Saturday August 31, 1935, was the beginning of the Indiana State Fair, and was also quite a gala night for two boys from Mena, Arkansas. The Indianapolis Star and the State Board of Agriculture sponsored an amateur contest, to be held in the coliseum of the fairgrounds. And out of the world of headline radio stars, Lum and Abner were the unanimous choice to act as masters of ceremony. There they were, keeping the audience laughing and applauding from beginning to end.
Lum said he felt just like Major Bowes; and Major Bowes, with all his experience, couldn't have carried an amateur contest off with more poise or ease, or have conducted a more successful one. They had all of the "hand-slapping" (as the Pine Ridge two express it) that a most exacting favorite could have desired, from the time they were drawn up to the stage in a little covered wagon pulled by two big black oxen. They were then Lum and Abner in all their regalia. At the last of the show, they finally came out on the stage as Chester Lauck and Norris Goff, two nice-looking young fellows from Arkansas.
All during the show, Abner was trying to enter the contest and sing "Just a Bird in a Gilded Cage". Lum would keep stopping him. He would leave the mic, but would each time come back in a new and funnier disguise. Once he was a little old lady in a big red plaid dress and sunbonnet. The audience cheered wildly as he sang almost through "Gilded Cage" before Lum got a chance to take off the poke bonnet and prove to himself that it was really Abner.
Next, he came back as an admiral of the Navy, with a Jimmy Durante nose, funny blue uniform, big plumed hat -- saber and all. He kept Lum and his distance with drawn sword until he sang most of his song again.
The winner of the amateur contest was to be the one who received the most applause. Abner the songbird got that, but since he wasn't a contestant, the cheering had to signify a very successful master of ceremonies.
It is a wonder the boys do not get writer's cramp from doing so much autographing. The show was to have been over at 10, but it was 12 before we left. Chet and Tuffy both said they were awfully tired, but they looked extremely happy too. One of our papers here has this to say of them:
"In the space of four short years, Lum and Abner have emerged from the practical obscurity of a small Arkansas town to join the ranks of the highest-salaried stars in the radio world today. They are rated one of the best backwoods philosophy bets on the air. Not bad for the Mena lads, not bad at all; and they are also putting that small Arkansas town on the map."
From The Mena Star, September 4, 1935
All comments are moderated before publication. These HTML tags are permitted: <p>, <b>, <i>, <a>, and <blockquote>.