Life Lessons from Second Bananas


Quick, name a ‘second banana’ who transcended the ‘sidekick’ or second-in-command role into superstardom, after breaking from the partnership that gave him or her a sense of identity, that ‘household name-ness’.



Don Knotts? Nope. Once he left The Andy Griffith Show, and struck out on his own, his star didn’t rise. Occasionally, you’d see him as a ‘guest star’ on later Andy Griffith episodes; the Three’s Company years were just an embarrassment, IMO.

I always got the feeling that Don later regretted ditching his regular meal ticket for the thrill of going out on his own, but that’s only natural. He was a talented actor; I don’t blame him for wanting to see what would happen in his career if he stepped out from behind Andy Griffith’s long shadow. If he’d had the right vehicle, he could have been big.

Not just big, but big-big,” as Barney would say.

According to the writer Amos Barshad, the role of the ‘second banana’ can be wonderful for that person; the key is in self-acceptance. Being a second banana “is a paean to the joys of lowered expectations and minimized responsibilities,” he says in his article, Who is the Top Second Banana?

But that’s not such a bad thing. You see, the goal of ‘greatness’ can be a burden, he continues; not everyone is equipped to handle the responsibilities that come with it. That doesn’t mean that one is destined for the ‘less-than’ life. “The key to happiness isn’t being great. The key to happiness is being near greatness. The key to happiness is being really, really, really good,” Barshad said.

When I read that, do you know who came to mind?

Vivian Vance.

Now there was one person always considered a second banana to the great Lucille Ball.

The wonderful, 'near-great' Vivian Vance. Source:

The wonderful, ‘near-great’ Vivian Vance. Source:

Vivian never was the superstar that Lucille Ball was; I don’t know if she even aspired to ‘great,’ but she never seemed, to me, to mind the second banana role; in fact, she made it look like fun. She seemed comfortable with her near-greatness, and it looked really good on her. Not everyone can pull that off, you know.

For some folks, though, ambition is too sexy, too alluring to get over in their professional lives, and so, being ‘really, really, really good’ would never be good enough. Sometimes, the addiction to ambition can kill you, if one cannot accept near greatness.

Yeah, I’m getting close to something, folks. Yesterday, in the Sterling Daily Gazette from 1905, I found a clue that may clarify why Emmett decided to leave life as he knew it in Marianna, Florida, for the winterlands of Illinois in January.

Paul Drake, second banana and owner of a successful detective agency.

Paul Drake, second banana and owner of a successful detective agency. Source here.

I think it has to do with the idea that Emmett was a Young Man in a Hurry. I haven’t confirmed it with my contacts in Marianna just yet, but I have an impression that life in Marianna was a tad too confining for our Emmett. Our freshly minted lawyer was tired of being Paul Drake to big brother CephasPerry Mason. Heck, Emmett wasn’t even up to a Paul Drake, really, as Paul had his own successful detective agency when he worked with Perry. But I digress.

I’m talking about all this second banana stuff because I think that was part of Emmett’s problem: He wanted to be the top banana, in a big hurry. I get the idea it wasn’t one trigger event that made Emmett move 1500 miles away to start over; it was just an opportunity he could not turn down, a chance to be a top banana.

For most of us, near greatness is a good thing, but we truly don’t understand that until we’ve been up and down the career ladder, until we’ve made some spectacular mistakes that cost a lot of money, an important client, or the job itself. It is only through making dumb-ass mistakes that we learn not to be such dumb asses. Something tells me that Emmett didn’t make enough dumb ass mistakes just yet to evolve himself into someone more able to handle the complexities of working in a busy law office. Cephas probably knew that, too.  In other words, I don’t think Ceph was keeping his baby brother under his thumb so much for the power trip, as he was trying to nurture him into a competent professional.

Emmett might not have seen all that, though. I have the impression that he was impatient, and tired of being ‘near greatness,’ i.e., working for The Great Cephas Wilson.  Ceph was smart, successful, and everyone knew it.

It had to be a bit stifling, and so, I can empathize with Emmett wanting to break away. Imagine going to work for a sibling who was considered a genius, for whom everything seemed to turn to gold at the touch. Now, imagine living with that person, 24/7. This person provides your job, your meals, your board, your paycheck, your work assignments, ad nauseum.

Some people would find it comforting that their lives were arranged for them to this degree. We do it for our children until they are old enough to make decisions for themselves, to fend for themselves. Emmett was 23 years old at this point — I can imagine him feeling impatient to cut loose from TGCW, to make make his own decisions; to show everyone back home in Marianna that he was The Great Emmett Wilson.

Anyway — I continue reading The Sterling Gazette from 1906 today. More will certainly be revealed. Stay tuned.



A New Mystery Unfolds


Readers, today I can report the discovery of several important answers to key questions in Emmett’s research — and a new mystery to solve.

Perry Mason, where are you when I need you?

I can’t spill the beans on everything I’ve found (because it would give away some of the book information), but I can tell you a few interesting things: For instance, Emmett’s paternal grandfather, Cephas Love Wilson Sr., was quite the character in his day.

Hellraiser, actually.

Although Cephas Sr. was a successful farmer, his goal was to become a ‘planter’ like his own father — he was someone who probably imagined spending his twilight years sitting on the porch of his grand estate, sipping a mint julep.

The thing was, Cephas Sr. wasn’t a member of ‘elite’ planter society. His father was, but didn’t do much to help this son, who was not first-born — and that irked Cephas Sr. for (probably) most of his life. Cephas Sr. earned everything he had the hard way, after years of work and sacrifice. He was a tough old bird, and not someone you messed with just to be funny.

