Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurants are celebrating Founders Day tomorrow. Back on May 3, 1946, the Frisch brothers opened their first drive-in, on Central Parkway, in Cincinnati. If you show up dressed like their eponymous Big Boy tomorrow, they will give you a free Big Boy hamburger.
Younger readers, who have grown up around Big Macs, Wendy’s Triples, and Big Bufords, can’t imagine the singular thrill of pulling into a Frisch’s drive-in, during the late 1950s, and talking into the speaker to order a Big Boy, cherry Coke, and slice of strawberry pie; and still receiving change from a dollar, when the waitress brought your order out to your car on a tray.
So, in a sort of tribute to the 66th anniversary of that delicious double-decker hamburger, I want to share with readers the true story of how I became a Frisch’s Big Boy of the Week.
Back in the late Winter of 1959, there were five Frisch’s Big Boy restaurants here in Louisville, and each week they held a contest at each location for the most popular high school boy in the neighborhood. With any purchase, you would receive a ballot, upon which you could write the name of your favorite nominee for Big Boy of the Week from that particular restaurant (Sorry, girls, but in this primitive and unenlightened era, the contest was only for lucky owners of “y” chromosomes).
At midnight closing time, each Saturday, the restaurant managers would empty the locked ballot boxes and forward the contents to Big Boy Central—or some such secret place—where they were counted. The five winning boys would then be notified and told to appear the following Saturday at the studios of WHAS-11 television, where they would appear as guests on the weekly Hi Varieties program, to be introduced by Milton Metz.
Each winner received an 8 x 10 black & white studio portrait photo (which would be on display in the winner’s home restaurant prominently for the week), and a raft of other prizes. These gifts included: an orchid corsage (for Mom), a five-dollar gift certificate from Vine Record Shops (good enough for five R&R 45s), and a neat fleece-lined zip-up bomber jacket (complete with an embroidered Big Boy logo patch on the front).
But, without a doubt, the pièce de résistance of BBOTW loot was a genuine Western Electric telephone for your room; free for a whole year! Back in the day, none of us knew any kids whose parents were rich enough to provide telephones in their kids’ rooms. Hell, most of my friends were lucky if they had their own rooms.
Now comes the confession. I had a girlfriend who worked at the Dixie Highway Frisch’s, and she “came into possession” of a large box of blank BBOTW ballots. Along with four of my partners in crime, we divided them into five stacks, and spent several hours of Study Hall filling out the ballots with our own names. Sometimes we would pass them around the room, to obtain different handwriting styles.
It was freezing the following Saturday night, when we each picked a Big Boy location to descend upon. By luck of the draw, I got the Frisch’s Restaurant on Taylorsville Road, at Hikes Point. I, of course, was a West End boy who transferred to Valley High School in the Eighth Grade. I had never been to Hikes Point before. I had never been East of Preston Highway before.
My friend Johnny and I drove his 1954 Studebaker Hawk (trust me, a slick car) to Hikes Point in the frigid cold, and stuffed the ballot box a few minutes before closing time (after first checking to make sure some other crook hadn’t beat us to the punch).
My dear mother, of course, was elated at the news that her nerdy kid (I had a flat-top at the time) was suddenly Mister Popular. My father just stared at me and mumbled, “Stuffed the ballot box, didn’t you?”
Within a few days, the booty arrived (Mom liked the corsage), and a guy from Southern Bell (as our phone company was known in the day) installed a wonderful, beige, clear-plastic rotary-dial telephone in my room. Now, I could whisper sweet nothings to my girlfriend without my two pesky sisters overhearing.
Interestingly, at the end of the year’s free service, the phone company never got around to charging my folks for the extension in my room. It may have been just an oversight on their part; or it may have had something to do with the fact that I took my phone apart and disconnected the ringer. In any event, it was the beginning of my life of crime.
When the big night arrived for our television debut, the five of us scoundrels showed up, dressed in suits and ties (with white sox, of course), and were introduced to the teeming multitude of our fans by dear old (he was probably about 30 at the time) Milton Metz. He asked each of us where we went to school, what grade we were in, and “what we wanted to be when we grew up.”
By the time Mr. Metz got to me, it was clear that all five of the most popular boys in Louisville were Sophomores at Valley High School. Metz was no dummy, but he graciously maintained a straight face throughout the interviews. I told him I wanted to go into politics.
That was when I decided to become a Democrat.
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions). The Arena is read by more people in Louisville than in any other city in America. Photo credits: Frisch’s Big Boy. Note to Frisch’s lawyers: I checked the Statute of Limitations on stuffing ballot boxes, and I think 50 years about covers it.