Five: CATCHING My BREATH
Performing with the Roy Clark show was quite an experience. I loved it ... but I wouldn't want to do it again. I had never traveled in such high caliber entertainment circles before. These folks were true professionals, and they drew the audiences to prove it. I had been on lots of stages and sung before plenty of large groups, but to walk out onto a stage and sing in front of 35,000 people -- that's a real thrill. It's also a little scary. Roy was so popular with his fans -- he had just won country music's "Entertainer of the Year" award for the second time -- and there was never any barricade between the stage and all those thousands of screaming, cheering people. A few security guards were all that stood between the crowd and us.
That enthusiasm didn't stop at the stage, either. When we'd roll into town in the bus -- which is the way we traveled most of the time -- the fans would close in. Fortunately, the bus had shades, because if we arrived at concert sites with the shades up, fans could see through the windows and would go wild. We felt like monkeys in a cage at the zoo. The fans didn't realize Roy was almost never with us on the bus -- he flew in on his private plane and would arrive at the actual concert site quietly. We had to go through some elaborate methods of getting off the bus because the fans always seemed to be waiting to swarm over us. I had no illusions that I was the star of this show -- the only star was Roy Clark. But just being part of the show lent me a sort of rub-off celebrity status, and I enjoyed it.
A short time on the road and we had become a fairly tight group. Moving around from town to town meant the only friendships I could form were within the show -- these were the only people I had regular contact with. We had a road band of five guys who traveled with us, three back-up singers, and Roy joined us occasionally.Roy was a big-hearted guy and very good to the back-up singers, but he had a major cocaine habit, and he drank a lot -- every day. He also, surprisingly, was quite a womanizer. He had a wife, who wasn't on the road with him all the time; a girlfriend on the television show Hee Haw; another girlfriend in Las Vegas; and on top of all that, he became involved with one of the other back-up singers.
Roy was known to have sudden temper tantrums. He'd be all coked up or drunk, and he'd throw glasses against the wall. His personality could change in an instant. One minute he was happy and calm, the next he'd be screaming and yelling.
Despite his temperament, though, he was always ready to party. If a party wasn't happening, Roy would make one. And he didn't like to party alone. He always insisted everyone stay with him until he was ready to call it a night.
I discovered the hard way what happened to those who tried to sneak out early. We were performing in Lake Tahoe, and after the show Roy had a party in his dressing room. The room was fairly large, but people were coming and going all night, so it stayed crowded. Cigarette smoke filled the whole area, and after several hours of partying, the atmosphere was oppressive. By five in the morning I was tired. I didn't use cocaine, didn't feel like drinking anymore, and just wanted to go to my room and get to bed.
Roy was in a back room doing his cocaine when I stood up and announced I was going to my room. The door burst open and he shouted, "If you leave, you're fired!" That was too much. I have a bit of a temper myself, and I said, "Listen, if you want to fire me, go right ahead. But nothing you can threaten me with is going to keep me in this room." Roy's eyes got big, he went back into his little room and slammed the door, and I left. He actually apologized the next day, and I felt I had achieved a minor victory.Like I said earlier, I never liked using cocaine. And, boy, am I thankful I didn't, because I sure had every opportunity to use it -- day and night. Little bowls of cocaine were set out like appetizers at every party.
The wildest parties took place when we were playing in Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe. It would be easy to blame the ever-present supply of cocaine on the road band; road bands have a reputation as hard partyers who have a free-flowing supply of drugs. But when we were in Vegas or Tahoe, the road band wasn't usually with us. Roy would use the orchestra provided by the hotel where we were performing. So it was up to him to keep himself supplied with cocaine, and he always managed to stay well stocked.Roy eventually cleaned up his act.
