Rufe Davis: Trains Were His Thing

A toot of the train whistle today to country cornpone comedian Rufe Davis (Rufus Davidson, 1908-1974).

The Oklahoma farmboy started out as a member of the Weaver Brothers and Elviry’s large vaudeville act, where he specialized (as he would ever after) in vocal imitations, mimicking musical instruments, animals, train whistles, and other sound effects. He also sang and played guitar. In 1932 he got his own radio show, Rufe Davis and the Radio Rubes where he and his quartet of rubes did comedy sketches and songs. he appeared with the Rubes in his first comedy short, The City’s Slicker (1936). He appears to have parted ways with his group by his next short, Sound Defects (1937), in which he appears with the Frazee Sisters. His third short was Toot Sweet (1937) with Fifi D’Orsay. These were all made for Vitaphone.

Mountain Music (1937) with Bob Burns and Martha Raye was his first feature. Then came This Way Please (1937) with Buddy Rogers, Betty Grable, and Ned Sparks, Blossoms on Broadway (1937), The Big Broadcast of 1938, Doctor Rhythm (1938), and Cocoanut Grove (1938) where he gets to sing two numbers. From here he (very sensibly in his case) went into B movie westerns, where he was the comic relief, sometimes playing a sidekick to Gene Autry. He played the character of Lullaby Joslin in 14 Three Mesquiteeers pictures. Throughout all these years he continued to perform in nightclubs and on radio, and the occasional A picture, such as George White’s Scandals (1945).

Then, the phase Baby Boomers will know best. Davis played the character of Floyd Smoot on Petticoat Junction (1963-70) and Green Acres (1965-67) and did related activities on the side, like making musical records in character with co-star Smiley Burnett. He even recorded a version of “The Little Engine That Could”. Trains were his thing.

To learn more about vaudeville, where Rufe Davis got his start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.