SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT

"Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


We didn’t get to where we are on our own.   Everyone we met, some like “ships that pass in the night,” helped to make us what we

turned out to be.


  When we were Living Off the Land (http://www.grit.com/property/farm/#living-off-the-land.aspx),  we lived up the hill from Spring River, across from Many Island.    If you were watching for it, our house could be seen for a split second from Hiway 63.

Back then, the bridge over Spring River, just north of Hardy, was a low water bridge.  That was the route I took when going home at the end of a workday.  On the other side of the bridge, a right turn on a trail running parallel to the river led to Myrtle Gibbs place. 


THE GOAT WOMAN


Myrtle Gibbs was an older lady—probably in her mid-sixties—a writer, who moved to the Ozarks from Chicago, bought a tract of undeveloped land on the Spring River, and a herd of goats.

FYI: In heavily wooded areas goats, though slow, are economical and effective for clearing out underbrush and new growth thus making the land available for pasture, orchards, gardens, etc.  I don't know that they are as popular as they once were, but folks down here used to keep goats around for that very purpose.

Hearing about Myrtle from the natives, who referred to her as "The Goat Woman," my curiosity got the best of me.  I decided to visit.  She was working in her garden when I arrived.   An attractive lady, vivacious for her age, she greeted me enthusiastically made a pot of tea and we talked.

She had worked with a Chicago newspaper, she said, and had long dreamed of moving to the Ozarks and spend the rest of her life writing.  Myrtle had a fabulous collection of books, was well educated and interesting to talk to.  She generously loaned me a book to read from time to time.

We had a lot in common.  I visited The Goat Woman as often as I could find the time and we spent many pleasant hours discussing books, authors and writing.

Myrtle was still living on her little plot in the Ozarks, writing and tending her goats, when I left the area but by the time I returned, she had passed away.

I think of her often and wonder if she ever gained the success as a writer she’d dreamed of. 


30,000 PING PONG BALLS

Bill Allred was tall, well-built and good looking, a big man with big ideas.  A touch of premature grey at the temples and horn-rimmed spectacles gave him a distinguished look, somewhat at odds with his whimsical personality.

Bill was station manager for KBEA, Kansas City’s “Beautiful Music Station.”  I was continuity and promotion director.  We had just moved our offices from Tenth and Grand to downtown Mission.

“With my ideas and your ability to carry them out, we’ll build up our ratings in no time,” Bill said.  “Before you know it, we’ll be right up there with WHB.”

At the time, Mr. Neilson was rating us 4.3 compared to WHB’s 37.5.  We had a long way to go.

Bill was sure that beautiful music was the coming thing and that we had the format to carry it off.  Though his mind was obviously closed to the fact that it would be impossible to compete with a station that plays top forty music, Bill made it sound feasible.  The secret, he said, was promotion–lots of promotion.

“Before long, everyone will want to listen to a radio station that plays really good music,” he said.

He thought for a moment.

 “We’ll launch the Christmas season with a “Ping Pong Ball Brigade!” he said then.  “That’ll make people sit up and take notice.”

The plan was to drop ping pong balls over the city from an airplane.  Some would be marked and hundreds—maybe thousands—of people would turn out to search for the marked balls for which they would receive a prize, determined by the identification mark on the ball.

Bill was convinced that by the time the promotion was over, everybody in the city would be listening to KBEA.

Costs would be covered through advertising, and participating merchants would donate the gifts to be given away.  We would buy the biggest Christmas tree we could find, set it up in the lobby and surround it with the gifts as they came in.

The staff was enthusiastic and after the meeting, Bill and Jerry—the program director—went out and purchased 30,000 ping pong balls.

  As plans for the project progressed, I visualized mounds of gifts around a beautifully decorated tree, thousands of white ping pong balls raining down on the city and people swarming through the doors of the radio station holding out their little ping pong balls.

We launched the promotion the middle of November, planning to drop the ping pong balls the Friday after Thanksgiving—the day retail merchants launched Christmas advertising promotions.  For the next week, I wrote advertising, promos and news releases and placed newspaper ads.

On Saturday night we all met at the station and decorated the Christmas tree.  Monday, the gifts started coming in.

Then we hit a snag.

