Notable Arkansans

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He was born in 1911 on a cotton plantation in Varner, Lincoln County, the oldest of three children. When he was 15, his father, a general store owner, died, leaving him to help his mother support the family by selling peanuts in the streets of England (County Lonoke). In 1930 he graduated from England High School chairman of the upper class.

In 1935 he married Charlene Smith; the couple had a son and a daughter. For a few years, he jumped from job to job, first selling aluminum items and insurance, then hawking groceries in the back of a small truck. For a while he worked as a sales manager for a Little Rock Kroger store. But he found he liked to entertain people, especially children. He took part in a radio competition called “Major Bowes Amateur Hour”, making humorous impressions. He didn’t win, but he gained notoriety. He learned a few magic tricks, learned to tie balloons to look like cartoon animals and funny hats, and developed a funny character that made him a big hit on children’s birthdays.

In the late 1940s, he hosted a radio show, “The Safety-First Pals”, entertaining children by playing the character of a highlander named Uncle Arky. In 1955, KARK-TV’s program director, who recalled his performance on “Major Bowes Amateur Hour”, hired him to host his own western-themed afternoon show, “Six Gun Theater” . Along with a cowboy hat and bolo tie, he added a Western sounding nickname that marked him for the rest of his life. The show focused on children, featuring Western films and occasional visits from celebrities such as Roy Rogers, Smiley Burnette, Gail “Annie Oakley” Davis, and Gene Autry. Dressed in his western attire, he became the main spokesperson for the show’s sponsor, Finkbeiner Meat Packing Co.

When the show ceased airing in 1958, he went to work as a public relations representative for Wonder Bakery in Little Rock and its parent company, ITT Continental Baking Co. He roamed the state, showing up at parties in children’s birthday party, his car pulling a trailer that carried a four-horse riding arena. He handed out mini Wonder Bread buns and entertained the kids by telling jokes, pulling coins from their ears, and making balloons and hats. He also distributed Square Shooter Club cards – reminding members to do good deeds every day – and little red books containing verses from the Bible. For many years, he threw a birthday party at the Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock, a boon to the Jaycettes’ annual toy drive. It is estimated that he performed over 8,000 functions, private and corporate. When he retired in 1977, Continental Baking Co. invited “everyone in Arkansas” to attend one last big party at University Mall in Little Rock.

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Who was this iconic Arkansas children’s artist who died of a heart attack a year after retiring?

See Notable Arkansans – Answer


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