Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Zeke Clements was not a dwarf

Marlon "Zeke" Clements was not a dwarf. He just played one on the big screen. In 1937 Clements yodeled the part of Bashful, in Walt Disney's 1937 version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. To be clear, Scotty Mattraw was the speaking voice of bashful, but when Disney needed Bashful to yodel they used Zeke. Apparently even in the 1930s they couldn't find a single voice-over man to handle both the voice over and the yodeling parts. He wasn't always a dwarf however, he also appeared as a singing cowboy in several B-Westerns.

Over his career he performed as both under his stage name Zeke, the Alabama Cowboy and the Dixie Yodeler. Clements was born in Warrior, Alabama in 1911. His music career began in 1928 when he joined the touring show of Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys touring show. The band was formerly known as McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band. McGinty had been a real-deal cowboy and a Rough Rider under Roosvelt. Graywas more of a band manager which is probably how they ended up on the National Barn Dance at WLS-AM in Chicago. they had been playing on KFRU-AM in Bristow, OK, and KFJF-AM in Kansas City. The barn Dance had only started in 1924, so in these early regional years of radio they were genuine celebrities. Gray actually made the cover of Billboard.

In 1933, he joined  singer Texas Ruby as member of the Bronco Busters. The book The Cowboy in Country Music by Don Cusic claims that in 1934 Zeke was the first Opry act to wear cowboy clothing. It's unclear if this was his first appearance on the Opry, or just his first appearance with the Bronco Busters... or just the first clad in chaps and boots. I find that "first" claim dubious. However, this was before the era of singing cowboy movies. Gene Autry's first cowboy movie began a year later, in 1935. Though Autry and Clements had both been on the National barn Dance by 1929, it's clear that Autry popularized the clothing fad. You can't see the outfits on the radio.

After the Opry, Clements also spent time on WHO-AM in Des Moints and WHAS-AM in Louisville.  The book The Encyclopedia of Country Music claims that it was while playing on the Hollywood Barn Dance on KNX-AM, that Zeke answered the Disney ad for a yodeler. But the Hollywood Barn Dance supposedly only ran from 1943 to 1948. This is long after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released. Only one of these things can be true. By all reports Ruby  was supposed to audition for a role as well but was too drunk. In 1939, Zeke broke it off with Ruby and went back to the Opry. He continued to be a successful songwriter for the rest of his life writing hits for both Eddy Arnold and Red Foley. He died in Nashville in 1994.