July 10-16, 2003
Goodbye to a Good Guy
We’ll miss you, Chief Halftown.
Oh-Nay, tribal members! To this day, I still occasionally greet a roomful of people with Chief Halftowns salutation. There are usually some among them who instantly understand.
Chief Halftown, kid show host and local celebrity for 50 years, died on Sunday at the age of 86 in Brigantine where he and Mrs. Halftown had moved a year and a half ago to be near two of their three kids. Now, I find myself pausing to reflect and consider the lessons I learned from someone who epitomized the concept that it's good to be the good guy. The Halftowns were my neighbors growing up in the country, and the Halftown kids were my classmates and friends.
Jeff Halftown and I still keep in regular contact, and when we get together, it's Mott The Hoople and Deep Purple all over again.
I knew the Chief as Jeff's dad and as our favorite TV personality. He was a very public Indian back in the days when kids played cowboys and Indians, and simply by being the good guy that he was, gave being the Indian in our games a new dimension. When Jeff and I made our attempt at being juvenile delinquents, I remember the Chief being there for us, not as a rich or influential member of society, but as a calm, concerned and caring father and friend.
Just over a year ago, my wife and I took our kids to see the Chief in one of his last public appearances in a little shop in Haddonfield. He showed a roomful of children and parents various items of Indian material and memorabilia, explaining the practical uses and spiritual meanings behind each item. He sang a little, and led everyone in songs, but there was an element I did not remember from before. He was FUNNY! He cracked a steady stream of very subtle wisecracks, some for the benefit of the kids, and some clearly for their folks.
When he was done, the kids lined up and met him, one at a time, but the parents and grandparents also lined up, twisting and fidgeting and looking frightened and excited. Folks in their 30s, 40s and 50s all reduced to gushing second-graders. It was beautiful.
As we left, there was Mrs. Halftown, quietly collecting for an Indian charity, a natural part of a life devoted to service.
About a year ago, I asked Jeff to look through the Chief's scrapbooks, with the idea of putting together an exhibition of photos of the Chief's career.
What he did was visit me and dropped off several enormous scrapbooks. I was terrified of the responsibility, like being handed the Eleventh Commandment, but he laughed and knew I respected the material enough to handle it.
The images were great. A young Chief as a DJ on WDAS. Many images of the Chief bowling, the WFIL team versus the Wibbage team, the Chief as spokesperson and league leader for Brunswick bowling. The Chief in a sidecar with a black Philadelphia motorcycle cop. The Chief in the WFIL VW bus. The Chief at the opening of every major store or roller rink or bowling alley in the '50s and '60s. Endless photos of the Chief giving his time to charity events, using his celebrity as a vehicle to make good things happen.
It's good to be the good guy. How many times have I said that to my kids and how much of the Chief's spirit rides through that simple lesson! Sometime next spring, we will have an exhibition of photos from his scrapbook. For those of you who would like to spend a moment with the Chief now, I invite you to view some of the images at www.losthighways.org/chiefhalftown.html.
Ees sta sa sussaway. Let the curtain rise. Let the show begin again.
Todd Kimmell is the progenitor of the Lost Highways Archive and Research Library. If you would like to respond to this Slant or have one of your own (850 words), contact Howard Altman, City Paper editor in chief, 123 Chestnut St., third floor, Phila., PA 19106 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.