Possum Holler Opry
The Possum Holler Opry was a relative late-comer into the jamboree
type shows. It appears to have been only a television show that started
over WGEM-TV, channel 10, out of Quincy, Illinois around 1961. An article in 1963
refers to the show having started its third year. You'd hear the announcer
sing out, "Hi Ho Neighbors! It's Possum Holler Opry time!" The show was
on every Sunday at 12:30 and was telecast "live" from the studios of WGEM-TV.
Toby Dick Ellis was the leader of the show, having also done
other 'tent shows' throughout the Tri-State area of Illinois, Iowas
and Missouri. He was said to have also appeared in radio, stage
and motion picture productions as well. "Toby" also was known as
R.W. Elsenpeter, who owned Elsenpeter Productions, who produced the
Possum Holler Opry.
The show was said to have been the top rated television show in the Tri-State
area of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, being viewed by over 75,000 viewers. To
show you the popularityof the group, in 1963, they had just made an appearance
at the Keokuk Iowa Street Fair, known as the largest Street Fair in the USA and
drew the largest attendance in the history of the fair.
Members of the Possum Holler Opry also did personal appearances in the area
and provided backup band support for such stars as Tex Ritter, Flatt and
Scruggs, the Wilburn Brothers, George Hamilton IV, Joe Dowell and
Billy Grammer. They also appeared to capacity crowds in Springfield,
Illinois during the winter season at the 4-H Building, where Grand Ole
Opry acts appeared and were heard 'live' over seven radio stations in Illinois.
Toby Ellis' style included the usual emcee chores of comedy, chatter,
song and chatting with the audience.
One of the regulars on the show was Vernon Glen. News reports indicate his first appearance
was in late 1966. But because of his personal appearance schedule, his future appearances
would be taped when his travels brought him to Quincy per Marve Hoerner in Country Music Life
The end of the show came in 1970. The manager of WGEM-TV and Toby Dick Ellis (Richard Elsenpeter)
came to a mutual decision and agreement for its end. At the time, Elsenpeter
was making more money with his puppet tours than from the Possum Holler Opry show.
There was also the concern of what could happen to the show if its star, Toby Dick Ellis,
retired from the show.
Ms. Floyd wrote of what Mr. Elsenpeter told her:
The manager of the TV station said, "Possum could go on forever," cause you had new talent
all the time. But he said, "Dick, the audience connects you with Possum Holler, and when you're gone,
the substitute that I would have take over just isn't pulling in the numbers." So I said, "We've been on
for going on ten year; let's make it ten years to the day and then just quit."
I think I told you, I met him not too many years ago and he said, "Please go back on the air. We need
that now more than ever." Because it was just family fun, you know, music and good fun, that's all.
But I didn't.
The last show was aired on Mother's Day, May 10, 1970. However, the TV Listings in the Jacksonville
Courier newspaper continued to carry a listing for "Possum Holler" on Sundays at 12:30pm until
September 6, 1970. Whether there were other shows after Mother's Day that had a different
host perhaps is not known.
But "Possum Holler Opry" did not fade away from the memories of its viewers. There were occasional
reunion shows over the years research shows.
Toby Dick Ellis
Credits & Sources
- The Possum Holler Opry; Cowboy Songs No. 73, Winter 1963; American Folk Publications, Inc., Derby, CT
- Best In The Midwest The Possum Holler Opry; Shari McMullen; Country Songs and Stars; Vol. 16 No. 79; Sept.
1965; American Folk Publications; Derby, CT
- Country Music's Longest Running TV Show; Marve Hoerner; September 1966; Country Music Life; Country Music Life Publications;
- On The Go; Marve Hoerner; December 1966; Country Music Life; Country Music Life Publications;
- On The Go; Marve Hoerner; February 1967; Country Music Life; Country Music Life Publications;
- On The Go; Marve Hoerner; March/April 1967; Country Music Life; Country Music Life Publications;
- Possum Holler RFD; Mark Tyme; April 1968; Country Music Life; Country Music Life Publications;
- Toby Dick Ellis: Richard Elsenpeter's Career in Tent Repertoire Theatre,
Television, and Marionette Puppetry (A Thesis in Theatre - UMKC); Jacquelyn Nicole Floyd; 2012; Kansas City, MO