Q: When I was in the service many years ago, I remember seeing a show in which a comedian performed a funny little song called “Grandma’s Lye Soap.” Could that have been Andy Griffith?
L.G., of Belleville
A: It’s possible he could have used it as part of his routine, but (and this is only my opinion) I doubt it.
Although the comic tune about the wonders of homemade soap made from lard, lye and water certainly would have fit Griffith’s backwoods style, he did not write it and never released it on any of his comedy albums that I can find. Considering how popular this song was at the time, this leads me to suspect it was someone else you saw — but more on that in a sec.
Griffith did indeed start off doing comedy monologues, hitting the big time with “What It Was, Was Football.” In it, Griffith plays a naive country preacher describing his first football game by talking about convicts refereeing a game involving a “funny-lookin’ punkin” on a small cow pasture. When the six-minute routine was eventually released on Capitol records in 1953, it sold nearly 800,000 copies and helped launch Griffith’s career in TV, stage and film. An illustrated version was even published in the July 1958 issue of Mad magazine (http://madcoversite.com/missing_was.html).
In researching this question, I’ve seen a couple of people say they remembered that Griffith had put “Grandma’s Lye Soap” on the B-side of “Football,” but that’s not true. The original Capitol cover clearly states the flip side is Griffith’s Romeo and Juliet routine, which he also included on future albums.
Instead, I suggest you might have seen Johnny Standley, another backwoods-style comedian from Oklahoma City who, in about 1952, recorded a six-minute comedy routine called “It’s in the Book.” The A-side of this 45 was Standley’s riff on Little Bo Peep and her lost sheep. Then, when you flip the record, he sings “Grandma’s Lye Soap”: “Little Therman and Brother Herman had an aversion to washing their ears. Grandma scrubbed them with her lye soap, and they haven’t heard a word in years! Oh, let us sing right out, sing out! For Grandma’s Lye Soap ...”
The recording, backed by Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights, sold at least 2 million copies, which may (or may not) be more evidence why Griffith would have relied on his own work rather than using someone else’s best-seller while he was making a name for himself. In any case, you might want to see if this YouTube video brings back any memories at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdaeQLCTa6g.
Who was the youngest guest Johnny Carson ever interviewed?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Like ’em or hate ’em, Belleville News-Democrat readers occasionally find a single broadsheet (page) ad wrapped around a couple of sections of their daily newspaper. Well, there’s a name for these: For reasons I have yet to uncover, they’re called spadea (or spadia), and it may date back to about 2007 when the New York Times ran its first spadea ad campaign.