When I worked with him again several years later at his theater in Branson, he had quit drinking and doing drugs -- I think his doctor told him to clean up or die -- and he was doing much better. I give a lot of the credit for his recovery to his wife, Barbara. She stood by him through so many shenanigans: drinking, drugs, other women. She was a rock of support when he needed it most. And he combined that support with his own inner strength and made a remarkable turnaround. I have a lot of respect for what Roy accomplished with his personal life as well as his career.
When the show would roll into Las Vegas, it was exciting and a relief at the same time. We'd actually get to stay put for a few weeks, and it gave me a chance to meet a lot of stars, including Bob Hope. Lots of performers who were in Las Vegas at the same time we were would stop by Roy's dressing room. One man I found particularly fascinating was Evel Knievel. He was in town planning another of his famous stunts. A homing device would be implanted in his stomach, and he would jump from an airplane into a haystack. Find the Knievel in the haystack. The deal never came together, but at the time I met him he was actively promoting it.
He was a pompous ass, totally obsessed with himself and his "achievements." And he loved showing off his diamonds. Everything out of his mouth was me, me, me; I, I, I. "I did this; nobody else can do that." Just an idiot. But in spite of that mouth, and all his scars and broken bones, I found him physically attractive. I was getting bored with our routine -- finish the show and go home by 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.; sleep; get up and eat; and it's time to go back to work. So, when he asked me to have a drink with him, I thought it might be an adventure.
We went to a bar at the Circus Circus casino and almost immediately got into a confrontation with a girl who was photographing him for a magazine article. At some point during her assignment she must have developed a personal interest in Evel. She was not pleased to see him with me, and made no attempt to hide her displeasure. We had a few drinks, but she kept hovering around sending me looks that could kill. Add that unpleasant scene to the mindless worship he demanded and got everywhere we went, and I was ready to call it a night. But he would have none of that, and we ended up at his room, and this moonstruck young woman had actually left him a rose in front of his door. And I thought, "Well, this ought to be good, if she's chasing him this hard." And it was!
Evel called me several times after that evening, asking me to come to Palm Beach to join him. If my schedule had been different, I might have considered it, but it was fun to tell him no and prick a little hole in that great big ego of his.
Life on the road with the Roy Clark Show was grueling. We crisscrossed the United States and Europe with only short breaks, then we would return to Tulsa. It was as if our road schedule had been determined by someone throwing darts at a map -- back and forth across the country we would go. It was difficult to see Bill during this time because I was gone so often. But occasionally I would have some time off, and he would come to Tulsa to meet me, or I would go to Little Rock to see him. We kept in touch frequently by telephone, though. It was easy to reach him at his office in the Capitol Building or at the governor's mansion. The chain of command was familiar with my name and I would always be put right through to him.
I hadn't seen Bill for several weeks, but I knew he was due to come to Tulsa for a political function. He called to tell me he was on his way, and I waited for him anxiously. I was missing him badly and looked forward to a few sweet hours together. When he arrived he had the best surprise for me -- he told me he was going to spend the whole night with me. I had always hoped we would have the chance to stay together all night, but I never believed it would happen. We occasionally took short naps together after making love, and there was something so special and satisfying about being able to snuggle up close to him and doze off. Bill would turn on his side and draw his legs up, and I would put my arms around him and curl up behind him -- "getting in his crook" I called it.
That night together was a rare treat. I lay awake for hours, watching him sleep and counting his breaths. I was surprised when he started to snore gently. I wasn't surprised that he snored, only that I had never heard it before.I was never happy when Bill had to leave me, but I had gotten used to his leaving after a few hours. Watching him walk out my door after a whole night together was a different story. It really pounded home how much he meant to me, how rare and special our time together was. It was excruciating to watch him leave, and it left me feeling empty and alone.
One of my goals in leaving Little Rock was to put our relationship in perspective and create some emotional distance between us. After our night together, I felt I had taken a step backward. But I was still determined to weaken our connection if I could. Although I still held a tiny flicker of hope for a future with him, in my heart I knew it wasn't likely to happen.
