Sea Pines storyteller



David Pearson helped bring Sea Pines to prominence as its first director of public relations and advertising.

Working for Charles Fraser from 1959-1963, Pearson led a unique and effective marketing campaign that put the focus on the island and inspired myriad memorable tales — or as Pearson told Monthly, “all those crazy, wacky, bizarre things that happened in those days.” 

The stories behind some of those stories remain fresh for Pearson. In an effort to rekindle those memories, Pearson wrote dozens of short stories about some of those “wacky” times and shared them with Monthly. 

“I hope that it amuses and entertains, hearing some of things that happened, especially some of the characters that came here early on,” Pearson said.

Pearson, 90, who lives in Florida, visited Hilton Head recently and said he always looks forward to returning to the island. 

“We have tremendous affinity for Hilton Head and especially for Sea Pines,” said Pearson, who is president of David Pearson Associates, a marketing and public relations firm. “It’s like a second home. We keep coming, and we want to keep coming back.” 



The island had been deserted since the Civil War except for the hunting lodge at Honey Horn Plantation on the north end. The south end was pristine, full of wildlife: turkey, feral pigs, rattlesnakes, deer, possum, raccoons, and all manner of bird life from painted buntings to blue faced boobies. But the king, the apex predator, was the alligator.

We were all fascinated with the toothy beasts which populated the canals, lagoons, and waterways of Sea Pines. Of course, we had no idea how dangerous they really were.

When John McGrath came aboard as Executive Vice President, he decided to try a little “Pavlov’s Dog” routine on a huge alligator we called Albert. He hunted around the lagoon next to the 14th green of the golf course. Every evening John would go to the kitchen of the William Hilton Inn and get scraps from Chef George. He’d then take them down to the lagoon, toss them in the water, and ring a big cow bell.

Dong went the bell and sure enough, over swam Albert, who quickly scarfed up the scraps. John repeated this routine for a couple of weeks.

Then one fateful night he told us he was going to ring the bell without the scraps.

We drove to the 14th green and looked around but didn’t see Albert. John rang the bell, and sure enough, out of the darkness swam Albert, right up to the bank below us.


One of the early Sea Pines retirees was Charlie Pelham. He had been head man at a big New York ad agency and knew most of the people at national magazines.

He was a big help to me in figuring out how to put Sea Pines on the map (with a very low budget). We had made a half-hour color film of Sea Pines by trading a fairway lot to the Greenville production company.

Pelham lined up editors from several national magazines (Sports Illustrated, Saturday Evening Post, New York Times) to meet a couple of us in New York and see the film.

That resulted in some fantastic national exposure, starting with the Post, which sent a photographer down to get some shots. When we gave him a tour, we showed him Albert the alligator sunning on a fairway lagoon bank.

“Holy cow,” the photographer shouted, “that’s our model!”

The next day John, Donald O’Quinn and I snared the beast with a big rope and hauled him across the road to the golf course parking lot.

At that moment Charlie Fraser drove up, having just returned from a meeting with some bankers in Savannah. 

He was still dressed in a suit and tie and wearing a summer straw hat.

The photographer told Charlie to stand next to Albert for a picture. As he approached the big gator, Albert decided he’d had enough of this foolishness, and began slowly walking back across the parking lot toward the lagoon.

Never one to miss a bright idea, Charlie started marching along next to Albert, umbrella and brief case at his side.

A few weeks later the picture appeared in a two-page spread in the Post. The series was called, “People on the Way Up,” and it featured Charlie and his Sea Pines “mascot,” Albert.

The following week our phone started ringing off the hook.


We had all gathered at the best hotel in Mary Stone’s hometown for her marriage to Charles “Charlie” Fraser, Founder and President of Sea Pines. 

The groomsmen were John McGrath, Charlie’s former Yale Law School classmate and Executive Vice President of Sea Pines; Beryl Bernhard, another Yale friend of the groom’s, destined to become an honored Congressman from New York. Also present were Richard “Pete” McGinty, Sea Pines’ premier architect; Wally Butler, head of real estate sales and a native of Savannah; Joe Fraser, Charlie’s older brother; and David Pearson (me), the youngest, and Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Sea Pines.

