The Pryor Times


April 3, 2012

Pianist is actually a spy

— Q: I hope you can solve a 60-year-old mystery for me. In the late 1940s, the war was over and I was in elementary school. There was a young, attractive Englishwoman who lived next to us. She was a member of some English espionage group, and she talked freely of her spy activities behind enemy lines. She said she was a piano player. As a kid I didn't think much about this, but as I got older, I could not figure out what she actually did. Did the English have some type of USO that entertained troops? -- E.T.N., Bristol, Tenn.

A: It's possible that she was a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was formed in 1940 by Winston Churchill to conduct acts of espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in Europe. It was Churchill's plan that because of this underground activity, German troops would be pulled out of combat to guard railroad lines, bridges and tunnels. As the war progressed, the scope of the SOE expanded. As for your friend the piano player, "pianist" was a nickname for an SOE radio operator.

DID YOU KNOW? As a young man, Pierce Bronsan was a fire-eater in a circus act.

Q: Was there a college bowl game played in New York City in the early 1960s? -- N.C.L., Portland, Ore.

A: There was: the Gotham Bowl. The first game was to be played in December 1960 between Syracuse and Alabama. Both teams backed out, and no replacements could be found, so the game was canceled. In 1961, Baylor defeated Utah State 24-9 at the Polo Grounds in front of a crowd of about 15,000. The 1962 game was played at Yankee Stadium, and it was nationally televised. The game was exciting -- Nebraska edged out Miami 36-34 in front of a paid attendance of just over 6,000. The bowl was canceled after that.

Q: True or false: Actor Woody Harrelson's father was a convicted contract killer? -- L.K., Medford, Mass.

A: It's true. In 1973, Charles Voyde Harrelson was given a 15-year prison sentence for the 1968 contract killing of Texas businessman Sam Degalia Jr. In 1978, he was released after serving only five years of that sentence. One year later, Harrelson was arrested for assassinating U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr. in San Antonio. Harrelson supposedly received $250,000 for the murder; he also received two life sentences.  

In 2003, one of the two brothers implicated in the conspiracy stated that Charles Harrelson was not involved in the murder. He claimed that Harrelson was framed because he was trying to blackmail the brothers. Harrelson died of natural causes in his maximum-security cell on March 15, 2007. He was 69.

Q: In my social group, we exchange names for mystery birthday gifts. Along with the name and birthdate comes a gift suggestion. My person wants the "cannon of Sherlock Holmes." I have no idea what I'm buying or where to buy it. Can you shed some light on my dilemma? -- O.A., Miami Beach, Fla.

A: You are looking for the "canon," not "cannon," of Sherlock Holmes, which is the complete collection of original stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The canon consists of 56 short stories and four novels. This is a way to distinguish between Doyle's original works and subsequent works by other authors using the same characters.

(Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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