I redoubled my efforts to concentrate on my job and to explore relationships with other people. While on the road, I went out occasionally and I often made new friends, and the Roy Clark Show was like a great big family. I felt I was beginning to develop a life beyond Bill. But in spite of my good intentions, I still never hesitated to see him whenever I had the opportunity.
After nearly a year with the show, I was exhausted from being on the road. Even worse, I had gained weight because we never ate on schedule. We ate when we had the chance, not when we were hungry. A lot of our meals were in greasy-spoon restaurants just off the highway, and sometimes I would find myself eating hamburgers and french fries at three o'clock in the morning. I rarely had a chance to get any exercise, and the pounds started to pile up.
The novelty of traveling and performing all over the United States and Europe had worn off. It had become such a grind -- get on the bus, go into a place, get a room, change for the show, do the show, get on the bus, go to the next city, get a room, shower, change for the show, do the show, get back on the bus. We did a stretch like that for almost two weeks once without a break! I was just miserable. I'd find myself looking out the bus window at the neighborhoods we drove through thinking, "I wonder what regular, real people are doing today? I wonder what their lives are like?" Because my life had become surreal, I longed for a return to normal, a chance to put my feet back on the ground.
I began to plan what I would do next. I had relatives in Dallas and had lived there before. Plus, I knew the market there was still good for my business. So I headed straight for Dallas, found an apartment, and started from square one again, which is the way you have to do it in the entertainment business.
Naturally, I thought seriously about going back to Little Rock to be near Bill -- he was a strong pull. But after my year apart from him, I knew I needed to maintain the distance between us to get him out of my system ... as much as I could, anyway. Furthermore, I had gone about as far professionally as I could in Little Rock. In order to continue advancing, I needed to be in a larger city with more opportunities.
By this time my resume was impressive, and I had no trouble finding work in a Dallas club. As soon as I was hired, I assembled some musicians and we were ready. I stayed in Dallas just a short time, though, before I was offered a job in Fort Worth, singing at a new restaurant called Remington's. The owners wanted me to do some public relations for them, as well. This was too good to pass up. I moved to Fort Worth, did public relations during the day, and sang four nights a week. Before long I also became the interim manager of the restaurant.
I was happy with my responsibilities at Remington's, but the restaurant was on shaky ground. It was a popular place, but the owners were having financial difficulties with some of their other concerns and didn't pump enough money into the restaurant to keep it going. It stayed open only about six months ... but what a six months!
During that time, I thought I was making progress in distancing myself from Bill, but it was hard to resist calling him every once in awhile, and he called me, too. Music had always played a part in our relationship, and whenever I performed certain songs, they always brought back memories. I'd always have music playing when he'd come to my apartment. We both loved the Commodores -- "I'm Easy" ...
and "Three Times a Lady" were special favorites.
We'd also listen to Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board. Bill liked Steely Dan, and Kenny Loggins was someone we listened to a lot. For my part, songs like "Wedding Bell Blues" ...
and "Don't Mess with Bill" had a habit of playing over and over in my mind during our early years together.While I was singing at Remington's one night, I was surprised to see Bill come in. He was in Dallas for a conference, and he had made his way to Fort Worth to see me.
It had been months since we had seen each other. All the memories came rushing back in an instant. I pictured myself in his arms and could hear him telling me he loved me as he had so often. He listened to me sing for a bit, and as I sang I could feel the passion rising to the surface. There he was with his piercing eyes, staring at me in that familiar way. Not only was I powerless to resist him, I had no desire to resist him.He took the key to my apartment and said he'd wait for me there. But before he left I introduced him to a dear friend from Fort Worth: Jay Wallace.
He told me later how impressed he was with Bill's class and charm. I couldn't have agreed with him more. I rushed home to him, and melted into his arms. Nothing had changed between us. All the love and passion we had shared in Little Rock was back in an instant. It had never really diminished; I had just tried to pretend it had. We were still a perfect fit, mentally and sexually. We had missed each other terribly, and it showed in the intensity of our lovemaking. Later that night, as I lay in bed stroking his hair, I knew that he was deeply rooted in my heart. I could move to Dallas, or California, or to the moon for that matter. But distance wasn't going to get Bill Clinton out of my system.
