And yet I just hours ago referred to something “going like gangbusters”, an allusion to the loud radio drama that aired as recently as when Sputnik 2 was in orbit. Yes, I consider myself in touch with modern society, why wouldn’t I?
The old-time-radio podcast I listen to most often summoned an episode of Art Linklater’s People Are Funny from the misty depths. If you only know the show from spoofs in cartoons where a beloved character gets challenged to do something daft like footrace Daffy Duck around the world, let me explain: the cartoons are basically correct.
So this episode had a guy who’d win a hundred dollars in prizes if he managed to go up to strangers and give away every one of this bag of frogs. They offered a story he could give as to why he was doing this — he’d caught too many frogs — and drove him to a neighborhood for it. And, just, wow. I mean, I would give Art Linklater a hundred dollars in prizes to not have to go up to strangers and offer them frogs. And that’s in 1952 dollars, when a hundred bucks was enough to buy a car, a house, and controlling interest in the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. I don’t know how this show ran for a billion years in the 40s and 50s.
I come to this by way of Donnie Pitchford, cartoonist behind the Lum and Abner comic strip, and occasional Dick Tracy contributor. Pine Ridge, Arkansas — specifically, the Dick Huddleston Store and the Lum and Abner Museum — is up for sale. As you might infer, the place is dedicated to the long-running serial radio-comedy show by Chester Lauck and Norris Goff. Lauck and Goff based the characters on their show on people they knew in Waters, Arkansas, a town which changed its name to the Pine Ridge that it inspired. This includes the Dick Huddleston named in the store.
The buildings date to 1904 and 1912, the only pre-1920 buildings remaining in the town. They’re on the United States National Register of Historic Places. It’s been a museum dedicated to the show since the 1970s. The real estate listing offers the buildings and surrounding area — “24+ acres” — and even the 1950s fire truck I didn’t know about. They’re asking $777,000. (The real estate listing also lists 1909 as the year of construction. I’ve learned year-built data can be weirdly unreliable.) I have no information about why it’s gone up for sale, or why now. If I learn anything, I’ll share it.
And for those curious now what Lum and Abner is all about? You may have a delight waiting for you. It was a longrunning, 15-minute serial comedy. Mostly Lauck and Goff talking to one another, doing all the voices for the cast of amiable, eccentric characters in town. The title characters are a fun pair, proprietors of the Jot ‘Em Down Store. Their adventures are driven by their complete lack of guile and ability to imagine anyone else has it. As old-time-radio shows go it’s pretty well-preserved, as something like a third of all known broadcasts survive. For the era this is excellent and that’s still something like 1600 episodes.
I recommend it as pleasant, gentle listening, and also a good way to understand the charms of this kind of serial comedy. (There’s also a 1948 half-hour non-serial version that’s, um, for completionists. There are also some movies, that sometimes crop up on Turner Classic Movies, that are about as good as any old-time-radio movie.) I’m surprised that I appear never to have written specifically about the show, or introduced any representative episodes. Might have to fix that.
And now let me conclude one of my most giddy, silly Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fictions. As mentioned last week, this started as an advertisement in a 1930s issue of Modern Mechanix. Seems like one of those things that might have been legitimate enough, if you wanted to spend your time and energy making and selling potato chips. I’m going to guess this isn’t how the Better Made chip empire was born, though.
The closing sketch is a riff on the old-time-radio series Lum and Abner, for not much reason besides I like the show. I was getting into it when I wrote this MiSTing originally. (It’s a great example of the 15-minute serial comedy.) And it would not be absurd if Lum and Abner — about two completely guileless Arkansas shopkeepers, often trying some scheme to get some extra money — had a story where they tried to get rich making potato chips.
The end of the sketch has Tom Servo announcing a replacement for Web Site Number Nine. This was a project I was doing back then, to learn PHP and database stuff that might get me a job and also serve the community. I never got happy with the finished project, but I use some of the scripts for that even today, to do all the nice formatting on these MiSTings that give the quoted text a light blue background and that highlights Mike and Joel and Crow and Tom Servo’s names. So if you know someone who’d be willing to pay me, oh let’s say $65,000 pa for that coloring scheme, let me know, okay? Thanks.
The “used Sklar” references the Sklar Brothers, whose Cheap Seats show on ESPN Classic(?) in the early 2000s scratched many of our Mystery Science Theater 3000 itches. But with more sports and spelling bees. I don’t remember whether the blogger gotten for trading Tom Servo meant anyone in particular or just a comment on how, hey, bloggers, they’re always making fun of stuff that doesn’t need it, right?
> BIG PROFITS
MIKE: No, bigger!
TOM: It’s a wild profiteeria!
> The profits in this business are enormous.
CROW: [ Amused ] They’re potato-y chip-tacular!
> You can
> take $11.50 in raw material
TOM: [ Announcing ] Any raw material! Have some bauxite? Make potato chips with that!
> — run it through the machine
CROW: [ Feebly ] We, ah, we’re still working on this part but it’s going to be great!
> and take out enough chips to bring you $35 cash
MIKE: [ Amused ] Cash or potato chips!
> — selling at
> wholesale. A clear profit for your time of $23.50.
CROW: Why, that’s nearly twenty-four dollars!
MIKE: You can almost buy Manhattan on that potato chip fortune!
> And that’s
> one day’s output for the machine.
CROW: [ Humoring this ] Why, in two days you could make a profit of $47!
> At this rate it is possible
> for a man and wife working together to make $135.00 a week.
TOM: [ Humoring ] Hey, that’s a whole twenty-*seven* dollars a day!
MIKE: [ As the announcer ] The money is just pouring in! And it’s just potatoes and bauxite!
> And now the complete plant — with my new machine —
CROW: I call it … the POTATO machine!
MIKE: It’s amazingly fantastic and chip-based!
> can be
> put into your kitchen or basement
TOM: Or toss it immediately on the pile for the garage sale.
> for less than the down
> payment on a cheap car.
MIKE: Far less than the payment for a whole car company!
> SEND POSTAL FOR FREE INFORMATION
CROW: [ Announcing ] Mail anything to anything else!
MIKE: [ Likewise ] Just mail something! You’ll get valuable free information!
TOM: [ Likewise ] And if you meet a Postal then send it!
> Send your name and address today on a postal card.
MIKE: [ Announcing ] Include a sample of your favorite potato chip!
> I’ll send you pictures
> and information free showing exactly how
> you can start at home and make money the first day.
CROW: Full explanations of what a potato is!
TOM: Clear diagrams show what parts are the skin!
MIKE: Helpful “Frequently Asked Questions” show how to identify a potato in under twenty minutes a day!
> information is Free.
TOM: We make our money selling potato chip toner!
> No obligation.
MIKE: Just your friends and family rolling their eyes and talking to you through clenched teeth!
> O. K. MILLER,
TOM: Didn’t he have a series on Mutual Broadcasting?
> 325 W. Huron St.,
CROW: Here on Huron?
TOM: Huron chips!
> Dept. 406 Chicago,
MIKE: Chicago! Potato chip by the Lake!
CROW: 406 potato chips by the Lake!
TOM: Time to blow this popsicle stand.
[ 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … 6 … ]
[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. CROW and MIKE are behind the desk, with General Store-type toy junk scattered haphazardly. From one plastic barrel MIKE takes and eats a potato chip. ]
MIKE: [ With an Arkansan accent, kept until the note later on ] Well, if this weren’t one of the most underwhelmed p’tato chips I ever did see.
CROW: [ Similar accent, also kept until the note ] I doggies, Lum, I knowed it, but what are we s’pposed to do ‘gainst the Squire’s p’tato chip monopoly?
MIKE: [ As a jingling bell rings ] Hold on there, that’s a stranger come into our store, ain’t it?
[ TOM, with a bouquet of potato chips in his bubble, enters; he speaks normally but ebulliently. ]
TOM: Gentlemen! Could I interest you in as many potato chips as I have bauxite to make and pass the savings on to you? Please try a sample — my bubble is perfectly hygienic!
[ MIKE samples a chip. ]
MIKE: By gum — this here ‘tato chip tastes like more than p’tatoes!
CROW: Now, that’s plum silly, how can that happen?
MIKE: [ Giving CROW a chip ] But it’s got itself a tasting like they was sour cream and chives in it! Chives!
TOM: Yes! I bring you chives! And at under twenty-three dollars!
CROW: [ Finishing nibbling ] Why if it weren’t the most amazing thing I ever did see! What a future we got ourselves to live in!
TOM: And we are near a breakthrough on dip!
MIKE: [ Folding his hands together, and, bowing — with this, MIKE and CROW give up the accents and resume speaking normally ] And … scene. [ Eating another chip from TOM ] Thank you, gentlemen. Now, Tom, you had a special announcement, didn’t you?
TOM: Why, yes. Our potato chip bit is all in fun —
CROW: [ Muttering to himself ] Potato chip bite.
TOM: *Thank* you, Crow. But for Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fictions or MiSTings, whichever comes first, plus MiSTing quotes yanked out of all context, why not try the shiny new web site
TOM: Thank you, won’t you?
CROW: And what about the Dibs List for future MiSTing authors?
TOM: [ Looking at CROW ] You can’t just let me have my moment, can you? For shame, Crow, for shame.
[ TOM exits, sulking. ]
MIKE: Right, ah, what do you think, sirs?
[ DEEP 13. DR FORRESTER and TV’s FRANK are piling up open baskets of potato chips. TV’s FRANK eats one. ]
FRANK: Dip? Dip?! Why, we’ve almost solved the problem of cheddar cheese potato chips! Get out of here with your dip!
DR F: As the henchling says, gentlemen. Why, at 23 dollars and 50 cents we’ll be rolling in crispy, fried money by tomorrow.
FRANK: Oh, and I’m going to trade Crow for a used Sklar.
[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. CROW is riled up; MIKE is eating potato chips. ]
CROW: What? Me? What for? Which Sklar?
[ DEEP 13. As before. ]
FRANK: Who knows? Besides, I’m getting a blogger for trading Tom. Hey, Steve, shall I push the button?
