OUT OF 104 people in town here, just one’s not famous: Hugh Odge. Hugh says he doesn’t mind; he says he wouldn’t want the life of a Michael Johnson.
“Of a who?” we ask.
“You know. The one they set fire to. Radio musician.”
“No, I know it’s Michael something.”
“I wouldn’t want all the screaming.” Hugh, he’s something. Just takes not being famous in his stride. People magazine was going to do a story about Hugh: “One in a Hundred—A Town’s Sole Non-Celeb Knows Who He Is.” But Hugh said no, he wouldn’t be interviewed.
Different ones are famous for different things. Ordway Peary, you know, the ball lightning picked him up and flung him through a window of First Redeemed Church into Bethany Sweal’s open coffin while she was being funeralized, which of course made her famous, too, but she didn’t get any chance to enjoy it, even though Ordway startled her out of what it transpired must’ve been just a catalytic state, I think they said it was. They never did find out how she got into it. But even though Ordway startled her out of it, well, put yourself in her shoes. When she came to, in a casket with a man who looked familiar but was sooty all over and had his clothes, eyebrows, and hair singed off and little bits of stained glass and lilies stuck to him, why she had a heart attack and died. Bethany, you know, never married.
Ginger Creekmore, last year when she was nine, was the one wrote a letter to the President saying she knew he had the interests of the Free World at heart in some cute way. I forget how she worded it, but he read it out loud on national TV and praised her by name, and then she got interviewed and said she wanted to grow up and be the person who operates the electric chair some day, so I guess the press had a heyday with that. You know how the press will do.
Mavis Dews, she was on The $25,000 Pyramid with that one that plays the secretary on Bob Newhart, used to. When he was the psychopath. Now I guess he runs a hotel. Mavis said “Bosoms” as the answer to two different questions, I forget what the questions were, and it went over right well.
Talk about psychopaths, Vaughn and Marge Ogle actually had to start seeing one, they got so famous. They had some kind of marriage, I forget what it was called exactly, but it involved their birds some kind of way. It was quite the news when it came out on Charles Kuralt. Had parrots and, oh, cockertoos, cockerteels, all these different cockerbirds, and they would communicate through them, see, and started offering courses in it. But then so many people, instead of writing in, just showed up in their cars looking for personal counseling, honking, at all hours. It put so much pressure on Vaughn and Marge’s marriage—well, they weren’t married, for one thing. That came out. When they went on Donahue. Marge blurted that they weren’t even interested in each other, hardly. They just both liked birds. She said the birds weren’t all that interested in Vaughn, either, because he yelled and was too picky. Vaughn got all upset and said she was always trying to turn the birds against him.
Then come to find out Miz Wygrand was a folk artist, with her little figurines she makes with lard and putty and beef gristle and blow-in cards. Those are the little subscription cards that drop out of magazines all the time. She don’t take any magazines, either—except, well, now Art in America ever since she was in it. But she always just hung around the post office and picked up the cards, and we always thought—well, we’d say, “She’s harmless.” Now they’ve got her in a museum in Toronto.
Earl and Ora Whisenant, they’re the ones had the tag sale where somebody bought as a Eugyptian mummy what turned out—no, I guess it was the other way around. It was sold as a bundle of antique shirtwaists. And then later it was appraised as a Eugyptian mummy. Had just been down in their basement, all these years. Off in a corner.
So of course anyway we have a local roast every week. “We all knew Terrine before she was famous and I want to say she hasn’t changed a bit. Course I don’t know why she had to go and have a phone put in just so she could then turn around and unlist it.”
She did, too. Terrine Pharr. She’s the one— you must’ve seen her getting worked over by Ted Koppel—the one that adopted her father, changed his name legally, and then married him. You’d have to know Terrine; it wasn’t anything like it looked. She just loves going through channels. Soon as she got it into her head that a private citizen could file a writ and all, why it was Katy bar the door. She had her dad incorporated, too, and registered as a flag of convenience. She sat next to Hugh Odge at one roast and he said, “Just don’t declare me a national monument or nothing, Terrine, ‘cause I don’t want to be always shooing squirrels off my head.”
Ed Liveright, now . . . What is it again that Ed is famous for? I believe it was Ed that was sold, as the Eugyptian mummy. No, because he won’t go in anybody’s basement. He’s got a fear of depths.
I DECLARE, IT’S getting hard to keep people straight. I used to know everybody in town and didn’t have a second thought about it, but now that you’ve seen so many of them on TV, why I’ll see somebody I’ve known for thirty years and say to myself, “Isn’t that . . . ?” You know. I don’t remember whether I know them or just know who they are. If you was to run Claus V. Bulow past me right now I’d have to stop and think whether I know him from seeing him on Merv or from having him sell me Red Wing shoes in specially narrow sizes out of his house. I have the narrowest feet, for a heavyset man; my whole family do.