Even though Dallas and Fort Worth weren't his home turf, we still had to be careful about being seen together. All the southern states are close together, and the governors' names are well known. Had Bill sat in the bar at Remington's for very long, the manager and some of the regulars were bound to join him and start a conversation. And unless he gave them a phony name, there would have been some questions about why the governor of Arkansas was spending the evening in a bar watching Gennifer Flowers. So we were forced to be just as discreet in Fort Worth as we were in Little Rock. But we were used to it by this time, so it didn't seem like a big deal. It was a small price to pay to be able to snatch a few hours with the man I loved.
When Bill wasn't right in front of me, casting a spell over me, I really believed I could develop an interest in someone else. I knew the only thing that would tear me away from him would be to fall in love with another man. But it had been nearly three years since I had fallen in love with him, and so far I hadn't met anyone who was his equal. But I kept looking.
Fort Worth was similar to Little Rock in that it was easy to be a big duck in a little puddle. A newspaper reporter had written an article about me titled, "Gennifer with a 'G,' Class with a 'C.' "The article couldn't have been more flattering -- it complimented my singing ability and called me the most eligible bachelorette in town. I loved the attention I was getting. Men were asking me out, and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to shift my focus away from Bill.
I was dating one of the owners of the restaurant who was separated from his wife and going through a rather nasty divorce. Not an ideal situation, but at least he was legally separated. His son lived with him, and we would get together every once in awhile at his apartment. I liked him a lot and thought there might be a chance for a future with him. Maybe he was the one who could divert me from Bill. Unfortunately, his wife was unable to let go. Their five-year-old daughter was living with her, and she would call him at all hours of the night saying, "Your daughter is having bad dreams; she wants her daddy." And he would rush off every time she beckoned.
She followed us when we were out together, too. I was trying to be patient, because I still thought if we could get his wife settled down, things might develop for us. But we were starved for some privacy. So one night he told me, "I'll get a room at the Hilton, and when you're finished singing we'll have a late dinner and be able to spend some time together." That was fine with me. I was ready to get serious about this man, and the chance to have an evening alone without being pestered by his wife was appealing.
We had dinner and a few drinks, then went back to the room. Things were just starting to heat up when the phone rang. I heard him protest, "No, no, now don't come up here." His wife had seen both our cars at the hotel and told the bellman she had a sick child; she had to get in touch with her husband. The bellman told her what room we were in!
By this point I had changed into a long negligee, and I panicked! I grabbed my bag, stuffed my nightgown into my underwear, and threw on my fur coat. I told him, "I don't want any part of this. I'm getting out of here." As I tore down the hall toward the stairs and was just opening the exit door, she came off the elevator and headed for her husband, letting out a blood-curdling scream and sinking her fingernails into his face.
I flew down the stairs as fast as I could, but came up short when I found that they ended at the mezzanine. There was no way to get out of the hotel without descending a long, winding staircase that led smack into the lobby. I was trying to walk down those stairs with some dignity, and my nightgown kept falling out from under my coat. I felt like a bad version of Scarlett O'Hara. I finally got to the bottom, raced through the lobby, and ran outside to my car, only to find she had pulled in behind my car and blocked me in. I ran back inside and demanded the desk clerk get me a cab. He pointed to the telephone and said, "You've got to call one." Great. In a panic, I called a cab, but knew I couldn't stay in the lobby in case she came back down. She was a bona fide lunatic and I had no idea what she might do.
