Now and then, it’s good to step back a bit and take a break from the serious issues swirling around us and focus for a few minutes on the simpler things that have brought us joy over the years and made us smile.
Years ago, one man who supplied many of us joy and made us smile was a gentleman by the name of Bob Shreve. He was the late host of WCPO’s “The Schoenling All Night Theatre”, which ran each week on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings from 1:30 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Shreve was born in Plymouth, Indiana, a small town located just off Route 30 south of South Bend. Over time, he became a renowned entertainer in local and regional radio, as well as television. He performed his act locally on the “Midwestern Hayride” and the “Ruth Lyons 50/50 Club”, and appeared on national television from time-to-time in the early days of television.
His peers marveled at his comedic talent. He was an on-air announcer, he had a mellow tenor singing voice, he was a charming and humorous movie host, an able vaudevillian, a soft-shoe dancer, and a cornpone comedian when times called for one.
I first saw Bob Shreve when he was the host of the Three Stooges television show on one of the Cincinnati stations in the 1960s. He often would play the song, “What Do We Do with the Drunken Sailor” and pantomimed as “Bird” flew around his head on a rope.
A few years later, Shreve became the host of the Schoenling All-Night Theatre. As the show wore on, it became wackier and wackier (some say as the Schoenling beer began to kick in) with Shreve lip-synching songs like, “When the Crabgrass Blooms Again” and “Limburger Lover”, and sometimes making surprise “cameo appearances” in the movies being shown.
The show’s zany cast of characters included Chickee, a rubber chicken that Shreve sometimes stretched past the breaking point, and Spidel, a large stuffed spider that would swing into frame to knock hats off Shreve’s head.
During the commercial breaks, over the air Shreve would also read the names of viewers who called in. It became commonplace for callers to invent preposterous names for themselves, just to evoke an amusing reaction from Shreve. Usually, the show mellowed to a more reflective mood around 4 a.m., with Shreve playing old songs like “Me and My Shadow”, and sometimes he stepped out from behind the bar to indulge in a little soft-shoe dance.
In 1968-69, Shreve recorded an album, “Good Olé Bob Doing His Thing” for Cincinnati’s King Records with the help of the Dee Felice Trio. The album presented a pleasant, sentimental showcase for Shreve’s warm Irish tenor voice and his affinity for old-fashioned songs. The album is now one of the most coveted Shreve collectables, as they pressed only a limited number of copies.
During the mid-1970s, one evening Adam West, TV’s Batman, swung by the studio to visit Shreve on the Past Prime Playhouse. Dressed in a mask and cape, “Batman” swung on a rope onto the set and told Shreve that he was working on a case in Cincinnati.
“It’s funny that you say you’re working on your first case, because I’m working on my third!” replied Shreve.
One summer evening during the late 1980s, Brenda and I stopped at the Prime and Wine restaurant situated on the southeast corner of Montgomery and Kenwood Roads for a late supper. As we approached a booth near the kitchen, I noticed Shreve and his wife eating dinner.
As we passed, Bob stuck out his hand and shook my hand. We stopped for a moment and chatted, and found him to be a friendly, charming man.
A shy man in private life, Shreve did not adjust comfortably to retirement. Sadly, he was unable to remain active and engaged, and soon his health began to decline. In February 1990, he was treated for cancer, and after suffering a debilitating bout of the flu, he died at the age of 78 at Cincinnati’s Jewish Hospital.
In 1992, the Greater Cincinnati Broadcast Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Bob Shreve into the Hall of Fame. His widow, Jane, whom he married in 1948, and his son, Robert Shreve, Jr. accepted the kind honor.
Bob Shreve brought happiness to many, allowing us to escape the weight of life for a few hours every weekend. Wouldn’t it be nice if he was still with us, perhaps to help take our minds off the current issues that surround us and allow us to laugh a little.
It couldn’t hurt.
Pat Haley is a former Clinton County Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.