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Wednesday, January 04, 2006



Southern Sidekick Sensations


Very few movie stars ventured into the rugged and forbidding mountains of North Carolina for their personal appearances. It was not merely apprehension of the goat paths we called roads, or their impression of us as mutant, possibly cannibalistic hillbillies. No, I think it was realization that we just weren’t that interested in what they had to sell. Even if it had been possible for the Super Chief to roar into our backwoods terminal bearing George Arliss, Greer Garson, and Paul Muni, I don’t think there would have been much of a crowd to greet them. You see, our taste ran more toward cowboys, and perhaps even more so toward their sidekicks. The Gabbys, Fuzzies, and Taters were all part of that great institution, the Dagnabbit circuit, where they didn’t have to play in support of anybody. On our stage, they were the stars! Note if you will Gabby’s ad. Tickets were fifty and sixty cents for adults, depending on the time, and for kids, a quarter. Considering this is 1948, these are roadshow prices, especially since I was only paying twenty-five cents to get in the same theater almost two decades later. But Gabby was just that big. He was also a smart dresser offstage, very sophisticated. So was Fuzzy. Just a second, let’s keep these Fuzzies straight. There were two of them, you know, Al "Fuzzy" St. John, and Fuzzy Knight. Right now, we’re talking about Al St. John. Colonel Forehand’s daughter met Al Fuzzy when he hit town around 1954, and told me he was quite the polished gentleman. Now mind you, this is the same Al St. John who appeared in those really early silent comedies with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He actually worked with Chaplin at Keystone. The guy was also Roscoe Arbuckle’s nephew. This is a man who carried the whole history of Hollywood in his hip flask, but judging from his grotesque, and frankly demented persona in those comedies, I don’t know how you could have ever made a polished gentleman out of him. In fact, he would seem more at home among our hillbilly cannibals. Maybe that’s why he liked it around these parts. They say Fuzz got in some trouble a few years after the Liberty gig when he and fellow imbiber Lash LaRue decided to sweeten their purse from an Arkansas county fair appearance by looting a few parked cars. I hope for Fuzzy Knight’s sake that his monicker didn’t confuse anxious peace officers on the lookout for Bad Fuzzy. Their gigs did tend to overlap one another from time to time, and a man can’t be too careful with his reputation. Fuzzy Knight, by the way, was one of the great eccentric vaudeville acts during the twenties. I watched him in a Vitaphone short not long ago, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Sure wish I could have caught his act at the Liberty, but I wasn’t born yet, so I guess that’s a pretty good excuse. Even Bad Fuzz would have been great, especially if you could have sat him down for a long talk about the old days with Buster and Roscoe. You’d just need to make sure your car doors were locked.

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