BY NORMAN ROZEFF
The population of the Lower Rio Grande Valley annually swells as “winter Texans” or “snowbirds” arrive to take advantage of the area’s mild climate.
While we frequently take them for granted, many have unique tales and backgrounds of interest. Such is the case of Lawrence “Boob” Lamarr Brasfield and his wife Neva Ines Fisher Brasfield, who died and are buried in Raymondville.
Lawrence was born March 1, 1898, in Smithville, Mississippi, while his wife, just shy of nine years older, was born in Luther, Michigan, on March 14, 1889. Lawrence was exposed to the entertainment industry during his teenage years, when he ran away from home and joined a circus at age 14 as a roustabout.
He entered the performance world directly his next year when he did a blackface routine in a horse-and-wagon show. This was soon followed by his joining a stock company in New Orleans and still later with the Redpath Chautaugua Circuit as the comedian Boob Brasfield. The Redpath Lyceum Bureau was the largest booking agency for circuit Chautauqua, an enterprise that between 1904 and 1932 brought together under the canvas of large tents thousands of performers and lecturers and millions of small town residents across the United States.
Boob’s performances led to his decade-long work on Broadway where he appeared in 1920 in Miss Lulu Bett and was stage manager for the two-year run of Enter Madame. In 1922, he became stage manager for the smash hit Abie’s Irish Rose. He had married in 1919 to Neva who had worked as a cashier and also as the leading lady in the W. I. Swain tent show.
In the mid-1920s following his turn on Broadway, Boob and Neva became featured players with (Jess) Bisbee’s Comedians, a popular touring tent repertory troupe based in Memphis. Boob played the character as a hillbilly and was known for “his quick ad-libbing ability and comic facial contortions.”
As he also wrote, directed, and acted in the plays performed he became the highest paid individual
with the Bisbee troupe. His younger comedian brother Rod would join him as a straight man.
In 1933 the tent show folded. Boob then went on to form his own performance group, the Century Players based in Centerville, Tennessee. When the troupe performed in Centerville, Minnie Pearl, a native of the town, would perform with them. Boob also owned a circle stock company from 1939–42 that played in the Gadsden (Alabama) Theatre.
It was radio in the mid-1940s that brought Boob and his bother Rod widespread recognition. At this time Boob adopted the Uncle Cyprus character, shortened to Cyp, when he began performing on radio programs. He and his brother played “fictional residents in his adopted hometown of Hohenwald, Tennessee.” As Wikipedia tells us, “Cyp and Sap were an older married couple who quibbled over everyday matters, with Cyp often coming off as a henpecked husband. They continued touring the country through the 1940s, doing tent shows and sketch comedy.”
Boob also wrote skits for his brother Rod and Minnie Pearl and others as they appeared on the Grand Ole Opry.
By the 1950s Boob and Neva had retired to their ranch called Rancho Pocito in the Rio Grande Valley near Edinburg. Their story doesn’t end there however, for in 1955 their friend Red Foley convinced them to return to show business on ABC-TV’s Ozark Jubilee originating from Springfield, Missouri.
As Wikipedia relates, “They became mainstays and were among the few performers with the show for its entire run.
The couple, often introduced with the opening bars of Turkey in the Straw, usually performed small-town domestic sketch comedy together, sometimes involving others on the show. Uncle Cyp also performed solo; or with Foley, Bill Ring, announcer Joe Slattery or even Brenda Lee.
“They had one daughter, Bonnie Inez Brasfield, who occasionally appeared in their routines. Rod also once appeared on the show with Cyp in 1957. Boob appeared on other TV programs as well, including The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.”
The couple would continue in varied show business activities until 1963 when they retired for the final time and returned to Texas.
Boob Brasfield was to die of lung cancer in Raymondville on September 9, 1966 at age 68. His widow Neva died March 19, 1980 in Raymondville at 91. The couple were buried next to each other in the Raymondville Cemetery.