Looking around the entertainment landscape these days, one might observe a noticeable lack of impersonators.
Slipping into the skin of a famous celebrity or politician was once a good way to make a living on the stand-up circuit. There were once quite a few impersonators, people who made their name by mimicking others down to the finest details. While there are inevitably people who can pull off an impersonation of a sitting president and gain a little fame, Rich Little is the last impersonator I can think of who made a career of it, and the apex of that career was in the 1970s and 80s.
But impersonation remains an art. Two tales demonstrate it’s an art not limited to people.
It’s also an art not all animals can pull off.
The first story comes from the early 1960s, when Western Carolina College had developed a fierce rivalry with Lenoir-Rhyne College. The Lenoir-Rhyne mascot was a bear. A live bear.
As related by longtime WCU Sports Information Director Steve White, an idea was hatched by a number of Western students that kidnapping said bear would be a good lark as an upcoming game with the Bears of L-R approached.
In the dead of night, a group embarked for the long trip, arrived at their destination and rendezvoused with a bear that clearly did not like what was going down. The animal evidently did not want to leave its cage with a questionable group of people and put up a struggle.
Long story short, the pranksters arrived back in Cullowhee giddy with their success and upon further examination, discovered that the live mascot they had kidnapped had given up the ghost and gone on to bear heaven somewhere during the proceedings.
Giddy turned to giddy-up in a heartbeat, as the gravity of the situation demanded an immediate solution.
Such were the times in those days that not only was the group able to come up with an individual who would appreciate a deceased bear, but was also able to come up with an individual who could provide a live bear on a moment’s notice.
Soon the band was back on its way to L-R, where they succeeded in replacing the bear undetected.
Until the college’s mascot keepers arrived and noticed there was something … off ... about the symbol of their school.
It turns out you can’t replace a male bear with a female bear that’s 50 pounds heavier. A teachable moment, as the phrasing goes these days.
After some back-and-forth between people on both sides of the Old Fort divide, it was apparently concluded that the backfired prank was meant in good spirit, that bygones could be bygones and the affair could be consigned to the past.
Of course that was before wildlife officials, who have yet to meet a bygone they’d consign anywhere but prison, got wind of the affair and began offering collegiate-level lessons regarding regulations covering transports of animals both live and deceased and other such things frowned on by law enforcement circles.
According to White the whole thing got straightened out in the end, but not before a number of current alum had their hair standing straight on end for extended periods of saga.
The second impersonation tale is quicker, and it involves Daddy.
Seems he had his own run-in with the authorities some years back, with his prized bear dog confiscated as part of the proceedings. The detainment facilities for this particular Plott hound were apparently no better guarded than the dwellings of a certain college mascot bear, and in the dead of night one jet-black Plott that was a champion tracker and fighter was replaced by another jet-black Plott hound as “one-a them hit-or-miss dogs.”
It was apparently hit enough.
That’s about all I can say on this latter tale. As I explained to relatives at Thanksgiving, my knowledge of statute of limitation laws is pretty limited.
Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.