Ijoined the Boys Club and it became a home-away-from-home for me. It had a library and a workshop where I learned to make things on machines, a gym with lots of activities, and the employees saw to it that we had things to do every day. On Saturdays, they provided a buss to take kids to the Tower theater for the Saturday Matinee, but I never went. Across the street from the Boys Club was an orphanage with a fenced-in playground. I felt sad for the children inside, for they would stand at the fence and watch us playing outside, and were unable to join us. A block and a half from me was 8th Street Park - those further up the road called it 9th Street Park. It covered the whole block and had slides, swings, and merry-go-rounds; in later years, it was given the official name of Bellevue Park, the swings and slides removed, and million-dollar architecture was added. Ugly.
Me with Clinic in Background
Something else about the Memorial Auditorium, they brought shows to town. I'm sure they charged for them, but I was always given a free pass. We only lived in the mobile home about a year, and when my dad couldn't make payments on it, we had to move. So the time would be around 1951 when one of my heroes came to town. I was given a pass for the show that night, and onstage was Lash LaRue and Al "Fuzzy" St. John, western stars I had watched at the picture shows downtown on many Saturdays. Lash would pop that 15-foot long bullwhip, and Fuzzy would roll a cigarette with one hand, then they would put on a mock fistfight for our entertainment. I sat in wonderment, as only an eleven-year-old boy could throughout the show. Then when it was all over, Lash and Fuzzy visited with the audience, and spoke with us. I even got a pat on the head from Lash LaRue!
However, there is sadness even in such glorious times as this. Much later, I learned that in 1951 the B Westerns were dying, and all of the western stars were making the rounds trying to promote interest in a dying entertainment industry. Their contracts were up in 1951 and '52, and the studios were not renewing them. Westerns were growing up, and TV was taking the place of the Saturday Matinees. Cowboy stars like Lash LaRue were drifting away, their careers finished.
They looked so much alike that Lash LaRue could have passed for Humphrey Bogart's twin. The likeness was often a curse for Lash, as people would often mistake him for Bogart. He enjoyed telling one story at conventions that went something like this: One day an actress he worked with asked him:
"Are you related to Humphrey Bogart?"
"I don't think so," he replied.
"Hmm," the actress continued. "Did your mother by chance meet Bogart before you were conceived?"
When I met Lash LaRue in 1951, he was a giant. Perhaps his only claim to fame, besides his resemblance to Bogart, was that of a B Western movie star. But for kids growing up in the 1940s and '50s, our heroes were bigger than life. They were the good guys that we needed. The fathers we didn't have. They brought justice to the West, and gave us someone to emulate when we grew up. And that wasn't a bad thing.
BTW, I too also had the honor and pleasure of meeting and shaking Lash LaRue's hand; he retired to Gaffney, SC, and I met him in the early 80s—over 30 years after Tom's first meeting with a hero.
Here's the incomparable Lash LaRue: