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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at
Bob Hope
Meets Hondo Crouch

Michael Barr
On a recent trip to Luckenbach my wife and I sat under the oak trees, listened to the music, and reminisced about the old days. As we walked past the bronze bust of legendary character Hondo Crouch, my wife recalled the time that Hondo stole the show from renowned entertainer Bob Hope.

Hope came to Fredericksburg on August 14, 1976 to raise money for the Admiral Nimitz Center. The actor with the ski slope nose met the Admiral at Pearl Harbor in 1944 and kept in contact with Mrs. Nimitz, then living in California, since the Admiral's death in 1966.

At the time of his visit to the Texas Hill Country, Hope was one of the biggest stars in the world. Thanks to radio and television, everyone in America knew his name and recognized his image. He made over 70 films, and for six decades he traveled the globe entertaining American troops.

A friend once said, "If he could live his life over, he wouldn't have time."

The day Bob Hope came to Fredericksburg began with a parade down Hauptstrasse (Main Street) from Kraus corner to the Nimitz Hotel. The grand marshal of the parade was Minnie Pearl. Ms. Pearl, born Sarah Ophelia Colley, was a regular on the television show Hee Haw and a recent inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

After the parade the festivities moved to the Gillespie County Fairgrounds where spectators enjoyed steer roping, barrel racing, food, beer, and polka bands. That afternoon Nashville recording artists Johnny Bush, Stoney Edwards, and Darrell McCall performed on the stage in front of the grandstand - followed by more food, more beer, and more polka bands. Bruce Hathaway, the morning DJ at KTSA in San Antonio was the MC. At 7:00 the Fredericksburg High School Band performed. That's the Missus, Ginger Oestreich, in the flute section.

Bob Hope took the stage at 8 that evening. He arrived in a golf cart while a 15-piece orchestra played in the background. Hope twirled a golf club as he spoke into the microphone. Jokes and wisecracks came fast and furious. The upcoming presidential election was a favorite target, especially some of Jimmy Carter's recent comments about his religion.

"I like to see politicians praying," Hope said. "It keeps their hands where you can see 'em."

Then, right in the middle of Hope's routine, Hondo Crouch walked on stage.
Hondo Crouch and Bob Hope 1976 Fredericksburg Standard
Hondo Crouch and Bob Hope
Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

At the time Hondo was one of two famous Americans born in the Texas Hill Country; the other being Lyndon Johnson. Both men were in politics, in a manner of speaking. Johnson became president of the United States while Hondo was the self-proclaimed mayor of Luckenbach (population 5).

Hondo had a colorful and unpredictable personality and a knack for self-promotion. His zany celebrations, like the Luckenbach World's Fair and the Return of the Mud Daubers, focused national attention on his tiny town. The World's Fair drew 20,000 people. They consumed 9,000 cases of beer.

Someone once asked Hondo what he did for a living.
"I write books on etiquette," he said while picking his nose. "But they don't sell too good."

On summer nights he usually held court under the oak trees by the old general store at Luckenbach, but with an audience waiting for a world famous entertainer just a few miles away, the temptation to make an appearance was too great.

Hondo came on stage, unannounced, in his usual dress: greasy jeans stuffed into a pair of well-worn boots, a sweat-stained cowboy hat, a red bandana, a scruffy white beard, and an impish smile. He said he wanted to give Hope a new golf club but couldn't find one. "We don't play golf in Luckenbach." So instead of a golf club, Hondo presented Hope with an axe handle.

"It doesn't have a head on it," Hondo explained. "It hard to get 'ahead' in Luckenbach, so I'm just giving you the shaft."

Hope glanced away in exasperation. Hondo smiled and waved. The crowd roared with laughter. Six weeks later Hondo Crouch died of a heart attack.

Thanks for the Memories.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" January 18, 2016 Column

Sources:
Fredericksburg Standard, August 11, 1976, August 18, 1976.
Ginger Barr Interview, October 19, 2015.
John Davidson, "The Man Who Dreamed Up Luckenbach," Texas Monthly, July 1984.
The Handbook of Texas, John Russell Crouch.


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