams.
While Cardille was in high school, he and his father performed
as a father-son, song-and-dance team for various charitable and
business organizations and in minstrel shows. At the same time,
Cardille and an area girl had their own dance act, performing
various dancing exhibitions and routines and entering several
dancing contests a year - none of which they lost.
Unfortunately for the university's athletic program, Cardille
brought along something else - a gift of gab.
He made a name for himself on the campus radio station, quit
the basketball team and, a year before graduation, left school to
join WICU-TV in Erie, then one of only 44 television stations
in the country.
A Low Point
Working 60 to 70 hours a week at almost every job in the station
paid off when, in September 1957, Cardille joined Channel 11 (then
known as WIIC-TV) when it went on the air.
He was soon hosting such diverse programs as "Luncheon at
the Ones" and "Six O'Clock Hop," but by 1963 all those shows had
"That was a very low point," Cardille admits, adding that only a
vote of confidence by station management kept him in Pittsburgh.
On Saturday afternoons, they used to run a 'Chiller Theater.'
I was the announcer in the booth (off-camera) and in monkeying
around, I would give a different introduction to the movies."
Station officials were impressed enough to allow him to become
a live host for the movies in the time spot following the 11 p.m. news.
Soon the chain-smoking Cardille and his cauldron of blood and
humor were delighting almost everyone.
"I never liked to watch the show when I was a little girl because
I'd get scared," sats Bill's oldest daughter, Lori Ann. "I hated when
friends would come over to the house on Saturday because they'd
want to watch Dad. "I'd say, 'Oh, it's just Dad on TV, big deal!'
Then I'd go to sleep.
Cardille, who lives in McCandless with his wife, Louise, has two
other children, Bill Jr., who manages his father's North Hills travel
agency, and Marea, who will soon be a freshman in college.
"To me, he was never Chilly Billy. He was my father, a good
father," says Lori, an actress in New York City who has appeared
in network soap operas, a made-for-television movie, commercials
and on the New York stage. "Somehow, no matter how busy he
was, he'd always find time to spend with the family. I'm proud of
Cardille continued to work tirelessly, hosting a variety of shows,
making records and numerous personal appearances.
Professional and personal stess, however, nearly killed him when
in May 1973 he suffered a heart attack while attending a, AFTRA
(American Federation of Television and Radio Actors) banquet in
which he was to be sworn in as the chapter president.
Even in his darkest hour, Cardille could still find a touch of
"As my friend, By Williams, was rushing me to the hospital in his
car, we were being chased by police cars because we kept going
through red lights," Cardille says.
"Then, as I was lying on the table in the emergency room, the
doctor looked at my electrocardiogram tape and nodded to the
nurse, who looked at the tape and nodded to him. Then they both
looked at me and I went like this," says Cardille, shaking his head
up and down. "I knew."
He refuses to blame his workaholic nature for his heart attack;
rather he points to his habit of making bad business deals.
"I'm a soft touch, but I used to be softer," he says. "One time I
bailed one of my cousins out of jail and he still hasn't paid me back."
Cardille, who lost a kidney in his late teens because of an injury,
probably suffered while playing basketball, has a heart that he says
would do Frankenstein's monster proud.
"My health is pretty good. I walk two miles a day," says Cardille
who found smoking easier to quit than his hectic routine. "I come
from a family of nine children. I don't want failure."
His normal weekday includes a four-hour morning stint on
WIXZ-AM radio, visits to the TV station to record announcements
and commercials and write his "Chiller" scripts, afternoons at his
travel agency and evenings either at Channel 11, countless
personal appearance sites or at the area disco where he is the
host for Saturday nights and special events. On weekends he
tapes "Chiller" and makes more personal appearances.
He's never too busy for charitable activities such as Jerry Lewis's
Muscular Dystrophy fund drive, Easter Seals, the Heart Fund, the
Shriners' Circus and private chats with those facing open-heart
"You've got to try to put back what other people have given you.
I remember what I went through," Cardille says. "I've always had
empathy for my fellow man."
After chatting with Cardille during his appearances at drive-in
theaters, fireman's festivals and new store openings, folks tend to
look at him as a neighbor, a friend to invite home. The warmth
Cardille radiates both in person and on the tube may be the key to
"Chiller Theater's" popularity.
"If I could define the reason for Chiller's success, I'd bottle it and
sell it," says Cardille who has the courage to aim his "Chiller" puns at
some of his more famous fans such as Gov. Dick Thornburgh, Mayor
Richard Caliguiri and Councilwoman Michelle Madoff.
"A few months ago, the Prophet (one of his Chiller character-
izations) predicted that Ms. Madoff and Council President Eugene
DePasquale would headline the next professional wrestling show
at the Civic Arena.
"One night, Bob Prince did a skit on the show and the next day,
a former president of U.S. Steel, I forget his name, said, 'Bob, what
were you doing on Chiller Theater?' And Prince replied, 'What
were you doing watching it?'
"I like to think that we have good quality and a good product. It's
clean fun, wholesome family entertainment," says Cardille who
lightens both the taping sessions and sometimes gory movies by
constantly joking with the television crew.
No matter how campy the show gets, there are subtle hints of the
more sophisticated thinking that goes into each situation. For instance,
almost every week Cardille, with his curly hairpiece (kept permanently
in place by surgical implants) and tuxedo, teels a series of deliciously
corny jokes to a giggling skull - a scene that conjures up visions of
Hamlet's graveyard soliloquy.
Cardille is fiercely loyal to his audience, turning down offers to
move to larger television markets simply because "I like Pittsburgh."
"It's a tribute to Bill that he has maintained the audience he has,"
says WPXI program director Don Cunningham, especially since
"Chiller", despite high ratings, was cut to one movie three years ago
and moved back to a deadly 1 a.m. starting time to make room for
NBC-TV's successful "Saturday Night Live" series.
Chiller Family Gone
The show has undergone other changes and more may follow.
For instance, Cardille's on-air Chiller Family who joined the show in
the mid-70's was dumped in February "because there really wasn't
any need for them," says Cunningham.
Also, in a move to take better advantage of the show's proven
audience-drawing capacity, "Chiller Theater" will get a prime-time
run, starting Friday at 8:30 p.m. with the 1931 version of Boris Karloff's
"Frankenstein." In addition to Friday's show and three more prime-
time airings of classic "Chillers" next month, the program will
continue at it's regular time Sunday's at 1:00 a.m.
Likewise, the master is in a state of transition.
"My future is basically behind me...My family has really been
after me to cut back," says Cardille. "They want me to quit the radio
and personal appearances, cut back everything except the television.
But I enjoy it all. I feel I'm stealing because I'm getting paid for
something I would do for considerably less money."
Then he grinned his Saturday night grin; that's one part of
Chilly Billy that hasn't changed.
Michael Hasch is currently a staff writer for the Pittsburgh
|By Mike Hasch
|Note: This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Press
TV Graphic section on July 25th 1982.