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

March 26, 2007

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.