Two Worlds, One Name, One Blood, Part III: Marion West Gets Ready for His Close-Up

Jan 16, 2008

Below, some highlights of the past year of discovery and media coverage for Marion and Mack West of Poplar Bluff:

January, 2007: Marion West drove a van up to collect Vy Higginsen and daughter KnoelleKnoelle Higginsen-Wydro with her cousin Marion West and her aunt Joyce Davis, sister of Vy Higginsen in St. Louis for their very first visit to Poplar Bluff. This first encounter was captured on videotape. West family members—and many friends, both black and white—gave the new cousins a grand welcome dinner at Poplar Bluff’s Perkins Restaurant.

February: West, wife Mack, and their grandson Scott McDowell traveled to New York as guests of Vy Higginsen. The New York Times ran a piece on “The DNA Cousins”. Higginsen threw a party and, says Mack West, “invited every available cousin”. Gospel luminary Cissy Houston, mother of pop sensation Whitney, directed part of the evening’s performance by Higginsen’s Gospel for Teens Choir. Higginsen later whisked the Wests off to Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Tavern on the Green, and Chinatown.

March: The Today Show called the West ranch from New York one morning around 8, saying they needed Marion West at NBC Studios the next morning at 5:30 for a segment on him and Higginsen. The Wests were ready in two hours for a car NBC sent out to the ranch. They arrived that evening at Manhattan’s swank Park Plaza Hotel, where producers registered them under the names Donald and Debbie Duck to protect their story from poachers.

April: The Oprah Winfrey Show sent a crew to shoot footage of Marion West in his daily routine; they focused on West’s quiet time at his “prayer pine” on the ranch.

May: West painted all his barns brown, then promptly had his left knee replaced in St. Louis. Somewhat less glamorous than some of the year’s other experiences.

June: 60 Minutes sent a team down, and they spent a full day shooting up by the special Oprah Winfrey crew at work, home of Marion and Mack West, Poplar Bluffpine. The Wests then returned to New York for Marion West’s interview with 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl. Vy Higginsen’s sister, Joyce Davis, hosted The Mother of All Barbeques at her son’s home in New Jersey.

July: Higginsen planned a trip down with a handful of family members. Mack West attempted to mount The Mother of All Barbeques South, invited over a hundred guests, then fell and broke her leg out by the bunkhouse 24 hours before show time. She found herself suddenly wheelchair-bound; but fortunately she’d prepped virtually everything but the fresh lemonade in advance. On the big day, says Mack West, “I had dressed to the nines and was receiving visitors by the dozen, leg stuck out and happy to be alive.”

December: Oprah Winfrey crew planning a shot, home of Mack and Marion West, Poplar BluffOprah Winfrey’s crew brought Higginsen, sister Joyce, and daughter KnoelleOprah Winfrey crew with Marion West (black hat and vest): Breakfast at Myrtle's Place, Poplar Bluff to Poplar Bluff, and the Wests hosted a festive dinner for them at the Holiday Inn. The Oprah crew discovered landmark Poplar Bluff diner Myrtle’s Place soon after; there they mainly covered Marion West’s morning-coffee-with-the-buds routine of the past 11 years. Then the crew shot at the ranch until sundown; their footage ultimately centered on the two cousins, one white, one black—the cowboy and the city girl—sharing time at West’s beloved “prayer pine”.


(first photo by the author; all others by Scott McDowell, grandson to Marion and Mack West)


Be sure to check out “Two Worlds, One Name, One Blood, Part IV: Spotlight on Vy Higginsen”, coming up Friday on the homepage!