Our Inductees: Minnie Pearl

Biography

Minnie Pearl inducted on National TV into the Official National Comedy Hall of Fame®.  Tony Belmont inducted Comedy great, Minnie Pearl with President George Bush in attendance.

Her first professional theatrical work was with the Wayne P. Sewell Production Company, a touring theater company based in Atlanta. She produced and directed plays and musicals for local organizations in small towns throughout the Southeast.[3][4]

Part of her work involved making brief appearances at civic organizations to promote the group’s shows, and during this time she developed her Minnie Pearl routine.[4] While producing an amateur musical comedy in Baileyton, Alabama she met a mountain woman whose style and talk became the basis for “Cousin Minnie Pearl”.[3] Her first stage performance as Minnie Pearl was in 1939 in Aiken, South Carolina.[3] Her now famous hat was purchased downtown at Surasky Bros. Department store before the show. The following year, executives from Nashville radio station WSM saw her perform at a bankers’ convention in Centerville and gave her an opportunity to appear on the Grand Ole Opry on November 30, 1940.[3][4] The success of her debut on the show began an association with the Grand Ole Opry that continued for more than 50 years. 

Pearl’s comedy was gentle satire of rural Southern culture, often called “hillbilly” culture. Pearl always dressed in frilly “down home” dresses and wore a hat with a price tag hanging from it, displaying the $1.98 price. Her signature greeting to her audience was “How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E! I’m jest so proud to be here!” delivered in a hearty holler. After she became an established star, her greeting became a call-and-response with audiences everywhere. Pearl’s often self-deprecating humor involved her unsuccessful attempts to attract “a feller”‘s attention and, in later years, her age.

She also spun stories involving her comical “ne’er-do-well” relatives, notably “Uncle Nabob”, his wife “Aunt Ambrosia”, “Lucifer Hucklehead”, “Miss Lizzie Tinkum”, “Doc Payne”, and, of course, her “Brother”, who was simultaneously both slow-witted and wise. She usually closed her monologues with the exit line “I love you so much it hurts!” She also sang comic novelty songs and often danced with Grandpa Jones.

Pearl drew much of her comic material from her hometown of Centerville, which she called Grinders Switch. Grinders Switch was a community just outside Centerville that consisted of little more than a railroad switch. Those who knew her recognized that the characters were largely based on actual Centerville residents. So much traffic resulted from fans and tourists looking for Grinders Switch that the Hickman County Highway Department eventually changed the designation on the “Grinders Switch” road sign to “Hickman Springs Road”.

Cannon portrayed Minnie Pearl for many years on television, first on ABC’s Ozark Jubilee in the late 1950s; then on the long-running television series Hee Haw, both on CBS and the subsequent syndicated version. She made several appearances on NBC’s The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. She also appeared as a celebrity panelist on game shows such as Match Game in 1976 and 1978 and Hollywood Squares in 1980. Her last regular performances on national television were on Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now country-music talk show on the former The Nashville Network (TNN) cable channel. With Emery, she performed in a weekly feature, “Let Minnie Steal Your Joke”, in the Minnie Pearl character and read jokes submitted by viewers, with prizes for the best jokes.[3]

Cannon made a cameo appearance in the film Coal Miner’s Daughter, appearing at the Opry as Minnie Pearl.

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