"King of the Road"

Posted on November 16, 2013 

            I remember a song from extreme youth; I literally was under five when I first heard it in the early 1960’s.  It had a catchy first verse, with the singer, Roger Miller, snapping his fingers in rhythm to the music.  I’ll lay odds that you have heard it.

The first verse ended with line:  I’m a man of means, by no means.  King of the road.1

            “King of the Road,” was a major hit in 1965.  Miller, a country artist, took it to number one on the county charts in April of that year, but as sometimes happens, it became a crossover hit in March 20, in the top five behind The Beatles “Eight Days a Week,” (the group Sir Paul McCartney was in before Wings) and The Supremes “Stop in the Name of Love.”2  The song was covered by diverse performers like Dean Martin, the disco group Boney M, and R.E.M.  There would even be a “response song” called “Queen of the House,” by country artist Jody Miller (no, hip hop did not invent response songs).3 

            The narrative of “King of the Road” was about how great it was traveling across county, to travel without roots, to be a vagabond.  The narrator would stay in cheap rooms, hop freights, panhandling, work odd jobs, and sing about what a good lifestyle it would be.  The song glamorized this lifestyle, indicating he didn’t have any responsibilities.  I think I remember it because of the line referring to “ain’t got no cigarettes.”  My father was a smoker (at least until his myocardial infarction in our living room) and I associated that lyric with him.  While I was little more than a toddler at the time, the future District Attorney of Centre County was a 19 year old sophomore in college.

            In the time period that Ray Gricar came of age, his high school and college years, there was a theme in American society, sometimes referred to as “the wanderer” or the “man on the move” theme.  It became a stock theme where one or two individuals would take off, going from place to place, traveling, with no set schedule, no real destination, leaving everything behind.  There were two popular television shows that illustrated this theme, both iconic.

            The first was called Route 66.  It first aired two days before Mr. Gricar’s 15th birthday and ended in March of 1964.  It was about two men Tod Stiles and Buzz Murdock (played by Martin Milner and George Maharis, respectively), who traveled around the country, in a Covette, becoming involved in the lives of the people they met.  Buzz was replaced in the in the last season by Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett).  It was a quality show, created by, and in some cases written by, Sterling Silliphant, who would win an Oscar for his screen play, In the Heat of the Night.  Unlike most television shows, it was filmed on location, including six episodes in Cleveland (the same total for the entire state of Pennsylvania).  One episode actually focused the Russian community there.4

            Now, if I wanted to talk about a hot car, traveling, Cleveland, and a Slavic community there, who would likely be listening?  Ironically, Mr. Gricar majored in Russian history in college.

            The second television show was even more iconic, The Fugitive.  The eponymous character was Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), a physician wrongfully convicted for killing his wife.  He escapes and pursues the real killer, the infamous “one armed man (Bill Raisch).”  Kimble is, in turn, pursued by Lt. Phillip Gerard (Barry Morse).5  The series began in September of 1963, when Mr. Gricar was about to turn 18, and the last episode aired on August 29, 1967.  At the time it was the highest rated episode of any series on television, with 45.9% of all households in America tuning in to watch.  It would take 15 years to break that record, by the finale of MASH.  Even with that, The Fugitive remains second on the list.6

            The Fugitive also has a fairly strong Cleveland connection.  It was widely believed (though the creator denied it) to be inspired by a true event, the murder trial and eventual retrial of Dr. Sam Sheppard who like the fictional Dr. Kimble, was convicted of murdering his wife.  Dr. Sheppard claimed that it was “bushy haired” assailant, instead of a “one armed man,” that murdered his wife.  The murder was committed Dr. Sheppard’s home on Lake Erie, in a suburb of Cleveland.  It was prosecuted by the Cuyahoga County District Attorney’s Office, the office that would eventually employ Mr. Gricar.  Dr. Sheppard was tried and convicted in December of 1954, but continued to appeal.  The case became a cause célèbre in Cleveland, and Dr. Sheppard’s conviction was overturned by the United States Supreme Court.  He was retried, in Cleveland, and in November of 1966, he was acquitted.  His attorney in the appeal and retrial was fairly new; this would be his first high profile case.  That attorney’s name was F. Lee Bailey.7   

            In Mr. Gricar’s formative years, there was a trend in the culture that leaving, being a wanderer was adventurous, possibly even romantic.  The heroes were the men of the move.  The series finale of The Fugitive was within weeks, if not days, of his first class in law school.  The socialization that it was a good thing to be “the wanderer” was certainly there.

            One of the reasons that Mr. Gricar could have left voluntarily was the sense that doing so was adventurous and romantic.  If he did leave voluntarily, I would doubt it was the sole reason, but I would not doubt that in would be seen, especially by someone of the era and with strong Cleveland ties, as an option, a desirable one.  He is possibly quite happy with being king of the road. 

End Note

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmOe27SJ3Yc Written and recorded by Roger Miller, 1964.

 

2 http://www.billboard.com/charts/1965-03-20/hot-100

 

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_of_the_Road_%28song%29

 

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Route_66_%28TV_series%29

 

5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fugitive_%28TV_series%29

 

6  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_watched_television_broadcasts#Highest-Rated_Scripted_Shows

 

7 http://www.biography.com/people/sam-sheppard-12987136

 

Centre Daily Times Ray Gricar Section:  http://www.centredaily.com/138/

Link to the Main Index for Sporadic Comments on Ray Gricar:  http://www.centredaily.com/2011/03/21/2597340/main-index-32011.html

E-mail J. J. in Phila at scorg@live.com

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