Editor's note: In this series, local author David Aaron Moore answers reader-submitted questions about unusual, noteworthy or historic people, places and things in Charlotte. Submit inquires to [email protected]
Who are some of your favorite local characters, past or present? Beth Beaton, Charlotte
Never before - or since - has there been such a cast of characters with the kind of local notoriety as those of the mid 20th century. Perhaps it was because Charlotte was a much smaller town. Or, perhaps it was because without the self-promotion tools we have today, such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter - or shake 'n' bake insta-pop star shows like American Idol and Survivor - fame was something only a handful of people achieved.
Daisy and Violet Hilton were the conjoined-twin vaudevillian act turned produce checkers at a local grocery store. Joey the Clown was a children's game and entertainment-show host portrayed by Brooks Lindsay. Grace Hamrick was an upper-crust society columnist who covered all the comings and goings of the city's wealthy. Jimmy Kilgo was Charlotte's own Dick Clark, hosting a Southern version of American Bandstand known as Kilgo's Canteen. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker started out hosting a small independent kids' TV show and eventually transformed into internationally known televangelists before succumbing to a major sex and finance scandal meltdown. Can it get any better?
It can. While all of those previously mentioned individuals merit notation, the following are a few of my favorite personalities that have captured the hearts - and airwaves - of the Queen City.
The ultimate homemaker, Feezor hosted The Betty Feezor Show on WBTV five days a week for 23 years, beginning in 1953. She offered helpful hints for homemakers, serving up daily meal plans and providing tips on arts and crafts and creative repurposing. In some ways, she was actually quite ahead of her time; TV shows and blogs covering such subjects have exploded in recent years.
Beloved by many for her genuine kindheartedness and Southern gentility, she died of cancer in 1978 at the age of 53. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, she discussed her fight with the disease - even discussing her choice of wigs - with the Charlotte Observer.
Kirby was loved by children in Charlotte and the Carolinas for his various programs on WBTV that included Whistle Stop, Fred Kirby's Little Rascals and Kirby's Corral. For many years he and his horse Calico made frequent appearances in the annual Christmas Carousel Parade and at the Western theme park Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock. Many fans never knew that before his TV fame Kirby had experienced a somewhat successful career as a country western singer and musician, recording such tunes as "Atomic Power" (1946) and "When That Hell Bomb Falls" (1950). Kirby passed away in 1996 at the age of 85.
Alternately known as "Morganna the Wild Thing" and "Morganna the Kising Bandit," Cotrelle blew into Charlotte sometime in the late 1960s and became a favorite of horny hetero males with her lusty strip revue at various Charlotte burlesque clubs. An obvious attention monger with aspirations for some kind of undefined greatness, her antics through Uptown captured the attention of mainstream media, jealous housewives and girlfriends, and even the police. She frequently strolled through the streets clad in a bikini, once wearing only jeans and pasties. Her final blowout before leaving town was a promise to ride through Uptown topless. She kept her word - sort of - when she road past Trade and Tryon in a Cadillac convertible with the top down but her breasts covered in a micro bikini top. Cotrelle is still alive and reportedly resides in Ohio. Now in her early 70s, she refuses any media interviews.
"Chatty" Hattie Leeper
The legendary disc jockey for the old AM radio station WGIV used music and her charming style to make a big impact on race relations in Charlotte. Leeper began her career as a local radio DJ while still just a teen back in the 1950s. The first black female DJ in the city, her fun and friendly personage and bopping music won her fans across Charlotte's racial divide of the day and gained her major media notoriety. As recently as this February Leeper made an appearance at Central Piedmont Community College, where she talked about her life in Charlotte, career at WGIV, and hanging out with R&B legends, including James Brown, Dionne Warwick and Otis Redding.
Moore is the author of Charlotte: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. His writings have appeared in numerous publications throughout the U.S. and Canada.
This column has been corrected to include the name of the photographer of Fred Kirby's photo.