The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update


September 21, 2013

Anderson's biggest movie star

Terhune an imitator
before coming an actor

In the late 1930s he was one of the 10 highest grossing movie stars in Hollywood, but he never forgot where he came from. It’s an Anderson story.

Robert “Max” Terhune was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Ind., in 1891. By the age of three he could imitate the sounds made by every animal on his father’s farm, amazing his family and friends. His first show business success was winning a whistling contest in Shelbyville. It must have given him a taste for performing because from that point in his life Terhune tried in every way he could to make a living entertaining.

So talented was Terhune that it must have been hard to decide what to settle on. He was a fine baseball player, a pitcher, and for several years he played for teams all over Indiana, finally concentrating on the Lafayette area. While playing in Wisconsin in 1915 he came to the notice of the Minnesota Millers, who signed him to a contract. An injury to his wrist put an end to his professional career (although he continued to play on Indiana teams for the next few years) and he began to concentrate seriously on the stage.

Terhune’s first show business career was as an imitator. Billing himself as the “Hoosier Bird Boy," he would whistle, do bird calls and other imitations. His early appearances were as an act between movies in theaters around Indiana. He would do 22 different imitations in an act called “15 minutes in a barnyard.” He augmented his performance with card tricks and magic. By the early 1930s he had mastered ventriloquism and had a dummy named Skully Null. Terhune was popular and quickly made a name for himself in Indiana.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make a living for him and his mother. Also, in 1919, a friend had asked Max to help him him in his courtship of Maude Cassada, a New Castle girl. Max met Maude and decided that he’d rather help himself. He and Maude married in 1922. Soon they had a growing family. Maude had a sister who lived in Anderson, so perhaps that’s why they settled here. Max learned the toolmaker’s trade and hired on at Delco-Remy.

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