From 1931 to 1955, the Lum and Abner radio show brought the town of Pine Ridge (Montgomery County), into the homes of millions of listeners across the country. During World War II, Armed Forces Radio took Lum and Abner around the world.
Chester “Chet” Lauck and Findley Norris “Tuffy” Goff, two young comedians from Mena (Polk County), created the characters when they were invited to appear on a statewide flood relief broadcast over KTHS radio in Hot Springs (Garland County) on April 26, 1931. Seconds before being introduced, they created the names Lum Edwards (pronounced "Eddards") for Lauck and Abner Peabody for Goff.
The two old codgers (Lauck and Goff were actually in their late twenties) ran the Jot ‘Em Down General Store in Pine Ridge. Lum was a bachelor with an eye for women, and his ego usually got in the way of common sense. Abner was a hen-pecked married man, and his gullibility was enormous. They were civic-minded merchants who never seemed to have any money in the cash register. Their schemes for grandeur always brought them to the brink of tragedy.
Additional characters were created for later broadcasts. Lauck portrayed Cedric Wehunt, and nosey Grandpappy Spears, while Goff became Dick Huddleston (the real store keeper in Waters, the town upon which Pine Ridge was based), schemer Squire Skimp, shy Mousey Gray, Mose Moots the barber, town-meany Snake Hogan, and many others. Each character was based on a composite of old friends from Waters and Mena.
The Lum and Abner show was set in the Jot ‘Em Down Store in Pine Ridge. On April 26, 1936, the citizens of Waters changed the town’s name to Pine Ridge in honor of Lum and Abner.
Their humor was clean and honest, reflecting small town life and human nature. The stories had universal themes that have not become dated, and therefore Lum and Abner continues to be popular with old-time radio fans.
KTHS groomed the young talent on Sunday broadcasts for just a few months, and then they auditioned in Chicago for a network show on NBC radio. Lum and Abner was picked up immediately and continued for almost twenty-five years, including 5,800 daily live fifteen-minute programs. A series of contracts saw them on the air for four radio networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, and Mutual), sponsored by such major companies as Quaker Oats, Ford Motor Company, Horlick’s Malted Milk, Alka Seltzer, General Foods, and General Mills.
Lum and Abner was the first network program broadcast from Radio City in New York in 1933, the first to do a marathon charity broadcast, and the first to make a transatlantic “simulcast,” with Lauck in London and Goff in Chicago. Their promotions of war effort causes during World War II were especially successful. Their sponsors offered premiums that are now collectibles.
As a result of their radio popularity, Lum and Abner broadcasts moved to Hollywood studios in 1939 in order for the actors to pursue careers in motion pictures. The pair made six movies during the 1940s: Dreaming Out Loud (1940), The Bashful Bachelor (1942), So This is Washington (1943), Two Weeks to Live (1943), Going to Town (1944), and Partners in Time (1946). Lum and Abner Abroad (1956) was made in Europe as a television pilot, with the two characters as Hollywood personalities. Lauck and Goff did not like the result, and it was not released to theaters; it is now sought-after piece of Lum and Abner history.
Lum and Abner began as a lark in Mena, traveled to Hot Springs, and grew in Chicago and other cities. Hollywood fulfilled the dreams of two small-town boys. Early broadcasts were carried by local sponsors, but soon, nationwide sponsors reached into millions of homes. After nearly twenty-five years of radio, television made inroads into audiences, and the programs were again locally sponsored. By 1955, the two were ready to quit, as Norris Goff had been in poor health for many years. Their concept has been copied on such programs as Beverly Hillbillies and by the comic strip “Li’l Abner,” which is often confused with Lum and Abner, but the original has never been equaled.
Lum and Abner made a small town in Arkansas world famous. Today, Pine Ridge is home to the Lum and Abner Museum. The National Lum and Abner Association was founded in 1984 and has 600 members nationwide.
For additional information:
Cates, Michael, ed. Mena Centennial History 1986–1996: A Photographic History of the City of Mena, Arkansas. Murfreesboro, AR: Looking Glass Press, 1996
Chet Lauck Collection. Center for Arkansas History and Culture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Hall, Randall L. Lum and Abner: Rural America and the Golden Age of Radio. Louisville: University of Kentucky Press, 2007.
Lum and Abner Museum. Pine Ridge, Arkansas.
Stucker, Kathryn. Hello, This is Lum and Abner: The Story of Lum and Abner’s Jot ‘Em Down Store in Pine Ridge, Arkansas. Pine Ridge, AR: Lum and Abner Museum, 1992.
Vail, Roy. “A Movie Premier with Lum and Abner.” The Looking Glass: Reflecting Life in the Ouachitas 17 (February 1992): 20–23.
Kathryn Moore Stucker
Lum and Abner Museum