For Ripley's Believe It or Not! Radio Program
Within a month after the funeral, not only was Uncle Bush in high demand for personal appearances in East Tennessee, but his celebrity had extended beyond Tennessee's borders, as well. On July 26, 1938, exactly one month after the big event, Uncle Bush was in New York City for a guest appearance on Robert Ripley's nationally syndicated radio program, Ripley's Believe It or Not! Mr. Ripley's newspaper and radio presentations of unusual, remarkable, odd, and facinating findings from around the world, had been an American icon for over twenty years. It is likely that the Ripley organization had been contacted and correspondence had been activated well in advance of the funeral, but would have been for naught if the event had not come to pass. But, after the funeral had been successfully conducted, especially since it was so wildly popular, negotiations began in earnest. On Tuesday, June 28, 1938, two days after the funeral, the following memo was recorded in the offices of the radio division of the Ripley organization:
At the top of the memo, is a handwritten notation that includes the words, 'Post Bran', a reference to Post 40% Bran Flakes, the commercial sponsor of the Ripley's Believe It or Not! radio program. In the upper right corner, appear the words, 'can get', an apparent reference to the fact that Uncle Bush was available and that the Ripley operative, J.L.S., could get him under contract for the radio program. Under the word, RADIO, is the handwritten date, July 26, 1938, the date Uncle Bush was on the program. This was probably the target date at that point, to be changed if circumstances necessitated.
Later that same day, the 28th , Don McClure, of the Ripley's radio, New York office, sent Uncle Bush the following telegram in which some preliminary terms of a contract were given, an offer made to pay all expenses for the trip to New York, and first mention of a fee for his appearance.
Of course, the telegram was addressed to Uncle Bush, but it was sent to the Western Union office in Harriman, Tennessee, which was six or eight miles from Kingston. Uncle Bush lived another ten or eleven miles distance from Kingston. As a result, McClure in New York, received the telegram below around 3:30 p.m., on the 28th:
Two days later, at 5 p.m. on June 30, 1938, the day after Uncle Bush's 74th birthday, McClure in New York received the telegram below from Uncle Bush's new business manager, W. A. Baker:
Negotiations were then fully under way. The next day, July 1, 1938, Uncle Bush, or his handlers, received the telegram below which increased the deal to roundtrip expenses for Bush and traveling companion, hotel accommodations for both and 'usual fee'. More stringent terms for contract were then laid out:
It was almost midnight on Friday, July 1st before the Bush team could craft a reply. Getting down to terms, times a'wastin'. Handwritten at the bottom of the telegram received in New York, in very crisp secretarial cursive, is a memo saying that Ripley's was prepared to pay a $100 fee and put Uncle Bush on the program schedule. That decision could have been made well into the morning of Saturday, July 2nd, or as late as after lunch on Tuesday, July 5th. July 4th was on a Monday that year. Uncle Bush and his team were very busy for the whole long weekend with the appearances he was scheduled to make in the Harriman festivities. We do not know whether or not the Ripley's people in New York were working during that weekend.
The next telegram in the file, dated July 5th, is also from Uncle Bush's 'agent' to McClure in N. Y. It is possible that one of the telegrams from McClure, in response to the one above, may be missing. If so, whatever it said brought the Bush team completely into the fold. It would be interesting to know what the note 'Call 95', on the telegram below, was referring to. It is possible that the missing telegram was actually a phone call in which the final terms were laid out. If that was the case, one wonders why the casket question was not asked at that time.
On July 6th, it appeared that the negotiations were complete and Uncle Bush was headed off on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City, with a hundred dollars spending money, to boot. That appeared to be what they agreed on.
Below are the notes someone made while making the travel arrangements on the phone. At the bottom of the sheet is a tally of the expenses Ripley's Believe It or Not! would pay for Uncle Bush's appearance on the program.
On July 7th, Mr. McClure penned the following letter to Uncle Bush, laying out the details of the trip and the lodging arrangements. It would be interesting to know whether Mr. McClure realized that Uncle Bush could neither read the letter nor sign the contract.
There was only one final detail that needed to be hammered out, the slippery matter of the 'usual fee', Uncle Bush's spending money while in New York. On July 12, six days before Uncle Bush was to leave by train for New York City, Mr. Baker made one last attempt to nail McClure down about the fee, before he signed and returned the contract. It is not clear if the $100 fee Ripley was willing to pay was ever disclosed to the Bush team. The Bush team may have been shooting in the dark with the telegram below, or working from rumor. The monetary value of the 'usual fee' had not been discussed between McClure and Mr. Baker, Bush's agent, as far as we know.
The next day, July 13, five days before departure, Uncle Bush (Mr. Baker) received the telegram below. McClure reneged on the deal. He claimed that he did not have the budget to cover round trip passage for two, hotel rooms, expenses, AND a fee, all of which was his original offer, backed up by reoffering it several times, or, at the very least, leading the Bush team along with the unspoken understanding that there would be a fee.
So, the basic scenario seems to be that McClure enticed the Bush team to accept the contract and to commit to the trip to New York City with the 'usual fee' dangling in front of them like a carrot in front of a donkey. Once he got them excited, committed, and all the arrangements made, five days before they were to leave, he pulled the carrot back, very non-challantly I might add, and seemed to adopt an attitude that a fee, in addition to the other expenses, was more than should have been expected (Where did you get the erroneous idea that there would be a $100 fee involved in the deal? Just sign the contract and quit worrying about a fee.)
It gives one reason to wonder if Mr. Ripley was aware of McClure's tactic, or if Ripley was the originator of the tactic. The fee must not have been that important to the Bush team, since they apparently signed the contract without protest and sent it back. However, it might have been amusing to see what the reaction from New York would have been if they had received the telegram below with only four days remaining before departure.
on the Ripley's Believe It or Not! radio program,
July 26, 1938
This audio file is 6 min 48 sec in length, approximately one-fourth of the original program's length. The only copy of the program we have been able to obtain is seriously flawed with sounds of a dot-matrix printer or something similar overriding the program sounds in places. These sounds are mixed with the program sounds and can not be removed. For this reason, and to limit sound file size, we have condensed the program to the segment that contained Uncle Bush's interview. If you wish to hear the unabridged program, you may email the webmaster or the Roane County Heritage Commission for a copy of the complete sound file. Scroll down for a transcript of the audio file presented here.
Click here to listen to Robert Ripley interview Uncle Bush on the Ripley's Believe It or Not! nationally-syndicated radio program, July 26, 1938. Uncle Bush's voice does not project well, so increase volume as needed.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
July 26, 1938
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