Sunday, January 18, 2009

THAT OLD HILLBILLY MUSIC


I recently found some information on the Weaver Brothers and Elviry. They were a family who pioneered hillbilly humor.

Most people have long used the stereotype of the hillbilly for entertainment. Many think that this all started at Silver Dollar City and at the Branson Music shows. But it actually got its start in vaudeville with one of the most popular groups out there that entertained across the nation and even overseas with homespun hillbilly humor and old-time country music with homemade instruments. They were known as the Weaver Brothers & Elviry, and the two brothers who started the group up were from Ozark, Missouri. This is a small town between Springfield and Branson.

Their great-grandfather built a mill and the first courthouse in the area. The home he built in Ozark before the Civil War is still standin' and is the oldest home in town.

His son Leon, who went by the stage name of 'Abner', was born in the house at Ozark in 1882. By the age of 12 he set out on his own to perform in medicine shows. He played the mandolin, guitar, fiddle and was the first to use a hand saw as a musical instrument. At 19 (1901)he became part of the largest traveling show in the country, Doctor A.B. Christy's Travelin' Medicine Show.

His younger brother, Frank, went by the stage name 'Cicero'. He was born in 1891. He and his brother 'Abner', started their vaudeville act in 1904, when Cicero was 13. They called their selves the R-Can-Saw Travelers.

'Cicero' never spoke on stage, he did pantomime and was the inspiration for Harpo Marx. He played the banjo and a one-man-band apparatus.

In 1917, 'Abner' married June, 'Elviry'. She was born in Chicago but grew up in Springfield, Missouri. She joined the act in 1923, as their sister, 'Elviry'. Her humorous poker-face made her a favorite with audiences. She and Leon divorced in 1927, but they stayed friends and she stayed with the act. 'Elviry' was also the business manager for the group. In 1928, she married 'Cicero' and was with him until he died in 1967.

The Weaver Brothers and Elviry played the vaudeville circuit makin' the princely sum of $700 a week. They later were earning as much as $5,000 per week as their popularity grew. That was an enormous amount of money back in those times. We're talkin' about the time period of the Great Depression.

They even started addin' family members to the act. They called their selves, The Weaver Brothers & Elviry and the Home Folk.

They shared the stage with George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, Al Jolson, Will Rogers and a stilt-walker named Archibald Leach. Now do you recognize the name? He later became know as Cary Grant. They played in New York, Chicago, Boston, London, Paris and Stockholm and thousands of other towns and cities.

In the 30's they started to appear in movies. Their first "Swing Your Lady," and it co-starred Humphrey Bogart and the bit player, Ronald Reagan. It's world premiere was at the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, MO on Jan. 14, 1938.

They appeared in 13 films altogether. They worked with performers like Roy Rogers, Alan Ladd and Roy Acuff. They quit makin' movies in 1943.

The Weavers continued to live and perform in the Springfield area. In 1935, 'Cicero' and 'Elviry' bought the Heer's mansion, which overlooks the James River between Nixa and Springfield. Many famous people have lived and visited this mansion through the years. Heer's Department Store in Springfield was a landmark for years.

They continued to work on radio and were on KWTO's "Korn's-Krackin". Abner played with the Ozark Jubilee Band , there was a national Tv show that got its name from it. He appeared with area musicians, Slim Wilson, Bob White, Willie Wells, Jerry Osborn, Lennie Aleshire, Doc Martin, Zed Tennis, Googoo Rutledge and BoBo Pike. Later this program had more famous people appear on it such as Willie Nelson and a young man who went by the name of John Cash.

The Weaver family also contributed to Springfield theaters, the Mulliken, Landers and the Gillioz, and one of their younger brothers later worked as the projectionist at the Springfield Drive-In Theater. Oh boy, could I ever tell you some teenage stories about that drive-in! I cried when they tore it down in the 90's to put up an office complex. Lot's of good times there.



While the Weaver Brothers and Sister Elviry are not well-known today, they were some of the most successful entertainers from the Ozarks and entertained people worldwide.

We do have some local hillbillies that have made it big in the entertainment field, I'll do another post to list 'em all, cause there's a lot, but just a couple, Kathleen Turner, John Goodman, Don Johnson and oh yeah, Brad Pitt.

Mustn't forget that home boy. He went to Kickapoo H.S. where one of my girlfriends attended school. She thinks, she sorta, kinda remembers him. He comes to town a lot, his mom and brother and other family members still live here. I've never been able to catch a glimpse of him but I personally know a girl who knows a guy who knows a girl who's brother's old girlfriend's family had him and Jen to supper one night when they were here durin' the holiday's. And I know that last Christmas, not this past one but the one before, he and Angelina came to town durin' the holiday's.
Well I hope you enjoyed readin' about some of our famous ol' hillbillies. Some of the information I found about the Weaver's was written in a local paper by Paul Johns.
Sorry the pictures weren't better quality, there's just not that many left out there of this musical family.
Rebel

11 comments:

Jodi said...

Very interesting! Now is that first picture of a guy getting his haircut???

The Muse said...

Sorry I'm so late in posting my comments...work has taken me on a few travels as of late...but now that I am able, I certainly wanted to "visit".

Our cottage, The Painted Nest is not abundant in PINK (gasp, I know, LOL) nonetheless the fun continues, as I participated in this past Sat. Pink Posting... :)

Great post...you always have such wonderful "readuns" lol... It is about time that the world knows hillbilly is not a bad word...
I love being a mountain gal! (muse) LOL

Bo said...

Guess what??? We just watched a show called "The Real Hillbillys" on the History channel tonight narrated by Billy Ray Cyrus...it was really interesting...You made me laugh with this statement...
"but I personally know a girl who knows a guy who knows a girl who's brother's old girlfriend's family had him and Jen to supper"...LOL
Fun read! ;-) Bo

Rebel said...

Yea, that looks like he's gettin' a haircut with bowl on head. I guess that is where granny from the Beverly Hillbillies got the idea for when she cut Jethro's hair.

My New 30 said...

Wow, that's some interestin' stuff there Rebel! Who knew eh?

PetalsYoga said...

I love your blog! I learn so much about stuff I'm really interested in. You have a real gift!

Thanks for visiting my way too humdrum blog.

Hugs,

Jan

muddywaters said...

I enjoyed the background in the Weaver Brothers. I love how you're capturing the history of the Ozarks. You're an inspiration because I'd like to do more with the history of Lawrence. You're giving me some great ideas, so keep up the good work.

Keep celebrating your local culture.

Rebel said...

Muddy, do you live in Lawrence? I really like that town. I guess you know the history between MO and KS centered in that town? A lot of bad blood. Course that's all in the past. A lot of people don't know that the Civil War started in Missouri and it was mostly because of the border war between MO & KS. I love all that historical stuff. I can't wait to read what You're gonna write about.

Darlene said...

Hi Rebel,

That was quite an interesting and informative read. Great story from your area.

Dev said...

There are some wonderful
Branson shows! One of my favorites is the Branson Belle.

PamperingBeki said...

You make me miss Missouri!