And Worley Belt, he does quite a business in outsizes with those Red Wings. He doesn’t look anything like Claus Bulow; I’m just using him as an illustration of how you’ll get confused. Worley’s not famed for his shoes. I le was on 20/20 concerning his own German dirigible that he was constructing off to one side of his house. Course we had to zone him out of that. Took it up before the commission, zoned him out of any lighter-than-air construction on his property. Hate to zone a man’s land out of anything, but Worley wouldn’t use helium, like normal people, he had to use hydrogen, for historical accuracy. And us sitting there in the shadow of it trying on shoes. We let him inflate it that one time, for the show, and be John Brown if it didn’t blow sky high. Great TV, oh, yeah. “But Worley,” we said, “something like that is great TV once.”
At the roasts, though—matter of fact, we roasted Hugh Odge one time. Forgot he wasn’t famous. He went along with it. Just requested no remarks about his baldness. We go through the jury rolls alphabetically—well, reverse-alphabetically, because Fielder Yerkes is so old we wanted to make sure we got him in. It’s his house, you know, where the face of Gene Rayburn showed up in the wood grain when he sanded down his porch door.
We don’t roast Ordway Peary, because he don’t want to hear about anything hot. Since the lightning. He was the one, remember, I told you was flung by the lightning? Into Bethany Sweal’s arms? That’s how they knew for sure she must’ve been brought back to life, because they had to prize him out of her grasp. Though I think frankly Ordway trades on his fame. Without bragging about it in detail, cause then he’d have to talk about the lightning. He don’t want any mention of anything bright or hot. Course he will say that quire often.
You’ll say something about the shooting stars being so bad this year and Ordway’ll say, “Whoa. I’m going to have to ask you to change the topic. I don’t want to hear nothing about anything that bright and hot.” And he’ll look off into the distance. Ordway I think is one person who it went to his head.
The rest of us take it right well, don’t make a big deal of it, you know. We have a celebrity picnic every year; Hugh Odge gets to come as somebody’s guest. And he will, too; he’s used to being around us—you know, it’s nothing for him where he’s got to be pointing people out. Ordway, now, he’ll get kind of obvious about standing a long way from where the wienies are being cooked.
Ordway, of course, he was one of the most dead-set ones of us against Worley Belt’s zeppelin. Ordway’d go from house to house and wouldn’t even say, “After all I’ve been through.” He’d just look off into the distance and say he felt it especially incumbent on him to raise certain issues.
That’s something a lot of us have wrestled with—whether we ought to speak out, you know, on things like, oh, crises of the world. Just because a man’s got national attention for being glued to the floor of his rocks-gems-and-minerals shop by holdup men—taking Kaymore Dark for example. They used that Super Glue, you know, he like to never got up off that floor; he did three interviews while he was stuck there. Just because a man’s a household name for being glued to his floor or whatever, don’t by virtue of that make him an expert on the deficit, say.
But some of us feel like, well, maybe we have a responsibility to speak out when it’s something that affects every generation. Earl Whisenant started a petition to outlaw social studies in the nation’s schools. I didn’t sign it, because I didn’t think I ought to influence people to say to themselves, “Well, he’s on TV,” just because I’m on TV, “I guess I ought to sign too.” It’s something I’ve thought a lot about.
How I got my show was, the cable was out here filming a movie based on one of us, I forget which one, and the producer, Barry, and I got talking. He said he was looking for fresh faces, people that hadn’t been in whitener commercials or on The Salt of the Earth Show or anything. And I hadn’t. And his eyes lit up, because, the way he put it, “The thing is, you look like you haven’t.”
So, well, I guess they built the whole concept around me. Nobody Special. I’m the host, and our staff goes far and wide to find guests that maybe aren’t fabulous, maybe didn’t ever do anything all that incredible, maybe wouldn’t ever be picked out of a crowd, but that’s the point. People are getting back to the basic values now. People want to know there are average people out there: it’s reassuring. People look at our show and say, “What business has that character got being on TV?” And seems like it gives them a lift.
And, of course, well, it’s made a difference in my life. I can pick up Us magazine and feel like a part of it now. I tried to get Hugh Odge to do a spot on the show, but he said, “No, I just couldn’t handle the pulling on my coattails. Everybody getting my reaction to this, that, and the other. Breaking into my trailer home wanting to know what I’m really like.”
Then too there are some in town who maintain Hugh isn’t doing anything more in this world than just biding his time. Particularly since he started building that—well, to hear Hugh tell it, he’s not building anything, he’s just puttering. We don’t really know what it is. But it’s taking shape. And the zoning commission’s getting concerned. “If you ask me,” Worley Belt was saying the other day, “it’s a ark.”