Volmer "Cactus" Vick (1911–1978)
Volmer “Cactus” Vick was one of Arkansas’s first radio and television personalities in the post–World War II era. As a showman, Vick was a combination of magician, ventriloquist, comedian, preacher, and cowboy. Vick’s three-decade-long career began on a local radio station in the late 1940s. He made thousands of appearances, in character, while working as spokesperson for the Finkbeiner Meat Packing Company and for the Continental Baking Company in Little Rock (Pulaski County), makers of Arkansas Maid Wieners and Wonder Bread, respectively.
Volmer Voss Vick was born on a plantation at Varner (Lincoln County) on November 2, 1911. His father, K. P. Vick, had a general store there before he died, leaving Vick—the oldest of three children—to help his mother, Berta Mae Vick, support the family. He began selling peanuts on the streets of England (Lonoke County) when he was fifteen. He graduated as president of his senior class at England High School in May 1930.
On March 17, 1935, he married Charlene Smith; they had a son and a daughter. Because work was difficult to find, Vick had many jobs in his youth. He sold aluminum wares and insurance. He later used a peddling truck to sell groceries. Vick then worked as sales manager and assistant produce buyer at a Kroger grocery store on West Capitol Avenue in Little Rock.
Vick’s entertainment career began in the late 1940s with a radio show called The Safety-First Pals, in which Vick spoke to kids as a toothless hillbilly named Uncle Arky. In 1954–1955, he used his comedic talents on Teentime Jamboree on KARK-TV. In his late twenties, Vick entered a radio talent contest called Major Bowes’s Amateur Hour doing humorous impressions. Although Vick did not win the contest, Dale Hart, who was a producer at KGHI, a short-lived Little Rock radio station in the early 1950s, noticed him. In 1954, when Hart was program manager at KARK television in Little Rock, he offered Vick the opportunity to put his talents to use with his own western-themed variety show. Vick accepted, and “Cactus” Vick’s Six Gun Theatre debuted on the air in 1955.
The show consisted of Vick, dressed in western attire, showing popular western movies to kids, along with occasional performances by celebrity visitors such as Gene Autry, sidekick Smiley Burnette, Gail “Annie Oakley” Davis, and Roy Rogers. Vick had chosen his stage name, “Cactus,” specifically for his role as host of Six Gun Theatre, but it stuck for the entirety of his career. The show was sponsored by Finkbeiner Meat Packing Company, and Vick participated in various marketing campaigns in his signature attire as spokesperson for its products.
After Six Gun Theatre went off the air in 1958, Vick changed jobs and sponsors. He went to do similar work for the Wonder Bakery in Little Rock as a public relations representative. In that capacity, Vick toured the country to appear at private parties and corporate functions for the ITT Continental Baking Company, makers of Wonder Bread. At each party, Vick passed out “Square Shooter” cards and small red books featuring Bible verses; he was a deacon at First Baptist Church in Benton (Saline County). Vick performed at more than 8,000 private and corporate functions, for both children and adults, until his retirement in November 1977. When he retired, Continental Baking Company threw a party for Vick at the University Mall in Little Rock. Vick announced in the Arkansas Democrat that “everybody in Arkansas is invited to attend.”
Vick performed considerable charity work, appearing for many years at Park Plaza shopping center in Little Rock for his annual Cactus Vick Birthday Party, a benefit for the Jaycettes’ annual toy drive. He also hosted annual parties for children at the North Little Rock Boys Club beginning in the late 1940s. Governor David Pryor declared November 26, 1976, as “Cactus Vick Day.” In his proclamation, Pryor called Vick a “World-Champion-Birthday-Party-Giver” and recognized Vick for his achievements as “Goodwill Ambassador for our state.”
Vick died of a heart attack at his home in Benton on December 18, 1978. The Arkansas Democrat reported it the next day on its front page. He is buried at Nashville Cemetery in Nashville (Howard County). On January 4, 1979, the Arkansas Legislative Council adopted a resolution memorializing Volmer Vick.
For additional information:
Bennett, Ann. “Cactus Vick: You Are Going to Be 5 years old.” Arkansas Gazette, November 23, 1977, p. 3B.
“Cactus Vick: Ice Cream, Cake and God.” Arkansas Democrat, October 16, 1976, pp. 1A, 8A.
“Cactus Vick to Retire.” Arkansas Democrat, November 27, 1977, p. 8D.
Gibby, Jan. “Cactus Vick Dies.” Arkansas Democrat, December 19, 1978, pp. 1A, 12A.
Hollis, Tom. Hi There, Boys and Girls! America’s Local Children’s TV Programs. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
Rush, Jerry. “Vick’s Birthday Party Nets Toys for Needy Kids.” Arkansas Democrat, November 24, 1963, p. 5.
“Volmer Vick Honored by Legislative Council.” Benton Courier, January 23, 1979, p. 10.
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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