Uncle Strap

Smelly Clark's uncle. Works the night shift as a clerk at the Bright Kentucky Hotel. A "spend thrift." Rush says more coincidences happen to him than anyone on the face of the earth. He once escorted his lady friend to Peoria for the purposes of enjoying a fish dinnerRush claims Uncle Strap will buy a suit from Yamiltons, wear it, then return it.


Uncle Strap - by Keith Heltsley Retro Radio Podcast

There's not a lot known about Uncle Strap, and just about all we do know comes from Rush. Uncle Strap is actually the uncle of Smelly Clark, and is looked up to by Rush. He's most likely single, and lives in the all male boarding house, the Bright Kentucky Hotel. At the least, he works there, and hangs out there a lot. His most notable mark on life is that he enjoys to tell a story about taking a lady friend out for a fish dinner. When Rush tries to bring it up, he's nearly always cut off, and the full story is a mystery.

Here's a list of known facts and particulars:

  • He's the uncle of Smelly Clark. 
  • Is a spendthrift.
  • Lives in the Bright Kentucky Hotel, and is a night clerk there.
  • Has, or had a lady friend.
  • Travels to Peoria and Chicago, at least on occasions.
  • Is amused at telling an anecdote about his lady friend, traveling to Peoria, and a fish dinner.
Beyond those details, more can be guessed at. By checking out the episodes where Uncle Strap is mentioned, and trying to understand the incident in the story that caused Rush to bring up the topic of Uncle Strap, we might make a good guess at his nature and lifestyle. According to The Crazy World of Vic and Sade, the character has 20 shows where he's tagged in. I found one show where I never could find him mentioned. The range of shows are from 1938 through 1942. If Uncle Strap makes a reappearance, it's not until the later shows after Russell is gone and Rush has returned. An amendment to this discovery might be in order in the future.

At one point a petition to tear down the Bright Kentucky hotel was attempted. Rush is upset over the idea, and emphatically against it. In that episode though, Rush only claims that Uncle Strap will be out of a job and others will be homeless. In another episode Rush claims that Strap does live there, but it could be that he just hangs out with the guys after his night clerk job is over.

The nature of the all male hotel is one that you might expect of an establishment where single men gather. Not an environment that Sade, or any upstanding middle class housewife wants their sons to hang out in. Right down there with pool halls and the like. No wonder Rush, and the other menfolk don't see a problem with it, or the guys living there.

In shows where Rush is reminded about Uncle Strap in conversation, we can figure that he is a spendthrift. During an argument between Vic and Sade about her shopping for his new hat, and picking out a bargain, Rush tries to break the tension by saying Uncle Strap is a spendthrift because of taking his lady friend out for a fish dinner on a trip to Peoria. A trip to Peoria isn't necessarily cheap, and neither is a fish dinner. However, we learn in a later episode that he also travels to Chicago, at least on occasion, and he may have been combining a little business with pleasure.

Might he have secrets or a hidden scandal about him? Uncle Strap has that job in a seedy hotel, and the way Rush gets cut short in trying to tell the story about him, it's almost as if Sade actually knows what's going on, or has heard the story before, or doesn't want to waste her time hearing a scandalous story especially from her son.

In an episode featuring the dark drama of teenagers in high school life, there's only the briefest mention of Uncle Strap by Rush, but it's Sade who jumps the gun and mistakes the intent for a chance to get in the fish story. Rush sets Sade straight as to what he's talking about, then goes on with his complex teenage drama. Might that suggest that Sade is already familiar with the story? Is there something clandestine, or dramatic about the story? Probably not as much as the sensitivities of polite society might blow it up to be.

In an episode where we find a mix up of Vic's photo and bio in his Kitchenware quarterly magazine, the photo mix up sparks Rush to be reminded of Uncle Strap. In night clubs it's common to have a roving photographer snap pictures as a souvenir of your fun evening. If your meeting is a clandestine one, you might not want a photo to leak out and create problems. I'm not sure this was actually the case for Uncle Strap, but there could be something to it if someone else found themselves in a photo, or there was a mix up in identities that could be awkward. It could lend itself as to why the incident was so funny and memorable. Another incident has Rush mentioning that nobody has as many unusual coincidences as uncle Strap.

There's a matter of a photo done with trick photography in an episode where Vic wants a doctored image of R.J. Konk shaking hands with him. Talk of the doctored photo sparks another mention by Rush of Uncle Strap. The image linked to Strap might not be a scandalous one, but maybe it was a racy or novelty image. Something a bachelor would get a kick out of, but one that nice housewives might be made to blush over.

In one of Hank Gutstop's many attempts at drawing Vic into a get rich plan, he doesn't have anything directly to do with Uncle Strap, but as the episode opens Sade remarks on the somewhat early hour. People are turning in early and turning off their lights. Rush invokes Strap's name, but really doesn't say anything about him. It makes me wonder if that association is meant as something that would be typical for the man, or if turning in early is the opposite of his usual habit. Being a night clerk, this might be more like the hour he would begin his workday. Speaking of work, an episode where Sade is languishing over her neighbor, Mr. Donahue taking a voluntary demotion sparks Rush to mention something similar happening to Uncle Strap. Not much more in that line is said. I'm not sure what job Strap may have turned down, or even if he did. I just think that Sade didn't like comparing the two men together in the same class. One being a friend, and one being something of a rogue.

Uncle Strap seems to be a fun loving kind of guy. As mentioned, he travels from time to time, as Rush tells Vic in an incident where he's trying to convince Sade that he won a broad brim hat from his boss, Mr Bullard. The businessman is to travel back to Chicago on the same train that Uncle Strap will be on. Hey, maybe they'll meet. When Vic is awarded free cornet lessons, Rush suggests that Uncle Strap might like them. He and his brother, Smelly Clark's dad, were musicians in Jacksonville, Michigan. They played so hard, they had to have a plumber fix the tubes in their horns and set them right the day after playing a gig.

On another occasion Uncle Fletcher tells about a train ride, and his activities. The lighthearted discussion reminds Rush of how Uncle Strap can make himself squirm with laughter when he tells that story about his lady friend and the fish dinner. A good point in favor of the story being a funny one, rather than clandestine, or scandalous.

Most often when the travel with the lady friend is brought up, it's in a humorous, or light-hearted way. I think I'd be forced to say that if there are any dark secrets, or real scandal, it's all in Sade's head. Rush mentions it from time to time in an attempt to bring a laugh, or to lighten a moment. He's always cut off, and whatever the fish dinner story is, there's an underlying joke to it.

At a time when Gutstop is trying to pitch a business idea to Vic about a weather service, it's considered a fascinating story. Possibly it might relate to either the job, or to leisure activity, maybe even both. Another time it pops up in the context of travel plans, or invitations. Was Strap invited to travel with his lady friend, or the other way around? Not that it would matter much other than add a detail to the fish story situation.

When there's tension in the air over a visit from the Stembottoms, Rush tries to lighten the mood with the fish dinner story. I don't think the scheme that Fred is trying to hook Vic with plays a part, but Rush just brought up one of the funny things in his memory to use to diffuse the tempers.

Whether there's a deep dark drama, or a lot of coincidental mixups over a goofy night out, or it's just kind of shorthand for a running joke, the story of Uncle Strap was put to wide use through the early years of Vic and Sade. Through it all, we find that Uncle Strap is a fun guy, musically inclined, and likes to laugh at his story. He has a job, and not entirely a bum, as others are who live in the Bright Kentucky hotel.