|Shirley Lauck, the oldest daughter of Chester "Lum"
Lauck and his wife Harriet, was born while her family
and the Goffs were still living in their hometown of
Mena, Arkansas. In this interview conducted during the
1994 NLAS Convention, she answered questions about
growing up during the heyday of "Lum and Abner."
What are your earliest memories of the Lum and Abner
I would say the earliest recollections I have were in
Cleveland, Ohio [1932-34]. Since I was the only child
among the two couples at the time, they would take me
down to the radio station, and I can remember sitting up
on the bench while they would broadcast their shows.
They would have people acting silly, and they would
keep making each other laugh... I was laughing, too; I
didn't know what I was laughing at, but I remember
thinking it was all great fun! The interaction between
Tuffy and dad was kind of hard to explain unless you
saw them together, because they could look at each
other and tell what the other was going to say. You
never really knew if they were telling stories that were
true or whether it was their imaginations going. It was
really fun to watch and listen to.
When you were not in the studio, would you listen to the
program at home?
Yes, except when Squire Skimp was on. I didn't like
Squire Skimp because he was not a nice man!
Before Cleveland, they had broadcast from Chicago,
Dallas, and Ft. Worth. Are there any interesting stories
about those early years?
Well, when we were living in Ft. Worth , my
parents never had to worry about me wandering off or
anything, because at one end of the block was the fire
station and at the other end was the police station. So
there were sirens going up and down the street all day
long, and I was scared to death of sirens. They could let
me out and know that I wouldn't go very far.
Did you ever travel with them when they would go out
on personal appearances?
No, when they went out on their theater appearances, I
always stayed at home with my grandmother. She was
my mother's mother [Mrs. Wood], and she lived with us.
My other grandmother, of course, lived in Mena, and we
would come visit them on occasion. My cousin [Bill
Wood] and I used to have a lot of good times there in
What can you remember about the families' move to
California in 1937?
We took the train, and I remember stopping in
Albuquerque and all the Indians coming on board the
train... It was a long old trip, but we finally arrived in
California. Of course, once we got there, the weather
was warm all the time; the first day I went to school
there, I wore my little fur coat, and nobody in southern
California wore a fur coat, much less a child! But, since
we had just come in from Chicago, we just thought it
was the thing to do. Then there was my sister [Nancy],
who was about four or five years old at that time, and
she wouldn't leave them alone until they had called
Shirley Temple to come and play with her!
And did she come?
No, Shirley Temple was a little older than Nancy, but
interestingly, as the years went on, I doubled dated with
Shirley Temple! Actually I dated her cousin, and she of
course had to have a bodyguard with her at all times.
The bodyguard was her chauffeur, and he took us to
the movie theater and stayed with us, then took us to
the old Simon's Drive-In there in Los Angeles. It's not
often you have to go on a date with a chauffeur!
Were you very good friends with any of the other
Actually, my sister Nancy was closer to the age of my
parents' friends' children... they had me early! She was
a close friend of Elizabeth Taylor, and Nancy and Joan
Benny [daughter of Jack] went to a lot of the same
birthday parties and so on.
Was your childhood carried out in a normal fashion,
even though your dad was a famous radio star?
Oh, yes... there was one period shortly after we moved
to California when there had been some kidnap threats,
and we were watched pretty carefully for just a brief
time. Nothing very big was made of it... nobody wanted
us! But we had a very loving and close family, and did a
lot of family-type activities. I don't know how to explain
it, but I wasn't aware that my father had any kind of
celebrity status or anything. So many of the people they
associated with were in the same business, so I wasn't
aware there was any difference. We were living in an
area where every other person was involved in the
entertainment business, so it was not at all unusual to
see someone like Clark Gable walking around.
How did you happen to make an appearance in their
movie "Goin' To Town" ?
