William Obanhein

William J. Obanhein (October 19, 1924 – September 11, 1994), also known as Officer Obie, was the chief of police for the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He was a member of the police force there for 34 years, 1951 to 1985. He is fairly well known for his appearances in popular culture.

Obanhein was the "Officer Obie" mentioned in Arlo Guthrie's 1967 talking blues song "Alice's Restaurant". Obanhein later said that some of the details in the song were not completely true; he said he had not handcuffed Guthrie during the arrest and said the reason they removed the seat from the toilet in Guthrie's cell was to prevent theft, not to prevent suicide.[1] Obanhein later would note that he would not have actually arrested Guthrie had the amount of garbage been smaller (he would have simply picked up the garbage himself)[2] and that he meant to use the arrest and subsequent media circus as an example to deter any further large-scale littering incidents.

Obanhein accepted an offer from another Stockbridge resident, Arthur Penn, to appear as himself in a film adaptation of Alice's Restaurant he was directing and co-writing.[3] He told Newsweek magazine (September 29, 1969, where his photo appears) that making himself look like a fool was preferable to having somebody else make him look like a fool.[4] Working on the film caused Obanhein to develop greater respect for Guthrie, and afterwards the two remained friends for the rest of Obanhein's life.[5]

Obanhein posed for Norman Rockwell (himself a resident of Stockbridge) for a handful of sketches, including the 1959 black-and-white sketch Policeman With Boys, which was used in nationwide advertisements for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).[6] He was also one of the models in Rockwell's iconic The Problem We All Live With, though his face is not seen.[7] He is sometimes mistaken (including on Guthrie's own website) for the officer who posed for Rockwell's painting The Runaway, which appeared on a 1958 cover of The Saturday Evening Post; this was not Obanhein but Massachusetts state trooper Richard Clemens,[8] and the painting was instead set at Joe's Diner in Lee, Massachusetts, not in Stockbridge.[9]

Obanhein died September 11, 1994, apparently from a heart attack.[2]


  1. ^ Saul Braun, "Alice & Ray & Yesterday's Flowers", in Playboy's Music Scene, Chicago, IL, 1972, pp. 122-125. Online copy
  2. ^ a b William J. Obanhein; 'Alice's Restaurant' Lawman, 69. The New York Times (September 14, 1994). Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  3. ^ Cummings, Paula (November 21, 2017). Interview: Arlo Guthrie Carries On Thanksgiving Traditions And Fulfills Family Legacy. NYS Music. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Zimmerman, Paul D. (September 29, 1969). "Alice's Restaurant's Children". Newsweek, page 103.
  5. ^ Gentile, Derek. Arlo Guthrie marks 50th at scene of 'Alice's Restaurant Massacree'. Berkshire Eagle. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  6. ^ Berry, Lois. "Norman Rockwell – A Sense of Déjà vu" Accessed March 1, 2009. Archived July 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Carson, Tom (19 February 2020). "The true story of the awakening of Norman Rockwell". Vox. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  8. ^ Boyd, Jim. "Rockwell Illustration 'The Runaway' Turns 50", TheBostonChannel.com / WCVB-TV, September 19, 2008.
  9. ^ Larry Cultrera, Classic Diners of Massachusetts (2011), p. 112.

Rockwell’s painting The Runaway was set in the Howard Johnson’s in Lenox, MA (not Joe’s Diner in Lee). The model for the young boy, Ed Locke, confirmed this.

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