Hailing from the small town of Linton, Indiana…
If you don’t recognize Phil Harris by name, you’ll certainly recognize him by his voice. Hailing from the small town of Linton, Indiana, Harris developed a career as an established bandleader in the 1930s. Afterwards, he took a job as musical director for Jack Benny. There, he proved to be an excellent supporting comic, and quickly became a beloved character on The Jack Benny Program.
In 1941, Harris married actress Alice Faye. The couple hosted the Fitch Bandwagon Show from 1946 to 1948 and moved on to their own radio program, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, from 1948 to 1954. While Phil’s character was originally written as more of a philanderer on Benny’s program, he was very effectively revised as a devoted husband and father. The writers for Harris’ show played upon the ideas of Benny’s writers, and continued crafting Harris’ character around the same image. Harris played an egotistical bandleader, while Faye was his movie starlet-turned-wife, and they both shone in a comedy based upon domestic life.
Working two radio shows at the same time proved to be quite the juggling act. On the Jack Benny show, Harris would greet Benny with a throaty, “Hiya, Jackson!,” perform in a skit or song, and shout, “Bye, Jackson!” on the way out. He would only appear for the first half of the Jack Benny show. He’d then run down the block to the next studio, just in time to catch his own radio show with a “Hiya, Alice!” and continue on through the remainder of the program. In 1952, he was succeeded as Benny’s orchestra leader by Bob Crosby, younger brother of Bing Crosby.
Throughout his long show business career, Harris remained grateful to radio for the difference it made in his professional and personal life. “If it hadn’t been for radio,” he was quoted as saying, “I would still be a traveling orchestra leader. For 17 years I played one-night stands, sleeping on buses. I never even voted, because I didn’t have any residence.”
After his radio show ended in 1954, he faded from Hollywood life and spent time as a businessman in Palm Springs, while becoming a spokesperson and benefactor for its golf courses. Additionally, he was a benefactor of his birthplace, Linton, and established scholarships in his honor for high school students, performed at the high school, and hosted a celebrity golf tournament at the Phil Harris Golf Course each year in the first week of June.
On May 5, 1979 (Faye’s birthday), the Phil Harris-Alice Faye Collection was dedicated in Linton, Indiana. It was an outgrowth of a tradition begun in 1979 in Linton, Harris’s boyhood home. “Weekend with Phil” was designed as a festival theme that would encompass sporting events and awards given out on behalf of the newly established Harris-Faye Scholarship Foundation.
Harris and Faye donated most of their show business memorabilia and papers to Linton’s Margaret Cooper Public Library in 1979 in connection with the first Phil Harris weekend at his golf course. This is one of the most important legacies Harris left to his hometown of Linton. Various clubs, along with church and school groups have visited the collection in Linton. According to a 1989 article from the Linton Daily Citizen, the annual Phil Harris Scholarship festival, highlighted by golf and other sporting events, has averaged 2,000 visitors per year, with a general 25% increase in local business. While Faye was often recognized in town, few people intruded upon her privacy. She was content to visit the various events, often in the company of her daughters and grandchildren, perform a song at the weekend celebrity dinner, and dutifully appear before local photographers, before returning to Rio Mirage.
Since then, the collection has shifted around quite a bit. While the collection was originally located upstairs in the Margaret Cooper Public Library, in the spring of 1998, the collection was relocated to the basement of the current Regions Bank at 89 West Vincennes Street.
Sadly, the collection now includes memorabilia relating to Phil Harris’ death on August 11, 1995, at age 91, just a few weeks after he returned to his beloved Linton for his last Phil Harris Scholarship Festival. Harris’ remains now rest in California, but a large part of him and his life continues to live on in the Harris-Faye Collection in his hometown of Linton, Indiana.”
Today, Linton, Indiana is still a small town of roughly 5,800 people. It stands like a town that time forgot, with a very small one-stop downtown area, gravel roads, and trademark “You’ll Like Linton” signs.
Now, the Harris-Faye collection resides in the Carnegie Heritage and Arts Center of Greene County, located at 110 E. Vincennes St., Linton, IN 47441. The building is mostly a shop for local art, and the collection is tucked away in its own corner. Luckily it is free to view the Harris-Faye collection, and there is ample street parking available. The usual hours of operation are Thurs-Fri 12-4, Sat 12-4.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek is an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age and Travel Writer for Classic Movie Hub. You can read more about Annette’s Classic Movie Travels at Hometowns to Hollywood