Frank Charney

Frank Charney's Sunday Postcard

Capitol Theater and Smiley Burnette again

I decided to get more mileage from my last week's Sunday column about Smiley Burnette's landmark appearance at Nanty Glo's Capitol Theater, probably in 1945 or 1946. At first, I thought it might have been a mental aberration on my part since no one was corroborating my story. Fortunately, PaulDance, the web site name for a frequent contributor to the Nanty Glo web site, came forth to verify my story. He worked at the Capitol Theater at the time and his recollection of Smiley I thought was informative and entertaining. For readers that may have missed it, his story read as follows:

Frank's Sunday column brought back a memory of the Capitol Theatre.

While working at the theatre, we had many duties. We painted, pasted the 6 by 24 sheeets on the sides of the building, changed the marquee, counted the dishes when they arrived (broken ones, we were given credit for), patched the leather seats. We had Smiley Burnette coming as a stage show, which required raising the screen and putting the sound system behind a curtain on the back of the stage. I was to run the stage lights for the show, and help with the screen and the sound system .... Of course, I was nervous, and went into the theatre early to check that all the lights were operable. When I went in, there was a man sitting at a card table pecking one finger at a time on a typewriter. I told him he would be there till midnight typing as he was. He asked me if I could do better, and I told him that I was taking typing in school. He said sit down and show me....He started to dictate the letter and I typed it...In the middle of the letter, I realized that this was Smiley Burnett writing a letter to his wife. He said he would not have me type the sentimental things, he would do it in longhand, with a smile on his face. He was a true enertainer, and the theatre was packed to capacity ...........YES, I do have an autographed picture from him.

He went on stage carrying a guitar, but it was mostly to give him a chord. He wrote over 300 songs, but could not read one note of music. His horse (white with a black ring around one eye) was in a trailer on First Street. We did not have the facilities to bring a horse on stage, but on some of his other stops did. He was on tour for one night stands. I do remember him telling me that he started in vaudeville, and was surprised that we had (fly) loft backstage where the stage curtains were tied off. The screen was on a counterbalanced sand bag ...also I know I have Smiley's autographed picture somewhere.

From Smiley's biography, I also extracted a statement. Performing 90 one-night stands during the summer was Smiley's idea of a summer vacation. "I'm the poor man's Bob Hope", and kids about his record 7,000 one-night stands. But no matter what he does, his heart still belongs to "Ole Frog." Says Smiley: "I created that character an' I lived it. I never wanted to be an actor an' to this day I don't consider myself one. I jest played this one role, I never knew how to play anything else. There isn't much difference between Frog an' Charlie Pratt of Petticoat Junction. I guess they're both jest me.

His claim of 7000 one-night stands had to be an exaggeration as that would be well over 200 appearances per year for a 30 year period.

Finally, to an inquiry that I had sent to a Smiley historical web site, the webmaster, DA Eaton, replied.

"Yes, Smiley was very capable of performing on his own. He started at 16, performing on the air for a radio station. Gene (Autry) and Smiley hit it off right away because Smiley could carry his own on stage as well as play well over 50 instruments. That made it easy to take Smiley for accompaniment.

Smiley did much touring on his own, especially after 1953 when the Western movies died away. Performing live was his greatest joy; he really enjoyed all his fans. Stephen (his eldest son) toured with his Dad in the late 1950s and eary 1960. He said that Smiley did keep a log of everywhere he performed but it was destroyed in a trailer fire.

Hope this answers your questions, and thank you so much for visiting with Smiley.

Life's Best. DA Eaton

And Frank's final statement has to be "Maybe I can start a new career just writing about Smiley Burnette."

— Frank Charney



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BVHS Class of 2000 list now online

'New' Library of Congress Nanty Glo photos from 1937

Complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonal articles

Top daily news stories linked from our sister webpage Xnmp, news that signifies

Today's chuckle

Things to ponder—

Why do people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground?

— Sent by Trudy Myers

Thought for today

May you always have
walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain,
tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you,
those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

—Irish blessing

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