My dad had broken his hand; he had bought an old
army surplus Jeep, and while he was working on it one
day, the hood fell down onto his hand. So, he couldn't
drive, but he had to have someone take him to the
movie studio every day. So I drove him to the studio,
and I guess they figured that as long as I was there,
they might as well put me to work. I was a cigarette girl
in the nightclub scene, and I hope no one who watches
the movie sneezes or has to look away for a moment, or
they will miss me. At the time I did the movie, I was
dating my future husband, who was in the service. On
his base they had two movie theaters; one was free and
the other cost a dime to get in. Goin' To Town was
playing at the theater that cost a dime, and he talked his
buddies into going to see that one instead of the free
movie, because his girlfriend was in it. Afterward they
were all furious with him for making them pay a dime to
see this movie when he could just barely see me in it
Do you remember the famous Christmas when your dad
received an unusual present from his pal Corny
In 1946, on Christmas morning my dad had bought my
mother a new car as her present. We always had a
tradition that nobody could go down to the tree until
everybody was presentable, and then everybody went
to the tree together. So we went downstairs and my dad
handed my mother the keys to this car, and told her that
something out in front of the house was hers, and these
were the keys to it. We opened the front door, and out
there in front of our house was an ELEPHANT, posing
like elephants do, with one foot up and one foot down
and the trunk curled in the air... on the back of the
elephant was a sign that said, "Merry Christmas to the
Laucks from the Stroubes." The Stroubes were very
close friends of my parents' who lived in Corsicana,
Texas. Well, everybody was in shock at this point, and
said, "Oh, isn't that a funny joke, ha ha," but then the
phone rang and it was a feed company; they said, "We
have five tons of hay for you, where do you want us to
deliver it?" And pretty soon we weren't so sure this joke
was a joke! Then the caretaker with the elephant said, "I
want you to know that I'm only here until three o'clock,
and then you're going to have to find someone else to
take care of the elephant, or learn how to do it yourself."
Then, through the phone calls from friends wishing us
a merry Christmas and so forth, pretty soon the press
found out about this. Well, that was all we needed. The
editors were all saying, "Come on, we've got this great
story," and the poor reporters certainly did not want to
leave their families on Christmas morning, for
goodness sake... so they didn't; they brought their
families with them!! You have never seen so many
people at one house at one time, and all of a sudden my
mother looked over and saw a bunch of strange
children sitting there opening the packages under our
Needless to say, it turned out that the elephant was
indeed a trained circus elephant named Bonnie, and
she did go back her circus. But as a comeback to all of
this, my parents thought and thought to try to come up
with a way to get back at the Stroubes for what they
had done. They finally went to a museum or someplace
and ordered the skeleton of an elephant. Now, the
Stroubes had a home there in California which they had
just bought, and it had a huge living room that was
completely empty and had not been furnished yet. So
my dad had this skeleton of an elephant reassembled
there in the Stroubes' living room, and on it he hung a
sign that said, "Thanks, it was delicious!"
What do you think Chet and Tuffy would have thought
about the formation of the NLAS?
Oh, I know Tuffy and dad both would have been thrilled
with this whole organization. They would have just
- Shirley Lauck Babcock with Tim Hollis, 1994
||PHOTOS AND CAPTIONS:
Shirley's birth announcement as reported in "The Mena
Star." Notice that in these pre-L&A days, it was her
grandfather, not her father, who was the main focus of the
The Mena residence where Chet and Harriet Lauck were
living at the time Shirley was born, as it appeared in 1994.
The "Lum & Abner" entourage arrives in Hollywood, 1937.
L to R: (back row) Mrs. Wood, mother of Harriet Lauck;
unidentified man; the Goffs' governess; family friends Mr. &
Mrs. Stu Dawson; Chet Lauck; Tuffy Goff; Harriet Lauck;
secretary Velma McCall; Elizabeth Goff; (front row) Gary
Goff, Nancy Lauck, Shirley Lauck.
Shirley Lauck poses with her father Chet (Lum) and Norris
Goff (Abner) in a publicity shot for her cameo appearance
in "Goin' To Town" (RKO 1944) (Courtesy of Shirley
Howard "Floyd / Talbert / Dr. Roller /
Detective Wilson" McNear
This publicity shot from "The Los Angeles Examiner"
depicts Harriet Lauck (left), Shirley (in doorway), Nancy
(with glass), Chet Jr. (right) reviving the shell-shocked Chet
Lauck, who has just received an elephant for Christmas.
Shirley Lauck Babcock (center) with her husband Dwight
(left), and Cousin Bill Lauck Wood of Mena (right), during
the 1994 NLAS Convention.