Arlo Guthrie, woman who inspired ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ hold 1st Thanksgiving together since 1965

WASHINGTON, Mass. — After 57 years, they had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. And this time, they did not have to take out the trash.

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Folk singing legend Arlo Guthrie had a sentimental reunion on Thanksgiving Day with Alice Pelkey Brock, the woman who was the inspiration behind the singer’s 1967 spoken-word anti-war song about littering, “Alice’s Restaurant” (also known as “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”). The song also led to a 1969 movie of the same name directed by Arthur Penn that starred Guthrie, Patricia Quinn, and James Broderick and had a cameo role by Brock, now 81.

Thursday’s dinner was held at the Massachusetts home of Guthrie’s friend, Rick Robbins, The Berkshire Eagle reported. Robbins also figured prominently in the November 1965 adventure that eventually became Guthrie’s opus, which ran for nearly 18 1/2 minutes. Even though they have remained friends and have kept in touch, it marked the first time the trio enjoyed Thanksgiving together since 1965, according to the newspaper.

“This holiday we decided to all get together at Rick’s house for Thanksgiving, and we took a couple of pix at the old church which is also held up pretty well over the nearly 60 years since that fateful day back in ‘65,” Guthrie, 75, wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.

On Nov. 25, 1965, Guthrie, then 18, and Robbins, who was 19, had Thanksgiving dinner with Brock in the church where she lived with her husband, Ray Brock, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The Brocks bought the old Trinity Church in 1964 and made it their home, and Guthrie and Robbins decided to help out by hauling garbage from the home to a local dump.

That led to the teens’ arrest for littering, The Berkshire Eagle reported. Guthrie and Robbins, realizing that the dump was closed on Thanksgiving, instead got rid of the trash by tossing it down a hillside in Stockbridge.

According to Newspapers.com, The Eagle provided a lengthy narrative about the littering crime in its Nov. 29, 1965, edition. The newspaper reported that Guthrie and Robbins were each fined $25 in Lee District Court, and were ordered to remove the trash, which fell onto the property of Nelson Foote Sr.

“Without The Eagle’s article, most people would think I made it up,” Guthrie told the newspaper last week in a comment relayed by his wife, Marti Guthrie.

The Eagle posted a copy of the original article on the 50th anniversary of the incident in 2017.

“Because they couldn’t find a dump open in Great Barrington, two youths threw a load of refuse down a Stockbridge hillside on Thanksgiving Day,” The Eagle’s story began. “The junk included a divan, plus nearly enough bottles, garbage, papers, and boxes to fill their Volkswagen bus.”

The vehicle was immortalized in Guthrie’s song as a “red VW Microbus,” and the garbage “would take up at least half of a good-sized pickup,” Stockbridge police Chief William J. Obanhein told the newspaper.

“And we decided that one big pile was better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up, we decided to throw ours down,” Guthrie sang. “That’s what we did.”

Obanhein told the court that he spent “a very disagreeable two hours” looking through the trash before finding a clue that linked the garbage to the teens and the Brock residence, The Eagle reported in its 1965 report.

Obanhein, referred to as “Officer Obie” in Guthrie’s song, played himself in the movie, according to IMDb.com. Guthrie was reunited with the police officer during the filming of the movie.

“He said to me, ‘Well, if you hippies can get up at 4 a.m. to do this movie, you can’t be all bad,’” Guthrie said during a 2015 concert stop, according to The Eagle. “And we started talking and we eventually became good friends.”

In 1965, Obanhein told the newspaper that he hoped the fines “would be an example to others who are careless about disposal of rubbish.”

Instead, Guthrie’s criminal record later exempted him from the draft.

The gruff-voiced Obanhein, who died on Sept. 11, 1994, had been used as a model by Norman Rockwell for several covers of The Saturday Evening Post, most memorably for the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961, The Associated Press reported.

“He was a very sweet man, and he was a very good cop,” Alice Brock, who did own a restaurant, told the AP.

Guthrie would hit the charts in 1969 with “Coming Into Los Angeles.” Three years later he released his biggest hit, a rendition of Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The church owned by the Brocks, which was featured in the “Alice’s Restaurant” film, has become home to The Guthrie Center and The Guthrie Foundation. Guthrie founded the center in 1991, according to its website. Alice and Ray Brock, who were married on Sept. 4, 1962, in Litchfield, Connecticut, divorced after seven years of marriage.

Ray Brock was found dead in his home in Hartfield, Virginia, on Aug. 1, 1979. He was 50 and died of coronary occlusion, according to his death certificate.

In 1991, Guthrie told the Times he was still amazed by the success of “Alice’s Restaurant.”

“Who would have thought ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ was going to be a hit?” Guthrie told the newspaper. “No one writes an 18-minute monologue with his sights set on radio play. Heck, I never even expected ‘City of New Orleans’ to be a hit, and that’s a much more normal song. To tell you the truth, I was never completely comfortable with all the attention I got because of that ‘Alice’ song.”

For Thanksgiving 2022, Guthrie, Robbins and Brock had a quiet reunion with about a dozen friends, The Eagle reported.

“Events that day became a newspaper article, which became a song, record, and a movie. It also became my life,” Guthrie wrote in his Facebook post. “Happily we outlived all of it, and remained friends.”

Information from newspaper archives was used in compiling this report.

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