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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"A Naturalist in Show Business/I Helped Kill Vaudeville"

So I've been working with TSHA Online to get some assignments that I can really get excited about.

I had suggested Sam Hinton to their research editor because 1) he's my uncle, 2) he's recently deceased (a TSHA rule), and 3) he spent a fair amount of time in Texas.

This was agreed upon so I emailed Leanne, Sam's daughter, to see if she could send me excerpts from one or two of the biographies I had heard were in the works for him. She sent me his unpublished autobiography that he wrote in 2001. It's called "A Naturalist in Show Business (or) I Helped Kill Vaudeville."


Although this might be considered too esoteric for some, I personally was riveted since page one (of 324). Sam Hinton moved to Texas at the age of 12 in the late 1920s. He worked road construction. He attended Texas A&M. He learned songs from old black sharecroppers. He played with snakes. Early on he decided that his life will be devoted to two things equally: making music, and the study of biological science. And you know what? He did it!

As head of Scripps Aquarium in San Diego, he touched more shark guts than anyone I know personally (I think!)...he also helped father the mid-20th century folk boom. The book is so equally divided that if one were not eager and/or cognizant of the need for some people to fully live two lives (as I am), it might prove tiresome or confusing...only half as interesting. Luckily I'm a zoology nerd as well as a music person, so I'm right there in the fire with him.

Here's an example: Sam will begin a chapter by recounting the cantankerous ramblings of an old vaudeville legend who was sitting on the theater back stoop and kvetching about "the biz"...then just when you start to shake your head in wonder that he even knew such a legend, he segues abruptly into saying "meanwhile, I thought it prudent to walk around the side of the building to the alleyway, where one of the girls had reported seeing a large striped snake by the dumpsters. I found him and it turned out to be a calm-demeanored specimen of Lampropeltis triangulum, or the common Milk Snake...."

Now you have an idea of what I mean. It's amazing...the things he did, the people he met, the things he saw!

Right now I'm also taking a summer class and working on a research paper for said class - about the history of the cowboy ballad. This is great and I can use plenty of the Lomax library (Alan, John, both) about ballad hunting...but really I can't wait to take Sam's autobiography and make some anecdotes known to the public via the TSHA website.

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