Not since William Tecumseh Sherman took a vacation at the beach has there been such a commotion in the Great State of Georgia. And it’s all due to a butterball of a little girl, barely 7 years of age, by the name of Alana Thompson, better known as “Honey Boo Boo.”
Here comes Honey Boo Boo and, later in this space, why I did not cry me a “Moon River” over the passing of Andy Williams (so if it’s meaningful, insightful thoughts you crave in your columns, please refer to Strock, Carl).
For you hoity toities claiming never to have sampled Honey Boo Boo and her self-proclaimed redneck family on TLC — ironic, no, the initials standing for The Learning Channel? — let me inform you that this is the hottest thing on cable. This wacky kid and her yahoo, dumpster-diving, flatulence-fascinated and morbidly obese relatives attracted more viewers than any single broadcast, cable or network, of the Republican National Convention. Alana & Co. are a spinoff of that fodder for pedophiles known as “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the inane beauty pageant show where Honey Boo Boo would usually grab a consolation prize but then would attract more than five million hits on YouTube with her interviews that often needed subtitles, so thick the y’all-come-back drawl.
The temptation is to dismiss the show as exploitative, which, of course, it is. But it’s also funny as heck. Alana, her parents, Mama June and Suga Bear, and her three older sisters make you forget the dysfunctionality of your own family. But I swear there are some small, redeeming qualities to this hayseed soap opera as well — like the readily apparent tenderness and affection between Alana and her “Mama.” And like the sometime precocity of Honey Boo Boo. For instance, as she awaits the birth of her sister Chickadee’s out-of-wedlock child, the 6-year-old keeps telling us, in singsong, “Baby Kaitlyn is comin’ … gonna smell like sunshine and happiness.”
At first, I imagined they contrived this family. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” my sister Nancy, a retired hospital administrator, told me. “You can find families exactly like that all the way from Waycross, Ga., through upper Alabama, and clear across that stretch of land that goes from Mobile to Texas.” My sister avoids saying the word “Mississippi,” if at all possible, out of disdain. She and her family live in Gulf Shores, Ala., which is part of that notch of land that drops southward from upper Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico. Nancy says folks who live in the notch do not consider themselves Alabamans because they wear shoes when they drive their pickups.
For better or worse, Honey Boo Boo has become temporarily the chubby, double-chinned face of the New South. For that, she and her family were paid a reported $5,000 to $7,000 for each of the initial episodes, probably less than what many entertainment types spend for illegal substances each week. That has been jacked up to a reported $20,000 per episode for next season, still scandalously low, even for these cow-chippers. You hope that someone possessing a majority of her/his marbles and teeth thinks about saving for Alana’s schooling. Nah, that ain’t gonna happen.
Two thoughts on Honey Boo Boo. First, I’m warning you, do not show the videotape to the terrorists. And, this is proof positive that the South will not rise again!
Now, Andy Williams. Little old ladies across the nation deeply mourned the passing at age 84 of this good guy crooner who made them feel all tingly inside with his Christmas specials and pastel cardigans.
The New York Post called him “beloved.” But 41 years ago, I witnessed a slightly different side of Andy Williams, rendering me callous to his demise.
In September of ’71, the family and I are visiting relatives in San Francisco and we decide to take a short side trip to Lake Tahoe. How could you stay home? It was $59 for a two-night room at Del Webb’s Sahara Tahoe Casino & Hotel, all meals and the show, headlined by Williams and the Lennon Sisters (remember them?).
It’s 4 in the morning, and I’m wandering the casino, enjoying that American entitlement known as free booze for players. I spot a blackjack table, and there, wearing a fur tuxedo jacket, is singer-lounge lizard Don Cherry (“Band of Gold”) watching the action. The action was Andy Williams playing $1,000 wagers at each of the spots at the table, with members of a rock band, another lounge act, watching their hero push chips the dealer’s way.
Williams, a very, very diminutive figure, was soused and losing, and he launched a harangue at the dealer, a pretty young girl of maybe 21 or 22.
The kid had to sit there as Williams berated her physicial attributes in tasteless language, the rockers egging him on. Finally, the pit boss caught wind and relieved the girl.
Poetic justice: I overheard the pit boss say Williams had dropped $70,000 — probably his pay for the week — and the admiring rockers had to buy him breakfast.
John McLoughlin is a freelance columnist and a veteran Capital Region journalist now at NewsChannel13. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Reach him at JMcLoughlin@WNYT.com.