Published Aug. 6, 2004
King of the possums is dead
Interesting characters are gifts that are given to community
newspaper editors who otherwise toil obscure from the rest of
the world, doing the routine things that are important to and
expected by our readers.
Frank Basil Clark was one such gift.
Never heard of Frank Basil Clark? I pity you. He was two-term
mayor of the city of Clanton, AL, from 1976 to 1984 and while
he didn't do a bad job, being mayor is not what he was best known
for. He was president and founder of the Possum Growers and Breeders
And he laughed all the way to the bank.
Some of the most prominent members of the Possum Growers and
Breeders Association were Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy
Carter and Ronald Reagan.
Frank Basil Clark never took himself too serious and one could
always tell when he was getting ready to pull someone's leg by
the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face. Come to think
of it, Basil, as he was known to friends, was always smiling.
Basil was manager of the Clanton Drive-In Theatre. He may
not have known a lot about the finer things in life but he knew
how to promote feature films on the giant outdoor screen.
Sometimes it was $5 for a car load and it was quite amazing
how many folks we could pack into a car. On other nights it was
four movies for the price of one. The theater would draw in the
crowds with promotions like Beach Blanket movie night, horror
show nights, Elvis nights.
It was a place where I courted Kathy Sue Mims in the front
seat of my folks Plymouth Fury III stationwagon. Since my mother
reads the Chronicle, I won't go into those details. It
is where I sideswiped Dewey Collins' 1965 Ford Fairlane. Not
sure how many speaker pedestals I hit.
Time passed and I became editor of the Central Alabama
Independent Advertiser in Clanton, and Basil became mayor.
Part of the reason he was elected mayor was because of his
new-found fame as founder of the Possum Growers and Breeders
Association. Folks in Clanton had a sense of humor, too.
We gave Basil Clark some press. The big boys in the city thought
he was a kook and splashed Basil's picture holding a snarling
possum across their feature pages and he eventually ended up
in the New York Times.
This led to an expense-paid trip to New York and an appearance
on the TV show, "What's My Line." With his thick Alabama
draw, Basil was able to stump the panel. When he returned triumphant
from that experience, he had some of the funniest stories to
tell that I have heard one man utter.
Meanwhile, the Possum Growers and Breeders Association flourished.
Basil came up with license plates that read, "Eat More Possum."
I am sure you have seen them. They were his creation. The county
fair had a beauty pageant with the winner being crowned Miss
They even sold possum burgers at the county fair and at the
drive-in theater. Basil swore by the nutritional value of the
He also started registering possums and would have an auction
of registered possums at the county fair. Buyers would not only
get a fat possum, but registered papers to go with the possum.
I really can't remember the name of the first possum Basil registered,
but it had the name Beauregard in it somewhere.
One day Basil came by the office to tell Publisher Tommy Patterson
and myself about his trip to a mayor's conference in Washington,
D.C. While there Basil walked to the Russian Embassy and talked
his way inside. Once inside, he negotiated with the Russians
for a couple of hours and when he was through, he had convinced
the Russians that he could solve their starvation problem by
helping them establish possum ranches in the USSR.
The deal was struck and Basil was to provide registered possums
and help establish a possum ranch or two. In exchange, the Russians
were to obtain two Pandas from Red China to give to Basil Clark.
Imagine what that would have done for attendance at the Clanton
Now all this took place in the 1970s in the midst of the Cold
War and one simply did not have contact with the Russians.
Less than a block from the Russian Embassy he was picked up
by U.S. intelligence officers who then grilled him for the next
four hours about who he was, how he got into the Russian Embassy
and why was he there. He was severely reprimanded and finally
Back home, Basil found the entire affair amusing, pointing
out he was treated better by the communists than he was by agents
of his own country. Unfortunately for Basil and the drive-in,
the state department intervened and the deal was canceled.
Basil died Wednesday and his funeral is today. I can't help
but smile at the thought of the family having possum burgers
following the service. I am sure that idea would make Frank Basil
Clark grin, too. Grin like a possum.
· · ·
Mike Moser is the editor of the Crossville Chronicle. His
column is published periodically on Fridays.