Gray, Erman

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Erman Gray, former tent show performer and owner, talks about his life and career in show business and tent shows in general, including that of Harley Sadler.

General Interview Information

Interviewee Name: Erman Gray

Additional Parties Recorded:

Date: August 28, 1974; February 10 1976; Spring 1976; July 3, 1978

Location: Mount Pleasant, Iowa and Lubbock, Texas

Interviewer: Suzanne Ricker and Clifford Ashby, Bob nash, Jerry Martin, Clifford Ashby's Class

Length: 4 hours, 15 minutes


Tape 1, Side 1: Background, Father as a musician, Played clarinet, Municipal band, Springfield Missouri, Family members, Musicians, Ed Ward’s opera house show, Crawford’s Comedians (1919), Began acting (1920), Gray family’s theater activities, Dubinsky Brothers Tent Show (1921), Medicine show, Lester "Skeeter" Kell partner, Musical Grays Stock Company (1923), Taught high school band Canadian Texas, Gray’s Stock Company (1932), Musical Grays Stock Company (1926) (again, Tent size, Family members (again), Met Harley Sadler, Cisco Texas (1926), Harley Sadler Tent Show, Canadian Texas (1931), Performers, Bobby Gentry, Plays, G-string character, Gray’s Stock Company (again), Problems with movie theater owner Spur Texas, (1933), Opposition in Rule Texas, Harley Sadler (again), Character, Circus, Harley Sadler show plays (again).

Tape 1, Side 2: Writing career, Incidents from show business career, Harley Sadler show (again), Performers, "Skeeter" Kell Show, Responsibilities, Henry Brunk’s Comedians, Harley Sadler show (again), Harry Phelps, manager, Depression (1930s), Gabe Garrett show, Equipment bought by Gray, To Ralls Texas (1932), To Clovis New Mexico (1932), Tent show (1933), Tents, Double wall, Boss canvas men, Casey Jones, Joe McKennon, Problems from weather, Setting up, Music in shows, Clark Gable, stock performer.

Tape 2, Side 1: [Interview for KFYO Radio], Start in show business (1919), Played in orchestra, Began acting (1920), Family joined show (1921), The Musical Grays, Dubinsky Brothers shows (1921), Leslie E. Caal (1922), Taught high school band in Canadian Texas (1929-31), Opened tent show (1933), 1933-35 seasons, Admission prices, Advertisements, Texas Tech tent show revival (1976), Tent shows, Business in the 1930s, Types of shows, Plays, Modern shows, Incident, Fred Brunk and Dave Garrett shows, Married to Thelma Collins (1936), From Amherst Texas, Advertisements (again), Incident in Dickens, Texas (1936), Tent destroyed by wind, Taught high school band in Floydada Texas (1940s), School assembly performances, Coronado school assemblies, G-string parts, Origin of phrase, "ham", Advertisements (again).

Tape 2, Side 2: Recopied interview.

Tape 3, Side 1: Erman Gray, Recent experience with production of a play, Leon Gray, Talent cooperation of performers, Erman Gray (again), Early show business career, Wins amateur contest, Musical abilities of the Gray family, Erman Gray (again), Joins tent show, Plays in band, Helps set up tent stage, Pay, Stage manager (1920), Dramatic roles, Directors of tent shows, Gray family, Activities in tent show (1920s), Dubinsky Brothers’ show, The Musical Grays’ Stock Company (1923-1929), Family members in Saxophone act, Erman Gray (again), Organized school municipal bands, Hartville Missouri, School band director (1929-1932), Canadian Texas, Texas State Band Contest, Organizes tent show (1932), Gray’s Stock Company, Ruidoso (1933), Closes (1936), Wife, Organizes second show (1940), Wife dies, Teaches band and business, Floydada Texas, Denver City Texas, School assemblies (post-1945), Married (1949), Works for Neil Schaffner (1949-1962), Manages Brooks Stock Company (1956), Learns tent repair work, Actors’ responsibilities on show, Canvass men, "Blink" Mason, Care of canvas tent, Problems with wind, Setting up a tent, Importance of opening night, "Making the nut", Obtaining licenses, West Plains Missouri, Problems with movie theater owners, Rule Texas, Economic impact of tent shows on local economies.

