Senator Claghorn

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Senator Beauregard Claghorn of Charleston, South Carolina, was a popular radio character on the "Allen's Alley" segment of The Fred Allen Show, beginning in 1945. Succeeding the vaguely similar but not nearly as popular Senator Bloat from the earliest "Allen's Alley" routines, Senator Claghorn, portrayed by Allen's announcer, Kenny Delmar, was a blustery Southern politician whose home was usually the first at which Allen would knock. Claghorn would typically answer the door with, "Somebody, ah say, somebody knocked! Claghorn's the name, Senator Claghorn, that is. I'm from the South. Suh."

Claghorn had an unshakable obsession with the South, and would proudly voice his disdain for the North in humorous ways. For instance, the Senator refused to ever wear a "Union suit" or drive through the Lincoln Tunnel when he visited New York City, and he claimed to drink only out of Dixie cups. The Senator even rebuked Allen for saying the word "no" in his presence, saying "N-O.. That's North abbreviated!!"

Some of the Senator's other anti-Northisms included:

  • "When I'm in New York I'll never go to Yankee Stadium!"
  • "I won't even go to see the Giants unless a Southpaw's pitchin'!"
  • "I refuse to watch the Dodgers unless Dixie Walker's playin!"
  • "I won't go into a room unless it's got Southern Exposure!"
  • "When I got the Chicken Pox, they were Southern fried!"
  • "The only plant life I have around my house is a Virginia Creeper!"
  • "Son, bend down and kiss my Jefferson Davis button!"

When Allen was finally able to get a word in edgewise on the Senator, he would ask him a topical question, to which Claghorn would respond with a rapid stream of talk, shouting, repetition and punnery. After a quip, the senator would laugh uproariously, and utter one of his two catchphrases: "That's a joke, son!" or "Pay attention now, boy!"

Claghorn would also make frequent jabs at Allen, using analogies which would astonish the audience in their ability to paint a picture. After a tirade of invective from Allen, Claghorn responded by advising Allen that "Your tongue's waggin' like a blind dog's tail at a meat market." A torrent of laughter from the studio audience followed such exchanges.

Delmar debuted Claghorn on the Allen broadcast of October 5, 1945, and the character stayed through the show's end in 1949, when the series transitioned from "Allen's Alley" to a "Main Street" segment to accommodate Allen's final sponsor, Ford Motor Company. In one episode, Allen asked the Senator what he was doing to remedy his sleep problem; the Senator said he crooned himself to sleep with his southern lullaby, which went thus:

"Rock-A-Bye Small Fry, on the cotton tree top,
when the Southern wind blows, your cradle will rock,
when the wind's from the North, I say, baby you'll bawl,
for down will come cradle, tree and you all!"

In another exchange, Claghorn responded to an inquiry by Allen as to whether Washington had done anything to aid in reducing an epidemic of colds currently afflicting the country. Claghorn responded that "The senate, I say the senate reconvened just in time. I was glad to see Senator Aiken back. Achin' back! That's a joke, son." The reference is to George Aiken, R-Ver., who served in the U.S. Senate from 1941 to 1975. Further discussion regarding cold remedies resulted in this exchange:

Claghorn: I had a cold last week like to ruin my filibuster.
Allen: Ruin your filibuster? Well what did- (chuckling) what did you do?
Claghorn: I took an old Southern remedy, son. I drank down two buckets of hot mint julep.
Allen: (astonished) You drank two buckets of hot mint julep and you still held the floor?
Claghorn: Held the floor?! Son, I couldn't get up off'n it!

Allen's interview with Claghorn generally ended with his bellowing "So long! So long, that is!!" (usually over laughter and applause from the audience)

At the height of popularity, the character was often mentioned or parodied on other programs, especially that of Jack Benny, with fellow Southerner Phil Harris usually playing the part (and Delmar himself guesting in the role on February 12, 1950, months after Allen's show had left the airwaves). The most famous parody, which ironically has outlasted its source in public memory, is the Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes classic animation character, Foghorn Leghorn.

The senator had a life outside of radio, however. Delmar played the character in commercials, in two records (I Love You, That Is and That's a Joke, Son), and a theatrical film. The film, titled It's a Joke, Son! (1947), co-starred Una Merkel as Mrs. Claghorn, and the plot involved the senator running for office against his wife. Delmar even played a thinly veiled version of Claghorn, retitled Senator Hominy Smith, in the Broadway musical Texas Li'l Darlin. Ironically, however, Delmar recalled that after Warner Bros. copyrighted Foghorn Leghorn, he had to ask their permission to play the character elsewhere. In the 1960s, Delmar took his characterization and catchphrases back as the voice of The Hunter, a character on the animated series King Leonardo and his Short Subjects.

Dave Sim adopted the same speech patterns for Elrod the Albino, a character in his independent comic book Cerebus the Aardvark; whether these were derived directly from Claghorn or from the cartoon rooster is unknown.

Sources[edit]

  • Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8