In the late ‘80’s Nashville made a stab at renewing downtown with a summer event called City Lights. I’m not sure how this was supposed to revive the riverfront since it was basically a collection of temporary vendor booths and performance stages that got knocked together for a few days, gave out free stuff or hosted musical acts, and then disappeared for another year, but it was fun to go and walk around. I’d pick up a t-shirt or two and tried sushi there for the first time. It was pretty good, but that’s another story.
When it started I’d go with my parents but as I got older I had other things to do on the weekends. One year my parents went the first night. I skipped it to go hang out with my friends. When I got home my mother handed me some free swag she’d gotten, including a card that immediately piqued my interest. I asked her about it.
“Oh, he was the funniest guy, but no one knew who he was.”
I knew who he was because I was a huge fan of Commander USA. I couldn’t believe it. Because I’d skipped City Lights I missed meeting the closest thing to a hero I had at that time. No, I didn’t think Commander USA was a real superhero. I was a fan because I loved horror hosts. I loved it that this was an actual job. Most horror hosts I knew came on late at night so it was almost as though they were getting away with something, like they’d snuck in to the station and were playing around after the adults had gone home.
Commander USA’s Groovie Movies came on in the middle of the day on Saturday so he seemed to violate that rule, and, being on a national cable network, I felt he was breaking another rule of horror hosts. Like Creature Feature in St. Petersburg Florida or Nashville’s own Sir Cecil Creape I thought horror hosts should be strictly local. Then again the USA Network was a fledgling enterprise at that time and was still decades away from being a docking station for Law & Order and NCIS reruns.
And he was funny. Jim Hendricks, who played Commander USA, was hilariously sarcastic and seemed to have a genuinely good time. The mother of a friend of mine taped the original Little Shop of Horrors one Saturday when he hosted it. She was compiling a huge movie library by sitting through films and using the pause button to edit out the commercials because this was the ‘80’s and VCRs were a new thing. She later said she regretted not recording Commander USA’s segments.
That was nothing compared to the regret I felt about missing my chance to meet Commander USA.
Hendricks is briefly interviewed in the documentary American Scary about horror hosts, but beyond that I haven’t been able to find out anything about him. Wherever you are, Mr. Hendricks, I still carry a copy of the Commander USA fan club card and try to remain true to its promise to remain an all around good guy forever. Sure!