Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday's Faces from the Past: The Last of the Medicine Showmen

This post is dedicated to my 2nd Great Uncle, T. F. "Doc" Dean.

Raised in a family of seven boys, this character "was as gay as the clothes he wore."

This man only knew a life of travel and adventure (for at least the first 50 years or so). His father Harry F. Dean moved the family around between Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and eventually Colorado and Utah.

When he reached his later teen years, the adventurous Doc signed on with the Army, getting his first stint overseas. After returning to the States from the Philippines, Doc adopted a true life of travel, becoming a performer for the next 30 years. He did everything that involved a stage or tent; he performed in such acts as Vaudeville, showboats, burlesque, and he even ran his own medicine show.

During his years on the road, he met and married his wife Alethea. In the 1920s, they adopted a boy, Robert, who also performed with the family.

Doc would be on the road until World War II broke out. By this point his family settled down in Blytheville, Arkansas, where he and "Mama" would spend their remaining years. Attempting to register for the old man's draft, he was rejected and chose to sell War Bonds at home instead. With a knack for showmanship and winning over large crowds, Doc sold around $16 million in War Bonds, gaining recognition from Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and old FDR himself.

During his retired years, Doc ran a gas station, participated in local minstrels, sold real estate, and even became constable. He passed away in 1967 at a Scout Meeting, doing something he loved dearly.

Although not one of the most prominent showmen of his time, he did make a name for himself in the Midwest and South. He was one of the stalwart Docs who ran his show  until they fizzled out during the 1930s and 1940s. His name Doc stuck with him throughout his life and is still used today.

My favorite Doc Dean quote: "When God made the earth, He made it 70 per cent water and I think by that He meant for me to hunt and fish 70 per cent of the time."

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