Speaking of clowns (as we were a couple days ago) here’s one I actually knew. This is Flippo the Clown, a truly legendary childrens’ show host in the Columbus, Ohio area. Problem is…I was never IN that particular area. No, I knew Flippo when he was brought out of retirement in the late 1970's for QUBE, Warner-Amex Cable’s experimental interactive television system. QUBE presented a number of shows that were available throughout the Ohio Valley and portions of the Midwest with the notable exception of where I live in Northern Kentucky. Flippo hosted two of these unusual shows including FLIPPO’S SCREEN TEST, a movie/TV trivia game show where the home viewers played along and split the prizes. The more home viewers who got a correct answer, the less points the question was worth. It was worth more points if fewer viewers got it right.
I became involve when Larry Ashcraft, host of a radio Trivia show I had guested on at the now-fabled WVXU-FM in Cincinnati gave my name to the producers when they called looking for a possible good contestant to go up against a local theater owner with a reputation for knowing EVERTYTHING about movie trivia.
In August of 1981, having never seen a single episode of this game show, my male childhood friend Terry drove me to the studio. In the green room, I met Michael Schlesinger, my opponent. His female friend similarly named Terri had come to see him play. My friend Michelle was at her home taping the episode for posterity.
SCREEN TEST aired live so it was a bit of a problem when they had a partial electrical failure just as the show was coming on. Flippo came out (in retrospect vaguely reminding me now of Krusty!) and stalled for nearly ten minutes before things were ready to go, trotting out his time-honored skills from doing live children’s TV. There I was though, all of 23 years old in a black and brown silk shirt with lots of fluffy hair. I’m seen licking my lips constantly as they had dried out due to nervousness (in future episodes, I kept chapstick handy for when the camera’s red light blinked off).
It was a tough game and a close game but eventually, I lost. Michael deservedly won but I somehow convinced him that the winner buys so after the show, he and his Terri and myself went out. My Terry had to beg off. This was the beginning of a long friendship as I rarely saw "my" Terry again and Terri went on to become my best adult friend and later best "man" at my wedding.
Turns out Michael was moving to LA that following week to become a screenwriter so the producers of FLIPPO’S SCREEN TEST (one of whom was George Clooney’s mom!) asked me (as the 2nd highest scorer of the season) to return for the season ending playoffs.
In between, they asked me to send them some good contestants so I did, three of which actually appeared. They even had me write some questions for a few episodes! Had to quit that by the time the play-offs started, though. After three more episodes that I unfortunately never got on tape (Hey! Anybody out there in Ohio tape these things??) I lost out to a question about Julie Newmar’s MY LIVING DOLL series. One of the guys I suggested for the show went on to win the championships, however and split his prize with me, thus getting me my very first video game console—an Atari 2600!
The following year, they had lost Flippo and the show was now being hosted by Bill Myers, a local TV announcer whose daughter Michelle had taped that first episode for me. They called me and asked if I might consider growing a beard and dressing differently so people wouldn’t realize I’d been on the show previously and take another run at it. I agreed. This time, bearded and wearing a new blue suit, I appeared again, horribly defeating my opponent. Michelle taped it for me again (but again only the first episode! Argh!) Eventually, after about four more episodes, I won the season’s championship and an all expenses paid trip to Colonial Williamsburg. The series was cancelled immediately after that leaving me the undefeated SCREEN TEST champion!
Where are they now?
Bill Myers is still announcing on local radio and attended an autographing at my bookstore in 2003.
His daughter Michelle married soon afterwards and her husband came into my store just last week but had no memory of me at all!
Nina Clooney and husband Nick (George’s parents)also came into my store recently and we spoke fondly of those game show days.
Michael Schlesinger became a successful Hollywood Executive (perhaps best known for the American translation and edit of GODZILLA 2000 for which he provides the commentary on the DVD)
He and Terri have remained long-distance friends ever since and coincidentally enough, both Terri and Michael (pictured here) are scheduled to meet me later today during a brief stopover in Cincy on the way to New York. It will be the first time I’ve seen Michael in about fifteen years!
Flippo the Clown was hired by QUBE because of his 95% recognizability factor in Central Ohio. Strange then, that I didn't recognize hima t all and yet he became the only real clown I ever actually knew. Flippo died last summer but is celebrated on the Internet at Flippo, The King of Clowns.
Seriously, if anyone has any other episodes of SCREEN TEST on which I appeared, I'd love to get copies. Thanks.