Tape 3, Side 2: Rule Texas (again), Licenses, Truth or Consequences New Mexico, Problems with movie theater owners (again), Erman Gray (again), Favorite towns, Businesses, Lectures and programs, Acting ability, Ad libbing, Nervousness.

Tape 4, Side 1: Tent show plays, Erman Gray, Early career, Played clarinet, Worked as stage hand manager, Played leading roles, Gray family, Dubinsky Brothers show (1921), Vaudeville in Hutchinson Kansas, Lester E. "Skeeter" Kell’s show, Musical Grays Stock Company (1923-29), Erman Gray (again), Kell’s show (1920s) (again), Taught high school band, Canadian Texas (1929-1932), Gray’s Tent Show (1933-1940), Territory, Married (1936), To Tennessee, Jimmy DeForest Dramatic Company (1936), Henry Brunk’s Comedians (1936), Performers, Brunk family, Competition, Erman Gray (again), To New York City (1936), Wife and Frank and Ora Ackly, Billy Blair Players, Plays, Returned to Texas, Fred Brunk’s Comedians (1937), Toby Young show Missouri (1939), Formed four-person company, Joined H. Morgan show (1940), Wife died, Billy Blair Players (again), Organized company in Texas (1940), One-man school assembly programs, Band director Hale Center Texas, To Hollywood California (1941).

Tape 4, Side 2: Erman Gray (continued), Orchestra assembly program, Married (1948), Neil Schaffner show (1949), Henry Brunk’s Comedians (again), Low pressure, Neil Schaffner show (again), High pressure, Fred Brunk’s Comedians (again), Actor’s Equity, Musical Grays Stock Company (again), Jobs of each family member, Tent show managers association, Harley Sadler, Erman Gray (again), Tent blew down in Texas (1936), Henry Brunk’s Comedians (again), Fred Brunk’s Comedians (again), Dress code, Spending money in towns, Opposition from theater owner, Double brass on shows, Canvas work, Reasons for decline of tent shows.

Tape 5, Side 1: Reasons for decline of tent shows (continued), Talking movies, Depression, Show quality declined, Sadler show (again), Schaffner show (again), Gabe Garrett show, Dust storms, Incident in Carrizozo New Mexico, Incident in Aspermont Texas (1934), Method of erecting tent, During and after World War II, Erman Gray (again), Taught school Floydada Texas, Excused from draft, Vern Slought Players, Michigan, Henry Brunk’s Comedians (again), Reopened, Difficulty finding actors, Doug Ackley actor, Erman Gray (again), Jimmy Davis actor, Transportation, Erman Gray (again), Advance work (1933), Spur, Texas (1933), Sponsored by American Legion, Opposition from theater owner, Opposition in Rule Texas, Clean, family shows, Importance of Toby shows, Gray’s Tent Show (again), Jimmy Davis, Toby actor (again), Decline of tent shows (again), Brunk’s Comedians (again), Harley Sadler show (again), Other tent show plays.

Tape 5, Side 2: Decline of tent shows (continued), Producing a modern tent show, Personnel, money, Tent show lifestyle, Play names changed, Royalties paid to playwrights, Charles Harrison playwright, Other playwrights, Neil Schaffner as a playwright, Updated and renamed plays, Anecdote Gray performing, Toby shows hurt tent show business, Gray as a comedy performer, Jimmy Davis Toby actor (again), Musical Grays Stock Company (again), Competition among tent shows, Gray’s Tent Show (1930s) (again), Competition from Loomis Players, Worked with Harley Sadler booking towns.

Range Dates: c. 1919-1978

Bulk Dates: 1921-1941

Access Information

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Recording Format Notes:


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