DR F: No, Frank, you should push the button.
FRANK: Oh, OK, I’ll do that instea — huh?
| \ | / \ | / \|/ -----O----- /|\ / | \ / | \ |
Mystery Science Theater 3000, its characters and situations and everything are the property of Best Brains, Inc, and don’t think anyone is challenging that at all. O K Miller’s advertisement copy is used for non-commercial parody and commentary purposes so don’t get the idea any infringement-like things are meant. I’m curious how the machine worked. No defamation of the Squire was intended.
Rotisserie League sports have that name because of a group of Philadelphia Phillies fans in early 1980 who gathered at Manhattan’s Rotisserie Francaise restaurant on East 52nd Street for fantasy league meetings. Special thanks for the “tragedy … and party snacks” line as well as to my beta testers.
Keep circulating the posts.
> START YOU in a Profitable Potato Chip Business At Home
[ The End ]
In the strip, as I write this, someone’s making a movie in Gasoline Alley. I trust it’ll involve the characters of the venerable comic strip. Still, it raises the question: wait, did they never make a Gasoline Alley movie? Like, back in the 40s or 50s when every comic strip turned into a movie? Indeed, they did, with two movies in 1951: Gasoline Alley and Corky of Gasoline Alley.
There were also a couple of radio versions of Gasoline Alley. The 1941 NBC version, according to John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, was a daily serial that adapted that day’s newspaper comic. I know they only had to fill ten minutes of airtime, and that comics were more densely written those days. I still can’t imagine how you pad one day’s comic out to that much time. I can’t find any recordings of the 1941 run, though, and wonder whether it’s unavailable or whether it’s held by collectors who haven’t put it on the free-download sources.
So this should catch you up to the end of 2021 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after April 2022, or if any news about the comic breaks, I should have an update here. And on my other blog, I’ve been sharing some older writing, while I get the energy to finish last year’s little glossary project. You might enjoy it also.
10 October – 31 December 2021.
The Gasoline Alley forest rangers wanted to hold a Halloween party, last I checked in. The young, bear-befriending Aubee and Boog suggested the Emmons house, vacant since the widow Sarah Emmons died. It’s a fine, haunted-looking place, their mother Hoogy Skinner agrees. But she’s barely seen the spot when real estate agent Kim Luna arrives with the news it’s been sold, sight unseen. But the new owner doesn’t mind if the locals have a party as long as they don’t damage the place.
It’s a successful enough party to attract Snuffy Smith. Also Bearlee and Uncle Bearnaise, the wild bears that Aubee and Boog were hanging out with last plot recap. They give Aubee, who’s herself dressed as a bear, tips on how to act more authentic. The bears win the costume contest, because Jim Scancarelli likes writing that sort of gentle fantastic American Cornball plot.
Then, from the 9th of November, a second American Cornball plot intrudes. This one involves counterfeiters, who’d been using the place to store their product. I know what you’re thinking: oh, they’re the buyers of the house, right? But then why would they have allowed a party there? They’re not the buyers. They were just using the abandoned house. They never expected the place to get sold, nor that there would be a party there. If they had they’d have pretended to haunt the place or something. Still, they’ve locked up everything incriminating, so I’m not sure what they’re there to do. I guess they wanted the free food.
And then one of the kids opens the locked door with everything behind. The counterfeiters fake having guns, by draping handkerchiefs over food. The partygoers think it’s a performance, and slowly realize it’s not. The cops show up fast enough, thanks to Boog calling them. The counterfeiters try to flee, but slip and fall on the broken beads of Ava Luna’s necklace. (She’s the daughter of the real estate agent.) And so all ends happily. Not for the counterfeiters, sent to jail. But Sophie and Ava Luna get rewards. And the party is the hit of the forest rangers’ families’ Halloweens.
On the 6th of December started the annual magic encounter with Santa. It sure reads like it’s the same night of the Halloween party. But Aubee, Sophie, and Ava agree it’d be great to visit Santa Claus. Ava even knows how to get there: she’s got a magic hat and doll.
So you’re either in for this sort of light silliness, or you hate-read Gasoline Alley. I hope you walk a path chosen wisely. The kids blip up to Santa’s Workshop and meet Bunky the Elf, keeper of the list of good and bad kids. They meet the reindeer and see the sleigh’s loading dock. And even get to meet Santa Claus, who asks them to tell their parents that Santa still loves them. Again, you’re either in for this sort of thing, or you hate-read Gasoline Alley. (I don’t hate-read the strip.) Mrs Claus gives them cookies right before Ava wishes them all back home, where they wake up in bed with a tale their parents won’t believe. But also cookies, and where did they come from? Huh?
The 27th of December starts the new and current story, about a movie getting made in Gasoline Alley. It’s too soon to say where this is going.
Zebra mussels, bees, skulduggery, and NFTs! What else could it be but Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, recapped, if all goes well? See you then. And until then, if you see something in nature? Please try not to mess it up. Thank you.
In The Shade Of The Old Apple Sauce misses out on my eye by virtue of being a lost cartoon. So here we move on to Mask-A-Raid. It’s a catchy cartoon, centered on a song that’s pretty fun if you cut out the racist verses. The Fleischers did that, but did also leave some stereotype images in the cartoon. I discussed that in my original essay, reprinted below.
So the next Talkartoon in release order, from the 16th of October, 1931, was In The Shade Of The Old Apple Sauce. Wikipedia tells me it’s a lost cartoon. Certainly I never found it. Wikipedia also says it’s “not to be confused with the Screen Songs from 1929 of the same name”. There was no such 1929 Screen Songs cartoon. They’re thinking of In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree, based on the 1905 song. Shifting the name to “Apple Sauce” just shows how hep the staff of Fleischer Studios was around 1931; apple-based stuff was a slangy way to talk about something being nonsense back then. So that’s why really old cartoons will talk about something being “apple sauce” or someone being an “apple knocker” or something like that. And now, someone who’s a fan of the old-time radio comedy-detective show Richard Diamond understands why that time Richard takes on an assumed identity as “Harold Appleknocker” all the other characters react as if this were a joke the audience was supposed to understand. It would just be weirdly dated, like if a comic detective today gave her name as Allison Supertrain.
But there’s no seeing that cartoon. So I move on to the next, from the 7th of November is Mask-A-Raid. There’s no credits to say who the animators were.
Before getting there, though, I have to share a content warning. At the center of the cartoon is the song Where Do You Work-A John, also known as the Delaware Lackawanna Song. It was a novelty hit, five years old at the time, and written by Mortimer Weinberg, Charley Marks and Harry Warren. Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians made it a canonical hit, but Harry Reser and other bandleaders covered it too. Thing is it’s written with the sort of lighthearted stereotyping that was fine back in the days when big city police could start their investigation into the bomb set off in the business district by just looking up who they could think of who was Italian.
The verses used in the cartoon don’t get to the really troublesome ones, but there’s still a bit of an edge there. And there’s masquerade masks that get the stereotyping more on point, with Italian and, for whatever reason, Chinese faces. It doesn’t read to me as malicious, just absurd, but I don’t want to toss surprises up at you.
The short starts with an interesting title: it’s Betty Boop in Mask-A-Raid with Bimbo. It’s not surprising to us today that Betty Boop would have taken first billing, and is sending Bimbo down to guest-star status. But what was going on in 1931 that they saw this coming? Betty Boop’s turned up more and more, yes, but it’s hard to see what she’s done that’s more interesting than Bimbo has.
I mentioned with Minding The Baby that Betty Boop cartoons develop a stock plot. This one draws closer to it: Betty and Bimbo play a while, a big bad interrupts their fun, and then Bimbo has to rally into action. There isn’t the kidnapping and chase to this; it’s just a duel between Bimbo and the King (and his men). But it’s still early in the series.
There’s a lot of this cartoon I don’t get. Not the plot. It’s straightforward and silly and while there’s nonsense to it, there’s not crazy, surreal bits. What I don’t get is there’s a lot that seems like it’s got to be a reference to something. Take the droopy-faced, huge-nosed mask at about 2:20 in. That’s got to be a Chico Marx caricature, right? It seems to make sense, although I don’t think of him as having so large a nose that making it something you have to carry by wheelbarrow a sensible caricature. But if it’s spoofing someone else? … Okay, who? I feel like I should be more sure here. At the end of the short Bimbo goes into a little scat-singing reverie, and that makes sense so far as anything does in the short. But is Bimbo impersonating anybody particular? The body language feels like it to me. His hair grows out. Just a joke that he’s a singer now? But I had understood long hair, back then, to signify classical music fanatics. My best guess is Bimbo’s impersonating one of the band’s singers. I don’t know who that would be, though. I think the music was done by Harry Reser and whatever he called his band in 1931. But what do my ears know?
I’m not sure whether this is a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. But there is a lot going on in Bimbo’s first scene, when he’s the bandleader and a bunch of smaller animals are playing the hippopotamus. There’s a lot going on there and if you notice, say, the suspiciously-Mickey-like mouse playing his toes like a xylophone you maybe missed the dog(?) drumming on the hippo’s head. It’s also easy to miss how the suspicious mice who carry Betty’s cape come to riding on her cape. But that’s also less funny, at least to me. (And there’s more mice in the big scrum around 4:55.) Maybe the guy who tosses peanuts into the trunk of the elephant blowing a fanfare at about 4:25. That’s not a lot of joke, but I don’t remember ever noticing it in twenty years of watching this cartoon. As for body horror, well, there’s not a strong candidate. The gag where two knight’s swords go into each other at about 5:10 creeps me out for reasons I can’t explain, so I’ll go with that.
A major part of the story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a radio signal from 1952 being and heard on someone’s colander. Could this happen? Well, no, of course not.
The thing that isn’t obviously impossible is the radio reception. A crystal set radio needs no battery or electricity. It uses the energy of the radio signal it detects to drive the speaker. It needs only a few components, many of them ones you could make yourself in 1920. Building a crystal set radio is a great way to learn electronics. After a few minutes’ work, you can set about hours, days, whole months of trying to get the stupid thing to work. It never will. But for purposes of a comic story? All right, let it happen.