“We have to pull a joke on Charlie,” McGrath said. “It’s de rigueur. What can we do?”

After a couple of hours tossing out and rejecting inane ideas, we settled upon what perhaps was the most inane of them all.

We arranged for the hotel operator to call McGrath’s room at a certain time the day before the wedding, having made sure that Charlie was in the room at that exact time. At the appointed hour, Charlie and John were in the room discussing the big loan the company was going after. 

Cue the “hotel operator,” which was being played by yours truly. Calling from my hotel room, I had the telephone in one hand and the cellophane wrapper from a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes in the other hand.

McGrath answered my call, paused for a moment, then turned to Charlie and said “Jeezo Peezo, Charlie! It’s the Aga Khan calling you from Sardinia!”

“Hello?” said Charlie.

“Mr. Fraser? I replied with a fake British accent, while crinkling the cellophane into the receiver, which sounded like static.

“Yes?” said Charlie.

“I apologize for calling you so abruptly, but this is very important. As you may know, we have purchased a large oceanfront property on the island of Sardinia, and we are developing it into a resort we call Costa Smerelda. Our board is meeting tomorrow on a critically important issue, and we would like to have you at the meeting. Of course, we would pay your fee and all your expenses; and I would have my Lear Jet fly you over.”

“Uh, uh, well…uh,” said Charlie.

At that point both John and I broke up laughing, blowing the whole charade.

Charlie didn’t speak to either one for the rest of the day.


The first of these LPGA events was played at Moss Creek Plantation, just over the bridge from Hilton Head Island.

Originally to be called the Ladies Masters, the name was changed after the Augusta National threatened a lawsuit if the name Masters was used.

The first tournament, played in 1976, was won by Sally Little, a willowy blonde from South Africa new to the women’s tour, in a most extraordinary way.

I was standing in the press room with the Australian beauty Jan Stephenson, the putative winner, as Little’s approach landed in a greenside bunker on the 18th hole. Sally needed to get up and down to force a playoff with Jan.

Instead, she lofted a sand shot two feet from the pin, and the ball rolled in. She won by one stroke.

Stephenson couldn’t believe it. She broke into tears.

What a finish!


Tom Caudle and I were two young bachelors who rented a small house in Forest Beach. Tom was the Sea Pines treasurer, and I was head of public relations.

As you might imagine, the house was the site of many a late-night party. 

On one typical summer night, we had invited a few friends and vacationers over for a few drinks.

The entertainment was going to be provided by me and my piano accordion. After a few drinks, I decided to pull it out of the case. I noticed right away that a few of the ivory keys were stuck down. As the summer humidity on Hilton Head was high, I realized the felts on the keys were swollen up.

When this had happened once before, I placed the accordion into the oven and turned the heat on low. After a few minutes I pulled it out and voila!... the heat had dried out the felts, and the keys were unstuck.

So, remembering that success, I put the accordion into the oven. But instead of staying nearby, I returned to the living room, where the party was going full blast. I must also admit that after another couple of drinks, I totally forgot about the accordion in the oven.

Suddenly someone in the kitchen yelled, “The accordion’s on fire!”

I dashed into the kitchen, which was now full of smoke, and whipped the accordion out of the oven. I threw a glass of water on it, quenching the flames coming out of the bellows. The acrid smell of smoke lasted for days.

That turned out to be the entertainment for the night.

The coda to this story is this: A year or so later, I married a girl named Anne Bates from St. Louis. I brought her to Hilton Head and we took over the little house from Tom Caudle.

One day Anne was talking to a young woman who lived on the island. When Anne said she was married to David Pearson, the woman said, “Who? Is that the same David Pearson who burned up his accordion?”

The story had become a legend in its own time.


Maybe the best picture Robert Mitchum ever made was “Cape Fear” with Gregory Peck and Polly Bergen, filmed in its entirety in Savannah. 

Since I was the PR man for Sea Pines on nearby Hilton Head Island, I had the idea of inviting the cast to the resort for the weekend. Mitchum and child star Lori Martin took us up on the invitation. Lori rode horseback on the broad Lowcountry beach, while Mitchum went fishing on John McGrath’s charter boat, The Adventure.