Just when things seemed to be going well for Cephas Sr., the Civil War broke out. Like most of his neighbors, Cephas Sr. watched helplessly as his property went to hell with marauding troops marching over it, his stock and crops seized and ruined in the process.

When the war was over, he and his neighbors were then handed a big tax bill by the Reconstruction government, told to get used to it, oh, and have a good day.

Not something you’d say to Cephas, Sr., especially when he’s pissed off. Good thing the Reconstuctionists didn’t have smiley buttons to wear back then. That really would have been irritating.

So, Cephas Sr. and his neighbors decided to take the law into their own hands. They did something outrageous — and then — he became (allegedly) a fugitive from justice for years.

When he decided it was safe to come home, he was, then, a participant in a murder — not as the perpetrator — as the victim.

Intrigued? Good. Sorry, but you have to wait until the book comes out to read more about it.

Have a good day!



Minnie Kehoe, Femtor Extraordinaire

Minnie Kehoe, passport photo, 1924. Source:

Minnie Kehoe, passport photo, 1924. Source:

Readers, I must admit, I have great admiration for one of the femtors (female mentors) in Emmett Wilson’s life: Minnie Eloise Kehoe.

I’ve mentioned her before in an earlier post. When I think about Minnie, I’m struck and awed by what she was able to achieve during her lifetime — not that I would ever have doubted her abilities or intelligence, mind you. She was all that, and then some.

Minnie Kehoe was a pioneer of women’s suffrage in Florida, as well as a founder of what is now the National Court Reporter’s Association (back in the early 1900s, it was called the National Shorthand Reporter’s Association). Minnie was an officer of the national organization, in addition to authoring the legislation that created official court reporters in Florida.

She got her start working at her brother’s law firm, and then served as a state court reporter for many years. She also opened her own shorthand and reporting school in Pensacola — and if that wasn’t enough, sat for the bar exam in 1912 and passed, becoming the first woman attorney in Pensacola. All of this, “while still retaining her femininity,” according to an article in The Pensacola Journal). Seriously. I wonder if some folks actually thought Minnie might get broad shouldered, grow chest hair and her voice would drop a few octaves because she took the bar exam.

The fact she was the only woman taking the exam actually made this a 'special.' Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

The fact she was the only woman taking the exam actually made this a Page One ‘special.’ Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

The thing about Minnie, according to my sources, is that she lived her life with the view that what other people thought of her was none of her business. Minnie did what she wanted to do because she liked and understood the law, she was experienced and good with the law, and it was her calling. Period. It didn’t matter (in her view) that she happened to be a woman.

Minnie also knew that people would be watching her closely, once she made it to the Florida Bar. You know that must have been hard on her; her closest role model and mentor was probably her brother Walter, and for all his qualities, Walter likely could not empathize with some of the struggles his sister encountered on her way up the legal ladder.

As such, she probably also felt that in carving out her niche this way, she didn’t really completely fit in anywhere. Not that I think she didn’t have support from friends and family — she did — but she was the only woman lawyer in Pensacola for years. She was the sole member of her club. She still would not be allowed into the clubs where other male lawyers would gather, smoke cigars, perhaps sip a glass of brandy or coffee, to discuss cases, make deals, and so forth. She would be on the outside looking in on that for a long time. I wonder if this bothered her? If it did, she’d never let on, at least publicly.

Minnie was all that. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Minnie was all that. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Minnie may have started out as the Della Street in the Pensacola legal world, but she was really more Perry Mason than Della. I could never see Della empaneling a jury; but Minnie did. In fact, when Minnie empaneled her first jury and won the case, it merited coverage in The Pensacola Journal! The patronizing tone of the article is just cringe-worthy, but the locals at the time had to admit, with that article, Minnie had ‘made it.’

So, this amazing woman attorney, Minnie Kehoe — in reflecting on her, it struck me that she must have had some kind of mentoring — femtoring — effect on Emmett Wilson.

Minnie was in the same law offices with Emmett and her brother Walter, all working together, for years. Obviously, Minnie was not just relegated to pouring coffee and taking dictation for the lawyers in that office. She was contributing to cases. She was voicing her opinion — and a well informed opinion, at that — every day, engaging in animated, heated discussions with Emmett and Walter on their client’s cases.

Minnie had at least 10 years’ experience, plus the official court reporter legislation under her belt  when Emmett showed up, freshly graduated from Stetson, bar admission in hand, ready to practice law. Obviously, Minnie was able to teach him a thing or three. I don’t believe Emmett was ever patronizing towards Minnie, but you can bet your life that if it happened, it happened only once.

The Kehoe family made a strong impression on Emmett. Eighteen months after Emmett had graduated and started working in his brother’s law firm in Marianna, he followed the Kehoes to Pensacola to establish his own law practice. (Minnie, Walter and Walter’s family had moved to Pensacola to set up a law practice.) The first thing Emmett did upon arrival was board with the Kehoe family — Minnie, Fannie and their father, John Kehoe, on West Cervantes Street, and Emmett took Walter’s advice as he learned Pensacola’s local and political ropes. The Kehoes were family to Emmett; and Minnie regarded Emmett as a beloved younger brother.

The relationship Emmett had with the Kehoes was important in shaping his career, but I believe it went much deeper than that for Emmett. That’s why I’m I’ve been on a big quest for the past two weeks to find Minnie or Walter’s papers. I’m checking with historical societies and archives to see if they were donated. I would think that Minnie’s papers, at least, would be held in some law school or university archive. Minnie’s papers certainly have historic value, in my view.

For the record, if anyone out there knows of Emmett Wilson or Minnie Kehoe’s papers, journals, writings, or other documents that may exist out there, somewhere, contact me. Meanwhile, I’ve been working with a lot of great new contacts this past week. I’ll let you know if something turns up.