Police chief in the small town of Stockbridge
, Officer William Obanhein was a typical small town sheriff. He looked the part, acted the part, and he let everyone know who was running things. Most famously, though, he arrested Arlo Guthrie
for littering, an event which is forever immortalized in the Alice's Restaurant
Bill Obanhein was born on October 19, 1924 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and grew to be the stereotypical small town police officer. He was a heavyset, gruff-voiced man, who quickly developed a reputation as a somewhat fascistic police officer. It's said that he would handcuff persons for extremely minor infractions, harass the local youth, and generally cause a nuisance for people trying to have a good time. Enter, Arlo Guthrie.
When Officer Obie arrested Guthrie in 1967, Arlo was a struggling folk singer who had just dropped out of college, and was nowhere near making it big yet, and Obie was still a hot-shot young police officer. The arrest was just another one in a string or arrests that Obie made, soon to be forgotten. Until the Alice's Restaurant movie was being produced.
Obie knew that the movie, and the portrayal of him as an Attila the Hun type of officer was going to cause him no end of grief. So, he did what could be considered one of the greatest acts of self-deprecation. He asked to play the role himself.
He was actually a fairly good actor, too. After just a few days on the set, he was given the nickname of "One-Shot Obie", after nailing several scenes on the first take. He earned the respect of everyone on the set, and likewise, he respected those "young hippy punks" a lot more.
After shooting completed, Obie had gotten much more relaxed in his attitude towards the young people he used to harass. On several occasions, he openly admitted that being with the people on the set of the movie made him realize that they were just ordinary people, trying to make it through life just as he was. He was much less likely to handcuff and arrest people, and more likely to talk things over. He had changed.
Most people who came in contact with the post-Arlo Obie say that he treated everyone with kindness, and dignity. He would help motorists find the now-famous restaurant and church, showing respect even for the "long-haired hippy freaks". Everyone said he had a big heart, and that he was the "patron saint of every dog in town", for his refusal to enforce the town's leash laws.
Obie's departure from police duty is marred with controversy. An altercation with a fellow officer in 1985 and allegations of alcohol abuse led to his forced retirement from the police department. On his retirement day, Arlo Guthrie, now friends with Obie, returned to the small town for a photo shoot in front of a red Volkswagen Microbus, a prominent feature in the song that made both of them famous. Thus, Obie departed from public life.
Sadly, Officer William "Obie" Obanhein died on September 11, 1994, at the age of 69 of natural causes. He was one of the truly good people in the world, as he was good-natured, and not afraid to laugh at himself. He was truly a good, salt of the earth man.