Ten facts 'bout Minnie Pearl on her 100th birthday
For over fifty years she was an integral member of the Grand Ole Opry, and today, Minnie Pearl would have been 100 years old. In honor of the most beloved character in country music this side of Little Jimmy Dickens, here are ten essential facts you should know about the Gossip from Grinder's Switch.
10. Sarah Ophelia
Born Sarah Ophelia Colley on October 25, 1912 in Centerville, Tennessee, "Minnie" was the youngest of five daughters born to a prominent lumber magnate, who lost his fortune during the Depression. She knew early on she wanted to be an actress, and eventually attended Ward-Belmont College (now Belmont U), where she studied theater before embarking on a career as a dancer, dance instructor, producer and director.
9. The Birth of Minnie Pearl
While on the road working as a director for the Atlanta-based Wayne P. Sewell Producing Company, Colley met an elderly mountain woman in Northern Alabama whose country-fied mannerisms and way of speaking inspired the character of "Cousin Minnie Pearl." Colley's first appearance as Minnie was in 1939 at a women's club function in South Carolina, and she was discovered in the fall of 1940 by WSM Nashville executives while performing at a convention in Centerville. She soon made her debut on the Opry, and within the week over three hundred cards, telegrams and letters addressed to "Minnie Pearl" came pouring in from adoring listeners, who over time would come to love her for her self-deprecating, spinster hillbilly humor, her stories about ne'er-do-well kinfolk, and catch phrases like "How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E! I'm jes' so proud to be here!" and "I love you so much it hurts!"
Colley's cheerful hillbilly get-up -- a frilly gingham dress with puffy sleeves, white stockings under Mary Janes and a straw hat decked out in plastic flowers -- was a costume she dreamed up herself, inspired by clothing she picked up for less than $10 one afternoon in a South Carolina thrift store. "I dressed 'Minnie' the way I thought a girl would look who came to town from the country on a Saturday to do a little tradin' and a little flirtin'," Colley would explain.
As for the $1.98 price tag hanging from her hat? The gag got its start when she forgot to remove the tag from the dime-store flowers she put in the hat, and it popped out during an early show; it's said she was embarrassed, but the audience loved the gag so much that it became an essential part of her routine. Colley would later have this to say about that tag: "The price tag on my hat seems to be symbolic of all human frailty. There's old Minnie Pearl standing on stage in her best dress, telling everyone how proud she is to be there and she's forgotten to take the $1.98 price tag off her hat."