Then, in the summer of 1975, a new superhero exploded on the scene, and the streets of downtown Fort Wayne were bathed in the pungent aroma of ... Skunk-Guy.
Dubbed “the Black Knight” by police, Skunk-Guy prowled the city, protecting citizens from nefarious villains such as the Raccoon Kid and Doctor Firefly. Dressed in black with a conspicuous white stripe down his back, Skunk-Guy bantered on air with WOWO radio personalities, was adopted by the Dock Street Exploratorium, and established a cadre of loyal followers known as skunk scouts.
And then — he disappeared, secret identity intact, scent fading into the mists rising off the Maumee River.
Now he's ba-a-a-a-ack!!
“Shadrach,” he recalled. “I was the talk of the neighborhood whenever I would take Shad for a walk.”
He was also fascinated with the superheroes depicted in comic books.
“I always admired Spiderman and Batman for their courage, confidence, and really cool outfits,” he said. “Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, ‘What if ...?'”
Influenced by the comedy of Laurel & Hardy, Dick VanDyke and Red Skelton, he envisioned a more hapless and aromatic superhero, and Skunk-Guy, the stinking stalker, was born.
“Where Spider-Man and Batman were slick and smooth, this guy would be awkward and clumsy,” he said.
Friends and family knew his identity and bombarded him with stinky jokes, puns and gags. His phone conversations with WOWO's Ron Gregory and Carol Ford brought notoriety, and he was often mobbed by pint-sized fans.
“We didn't do much actual crime fighting,” Wilhelm admitted, explaining he was always accompanied by a friend who carried his wallet and ID. “I was so naive I wouldn't recognize a real crime in progress, even if the perpetrator ran over me. So we spent most of the time lurking in the shadows.”
But all good things come to an end, and in 1979, Wilhelm headed west to California to seek his fortune. Skunk-Guy went into retirement.
“I got an agent and started the audition cycle,” he recalled. “(I) got a chance to do some commercials and a few low-budget films. Then came our biggest production, our daughter Josette. We realized Josette would never know her extended family,” so the trio returned to Fort Wayne.
Wilhelm has written three children's books featuring the Stinking Stalker, retaining the setting (Fort Wayne), the era (the 1970s), and the costume.
“Giving (him) a complete overhaul wasn't necessary,” he said. “I gave him a good scouring and decided there were only a few cosmetic things I would change. All my friends seemed much smarter than me, so I decided to show them off in my book.”
Public readings, school visits and a website (www.skunk-guy.com) have ignited interest in the smelly superhero, and Wilhelm has plans for more books.
Wilhelm grew up hearing about legendary giant turtle Oscar, the Beast of Busco, and decided the story had potential. He wrote the play's script, with editorial input from all for One's creative director, Lauren Nichols, who directs the production.
The cast of 11 brings to life the turtle hunt that turned Churubusco upside down and forever changed the lives of the family in whose lake Oscar was reportedly seen. Wilhelm and Lisa Ellis play the parents, Gale and Helen Harris, and Elijah Knapp plays their son, Vaughn.
“I wanted to focus on the relationship between Gale and his wife Helen,” Wilhelm said. “I wanted to make it a comedy, so there are a lot of gags and witty banter, which probably in real life didn't happen.”
The result is a warm, funny tale of a gentle man — “an honest, church-going fellow who wouldn't lie” — and his quest to capture the elusive Oscar.
'Oscar' comedyWhat: “Turtle Soup,” local writer and actor Michael Wilhelm's comedy play based on the story of Oscar, the Beast of Busco, will be performed by all for One Productions.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Auditorium of the Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza
Cost: $15 adults; $12 ages 60 and older, $10 students. For more information, call 622-4610 or visit www.allforonefw.org.
Note: “Turtle Soup” will be performed during the Turtle Days Festival in Churubusco at 8 p.m. June 11 in the Churubusco High School Auditorium, 1 Eagle Drive. Tickets are $12 adults, $10 ages 60 and older, $8 students.
On the trail
To learn more about Skunk-Guy, go to www.skunk-guy.com.