A radio signal from 1952 bouncing back to Earth and getting stuck in a communications satellite? Yeah, that’s nonsense. It would be less bad if the signal were broadcast from some station that has an old-time-radio night. I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli didn’t go for that instead. It could encourage people to look for broadcasters who bring up old recorded stuff.
This should catch you up on Gasoline Alley for mid-July 2021. If you’re reading this after about October 2021, or if any news about the comic breaks out, an essay here may be more useful. Thanks for reading.
26 April – 18 July 2021.
My last check-in came after Walt Wallet dreamed about some moments in his life with Skeezix. That’s the story I suposed to be how the strip commemorated the centennial of Skeezix’s introduction and the comic strip’s change. The strip then sent Gertie, Walt’s caretaker, to the store again, for more eggs. This seems like a lot of egg consumption. But that’s if you assume the strip from Monday, the 18th of April, takes place right after that of the Saturday before. We’re trained to expect that unless a comic says there’s a time gap something happens right after what came before. The story makes more sense if we’re looking at a week, or even a month, later.
At the store again, Gertie runs into Mim and Tim, the couple whom she helped cute-meet back in February, our time. Mim and Tim got along great, turns out, and now they’re married. You see why I say this has got to me later than “the next day”. As it is, Gertie sets off their first argument, over whether “cackleberries” is a clever joke name for eggs. I understand there’s whirlwind romances. I still say Mim and Tim should have dated a little longer.
On her way out Gertie runs in to Rufus and Joel, as they run into her car. Rufus and Joel are the most 50s/60s-sitcommy characters in Gasoline Alley. Their stories tend to be deep in the American Cornball style. So if you don’t like that, bail out of any and all Rufus-and-Joel stories. You will not have fun.
If they are for you, then what you got the last two months was Joel hearing mysterious voices. “Astro on the Polaris, calling Earth! Come in!” And when Earth does not come in, Cadet Roger Manning tries to get Earth on the radio. Anyone with old-time-radio credentials recognizes this: it’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet series. I’m assuming this the radio series, as Jim Scancarelli is a major fan of old-time-radio. (I’m aware it was a TV show first. And last, as the radio program ran less than a year. The clip gets identified as from the radio series, on what grounds I do not know.) The important thing is Joel doesn’t recognize it, and neither does anyone else until the end of the story.
Since there’s a racket, Joel goes off to Rufus’s house to sleep. And keep Rufus awake, since Joel snores like I snore. In the morning, the strange sound is still going. Rufus can hear it too. It’s not the radio, since Joel doesn’t have one. So, aliens it is, then.
The press is hardly going to ignore a good flying-saucer story. Reporters from the Gasette newspaper show up. So does Polly Ballew, of Gasoline Alley Television. Polly’s so excited by the story she doesn’t even mention being the sister of Wally Ballew of Bob and Ray’s old-time-radio show. (This might be because Bob and Ray had a running spoof of Tom Corbett. This was the Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate series. Too close a mention might spoil people’s suspension of disbelief. Except I’d think anyone who would spot that link would be going along with Scancarelli on this, so who knows?) But she also confirms the strange noises are coming from the kitchen colander.
Drawn by Polly Ballew’s live reporting, three members of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies show up. Cosmos Quasar, Dr Lana Luna, and Andrew Andromeda are happy to study this apparent alien transmission. With scientific investigators on the scene, Polly leaves. But their verdict: It’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet radio series. They recognize “Cadet Roger Manning of the Astro”. Their explanation: last week a communications satellite went off-course. A fragment of ancient radio got stuck in its circuits, and by freak coincidence is getting sent right to his kitchen colander. They recognized the names.
The story’s punch line, fitting to a cornball 50s/60s sitcom, is the departure of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies trio. Scotty beams them up.
This would seem to end the Rufus-and-Joel story in time for this essay. Monday’s strip still had the characters talking about it. But the transition to a new story sometimes does happen mid-week. Often the protagonist for one story sees the protagonist for the next. Who that will be, and what they’ll do, I have no way to know except wait.
On the one hand, renowned nature guy Mark Trail! On the other, renowned pop science guy Bee Sharp! The stakes: an app about whether the air is healthy for pets. It should all come together in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, discussed next week, if all goes well.
We’re back on Paramount Cartoon Studios territory here. Oil’s Well That Ends Well, from 1961, is credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer for the story and Seymour Kneitel for direction.
My favorite old-time-radio podcast last week ran an episode of The Saint, starring the beloved Vincent Price as Leslie Charteris’s beloved-I’m-told rogue adventurer. It was some stuff about a silver mine that the assayer was very clear was worthless. Well, turns out, it’s worthless if you don’t count the cinnabar (mercury) deposits. Was the assayer in on the scheme? Or was he somehow unaware that cinnabar was a thing also mined? The plot’s wrapping-up here’s-why-stuff-happened scene never explained.
So this is a cartoon about Brutus selling Olive Oyl a fake oil well. Except the punch line is that it’s a gusher. Brutus told us the viewers that the oil field had been dry for fifty years. That seems like a big mistake for whoever owned the field to make. This can all probably be rationalized but it says something that I’m wondering about it. What it says is there were reasons they treated me like that in middle school. These are not reasonable responses to the cartoon.
The story’s all reasonable enough. Olive Oyl wins $10,000 on the Get Rich Quick show. Brutus, watching at home, needs a good honest swindle to get that money. This cartoon it feels like Brutus doesn’t know Olive Oyl, but then why does he bother shaving to put on the persona of Sumner J Farnsworth? But if he does know Olive Oyl why is there never a moment of shocked recognition? Well, there’s a nice joke where Brutus discards the shell game as “not too good” and armed robbery as “too dishonest”. He settles on oil stocks which he thought were worthless. Which leaves another nagging thought for me: did Brutus legitimately own the oil field? Or did he buy worthless stocks from someone else? Or did he just figure the time he’d spent making fake oil stocks was wasted but never got around to throwing them out?
Brutus rigs up some oil to spurt on command; salting mines is a respectable enough way to pull off this kind of scam. But Olive Oyl also says she can go pick out any oil well she wants. How’d she pick the right one? This isn’t a plot hole, though; it’s reasonable to suppose Brutus is nudging her to the one he’d prepared. Forcing (in the stage magician’s sense) a choice is a skill of the con artist. I’m intrigued that this is something that would be taken without question, by a naive enough viewer. Then doubted as implausibly by a more skeptical viewer. And then accepted as self-explanatory by a sophisticated enough viewer. There’s some lesson about how people engage with their stories in there.
Brutus runs his car over Popeye, twice. It’s a startling moment and I can’t say why. Maybe it lacks the absurdity of most Popeye-versus-Brutus violence.
After Popeye punches Brutus into the oil well it starts gushing again. Assuming Olive Oyl’s title is good and the oil doesn’t run out in ten minutes that’s great for her. She showers Popeye with a flurry of kisses drawn from the 1954 Fright to the Finish. Why have stock footage if you’re not using it?
While pitching Olive Oyl on the oil well Brutus talks about doubling, tripling, even quadripling he “mazuma”, a reminder of the 20th century’s many odd slang terms for money. Which comes back around to Jackson Beck, voice of Bluto/Brutus/etc. When the voice actor’s friend Alfred Bester wrote The Demolished Man he named one of the cops Jackson Beck. Part of the typographical chic of the novel was using, for example @ as shorthand for ‘at’, so ‘Sam Atkins’ was rendered as ‘Sam @kins’. When the story first appeared, Bester tried writing the name as $$son Beck, trusting that readers would connect $$ to “money” to “jack”. They did not. The spelling of Jackson was normalized in subsequent editions.
Among my weekly listening is the Radio Entertainment Network’s podcast. It picks an hour of old-time radio each week. The episode for the 21st of September had two half-hour episodes. The first of these is Columbia Presents Corwin, a 1945 sustaining series in which Norman Corwin got the chance to be all weird, in case that advanced the state of the art of radio programming.
This installment, “The Undecided Molecule”, was a comic rhyming court battle over what Molecule X shall do. It’s also got a heck of a cast: Groucho Marx as the judge, Robert Benchley as the interpreter for Molecule X. Vincent Price. Keenan Wynn. Also Sylvia Sidney, who had mostly dramatic roles in her career. It’s a heck of a comic lineup, though.
It’s the only time I can remember to have Robert Benchley and Groucho Marx trading lines. I can’t say it’s the only one, since there were a lot of radio shows like Command Performance that would toss together improbable sets of actors. But, like, Robert Benchley’s default screen persona is “ordinary guy overwhelmed by the mundane”. That’s not the sort of pomposity or self-absorption that Groucho Marx is needed to deflate. And it’s really hard to think of a reason for Vincent Price to act against either of those types. I’m impressed the thing comes together at all.
A quick content warning: there is a reference in here — I lost just where — to current events of summer 1945. It’s a reference to having beaten the “Hun” and going to beat a short way of referring to Japanese people. I’ve clearly decided that isn’t a gross enough problem to outweigh the value of hearing the episode, but did not want people who’d reason otherwise to be caught unaware.
The second show in this podcast, starting about 30 minutes in like you’d hope, is an installment of Arch Oboler’s Lights Out. This was a horror series, often dipping into the supernatural. This particular episode is about two typists who’re handling the script for Lights Out when things get unsettling. (If I’m reading things right, the script they’re typing up seems to be for the episode “The Dark”, about a strange fog that turns people inside-out. It got riffed on a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons.) Whether the episode works for you at all probably depends on whether you can accept the acting conventions. Old-time-radio acting used a different theatrical style than we do today. And the characters have to tell each other things that they really should just see, like, lights going out. And, particularly, Arch Oboler had a wry humor, so there may be stuff you think is just laughable and not realize that he did too.