I moved back outside and planted myself in a little alcove in the building, looking like a madwoman myself -- hair sticking out everywhere, silk gown hanging down under my coat, and a panicked look in my eyes. I tried my best to become part of the wall, hoping that if she came out, she might not see me. Meanwhile, people were walking by, staring at me, and I kept thinking, "Yep, it's me, Gennifer with a 'G,' Class with a 'C.' " Finally, my cab arrived and I got out of there. The next day I told him I wouldn't see him again. I needed another relationship with built-in problems like I needed a hole in the head! So much for my attempt to get Bill Clinton out of my system.
In the meantime, Remington's closed, and I started looking around for work again. I called a friend from Dallas, Kay Hammond, and she told me she was dating a fellow who was going to be singing at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, and he was looking for a female partner. The Fairmont! That was the creme de la creme in my business. His name was Robert Phillips, and I went to his home in the exclusive University Park area of Dallas to meet him. He was divorced and had a luxurious house decorated with chandeliers and animal skins, including mink-covered pillows on his couch. It was the ultimate bachelor pad.
He had a set-up in his living room so he could play music with the voices dubbed out. I sang a couple of songs for him, and he liked what he heard. We talked for awhile and liked each other almost immediately. I was thrilled when he asked me to join him in the Pyramid Room at the Fairmont, and I made plans to move back to Dallas right away.
Robert was a sophisticated, nice-looking man with light colored eyes and dark hair. He looked a little like the singer Vic Damone. In addition to being a talented singer, he was a good businessman. I felt fortunate to have lucked into that deal and was glad my background had prepared me for it. Most singers had to perform around Dallas for years before they could get to the Pyramid Room, and I managed to walk right into it. I quickly brushed up on the old standards like "Satin Doll," and I was ready to go.
Singing in the Pyramid Room was one of the highlights of my professional career. The room itself was beautiful -- elegantly decorated and set up so it was easy for me to interact with the members of Dallas society that frequented the room. It was the "in" spot at the time. In addition to the Pyramid Room, the Fairmont had the Venetian Room, which brought in big-time talent. The Pyramid became a hang-out for the celebrities when they were between shows or looking for a place to unwind after their show. It was fun seeing well-known faces come in often, and most of the time I was able to meet them. This was my room and I was the star there. It was exciting to meet celebrities like Jack Jones, Nancy Wilson, Harvey Korman, Tina Turner, and many, many others.
Rich Little was appearing at Fair Park in Dallas and came into the Pyramid one evening with friends to have a drink. He was with a date, but slyly invited me to join his table during a break. His date left the table for a few minutes, and Rich asked if he could call me. He was nice looking and obviously very funny, so I gave him my phone number. The next evening he picked me up in a limo with his manager and the now well-known TV personality, Charlie Rose.
We went to dinner at one of Dallas' most elegant restaurants, Jean-Claude's.
Rich was charming and hilarious, even without his impressions. We went to the Loew's Anatol penthouse, where he was staying while in town, and it was gorgeous. It had a bathtub so huge my whole bathroom could have fit into it. The room reportedly cost $1500 a night.
I liked Rich and went out with him a few times, and later did an interview with him while I was briefly working for a radio station in Little Rock. I remember a touching confession he made on the way to dinner one night. He told me other entertainers are identified by their singing or acting ability, but half the time he didn't know "who the hell" he was; he was always someone else.
He also told me a funny story about his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Knowing this could be a big break for his career, Rich had been practicing for days on the routine he'd done the night Ed had seen him in the club where he was performing. The night of the show, Ed came backstage to greet him. Rich impersonated that great Sullivan voice as he told me that Ed said to him: "I'm real glad you're on my show tonight, but I'd like to give you some advice. I saw you at the club the other night, and I wouldn't do that routine if I were you."
* * * *Every now and then, Bill would come to Dallas on political business, and he always saw me when he did. There was no denying that the magic was still there, and my attempts to find someone else had gone nowhere. I began to visit Little Rock frequently to see him. I would make a reservation at a hotel, and Bill would reimburse me later in cash. Once the Excelsior Hotel was built, I stayed there exclusively. It was easy for Bill to find a reason to be there -- many conventions were held there, and there always seemed to be something political going on there. So he could be seen at that hotel without raising any eyebrows.
