60s Popeye: The Medicine Man, not a musical-romance, sorry


We’re back at Paramount again today. The story’s from Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer and direction by Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short The Medicine Man.

Popeye and Olive Oyl sell a “Spinach Health Juice” this cartoon. They do it in the form of the patent medicine show. At least the pop-culture version of the patent medicine show. It’s an interesting choice since, like, was anyone bothering with this sort of show after it became possible to buy radio time instead? But it’s presented as though the audience knows this kind of thing happens all the time.

Something else interesting in the choice. By doing their patent-medicine show they attract the attention, and ire, of Brutus, who’s got his quack doctor business in town. Never mind that it’s odd Popeye and Olive Oyl would be selling a fraud. It’s a spinach potion, so it works. No; it’s that Popeye and Olive Oyl are the ones disrupting the equilibrium. And not from a motive of foiling Brutus’s deviousness. All they’re doing is looking out for themselves.

After that nice, morally ambiguous start, the cartoon settles into more normal things. Brutus sabotages the show, giving Popeye an unstoppable hiccough. If you have unstoppable hiccoughs in a cartoon like this, the cartoon becomes about stopping them. Brutus’s first attempt: jumping beans, of course. Next: dive bombing a plane. It’s not the escalation I’d have expected, and Brutus does complain how it’s a “perfectly good plane gone to waste”. Then have Popeye breathe from a paper bag full of pepper. This gives him hiccoughs and sneezes, an escalation of silly noises. Then a sleeping pill makes Popeye start snoring, for a good silly rhythm. Anyway, some violence, spinach juice, more punching, Brutus flees the scene.

Olive Oyl watching over a poor, sickly Popeye. In the foreground Brutus as a doctor pours sneezing powder into a paper bag.
Also, hey, a cartoon where the action doesn’t all take place in the same plane. That’s always nice to see.

Popeye closes with a couplet, this one promising an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It suggests the writers forgot Popeye and Olive Oyl started out selling patent medicines.

I can’t fault the cartoon for going in the unstoppable-hiccoughs direction. It’s a venerable and funny enough physical problem to have. Jack Mercer’s rhythm in hiccoughing, sneezing, and snoring is funny. But I’m more interested in Popeye and Olive Oyl being the instigators of trouble. It’s an unusual role for them and the story shift means that’s irrelevant. Also more could be done with the Spinach Health Juice since it is a thing that works in-universe. I know that’s possible since the 1932 Betty Boop, M.D. has her selling a potion that does work. (In that cartoon, the potion is just water, but it works anyway. A warning about that cartoon, if you decide to watch: Betty Boop’s potion has a name that’s based on a slur. The cartoon might also inspire feelings of body horror.) As with the plane, it’s a waste of a perfectly good premise.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is Rex Morgan really not doing a pandemic story? March – June 2020


Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.

I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.

While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.

I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

29 March – 21 June 2020

Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.

Nick's Diner, offering 'Zippy Service!' Waitress: 'Hot tea with lemon, as requested. Here's some honey for your tea if you like, might help soothe that sore throat and cough you're fighting.' Truck Tyler: 'Thanks. I sure appreciate it.' Waitress: 'Your eggs and hash browns will be up in just a minute.' Tyler: 'Sounds good. [ Coughs ]' Waitress: 'You don't, though. You really ought to see somebody about that cough.' Tyle: 'You're probably right.' [ He coughs a few more times, and thinks, and looks at 'Buck's card. He said I should call. ] Tyler, on the phone: 'Hey, ol' Buckaroo, yeah --- it's Truck Tyler. Listen, about that Doctor you mentioned?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of April, 2020. The sign promises Zippy Service and Yowaza! Are we having raisin French toast yet?

So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.

This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.

Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.

