4.2.2023 [archived ~ previously published 4.2.2015]
It was late February 1929 when a new business, Whoozis Detective Agency, hung its shingle here in Bigfork. Of course, our community and some north of us had our share of small-town crime, disorderly conduct, vandalism and a few threats of bodily harm when the moonshine was flowing, but certainly nothing that the local sheriff deputy couldn’t handle. Detective agencies were few and far between, in part because they were willing to delve into the less than savory aspects of human behavior and also because someone had to be willing to pay the high fees. It was a bit of a mystery as to why Mr. Jabo Grabb had settled here. Folks were definitely curious when they saw two notices in the February 22nd issue of the Bigfork Times.
One was notification of a missing person – a man working north of Effie. It read: Lost – My only husband age 43 at present. He has one brown eye, the other is out. When a child he fell on his head and got a permanent scar on his left lung. Dark hair, yellow mustache, purple polka dot tie and grey teeth. If found warn his poor wife who is distracted to know exactly when he may return. Last seen near Craigville loading a car of railworks. NOTIFY—THE WHOOZIS DETECTIVE AGENCY
The other notification was written as an advertisement:
When in need of real live police enforcement, Call on: JABO GRABB T.C.
Our detective agency caters to all clients. Disguises and make up in all forms
Phone Your Wants
Signed THE WHOOZIS DETECTIVE AGENCY
No one was sure what the initials T.C. behind Mr. Grabb’s name stood for, but he was a friendly fellow and soon found his way into the social circle of the Bigfork community. He was professional and didn’t breathe a word of any client’s personal business, though more than a few folks tried to see who he might be conferring with at the back corner of the restaurant.
It was quite a surprise several weeks later, to learn that Mr. Grabb’s name was on the front page of the paper again. It had nothing to do with his business dealings but listed him in the cast of a dramatic production that was to be performed by the Community Players. Reading the article more closely, we see that he is not acting in the production but is actually one of the characters being portrayed. A coincidence? We think not.
The first paragraph of the article explains “The Community Players announce their annual Benefit Play to be given in the middle of March. The farce comedy The Dutch Detective, promises to fill a program that will be a laughing roar from beginning to end.
So the WHOOZIS DETECTIVE AGENCY was a ruse, a farce of its own to get us interested in the unusual occupation of a detective. Well, it worked! I for one was taken in by the missing man employed at Craigsville. I felt genuine sympathy for his wife and thought of the children he might have left at home.
As we later learn, there are ten characters in the play. [Note: it took a detective’s skill to identify the females by their given names and not just as an accessory to their husband.]
Otto Schlmutz Mr. Dan Burman
Jabo Grabb Mr. Wendell Freed
Major Hannibal Howler Mr. Sydney Swanson
August Coo Mr. Joe Dugan
Gladys Howler-Coo Mrs. Mansel Saunders [Ingaborg]
Plunk Jarleck Mr. Richard Rosen
Hortensey Smatters Mrs. John Pinette [Abbie]
Ambrosia McCarty Mrs. Oscar Pearson [Agnes]
Miss Arminta Sourdrops Mrs. Arthur Leeman [Lois]
Katrina Kraut Mrs. Dan Burman [Mildred]
The synopsis of the story is that Major Howler hires the Dutch Detective Agency to find his daughter Gladys, who has eloped with the scoundrel August Coos. Mr. Schlmutz and Mr. Grabb opened the agency after taking a correspondence course and have not yet used the newly acquired skills. In their determination to meet the needs of a paying client, they mistakenly identify Plunk Jarleck and Hortensey Smatters as the newlyweds. Jaleck and Smatters are actually on the lamb, having escaped from an insane asylum. Both couples are at the depot awaiting the train. As can be imagined, all sorts of interesting situations occur because of this mix up, and no doubt it is very entertaining.
The Community Players performed for the students at the start of the Easter holiday, and again the following evening as a fundraiser for stage curtains. The Bigfork High School, including the impressive auditorium had been dedicated six months earlier and was the pride of the community. As had been done for generations, local entertainment was a source of income when needed for school items outside of the everyday budget. Chances are if they didn’t raise enough with this performance, the Community Players may have gone on the road.
The playwright, Walter Benjamin Hare wrote over 200 plays, mostly during his spare time while working as a meteorologist between 1905 and his death in 1950. His plays were very popular with amateur theaters around the country, though none of them made it to Broadway. His most well-known play, Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick was made into a movie starring Alan Young and Dinah Shore in1952.
Hare wrote under three names and explains why: “I use the pen name Lt. Beal Carmack for the plays that I am ashamed of, the name Mary Modena Burns for the religious plays, and the other stuff I wrote under my own name.” It is interesting to note that Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick was written under the alias Lt. Beal Carmack. [Source:IMDb; Internet Movie Database]
Hi Chris! Enjoyed this article, & ESPECIALLY so, as when a student at good ‘ol DRHS I had the female lead in our junior class play: “ Aaron Slick From Punkin Crick”. Ha Ha! (circa 1964) Keep up the good work! Nancy Nordin
Interesting and fun article. (I’m glad women don’t lose their first names when they marry anymore.)