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!
I think I’m crazy. I actually Googled to see if “The Grapes of Wrath” even has 412 pages. It does. Also, this guy cracks me up. Not sure I caught him when he was actually on. My loss.
At least you didn’t have to suffer through movies like Samson Vs. The Vampire Women to see him, and now there’s YouTube. I’m amazed by the amount of footage of him that’s survived.
Finally back from a wifi-less vacation and delighted to get caught up on your posts! I never knew Commander USA, but we had our own “Rocketship 7” show with a similar kind of captain. We also had “House of Frightenstein”–don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. I just remember the crazy LSD-inspired dancing (the hosts, not me).
Welcome back! I never heard of “House of Frightenstein” but it looks like something that should have been shown on Nickelodeon back in the early ’80’s when they were desperate for programming and brought Canadian and British kids’ shows to America. And holy cats! Vincent Price was in “House of Frightenstein”. I may have missed it when I was young but I know what I’m doing the rest of the day.
Very groovy and funny, Chris. Thanks for being a good guy forever.
It was always an ambition of mine. Something tells me no one ever really retires from The Legion of Decency.
I don’t know this guy at all, but I like how you took me right back to that time anyway, with your words.
I’m glad I could do that. Sometimes I stumble across these old memories and feel like I should take back all the bad things I’ve said about the ’80’s.
Lesson learned that night hey…always follow your parents at all times…wait, that’s for little kids. Never mind. I’m sorry you missed out on meeting this man (I’ve never heard of him, but this is why I read you, I learn, I learn).
I did follow my parents back to City Lights when they went back the next night and every year after that, but Commander USA never returned. My mother said he seemed kind of annoyed that no one recognized him. That makes me feel even worse about missing him. I know he’s kind of an obscure figure but I keep putting this story out there hoping it’ll get back to him somehow.