If you’re of a sufficient age you might remember listening to Bill Cosby routines without trouble. Also particularly listening to a Bill Cosby routine in which he tells of staying up to listen to a radio story that scares the pants off him. In the episode a chicken heart escapes from a lab and one thing leads to another and it kinda eats the world. This is a retelling of a different Lights Out episode. (And an episode only known to exist in a truncated, edited form, so Cosby’s telling is valuable for describing what the experience was like.) So, if you can find the right mood, you might really like this series. You’ll also see that this, one of the first horror series, taught Rod Serling a bunch of tricks.
I know people reading this may think I’m always writing about me getting a cold. I have reasons for this. I don’t know anything about your getting a cold. I’m sorry; I should ask about your health more. How are you? Do you have one health, reasonably sized? If you don’t have a health of your own, it’s fine to get something store-bought. We all want one that’s bespoke, but really, off-the-shelf is fine. Anyway please fill in any small gaps in our conversation with how your cold is going.
Anyway I talk about my getting colds because health-wise, there’s not much else I have going on. Other than the occasional cold my health is pretty good. The only thing I have going on that doesn’t really work for me is my knees. I’m already at the point in life I have to plan out how often I’m going to kneel down, and what for, in the coming week.
It’s hard to say just why my knees are so bad. A leading candidate is that I used to be really quite obese. Until I was 39 I moved mostly by plate tectonics. My two brothers once went three years without seeing each other just because I happened to be standing in the way. And I know what you old-time-radio fans are thinking: that I just stole one of Jack Benny’s jokes about Don Wilson there. I did not. That joke came loose and fell into my gravitational well all on its own.
Anyway, I lost all that weight. Well, I “lost” all that weight; I know just where I put it. (It’s in the walls of my parents’ old house; don’t tell the new buyers!) But the damage to my knees was done. Oh, also, I have very tight hamstring muscles. Like, they’re tight enough that I can not straighten my legs unless I also bend my knees. My yoga instructor watched me trying to do anything and said, “But … how?”.
The cold has been a mild one. The biggest hazard is not mentioning it in front of specific friends. One of these is the zinc friend. You know, the one who isn’t just fond of zinc but so very sure it’s the fix for every problem that, really, I’m the difficult one if I don’t carry around a cinder block of zinc to lick every time I wipe my nose.
The other hazard is the soup friend. I like soups more than I did as a child. Especially when I have a cold. I can’t have enough to satisfy my soup friend. There’s not enough soup in the world to take all my soup friend’s advice. There’s barely enough me. Nevertheless I do appreciate letting a long boiling-hot ribbon of water flow down my throat.
Because the main thing I have is a cough. It’s not one of those coughs that accomplish anything. You know, the working coughs that you can respect even if you don’t like them. My cough is nothing like that. There’s this sore section in my throat, exactly where it can’t be reached by that viscous cherry spray ever. What I really want is something that can scratch that spot and give me maybe ten seconds of sweet relief. The threat of choking is holding me back, though, which is why I’m only thinking of how nice it would be to dangle, say, a miniature porcupine on a thread and let it press into my throat.
No good, though. The only cough lozenges anyone makes are all smooth things, as if I needed more smoothness in my throat. I’m taking them, certainly. They’re great for making every part of my throat except the one that I want to cough up feel smooth. It’s getting a bit much. Normally I’m pretty selective about what I put in my mouth. At least ever since the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident in Singapore a few years back. With cough drops, though? That caution is out the window. I’ll put any translucent gob in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I’ve swallowed some eight-sided dice. I’m on about 46 lozenges just this hour. When the medical examiners find me, they will wonder how it is that I made it to this age with such tight hamstrings and a throat that’s a menthol fossil.
Anyway, otherwise everything’s pretty good.
Reference: History of the Second World War, Basil Henry Liddell-Hart.
- Clara, Lu, and Em
- Myrt and Marge
- Betty and Bob
- Judy and Jane
- Tess and Tessier
- Louise of Saint Louis [ from 1934, “of Decatur, Illinois” ]
- Mary, Marlon, and the Midge
- Danielle and Danny
- Betsy’s Other Herself
- Ann, Annie, Andrew, Andy, and Vivian
- Bob, Bill, and Betty of Binghamton [ from 1934, “of Boston” ]
- John Jane and Jane Johns
- Jane Jones, Department Store Attorney
- The Girls Of Decatur, Illinois [ from 1934, “of Saint Louis” ]
- Tomorrow’s Yesterday
- When Will Love Ever Find Aunt Kitty?
- Aunt Bachelor Wife
- One Pepper
- Barry and Billiam [ from 1934, “of Binghamton” ]
- Secret Bride
Reference: Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft. Courtney G Brooks, James M Grimwood, Loyd S Swenson Jr.
Thanks for checking in on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, now into its second century. If you’re reading this far in the future of January 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.
And yes, Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over Alley Oop with their first strip slated to run tomorrow. I’ll write about it if and when appropriate. The last of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender reruns offers a cliffhanger, Ooola facing a sabre-toothed tiger, that started off a new story when this first ran in 2013, but I don’t know whether Sayers and Lemon will want to take up this hook.
Last, I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips over here. Yes, Andertoons will appear soon.
14 October 2018 – 5 January 2019.
When I recapped the plots in mid-October, Gasoline Alley was in the Old Comics Home. This is a fantastical place, filled with the characters from mostly long-gone comic strips. They were holding a celebration of Gasoline Alley‘s centennial, starting ahead of time. Mutt, of Mutt and Jeff, was emcee.
October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.
But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.
Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.
And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.
Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.
The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.
Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.
Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.
The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)
But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.
Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!
If you’re looking for a recap of the plot of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, good news! This is a useful spot for that. If you’re reading this after about March 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap. It’ll be at this link.
And while I missed my deadline today, it was for the mathematically-themed comic strips I review at my other blog. But there are many essays in there already, and I hope there’ll be another there tomorrow. You might enjoy that too. Thanks.
7 October – 29 December 2018.
The major storyline when I last checked in regarded Polar Vortex. He’s running drugs, under guise of an ice cream vendor, at Honeymoon Tracy’s school. Henchman Pauly, following Vortex’s direction, grabs Crystal Bribery. And, against Vortex’s direction, also grabs Honeymoon Tracy. And, probably against Vortex’s direction, clobbers Henchwoman “Devil” Devonshire. She’s left behind, for the cops. She stays quiet until threatened with hanging out with new Major Crimes Unit smiley guy Lafayette Austin.
Polar Vortex and Pauly get to fighting in their hangout. Pauly’s ready to kill Vortex, who’s got the cavalry on the way. He’d taken Honeymoon Tracy’s wrist-wizard communicator out of the ice cream freezer. For some reason Pauly thought this would inactivate it. Tracy and Sam Catchem bust down the door and get into a shootout with Pauly. Pauly lives long enough to say that all this was for his father, Crutch.
… Which you’d think would be a big deal. Or which would be a big deal if it got some attention. Crutch is a character from the very first-ever Dick Tracy storyline. He was the gunman who killed Tess Trueheart’s father. It was the case that brought Dick Tracy into the scientific-detective line. I didn’t recognize this, no, and needed GoComics.com commenters and the Dick Tracy Wikia to guide me. Which all highlights some cool and some bad stuff about Staton and Curtis’s run on the strip. They’re incredibly well-versed in the history of the comic strip and can pull out stuff from about ninety years’ worth of stories. But when they’re doing this isn’t communicated well. To put Dick Tracy up against the son of the first man he gunned down? Good setup. But we didn’t know that was going on until that son was gasping his last breaths. Pauly’s role could be any henchman’s. So, what was the dramatic point made by linking him to the murderer of Tess’s father? In a way that you would never guess without auxiliary material?
Maybe it doesn’t need a point. Life is complicated and messy and has weird links. Maybe Polar Vortex wanted someone who’d try something stupid like this, and summon Dick Tracy’s attention. Tracy does investigate Vortex’s business. I thought he didn’t find anything, but the 18th of November Tracy mentions that Vortex is out on bail after drug-trafficking charges. The kidnapping he seems to get a pass on, even though kidnapping Crystal Plenty was part of the lost plan. Vortex does say he had a plan for killing Tracy, and this was too soon. Maybe Vortex’s plan went wrong. But I’d feel more sure if I were clear on what the plan was.
Well. The next big plot thread started the 21st of October, with the introduction of the (imaginary) comedy duo Deacon and Miller. They’re getting a revival, with a film festival hosted by Vitamin Flintheart plus a new syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the pair. … Which might be the most implausible premise I’ve seen in this strip. And this is a strip that has telepathic, psychokinetic Moon Men and a guy who used a popcorn maker to shoot someone.
The revival’s funded by a trust set up by Miller, redeemable after 40 years. There’s a bunch of money in it, and Polar Vortex has got himself named trustee. And I’m confused on just how myself. It was described as a “neighborhood bank” plan scam. I’m not sure what this is. It reads like the mark (Dick Miller of the comedy team) was convinced to put money into a fake bank. But the scammer went ahead and actually invested it, and pretty well. And I’m comfortable with that, that far. The scam where it turns out to be easier to go legitimate is a fun premise. I loved it in the movie Larceny, Inc. (Well, the movie circles that premise anyway.)
So then to the present day. Vortex got charge of the money, and went looking for Peter Pitchblende. Pitchblende is the grandson of Miller, and rightful heir to all this money, and the point person for this whole revival. Vortex’s plan seems to be to get Pitchblende to sign over the money to him. There’s something I don’t understand in the phrase “neighborhood bank” scam, but I haven’t been able to work out what from the strip. I would understand embezzlement. I don’t understand why Vortex can’t just take the money without involving Pitchblende. Also it seems like the revival got started before Vortex contacted Pitchblende. But that might be that the revival would have been airy plans until Vortex dropped the promise of money into it.
