Jaycees host parade ‘Skipper-style’
Skipper Free drives a beat-up compact car, but doesn’t complain.
Like the theme of her favorite show, “My Name is Earl,” she paraphrases, “Live the right kind of life and good things will come to you.”
“This is the fourth car I’ve had given to me,” says Free, 75. “It’s not much to look at but it gets me around and I figure nobody’s going to want to steal this thing.”
Free won’t have to drive during the Orange Jaycees’ annual Christmas parade on Friday, being this year’s marshal. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Sears parking lot on MacArthur Drive and travels east down MacArthur and Green Avenue.
“I’ve been associated with the Jaycees a long time, since the ‘40s at least,” she says. “I still have a pass that Billy Garrett, the Jaycees’ president, gave me to attend the Jaycees’ Rodeo in 1947.”
Another story she tells is of a fundraiser the club had based at her barber shop/hair replacement business Free Style.
“They sold lobsters. Had them shipped from Maine, and one of them got away into the bayou.”
The stories are endless, it seems, such as the time she met Steve Allen.
“He was doing a show at the Lutcher Theater, and this was many years ago. We got a call asking, ‘Can you do Steve Allen’s hair?
He was going to be on Ted Koppel’s show, interviewed from Channel 12 in Beaumont.” Allen paid for a trip to Hollywood and presented her with a replica of an Oscar.
She was named after Constance Bennett and Amelia Earhart – Constance Amelia Thrailkille.
“But nobody has ever called me anything but Skipper. I think it started when my brother would do this thing where he would tickle me and say ‘Perdiddle.’ Eventually that got changed to ‘Dipper’ then it became Skipper.’”
Her father worked for the Texas Creosote Co. before studying for his certified public accountant license in Georgia. That’s how he met Free’s mother. They moved to Texas in 1922 and lived on Orange Avenue, where they had a farm. And for a time they ran a grocery story at 10th Street and Burton Avenue.
A graduate of Beaumont Barber College, Free got the idea for Free Style watching the Olympics one year. “They had all these events and its seems like ‘freestyle’ was every announcer’s favorite word. So I just figured with my name it fit perfectly.”
Her sons have inherited the hair business, with Eddie at Free Style and Keble in Beaumont with a hair-replacement company.
Occasionally Skipper moonlights as a receptionist there, when she‘s not entertaining at nursing homes, VA hospitals or for service organizations such as the Lions Club or Kiwanis Club.
She plays piano, tells jokes and sings, sometimes these days at the Cow Bayou Marina.
Those of her generation might remember the many shows she did with Gordon Baxter, like the first Orange Trade Show (1950).
Harvey Prince played Hammond organ and piano. Songs included, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” and “The Great Philadelphia Lawyer.”
“I always fancied myself as a kind of Betty Hutton,” she says. “I sing, do comedy and songs like ‘The Rose of Washington Square’ and ‘Frankie and Johnny.’”
She and Baxter also shared a radio program on KOGT-AM in the early ‘50s.
“Every week we would take an imaginary trip somewhere,” she says.
Her talents have taken her to some real places as well, such as Houston, Austin, Las Vegas and Washington State. “I remember playing the clubs on Broad Street in Lake Charles, and I was making as much as my daddy – and he was a union machinist at Levingston Shipbuilding.”
As Free likes to say, she was “born in Shangri La on the Day of Epiphany, and ever since my life has been enlightened.”