[ On the phone ] Buck Wise: 'How tight is your budget?' Tyler: 'I could cover one or two hotel nights maybe, but then wouldn't have much left over for gas, food, and phone.' Wise: 'Ordinarily I'd be happy to put you up here, but with the baby now I can't risk getting her sick.' Tyler: 'I'm crossing my fingers nobody's caught this off me already. Last thing I want is to share this! [ Coughing ]' Wise: 'Let me check something and get back to you.' Tyler: 'Sure'. Wise, texting, and thinking: 'Ok, Doug, are you around?' Doug, managing a motel, reads. Wise is asking for a favor for Tyler: 'He's sick and needs to crash for at least a couple weeks. Can you comp hi a room at the hotel?' Doug texts back: 'Anything for Truck. We're never full up these days anyhow ... the only payment I want is to sign a bunch of stuff for my collection.' Wise, thinking: 'Autographs. Always with the autographs.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of May, 2020. I would have let the “Zippy Service” joke pass without mention except then we got the motel guy, who could be either Griffy or that guy in the diner that Zippy’s sometimes talking to and whom the Cast of Characters page tells me is Claude Funston. The fact that seeing some resemblance there delights me so will tell you plenty about my sense of humor or maturity.

Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.

Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.


The 31st of May had the transition page, and Beatty’s explanation about why the comic will not tell a Covid-19 story for now.

Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.

Rex, telling Sarah his story: 'All this will tie in with how I met your mom, just trust me.' Sarah: 'Of course I trust you, I just think you're taking too long to get to the point.' Rex: 'Patience you must have, my young Padawan.' Sarah: 'You're not Yoda, Dad.' Rex: 'Dr Dallis, one of the older physicians at the hospital, became something of a mentor to me.' Sarah: 'Wait, isn't a mentor the half-man half-bull thing in the Hercules stories?' Rex: 'That's a minotaur, and it was Theseus, not Hercules ... and now you're just messing with me.' Sarah: 'Caught me, Dad. I'm listening, though. Keep going.' Rex: 'Anyhow, Dr Dallis --- ' Sarah: 'Whoa! Hold on. Isn't Michael's middle name Dallis?' Rex: 'Yes, named for this doctor I'm *trying* to tell you about.' Sarah: 'OK. Just wanted to be clear on that detail.' Rex: 'Are you sure you want to hear this, or should we just play with the dog for a while?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of June, 2020. Mostly I’m including this panel because I like Terry Beatty’s drawing of a minotaur there. I like Rex and his daughter’s hanging-out banter here, but I understand people who think this is a lot of time spent on nothing.

According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.

And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …

Next Week!

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Choking and Corporate Intrigue, March – May 2018.


Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

4 March – 27 May 2018.

I last checked in with Team Morgan a couple weeks into the start of their new storyline. It was about the Morgans’ babysitter Kelly and her boyfriend Niki. They noticed their friend Justin had taken up this habit of choking every time he tried to eat or drink anything. Justin took this nonchalantly. His friends worried that, y’know, at some point he’s got to eat, right?

Title panel, T-Rex Morgan, M.D. Sarah draws 'Glenwood - One Million Years BC'. Dinosaur versions of her parents come in, roaring 'GRONK' and 'GRAAAAAWK' and such. This is caption-translated. T-Rex: 'Hey, Punkin. We're getting teh boys to bed, Sarah. Can you get your jammies on?' Sarah: 'Sure, Dad.' T-Rex: 'When they're asleep, I'll come back and we can read a chapter of our Oz book, okay?' Sarah: 'Sounds good!' T-Sarah: 'And don't forget to brush your teeth before bedtime.' Sarah: 'Of course, Mom.' T-Sarah: 'We'll be back in a bit.' Sarah: 'Life's a whole lot more fun when you pretend your parents are dinosaurs!'
Terry Beatty’s T-Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of April, 2018. Really, the best April Fool’s prank I saw on the comics page. I’m glad Beatty indulged in a flight of fantasy like this. It’s always fun when a cartoonist stretches artistically. And any excuse to put dinosaurs in one of the story strips is a correctly made excuse.

Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”

So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.

