B-Bar-B cowboys ride into town for Iris parade

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In 1952, Sumter Iris Festival Committee president and WFIG radio station manager T. Douglas Youngblood announced a special appearance that was particularly appealing to young Sumterites. Youngblood was able to secure the appearance of radio child star Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders.

Youngblood said this valuable addition to the festival was secured with the cooperation of the Mutual Broadcasting System "and was booked especially for the benefit of the thousands of children in the area who follow the adventures of Benson over the nationwide network."

The young cowboy star was scheduled to arrive "aboard the Bobby Benson Special Eastern Airliner and would officially open the morning festival activities with a tour of Sumter stores where he will be given gifts by each merchant." Benson would be wearing cowboy attire and ride his favorite horse accompanied by the B-Bar-B Riders. While in Sumter, he would be the house guest of Mayor and Mrs. W.E. Bynum."

At the conclusion of the beauty pageant, Benson was asked to crown Queen Iris. The festival committee also planned a B-Bar-B Roundup for the many youngsters for Friday, May 23, at 6 p.m. at Riley Ball Park. During the parade, Bobby Benson caught the eye of the small fry as he passed, astride his palomino, with his B-Bar-B Riders. The young cowboy star strategically was at the center of the procession.

According to an article written by Jack French on the "Old Time Radio" series, "the Bobby Benson radio series, in its two versions a decade apart, was unique in broadcast history since it straddled both the origin and the demise of the Golden Age of Radio."

The second version of Bobby Benson, begun in 1949 and aired until June 1955, outlasted virtually every kid's dramatic show, including Superman, Green Hornet, Captain Midnight, Sky King and Straight Arrow . The creation of this remarkable Western series rests in the genius of a British citizen in Buffalo, New York, who had never been west of Chicago - Herbert C. Rice, an energetic immigrant, was from England. Rice was a radio director, writer and actor of amazing versatility."

Rice was approached by the Hecker H-O Co. who offered to sponsor a children's radio series in order to promote their cereal products. Rice quickly developed a story line featuring an orphan to be named Bobby Benson who had inherited a Ranch in Texas. He was able to market his idea not only to the Hecker Co. but also to CBS.

The H-Bar-O Rangers began production on Oct. 17, 1932, and enjoyed instant success. The program produced more than 700 fifteen-minute episodes until it left the air in December of 1936. Thirteen years later it returned to the air with Ivan Cury, a talented 12-year-old with two years in radio acting, who beat out several auditioners to win the lead of the "Cowboy Kid. "The series remained on the air for six years, accounting for 350 episodes.

In addition to his festival responsibilities, Benson visited the local Elks Club where he demonstrated his six-gun ability for the Cub Scouts in attendance. He also took the time to answer questions from the Cubs concerning the B-Bar-B Ranch and his activities as star of the program. He also met with and was entertained by groups of the festival's committee members.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com or (803) 774-1294.