Born in Smithville, Rod Brasfield was the Grand Ole Opry’s top male comedian from 1947-1958, a beloved sad sack foil for Red Foley and Hank Williams and a comic sparring partner for Minnie Pearl and June Carter. He played dramatic and comic roles in traveling tent shows before his Opry fame, and appeared as Andy Griffith’s sidekick in the Hollywood drama A Face in the Crowd. Brasfield was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously, in 1987.
Rod Brasfield Rodney Leon Brasfield was born in Smithfield on August 22, 1910, into a theatrical family. His older brother, Lawrence, known professionally as “Boob,” worked as a comedian on the Chautauqua circuit and with touring companies of Broadway shows when Rod was just a toddler. When Rod was sixteen, he joined Boob and sister-in-law Neva in the touring Bisbee’s Dramatic Shows tent rep company, first as an errand boy, then as a dramatic actor and straight man for his brother. After a decade of apprenticeship, Brasfield was featured in the “Bisbee’s Comedians” wing of the company in his own right. After pausing for a year in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he returned to Bisbee’s, where Grand Ole Opry emcee George C. Hay saw him in 1941, and invited him to join the venerable broadcast.
On the air and in its traveling tent shows, Brasfield quickly became the Opry’s ultimate “hapless rube” figure, with his funny hat, baggy pants, and popular monologues about goings on in an imaginary town (that borrowed the name of the real Hohenwald, Tennessee), presenting himself as “The Hohenwald Flash.” Inevitably, he was paired with the Opry’s established star comedienne, Minnie Pearl, and the two of them, neither playing the straight role for the other but convulsing audiences together with what they called their “double” comedy routines, shared top Opry billing for the rest of his career. They were among the Opry stars chosen to tour U.S. military bases in England and Germany in 1949.
Brasfield’s on-air exchanges with such musical Opry stars as Red Foley, June Carter, and Hank Williams, Sr., (who nicknamed his son Hank, Jr., “Bocephus” after Brasfield’s ventriloquist’s dummy) became Opry mainstays. The routines with Foley were highlighted on the national NBC radio portion of the Opry broadcasts. It was natural that Al Gannaway, who produced the TV “Country Show” on Opry stars, would feature Brasfield prominently. In 1957 he was cast in a serious role as a sidekick to an ambitious country politician, played by Andy Griffith, in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd. A heart condition exacerbated by a problem with alcohol caused Brasfield’s sudden death
on September 12, 1958, at age forty-eight; he was buried here in Smithville.
Rod Brasfield was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1987. A replica of his Hall plaque was presented to the people of Smithville and placed in the town hall.
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