Today is the birthday of Gailard Sartain, an actor I suspect would be instantly recognizable in a “Hey, It’s That Guy!” manner to many of our middle-aged Avocados (among whom I include myself), particularly those who grew up in the South.
He appeared in a number of films and TV shows, including Hee Haw, The Outsiders, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Jerk (in a deleted scene, his boorish businessman convinces Steve Martin’s Navin Johnson to give him money so he can “take his friends to the Super Bowl like a man!!”), and The Buddy Holly Story, in which he played the Big Bopper. He became particularly close with Jim Varney, who cast him in several of the Ernest films as well as the short-lived cult TV outing Hey, Vern! It’s Ernest! Sartain’s comic chops, both in acting and writing terms, should have made learning of his earliest work less of a personal surprise (not to mention his visual artistry, including designing album covers for fellow Oklahoman Leon Russell).
In 1970, Sartain, then a struggling actor and cameraman working on one of Tulsa’s local news broadcasts, developed The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting, a late night show fitting breaks in the typical B-movie repeats during which he dressed as a wizard—Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi—and introduced movies Svengoolie-style (being almost exactly contemporaneous with the original article several states away). The host segments quickly expanded to include comedy sketches, scripted with Sartain by local writer Jim Millaway and another struggling young actor by the name of Gary Busey (no idea whether Sartain’s later casting in Buddy Holly was a result, but I doubt it hurt). The show lasted for three years before at least two of its stalwarts went on to greener pastures.
Seeing random snippets made for a bizarrely invigorating late night experience. Checking in with the then-dormant DNA of, say, Saturday Night Live or Mystery Science Theater years before either’s creation, and marinating in the weird local TV cultural vibe similar to, say, Gigglesnort Hotel (more of a stretch, but going with my gut), it’s a unique entry in extreme Americana (not least as there’s little apparent audience involvement and it looks like they filmed the whole thing in a large basement), anchored by Sartain’s vivacious, offbeat comic sensibility. Hailing from the same general part of the country (certainly one remote from the American cultural mainstream), it shouldn’t be quite as bracing a jolt for me to find this kind of batshit jollity lying in wait, but such it was (not least on the grim reflection that the show lies almost exactly halfway between the present and what Tulsa’s probably best known for these days, at least in historical terms). I’ve often wondered how many other tiny furnaces were burning across the country.
Remotely signing off this morning from work with a 1970 single from the aforementioned and the Natural Brass Company.
Have a good Day Thread!