‘Bama ‘Dema-Goshers’

Appears we’ve got lots of political ‘dema-goshers’ lately.

But I’ve yet to hear of any recent political demagogue who matches the theatrical skill attributed to James Folsom, the Governor of Alabama back in the 1950s.

 A son-of-Alabama, former State Senator Ramsey Neil Metcalf, told me about one “Kissing Jim”  (nickname acquired after some lady filed suit in an Alabama court) Folsom appearance that I still remember.

On that Saturday, a crowd gathered at a county courthouse to hear the Governor whose promised arrival had been well advertised.

Governor Jim drove up in a white Cadillac sedan.  Parked.  Mounted the stairs in front of the courthouse crowd, shook a lot of hands, and delivered his speech.

According to Ramsey Neil (who was a veteran U.S. Army Captain, psychological campaign officer for General MacArthur in two wars, and a lawyer before he was a state Senator) the Governor said something like this:

            “You folks may have been reading those big-city ‘Bama newspapers that say ‘Big Jim’ stole money. Don’t you believe it. If I ‘stole’ anything, I stole money from the big corporations by passing a tax that stole from those rich corporations to make them help run the state government. If I ‘stole,’ I stole for you.

            “You also may have read that I ‘splurged’ and bought a Cadillac with state money. Well, I did. And there’s the Governor’s Cadillac parked in front of you.

            “What the big city newspapers didn’t tell you, the Governor of Texas drives a Cadillac. So does the Governor of Oklahoma. And I know you didn’t want your Governor to go ‘second class.’

            “That’s your Cadillac. Belongs to you citizens of Alabama.”

The Governor took the car keys out of his pocket. Tossed the keys to a nearby citizen.

            “Here. Take the keys. ‘Git’ in there. Honk the horn. Drive YOUR Caddie around the block.”

And Ramsey Neil told me, he did.  Then Governor Jim–after he stopped outside of town and moved over to let his chauffer drive–rode back to Montgomery.

Science Fair Family Feud

The Elam and Crutchfield families were the best of friends.  But once a year friends became the worst of enemies—when the Abilene city schools sponsored the Science Fair.

On the run-up to that annual event, the Crutchfield father of five let his chicanery slip.  While sharing a libation or two, John bragged he and son Joe had installed laboratory equipment to help grow experimental ‘cultures’ for the upcoming Science Fair.

Holy Pasteur—what were the odds my Mickey’s homemade weather station, or my Cindy’s stereoscopic effect in movies could possibly compete?

Fortunately, ‘twas the time of year when I went to the broadcaster’s convention in Chicago. I added a visit to the Field Museum where, Eureka, the Chicago high school science winners were exhibiting.

Probability was the answer.   I memorized that high school scientist’s winning entry.  Mickey loved the project.

She flipped a coin hundreds of times and recorded number of heads and tails. She made a poster of Pascal’s predictive chart.  Employing the leaning board with nails spaced and hammered the length of the board, Mick rolled BBs from top to bottom—where as predicted, the shot created a predicted ‘bell curve’ mound.  Mickey rolled dice and counted the random number of times that ‘snake eyes’ appeared. She learned a new word—‘random.’

Probability placed first in Mickey’s elementary school fourth grade.

However, at the city-wide fourth grade contest her project received only an Honorable Mention.  Mickey’s fourth grade teacher corralled the judge, another fourth grade  teacher who had been her classmate at Abilene Christian College.

“How could you only give my student an ‘honorable mention?’   You think statistics is not a science?”  And voiced other objections.

The science project judge responded:

“I didn’t know who your student was, but I don’t think a fourth grade student should be gambling.”

What the judge didn’t know was that Mickey was a member of his Sunday school class.

Famous Christmas Givers

Annie was a great gal. Her only niece Margo remembers, as I do, a ‘cornucopia’ of Christmas presents that Anne Van Buren mailed from Colorado to our homes.  However my sister-in-law insisted on specific Christmas tree rules.

To wit:

NO presents opened before Christmas morning. Excepting when the northern cat smelled the ‘nip’ wrapped and sent by the Colorado feline who always signed as  ‘Claws.’

ONLY one present from ‘Auntie’ or ‘Sister.’  All other wrapped presents came from famous people.

            Tiger Woods sent golf balls.

            Captain Kidd mailed sailing togs.

            Charlie Dickens sent a writing desk ornament. 

            A winter scarf came from Admiral Byrd, commander of the South Pole expedition.

            And Bill Shakespeare never forgot you.

Margo remembers her Auntie always sent a present from someone in family history. Each year her mother received some gift from her high-school boyfriend.

“For us kids, there were often wee toys or ornaments tied to the outside of the packages, a sneak preview sometimes of what might lay inside.

We also managed to overrule the ‘no presents before Christmas morning.’  We begged to open the one smallest present on Christmas Eve. Aunt Annie then began sending a least one very small present to fulfill this role, since not much got past her clever creativity.”

We made notes of what famous people sent presents. Clever Annie telephoned before Christmas Day lunch. You were expected to thank the notorious givers. Annie then thanked all the famous givers on our presents to her.  She trained us well.

