- DEAD EARNEST (I)
- (Bob Chesson; died 1990)
- Name of show?
- Either Friday or Saturday at 11:00 pm (probably a double feature?)
- WRET-TV, UHF Channel 36 (previously WCTU, later WCNC) (Charlotte, North Carolina)
- c. 197?-197?
- Friday Night Frights
- Friday at 7:30 (usually a double feature)
- WTCG-TV, UHF Channel 17 (previously WJRJ, later WTBS) (Atlanta, Georgia)
- c. 1972-1974 or '75
- E-gorespondent Rudy Stotz initiated this entry with his memories of Dead Earnest's show on WTCG in Atlanta:
Sometime in the 1972-74 time frame, Atlanta's Channel 17 had a horror host named Dead Ernest....
I don't know how long his show lasted....
From what I remember, he would open his show by rising out of his coffin and facing the camera to talk about the movie he was about to show.
He was made up like a vampire with hugh vampire teeth sticking out of his mouth.
The funniest thing was that between these teeth and the heavy Southern accent he had, I couldn't understand a word he said!
I don't know if he was on the air for any appreciable length of time, but he should be remembered and I would like to know anything about who he was.
- Channel 17 in Atlanta was originally a UHF station called WJRJ-TV when Ted Turner bought it and renamed it WTCG ("Watch This Channel Grow") in 1970.
Around 1976-77 he changed the call letters again to WTBS (Turner Broadcasting System), the first cable Superstation.
Dead Earnest appeared on Channel 17 during Ted Turner's early years of managing the station.
- Way back in November 1999, Atlanta hostorian Rod Bennett (editor of a GREAT publication called Wonder,
"The Children's Magazine for Grown-Ups") e-mailed a startling suggestion about who had played Dead Earnest in Atlanta:
Dead Earnest Exposed!
I'm about to blow the lid off the greatest scoop in Horror Host history!
First, the back story.
Your previous correspondents are correct in identifying one "Dead Earnest" as the host of Friday Night Frights
on Atlanta's WTCG (later Superstation TBS) back in the early 1970's.
This show (which DID NOT by the way, pre-date Turner's purchase of the station in 1970) came on at 7:30 PM on Fridays and was usually a double-feature.
"Dead Earnest" himself was, indeed, a pasty-faced guy in a Dracula cape with a thick Georgia accent.
Here's what you don't know... DRUM ROLL...
I'm convinced that "Dead Earnest" was, in reality, NONE OTHER THAN STATION OWNER R.E. (TED) TURNER HIMSELF!
I know this sounds incredible.
But there were, after all, only about five people working at WTCG in those days...and Ted is a notorious ham.
Admittedly, I have no proof.
I did watch the show religiously, however, and I can assure you that all of my similarly devoted buddies were of the same opinion as myself.
Ted's voice is pretty distinctive... even with plastic vampire teeth in his mouth.
I'm aware that this charge, if substantiated, would make headlines the world over.
I think it would provide a public vindication of the much-maligned art of horror hosting...
proving, as it does, that even a man who can later donate ONE BILLION DOLLARS of his own wealth to the United Nations in the cause of World Peace
was once not above rolling his eyes, honking a rubber skull at the camera, and introducing Bride of the Monster.
However, I'm also aware that I may be endangering my own life by recklessly blowing this particular whistle.
Mr. Turner seems to have carefully covered his tracks on this and may, even as we speak, be funnelling large sums of hush-money into the hands of potential TBS stool-pigeons.
Nevertheless, feeling as I do about you, my brother Horror Host fans, I've decided that I can't remain silent about this anymore.
We need to band together and FORCE THE TRUTH INTO THE LIGHT OF DAY.
Perhaps we can file a Freedom of Information Act request... Anyhow, I say we get to the bottom of this subject no matter what!
Let's send Mr. HOT-SHOT TIME WARNER CHAIRMAN an ultimatum... either PRODUCE THE REAL DEAD EARNEST, Mr. Turner, and present him to the public...
or OWN UP TO THE TRUTH!
You owe it to the world to come clean!
- In December 2002, Grave Dave Newton dug into the subject:
I know several people who work for Turner (mainly for The Cartoon Network).
A good friend of mine who has some strong connections to the Turner archivists told me that there are no existing videos/stills of Dead Earnest in their records at all.
I'm pretty sure he was never featured in any advertising (I wish!),
but maybe a picture will show up of him eventually (I can only hope).