Kelly: 'We're going to see Justin after his surgery today, right?' Niki: 'Yeah. If we're lucky he'll still be groggy and we can catch him on camera saying some stupid stuff.' Kelly: 'You are SUCH a good friend to him, Niki.' Kelly: 'Hey, what are friends for?' [ The day of Justin's Surgery. ] In the hospital room. Rex: 'Are you ready for this, Justin?' Justin: 'As I'll ever be, I guess.' Rex: 'All the tests confirmed my initial diagnosis of achalasia --- and we have the TOP specialist in the country set to do the surgery.' Justin: 'Sounds good.' Justin's Mom: 'I'm still so worried about my little boy.' Rex: 'I understand a parent being nervous about their child having an operation, but there's really nothing to worry about here. The success rate for this surgery is very high, and Justin is otherwise healthy as a horse. He'll be just fine.' Justin's Mom: 'I know, but *still*.' Justin's Dad: 'My Son, the Horse. Get through this Justin, and we'll buy you a big bag of oats.' Justin: 'You crack me up, pop.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of April, 2018. So, like, “the top” specialist in treating acalasia has to be a specific person, right? Do they know they were referenced, albeit anonymously, in Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Beatty give her a heads-up or was it just left as a surprise? And wouldn’t it be a kick if somehow the top specialist in Heller Myotomies didn’t read Rex Morgan, M.D. somehow and had to have this pointed out to her by a friend?

And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.

The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.

(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)

Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.

[ The Harwoods plan for their Las Vegas trip. ] Hank Jr: 'Hey, Pop. Come look at these options for renting a camper. And I need to know how long before Buck's wedding you want to leave on the trip.' Hank Sr: 'Long enough to see the sights along the way and get lost a few times!' [ At the Avery Mansion in Glenwood. ] Michelle: 'You've heard from Heather, Jordan?' Jordan: 'Yeah. Says she's making the trip back as soon as she and the baby get the okay to travel.' Michelle: 'Do you have any idea what Milton's passing will mean to Avery International or your employment here?' Jordan: 'And my free access to this fantastic house?' Michelle: 'Yeah, that too.' Jordan: 'Not a clue, Michelle. I figure I'd better be prepared for anything.' Michelle: 'I had a feeling this was too good to last.' Jordan: 'Wasn't ever meant to be permanent. I figure we're lucky to get whatever time we have here.' Michelle: 'Then let's make the most of it, shall we?' Jordan: 'Y'know, I like how you think.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 6th of May, 2018. I didn’t find space in the main article to write about the housesitters for Heather and Milton Avery, but this strip pretty well explains their plot thread. And is a decent recap of what Milton Avery’s death implies for the storylines too, so, all the better.

Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.

While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.

Next Week!

Oh, you know how much I’m annoyed with Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp right now? Just wait a week and you’re going to see.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? June – September 2017


I am embarrassed to admit this is a story summary done in greater haste than usual. Somehow I’d got in my head that I was due to review Gil Thorp and was thinking about that storyline all week, and then late Saturday actually looked at my schedule. I’ll try to be fairly complete about this anyway. And for those hoping to understand Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., thanks for reading. If it’s much past September 2017 when you read this, the story might have drifted. If I have more recent updates they should be at or near the top of this page.

On my other blog, I have not just the usual roundup of mathematically-themed comic strips but also my finally noticing something shocking about the cast of John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. Please, let me know your opinion on this.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

26 June – 17 September 2017.

My last summary of Rex Morgan, M.D. missed by one week the conclusion of the Kelly-Niki-Holly love triangle plot, when it was revealed Niki didn’t know Kelly was jealous of his time with Holly. Niki needed some advice from her parents on how to cope with a non-heterosexual friend because millennials have so much trouble coping with this stuff than their parents do. That’s all.

The 2nd of July started the new and current storyline, when June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Taylor dropped into town. She bring along her son Johnny, played by Norm Feuti’s Gil, who instantly gets along with Sarah and Michael Morgan. Margie talks about how she’d had to leave town as a teen when her mother died, and how screwed up her life had gotten, and how she’s straightened out enough things that she had the courage to look up June Morgan again.