Won’t be the same this year.   Annie’s gone.   No presents will come from Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein or Marilyn Monroe.  No cat to turn over the tree if you put Claw’s present too far up.

But “Yes Virginia” at least one present will be signed ‘Santa Claus, North Pole.’

Model T Ford

Author Ellen Collier—she writes fun novels about 1928 Galveston and a ‘Flapper’ Sob Sister (that’s a woman journalist, young readers) —saw a Model T and became mesmerized.  Fairly lost her mind writing about the early 1900s antique mass-produced automobile.

Shucks Ellen, a still standing Model T isn’t a ‘Eureka’ discovery for this old college editor. I rode in a handsome classmate’s Model T in 1949.   Back in the days when you didn’t need to add ‘..at Austin’ to locate The University of Texas.

We followed the Longhorn Band in the pre-election parade. He drove. I waved to the student voters who lined Guadalupe Street. Wanted them to vote for me in the Daily Texan Editor election.

To tell the truth, I didn’t care if student voters mistook the Model T driver for a candidate named Elam. My driver was taller and muscular, with a beaming ‘movie star’ smile.  He was a still-young Navy veteran who had spent time on a mine-clearing vessel in the South Pacific. I knew him at the onset of World War II when we both lived in Abilene.

He volunteered to speak for me at sorority-candidate luncheons.   I heard he always ended his speech with…”Remember, Elam is ‘male’ spelled backwards.”

Not sure that closing helped. But I needed all the help I could get. I was a candidate who could become the first—in 50 years—Republican elected Texan Editor. My opponents were making that a big ‘no-no’ in the all-Democrat state.

Also riding in the parade was a classmate named Liz Smith—another West Texan and the lady who would go on to become New York City’s most noted newspaper gossip columnist. Liz was the favorite to win the editorship of UT’s humor magazine.

Liz rode in a top-down convertible with some whooping friends who had joined the parade late.   Suddenly, their convertible skid past my classmate’s Model T.   The back ranks of the marching band scattered.   No band member was injured. But as a result of hurt feelings, many campaigned for Tony Guerra—who was elected humor magazine editor.

I was elected, also. Before my classmate graduated, sold his Model-T Ford and hitch-hiked to Hollywood. Before Fess Parker starred playing Davy Crockett.

Smartest Dog

Magazine article just read rated the Border Collie as world’s smartest dog.

I agree. Our first dog ‘Brownie’ was primarily Border Collie, although relegated to the Animal Shelter because of his mixed bloodline. That’s where my bride of one month found him. Maxine wanted a dog in the house while I worked the morning newspaper shift.

The duplex neighbors thought that was a good idea. They renamed him ‘The Brown Bomber.’ Later, the three little daughters—who learned to walk holding on to our dog as he herded them away from the street—called him ‘Bomba,’ then ‘Bomber.’

‘Smartest Dog’ said the magazine article, because the Border Collie could figure out what maneuver was needed when herding sheep.

As we soon discovered, Brownie could figure out how to reenter our ground floor apartment. Twice we found him in the front room after we drove away, leaving him in the fenced backyard. When we returned, the gate was still locked. But Brownie was waiting in the cool of our living room.

But how? We decided to deceive. We put Brownie in the backyard. Maxine drove a couple of blocks away. I tried to stay cool in the living room with both screened windows open. The year was 1950 and we could barely pay our rent, much less buy a window air conditioner.

As I waited, I kept my 8 millimeter camera ready. (Wish I still had the footage we showed later to our daughters.)

Before long I heard the open window screen rattle. Brownie was bumping his head against the screen until the latch came free. Then our Border Collie bounced his head against the screen just enough to squeeze in his head, followed by his body, and he jumped into the living room.

When our dog realized he was captured on film, Brownie looked a little sheepish.


Dowry Questionnaire

“Oh Daddy, you wouldn’t do that….would you?”

When the teenage boys got ‘wheels’ and started asking my daughters for dates, I threatened to require each boy to complete a questionnaire so I could check his credentials.

I didn’t. But #3 Daughter never forgot.  And when she accepted his invitation, she helped Jack Wood write the questionnaire he presented when they announced their engagement.

Questionnaire for the Father of the Bride

Asset Value of Daughter

1. Expected Inheritance for Daughter: ___________ (round to the nearest $500K)

2. Expected Date of Inheritance: ______(year)

3. Please list any known allergies to food and/or medication that may cause fatal reactions:   ____________________

4. Number of sailboats to be inherited:

5. Dollar amount of annual Christmas presents:

6. Dollar amount of yearly tax-free distributions:

Visitation Rights

7. Number of expected visits per year:

8. Estimated Length of Visit:

_____ 2 hours or less (acceptable)

_____ more than 2 hours (call ahead for reservation)

Family Medical History

9. Number of immediate family members (do not include animals):

10. Number of inbred family members (do not include pets):

11. Number of family members currently committed to mental institutions:

12. Number of family members currently incarcerated:


13. How do you prefer to greet son-in-law:

____handshake   _____hug      ______kiss     ____drunk

____turn and run    ______shotgun  _____she’s your problem now

Silent Cal’s Press Conference

The recent Presidential press conference brouhaha reminds me of another presidential press conference.    A prominent journalist shared this story during a lunch of journalists and journalism teachers at the University of North Carolina campus in the 1980s.