No one had thought to ask before we started the promotion but it seemed there was an ordinance prohibiting the dropping of “heavier-than-air” objects from an airplane.

What a let-down!  This was our major—our only—Christmas promotion and we had already wasted a week on the project.

Bill sat in his office all day and brooded.

“What can we come up with to top that?” he said.  “And what in blazes are we going to do with 30,000 ping pong balls?”

The next morning, he and Jerry hauled them out to his house and stored them in the garage.  That afternoon we had a meeting.  Someone came up with another idea for a Christmas promotion and we all went to work trying to salvage what we could from the ping pong ball disaster.

For a while, we tried to figure out what to do with 30,000 ping pong balls so Bill could get his car into the garage before it snowed.  With everyone working hard to launch the new promotion, however, the problem got shoved to the back burner.

We all cheered when our ratings actually went up a point or two.

Since we had invested in—and decorated—a ceiling-high tree, we decided to hold a Christmas party for the staff at the station.  We drew names for gifts, then got our heads together and decided that Bill deserved a special gift—from the staff.

I volunteered to wrap it.  I bought the prettiest paper I could find and tied the package with a big red bow—chuckling as I anticipated the look on Bill’s face when he opened it to find—a box of eight pretty little white ping pong balls.


CROSBY KEMPER, JR.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Crosby Kemper, Jr.  He impressed me in more ways than one—mainly because of his love for his city, its history and its future—which stirred up an enthusiasm and a dedication in others.

Although UMB was my bank, that wasn’t how I came to know Crosby.  In fact we met only once and the topic of conversation was not about banking.  It was about an entirely different matter.

When a friend asked if I would edit a new Johnson County publication, I readily agreed.  After asking a few questions, including the type of paper we intended to publish, frequency of publication, each of our specific duties and of course, cost, Crosby Kemper, Jr. agreed to finance the paper.

So it was that I became editor of the tabloid formatted newspaper “The Shawnee Mission Signal,” which debuted December 17, 1964.  Headlines included: “Plans for Sewer Rebuilding Now Under Way in Mission Hills,” “New Public Works Director in Mission (Keith Hubbard)” and “K U Downs K-State in Regional Debate Tourney.”  A smaller headline tells us: “Radar Nabs 26 in Mission Hills.”  In the lower, right hand corner is a photo and the announcement that the new El Dorado Club, “for the convenience of Braniff passengers at Municipal Airport” had been opened.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to resign the position soon after the second issue came out.  I left Kansas City, so I don’t know how much longer the paper continued publication but I’ve always appreciated Crosby Kemper, Jr. who, at least, gave it a chance.



IRISH McCALLA

SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE

 

When WWII ended, my husband Carl—a former B-24 pilot instructor and B-29 pilot—and I decided to go into business and, considering the strides that had been made in aviation during the war, what could be more appropriate than the flying business?  It seemed like an ideal time to start a flying service.

We leased an alfalfa strip east of Marysville, Kansas, Carl’s home town, and began building a hanger for our plane—a war surplus liaison plane, a Taylorcraft DCO65—and began taking people for rides.  Not many people had been up in an airplane back then and we took a lot of rides those first few months.  On Sundays cars lined the road in both directions and the airport swarmed with people.

We began signing up students to take flying lessons and, in addition to flight training, we also did a lot of charter flying.  Charter clients consisted mostly of area farmers and business men.

However, one of our occasional charter customers was a girl by the name of Nellie McCalla.  Nellie had just graduated from high school and was spending the summer with her aunt in Marysville.  She came out to the airport often on her daily walk—she had to watch her weight, she said.  She and her girl friends would hang around, watching the planes take off and land, listening to the students do a little “hanger flying.”  A couple of times she asked Carl fly her to Pawnee City, Nebraska to visit her parents.  It was only 45 miles by road, less than an hour’s drive, but I think Nellie liked flying; and she liked to try things new.

When they returned from the second trip, I heard her bragging to her girl friends.

"Mr. Ungerer let me fly the plane back."

Amid "Oh's" and "Ah's" and "Was it hard to fly?" she replied:

"Nothing to it! Pretty much like driving a car."  (Taking into consideration that the air was calm with no wind and nothing needed doing once the plane was pointed in the right direction).

"I'm seriously thinking of working toward my private pilot license," she added.