Rex: 'Is your friend showing up soon?' June: 'Should be here any time now.' (Ding dong!) 'Like I said, any time now!' (At the door.) 'Margie!' 'June!' June: 'It's been ages, but I'd have known you ANYWHERE!' Margie: 'You, too. How could I ever forget my BEST FRIEND?' Toddler: 'Mam?' June: 'OH MY! Who's THIS little sweetheart?' Margie: 'That's my SURPRISE --- my SON, Johnny.' June: 'That's a nice surprise!' Sarah: 'Look, Michael --- Mommy's friend brought someone for you to PLAY with!' June: 'Well, what are we STANDING here for? Come on in!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of July, 2017. By the way, Johnny in the last row there? That’s me at every social event. Except I’ve got a beard, and I somehow put on a shirt and pants that don’t quite match even though you can’t really say just why. And my pants are black half the time. The instructions say that’s supposed to work with anything. I don’t know what’s gone wrong.

So yeah, Margie’s dying. June’s the first to mention it, to Rex, who does enough medicine to agree. It takes a couple weeks of reader time for Margie to open up about it. But she’s got third-stage plot complications and expects them to be imminently fatal. Margie panels the people in Rex and June Morgan’s lives about how good they are as parents and the reports are favorable. “Yeah, there was that weird thing where they let a mob widow muscle the Museum into publishing and buying a zillion copies of her book of horse drawings, and I guess June’s pregnancy did get into the tenth trimester before she gave birth, but they’re basically pretty good eggs,” answered person after person, verbatim.

Rex: 'Kids are asleep?' Margie: 'Michael is. Sarah's in bed reading.' 'The girl DOES love her books.' 'GOSH --- I wonder how she came by THAT.' 'So, your friend is all settled in?' 'Yeah, seems to be. You saw she was sick right away didn't you?' 'Pretty much.' 'Took me a while. But when she went into her purse for her car keys, I couldn't help seeing the PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS she's packing.' 'Opiates?' 'Uh-huh'.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 30th of July, 2017. I realize that this strip and the previous one make it look like Rex has spent this entire storyline staring intently into a book while talking distractedly to his wife, but … uhm … I’m not sure he actually hasn’t.

Margie asks June if she and Rex will adopt Johnny. June, hoping to stall long enough for the writer to change his mind, agrees to consider it if Margie agrees to see some specialists that she and Rex will think up. Margie agrees. While June and Rex take seriously the question of whether to adopt an all-but-certainly-orphaned boy, Margie tells babysitter Kelly that she’s off to run some errands, hugs Johnny, and walks out. She leaves behind a letter to the court asking that the Morgans be named Johnny’s guardian, and a note to not try to find her.

Margie: 'What a nice little park.' June: 'The kids enjoy it. It's one of the things that sold me on this neighborhood.' Margie: 'You've made quite a life for yourself, June.' June: 'I'm sorry things haven't worked out well for you, Margie.' Margie: 'I had Johnny. That's the one good thing. But now ... oh, this is hard to say.' June: 'It's okay, Margie. Take your time. Whatever you need to tell me.' Margie: 'You and Rex know I'm sick, don't you?' 'We could tell, yes.' 'I beat it twice, June --- but this time it looks like three strikes and I'm out.' 'And you're looking for someone to take Johnny when you're gone.' 'There's no family that can take him, on either side.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of August, 2017. This isn’t the important thing, but I like public pavilions with that top panel’s style of brick-clad support pillars. The trash bin lined with vertical wood slats works for me too.

So that’s an exciting development. The police are vague about whether this does count as child abandonment or any other specific crime, which surprises me. I grant the situation’s not common, but it seems like it’s got to be something everyone who does child and family welfare cases has to hear about. I’m also curious what actual real-world case law suggests. My gut says that yeah, it wouldn’t be abandonment to leave a child with someone responsible who’d given you a verbal agreement to an adoption, along with a letter stating your intention to give the child to their custody, and contact information for your attorney (who’s presumably been clearly told the intention). But if I learned anything from watching too much of The People’s Court as a kid, the thing that seems instinctively right is contravened by actual law. (There must be some guide for this for soap opera writers, mustn’t there? So that if they want the story to go in a crazy direction they can do it in ways that don’t sound obviously crazy?)

