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Arts and Music

The Prater's Creek Gazette

13th Issue Spring 2007 Page #7







GilbertSpeck” Rhodes

On Saturday afternoons I’d always come in from playing ball long enough to watch The Porter Wagoner Show. The show featured Porter and his crack band, The Wagonmasters. That band featured Buck Trent on electric banjo, and the “girl singer”, a certain Miss Dolly Parton. But my favorite part of the show was when bass player Speck Rhodes would sing or do his telephone routine. His “rube garb” clothing, blacked out teeth, and bowler hat obviously had a big influence on local band The Drovers Old Time Medicine Show.

Gilbert Rhodes was born in West Plains, Missouri in 1915. After his family moved to Arkansas, Speck started playing the banjo and in 1931 he and his two brothers and sister formed a family band. The band played the vaudeville circuit and played for tips on the street. Speck got a bass in 1936 and started working on his clown act. Around 1938, the family band, known as Slim Rhodes and the Log Cabin Mountaineers were on KWOC in Poplar Bluff, Mo. The show was sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour. A 12-year-old Porter Wagoner was greatly influenced after attending a performance. By 1941 Speck had started wearing the checkered suit he’d wear for the rest of his stage life. The Rhodes family band worked radio in Memphis, Tenn., and then in 1947 they had their own television show, the Rhodes Show.

Speck joined the Porter Wagoner Show in 1960 where he’d have a weekly phone conversation on the wall phone with his sweetie, “Sadie”, and sing a song. His signature number was the Carter Family song “Sweet Fern”.

Speck Rhodes passed away in March 2000. If you never got the chance to see or hear him, check out The Porter Wagoner Show album or see the one video posted of him on

Three Good Movies

On a cold, rainy weekend in February, with the entire paycheck I earn for writing for this paper spent on bills, I sat at home hoping something good would be on television. And as luck would have it, there were three great movies broadcast that weekend. Two of the movies, Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo and Harvey starring James Stewart, I had seen many times. The third was Napoleon Dynamite, a movie I had been wanting to see.

The Purple Rose of Cairo, released in 1985, deals with how people can get lost in a fantasy world while in the dark of a movie theater. It is set in the 1920’s Depression era, and stars Mia Farrow as Cecilia, a woman who is married to a brutish husband, played by Danny Aiello, who throws all of their money away on gambling and his girlfriends. Cecilia repeatedly goes to the movies to escape into her fantasy world, and after sitting through a new picture numerous times, one of the characters steps off of the screen to woo her. In the end, when Cecilia's heart is broken once again, she is seen smiling as the new Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie flickers on the screen. This is poignant because the Fred and Ginger movies, with their lavish costumes, dances, and scenery, did offer Depression America a respite from the terrible hard times.

Later that afternoon, Comedy Central aired Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon, the lead character, the HERO, is a socially inept high school student who eventually triumphs in the end. But this is not your ordinary “high school geek makes good” film. It is wonderfully weird. I want a “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt.

And on Sunday, Turner Classic Movies aired 1950’s Harvey, one of my favorite movies of all time. James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a very nice, friendly man from a respectable family who likes to drink a little, well, a lot. Elwood has drunken hallucinations of a 6-ft tall rabbit named Harvey. Elwood’s sister wants him to be committed to the mental institution, but changes her mind after the taxi cab driver who drove them out to the institution tells her that after treatment Elwood will be "a perfectly normal human being and you know what stinkers they are”.

Elwood tells people that Harvey is a “pooka”, which, as a hospital orderly reads in the dictionary, is “From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and...."

This movie does what very few movies can do to, and for, me. I laugh, I feel good about the creative powers in the world, and tears well up in my eyes over the perfection of the dialogue and the actor’s performances, especially Mr. Stewart. Interestingly, he never was happy with the lighthearted way he played Elwood, and later played the character with a darker edge in a 1971 television remake. But I think he hit it out of the park in the original. This movie contains some of the greatest lines ever in cinema history:

“Well, I've wrestled with reality for thirty-five years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it." 

"Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space but any objections." 

“My mother told me ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant’. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant." 

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