It frustrated both of us not to be able to go out in public together. Even though we treasured the time we were able to spend together, we longed to do things others couples in love do -- like going out for a drink and sharing a romantic candlelight dinner. Even the simplest pleasures were denied us -- movies, clubs, theater -- even a hand-in-hand walk through a park was out of the question.
So Bill tried to get a little creative. He called me from Little Rock one day to tell me he was coming to Dallas, and he asked me to dress up like a man and meet him at the Mockingbird Hilton so we could sit in the bar and have a drink together. "What about my hair?" I asked. "Pull it up under a man's hat and put on a man's suit," he responded. The idea was intriguing, and I considered it. I wouldn't use any makeup, and wearing a man's suit might be fun!
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a dangerous idea it was. I'm only five-foot-two, for heaven's sake; I didn't have a man's suit hanging in my closet, or a man's hat; what would I do about shoes? And I have large breasts. There's no way I could disguise that! I couldn't imagine anyone believing I was a man. So we didn't do it. But I did think the idea was a hoot. It would have been interesting to see if we could pull it off.
On one of Bill's trips to Dallas he had some devastating news: Hillary was pregnant. I didn't want to hear this news. I thought back to the child we had conceived together and felt a stab of pain in my heart. Why was he so happy about this baby? Why hadn't he felt that way when I got pregnant? But he was thrilled with Hillary's pregnancy; he considered it a godsend. I was happy for him because he was happy, but I resented him having a child with this woman whom he found it so easy to cheat on.
His eyes glowed with pleasure when he told me. Obviously it never occurred to him that I might be disturbed by his news, but I was. That put the lid on it for me. If I had still entertained even the slightest hope that we might have a future together, the notion disappeared forever that day. It was right there in black and white. So I took my emotional lumps and made a conscious decision to be more open-minded about getting on with my life. I had dated other men and had tried to get serious about a few of them, but I always held something back.
I don't blame Bill for all of my hesitation about getting involved. I know my parents' divorce still weighed heavily on my mind and made me reluctant to commit to any man. But Bill did play a big role. If I met a man and found out he wasn't perfect, I knew I already had someone who was: Bill Clinton. He was always happy to see me and, in fact, went out of his way to see me. When things would get the least bit rocky with another man, I knew I had this little place to run to that was extremely fulfilling, both psychologically and physically. He was my secret haven, my feel-good place.
Although I didn't end our relationship when Hillary got pregnant, I made a mental shift. As far as Bill was concerned, everything was the same and he fully intended to keep seeing me. On the surface, our relationship didn't change. I still loved him, but I also knew I had to pay attention to what I needed. I wasn't sure exactly what that was, but until I figured it out, I intended to just relax and have fun. I had always been a free spirit who liked to have fun, but now I intended to really pursue it.I quit looking for someone who satisfied me as much as Bill and decided to simply enjoy the different men I did go out with. I didn't need to "bond" with every man I dated -- I just wanted to play and not get serious. Bill could still be my "someone special." Once I mentally erased the complications from our relationship, it made it easier to be with him knowing we had no future together.
I had a wonderful job in the Pyramid Room that gave me the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people, and I decided not to hold back any longer. I would go out whenever I wanted, and, who knows? Maybe I'd actually meet someone someday who would steal my heart away from Bill.
So that's what I did. I didn't meet anyone particularly special, but I had a lot of fun. And while I was still singing at the Pyramid, I met a man who offered to help get me a job at the Cipango Club in Dallas. The Cipango was a prestigious private club, and I would make even more important contacts there than I had at the Pyramid.
I was ready for a change. As much as I enjoyed singing at the Pyramid, the Cipango held a special allure for me. I had gone there once when I was just twenty-one and was so impressed with the place that I stole an ashtray to keep as a souvenir of my evening there. To go back there as a singer was like a dream come true!
