News Column

The Gleaner, Henderson, Ky., Chuck Stinnett column

November 27, 2013


Nov. 27--A bit of this and that:

The latest United Way Pantomime Show hit the stage a short time ago, this time in the guise of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," the 1960s hit sketch comedy TV show. (How could you not love a show that brought John Wayne and Tiny Tim together in a skit?) A "Laugh-In" highlight special aired a few years ago; I was surprised and pleased that the topical comedy held up well.

Among the various Pantomime numbers this year one featured Beth Strawn, the executive director of the Downtown Henderson Partnership, lip-syncing the 1960s hit single "Downtown."

The song is a peppy number, with lyrics that beckon the listener to the big city:

The lights are much brighter there

You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares

So go downtown

Things will be great when you're downtown

No finer place for sure, downtown

Everything's waiting for you

It hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart in America in early 1965 and went on to win a Grammy, and remains a very listenable pop tune.

"Downtown" was famously sung by a British songbird named Petula Clark who, I assumed for many years, was a fashionable young London Mod girl at the time.

I was young myself once. There was a time when I was one of the younger hams in the Pantomime Show. But a lot of the older folks have retired from the stage (and, sadly, a couple passed away suddenly and long before their time). Now, I'm one of the older members of the troupe, and have both the gray hairs and aches to prove it.

On the eve of this year's show, I came upon a piece of intelligence that I whispered to cast members who are old enough to remember when "Downtown" was on Top 40 radio. It was something that assured me that I'm not all that old. It also gave me the perverse satisfaction of making the people I shared it with feel a good deal older.

"Do you know," I told folks backstage, "that Petula Clark is 81 years old?"

You could practically hear the faces that fell when people learned that the performer of a hit song from what we like to think of as our not-that-long-ago youth is an octogenarian.

Far from being a baby boomer, Miss Clark was born outside London on Nov. 15, 1932.

Clark was a child performer who entertained the troops during World War II. She appeared in her first movie in 1944 -- more than 20 years before "Downtown" -- and became one of the first stars of British TV during the 1950s. By the early 1960s, she had become a popular songstress across Europe, recording No. 1 hits in French, German and Italian.

Then she was persuaded to make a recording in English, and "Downtown" hit the air waves. More hits followed, along with stints performing in Las Vegas and on Broadway.

Petula Clark is still performing; she'll launch a tour of concerts in Australia, Singapore and Thailand starting next April.

And, I'll bet, no one will tell her she's too old.

It's Thanksgiving Eve, and preparations are well under way for what is many people's favorite holiday.

It's come a long way since the days of the Revolutionary War when, according to the Library of Congress, the Continental-Confederation Congress regularly proclaimed national days of thanksgiving and "humiliation, fasting and prayer." Americans today might be persuaded to bow their heads for a short blessing. But having long since won our freedom, we have altogether lost our appetite for voluntary humiliation and fasting.

Feasting is much more our style. So right now, turkeys are thawing, pies are cooling and travel plans are set. Our family has its own familiar and well-loved routine: We'll travel to Donna's hometown of Caneyville -- which, as I like to explain, is between Spring Lick and Millwood, and between Roundhill and Pine Knob -- on Thanksgiving morning and stop at her parent's house to warm by the fire for a few minutes.

Then we'll bundle up and head out for her family's 12th annual Turkey Trot, which will feature her parents; most if not all of her siblings, nieces and nephews; and more than a few townsfolk. At the conclusion, brother-in-law Hub Green will gather everyone and hand out his annual gag prizes for participants. There are even complimentary, Donna-designed long-sleeve T-shirts for participants.

Then it will be back to the parents' house to catch Santa at the conclusion of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by the airing of the annual National Dog Show. (Traditionally that was followed by the 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street." But I see this year, "The Queen Latifah Show" will air in that time slot.)

Then it will be off to Hub and Merry Lynn's house where 30-odd (and, in some cases, odd) members of the family will gather for a Thanksgiving feast that will spread out across four rooms. We'll toast with a Champagne cocktail, bow for the prayer, then dine. Afterward, if there is justice in this world, there will be a few mindless but spirited games of Pass the Trash, followed by the long, dark ride home.

Then, unlike the more fortunate, we'll get up early on Friday and go to work, punctuated by meeting with my old partner Donald Wathen to ring the Salvation Army bell outside Walmart for a couple of hours late that morning. I hope you'll drop by and drop some money in the red kettle.

Better yet, give some money to your kids or grandkids, and let them put it in the pot. They love doing it ... and it might imbue a joy of generosity.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Business Editor Chuck Stinnett can be reached at 270-831-8343 or


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