Friday, September 11, 2015

He Knew Woody Earnhart

Remember my ongoing interest in the life and career of Woody Earnhart?

I’d first heard of him when I posted a 1963 newspaper ad for Ben Hart’s Show Bar in Lorain. Woody was performing there as a comedian and impressionist, and at the time of my post I wondered if he ever made the big time.

After that 2013 post, I did some research and discovered that his entertainment career had started at Ohio State when he and his partner won a series of victories competing on the old Ted Mack Amateur Hour TV program.

I eventually discovered that Woody had enjoyed a brand new career in the late 1970s as publisher of Ohio Fisherman and Great Lakes Fisherman. I found enough information to do an extensive post on his life and career (which I posted here).

I had hoped to locate Woody and interview him. Unfortunately, he passed away in October 1989 in Columbus, and his death was simply reported in the newspaper with no information about his personal life or next of kin. And so, I figured that my quest to learn more about Woody had come to an end.

But I had one last lead to follow.

An Outdoors column written by Wyndle Watson in the Pittsburgh Press published on July 31, 1983 mentioned Woody. The columnist had driven 200 miles to do some walleye fishing at the invitation of Woody, who by that time had added the Great Lakes Fisherman magazine to his publishing portfolio. They left on their fishing excursion from the Catawba Island docks.

Watson wrote, “We were in a good-sized boat, but we kept one eye peeled on the weather and a weather radio tuned as we headed for the nearby fishing grounds. It was nearly an hour before we caught the first fish, but two hours later we were headed for port, a legal limit of 24 walleyes – all in excess of 15 inches – in the cooler.

“It was an auspicious start for a three-day visit with Woody and his young friend, Phil Witt, a whiz of a fisherman who operates a Catawba Island motel complex which caters to fisherman.”

According to an online report, Wyndle Watson had retired from the newspaper, so I didn’t try to locate him. But was Woody’s friend Phil Witt still around?

Indeed he was. Witt has been the owner and operator of Beach Cliff Lodge near Port Clinton since 1977.

He replied to my out-of-the-blue email inquiry about Woody. “Woody and I were great friends,” he noted. “We did a lot of fishing and hunting together. I miss him.”

Mr. Witt also returned my phone call, and chatted with me for a few minutes about his friend. He knew about Woody’s former entertainment career, and that he had won the Ted Mack show.

Did Woody have any family? Witt revealed that Woody’s wife was still alive and living in Florida. But he wasn’t aware of any children or siblings.

How did Woody and Phil meet?

“I met Woody back in the summer of 1978 right after he started the magazine,” Witt noted. Woody had stayed at the Beach Cliff Lodge for a week around Memorial Day weekend.

“He always liked the outdoors,” said Witt.

Witt also talked a little bit about the magazines. At the time, a magazine devoted exclusively to fishing in Ohio was quite unusual. “He was definitely ahead of his time,” noted Witt.

He explained that Woody had owned 49% of the magazine, and that other partners were involved.

Witt also mentioned an interesting story about the Ohio Fisherman magazine. Actor Gordon Jump, who played Arthur Carlson on the WKRP in Cincinnati TV program was a guest of the magazine on a three-day fishing trip near Port Clinton with Woody, Phil and some other magazine personnel. According to a June 23, 1980 article in the Bryan Times, Jump “caught his limit each day, including a 7-pound, 25-inch walleye, a catch that qualifies him for a state certificate.”

Witt pointed out to me that copies of Ohio Fisherman were often used as a prop on Arthur Carlson’s desk on WKRP, since the character loved to fish.

Special thanks to Phil Witt for sharing his reminisces with me about his friend Woody Earnhart.

Michael Hoffman, who was the associate editor of Ohio Fisherman, was also on that Lake Erie fishing trip with Gordon Jump in the summer of 1980. He posted a few reminisces online about the trip and noted that “Gordon, a Dayton native, flew in to do some promos for the Ohio Division of Wildlife and for our magazine.”

1 comment:

Wireless.Phil said...

Used to go into Ben Hart's bar, then it closed.
Not sure if this was before or after he was murdered, never got the official story on that either.