Well, Vortex’s plan seems to be … being very slow about repaying Pitchblende for out-of-pocket expenses with the Deacon-and-Miller revival. That at least seems like a workable start to a scam. Vortex claims this is a temporary sideline from his drug-dealing at schools. But it’s hard, especially with a small group. And I’m not sure he understands just stealing money. Like, I’m pretty sure even with a drug-oriented racket he could fake Peter Pitchblende’s signature on stuff. Anyway, he feels the personnel shortage. So Vortex hires some guy he sees talking confidently at the coffee shop. The guy’s named “Striker”, or as we know him, Lafayette Austin. (Austin is getting a lot of attention this year, mostly working undercover in foiling various villains.)
Austin, working undercover, is able to get at Vortex’s files by the cunning plan of being left alone in the room with them. Vortex likes Striker’s energy. He doesn’t like that of street-level pusher Ballpark, who’s been using the drugs instead of pushing them around some. Vortex sends Ballpark to “the bell tower”, which is a literal bell tower. There’s some setup about the experimental infrasound system being good for … well, it’s got to be killing, doesn’t it?
Start of December. The police sweep up drug dealers around Honeymoon and Crystal’s school. And over the rest of town. The cops close in on Vortex and Devil, up in the bell tower. I’m not sure he did get to killing Ballpark, or ever using this infrasound bell tower death machine. Maybe that’s left for a future villain to use, although I’d hope it gets a fresh introduction and explanation of what it’s supposed to do then. The story’s been one of those with a strong enough line of action that you seem like a spoilsport complaining about key parts of it not explained. It makes my life harder.
Vortex tries to, but can’t shoot Tracy. He’s arrested. Austin finds the documents showing that Pitchblende should have the Miller-investment-inheritance. I really don’t understand what the setup of that was. But they turn over the money to Pitchblende and the show can go on. The show features Vitamin Flintheart, playing himself, in a musical based on J Straightedge Trustworthy. This is an in-universe comic strip inspired by and parodying Dick Tracy.
The 16th of December, I believe, starts a new plot. It opens at the Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (get it?) where Tulza Tuzon kills several doctors and escapes during a blackout. Tuzon’s better known to the cops as Haf-and-Haf. He’s got a reputation for breaking out of psychiatric hospitals. Last time he did, he got sprayed with some caustic waste, burning half his head. So since then he calls himself Splitface.
He makes for The City, where high-diving star Zelda The Great is performing. This all gets Tracy’s attention. Tuzon is something of a tribute act. Ages ago Tracy “put away” — I don’t know if he means jailed or killed — a serial killer named Splitface. The original Splitface’s ex-wife is Zelda the Great. Haf-and-Haf is also reported to have developed two alternate personas. That’s a development I’m sure won’t mean that I have to provide a content warning about mental health next time around.
But! That’s on hold for two weeks as the strip does another Minit Mystery. This one written by Donnie Pitchford, who writes and draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. And which makes me finally, about two months late, recognize what “Peter Pitchblende” is a reference to. So, y’know, anyone looking to me for insight please remember that that’s the level I’m working at.
(The Si and Elmer referenced in that strip was a syndicated serial comedy. It’s listed as an attempt at cloning Lum and Abner. I am not sure that both shows aren’t more properly clones of Amos and Andy, with hillbilly rather than blackface comedians. Si and Elmer were elderly small-town residents who decided to go into the detective business. At that point in their own series, Lum and Abner were a justice of the peace and the town sheriff, which makes them almost on-point for a Dick Tracy crossover. I haven’t listened to any of the episodes. Apparently something like 95 of the estimated 130 episodes made survive. That’s an amazing record for early-30s radio. Here are something like 67 of them available for the listening. There might be others elsewhere on archive.org.)
So I don’t know anything about the Minit Mystery besides what you saw in today’s strip. I’ll recap that and whatever this Haf-and-Haf/Splitface plot develops in a couple months’ time.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a hundred years old! How many of those years did its centennial celebration run? What happened with Peggy Lee? Did Walt Wallet move into the Old Comics Home? Find out here, in seven days, or, y’know, skim through the strip yourself. You’ll probably make a pretty good estimate.
Here I just want to collect in one place the links to my recaps of The Stan Freberg show. Recordings of the show itself are available, free, at the Internet Archive, where you can download them at your leisure.
And as you may have heard, all these recaps The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. So if you lose this page, you’ve still got hope. (Having a collected index for stuff like this helps me out, later on, at least. You’d be surprised.)
|Episode||Original Airdate||Important Sketch|
|One.||14 July 1957||Musical Sheep; Incident at Los Voraces.|
|Two.||21 July 1957||The Abominable Snowman; Great Moments in History with Barbara Fritchie; Wrong phone number.|
|Three.||28 July 1957||Miss Jupiter; Robert E Tainter with General Custer’s Scout.|
|Four.||4 August 1957||Herman Horn explains Hi-Fi; Lox Audio Theater’s Rock Around My Nose.|
|Five.||11 August 1957||Orville, from the Moon; Herman Horn explains Hi-Fi; Wun’erful, Wun’erful.|
|Six.||18 August 1957||Elderly Man River; Robert E Tainter and Great Moments in History with Giocante Casabianca; Face The Funnies; the Rock Island Line.|
|Seven.||25 August 1957||The Lone Analyst; There You Are; The Banana Boat Song (Day-o).|
|Eight.||1 September 1957||20th Century Freberg’s Uninterrupted Melody (the ice-cream-truck-drivers story); Face The Funnies; St George and the Dragonet.|
|Nine.||8 September 1957||The Abominable Snowman is Engaged; Robert E Tainter and Washington Crossing the Delaware; The Honeyearthers.|
|Ten.||15 September 1957||Chinese fortune cookie writing; Herman Horn explains Hi-Fi; Elvis.|
|Eleven.||22 September 1957||College Football report; Dog agent; Composite TV Western.|
|Twelve.||29 September 1957||Rocket sled; Faucet repair; Robert E Tainter tries blackmail; Sh’Boom.|
|Thirteen.||6 October 1957||20th Century Freberg: Grey Flannel Hat Full Of Teenage Werewolves.|
|Fourteen.||13 October 1957||Miss Jupiter returns Sputnik; World Advertising creates commercials for Freberg; Sam Spilayed Mystery.|
|Fifteen.||20 October 1957||Favorite sketches from the show; the Abominable Snowman revisits.|
So the 20th of October, 1957, The Stan Freberg Show came to its end. Freberg had promised to feature some of the most popular bits of the show and said he was getting card and letter from the listening audience about what to select. The show hadn’t quite given up, though: there are a couple of new bits, including what might have become running gag characters, appearing for the first time here. Still the show is mostly recreations, sometimes in abbreviated form. And of what?
Here’s the show:
|00:00||Open. It’s no longer an episode of a brand-new radio series, but rather a clonked-out radio series. And they’re bidding a fond farewell to r-a-d-i-o. And a trick of memory. I had remembered the last episode as opening with a more busted-up theme, one with sound effects of a machine conking out, and the music losing tempo and falling out of tune. Not so, but given the show’s use of that sort of sound effect (as in the fifth episode) I’m surprised it didn’t.|
|00:56||Opening remarks. Freberg’s grateful to his audience, and will miss talking to people like — some character who hasn’t appeared before. A jumpy, character complaining the road’s blocked by sheep, and who follows his lines with singing the line again in a high-pitched voice. He’s a brain surgeon.|
|02:45||Mr Tweedly, Censor from Citizen’s Radio. Stan Freberg tries to sing Old Man River, while getting buzzed for not saying thank you and for using needlessly harsh songs and bad grammar and such. This ran in the sixth episode.|
|06:26||Peggy Taylor. She’s crying, not because they’re going off the air, but because Stan Freberg’s on her foot. She gives a gift, not a sleeping bag but a Freberg Cozy, and I like the idea of calling a sleeping bag a personal cozy. She sings “The Birth of the Blues”. This was done in the second show, and I’m surprised they would redo a song. A good song, sure, but it’s not like 1957 was short on radio-ready music.|
|10:06||Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields. Soundtrack of a “typical” (adult) western, including sponsorship from the Eating Corporation of America. It’s truncated from the original, of course; just some examination of the fence and one commercial. This appeared on the 11th show originally.|
|15:20||Capitol Record. A “whole list of name” requested a performance of Day-Oh, the Banana Boat Song. It’s a bit too loud for the bongo player, who keeps insisting Freberg get farther away to be at his loudest. This appeared on the seventh show, and featured a bongo player who’d also been in the opening and closing segments of the fourth episode. I’m not surprised that St George and the Dragonet didn’t make the cut — the sketch is too long and has too big a cast, and doesn’t really condense well. I’m more surprised that Wun’erful, Wun’erful didn’t, but see the next item.|
|20:34||Billy May has a gift for Stan Freberg: an accordion-playing bandleader found in Balboa Bay. Reference to the Wun’erful, Wun’erful sketch from the fifth episode. In that, a Lawrence Welk parody floated out to sea. Their Welk is there to laugh at Freberg. “You don’t have to make fun of me.” “Look-a who’s talking!” Welk gets to play “a short medley based on the names of girls-a”. Mostly “Every Little Breeze Seems To Whisper Louise”, and stuff that can’t quite get going. The sketch was turned into a Capitol record, as announced the 13th show.|
|23:00||Package for Stan Freberg, about ten feet tall. New messenger character. The package is the Abominable Snowman. He’d been introduced the second episode. Abominable asks Freberg if it’s hard on him doing both voices like that; he admits it’s hard on him. It’s a bit of fourth-wall-breaking and plays on Freberg’s ability to shift character fast. Abominable Snowman isn’t wearing orange sneakers today, just purple, a new “ensemble”. Abominable and his wife Gladys are thinking what they could do to help the show. (Gladys was introduced, as his fiancee, in the ninth show.) “I could scare a couple of sponsors for you.” “We’ve already done that, thank you.” Abominable offers to teach Freberg how to be an Abominable Snowman, which gets to be funnier when you remember they just pointed out how he’s doing both voices.|
|26:48||Conclusion. Freberg admits they didn’t have time for Mr Poulet’s tuned sheep, the one sketch promised last week that they would do. Poulet and his Muppet Show-ready sketch appeared on the first episode and without the sheep turned up in the seventh show. Freberg thanks his audience, especially the press who supported the show so.|
My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. And now they are complete, too.
