The Stan Freberg Show: the tenth show, as things fall apart


This episode of The Stan Freberg Show first aired the 15th of September, 1957. I didn’t notice any references so timely that they needed explanation. It does include a bit of a now quite funny genre of jokes made in the late 50s, riffing on the absurd and surely ephemeral fame of Elvis Presley. It would mutate in the 60s to jokes about those Beatles musicians.

Here’s what happens:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. No pre-show bit this time.
00:52 Introduction. People share their pet gripes about highways. Freberg introduces Henry Cloverleaf, “inventor of the American freeway system”. They clobber him.
02:30 The Freberg Built-It-Yourself Knock-Down Grand Piano. Stan Freberg and June Foray riffing on do-it-yourself projects. I think there’s a seal noise as Freberg empties out the box of parts. Not to be that guy, but if Freberg’s cutting out 88 ivory keys, he only needs to make 87 cuts. The piano’s collapse is one of the natural resolutions of the premise.
07:17 Peggy Taylor singing “Send for Me”. Introduced with some backwards-recorded sound to suggest the collapsed piano coming back together. Also a good reason to have the piano fall apart as the end of the previous sketch.
10:05 Albert T Wong. Talk with a “literary giant”. He writes Chinese fortune cookies. It’s a bit neat to see what read as plausible fortune cookie messages that long ago. Also that the joke about ‘help me, I am being held captive in a Chinese fortune cookie factory’ is at least that old. I was nervous at the start of this sketch, since “Chinese person” and “1950s comedy” are rarely combinations that age well. I think it’s held up, since the sketch’s focus is on giving writing advice as though fortune cookies were the same sort of competitive paying market that, say, magazines or radio programs were. Really the stories about how to be a fortune cookie writer are played so straight the only real joke is the premise, that fortune cookies could be a professional market for writers.
15:38 The Jud Conlan Rhythmaires singing “Just One Of Those Things”. With an introduction of each performer. This I think is the first time they’ve had a second song that wasn’t part of a comic bit.
18:22 Dr Herman Horn returns. (He’d been in the fifth show and in the fourth show.) A third hi-fi presentation. He remains an example of that sort of annoying nerd who can’t concede decent people might not share his particular obsession. And then he gets into riotously soft sounds. And he talks about the sounds of a cheap $5,000 hi-fi system, which is a nice bit of hyperbole. The collapse of the hi-fi system at the end echoes the destruction of the build-it-yourself piano and promises the end of Dr Herman Horn. I haven’t checked to see if that does happen.
26:30 “Sh’Boom”, promised last week, is put off, owing to alleged requests not to do rock-and-roll. So instead here’s a bit of “Heartbreak Hotel”. This was also a Freberg comedy album, although truncated here. The jokes in it are on the same premise as Sh’Boom, about making the song unintelligible so it’s salable. In the full “Heartbreak Hotel” Freberg, as Elvis Presley, tears his jeans; this is a reason in the radio version he says he can’t continue.
28:00 Closing. Freberg answers questions about Elvis Presley.
28:40 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.

Statistics Saturday: Most famous Elvises Before Presley


  1. Saint Elvis of Emly, Ireland (5th Century – 528)
  2. Elvis Jacob Stahr Jr (1916 – 1998), 6th United States Secretary of the Army (1961-62)
  3. Vernon Elvis Presley (1916 – 1979), father

Source: Seeing the Elephant: The Ties that Bind Elephants and Humans, Eric Scigliano.

Railroad Track Villainy Updates


The blog Movies, Silently addressed recently one of those questions you never realize you always wondered about until after you hear it asked: in silent movies, who was the villain who was always tying women to train tracks? Basically, who was Snidely Whiplash a parody of? The answer’s surprising and I don’t wish to spoil it, so I’ll not say.

In another article on the same topic, Movies, Silently points out a curious phenomenon: the “heroine tied to the railroad track” gimmick is much more evident in parody — Mack Sennett films particularly, or in homages or tributes or just jokes about how they used to do things — than in the original record. (Admittedly there’s a problem studying the original record in that so much of it has been lost.) That is, the heroine gets tied to the railroad track because people think they’re riffing on the cliche of heroines getting tied to the railroad track, when the actual source is a lot less … well, visible, at least.

There seems to me a conceptual parallel in something that sounds unrelated: impersonations of Elvis Presley and (since Elvis has faded some, at least in my social circles) William Shatner. You know how they sound in parody; what’s shocking is to go back and listen to an actual Elvis record, or the original Star Trek, and compare to the source. At some point impersonations started doing comic exaggerations of one another, with any reference to the original forgotten, and now there’s this thing that is “a William Shatner impersonation” that hasn’t got anything to do with the source. Of course, since it communicates, and entertains, and amuses, it’s serving some purpose, but it’s still, really, a weird phenomenon.