A Look Back at Buckskin Bill, an Icon Who Entertained Generations in EBR

EDITOR’S NOTE: Baton Rouge television icon Bill Black, or Buckskin Bill, as he was known, passed away last week after more than 60 years’ service to the Baton Rouge community.  Much has been written about Buckskin Bill since he died, but we wanted to offer a contemporary view of Buckskin when his show was in its prime. This story is from the archives of our predecessor newspaper, the North Baton Rouge Journal. It appeared in the Sept. 29, 1968, edition and was written by then-Managing Editor Diane Jenkins, who is today co-owner of Istrouma Journal, Central City News, and Capital City News.The Buckskin Bill Show, which has begun its 14th year on the air, has the distinction of being the longest running local program on a Baton Rouge television station and has enjoyed unrivaled top ratings in its time period since it was first broadcast on August 15, 1955.
And behind the unusual success of the program is the exciting story of the man who daily creates and stars in it: William P. (Buckskin Bill) Black.
Dressed in buckskins, Bill portrays an easy-going Western character who brings light hearted entertainment to thousands of Baton Rouge youngsters each weekday. As a youth who attended school with Choctaw Indians of Oklahoma, Buckskin Bill has assumed his role as a Western character with ease.
In addition to the Buckskin Bill Show, which is aired at 4 o’clock each afternoon on WAFB-TV, Black stars in a morning show called “Storyland,” for pre-school children.
In both of his children’s programs, he applies the philosophy which has helped him succeed in keeping his audiences faithful: he displays sincere interest in children and keeps his shows entertaining as well as subtly educational. He stimulates the curious minds of youngsters by regularly introducing educational features such as “Mysteries of the Universe” and simple chemistry experiments.
Animals have traditionally played important roles in Black’s shows, and currently starring with him are a dog named Blue, a goat named Billy and a chimpanzee named Candy. Bill has had a lot of fun with hundreds of different animals over the years. He and his wife have even housed a boa constrictor in their bathtub.
Black’s experiences with monkeys have been both humorous and heartbreaking. Once he left his chimpanzee locked up in the bathroom while the family was gone for the day the chimp got out and gave the neighbors quite a scare when it answered the telephone and talked “chimpanzee.” Before the Blacks arrived home, the chimp had opened the refrigerator and eaten all its contents.
Buckskin Bill says he’s probably the only entertainer who has ever had an animal die while performing on the air. In one of Black’s early shows, he had a chimpanzee on the air when the
animal suffered a fatal heart attack.
In addition to his two daily television shows, Buckskin Bill leads an active life in the civic affairs of the community. He is one of the most popular after-dinner speakers in the area and makes traditional appearances in the annual Christmas and rodeo parades and at many other such activities.
Black is in constant demand by local merchants and clubs for personal appearances. He advises and works with national educational television executives on programming for children and has conducted much research on the subject. The popular entertainer is even called upon by hospitals and parents to cheer up sick children.
Buckskin Bill’s life has been anything but dull, and he has loved every minute of it. His way with children has paid off in a successful, satisfying career.
In the future, Black hopes to expand the scope of his morning show for pre-schoolers and to syndicate it through television stations nationwide.
Although Bill Black is a successful personality with a bright future, he came up the hard way in show business.
He began entertaining by accident in college when he was asked to fill in for a rodeo clown who failed to show up for a performance. He was immediately offered a job as a professional rodeo clown for a small rodeo circuit. He quit his three part-time jobs and completed his college education with the money he earned from weekend rodeo performances.
A native of Hugo, Oklahoma, Black was graduated from Arkansas College with a major in speech. After college, he worked briefly as a radio announcer before entering the Army.
While in the Army, Black learned the ropes of the entertainment business. He became the emcee and comic for the Third Army Soldier Shows, which entertained servicemen.
Black was with the show for 18 months and traveled more than 500,000 miles giving performances. He and his troupe of 14 men performed before as many as 25,000 people, and for as few as six men in an isolation ward at an Army hospital.
Black worked in almost every phase of television before he ever stepped in front of the cameras. He started as a floorman sweeping the studio and moving the props, and later as a writer, salesman and announcer.
Buckskin Bill has meant a lot of things to a lot of people in the Baton Rouge area. But almost everyone knows him as a community leader who has promoted many successful projects. As a matter of fact, he has so many projects going sometime he has a hard time keeping up with them himself.
“Baton Rouge needs a zoo,” is the well-known line he has closed his shows with for more than nine years. As a result of his constant reminder, many local citizens give him a large share of the credit for the Baton Rouge zoo now being constructed in Greenwood Park.
“I don’t think I’m responsible for the zoo,” he said, “Baton Rouge would have built one sooner or later. I just feel I helped it become a reality a little sooner.”
In connection with his efforts to get Baton Rouge a zoo, he and the youth of the area are collecting pennies to buy a baby elephant. More than $600 in pennies have already been collected. When the $2,500 needed to buy the animal has been secured, a baby elephant named Penny will be purchased and donated to the zoo on behalf of Baton Rouge area children.
Ever wondered what to do with 500,000 aspirins? Give them to Buckskin Bill! That is just what Baton Rougeans did when Black conducted an aspirin drive for an African missionary.
A Catholic missionary working in the interior of Africa told Buckskin Bill that the natives relied mainly on aspirin for medication and that often they had only a few to distribute to each family during an entire year. Needless to say Baton Rouge’s 500,000 aspirins solved the problem.
Black is about to undertake another project to buy an airplane for the same missionary so that doctors and nurses may be flown in to care for sick natives. The plane will be purchased with S&H Green Stamps.
One of the projects Buckskin Bill is most proud of is the weekly television program called “Good Morning, Angola Style,” which he started and now emcees. Inmates with musical talents from the state prison at Angola perform on the show at 6:30 a.m. Friday mornings.
“The show is my way of encouraging new rehabilitation programs in our prisons,” Black said. He feels the program offers the inmates a creative, constructive activity which will “help them keep in touch with reality.” He works with the men individually and tries to be a friend on the outside to them. He is proud that five or six of the men who have performed on the program have been granted paroles.
Black has been commended for his constant effort to encourage good dental health habits in youngsters and for his participation in annual safety programs. He has helped Boy Scout groups, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, church groups and seemingly endless list of others.
Somewhere in his busy schedule he has raised a family of his own. He and his wife, Elma, have three children: Ann, 12, William (Bucky), 10, and Ginger, 7.
Everywhere he goes, Buckskin Bill is asked to sign autographs. One excited youngster even had him autograph his hot dog because he had nothing else available.
But Buckskin has not let his popularity ruin his charm and sincerity with the youngsters. “You just can’t fool children,” he said. “Ask any magician and he’ll tell you that his toughest audience is a kid audience. Besides, they remember everything you say or do. Don’t think for a minute I don’t
realize the influence will be good.”
It’s not difficult to see why Bill Black has been loved by two generations of Baton Rouge children.
And it looks as though his popularity will continue for years to come.

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