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Mundane Moments: Dance to the music.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

* * * * *

From the Montmorency County (Mich.) Weekly Democrat, week of May 17, 1979:

Hiram Clegman dances the buck-and-wing on his local bean farm. (STAFF PHOTO)

Local Man Taps Talent, Resumes Hollywood Career

by Ian Lake-Maspenock
Special to the Weekly Democrat

Local folks know Hiram Clegman as the lovable and just a little “touched” proprietor of one of the area’s biggest bean farms.

But folks in Hollywood know him as a dancing, singing star who headlined in a dozen big-studio films before disappearing from the spotlight.

Now, he’s dancing to fame once again. Rediscovered by Hollywood after 40 years, Clegman will soon make his reappearance in “Disco Central.” Set on a high-speed supertrain headed from Miami to New York on New Year’s Eve, the movie features today’s hottest stars and is expected to become a blockbuster success.

Like the humble farmer he is known as around town, Clegman is taking the approach of fame in stride.

“I told them, so long as I get home in time to harvest the pintos, anything that happens is just ducky with me,” he said, cackling.

In the movie, Clegman plays an old-time Hollywood song-and-dance man who’s the spirit — and the investor — behind the glittering disco train.

It’s just the sort of fame and fortune he looked headed for in the 1930s, when he played a pratfalling, tap-dancing, rubber-faced rube in hit movies like “They Grow ‘Em Big in Decatur” and “Caboose Under The Stars.”

But then, on the eve of World War II, Clegman turned his back on stardom and retreated to his rural roots. For a while, he even lived under his birth name, August Wasserscheist. It’s still a mystery Clegman likes to play close to his well-worn sweater vest.

“Nothing was ever proven,” he said, faintly smiling. “And besides, someone had to grow the beans.”

Last fall, a Hollywood talent scout with a fondness for classic films finally tracked Clegman down. It didn’t take much for him to regain his old form.

“They caught me after the harvest and I had some time on my hands. So I said yes,” he said. “It’s nice to do the old routines again. Tap, tap, tap. Like riding a bike.”

In “Disco Central,” he’ll perform those routines alongside current stars like Leif Garrett, as the supertrain’s engineer; Adrienne Barbeau, playing a glamorous actress with a secret; Shields and Yarnell, in their first singing role; and England Dan and John Ford Coley, who star in a big concert number aboard the supertrain.

“That Shields and that Yarnell are real pros. They would have been huge in the Thirties,” Clegman said. “Of course, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.”

The movie opens next week, and the soundtrack album is already shipping out to record stores by the millions. It seems certain that Montmorency County’s local boy, a star in the Depression,  is going to ride the disco train back to glory.

When fame and fortune come his way, what is he going to do?

“If I strike it rich, I might hire someone to brush my teeth,” he said, chortling. “That never was my favorite chore.”

* * * * *

The Internet is a credulous precinct; and this is the point at which it behooves me to end the flights of fancy.

There is no Montmorency County Weekly Democrat (though there is a Montmorency County.) There is no Hiram Clegman. And there is no star-studded movie called “Disco Central,” though I wish to hell there had been — it sounds like quite a ride.

The guy in the picture (taken somewhere in Michigan circa 1979) was a friend of my grandpa, apparently named Gus. I have no idea what he’s doing in the photo.

Sure looks like he’s throwing down Bojangles-style, though, doesn’t it?

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One response »

  1. Kurt:

    You’ve outdone yourself. I’m glad you have an outlet to document your flights of fancy (and I don’t mean the Montmorency County Weekly Democrat); I hope someday you get the opportunity to write more widely read columns or a novel. Great!

    Reply

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