And that’s where we land in mid-September. I am surprised to have another child airlifted into the Morgan family. For one, in previous months someone else in the comic — I forget who — had mentioned how she wanted a child. It seemed like a solution being set up for a problem. Also having a ready-made new child dropped into their lives feels a little like a return to the gifts-bestowed-on-the-Morgans format that Terry Beatty had drawn back from. There’s important differences, though. Particularly, the Morgans here think early and often about how much responsibility this child is, and how adopting him messes up reasonably made plans. Kids are work, and there’s been no discussion between June and Rex suggesting they’re thinking of how fun a third child could be.

Curious touch: Johnny is mentioned as having been born the same day as June and Rex’s second child, Michael. The adults remarked on the coincidence. It’s a remarkable coincidence. And none at all, of course, since Beatty got to choose when Johnny was born. So I’m left pondering: what is the artistic choice being made in having the adopted child be born the same day as the non-adopted one? It feels meaningful, but I can’t pin down what the meaning is to me. I’m curious if other readers have a similar sense, or thought about what it does mean.

Next Week!

Apparently I’m just that hungry to get back to Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. You’ll join me, won’t you? Thanks.

Cold Comforts


I’ve got a cold. It’s a small one, as these things go. I hesitate to even mention it. Not because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. If I thought people would listen to me I would. But I’ve learned people don’t want to hear where I have actual serious feelings about things, so I’ll keep them to myself. I don’t want to have them either.

The main reason I wouldn’t mention the cold is I have several friends very concerned I haven’t heard the Good News about Zinc. I know they mean well and I appreciate that they mean well. I try to brush them aside by explaining there’s a bad family history with zinc. Great-uncle Chuck got in trouble with the War Production Board in 1944 over allegations he was hoarding toothpaste. This joke always fails. It’s way too specific and incredibly over-researched for how short it is. Only the part about having a great-uncle named Chuck feels even remotely natural. They put zinc in toothpaste tubes back then because oh I don’t know. I have a cold. I’m pretty sure it was zinc. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you when they switched to toothpaste.

It’s just that zinc doesn’t do anything for me, and neither does anything else. All that really helps is to sit up very still hoping that this next time I blink it won’t hurt so much. I exaggerate. If my nose is stopped up, then some nasal spray will clear it out in seconds, which is worse. I don’t know why I do it except for the joy of doing something that definitely has an effect. I will try other cold medicines. But that’s just because I respect the rituals of doing things for a cold rather than because of any effect. The cold medicine industry goes to a great deal of effort putting out foul-tasting white pellets in white bottles inside white boxes. It would be ungrateful of me to ignore all that work.

The only cold medicine that did something besides transfer the ache from my eyelids to my fingernails was something I had while back in Singapore. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m kind of sure the name started with a soft consonant. It got me nice and drowsy right in the middle of Turner Classic Movies Asia showing Tod Browning’s Freaks. I went to bed and woke up eight hours later and turned the TV on and it was nearly back to the same scene I’d left off on. So I credit the M—- or maybe N—– something with making Freaks somehow even more primally unsettling.

Which serves to point out that colds aren’t all bad things. I appreciate some of good of this. For example, my voice is doing that thing where I sound, in my head, much more like Leonard Nimoy in the third season of Star Trek than usual. Combined with the acoustics in the shower and I can really perfectly hit some Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs songs, though I should not. The change in my voice’s timbre also warns me away from ever trying to sing anything that Sting might, including nursery rhymes. But I kind of knew to avoid that anyway. So I can’t credit the cold for that.

Another thing the cold offers: I have a socially acceptable reason to eat anything that I see. I used to have that reason, in that I used to be extremely fat. Society might like telling people they should eat less, but it also accepts that if a fat person feels like eating something they’ve got leave to. How else are they going to stay fat except by one of the 18,640 critical insights about nutrition that humanity doesn’t understand? Anyway, I got thin a couple years ago, and if I actually went and ate everything I felt like stuffing into my face I’d be the subject of scorn. But having a cold, well, everyone remembers you either starve a cold or you feed it. They won’t pick a fight over an aphorism that doesn’t mean anything useful that they aren’t sure they have right.