Later over cocktails with the development team, Mitchum invited me to visit him on the movie set in Savannah.

On the agreed upon day, I arrived at the downtown square where the movie was being shot. When Mitchum saw me, he called me over and we both went to lunch in a nearby cafeteria. I remember he ordered she crab soup. Our booth was next to the waiting line, and two older Savannah matrons were leaning over the divider, eavesdropping on our conversation. Without missing a beat, Mitchum suddenly inserted a stream of foul language into the story he was telling me. When the first “bastard” came out, the ladies jumped a foot, shocked, and quickly moved away from our booth.

“That’s how I get rid of nosy people,” he said calmly.

As he wasn’t in any more of the day’s shots and had the afternoon off, we went to his suite in the nearby De Soto Hotel. The lanky Mitchum lay on top of his bed while I sat in a chair facing him. For the next three hours we drank beer while he regaled me with story after story of Hollywood – making movies on location, gossip about other stars, what he had learned as an actor – including a very sad story about his early years.

At one point in his youth, Mitchum wound up in Savannah and got himself picked up by the police. As he didn’t have a job, a home address or a driver’s license, they threw him in jail as a vagrant. “I was actually on a chain gang,” he reminisced, “stripes and all. I guarantee you it was no fun. So I’ve been here before, under slightly different circumstances,” he said.

That evening we went to dinner along the Savannah Riverfront, joined by his strapping 6’4” bodyguard, whom he called his assistant. 

Why he needed one became apparent after an hour of drinks, when a nearby patron, obviously plastered, began to harass Mitchum with remarks like, “You’re not such a big deal.” When it became impossible to ignore the guy any longer, the bodyguard simply walked over, picked him up, and walked him on tippy-toes out the door.

“A typical dinner out,” Mitchum said. “Welcome to being a movie star.”


In 1959, my wife Anne’s parents had given us a little Morris Minor station wagon as a wedding present. I already had a Hillman Minx convertible, which we then sold to Lou Caye, a widow from Atlanta with two teenage children.

Lou’s son, Billy, had just gotten his driver’s license, so he and his buddy Jimmy Richardson tooled around the island in the convertible. One day they were driving down the road when a green salamander popped his head up between the seats in front. Billy and Jimmy flew out the doors as the car careened into a ditch

Anne and I happened to be driving by shortly after this, and saw the car in the ditch, both doors wide open. We found out that when the boys saw the lizard, they flew out the car and ran away.

The next day as we were driving by Brother Roller’s Esso station, we saw the car, high on the rack with both doors, the hood, and the back window wide open. 

They were trying to get rid of the salamander, who then apparently left.



A New York couple named Mothman discovered the William Hilton Inn on their annual winter drive down the Ocean Highway (U. S. 17) to Florida. The first year they were given an oceanfront room which had a small tree outside. 

The tree hosted a mockingbird’s nest, and the musical bird awoke at dawn every morning, singing its heart out.

Unfortunately, that was too early for the Mothmans to awaken, so they requested to be assigned another room. They were given one in the 400 building, also on the ocean. The problem there was their next-door neighbors, who partied all night.

The Mothmans’ solution to these problems the following winter was to take all the rooms in the 400 building, thus leaving them with the entire building empty except for themselves.


John McGrath convinced Charles Fraser that Sea Pines needed long-term financing, and they found a potential source in the Phipps Family Estate. Their representative’s office was in Atlanta.

John developed the formal request for funds, including a detailed pro forma on where the requested funds would go if they got the loan. It was impressive: new subdivision development, insect control program, lagoon, gates, etc.

The request was a success; they got a loan of $1.2 million.

When the funds arrived, the first thing Charlie did was to buy a matched pair of Tennessee walking horses and a 19th century landau carriage.

Of course, he then had to build a barn for the horses and carriage.

And hire a groom to take care of the horses.

And on and on with the kind of purchases that drove McGrath out of his mind.

“Jeezo peezo Charlie,” John would say (he never cussed), “this isn’t how we told them we’d spend the money!”

Charlie may have been a creative genius, but he certainly was no wizard at finance.

By Hilton Head Monthly