Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lum and Abner

Lum and Abner were a comedy duo in the 1930s. Their fame has largely outlived their affiliates, and the men who played the characters. They began as a black face act locally at the University of Arkansas, they became a nationally syndicated program of great renown. But for some reason they are rarely grouped in with other golden era programs.

The general store that appears in the above film actually exists now as the Lum and Abner Museum. Chester Lauck and Norris Goff knew each other since childhood. They attended U of Arkansas together and even joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity together. They decided to try to get a job together at KTHS-AM in Hot Springs, AR but before the audition decided to drop the black face routine and do a hillbilly bit instead. It was something in the spirit of Amos & Andy but with decidedly more rural flair. PD Campbell Arnoux signed them for one 15 minute program each week. Their gig at KTHS went so well that after just a few weeks they got picked up by NBC for syndication. NBC even got them a national sponsor, Quaker Oats. When the Quaker contract expired, the duo picked up Ford as a new sponsor and broadcast just on WBAP and WFAA out of Dallas and Ft. Worth. In those days they were considered separate markets. More here.

NBC didnt' treat them well and In 1934 Horlick's Malted Milk because their new sponsor and the program moved to WCCO in Minneapolis and were heard on the station alone. When the station joined the Mutual Broadcasting System they picked up WXYZ in Detroit and Chicago's WGN-AM. In 1940 Alka-Seltzer became the sponsor and in 1944 they left MBS for ABC. which had only just ceased to be the NBC Blue network. The Keystone Broadcasting System recorded their programs for stations not directly connected to ABC. In 1948 they became a half-hour comedy series sponsored by Post Cereal. More here.
Those keystone network recordings are why we have recordings of Lum and Abner today. In 1948 they moved over to CBS where their program ran until 1950. the show ended in 1953. By then they were already on the big screen. They made 7 movies by the 1950s. My personal favorite bits are when Lum & abner start a radio station a plot that stretched over 3 15-minute episodes. You can download the Boxcars Oldtime radio podcast here.