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  THE CRIMSON CORRAL: Western Memories
 
SMILEY BURNETTE
Birth Name: Lester Alvin Burnette
Born: March 18, 1911, Summum, Illinois
Died: Feb. 16, 1967, Encino, California (leukemia)

By
Duane Fulk

I saw Smiley Burnette twice. The first time was about 1957 when he opened a W.T. Grant store in my home town of Ashland, Ohio - pop.20,000 located between Cleveland & Columbus. Mom and dad took me over town and Smiley, wearing his famous cowboy hat and polka-dot shirt, was standing up on a flat bed hay wagon in the middle of main street in front of the new Grant store. 

I was right up front and distinctively remember only these 3 things: 

1 - "Hello everybody! Thank you all for coming down to this grand opening. It's great to be in" . . . . at this very moment he leaned sideways to a crew member and whispered, "Where are we?" then continued . . . . "in Ashland, Ohio." 

2 - He then yelled, "How many of you have seen me in movies with Gene Autry?" I and many others raised our hands high in the air. "How many of you have seen me in movies with Roy Rogers?" Again, I and lots of others raised our hands. "How many of you have seen me in movies with Johnny Mack Brown?" I didn't think I ever did so I kept my hand down as several others did raise theirs. He said, "That's funny. I never made any movies with Johnny Mack Brown." 

3 - Smiley stated that he has written about 300 songs and said, "Sure I did. How many of you ever heard this one?" He then sang a short version of "Mama Don't Allow No Banjo Playing Playin' In Here." I was thrilled because I and mom and dad recognized it! 

The 2nd time I saw Smiley was August 1960 at the Ohio State Fair. The canvas marquee on the midway stated: "See 2 of your favorite western movie stars in person! Johnny Mack Brown and Smiley Burnett on the inside! Shows every hour." It was too expensive, $1.00! --- so I didn't go in. But my buddy Lorin and I walked around back and there they BOTH were! Standing in their cowboy outfits, wrapping their arms around the shoulders of a few people - they were posing for pictures. After 2 or 3 photos Smiley pointed and said in his laughing twang, "Now, no more." I was about 40 feet away and didn't think I should approach. Smiley and Johnny walked into a trailer and that was it. I was 14, pretty shy and always regretted not going in to the show or asking for autographs.

Smiley Burnette is my favorite western sidekick. Sure he overdid it sometimes but overall he could be genuinely funny yet, when the chips were down, be serious or helpful in a fight. Plus he really was talented, not only with his own unique style of singing and vocal effects, but he could actually play over a dozen musical instruments.

Duane Fulk


Click HERE for more info and a Filmography on Smiley Burnette.

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