STORY ABOUT QUIZ SHOWS, BARBERS & MEMORIAL DAY
By Jay Zane
Have you been watching Jeopardy! – the quiz show that seems to have been on TV forever? If you have then you probably have seen James Holzhauer, the contestant who is mopping the floor with all the other contestants. Right now he has won over $1,600,000. The quiz show brought back memories of when I had moved to Schuylkill Haven from Shenandoah and had to change barbers. Before my move, I lived in Shenandoah and I looked forward to my bimonthly hair cut at Carl’s Barber Shop, located at 9 West Coal Street, next to Uritis’ TV office. Edward W. Carl, born Edward Karalius, was the proprietor and chief barber. For young baby boomers, his barber shop was a place to not only get a haircut, but a place to sit and read comic books, as well as borrow and trade them. In the 1950s the United States Senate, led by Senator Estes Kefauver investigated comic books and proclaimed that comic books were linked to the rise in juvenile delinquency and violent crime. To us youngsters, Carl’s Barber Shop was a great place to get a hold of what was now frowned upon reading material.
Moving to Schuylkill Haven at a young age, I tried a few barbers. None had the stockpile of comic books that Mr. Carl had in his shop, and the few that could be found had to remain there. No trading or borrowing. Soon, I settled for Ernie Rizzuto who ran his shop out of his home at 307 East Union Street. What does this have to do with the Jeopardy quiz show you may ask. Well, Ernie Rizzuto was considered a television celebrity to many youngsters. I was one of them. In 1959 Ernie had been a winning contestant on the NBC quiz show, Treasure Hunt, that was created and hosted by comedian Jan Murray. Ernie had been on the show for two days, walking away with winnings of $2400 in cash and $1800 in prizes, such as a power lawn mower, a vibrator massage set, and a nine-foot long sofa. The sofa was an unwanted gift as it was too large for his living room. I understand Ernie was able to settle for $1,000 cash instead of the oversized sofa. For those unfamiliar with the show, it had similarities to Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life show, in that the host interacted and joked with the contestants who had to answer questions, with correct answers worth ten dollars. The winner of a five question round got to go on a treasure hunt and pick one treasure chest out of the thirty on the stage, displayed by an attractive pirate girl. Inside the chests were various prizes, some good and some bad. Ernie Rizzuto, who guessed chest number one, was lucky as the chest was filled with the money. $2400. The contestant who followed Ernie was not as lucky. Her treasure chest contained only a jar of mustache wax. Maybe she gave it to Ernie who could use it in his barber shop. Ernie was proud of his fleeting tv fame and had photographs of himself with Jan Murray, the pirate girl and the chest full of money on his wall for all to see.
Ernie Rizzuto had been born in Kelayres, in northern Schuylkill County, back in 1907. He and his brother had operated the E & L at 16 St. John Street for a few years. Ernie was a proud Army Veteran who served during WWII in northern Africa and Italy. After the war he organized the town’s VFW Post and was its first commander. He eventually retired to Florida and then died in August 1985, followed by a burial in Arlington National Cemetery. This Memorial Day remember Ernie and other departed military veterans who served their country.