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Happy Birthday, Norris Goff!


One-half of the comedy team that served as my introduction to old-time radio was born one hundred and ten years ago on this date.  With his lifelong partner Chester Lauck, Norris “Tuffy” Goff comprised the mirth making duo better known as Lum and Abner—who would eventually appear on all four networks (ABC, CBS, Mutual and NBC) during their twenty-year run on the airwaves.

goff2Findley Norris Goff was born in Cove, Arkansas…but his family moved to Mena five years later.  There, his father expanded a wholesale general merchandise warehouse that would influence the young Norris’ future career (he was called upon to work in his dad’s store growing up).  Another fortuitous event in his life was meeting up with Chester Lauck, the son of another prominent Mena family.  The two young men quickly developed reputations as “class clowns” in high school, entertaining their fellow students, and both later attended the University of Arkansas after their graduation in 1924.  Goff also attended Oklahoma University, where he graduated with a degree in business.  During his years of working in the family store, Norris was often called upon to visit other general stores in the area to further his education…but more often than not, he spent a great deal of time chatting it up with the various old-timers who congregated around the pot-bellied stoves of those establishments.

goff3After work, Norris and Chet amused their friends and audiences with off-the-cuff comedy routines.  They were scheduled to perform at a flood relief fundraiser for Hot Springs radio station KTHS in 1931, when they realized that the blackface routine that they had planned to do would be one of several (the other performers had decided on the same thing, as radio’s Amos ‘n’ Andy was at the peak of its popularity).  The two men called an audible, and decided to do their “fellers-from-the-hills” material instead.  The success of this performance would lead Goff and Lauck to be hired to perform Lum and Abner for KTHS.  The popularity of the comedy serial spurred them to audition for an NBC station in Chicago, where they were hired to do the same program nationwide for Quaker Oats.

goff4The titular characters of Lum and Abner were Columbus “Lum” Edwards (usually pronounced “Eddards”) and Abner Peabody, who operated the general mercantile “Jot ‘Em Down Store” in the mythical hamlet of Pine Ridge, Arkansas.  Lauck played Lum while Goff was Abner…but in the early days, the two performers found it necessary to take on other roles as well.  Norris also played Dick Huddleston (Pine Ridge’s postmaster…whose name was borrowed from one of Goff and Lauck’s good friends), Mousie Gray, Doc Miller, and Squire Skimp—the town’s resident George “Kingfish” Stevens, part con man and part loan shark.  There were a lot of similarities between Lum and Abner and Amos ‘n’ Andy (for example, many of the female characters were only referred to—never heard).  However, as radio historian Elizabeth McLeod once noted, while Amos ‘n’ Andy tried to tackle the Great Depression with a sense of realism, Lum and Abner settled for more escapist fare.

Lum and Abner aired over various networks for various sponsors (Horlicks Malt, General Foods, Miles Laboratories) as a five-day-a-week quarter hour, but in the fall of 1948 the team hit the big time with a weekly half-hour situation comedy for CBS.  The New Lum and Abner Show had a studio audience, an orchestra, a big-time sponsor (“On the air for Frigidaire!”), and a supporting cast that included Clarence Hartzell (as Ben Withers), ZaSu Pitts, Andy Devine, Opie Cates, Francis “Dink” Trout, and Cliff Arquette.  The show was sponsored by Ford in its 1949-50 season, and then spent its last year on the air (1953-54) back in its familiar quarter-hour format.

goff5Both Norris and Chet attempted to get a boob tube version of their creations off the ground, but weren’t able to make any headway with a series of pilots.  Instead, those pilots were stitched together to comprise a 1956 feature film, Lum and Abner Abroad, which was actually their seventh motion picture.  The two men had appeared in a film series based on the show for independent producer Jack Votion (and released by RKO), beginning with Dreaming Out Loud in 1940 and ending with Partners in Time in 1946.  Norris would be the busier of the two performers once he and his partner called it quits with Lum and Abner.  He made occasional guest appearances on the Jack Benny and Andy Griffith shows, and memorably played “Grandpa” Pyle in an episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC in 1965.  Both men would live to see Lum and Abner make a “comeback” on radio stations during the 1970s nostalgia boom.  By that time, Goff had made himself comfortable in retirement in Palm Springs, CA, before departing this world for a better one (“Wonderful world!”) in 1978.

21208Here at Radio Spirits, we’re always anxious to find out “what’s going on down in Pine Ridge”…and you can do the same with our latest release of classic Lum and Abner broadcasts (Volume 8) as well as previous releases in Volumes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7.  Our Great Radio Comedy collection also features a hilarious half-hour broadcast from the Lum and Abner prime time years.  So what are you waiting for?  Ay grannies, people—I b’lieve that’s your ring!  (And happy birthday, Norris!)


  1. Happy birthday, Abner, Squire, Mousey, Dick, Doc Miller, Ulysses… and Tuffy!

  2. Sandra Jordan says:

    I watched Season 1 Episode 15 of the Gomer Pyle US Marines last night.
    When his grandpa appeared and I heard his voice, I immediately recognized it as the person who was part of the Lum and Abner radio show…
    What a delight to see him in person.

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