My recollections of him are pretty similar to Rod Bennett's.
Dead Earnest did have a thick southern accent — he was kind of like a vampire redneck, with of course some very corny jokes.
The production values of his segments were very basic, not a lot of atmosphere,
Dead Earnest was always sitting up in a coffin, with a too-large suit and cape.
Looking back, he very well could've been Ted Turner — he bore a strong resemblance to him under the makeup (body type, facial structure, hair), and did sound sort of like him.
It definitely was '72 -'74 (maybe into '75) that he was on.
I have very fond memories of him, as this was my introduction to a lot of the classics.
Love your website — it's the only reference to Dead Earnest that I know of.
- Back in October 2000, CR Andrews, aka Chaz, shared memories of watching Dead Earnest that crossed over into new territory:
I want to add my memories to your incredible archive of horror hosts regarding "DEAD EARNEST."
While looking for info on "Ole Dead," as he called himself, I happened to stumble across your excellent site.
I was shocked to find that Dead Earnest appeared on 17 in Atlanta!
In fact, I had thought he was a local only in the Charlotte, North Carolina area on Ted Turner's independent station, Channel 36
(formerly WRET, now WCNC Channel 6).
Unfortunately, being so young at the time, I don't recall the exact dates, but Dead was definitely the host of a horror theater
in the early seventies on Channel 36.
As your earlier correspondents indicated, the opening, commercial breaks and closing of Dead's show initially began with
color still images of a tall vampire rising out of a coffin and doing mischief.
I don't think there was any sound for the wraparounds in early shows.
Later, I seem to recall some voice overs.
The show on Channel 36 aired from 11:00 pm on either Fridays or Saturdays --
I'm not sure which. It may have been a double-feature, as I seem to recall the program lasting until 1:00 am or later.
At some point, Channel 36 hosted a mail-in contest to name the vampire.
It was through this contest that he received the name Dead Ernest.
I am absolutely certain about that.
I had thought that the contest winner was from Charlotte, but that particular fact I'm not clear on.
Eventually, Dead became a live-action (as opposed to still image) host.
His voice, which I remember very well, was goofy, but was NOT deeply southern.
If it was Ted Turner, himself, then he was doing a good job disguising his voice.
Additionally, Ted has a habit of pausing often with a deep, rolling "Ahhhh...", which Dead Ernest did NOT.
Turner made a lot of money from Channel 36.
My understanding was that it was a money drain until he started showing old movies —
particularly westerns, science fiction and horror.
It was a wonderful channel!
He eventually sold the station for a pile of cash.
Supposedly, this was a fundamental part of the money he used to launch WTBS as the first cable superstation.
36 has changed owners several times since then and the old call letters now belong to a different station.
Getting back to Dead Ernest, because of the apparent discrepancies in the voice,
and the fact that I so clearly remember the name contest, I now wonder if the character originated on Channel 36,
then was recycled later on Channel 17, perhaps with a different actor.
Thanks for the great memories!
- Meanwhile, in August 2003, Sandy Clark, writer/producer of the fabulous, long-awaited American Scary documentary about television horror hosts,
had investigated the Dead Earnest controversy by going straight to the source — Ted Turner's home office!
He was kind enough to forward the response he got to this website:
From the desk of Ted Turner's assistant, Suzan Tatum: Info on Dead Earnest:
Date: Fri Aug 29, 2003 9:57:27 AM US/Pacific
Subject: RE: Dead Earnest - Ted Turner?
Okay Sandy .... here you go from the "horses" mouth - Ted Turner was NOT Dead Ernest.
Ted said it was a guy from Charlotte that introduced scary movies for our sister station WRET and that he
also would come and do it for us at WTCG for the Friday Night Frights.
Ted said, "the only thing I did was introduce Academy Award Theatre dressed as Ted Turner"
- Despite Suzan Tatum's authoritative statement, I have heard from a number of other Dead Earnest fans
who shared Rod Bennett's belief that Ted Turner himself played the role.
I've posted several of their comments to show just how widespread this notion was among Dead Earnest's fans.
In August 2004, Ellis Cannon fired off this e-mail:
I was so glad to see Rod Bennett's account of the days of Dead Ernest.
It has been a BURNING question in my mind for years, but I never seemed to take the time to pursue the real answer.
I too remember VERY WELL staying up late on Friday nights for the Friday Night Frights with Dead Ernest rising out of the casket
to introduce the movie and do his shenanigans on commercial breaks.
