Bring Your Chair For The Medicine Show


White County Historical Society


n the early and mid-1930s the traveling Medicine Show was a big attraction in small towns across the country. A small, one or two-man show might set up on a street corner for an hour on Saturday. After entertaining for a few minutes he would pass among his listeners "hawking" his linament, tonic and corn remover. But the bigger and better Medicine Show came to the park and played nightly all week. One such group was out of Batesville and they lived in house trailers and had their own out-in-the-open stage. They had fine vaudeville acts and large crowds in the Pangburn area would gather on those warm spring or summer nights and forget their troubles for a while by splitting their sides with laughter. People who did not bring their own stool or chairs either stood or sat on the ground.
A character known as "Willie" was the star and did several blackface skits. Willie had a pretty wife who always sang a few popular and torch songs. Also his wife and her dad (who was the owner and manager of the show) would play "straight" roles in the skits. Another very funny couple was "Boob" and "Frosty." He was a big ole dumb, awkward red-haired guy and she was a silly, giggling bleached blonde. The piano player was always the handsome man with the wavy hair and pearly teeth. I think he doubled as Boob. Our town liked this show group so well, and they liked us too, so not only did they play four or five summers but they came two or three times in the winter. They played a couple of times in the school auditorium and at least once in the old American Legion Theater. That year in the old theater the show sponsored a young ladies popularity contest.

Unlike the shows held in the open-air summertime in the park which were free, these inside ones charged a small fee for admission. Your ticket allowed you to vote for a contestant and also a top from a candy box was good for a vote. There were four or five girls in this contest but I can only remember one, Ruth Edwards, who was the winner. Before the closing night got under way, I was standing on the walk out front. Two or three older guys were saying "ole 'Jule' will see that she wins even if he has to plunk down 10, maybe 20, dollars more in votes." They were referring, of course, to Ruth's Uncle Julius Albert. Whether they knew what they were talking about I never knew, but anyway she took first place and got a ring (or was it a watch?) as a prize.
And so, my friend, we close another chapter from the American Scene of our childhood days. That great institution, the old-time Medicine Show, has passed on out yonder. It remains in only one place - in the mind of each one who remembers.

(The author, R.C. McCourt, now lives in Searcy.)