Prison exec helped Cactus with knife and fork

Bill Cooke

Neighbor Grover sez he read where protons have mass, and he didn’t even know they were Catholic. I didn’t write the column. Jack

Kyle of Huntsville wrote it for me, in a note commenting on my recent column about the late and great humorist Cactus Pryor and his two “masquerade” appearances in Rockdale.

Jack, a Rockdale native who went on to a distinguished career with the Texas prison system, takes over from here. Enjoy.

Bill, your column on Cactus Pryor brought back memories. He was a remarkable person and an outstanding entertainer. For those of us fortunate enough to see him perform at least twice, the second time had to be the best because you knew what was going on and could watch and listen to him “work the crowd.”

The second time I watched him was in 1974, at the National Convention of the American Correctional Association in Houston. Sam Bradley and I served as co- chairmen of the host committee and we had over 2,800 in attendance.

Having watched Cactus perform one time in the 1960s at Madisonville, I called him and booked him for the 1974 national ACA convention. This time he posed as an Englishman with BBC and came to the convention considering “working on a documentary film about prisons.”

Cactus didn’t need any help but to make sure there was no doubt in the mind of anyone, we arranged for the Harris County Sheriff’’s office to provide a “body guard.” The deputy was probably 25, about 6-4, weighed near 220 with not an ounce of fat and in full dress uniform. Believe me, his presence added to the event.

When you consider the ability of Cactus, you can’t overlook his memory. In addition to names, we briefed him on the individuals who would be in attendance at the Presidents Reception prior to the banquet. His presentation of his “character,” the names, backgrounds and comments from the individuals in the crowd, without notes or prompting, was remarkable. He remembered everything.

Two of his encounters I remember. One involved a former state prison director who had recently been fired. Cactus approached him and in the conversation told him of the planned documentary film in England and then inquired if he would be interested in helping as a consultant. Of course he also mentioned all expenses would be paid and inquired if a stipend of $1,000 a week would be sufficient? You bet he was interested.

The banquet was held in the Rice Hotel ballroom with a crowd of over 800. Cactus was seated at the head table next to the executive secretary of the ACA and picked up his silverware and asked, “How do you use these?”

The Secretary obliged by explaining and demonstration. Believe me it was difficult for those of us that knew what was happening, to keep from laughing.

We held off until Cactus let everyone know what he had said, to whom, and the responses he had received. The event was a great success.

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2011-09-22 digital edition

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