SEPT. 21, 1923–FEB. 26, 2016
“Hey farmer! Where does this road go?”
“It doesn’t go anywhere, it just sits there!”
For 54 summers, Philo Rockwell “Rock” King ’45 treated Cape Cod cabaret audiences to jokes like that, and they adored him for it. An accomplished comedian, singer, and piano player, King was a mainstay at the Sand Bar in West Dennis, Mass.; locals and vacationers alike would flock there after dinner to see King perform a mix of boogie-woogie piano songs, show tunes, and stand-up comedy in his hilarious way.
“You don’t see entertainers like this anymore,” says Greg Stone, former owner of the Sand Bar. “You never see anybody who can read the crowd and give them the variety of entertainment that Rock gave. You have stand-up comics, and you have musicians, but you don’t see anybody doing [what King did].”
King began his musical-comedy career as a member of the Triangle Club. Warren Eginton ’45 remembers visiting Elm Club with classmates to hear King play piano and sing. “From the very start of our freshman year, he was interested in performing,” remembers Eginton. “And boy, he did perform for us.”
After Army service and graduation, King took his cabaret show on the road. He became a winter staple for the ski crowd at Sister Kate’s in Stowe, Vt., of which he was a partial owner. During the summers, King put on two shows a night, six nights a week at the Sand Bar, where he became famous for the way he could command the crowd’s attention — sometimes even shining a flashlight in the faces of those who talked during his set.
He had an unusual ability to adapt to the audience and switch his repertoire at a moment’s notice, says his wife, Patricia. “Sometimes between shows or sets, people would ask him, ‘Do you know this song? Would you please play it during the next set?’ And most likely, he would,” she says.
King was a regular act at Princeton Reunions for a number of years, performing at the Class of 1945 tent and for other classes celebrating major reunions. While he was known for his gregarious onstage persona, he had a quiet side and spent much of his time working on projects around the house. He loved golf, skiing, animals, and spending time with his wife, stepdaughter, and grandchildren. He had a passion for perfecting his craft, practicing the piano almost every day and trying out new jokes at the breakfast table.
“I am filled with awe and admiration for the accomplishments of my classmates; still, I have never regretted my career decision, as offbeat as it is,” King wrote in 1945’s 50th-reunion book. “I’ve got my golf, my skiing, my songs, my laughs, my health, my fireside cocktails with my wife and stepdaughter, and there isn’t a soul I’ve ever known in whose shoes I would rather be.”
Allie Wenner is a PAW staff writer.
VIDEO: Philo “Rocky” King ’45