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July 20, 1999

Cleo Payne was asking the other day if anyone else still remembers the minstrel shows that used to set up in Perry on east Delaware street some 60 or so years ago. I do recall the tent shows that came here each summer in the early 1940s and 1930s, providing various types of entertainment, including minstrels, presented by nomadic performers. They usually pitched their tents in a vacant lot across the alley from Foster's Corner Drug, where Ruble-Vance Motor Co. is now located.

During the late 1940s, a gentleman named Dude Kimball came to Perry several times to produce, direct and star in minstrel shows at the old Perry high school auditorium. I think he was based in the area of Fort Worth or Dallas. At that time, minstrel shows were still acceptable art forms, but the black-faced comedy later was recognized as an objectionable type of theater and now one is rarely, if ever, seen.

Mr. Kimball was an interesting character in his own right. He traveled from town to town, usually spending about two weeks in a community. He recruited local civic clubs like Rotary and Lions to sponsor the shows in the various towns he visited then shared the ticket sale revenue with them. He cajoled local folks to do the comedy routines that he had salvaged from a lifetime of vaudeville performances. In Perry, he had bankers, funeral directors, lumbermen, teachers, preachers, merchants, optometrists, physicians, and even an occasional newspaper person and assorted others cavorting on stage in all kinds of outlandish stunts and comedy routines, sometimes in drag but most often in the flashy costumes that he provided.

To climax each performance, he appeared in one of his own comedy acts with homemade musical instruments, something on the order of the bazooka that Bob Burns introduced to movie audiences a few years earlier. His patter was mostly impromptu and spiced with clean but biting barbs that were localized to the community that hosted him. He was a little like Don Rickles of this generation. Mr. Kimball was a born showman, comedian and storyteller, and no one enjoyed his foolishness more than he himself did. It was fun just to be around him.

Mr. Kimball, with his flowing white mane and show biz personality, probably retired about the time minstrel shows were generally frowned upon, and I presume he has passed on to that great stage show in the blue yonder. It's just as well. Though his stage specialty would not be tolerated today, he was a very funny man who never stopped trying to entertain where two or more were gathered about him.

The demand for quality housing continues in Perry. Some fine looking examples are underway on both the northwest and southwest corners of town where uncompleted structures show that they eventually will be comfortable abodes for some local families. Keep an eye on Fifteenth street. Business and residential developments should continue there in the near future.