This episode, next to the last in the series’ run, originally aired the 13th of October, 1957. That is, not quite ten days after Sputnik launched, which would give the premise for an unusually timely sketch. It’s also got a reference to the Brooklyn Dodgers moving. There was another reference to the Dodgers moving last week. The move had been officially announced the 8th of October, although baseball had approved the move in April, and the Dodgers had played some “home” games in New Jersey in 1956 and 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Open. The show is billed as “brought to you by Stan Freberg”.|
|00:58||Opening Comments. Stan Freberg promises advertisers frightened by last week’s sketch that there’s almost no werewolves in advertising. He tells Daws Butler he paid $100 to sponsor today’s show.|
|02:32||Commercial for Stan Freberg. The jingles are surely parodies of specific ads, although I don’t know what for. Little lines like “the all-American dog” and such suggest dog food, car, and drain cleaner. It’s hard not to wonder if Freberg was letting advertisers know, hey, he had some free time and a good comic sensibility ready for advertising by doing so many ads for himself.|
|03:50||Miss Jupiter returns. She’s back from the third episode. Includes a stray reference to the International Geophysical Year, which ran from July 1957 through December 1958. She’s “returning your basketball”, Sputnik. This has to be among the first comedy sketches recorded about the event. There’s a reference to “red tape at the Pentagon”, which has got to be alluding to the idea that the United States space effort was too bureaucratized to work swiftly. I’ll go on about this below. Miss Jupiter’s computer goes into action, delivering a fortune cookie from her ear that’s surprisingly explicit about the Space Race being a game.|
|08:53||Peggy Taylor sings “Love is Mine”.|
|11:38||Freberg goes to World Advertising. Meeting with advertising executives is a big, weird muddle of daft business-creative types and baffling metaphors, which is a standard take but offers nice goofiness. World Advertising claims to represent nations, and showcases an advertisement for America that’s a takeoff on Lucky Strikes tobacco, which is a nicely wicked joke the more you think about it. Another reference to moving the Dodgers. The commercial also ends with “Can It Be The Breeze”, which closed The Jack Benny Show when he was sponsored by Lucky Strikes (reruns of which ran right before Stan Freberg’s show). There’s a reference to Freberg having a hole in his shoe, making him more homely and “a cinch to win”; Freberg asks if he’s heard from Adlai Stevenson. There was a moment in the 1952 campaign when reporters noticed a hole in Stevenson’s shoe, and he riffed “better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head”. “You’ll wonder where the Freberg went” riffs on a Pepsodent jingle still current when I was a kid in the 70s.|
|18:00||Sam Spilayed Mystery. Freberg tries to do a radio mystery. It’s nailed the over-expository yet mournful tone of shows like Pat Novak for Hire. Some nonsense about pronouncing “bracelet” wrong along with the over-written metaphors and impossibly complicated exposition and the sound effects either wrong or mis-timed. You can see the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger in formation already. And then at 20:45 a commercial interlude for Instant Freberg. At 22:45 he goes into his own commercial, one where he beats up someone who doens’t like the show, and then back into the main plot. There’s multiple references to stuff from earlier this episode. There’s also a reference to “Little Orphan Annie at an Aquacade” which I believe references one of the comic strip discussion panels in past episodes. The femme fatale being named “Yours truly, Jenny Dollar-ninety-eight” is a reference to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. That mystery show’s gimmick was that Dollar was an insurance investigator and the episodes were framed as his expense reports, itemizing costs and what they were for, so the close of each episode was a summary and signature, “signed, yours truly, Johnny Dollar”. The sketch closes on another commercial for “Stan Freberg, the falling comedian”.|
|27:32||Closing Remarks. Freberg asks for cards and letters about what to do for the final show.|
Okay, so the Space Race thing. Something that baffled many people in the early days of the space race was why the United States didn’t launch a satellite first, the way everyone would have expected. A lot of complaints boiled down to the US didn’t take it seriously. Contemporary thinking in space historians is that President Eisenhower did not think it all that important to launch the first space satellite. His priority was establishing the idea that, while nations might control their own airspace, outer space was a different thing and free to all passing vehicles. Specifically, so that spy satellites could be allowed. But how to establish the precedent that satellites may go about their business? Well, that would be a scientific satellite, launched as part of a major international cooperative effort, by an agency with a long history of research for the public good, on a rocket with no military value. That is, Vanguard, launched as part of the International Geophysical Year, by the Naval Research Laboratory, on a rocket derived from the Viking and Aerobee sounding rockets. His other priority was not spending a crazy amount of money on it, thus, not going any too fast. The Soviets launching a satellite was fine by him; they can’t complain about a satellite launch if they’re doing it too, right? That it set off a American paranoiac panic was probably inevitable but somehow not anticipated.
You maybe noticed these recordings of The Stan Freberg Show haven’t had any advertisements, nor spots where the action comes to a halt for a sponsor’s plug. This is not because they were edited out, nor because these recordings come from recordings made for the Armed Forces Radio Service. (Armed Forces Radio at the time had a prohibition on advertisement. Shows transcribed for rebroadcast on this would often fill out the time with music.) The show ran as a “sustaining” program, without a sponsor.
That’s a slightly odd status, today. The only shows run on United States radio without a sponsor are some public-service, breaking-news, or educational programs (and the occasional publicity stunt). It was not unheard-of in the days of old-time-radio. Mostly this would be for programs meant to experiment with the state of the art, such as the CBS Radio Workshop; or to serve educational and cultural support roles, such as the NBC University Theater. But it would also be for shows that filled a dull time slot. Or that were good but hadn’t yet matched up with a reliable sponsor. Vic and Sade, for example, ran its first two years without more than temporary sponsorship. Stan Freberg claimed that a tobacco company had offered to sponsor the show and he turned them down, which if true speaks well for his principles. Running the series for three months, as they did, suggests CBS figured they had a good show that might match up with a sponsor. Here, from the 6th of October, 1957, is the moment when Freberg maybe realized they wouldn’t match one, and he decided to just make fun of the people he also needed.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Open. No pre-show sketch once again.|
|00:52||Opening comments. Freberg just promises something for everyone and there’s not clearly a bit going on.|
|01:20||Billy May playing Cocktails for Two. Just the prologue; “everyone knows the chorus of this turkey”.|
|03:08||Questions from the Audience. On the topic of the circus. One wants gifts and is fine with the circus as is. One thinks Freberg might be Steve Allen. The topic gets dropped and the rest of the sketch forgotten.|
|05:23||Peggy Taylor asks if the Dodgers are really bums; a bum wanders around and has nowhere to go. Then sings “And The Angels Sing”.|
|08:16||20th Century Freberg films: Grey Flannel Hat Full Of Teenage Werewolves. Goofy little fusion of I Was A Teenage Werewolf with How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Freberg has a great squawky teenage voice. And it has the great lines “This is America, where any kid can grow up to be Dracula!” and “My head filled with senseless metaphor!”. Werewolves by night and advertising executives by day is a solidly goofy idea. The agency name of “Batton, Barton, Rubicum, and Thompson” is a riff on Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn, a corporate name I think Fred Allen once said sounded like a trunk falling down stairs. (Wikipedia can find where Mary Livingstone said this on a November 1948 Jack Benny Show, and that it’s not known if Fred Allen ever did.) They’re still around, as BBDO. I don’t know if this sketch came from a fusion of trying to riff teen-horror and young-exec movies. Having werewolves to fall back on really helps when the advertising part gets dull. The advertisement for “Food!” at about 18:45 is (of course) a precise parody of a then-current radio advertisement, for Quaker Mills Oh! cereal (which opened on a reverb-heavy “Oh! Oh! OH!”. And the mock-movie is a goofy story about love triumphing, really.|
|26:40||Closing Comments. Freberg answers the people who sent “many card and letter, to say nothing of countless phone call” congratulating them on a sketch from the fifth show, making fun of The Lawrence Welk Show. He announces and advertises that the sketch, is out as a comedy record, “Wun’erful, Wun’erful”. Also this means I was wrong to say that the sketch was an adaptation of this record; it’s the other way around. Also Freberg announces that the show is ending in two weeks. So he asks what people would like them to do for the final show. I take it to mean to nominate favorite sketches, but he doesn’t actually quite promise that.|
If you’re fascinated by early space race stuff you’ve probably seen Colonel John Stapp. His face anyway. He’s the guy there’s this black-and-white footage of a man being accelerated so fast that his face becomes this rippling, fluid shape. He was a physician and flight surgeon who became famous-in-the-right-circles for his work in understanding what acceleration (and deceleration) does to human bodies. He tested this, including on himself. In December 1954 he took a deceleration of 46.2 times the force of gravity. And lived through it, and thought human bodies could take even more than that. Much of what we understand about how to protect the human body from crashes traces to work he was part of.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Open. No pre-theme sketch this time again. There’s also no introductory comments; they go right into a sketch.|
|00:55||Rocket Sled. Herman Busby (which I think is a new name here) interviews Leroy Straddle, hoping to bring reactions to Colonel Stapp’s rocket-sled experiment. Stapp’s admirably uninterested. The premise is that Straddle hopes to run alongside Stapp and the sketch commits to being about that. And then Busby’s spotted in Portland, Oregon. This initially made me think they were doing a follow-up to that UFO bit where Orville came from the Moon. I’m not sure what point Herman Busby serves in framing this sketch, except that it lets Straddle describe what he means to do in the face of Stapp’s indifference. But then why not write the sketch so Stapp is at least a bit interested?|
|05:10||Introductory Comments. Maybe? Freberg lays out the “agenda” for the show.|
|05:32||Billy May playing “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue”, a song I mostly know from Allan Sherman’s parody.|
|07:20||Faucet Repair. Sketch about the “average American husband” fixing a faucet. June Foray gets to play a nag. The faucet repair turns to actually making a wrench, a nice bit of expansion on the premise of following repair directions. There’s a weirdly big laugh at 09:33; maybe one of the performers had a great expression. It turns into Freberg trying to buy an electron microscope. There’s also a bit about the peculiarity of buying something cash. There were a lot of jokes and science fiction stories about credit cards in the 50s and it seems to reflect a cultural attitude about these exotic means of finance. The diversion from home-repair-going-awry to cash-as-a-threat-to-commerce seems weird and I’m not sure they didn’t stitch two half-written sketches together.|
|15:15||Peggy Taylor sings “I’ll Buy You The Moon” (I’m guessing).|
|18:26||Robert Tainter is back. Freberg introduces him by mentioning his research behind Paul Revere’s Ride, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and his grandfather at Custer’s Last Stand. There are several more Tainter sketches not mentioned here; I think his might be the most-done sketch in the show’s run. Tainter feigns not knowing Freberg. Tainter’s gone from exposes to something “even lower”, going into labor racketeering and demanding payment from Freberg for whatever he’s doing. I think this is riffing on Estes Kefauver’s televised investigations into organized crime. This was six years in the past by the time this episode aired, but they did make an impression.|
|23:09||Sh-boom. Adaptation — after several weeks of putting it off — of the comedy record. It’s also a commercial for Freberg’s album compiling a dozen comedy bits. The premise here is that a successful song has to be much less comprehensible. It does all get pretty raucous and fun to my ear. June Foray’s character is named Stella, I’m going ahead and guessing to make a Streetcar Named Desire joke.|
My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. Let me know if you see one that isn’t.