I have always believed it was Ted Turner.
Now I'm sorry I didn't take my curiosity further.
Rod is "right-on" with the opinion that Ted has an undeniable southern accent, even in '72, that is a DEAD GIVEAWAY.
I agree, Dead Ernest IS Mr. 17.
- In January 2007, Robert Cozine added his support to the Dead Turner Theory:
I grew up in Decatur, GA (a suburb just east of Atlanta) and I remember Dead Earnest of WTCG quite well.
It was a poorly kept secret around here that Dead Earnest was indeed Ted Turner.
I remember it took my dad about 5 seconds to figure it out.
- In September 2005, an unnamed E-gorespondent (userid MY63BLKCAD) sent a different but equally positive statement about Dead Earnest's identity:
Dead Earnest was Larry Sprinkle currently local news or weather person for WCNC Charlotte NC.
- When I e-mailed Larry Sprinkle through the WCNC website, he responded immediately and enthusiastically:
Great to hear from you!
Please give me a call and we can try to "unravel" this mystery of "Dead Ernest."
Take care and I look forward to talking to you.
- When I talked to Larry Sprinkle, he was very familiar with the story about Ted Turner playing Dead Earnest,
and he did indeed solve the mystery!
Here's a transcript of a few of his pertinent comments from our phone conversation
(see the next entry for lots more!):
First of all, that's probably one of the better urban legends about Ted Turner,
because there's no truth in it at all.
Dead Earnest was BOB CHESSON.
Bob was on this station back when it was WRET — its original name was WCTU; Ted Turner
bought it and changed it to WRET ("Robert Edward Turner").
Ted Turner OWNED the station at the time, but it was Bob Chesson who did Dead Earnest.
He started when Ted Turner took over.
But Bob had done this character going back into the sixties at other TV stations.
Bob passed away a few years back.
Dead Earnest was syndicated and taken down into Atlanta, and that's how it ended up down there,
because it was a Turner station — but it's not Ted, it was Bob Chesson.
I think Bob got into radio maybe ... late 50s?
So he was in broadcasting a long time, a very, very talented man.
He did a lot of voiceover work, he had a big voice, you know, BIG
Dick Bennick-type voice (see DR. PAUL BEARER).
That's the truth about Dead Earnest.
- In February, 2008, I heard from someone who really has the inside scoop about Dead Ernestt!:
Stay tuned to the next entry, Dead Earnest fans — there's more to be revealed!
I was married to the late Bob Chesson,
who was horror-movie host Dear Ernest on Ted Turner's 2 TV stations.
The segments were pre-recorded to air each weekend on WRET in Charlotte.
They were then shipped by mail to Ted's Atlanta station for airing the following weekend.
Remember -- there were no "digital transfers" back then, and no FedEx.
Everything was done on 2" tape.
Hence, the weekly mail shipment from Charlotte to Atlanta.
When the late-night horror movies first began on WRET,
there was a mail-in "name the vampire" contest.
I've forgotten what the winning prize was,
but I distinctly remember that Bob chose the name "Dead Ernest" because we both found it hilarious.
Many, many entrants suggested "Count Wretula" -- a takeoff on the WRET call letters,
which were an acronym for Robert Edward Turner.
Once in a while, Bob would perform the late-night Dead Ernest segments live,
and the crew would record in real time for Atlanta.
Whenever this happened, Bob was always "in the bag" during the performance.
Then he would drive home in full vampire makeup.
He was stopped once or twice for driving while intoxicated, but was never arrested.
The police officers would recognize him, scold him, and make him promise to drive straight home.
Ted Turner loved the Dead Ernest character,
which is most likely the reason that Bob was able to keep his job at WRET as long as he did.
Ted liked the fact that Dead Ernest "fan mail" arrived almost daily at both TV stations --
much of it from inmates at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, a high-security prison for men.
A couple of corrections to your website --
Bob did not die in 1993.
He had been hospitalized for many years at the VA facility in Salisbury,
following a head-injury (from a fall on an icy sidewalk) and subsequent stroke. Bob developed pneumonia and died in 1990.
Also, I don't believe that Larry Sprinkle ever filled in for Bob as Dead Ernest.
Larry may have performed the Dead Ernest character after Bob's WRET position was terminated,
but Bob was the only Dead Ernest during the years he worked at WRET.
Nancy (Chesson) Haynes
If you have any sort of additional
(particularly a picture of him),