Pee Wee King, Foster Brooks & More “Lost Louisville”

I never was really close to my father. He worked for most of the second half of the 20th century as a blue-collar tool-and-die maker at a factory in Louisville’s West End, and became a union member and later a long-time president of his local, which made me proud of him. When I became a Reagan-voting fascist yuppie Republican in the 1980s he didn’t disown me, but tried vainly to warn me about the downside of Voodoo economics and the robber-baron philosophies that led to such things as labor unions in the first place. He knew history and reality better than I did at that point. A child of the Depression, he once told me how one Christmas he was lucky to get a banana. At the time, the idea was so foreign to me that I could only respond with a nervous laugh. When he and his union went on a lengthy strike in the early ’70s, he made sure that my sister and I were sheltered from the impact. We never noticed anything wrong or missing from our comfortable post-war Baby Boom suburban existence, even though income was not coming in. He always made sure we lived in a way that he never did as a youth. At the time, we thought the way we lived was how everyone lived. We had no clue.

Dad wasn’t much of a talker at home. He seemed to use up all his oration energy for work and union business, or for the “beer joint,” as he called it.

foster-brooks.jpgThe booze reference is appropo because one of the things that helped bond us somewhat was the Foster Brooks Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament, a Louisville institution for a quarter century, from 1970 to 1996. We’d stroll the Hurstbourne Country Club course to stargaze and enjoy some decent golf from the pros. Bob Hope was undoubtedly the biggest star we saw there, but there were lots of others such as Alex Trebek and Jose Ferrer and Dick Butkus and Bobby Knight. (A fellow tournament attendee told me he once witnessed Hope cussing out some kid for wanting an autograph. Ah, thanks for the memory).

The golf tourney eventually ended in acrimony over where the money was going, with even Brooks himself disowning the tourney. (Brooks was a local radio/TV celeb who made it big in Vegas and took his comedy drunk act to big audiences as a regular on those fab Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts that used to turn up on NBC in the ’70s).

Even though the golf tourney brought in millions for Kosair (hospital) Charities and attracted hundreds of thousands of Louisvillians and undoubtedly led to many good times, its impact seems to have receded far and fast from the consciousness of the locals.

fosterbrooks2-crop.jpgA search for “Foster Brooks Pro-Celebrity” on Google only turns up a dozen references, most of those to people selling commemoratives on Ebay. Not one photo. Zero images of the event to be found on the ‘net. They’re all molting and fading away in photo albums all over Louisville. (We never took any; maybe there’s a program stashed away somewhere at my Mom’s house). There are people who went to most or all of these and took photos. Anyone—a local golf enthusiast retiree perhaps—up to the task of putting a Foster Brooks Pro-Celebrity memorial website online?

peeweeking.gifAnother attendee of the golf event, as well as a frequent performer on the (still-going) WHAS Crusade for Children, was Pee Wee King.

(Or maybe it was local baseball legend and Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese, or maybe it was both. I know it wasn’t Pee Wee Herman. Humor me here.)

At the time, I had no idea who the man was or why I should be impressed.

For Louisvillians of the ’50s and before, King was a big deal. Operating with his “hillbilly” band between Louisville and Naspeeweegolden-cowboys.jpghville in the ’30s and ’40s, King was a radio star, Grand Ole Opry regular and innovator of something akin to western swing. King brought drums and the electric guitar to the Opry for the first time. He had many hit records and co-wrote what became the Tennessee state song, “The Tennessee Waltz.” He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of fame in 1970.

Wikipedia and the Country Music Hall of Fame have more on him.

Ironically, even though I didn’t know who King was during those golf-event years, I had unknowingly often played one of his records as a child. It was a 1955 RCA recording of “Tweedlee Dee,” a catchy, bouncy record that highlights King’s unusual instrumentation and arrangements. You can hear/download the 45 rpm record (and its flipside) at my Outer Galaxy Lounge blog.

peeweeperforming.JPGThat was my parents’ record, as it happened. Another case of “bonding” that I didn’t know about at the time.

