Brasfield: The Comedian in the Family
never got to meet my cousin, Rod Brasfield. But when I was 12 years old,
my grandparents took me to see Rod's gravestone in Smithville, Mississippi.
The cemetery is just across a two-lane blacktop road from the Pearce Chapel
Freewill Baptist Church, in a remote area among pine trees and red clay.
only things my grandparents knew about cousin Rod was that he was a famous
comedian on the Grand Ole Opry, that he died fairly young, and that his
favorite performing partner was Minnie Pearl.
A sample of their radio routines...
Minnie: “Rod, do you know what Brother has did recently?”
Rod: “No, what has Brother did?”
Minnie: “He's crossed a goat with an owl.”
Rod: “Great gobs of goose-eggs! What did he get?”
Minnie: “He crossed a goat with an owl and got a hootenanny.”
My grandparents told me that Rod had died from “women and whiskey.”
Though that sounds suspiciously like a joke that was told back then on
the Grand Ole Opry: “It was women and whiskey, what killed him.
He got so old he couldn't enjoy neither one, so he just laid down and
What my grandparents DIDN'T know about Rod Brasfield was that he had a
second career as a movie star. Well, “star” is probably an
exaggeration. He was in two films...the best known of them was 1957's
“A Face in the Crowd”
Director Elia Kazan cast Brasfield alongside a young Andy Griffith. And
though both men were professional comedians at the time, they played straight
roles in the film. Griffith is a charismatic drifter who's corrupted by
his sudden rise to media fame. Brasfield plays his faithful manager and
In the movie, the two men meet in the Tomahawk County Jail, where Griffith's
character is serving time on a drunk-and-disorderly charge. One of the
opening scenes has the sheriff offering Griffith a reduced sentence if
he'll make nice and play a song on his guitar for a visiting reporter
doing a feature about the jail:
Sheriff: “If you cooperate, I might see my way clear to let you
out of here first thing in the morning.”
Rod: “Me too, Sheriff? I'm his manager.” [Laughter from the
Griffith: “The boys in here say you don't keep your word any too
Sheriff: “You live up to your end of the deal, I'll live up to mine.”
Griffith: “It's a deal. Tomorrow morning. I'll sing you a song...”
And sing a song, Griffith's character does. All the way to celebrity in
the national media and his own talk show, where he uses his money and
popularity to become a political king-maker.
Is it possible that his character is obsessed by power? According to the
studio's somewhat lurid tag-line at the time: “POWER! He loved it!
He took it raw, in big gulps. He liked the taste of it, the way it mixed
with the bourbon and the sin in his blood!”
I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of people below a certain
age have never heard of Rod Brasfield. Until recently, the only two places
my family has found tributes to him are some photographs backstage at
the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and a showcase display at the nearby
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
But then, came the Internet. If you Google the term “Rod Brasfield,”
you get almost 16,000 results. YouTube has dozens of his comedy routines,
alongside such stars as Cowboy Copas, Hank Williams, June Carter, and
Jimmy Dickens. Each video has thousands of views, and the total is growing
daily. You can even see a picture of Rod's tombstone at the Pearce Chapel
church, and leave messages in a visitors' book for his friends and family.
It's not exactly immortality. But these days, I guess it's the next best
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