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January 11, 2000

Here are more notables who I consider worthy of inclusion on Perry's "Top Ten List" for the millennium just ending, if there were such a thing:

Buster Keaton. He was perhaps the greatest of those early day film clowns who established Hollywood as the heart of the U.S. entertainment industry. Buster Keaton was not born here but he lived in Perry with his parents, Joe and Myra Keaton, and other members of the family before Oklahoma achieved statehood. While still a youngster, he appeared with his parents on the stage of the old Grand Opera House in a rough and tumble vaudeville act. That set the tone for the Keaton family as they gradually became headliners in houses throughout the U.S. In time Buster starred in silent movies and he was considered a king of deadpan comedy, ranking with Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and other film pioneers. His trademarks were an expressionless face and a porkpie hat.

Buster's career diminished with the advent of sound movies. His comedy was meant for silent films. Even so, the public forever held him in high regard and he continued to appear in movies and network TV productions, usually in supporting roles. Paramount Studio made a feature-length film of his life story (it bore little resemblance to the real story) and in 1957 the film had its world premiere in Perry to celebrate his roots in this small Oklahoma town. Actor Donald O'Connor played the part of Buster Keaton. Buster and his wife, Eleanor, were brought here for the premiere and mingled freely with fans and admirers who came for the gala occasion Volumes could be written about Buster Keaton. He surely belongs on this list.

Lysbeth Hughes. This comely lady with authentic Perry roots was an international favorite of popular music lovers in the 1930s and 1940s. She was the daughter of Dr. F.C. Seids, Perry dentist, and his first wife. Miss Hughes was a harpist and vocal soloist with the immensely popular Horace Heidt orchestra. That group was "one of the most formidable of all show bands" of that era, according to George T. Simon's definitive book, The Big Bands. At the time, Heidt also had Alvino Rey, guitar; the King Sisters, singers; Frank DeVol, conductor-arranger; and Gordon MacRae and Art Carney (yes, Jackie Gleason's sidekick), singers, in addition to Miss Hughes.

The Heidt aggregation was a major entertainment vehicle and Lysbeth was one of its luminaries. Heidt headed major network radio shows and played concerts throughout the U.S. and in Europe. Lysbeth was usually introduced as "the singing harpist."

An article in The Perry Daily Journal in 1940 announced that Miss Hughes was the featured singer in the new show at the Rainbow Room of Radio City in New York, a Mecca of the entertainment world. The former Perry girl was described as a star of stage and radio for several years. The Perry Republican in May 1912 had a brief article about baptismal services for "Fritzie Elizabeth, infant daughter of Dr. and Mrs. F. C. Seids." As a professional entertainer years later, she changed her given name to Lysbeth and used her mother's maiden name.

We'll have more later about some of Perry's "Top Ten" nominees. Watch for them in this space.