It also serves as a souvenir reminder to me of some of the things that are now lost in Louisville: the factories where my Dad and Mom worked, the late King and Brooks, the Pro-Celebrity, my Dad.

I’m not sure where all this is leading, but somehow I wanted to convey the idea of how this city, like all cities, is a kind of a ghost town. Where new things stand, I still see the things that once stood; think about the people and places that were. Think about my Mom and aunt and uncle, who are all in the 75- to 90-age range—part of a dwindling minority of survivors who are taking the last of the memories of what was Louisville with them.

It’s kind of a privilege really, to stand between two eras, two generations: To have some sense of my parents’ world, and to know things that my own children don’t. To be able to see a multi-dimensional world, a past and a present world co-existing—if only in my mind’s eye.

What baffles me are people who don’t care to know, or to find out.

-Evan

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15 Responses to Pee Wee King, Foster Brooks & More “Lost Louisville”

  1. Vincent says:

    Your take on labour unions and the ACLU brings to mind a CD featuring Ani Difranco and Utah Phillips entitled “Fellow Workers”, released in 1999. There’s some really interesting commentary there that may be of interest to you or not; I just thought I’d pass the info along… Congrats on the milestone. Thanks to you, my blog stats have dramatically increased as well.

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    I Googled for something completely different, but found your page…and have to say thanks. nice read.

  3. Richard says:

    Evan: Just finished reading your “Lost Louisville” essay and it made me reflect on my own time in Louisville during the ’60s and ’70s- ironically, the generation in-between you and your parents. I don’t recall the Pro-Celebrity as strongly, having left the city in the early ’70s, but your Foster Brooks reference prompted a memory. While Foster eventually became the national celeb, it was his brother Tom Brooks that was more familiar to me. During my grade school years, the younger Brooks donned some clownish/cowboy-like garb and worked for years as “Cactus” Tom Brooks, introducing the afternoon cartoon segment on WAVE-TV and acting as comic foil for local singing cowboy Randy Atcher. Such was a small world, that Cactus moved into my neighborhood during the late ’60s long after his television heyday, and dressed up as his old self handing out treats from his house Halloween night for years later. Eventually, Foster bought into an old liquor store on Westport Road (Kuntz’s, next to Kaelin’s) where his family went to work selling cases of Oertel’s 92 and Fall City. I can proudly say, I bought my first legal beer from Cactus! Pee Wee King is another matter. You may have forgotten his musical partner Redd Stewart, who helped write “Tennessee Waltz” with King, but in a brush with greatness, I traveled out to Valley Station where Stewart owned a small music store next to a Bob Colglazer’s Ranch House. I had visions of buying a new humming, hard rock electric guitar, but his inventory nothing but these clunky, big f-hole semi-electrics that were impossible to wrap my tiny 13-yr old hands around. Even worse, when I tried to play one to my natural left-handed, Stewart walked up, scolded me and turned the guitar around where I could play it at all “the right way.” Then fumbled as he tried to squeeze my paw into a painful “G” chord. He may have been a class musician, but he was a true sales dick. I need to check out your other essays. Made me hungry for some Cunningham’s turtle soup, or a sandwich from Kingfish.

  4. Foster Brooks recorded for us in 1981 and after selling 100,000 of his albums (yes he could really sing well – we heard him first on Merv Griffin!) we never looked back. We have a lot to thank him for.

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    Thanks for the nice read, keep up the interesting posts..

  6. Randy says:

    Evan,

    Foster Brooks is remembered at an unofficial museum located in the Kosair Charities Centre, 982 Eastern Parkway, Louisville, KY. Many itema and photos from the Foster Brooks Pro-Celebrity event are on display including photos of Bob Hope and countless other celebrities. Included is the newspaper account of Mr. Hope making a hole in one. Best regards.