Still, the cold doesn’t have everything. In particular my throat isn’t doing that thing where breathing in and out makes a little rolling noise like a motor is lurching into action. So I can’t say I really approve of all this.

S J Perelman: The Body Beautiful


[ Among The Best Of S J Perelman is this article about the funny things one can find by scrounging around magazines meant for readerships which don’t include you. That’s always been a method of finding comedy, and Perelman even includes a casual mention here about how much work you might have to do in searching for stuff in order to find something that can be used.
]

Sometimes when I have worked for hours in vain over a difficult problem in Baker Street and my keen hawklike profile is drawn with fatigue, I like to take down my Stradivarius, pile it on the fire and curl up with a cop of Hygeia, the monthly magazine published by the American Medical Association. I don’t necessarily have to read it; all I have to do is curl up with it. In a few minutes my pulse becomes normal, my eyes glaze over, and I am ready to do business with the Sandman. I don’t know much about medicine but I know what I like, If the American Medical Association would only put up this magazine in tablet or powder form nobody would ever pass a white night again. Unlike other soporifics, Hygeia does not affect the heart; I have even read a copy without any ill effects other than a feeling of drowsiness the next day. It fulfills every requirement of the United States Pharmacopeia; it is clean, it is fresh every month, and it is standard strength. From the opening essay on flat feet down to the very last article on diabetic muffins, it is a guaranteed yawn from cover to cover.


The one oasis in this Sahara, however, is a sort of outpatient clinic where the layman is allowed to make a fool of himself in full view of the medical profession. I quote at random (random hell, I had to look through nineteen
copies to find it) a letter headed “Synthetic Saliva” appearing in the Q. and A. department of Hygeia:

“To the Editor:— How could saliva be duplicated? Where could the proper materials be secured to duplicate it or nearly so?— H.C.D., Illinois.

Here is a cry from the heart. Obviously some young Frankenstein has built himself a monster or Golem in his spare time out in the woodshed. With infinite labor and utmost secrecy, using bits of wire, tin, old bones and meat, he has created the perfect robot. Suddenly, on the verge of completion, he stops in sudden panic. He has left out saliva. The monster is beginning to growl ominously; he wants what all the other boys on the street have. But do you think the editors of Hygeia care? They fob off H.C.D. (possibly one of the most brilliant inventors of our time) with a few heavy-duty medical words and sink into a complacent snooze, unmindful that a raging monster with a dry mouth may be loose in the Middle West at this very moment. I don’t like to be an alarmist, fellows, but this is a very short-sighted attitude.

No matter how blase they imagine themselves, hypochondriacs from six to sixty will get a deep and ghoulish satisfaction studying the correspondence which appears each month. Those private maladies you have been pruning and transplanting couldn’t possibly compare with the things that bother Hygeia. readers. The pathetic query of J.I.B., Pennsylvania, will illustrate:

“To the Editor:— Is there any danger of contracting radium poisoning from the use of clocks painted with a radium compound; for instance, in case the clock crystal should be broken and the radium compound chipped
off?”

The editors, who pretend to know everything, reply that there is no danger whatsoever. This is pretty cold comfort to a man who probably glows like a Big Ben every time he enters a dark room. However, he might as well stop barking up the wrong tree; he wouldn’t get a civil answer from Hygeia even if he grew a minute hand and sounded the hour and half-hour with a musical chime.

I would like to think that the case of G.S., Ohio, is also one of hypochondria but it has a more ominous ring:

‘To the Editor:— Can the statements contained in a recent daily newspaper that bobbing the hair will cause girls to grow beards be verified? Or is it just a bit of propaganda?”

