Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mrs. Ashford -Dunwoody and her Merry Troupe

In my formative years in metro Atlanta I learned the local celebrities  were Bert Parks, Bob Van Camp, Boots Woodall and the Peachtee Cowboys, Ruth Kent, Xavier Somebody, Officer Don & his co-star Woody Willow, and last but not least, the Merry Mutes:  Dick Vandyke, Nancy and Phil Erickson.

I had a pleasant surprise the morning when leaving the dog park.  Fellow dog owner Mike and his hairy friend Glen  were coming in and told me he had something for me.  It was some Wits' End*  (*Bring Money)   paraphernalia .
One was a CD of the Wits' End's high energized fast  pace rapid songs they were so good at.  And the other was a DVD of their 25 Year Old Anniversary in Atlanta.

I listened to the CD today and a few skits and thought flows of various members of the  Wits' End cabaret.

I have written  of the Wit's End show on chicken-fat  before - here, let me skate around roughly what I said then.  The leaders were husband and wife Phil and Nancy Erickson.   And there was a young tall gawky one that would not stay with them a long time.  His name was  Dick Vandyke.  They were the MERRY MUTES  on local TV.  It was before color TV.  I can only remember them in black and white and I don't remember any  more than three of them.  As the name implied, they did a lot of Mime.   In fact, that is all they did.  If I remember correctly the show was only 15 minutes long.
When I went to work for the Atlanta News Agency my territory  covered parts of rural DeKalb and Gwinnett County.  Some place out there in the country was a farm that looked different.   I recognized their mail box, it said something like "WITS' END* - *Bring Money."  I looked forward on seeing that country house once or twice a week.  I supposed Mr. and Mrs. Phil Erickson lived there.
I got out of the Navy in 1965, for about ten years up to about 1975 about six of us Navy friends would keep the roads fairly well traveled between Marietta, Chicago, Minneapolis,  and Harrisburg, Pa.  Every time it was time for me to host I saw to it that we went to a famous park or war site, such as Stone Mountain or Kennesaw Mountain, one time around on the merry-go-round (Polaris) atop the Regency Hyatt in downtown Atlanta, and while there go to the Wits' End Cabaret Club.

It was a little solitary single storied block shape building about on something like 5th Street where it came in on Spring Street, facing the Biltmore Hotel.

I was truly amazed at the fast paced skits... after the punch line was delivered, the stage, in the middle of the floor, it seemed, was vacated for a second then  and a new skit began.

One skit I really enjoyed, even after the 3 rd or 4th time I saw it was when they played the song "They are Tearing Up Peachtree Again."  It had one of the players (not Nancy) with a construction helmet and drilling the "air" pavement with an "air" air hammer.  It was the theatrics she used... the way the imaginary air hammer shook her whole body and the helmet jumped around on top of her head.  I bellowed each time I saw it.

The time we went there Atlanta   was having a hard time accepting court ordered integration.    The Wits' End Players had a black lady (Sally Street) who played her role out proudly.  I sometime worried about their safety, they made fun of backward southern traditions with a black lady.  As far as I know they never had any violence or threats.

It was not far from the Georgia Tech campus and I think the upper classmen  probably went there often.

They moved their little theater to  Underground Atlanta when it opened,  just down the row from a bar that the famous Piano Red played at.  We went to see them one time at their new location.  Shortly after that we had our first son and our whole way of life changed.

Back to present:   At the dog park a few weeks ago Joe Jenkins and I were bringing up  old local things we remembered in the area many years ago.  We lived in roughly the same areas and had roughly the same friends.  I mentioned the Wits' End* (*Bring Money) about the time Mike walked  by.

Mike said, "Wits' End?"

I first thought he had never heard of  Wits' End as a night club but as it turned out he knew more than we did.  In fact, he told us he is married to a descendent of the Ericksons.
He mentioned going up to the mountains several times.  I was curious, I asked where in north Georgia.  He said North Carolina, Macon County.

I gave Mike a "chicken-fat" card and asked him to search for Wits' End if he got a chance.  He did and shared with his kin and they gave me the gifts I mentioned in the second paragraph of this.

All I can say is "WOW!  And thank you very much!"

Click here for Nancy Erickson's Obituary

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