Craft

Glen Campbell and daughter Ashley perform one of the singer's farewell concerts, circa 2012 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

Pantagraph file photo

When we were kids still young enough to be hauled off by mom and dad to the drive-in theater in our footy PJs, we first encountered Glen Campbell, up close and personal.

Twice over, in fact.

His music hadn't yet infiltrated our consciousness, mainly because at our age, Wichita linemen and getting to Phoenix on time weren't high on a list of concerns.

Let alone being gentle on the mind, whatever the heck that meant.

But we did have a pretty good notion of what true grit was, at least as it pertained to the world of John Wayne, long a part of our movie existence.

The occasion: a trip to the drive-in theater, somewhere in the wilds of the Smoky Mountains during a family vacation.

The main feature was a second-run booking of "True Grit," which had earned Wayne his Oscar and had attempted, amid much critical dissing, to introduce Campbell as a movie star.

The companion feature on the double bill was something called "Norwood," which we now know as the spectacularly failed attempt by the producer of "True Grit," to make another success in that vein by re-teaming Campbell and "Grit's" scene-stealer Kim Darby.

But instead of reuniting them with the Duke, they cast football star Joe Namath, making his critically skewered movie debut, a la Campbell in the movie prior.

"Norwood" casts Glen and Joe as a pair of ex-Marines who embark on a road odyssey with distinct "Wizard of Oz" leanings: i.e., they are joined at one point by a midget played Billy Curtis, who was one of the original Oz Munchkins. And later they cross paths with Jack Haley, who played the Tin Man in the 1939 classic.

The film itself was directed by Jack Haley Jr., Tin Man's son and, at the time, husband of Judy "Dorothy" Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli.

But we digress.

The net impact of this double-dose of Glen Campbell cinema was ... we liked him, we really liked him.

He was affable, he carried himself well and he seemed like someone next door. Despite the critics' stone-tossing, he was a natural.

It was through that unlikely portal that we came to know and appreciate the man with the full head of hair, tenor-pitched vocals and affable grin.

His music also began to insinuate its way into our sense of what a perfect-pitch pop ballad could be, with the best of them penned by the great Jimmy Webb, including "Galveston," the first 45 single by Campbell to find a home in our nascent collection.

One of our hopes after coming into this job years later was that someday we could arrange an interview, mainly to discuss the mysterious fate of "Norwood," which, unlike "True Grit," seems to have disappeared from Earth's face, never once turning up on cable or video.

Our first chance came some years back, when Campbell was one of the stars on the bill of the first Farm Aid concert at the U of I in Champaign. He was offered up as an interview, but the subject at hand, of course, was the fundraising extravaganza at hand.

So we didn't get as far as the fate of "Norwood" or our appreciation of his since-abandoned thespian talent.

He did reveal that he was a bit bemused by the Farm Aid lineup, packed with acts like Van Halen and his own old band, The Beach Boys.

"A lot of those guys who'll be on stage have never been behind a plow before in their lives," mused  the farm-reared singer. "And you'll probably here a lot of what Roger Miller calls 'crock' ... country-rock. But it'll be fun."

Our next chance came many years later ... too many, in fact: Campbell's only B-N show, post-Farm Aid, was five years ago as part of his "Goodbye Tour," timed to his recent diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease.

The show played the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, and would be his final Central Illinois appearance.

At the time, he was still able to do interviews despite the beginnings of his memory loss, and we were scheduled for one.

Alas, a bout of laryngitis interceded on the day it was set, and his daughter, Ashley (playing with his band), pinch-hit.

Under the circumstances, we resisted the subject of "Norwood" and its fate for more timely issues.

Still, we wonder ... and, along that path, we remain firm in our conviction that Campbell, in addition to all else, could act as good as the next singer.

Late news

Pokey LaFarge and his band (including Normal native Ryan Weisheit) are scheduled for tonight's edition of the Conan O'Brien show. The show airs at 10 p.m. on TBS.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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