The original Bazooka: not an anti-tank weapon, but a hilarious Arkansas musical instrument.
The original Bazooka: not an anti-tank weapon, but an Arkansas musical instrument.

Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame

Field review by the editors.

Pine Bluff, Arkansas

The Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame began in 1985 as the Arkansas Country Music Hall of Fame, an official project of the Arkansas state legislature. Its goal was to draw attention to Arkansas from the state's better-known country music neighbors, such as Texas and Tennessee.

Conway Twitty was a country music mega-star, but his fast food franchise was a flop.
Conway Twitty sang country songs and was very successful. His fast food franchise was not.

Two years later Arkansas concluded, somewhat awkwardly, that its pool of country music talent might not be deep enough to sustain an attraction. But state pride was strong, so rather than scrap the idea, its scope was widened, becoming the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 1987.

It wasn't until 1996 that the first 16 entertainers were enshrined. Only later was it learned that the Hall of Fame selection committee had spent all of its money on the induction party. There was no Hall of Fame to visit.

Embarrassed, state legislators turned the project over to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. It held a competition to see which Arkansas city would host the Hall. Pine Bluff won, and the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame finally opened on October 2, 1998. It's been in the auditorium lobby of the Pine Bluff Convention Center ever since.

Visitors are greeted by a pneumatic robot of Johnny Cash, one of the Hall's original 16 members. Push a button and Johnny, dressed in black, gently rocks back and forth, moving his eyes and lips while singing snippets of "I Walk the Line," "Folsom Prison Blues," and other familiar songs. Johnny is a good choice for an Arkansas ambassador; nearly everyone knows his name, and although he's usually associated with other states, he was in fact born and raised in Arkansas.

One of many stuffed showcases in the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
One of many stuffed showcases in the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Lee Majors wasn't from Arkansas, but the guy who produced this TV series was.
Lee Majors wasn't from Arkansas. His "The Fall Guy" TV series producer was.

But what of inductees such as Sonny Boy Williamson (born in Mississippi) or Lefty Frizzell (born in Texas) or Jerry Van Dyke (born in Illinois); why are they in an Arkansas hall of fame? "You don't have to have been born here," said Sheri Storie, director of the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission, which now oversees the Hall. "You only have to have spent some time here."

This generous policy ensures that, in addition to the expected country music artists, the Hall of Fame has inductees in jazz, blues, classical, and rock music. There are authors and actors, producers and directors. Some are well-known, such as Glen Campbell, Billy Bob Thornton, and John Grisham, but they share equal billing with local celebrities such as Steve Stephens (the Arkansas version of Dick Clark) and Gary Weir (Arkansas' Bozo the Clown). Lum and Abner, the state's hayseed humorists, are celebrated in both the Entertainers Hall of Fame and their own Arkansas tourist attraction.

Prosthetic Vulcan ears of Laurence Luckinbill, who once played Spock's mad half-brother.
Prosthetic Vulcan ears of Laurence Luckinbill, who once played Spock's mad half-brother.

Showcases are packed with gold records, stage costumes, posters, photos, screenplays, autographed mementoes -- the usual trappings of celebrity halls-of-fame. Jimmy Driftwood's homemade guitar is on display, as are relics from Conway Twitty's failed fast food franchise, Twitty Burger ("Tweet Yourself to a Twitty Burger").

The Hall's most historic item may be the world's oldest bazooka, a musical instrument made from stove pipes and a whiskey funnel by radio hillbilly Bob Burns. When the U.S. Army developed a pipe-like antitank weapon in World War II, the GI's christened it "bazooka," a pop culture reference now obscured by time.

The Wilburn Brothers were offered
The Wilburn Brothers were offered "Heartbreak Hotel" before Elvis Presley, but thought the song was too sad.

One of the most entertaining aspects of any Hall of Fame is seeing just how far the notion of "fame" can be stretched -- and the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame is satisfyingly flexible. Inductees include Julie Adams (scream queen from The Creature From the Black Lagoon), Gil Gerard (star of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), and Laurence Luckinbill, who played Spock's mad half-brother in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (The Hall displays his prosthetic Vulcan ears). Freeman Owens is here, a cinematographer-genius who died working on a patent for a perpetual motion machine; and Charles Pierce, director of the low-budget monster classic The Legend of Boggy Creek. Our vote for the Hall's quirkiest inductee goes to Bill Carter, an entertainment lawyer whose accomplishments included keeping Keith Richards out of an Arkansas jail in 1975, and smuggling the corpse of actor Steve McQueen out of Mexico in 1980.

In 2017 the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism gave the attraction to the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission, essentially getting the state out of the entertainment hall of fame business. "They didn't have to bring in anyone new," said Sheri, stressing the cost savings of the divestment, and indeed Pine Bluff has been taking care of the Hall's utilities and maintenance for years.

Despite the change in management, said Sheri, the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame will continue adding new members -- although outgoing Convention Center executive director Bob Purvis said in 2016 that the number of annual inductees would probably decrease, to reduce the expense of building new display cases, and prevent the Hall from running out of fame-worthy Arkansas entertainers.

Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame

Pine Bluff Convention Center

Address:
1 Convention Center Plaza, Pine Bluff, AR
Directions:
Pine Bluff Convention Center. Southeast side of downtown. From US-65 BUS/Martha Mitchell Expy turn south at the stoplight onto S. Texas St. Drive a half-mile. Turn left onto E. 8th Ave. You'll see the Convention Center on the right; drive past it and turn right, then right again onto E. 10th Ave. You'll soon see the Convention Center entrance on the right. The Hall of Fame is in the auditorium lobby.
Hours:
M-F 9-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
870-536-7600
Admission:
Free, but donations are appreciated.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Tugboat in the AirTugboat in the Air, Pine Bluff, AR - 4 mi.
Mammoth Orange Drink StandMammoth Orange Drink Stand, Redfield, AR - 19 mi.
Elegant Railroad Car in the WoodsElegant Railroad Car in the Woods, Rison, AR - 22 mi.
In the region:
Stained Glass: Boy Martyr of the Confederacy, Little Rock, AR - 39 mi.

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December 10, 2019

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