If that isn’t a tacit admission that Miss G.S. is sporting a grogan or an imperial around Ohio, I knock under. Even if she only thinks she has a beard, I wouldn’t give her house-room; but that is beside the point, as she has not asked me for house-room. She probably has the whole house to herself anyway. Much more understandable is the plight of the frightened Kansan who writes as follows:

“To the Editor:— My students tell me that surgeons have been able to transplant the stomach from an animal, as a calf or a goat, into man. Is this possible?— N.B.Z., Kansas”

I can sympathize with the poor fellow for I, too, get the same sensation when I drink black velvet. Actually, it only feels as if you had changed stomachs with a goat. One morning I even woke up convinced that I had swallowed a marble the night before. To make it worse, a man named Mr. Coffee-Nerves was standing over my bed in a white Prince Albert, helping me to hate myself. I got up and went right through him to the bathroom where I had a long look at my chest. At first I couldn’t tell whether it was a steelie or a bull’s-eye, but it turned out to be a clear glass agate with a little lamb inside. I managed to dissolve my marble with two aspirins in a glass of hot water. But thank God I’m no hypochondriac; you don’t catch me writing letters to the American Medical Association.

For a refreshing contrast to Hygeia, one turns to a live- wire little monthly called Estes Back to Nature Magazine, published at 1 1 3 North LaBrea Avenue, Hollywood, California. Its editor is Dr. St. Louis Estes, who modestly styles himself “Discoverer of Brain Breathing and Dynamic Breath Controls for Disease Prevention and Life Extension, Father and Founder of the Raw Food Movement, and International Authority on Old Age and Raw Foods.” (There is something to write on a library card when they ask you for your occupation.) Cooked vegetables, spices, and hair tonic are poison, says Dr. Estes, and although I have never tried the combination, I can readily believe it. But the Doctor is constructive, and I know no better answer to the cynicism and bigotry of Hygeia than a menu I found in his magazine. It was labelled “A Dinner Fit for a King” and it still haunts me:

“EGG AND FRUIT SOUP: To one quart of milk and one pint of cream, beat in thoroughly four eggs. Use as a filler cubed pineapple, sweeten to taste with honey. Serve in cups like broth.

“MOCK TURKEY-WHITE MEAT: Into one pound of cottage cheese mix and roll equal amount of raw flaked pecans, peanuts and Jordan almonds until it becomes a thick, solid mass. Season to taste with chopped onions, pimientos, green peppers, adding a dash of powdered celery, sage and horseradish. Serve in slices like white meat.

“MAPLE ICE CREAM: To one pint of whipped cream add one pint of pure maple syrup. Whip until thick. Then add the beaten whites of two eggs and one cupful of chopped nuts. Freeze.”

I froze.

Betty Boop, MD


To continue the theme of a cartoon on a Saturday morning, I have here the 1932 Fleischer Studios cartoon Betty Boop, M.D.. Unlike last week’s A Hunting We Will Go this one isn’t able to structure its “big heap of jokes” into a way that feels quite natural: it looks much more like the animators thought of everything they could do based on Betty Boop, Bimbo, and Koko the Clown selling the snake-oil Jippo, and whatever was best made the cut.

But what it lacks in a narrative structure it makes up for in weirdness. Fleischer Brothers cartoons have a reputation for seeming deranged, with a reputation for psychedelic weirdness. That’s put to good effect here. A succession of characters drink some of the Jippo, and something weird happens, and the weirdness just keeps ratcheting up. Any cartoon studio might think of the joke where an old man drinks Jippo and becomes young, and an infant drinks it and becomes old; but it’s very black-and-white Fleischer to have the guy pouring the Jippo on his peg leg and … well, just see, and if your jaw doesn’t drop at least a couple times you aren’t paying attention to the cartoon. It’s a short which inspires the question, “Wait, what?”

Finley Peter Dunne: Drugs


[ Today I’d like to offer a bit from Finley Peter Dunne’s Mister Dooley Says, and a little bit about medicine. I know that Mister Dooley bits can be challenging to read, but, there’s several lines in here, including the close, that I think are worth the effort required. ]

“What ails ye?” asked Mr. Dooley of Mr. Hennessy, who looked dejected.

“I’m a sick man,” said Mr. Hennessy.

“Since th’ picnic?”

“Now that I come to think iv it, it did begin th’ day afther th’ picnic,” said Mr. Hennessy. “I’ve been to see Dock O’Leary. He give me this an’ these here pills an’ some powdhers besides. An’ d’ye know, though I haven’t taken anny iv thim yet, I feel betther already.”

Continue reading “Finley Peter Dunne: Drugs”