It was along about this time that Nellie started insisting her friends call her “Irish” instead of Nellie.

When Nellie stopped showing up at the airport, we figured she’d gone back home.  Later, we learned she’d gone to California.

I’m sure you have heard of “Irish” McCalla; she wound up in Hollywood, was discovered by a producer and became the star of “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”

Since she had always been an active girl, she was able to do her own stunts until near the end of the series, when she broke her wrist leaping to catch the branch of a tree.

After the series ended, she starred in several movies.

When she retired Nellie/Irish devoted her life to painting.  She had always considered herself an artist.  Even while living in Marysville, her aunt often scolded her for neglecting her work around the house to sit staring at some object, pondering how she would paint it on canvas



SMILEY BURNETTE

 

            Remember “Frog”?  Frog Milhouse?  Some of you will.  A lot of you won’t.

“Ole Frog” was Gene Autry’s sidekick in over 80 early western movies.  Born Lester Alvin Burnett, he later changed his name to Smiley Burnette.

His career, beginning in 1934, spanned four decades.  In addition to playing Gene Autry’s sidekick, he also played in other movies, was the sidekick to Charles Starrett in the Durango Kid series and, in the 1960s, was a regular on the TV shows, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

Widely recognized as a country music performer, Smiley could play as many as 100 musical instruments, some simultaneously, and is credited with writing over 400 songs.  He sang a number of them on screen and some have been recorded by popular singers such as Willie Nelson, Riders in the Sky and Johnnie Lee Wills.

By 1940, he ranked second only to Autry in a poll of Western stars—the lone “sidekick” among the top ten.

In the 1950’s, Smiley was a frequent guest of Ralph Johnson, developer of Cherokee Village and other a retirement communities near Hardy, in Sharp County, Arkansas.

Johnson—who also hailed from Hollywood—and his wife Mary, were living in Hidden Valley at the time.  Smiley stopped by often when he was enroute from Springfield, where he appeared regularly on the “Ozark Jubilee,” to Nashville, Tennessee and other points south for appearances on radio and television as well as before live audiences.

During one visit, Smiley, entertained a packed auditorium at the Hardy High School with his wit, his music and his songs.  The show was the talk of the town for weeks after.

Smiley loved to fish and Spring River and the lakes in Sharp County were among his favorite places to cast his lines.  I have a photo of him with a string of bass and jack salmon, caught in Spring River, I’ll try to get posted one of these days.

Though Smiley Burnette spent his life being a comedic and funny guy, I’ll always remember him as I last saw him.

I’d been Johnson’s promotion and publicity director for his various enterprises from the time he started work on Cherokee Village.  On this particular morning I entered the sunroom and was surprised to see Smiley sitting there, staring morosely out the window, a sad look on his face.  It certainly wasn’t the face fans the world over was accustomed to seeing.

“Good morning, Smiley!” I said, cheerfully.

He merely grunted.

I’ve thought about Smiley often through the years.  He spent his life bring laughter and pleasure to others but, recalling his expression the last time I saw him, I’ve often wondered if he was the happy man he portrayed to his public.


More about Smiley Burnette:
Smiley Burnette was born in 1911 and died February 16, 1967, a month before his 56th birthday.  He grew up in Ravenwood, Missouri.
In his lifetime, he wrote more than 400 songs and sang a significant number of them on screen. His Western classic, "Ridin' Down the Canyon (To Watch the Sun Go Down)," was later recorded by Willie Nelson, Riders in the Sky, and Johnnie Lee Wills.

Burnette was also an inventor.  He built some unusual musical instruments including in his "Jassackaphone," which he played in the film The Singing Cowboy.  The instrument resembled an organ with pipes, levers, and pull mechanisms.  In the 1940s, he invented and patented a home audiovisual system called "Cinevision Talkies."

He enjoyed cooking and, in the 1950s, opened a restaurant chain called The Checkered Shirt, the first of the A Frame drive-ins.[



BURL IVES

 

          As publicity director for the newly established Arkansas retirement community, Cherokee Village, I accompanied Ralph Johnson, developer and promoter, and his wife, Mary, to Kansas City where we had reserved a booth at the 1955 Kansas City Boat, Sport and Travel Show.