  7. Hi Evan.
    I was doing some research on Pee Wee King/Redd Stewart and stumbled upon your story here. Great story!
    Redd’s son, Billy, was born and raised there in Louisville and has fond memories. ( I met him there many years ago and married him!)
    I’d love for you to take a look at our tribute site to Redd: http://www.reddstewart.com.
    I KNOW Billy would love to talk to you about Louisville!
    Warm regards,
    Sharon Stewart (Redd’s daughter-in-law)

  8. John King says:

    I grew up in Louisville in the 1940s and graduated from Manual High School in 1952. Pee Wee Reese went to Manual, too.

    I grew up at 22nd and St. Xavier Streets in the West End, a couple of miles north of the Brooks home. I remember Foster and Tom Brooks on both the radio and TV. Cactus was on the WHAS-TV Randy Acher Show.

    I’m sure Foster got a lot of material from all the liquor stores in town. Seemed like we had more liquor stores than Baptist Churches.

    I met Pee Wee King when we moved to the East End and I played in the band at Alex G. Barret Junior High School at Peterson and Grindstead Drive. A boy named Sonny Lunsford got up a small dance band. I play the tuba. We practiced at his home in St. Matthews, which was in the same subdivision where Pee Wee King lived. Pee Wee came over one night and encouraged us to keep up our music. I remember him asking me if we were any kin. We weren’t as my grandfather came from Hamburg, Germany in 1898. When he became a U.S. citizen he translated his name (Koenig) to the English version, King.

    Mom’s sister, Aunt Joyce called Pee Wee King B-B eyes because he had small squinty eyes like he was always looking in the sun.

    In 1960 I needed a base fiddle to play in a band I had gotten up. I borrowed Red and Gene Stewart’s brother’s bass – think his name was Al or Ray. He worked at the Naval Ordnance Station where my dad worked.

    The Pee Wee King band was a hit in the 40s and 50s and appeared on Louisville TV stations quite often. In addition to the Tennessee Waltz Red, Gene and Pee Wee also wrote “Slowpoke,” which became a hit.

    Anyone remember hearing “Pappy” Clayton McMitchen and his Georgia Cowboys on the radio?

    You missed it if you didn’t hear Little Jimmy Dickens sing from the balcony of Howes Furniture Store at 4th and Market Streets. He would sing “I’m thinking tonight of my blue eyes” and cry and wail like a baby…and the women would scram and yell like nothing I’ve heard since.

    These are sweet memories that I’ll always remember.

    Now I live in Virginia but whenever we visit Louisville we manage to get a bag of White Castles and used to get rolled oysters from Mazzoni’s. I’m told they closed recently. Too bad. You know they were in business for three centries. That was a good run in anyone’s mind.

  9. John says:

    Found your blog on Ask and was so glad i did. That was a quick read. I have a tiny question.Is it alright if i send you an email???…

  10. sam mcculloch says:

    hi
    i am looking for the recipe to the ranch house “tarter sauce”. i sure hope someone has it!

    sam

  11. Matthew Eades says:

    Loved your post! I was an employee at Hurstbourne CC in the summers of 1994, 1995, and 1996, and I guess I actually worked at the last three tournaments that were held. I didn’t return to work there in 1997, and didn’t realize they had never held another one. Wow, end of an era, I guess. I always had a blast working them, and the celebs always tipped well. Fuzzy gave me a driver one year. It’s a shame the tournament died, because there was always a huge crowd.

    • tom says:

      Do you remember seeing Johnny Weissmuller at the tourney?

      • gravybread says:

        I didn’t go to every Foster Brooks tourney, so I can’t say if Weismuller ever appeared there. If he had been there during one of the events I attended I’m sure I would have remembered, because I was a huge fan of the old Tarzan films.

  12. greg strietelmeier says:

    Hello, can anyone verify that Johnny Wiessmuller once did the Foster Brooks cel. tournament for me. I am allmost positive it was in 1981. Im from Louisville and I shook Johnny Wiessmuller hand. I was 11 then. Wikipedia says his last public apperance was in 1976 somewhere else. Please help its a bar bet kinda

  13. greg strietelmeier says:

    Does anyone know if Johnny Weismuller attended the golf tournament and when? THANKS

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