Somewhere in the shadows of the folds of the American subconscious are two gentlemen from the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas who were contemporaries of Abbot and Costello and who would have shared top billing with them when they appeared on the same stage. Their names were Chet Lauck and Tuffy Goff, but they were better known as Lum and Abner. This is a picture of the Museum in Pine Ridge dedicated to the memory of the phenomenon.
Given their relative obscurity today, it's hard to convey just how popular they were back in the thirties and forties. They had a career spanning almost 25 years in radio, movies and TV. You've been exposed to their influence on popular culture whether you know it or not. When you hear Jed Clampett say, "Eee doggies," you're hearing an echo of Abner Peabody. When you watch reruns of Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, the Andy Griffith Show or Hee Haw, you're seeing characters based on Lum and Abner characters. I'd go so far as to say that much of what people think they know about Arkansas comes indirectly from Lum and Abner. The hillbilly stereotype that Arkansans love and hate was firmly set in the national consciousness by this radio show. In fairness to messers Lauck and Goff, the stereotype they portrayed was much more sympathetic than the one it replaced.
Here's the story of their rise to stardom. They were talented amateur mimics, and in 1930 they staged a fake radio broadcast of the Amos and Andy Show for the Elks Club in Mena. They performed behind a curtain while a dummy radio ostensibly played for the audience in the hall. At the end of the show, the curtain opened and the audience would see that they'd been had by a couple of local boys. The act was memorable enough that they were invited to perform on radio (KTHS in Hot Springs) for a flood relief benefit in April of the following year.
At the last minute the boys (Everybody called them "the boys." By this time they were both married and had college degrees.) invented the names Lum Eddards and Abner Peabody and they did their show as hillbilly characters instead of Amos and Andy. Campbell Arnoux, the director of KTHS, signed them up for a weekly quarter hour on Sundays at 7:00 pm. By the end of July they were in Chicago doing Lum and Abner for NBC.
Over the next twenty years the two of them composed and performed more material and filled more air time than all the episodes of "MASH," "Seinfeld" and "Eighteen Wheels of Justice" combined. They also made a half dozen Lum and Abner movies and made appearances on television. Lum and Abner TV projects were developed, but were never realized.
So why aren't they as famous today as their contemporaries like Martin and Lewis or Abbott and Costello or Hope and Crosby? For one thing, their act was a thing of radio. Much of the entertainment value lay in the fact that these two performers were portraying an entire town full of characters. Eddie Murphy can do that on screen today, thanks to advances in movie technology, but such effects were impossible sixty years ago. In order to make a Lum and Abner Movie, they had to get Lum and Abner away from Pine Ridge, thus away from all their numerous quirky alter egos which were the essence of the act. So their movies never really recreated the success of the radio show.
Another possible reason for them fading from the public consciousness is that their private lives were not interesting enough to be recounted by scandal mongers. They went to Hollywood but never went hollywood. They were not prone to the greed, vanity, suicide, infidelity, drug addiction, betrayal, jealousy, ribaldry and dissipation that other big stars enjoyed. Their worst vices were golf and crunchy peanut butter.
Fame. Ain't it a bitch.
Jot 'em Down Store website | National Lum and Abner Society | Lum and Abner Show audio downloads
Stucker, Kathryn Moore. Hello, This is Lum and Abner. Lum and Abner Museum, Pine Ridge, AR., 1992.