Here Lies Wally George

The story of the father of combat TV as told by female wrestlers, punk rockers and a furniture-throwing pacifist

Here Lies Wally George
Illustration: Bob Aul | Design: Dustin Ames

To properly orient infamous talk-show host Wally George within the history of Orange County, it's best to paraphrase the introduction of a fellow pop-culture icon with a cult following. So, with apologies to The Big Lebowski:

Now this a-here story I'm about to unfold took place back in the early '80s—just about the time of our conflict with Reagan and the invasion of Grenada. Sometimes there's a man—I won't say a hero 'cause, what's a hero? But sometimes, there's a man—and I'm talkin' about Wally George here. Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's Wally George in Orange County in the 1980s.

Oh, Wally and his Hot Seat, that weekly flash of Orange County lunacy that brought Reagan's morning in America and the punks who were trying to tear down the Orange Curtain together in a tiny UHF studio in Anaheim. Perfect late-night watching for folks stumbling back from bars or sweaty shows, needing one final cap to their insane evenings. It was great daytime TV whenever George hosted Hot Seat Hotline, a call-in version that was essentially an invitation for smart asses to crank call about his wig—that wig!—and his impotence.

In Wally we trust
In Wally we trust

George's set was just a desk, an American flag, framed photos of John Wayne and the Space Shuttle (with the latter bearing the legend, "USA is #1"), and him, resplendent in a suit and tie, the veneer of geniality ready to heap invectives on a parade of liberals, gays, minorities, musicians, wrestlers, pacifists, pinkos and the Poorman. He struggled to contain the madness, banging a gavel on his desk and proclaiming, "Hold it!" every 30 seconds, finger pointing, lips pursed, then yelling, "SICK SICK SICK!" and booting guests outta there to the roar of his adoring crowd of 80 sitting on the KDOC floor.

"WALL-Y! WALL-Y! WALL-Y!" The chant still echoes across the county, even though new episodes of Hot Seat aired only for a decade, kept alive by George in best-of reruns he'd host until the end of his life, playing on an endless loop on YouTube, as ingrained in the Orange County id as Huntington Beach riots and Bob Dornan. He paved the way for outrageous national television hosts to make millions—our Wally.

He died 10 years ago this week. In his honor, friends, former guests and foes give the oral history of Wally George.

  

MEETING MR. AMERICA

Oderus Urungus, lead singer of GWAR: Honestly, of all the talk shows—we've been on everything from Springer to Joan Rivers to Jimmy Fallon—it was our favorite one. That cheesy, little public-access show with that weirdo Wally George, he kicked ass on all those other multimillion-dollar, fuckin' Hollywood-TV creation, constructed human being . . . yuck. Those people really make me sick.

Dexter Holland, lead singer of the Offspring: It was punk. The kids in the audience, or whatever it was, it was cool. Realizing this was all of 30 years ago, that was pretty outrageous TV for back then.

Blase Bonpane, human-rights activist: He was an opportunist who would do anything and be for or against anything that was lucrative. He would be putting on a show and never reflecting what he truly believed. I saw him as a complete phony.

Jim "The Poorman" Trenton, media legend: In real life, he was very, very open-minded. He may have had conservative beliefs, but as a showman, he loved the most crazy people. Just loved it. Even today, it amazes me that he has such a cult following. There's a sort of ferocious fandom to Wally George.

Richard Blade, SiriuxXM DJ: For the people in the audience, it was fun! It was a good escape for a couple of hours. The taping was pretty quick—it wasn't two hours of waiting for some ego-obsessed celebrity to come out. Instead, Wally was there to talk to them. He was down to earth, very human, and bless him for that.

Nikolas Schreck, lead singer of Radio Werewolf: It was like [Wally] was a microcosm of Hollywood taking over politics. In a way, it could seem harmless or like it was just a joke, but when we were actually in the studio, and Wally was presenting me as a scapegoat for all societal ills . . . the audience was whipped into a genuine frenzy. They did not take it as a joke, and it felt very dangerous to be there. It's easy to think that he was a humorous phenomenon, but it was part of the whole. There was a very violent craziness to the '80s that I don't think Americans can remember exactly how it was. I went to a Ronald Reagan rally in 1984, and I sensed that same inherent violence. You know the novel Lord of the Flies? It reminded me of that.

George had been a presence in Southern California media since the 1960s, hosting a radio show on now-defunct KTYM-FM 103.9 (now a Spanish-language oldies station) before producing a television program on KCOP-TV Channel 13 for then-Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty. He got his own KCOP gig before moving over to KDOC in 1983.

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