Tuesday, March 13, 2007


How many of you old buckaroos remember Smiley Burnette, or maybe “Frog Millhouse” is more familiar? He was the faithful sidekick to Gene Autry through 54 “singing western” movies between 1934 and 1942, which was the year Gene went off to war.

Little known fact is that Smiley actually wrote more than 400 songs, many of which he and/or Gene sang on screen. He is as a result, in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was a very talented man who could play more than 50 instruments!

After kicking around with other western stars, such as Roy Rogers, he finished his and Gene’s movie career with 6 more films, the last of which was in 1953. After this, some of you may remember him as Charlie Pratt, the engineer on the “Hooterville Cannonball” that stopped at “Petticoat Junction!”

His movie career over, Smiley retired, but occasionally did rodeo appearances for children through the mid-sixties.

It was during one of these occasions, around about 1962, that “Frog” spent a couple of days in the Mockingbird Trailer Park in Florence, Alabama. This is where our paths crossed!

The children of the trailer park had been told that “Smiley” was in town, but none of us had the courage to approach him. However, as it turned out it was around New Year’s and we roamed the trailer park lighting firecrackers and throwing them. This was an advanced trick and we had only become brave enough to try this particular season.

As fate would have it, we stopped in the street directly in front of Mr. Brunette’s little travel trailer. This trailer could not have been over 8 feet long, but apparently served him well as he toured the United States.

I lit a firecracker, using a punk stick, but the fuse was one of those “slow burners” with tightly twisted paper with little powder. Just as I was about to blow on the fuse “Smiley” opened his trailer door and stepped outside, startling us!

I dropped my hand to my side to prevent him from seeing what we were up to and forgot about it. “How you boys doing tonight,” he asked?

Oh, just fine sir, how are you?” one of us forced out.

Just then I remembered what had happened just moments before, but before I could look down - “BAM!”

Everyone jumped, including Smiley, and I screamed like the biggest sissy in the trailer park! My fingers were numb and two felt like they were missing!

Mr. Burnette ran to me and I held up my hand, the one with two fingers missing, by the wrist with my other hand and began to stomp around in little circles while he danced around with me, trying to see the damage by the street light.

“I think you’ll be okay son, all the fingers are there!”

I looked at my hand in the light of the street lamp and saw that all the appendages were indeed there, except that three of them were black and red from the exploding black powder. All the mouth blowing did not soothe the sting, and it did not completely stop burning until sometime the next day.

Well, long story short, “Frog Millhouse” gave us all an autograph, which I remember resembled a frog face – two big frogeyes ending in a long sweeping “g” that just spelled out Frog if you knew who had made it!

I saw today on eBay a signature of Smiley going for $300, but alas I have long since lost that little piece of history. However, Mr. Burnette lives on in this old buckaroo’s heart and mind!


BRUNO said...

I can't remember how many times I've kicked my own ass for not keeping things from my own childhood! Guess I figured I would never get OLD, or something! Now I have a habit of keepin' too much stuff---guess it's because I think I might get older, now...

Fathairybastard said...

Damn man, you never cease to amaze. That old trailer park of your youth is beginning to take on the air of a never never land.

I do remember seeing that guy in movies, but never knew he was on Petticoat Junction. I used to LOVE that show when I was a kid. Sheesh, you've got a million stories. keep it up.

Les Becker said...

Hear! Hear! I love your stories, too, and I agree with fathairybastard - your trailer park is becoming my trailer park. I'm not familiar with your Smiley Guy at all, I'm afraid, but I wouldn't have missed this story for anything...

Webmiztris said...

$300! damn, it's too bad you lost yours!

jan said...

I have great memories of Smiley too. He was the first Movie Star I ever saw when he made a personal appearance at our movie house in Indiana. He left right after the performance so I didn't get his autograph, but if I had it would never have gotten out of my sight.

Suldog said...

Great story, Mushy! I remember Mr. Burnette from Petticoat Junction, but not the movies - just slightly before my time, and I haven't made the effort to watch too many of Mr. Autry's flicks.

Becky said...

WHat a bummer that you lost it! I've lost several things that are my living "proof" of having met a celebrity.

Miss Trashahassee said...

Ain't it amazing how trailer parks attract horse-ridin' Hollywood folk? Cowboys for you; Monkees on horses for me.

Go figure!

Miss T