I forget the journalist’s name, who worked for a national publication, but have not forgotten his historical description of one of President Calvin Coolidge’s press conferences.

“Silent Cal” Coolidge may have been the first President to hold frequent press conferences with some two dozen reporters who covered the White House back in the 1920s.

But President Coolidge imposed rules:

  1. All questions must be written, in advance of the President’s attendance.
  2. If the President was quoted, credit must be attributed to “a source close to the President”—never directly to President Coolidge.
  3. The President would answer questions of his choice, not every written question.

The ‘boys’, in what would later become the White House Press Corp and include women, decided to joke with President Coolidge.  All reporters submitted the same, identical written question.

President Coolidge arrived. Probably orated a “Good Morning, Gentlemen.”

Then opened the first written question, read, and placed it back on the nearby table.  Unanswered.

In silence, the President in turn opened all the other questions. Read each without a sound.  Placed on the table.  All unanswered.

After President Coolidge opened the last question, he invented and delivered a question, then answered his own question.

Probably said “Thank You, Gentlemen” as he left the room.

When the Boys Honk

One of the two pretty daughters told me this story.

Dressed in their spring dresses, the Grocer’s two daughters waited for their dates to arrive.   When the two guys parked their jalopy at the curb, they honked the horn. Not once, but four or five times.

The daughters didn’t move from their living room chairs.

But their father marched to the front porch.   Then yelled loud enough to be heard at the Abilene high school, four blocks away.

            “We don’t give curb service!”

The Grocer went back to the living room, picked up his evening newspaper, and sat in his favorite chair.

In a few minutes, the two boys stood outside the screen door. They shuffled their feet, dropped their heads, knocked on the door.

The Grocer responded. “Come in, Gentlemen. Your dates are waiting.”

Missed America

  ’Twas the 1963 Saturday night Miss America contest on live TV.

            We were viewing three miles outside Abilene, our West Texas home, when my three daughters wanted to disown me.  Not only did the 13-year-old huff away from the television set, she also led her two younger sisters, ages 12 and 11, in a scornful walkout.

            My failing was showing our jackrabbit symbol on the television station I managed. Or, specifically, NOT showing the beauty queen contest.

            My KPAR-TV station contracted for the Lubbock CBS affiliate to deliver a microwave feed of the CBS live Miss America telecast. And the Lubbock station wasn’t delivering.

            (You need to know Lubbock locates on Texas High Plains. And that Sweetwater and Abilene locate downhill, on the highway between Fort Worth and El Paso. Helps to understand relay stations were needed to repeat the CBS network signal for over a hundred miles .)

            On. Then Off  went our CBS microwave signal.

            I’m talking long distance pleading with engineers in Lubbock to restore their intermittent microwave signal.   When we lost signal, our engineers inserted a cartoon of the KPAR-TV mascot, a jackrabbit pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with a television set, captioned:

            “Signal lost between here and origination.”

            I’m distraught, near tears. But from another room I hear my three darlings, and I think their mother, weeping. They had telephoned their in-town friend.   Bad news. Pennie Lee Rudd, our Miss Texas entry, was crowned second runner-up to “Miss America.”

            That’s when my telephone rang. I answered, and heard:

            “Mister Elam. We’ve been watching the KPAR-ticular Miss America contest:

            “Did the rabbit win?”

Shoot ‘Em Coming at You

If you’re also a “camera nut,” you will remember when your first photograph was published.   I do.

Jordan Steyer, a student at the University of Texas, recently wrote his thanks for the Maxine Smith Elam scholarship award and exuded the same enthusiasm for his published Daily Texan photos.

Of course, publishing your photo these days takes only a punch or two on your I-phone.

But not in 1944 when I was a weekend, high school “cub” at the Abilene Reporter-News. Back when they issued me a large “speed-graphic” press camera. So large that to ship today you would need the large postal box they now sell at the post office.

My 1944 assignment was to shoot an action picture at the high school football game. The old city editor issued me instructions.

“Kid, don’t forget to pull the plate that protects the film.   Better to stand behind the goal posts and shoot ‘em coming at you. Reduces chance of blur.”

He looked out the window. “I’ll guess at what f-stop you need.” He set the lens aperture. “Remember to pull the plate that protects the film before you shoot. And put the plate back in.”

I stood behind the goal posts. As the fullback rose above the goal-line defenders, I shot.

Since then, Sports Illustrated published my photo of Olympic track star Wilma Randolph.

The Daily Texan published my picture of an angry mob at a State student government meeting. But they don’t compare to the fullback who carried the ball right at me…the one published on the sports page, inscribed:

            “Photo by Dick Elam”