The big flu of 1957 was an outbreak of Influenza A subtype H2N2, a pandemic less severe than that of 1918 (but what wasn’t?). It wsa popularly referred to as the Asian Flu. I know it mostly from a Peanuts strip in 1958 where Charlie Brown suspects he’s coming down with it, and Lucy mocks him for getting the flu six months late. Smiley Burnette was one of those prolific singer-songwriters who’d get to play the sidekick to your Roy Rogers-class performer. So that’s some things you would be expected to know for this episode, which first aired the 22nd of September, 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Opening Music. Once again no cold opening.|
|00:50||Opening Comments. Stan Freberg is getting over the “Swiss Flu”, so as not to offend anyone.|
|01:15||College Football Report. Report from the BearcatPantherTigers. Stan Freberg is doing a pretty sharp impersonation of Colgate Sports Newsreel reporter Bill Stern. The setup is easy, a long buildup to a question to which the athlete gives one- and two-word answers.|
|04:08||Peggy Taylor gives Stan Freberg the pretext to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Monkey Song”. They can’t all be “Stardust”.|
|07:22||How an Agent Operates. Foster Pelt, agent to 64 dogs. He gets them character parts a lot: derelicts, good-natured slobs, friend of the leading child. There’s a constrained structure here, where Pelt negates any joke that Freberg might advance. That’s okay as long as it’s building to something, like the dog that plays jazz trombone. But it does also have a tone like Pelt is trying to negate the sketch.|
|13:35||Question from the Audience. A guy doesn’t believe in the show so far.|
|13:55||Peggy Taylor singing “Famous Last Words”.|
|17:00||Composite Preview of TV Westerns for the Fall. “Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields” which (as usual) catches the sounds and tones and pacing of its primary source precisely. The actual radio Gunsmoke wasn’t quite so leisurely, but did run that way. It didn’t spend quite this much time establishing plot points either, but it could feel like that. The in-show sketch for “Puffed Grass” riffs on ads for Quaker Puffed Wheat (“the breakfast cereal shot from guns”) commercials. The relentless establishment of the fact the fence was cut evokes the throwaway joke at the start of St George and the Dragonet, about that 45 automatic being checked by the lab and learning that, yes, it was a gun. The close, a quick exchange with Pedro, riffs on the comic sidekick Pancho of the Cisco Kid. He’d close each episode with a corny gag. Gunsmoke was a grown-up western; Cisco Kid a kids’ one. So it is a tonal non sequitur that he should show up here.|
|28:12||Closing Remarks. Freberg encourages people to write for tickets and asks for something for cold, even if it’s just Dr Christian. Dr Christian was a long-running doctor’s-office-based light drama, the small-town doctor helping quarreling lovers reconcile and wayward youths straighten out, that sort of thing.|
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:
|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.|
Confidential was a celebrity-expose magazine notorious in the 1950s. It got sued in 1957 in a trial that was enormous and long and filled with twists and turns. The trial was barely under way when this episode aired, the 8th of September, 1957. Drew Pearson wrote the longrunning syndicated Washington Merry-Go-Round column, which wasn’t just about publishing leaked documents, but it might have felt like that. Jack Anderson took over the column after Pearson died.
This is, I think, the first episode not to include an adaptation of some earlier Freberg comedy album. The second, if you count how the debut only used a few quick segments of various albums to set up Freberg’s credentials.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Open. No introductory segment again.|
|00:53||Introductory Comments. Freberg asks if you know what this sound, the same one used several weeks in a row, is. It’s “a condensed version of the Confidential magazine trial.” Then there’s an introduction of a size-26 orange sneaker. Speaks of it as being like “being given half a garbage scow”. So he’s off to the Himalayas.|
|01:55||Abominable Snowman Revisited. He was last seen on the second episode. He hopes to be called Francis Abominoyamaya Snowman. He only has the one business card. Talks about the Halloween party, bobbing for mountain climbers, pinning the tail on the timberwolves. Music played on frozen snakes. The Snowman shares news of his engagement to Gladys, from Bangalore. She thinks Stan Freberg is cute and wants to keep him as pet. Freberg uses his putative friendship with Pat Boone to get safe.|
|09:02||Robert E Tainter. He’s back after two weeks away. He’s happy to talk about his past, except for 1943. He was in Germany, “getting my kicks for the Gestapo”. But he’s found something secret and confidential-not-the-magazine about the Revolutionary War, not even leaked to Drew Pearson. Dated January 1780 in New Jersey. Freberg worries about something alarming regarding Washington’s crossing of the Delaware; Tainter says Washington is “clean as the bomb”.|
|11:28||Washington Crossing the Delaware. Washington’s worried about his men in their cold and silly three-cornered hats. Lieutenant Wright can’t give his report well. “What’s a spicer?” “What’s a passer?” “What’s a ramser?” It’s not a spy; it’s Daws Butler as “Heinrich Flugelman”, getting ready to paint the historical moment. Flugelman insists he’s Swiss, “that way we won’t offend anyone”. Lieutenant Wright orders the ice cleaned up before the painting can be done. Flugelman paints the scene before Washington gets in the boat. It’s a long way to a silly turn of phrase and I was so busy trying to think why a private was named “Crossington” that I didn’t get to the punch line before the sketch did. This is the first Robert E Tainter-based bit that doesn’t lead up to how a historical figure demands to be paid for doing their heroic actions.|
|19:02||Peggy Taylor. They sing a duet about going to sleep. I can’t find the title; “I Can’t Sleep” or “The Go-To-Sleep Blues” seem like good plausible names for it.|
|22:10||The Honeyearthers. Framed as television from the Moon. Blend of jokes about the TV series and alien/science-y jokes. It really sounds like one of those Warner Brothers cartoons where they’re mice, I don’t think just because the actors are the same. Anyway, it’s a scene of Ralph and Alice at home, Ralph feeling Alice is upset, Ralph talking with Norton, and then Ralph and Alice watch an organ-grinder with a human dancing around.|
|27:54||Closing comments. Tap Dancing Around The World is still being organized. Freberg promises next time will include “Sh’Boom”, one of the records he’d released before. Freberg invites people to write for tickets. Better hurry; there’s only six episodes left.|
This is the median of The Stan Freberg Show: it only ran fifteen weeks. Yes, I’m trying to think what I’ll do when I’m through these recaps. This episode originally aired the 1st of September, 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Opening Music. No pre-credits bit and no sound effects show.|
|00:50||Return of the Zazzalov Family. They’re the acrobats performing on radio as in the third episode. Freberg emphasizes the “We told you they’re Swiss so we don’t offend anyone” joke. There’s a “Wun’erful, Wun’erful” callback.|
|02:00||Interlude. Daws Butler wonders what they’re doing. Stan Freberg things about the Good Humor Man. If you’d wondered what exactly Daws Butler sounds like when he’s not doing a bit … I’m not actually promising this is what he sounded like. There’s no reason this wasn’t a stage voice too.|
|02:40||20th Century Freberg Presents: Uninterrupted Melody. Spoof movie about ice-cream truck drivers. It’s told in the format of a This Is The FBI-style drama. One of the supervisors heard of a truck playing ‘Hound Dog’. There’s a reference to a Costellanas(?) arrangement of The Three Little Kittens. I assume this is a joke but must let someone who understands what music is explain it. There’s talk among the men about transferring between songs. The story thread, such as it is, veers into war movies as well as these 1950s movies about grumpy executives at companies that think they’re awfully important. Awful company song. I like the promise of “Keep up the good work and one day soon, I’ll have your chimes tuned.” The situation turns to mutiny and the Good Humor executive gets dipped, not in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit way.|
|12:20||Peggy Taylor. Sings “Around the World in 80 Days”.|
|15:05||Face the Funnies. Follow-up from two weeks ago. They’re not bringing up Orphan Annie’s clothing situation or other stuff from before. The panelists get to picking up the old fights. Fresh questions: in Dick Tracy, does or does not Junior wear a fright wig? Who’d win in a ray gun fight, Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers? Pulls back to Dick Tracy, Orphan Annie, and Tarzan. I think this time I caught everyone’s name: G L Spoon (who closes the sketch with a ridiculous Crimestopper tip), Dr Linus Quoit (closing with an Annie quote), and Edna St Louis Missouri (with the Tarzan yell).|
|22:30||Interlude. Freberg says, “We have received so many card and letter … as well as phone call … ” to do this next sketch…|
|23:05||St George and the Dragonet. Adaptation of Stan Freberg’s first comedy record. It is arguably the spoof of Dragnet. Freberg reportedly got the actual audio cues from the original radio show for the spoof. The cliche of Jack Webb demanding “just the facts, ma’am” traces more to this spoof than to the actual show. Although, yeah, Freberg says he wants “just the facts, sir” to the knave. Nobody ever gets quotes right. It also features an exchange that always amuses me even though it has no logical place in the sketch: “Say, did you take that 45 automatic into the lab to have them check on it it?” “Yeah. You were right.” “I was right?” “Yeah. It was a gun.” Although the dragon laughing at St George, “You slay me,” and George answering, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about” is good stuff.|
|27:45||Closing Remarks. Stan Freberg “fumbles” his farewells.|