My job at the Cipango went beyond just singing, which was fine with me. I was always eager to expand my talents. I was hired as a membership director and sang on weekends. It was something new for me, and I tackled it with enthusiasm. I really enjoyed the change of pace but was glad I still had the opportunity to sing, too.
The Cipango was absolutely beautiful inside -- lots of wood paneling and exquisitely decorated. One thing about the Cipango -- you knew you'd really made it there when the patrons urged you to get up on the bar and dance. It took awhile for me to work up my courage, but I finally agreed one especially busy weekend night. The bar was crowded, I had been singing all night, and was enjoying a break while the band played background music.
I'd had a few drinks or I doubt if I ever would have done it. But some of my favorite members were there that night, I was a little tipsy, and we were all having a wonderful time. Finally someone yelled, "Gennifer, it's time for you to get up on that bar and dance." I didn't hesitate for a second. I climbed right on up, high heels and all, and danced through two complete songs. Everyone was applauding and egging me on, and I was in heaven.
I felt like I was surrounded by a great big family. The members were so nice to me, and several of the other entertainers had become close friends. I was very happy at the Cipango.But it, too, began to run its course. It was a heavy schedule working during the week as membership director and as a singer on weekends. When I was offered an engagement at another private club in Dallas, I thought long and hard about it. The Cipango had been good to me, but sometimes my instincts tell me when it's time to move on, and for some reason, I felt the time was right.
The booking at the new club was a one-month engagement with a three-month booking guaranteed after Christmas. That was considered reasonably long-term in my business! So I decided it offered me the security of a steady job that I needed as well as the excitement of moving to a new place and meeting new people.
The first month of my booking worked out great. I liked the new club and was enjoying the new surroundings. But then the unforeseen happened. The ownership changed, and my return booking was canceled. It was late in the year and much too late to secure a new engagement, and I was left hanging in the wind.
I looked around Dallas a little bit, putting out feelers to see if anything was available, but I wasn't having much luck. There was no immediate crisis because I had a little money saved, but I knew I would go through it quickly if I didn't find something soon. It was getting close to Christmas, so I made the only decision I could think of at the moment.
I decided to visit my mother and stepdad for a few days and plan my next move. Muzzy and Pappa, as I like to call them, had married and were living near Branson, Missouri. So while I was there I drove over to Branson and stopped by the Roy Clark Theater.
At the time of my visit, Branson was a small town of about twenty-five hundred during the off season. It doesn't have an off season now, but in the mid-eighties the season lasted about six months. While visiting Roy Clark's theater, I met the manager, and he asked me to audition. I did, and he offered me a job for that season. It seemed like a good solution to my problem. Plus, it would be nice to be near my parents for awhile.
There was nothing sophisticated about Branson, and it really didn't appeal to me much, but I stuck it out for the season. I worked seven days a week for five and a half months. It was a brutal pace.The entertainment in Branson is absolutely wholesome -- family entertainment with women in high-necked collars. I would look out over the audience and see acres of white hair. These were God-fearing folks and they demanded their entertainment be clean. Roger Miller, bless his heart, was performing one night and inadvertently said "shit." He was telling a joke, and the word "shit" happened to be in it. It was a funny joke, too! But the audience went wild. They stormed the office of the management demanding that Roger apologize, be kicked out, get beheaded, and on and on. You'd have thought he slapped their mothers!
I had planned to go back to Dallas after the season ended in Branson. But I had been talking to Bill, and he was trying to persuade me to come back to Little Rock. After my season of hell in Branson, big-city Dallas sounded exhausting. I liked the idea of getting back to a smaller place with a slower pace. I was ready to go home, and I missed Bill, too. I needed to be touched and held by someone who knew me inside and out. I needed Bill to work his magic and recharge me again -- I needed a "Bill fix." Without too much thought, I jumped right back into the tempest with no idea just how stormy it was going to get.