The Weaver Brothers and Elviry were one of vaudeville’s more successful hillbilly acts. The performers were the genuine article. Leon a.k.a.“Abner” Weaver (1885-1962) and Frank a.k.a. “Cicero” Weaver (1891–1967) were born and raised in Ozark, Missouri, near the Arkansas border. June “Elviry” Petrie (1891-1977) was born in Chicago but raised in rural Missouri.
Leon started out playing with A.B. Christy’s Traveling Medicine Show in 1901; Frank joined him shortly thereafter, and the pair worked several medicine shows as a duo called “The R-Can-Saw Travelers” for about a decade. Frank dropped out for a time (1917-1918) to serve in World War One. Petrie married Leon in 1917, although she wouldn’t join the act until 1923. Amazingly, Petrie took turns being married to each brother: she divorced Leon in 1927 and married Frank in 1928.
In 1921, they were booked on the Pantages Circuit. They gradually worked their way up to the big time Keith-Orpheum circuit, toured the U.S. and Europe, and were frequently heard on the radio. They also kept adding family members to the act, from both the Weaver and Petrie families, adding up a large production they called “The Home Folks Show”. The performers exchanged rube humor, country bumpkin puns and wisecracks, swapped stories and played music. Leon (Abner) played guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and musical saw. Frank’s (Cicero’s) character, who was a mute like Harpo Marx, also played saw and various other homemade instruments (often in a one man band configuration), as well as the autoharp, banjo, and handbells. There were skits with costume changes, and the singing of many a traditional country tune such as “Wagon Wheels” or “Down the Oregon Trail”. Elviry was the troublemaker who fueled a lot of the comedy crosstalk. The fast-paced, chaotic combination of comedy bits and music definitely paved the way for Hee Haw. You can read a lovingly preserved transcription of their act in the second half of this article.
In 1938 they were featured in the Warner Brothers movie Swing Your Partner along with Humphrey Bogart, Frank McHugh, Louise Fazenda, Nat Pendleton, Penny Singleton, and a young Ronald Reagan. Their performance scored a hit, and got them booked in a series of their own B movies at Republic Studios with Roy Rogers and others. They appeared in 14 more movies through 1949. The family continued to perform live and on radio (notably KWTO’s “Korn’s a-Crackin” show) throughout the years. There is a nice reminiscence of them by a Missouri native here.
To learn more about the history of vaudeville please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.