            We arrived early on February 1st, checked in at the Muehlebach Hotel, then hurried over the Municipal Auditorium to set up our exhibit.  For the next ten days, I extolled the merits of Cherokee Village and invited those who stopped by to register for a “free lot,” the drawing for which would be held on the last day of the show.

            On Friday, Ralph learned that Burl Ives, the folk singer, was playing at Eddy’s, one of Kansas City’s most popular night spots at the time.  Having known Mr. Ives when he and Mary lived in Hollywood, he decided to close the booth early on Saturday night so we could catch his eleven o’clock show.

            In spite of the cold, we decided to walk the short distance to Eddy’s.  Ralph, Mary, Princess Sky Eyes, a Native American lecturer, singer and dancer, who was entertaining at the Sport Show, and I arrived at ten-forty-five, ordered drinks and settled in.  After the show, Ralph went back stage and invited Burl to join us for a drink.

            It was a festive reunion; the two old friends toasted each other and we all laughed uproariously as they exchanged stories about mutual acquaintances, experiences and life in Hollywood.

            It was almost closing time when we trekked back to the Muehlebach and into the coffee shop for breakfast.

            The conversation remained lively and, after consuming a huge, double Spanish omelet, smothered in a hot, spicy red sauce, Burl took out his guitar.

            The staff had locked the doors to prepare for the morning shift so we had the coffee shop to ourselves.

            On being told that I was a former Kansan, Burl insisted I sing the Kansas version of “Home On the Range.”  He wanted to be sure he had all the words right.  That done, Princess Sky Eyes performed an authentic Indian dance to Burl’s strumming; Ralph, puffing on a cigar, sang his favorite party song, “Cigareets and Whiskey and Wild Wild Women!” while an amused crowd which had gathered on the sidewalk outside, peered over the café curtains watching our impromptu show.

            We disbanded at four a.m. and the next day, Burl visited our exhibit at the sport show and registered to win a “free lot” which Ralph presented on the spot.

            He would leave that evening for New York, he said, to begin rehearsal at the Morosco Theater on the Tennessee Williams play, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.”  He later played the same role, (Big Daddy) in the movie version of the play.

            Although he never built on the lot, which had been upgraded to a much larger lot on Hiawatha, one of Cherokee Village’s most beautiful streets, Burl Ives held title until his death in 1995.



TESS HARPER

 

            My husband, Carl, and I were Living—very well, thank you—“Off the Land” on a ranch we’d purchased near Mammoth Spring, Arkansas.  (See article with that title on the EDoc page).  One thing a farmer/rancher needs often is hardware supplies, and so it was that almost every time we went into town, our shopping list entailed a stop at Washam’s Hardware Store.

            Like most Ozarkians, Ed and Rosemary Washam were friendly folk so we always lingered a while to visit.  The first time I saw Tessie Jean, their daughter, she was a blue eyed, blond haired toddler sitting on her father’s knee, one finger in the corner of her mouth.

Time passed and Tessie started to school.  She sometimes came in, carrying an armload of books, while I was in the store.  Or, if it happened to be a weekend, she might be sitting at the back of the store, reading or doing her homework.  She was a lovely child.  Her complexion very pale, she wore bangs and her blond hair hung straight to her shoulders.  She had wide blue eyes that bore a thoughtful look and her gaze was searching, as if looking for answers to questions only she was aware of.

            Tess knew early on what she wanted.  In college, she appeared in numerous plays and played leading roles in productions such as the musical "Little Mary Sunshine" and "Arsenic and Old Lace."  After college, she began acting in theater and theme park productions. She married Ken Harper in 1971.  They were divorced in 1976.

Tess’s big break came while she was living in Dallas, Texas. A casting representative, who happened to see her in a TV commercial, was impressed.  She called Robert Duvall who arranged for an audition which resulted in the lead role in Tender Mercies, Tess Harper’s feature film debut.  She was awarded a Golden Globe award for her role in the film.

Since then, she has appeared in well over 100 movies and TV shows.  She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Crimes Of the Heart.

            A few years ago, I ran into Rosemary, Tess’s mother, at the drugstore in Mammoth Spring,

            “You should have come a couple of days sooner,” she said, “Tessie was home on vacation.  You just missed her!”