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Say McIntosh: The lion in winter 

Robert "Say" McIntosh is older, quieter and calmer these days, but he's lived a life full of personal and political drama.

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Forbes filed assault charges. During the trial, McIntosh told the court that the whole incident was a put-on designed to get white sympathy votes for the unpopular candidate, who eventually lost the Republican nomination in a landslide to Kenneth "Muskie" Harris.

"The do-gooder people from the media were out to get him," McIntosh told the judge. "I told him that we needed to do something to wake up the rednecks who would vote for him if I hit him." McIntosh testified that Forbes' original idea had been for Forbes to kick him, but McIntosh said he nixed the idea because blacks would never believe he'd allowed that to happen unanswered. Several times during the trial, McIntosh pleaded with Forbes to admit that it had all been a publicity stunt, but McIntosh was found guilty, fined $500 and given a 30-day suspended sentence.

Whatever the truth is regarding that incident and a dozen others, Franklin said that most of the money McIntosh ever made, along with nearly every dime McIntosh squeezed out of his restaurant, was eventually plowed back into his good works in the black community. "You'll hear a lot of the 30-year-olds or 40-year-olds who'll say, 'Yeah, I remember my first Santa Claus — my first black Santa Claus — gave me this and gave me that.' " Franklin said. "He couldn't go out there on his own if he didn't have some kind of political back up, you see what I'm saying? Those folks kept money in his pocket. When he got ready, they'd help him with financing for his business."

While reporters are often some of the more media-shy folks you'll ever want to meet, if you want to understand Say McIntosh's homebuilt publicity machine, you've got to talk to the folks who covered him. Though Arkansas Times always hesitates to quote one of our own, one of those with undeniable insight on Say McIntosh is Max Brantley. Now senior editor at The Arkansas Times, Brantley served as the city desk editor of the Arkansas Gazette from 1986 to 1990, and often wrote about McIntosh's escapades. His personal stories about Say McIntosh (including one in which McIntosh reportedly threatened to whip his ass because Brantley wrote that he preferred somebody else's sweet potato pie over McIntosh's) are fairly epic. He said that while McIntosh was not thoroughly stable — a fact which made him an imperfect role model — he carefully styled himself as a "media phenomenon."

"He knew how to get attention," Brantley said. "The newspapers would say: 'We're just not going to cover this son-of-a-bitch again.' But then he would do something photogenic — which he knew the TV stations would run no matter what — and then it's out there, so what do you do? You have to say, 'Oh, goddamn it. I'll write something about this son-of-a-bitch again.' If there's an editor in this town who didn't swear at some point that he'd never cover McIntosh again and was forced to do it, I don't know who that was."

Brantley said that the number of stunts McIntosh pulled was a product of his energy. He adds that the flyers McIntosh posted around town — information-dense, near-slanderous, two-dimensional rants about whatever policy or politician was in his crosshairs that week — illustrate one thing that McIntosh had going for him: He was "judgment proof," simply because he didn't own anything.

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