Kung Fu's Path to Yazoo (City)
Six degrees of Kevin Bacon, I am told by trendier souls than I, is a game based on the idea that any two persons on earth are no more than six acquaintances apart; that each of us knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, etc, who knows any other person on the planet. I believe there may be even fewer degrees of separation between any person and Yazoo City. Indeed, from my experience, all roads lead to Yazoo City.
Consider that all manner of folk—from comedian Jerry Clower to the former chairman of the Republican National Committee to author Willie Morris—are from, or have passed through, that little town on the southeastern edge of the Delta. As I have pointed out before on Mississippi Matters, one man even once insisted that Yazoo County was the biblical Garden of Eden!
This universal aspect of Yazoo was brought to my attention once more while I re-watched John Wayne’s final film, The Shootist (one of his best roles, I think, and co-starring the classic Lauren Bacall and the young Ron Howard).
I noticed the actor who played the town undertaker had a very familiar face and manner, but I could not recall his name. I checked the cast and did the dope-slap to the forehead when I realized it was John Carradine, probably one of the most prolific film actors of all times in terms of the number movies in which he appeared. One of his best roles, in my view, was in another of John Wayne’s better movies—John Ford’s epic western, Stagecoach, in which Carradine played the slightly foppish, Doc Holliday-style, southern gambler and gunman, Hatfield.
Of course, those who grew up in the 1960s or later probably know John Carradine best, if at all, as the father of David Carradine, who starred as the Shaolin monk and martial arts expert named "Caine" in the 1970s TV series Kung Fu (revived in various versions since).
I was more interested in the father, John Carradine, and started one of my seemingly endless internet loops reading about Carradine and related topics. One thing that leaped out at me was that John Carradine’s grandfather was one Beverly Carradine (b. 1848), an “evangelical writer,” according to Wikipedia. With the Carradine clan not especially known for its exceptional piety, I had to investigate further.
Beverly Carradine, I learned, was a Methodist preacher. With three generations of Methodist clergy behind me and Methodist minister friends and cousins, I had to read further. Not only was he a Methodist, he served pastorates in Mississippi and New Orleans and was credited with ending the Louisiana State Lottery of his day through his anti-gambling writings. What is more, he was an Ole Miss graduate.
But here’s the real point: Beverly Carradine, the great grandfather of Kung Fu actor David Carradine, was born in Yazoo County on Altamont Plantation and grew up in Yazoo City! That’s only three degrees of separation from Yazoo City. Kevin Bacon’s not in that ballpark.
The Rev. Mr. Carradine died at the age of 83 and is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg.
And, please, don’t try to sell "All Roads Lead to Yazoo City" as a parlor game to Hasbro or some other toy company. It’s my idea!
James T. McCafferty is a lawyer and award-winning writer who grew up in the Mississippi Delta and now resides in McComb. He is the author of many magazine and newspaper articles, two children’s books about Delta bear hunter Holt Collier, and the full-length The Bear Hunter: The Life and Times of Robert Eager Bobo in the Canebrakes of the Old South. Check out www.canebrakes.com.
Copyright 2018 James T. McCafferty