This episode first aired the 25th of August, 1957. Yes, yes, it’s Rogers and Hart’s song.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Cold Open. Array of sound effects for the third week running; this time, it’s the outcome of the Floyd Patterson/Pete Rademacher fight. That fight happened the 22nd of August, in Seattle, and Patterson won.|
|01:13||Introduction. Newspaper clipping. Dr Hugo Gunk claims crime could be eliminated if we put as much money into psychology as we do into police. Just the premise is a laugh line, which is a bit depressing to consider. I don’t know whether this was based on something actually in the news; “Hugo Gunk” is a suspiciously silly-but-not-quite-funny name.|
|02:07||The Lone Analyst. Spoof built on the analysts-rather-than-police premise. It’s set in the town of New Roces, New Mexico. This is (of course) a very close spoof of The Lone Ranger‘s sound, and its plot beats. There’s side references to other westerns, notably Have Gun, Will Travel. (The Lone Ranger was unmistakably a kid’s show; Have Gun, Will Travel a grown-up’s.) The Lone Analyst has the saddle in these parts that opens out into a couch. There’s a nice Wile E Coyote style gag about “painting a shortcut on those rocks”. It’s got a man who thinks he’s a chicken and, to extend the joke, a chicken who thinks he’s a horse. And the good solid line, “I am not a Great Dane. I am Grandpa Snider.”|
|11:01||Francois Poulet is back, and playing the nose flute. Comic interview with a Frenchman who speaks Hawaiian. Billy Mays is able to talk with him, converting Hawaiian to groovy-musician. Then an actual song, until his nose is caught in the flute. Very Muppet-ready sketch.|
|14:25||Peggy Taylor. Follow-up joke about nose flautists sneezing. Then she sings “Dancing On the Ceiling”. Strange, very different Lionel Richie cover.|
|17:15||There You Are. Reenactment of the Driving of the Golden Spike. Very different from Robert E Tainter’s Great Moments in History bits. Very precise spoof of CBS/CBS News’s You Are There, which presented how network news might have covered historic events. Cute bit where the story behind the pick of who gets chosen to drive the last spike is frightfully mundane. Last-minute hold-up as they’re two feet short. “We could go back to Chicago and push a little.” The trains meet. President Grant says “it appears to me they should’ve laid two tracks”. As a kid I was always bothered there was just the one track too.|
|23:50||The Banana Boat Song. Adaptation of the comedy record he’d already published. Features that bongo player from a couple weeks ago who found the show to be loud.|
|27:50||Closing Remarks. Promises next week the content of this week. Next week: St George and the Dragonet.|
There’s three musical pieces this week’s show. Many of Freberg’s comedic records before the show began were musical riffs. It’s natural the show would use that tradition. This episode first aired the 18th of August, 1957.
And here’s the rundown.
|00:00||Cold Open. Another audio joke; we’re told was the theme song from I Was A Teenage Werewolf. It sounded like last week, when they just played the whole show backwards at high speed.|
|01:20||Introduction. The tap-dancing-around-the-world bit promised last week was postponed. And there’s a guest, a Mr Tweedly from the Citizens Radio Committee. He’s there to buzz anything objectionable that’s et onto the air.|
|03:30||Elderly Man River. I had thought this adapted a comedy record. It looks like it’s the other way around, and this sketch was released as a single. The premise is put out early: Tweedly is there to stop anything offensive or inappropriate for broadcast. Every comedian worth something has stories about fighting the network or the sponsor’s censors. Wanting to take the edge off “old” or insisting on careful enunciation of words like “nothing” feels like a fight Freberg (or his writers) actually went through. Similarly having to substitute “sweat”.|
|06:40||Robert E Tainter. He got out of jail (mentioned last week) just this morning. He got the celebrity-scandal-sheets to help him out. It’s interesting to me that the celebrity-scandal-sheets of 1957 are completely different from the ones of thirty years later. But the ones of 1987, like the National Enquirer, are still with us thirty years after that. Not sure what happened there.|
|08:40||Great Moments In History. As with the last two times, the figure renowned in poem insists on being paid before doing the heroic thing. This time the character is Giocante Casabianca, from a poem celebrating an incident during the Battle of the Nile (1798) that was just leaving the canon of things anybody might have heard of.|
|09:50||Peggy Taylor. A bit of talk about pets, including Freberg suggesting that while Taylor kept rabbits, “the rabbits raised themselves”. I’ve used the same line about the guinea pigs I had as a kid and I don’t know whether I adopted it from Freberg. Tweedly reappears around all this talk that might imply sex. Taylor sings “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody,” a song from 1918 so that “Old Man River” is not the oldest song in the show. (Judy Garland and Jerry Lewis had published versions of it in 1955 and 1956, so the song was at least in the air.)|
|13:20||Face The Funnies. Panel discussion about the comics page. The name of the host — “Fullbrook Mason” — puts me in mind of Mason Gross, one of those 1950s intellectuals who could stay respectable despite being a judge for quiz shows and other disreputable bits of pop culture. It’s a laugh line that someone might have studied Tarzan’s influence on 20th-century culture. It’s interesting to me all the strips discussed are adventure-continuity strips; nobody wants to talk about humor strips. The jokes are kind of what you’d get from any good slightly-snarky nerd discussion about the funnies, like whether Orphan Annie owns a second dress. Speculations about whether a given Dick Tracy character was guilty or not was, if not something people actually did, at least something characters in radio comedies did.|
|22:10||The Rock Island Line. And this one is an adaptation of an already-existing comedy album. That one (and the sketch) reused Freberg’s premise of the singer trying to get through a song and being nagged into distraction by a skeptical eavesdropper.|
|27:20||Closing remarks. Freberg can’t describe what next week’s show will be.|
See this and other recaps of The Stan Freberg Show at this link.
This episode of The Stan Freberg Show debuted on the 11th of August, 1957. So, in the late 50s, scripted fiction radio like this was dying, if not dead. Not, old-time-radio enthusiasts insist, because the medium was necessarily losing popularity. The big radio networks were also trying to be the big TV networks, and saw more money in bringing audiences to TV. So when this show gets into jokes about television being a dirty word around CBS Radio headquarters, that’s the light conspiracy getting joked about.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Cold Open. Audio joke; they play the “whole half hour backwards and at high speed”. And now play it forward at regular speed.|
|01:15||Opening comments. Freberg talks about hoping to avoid radio clichés, but turns this into talk about how the show hasn’t got a sponsor, as mentioned last week.|
|02:00||Orville arrives from the Moon. This starts as a news repot from “LeRoy Phipps” about a flying saucer reported near the funny-named town of Yreka, California. Sketch introduces the odd running joke of an “unusually musical hover-squash”. Phipps storms off, but — after the audience laughs at something it can see (about 05:30), Orville appears. He’s the brother of Miss Jupiter, the alien with the shapely wheels from the third episode. This brings in singer Peggy Taylor, and reveals that there’s smog on the moon. The lunar smog’s blamed on the flying saucers, but there’s people who suspect industry. Orville — after saying how he’d “like to see that [ typewriter ] in a bikini” — sings as “the voice of cheese”. His song is what I’m guessing is a variant of a song titled “Hello, out there Hello”. In a common joke about bandleaders being weird, not-quite-human figures, Orville says bandleader Billy May “sure looks like [ his friend ] Og-Og”.|
|10:25||Dr Herman Horn returns. as he did last week, he explains hi-fi and puts on a demonstration of weird sound effects. Horn’s nerd-rage complaints about his wife veer uncomfortably close for me to Kabibble Kabaret misogyny. But the writing does seem to be from the viewpoint that Horn’s the unreasonable one here. Anyway, Horn provides some lovely ridiculous sound effects, including “Benny Goodman in a skin-divers’ suit 20 feet underwater playing Danny Boy in a kelp bed”, and King Farouk applauding him, and John L Lewis giving his eyebrows a crewcut. These might be references of their time. But I think their ludicrous specificity leaves them funny anyway. This is the sketch that introduced to the language the immortal line, “All right, Strudelmeyer, let the air out of the latex piano player”, so you can maybe see why the show had ten more weeks to run.|
|17:35||June Foray asks if she can go home early to watch some television. Stan Freberg has a bootleg set in his dressing room that he’s passed off as an “unusually pictorial hover-squash”. There’s a use here of bowling as if it were inherently funny a woman might want to bowl.|
|18:50||Bubbles, the show June Foray and Stan Freberg watch. This is an adaptation of Freberg’s record “Wun’erful, Wun’erful”. The record and sketch spoofs The Lawrence Welk Show. (Here’s an attempt to match the audio of the record with clips from The Lawrence Welk Show.) The major difference in the sketch version is that it loses the absurdist ending of the record — in which the Aragon Ballroom floats off to sea and is observed by a couple disbelieving mariners. To me, more familiar with “Wun’erful, Wun’erful” than the show, this makes the sketch version feel unresolved. But that doesn’t affect the quality of the sketch to that point, and it only matters if you expect the sketch to include something it has no reason to, and would have trouble fitting in. The record, and sketch, are in two comedy modes I love: the slightly daft characters carrying on in scenes that locally make sense even if they’re globally doing nonsense; and people not quite carrying on while stuff breaks down. So the sketch might have been written expressly for me, which is always nice to find.|
|28:01||Teaser. Freberg says that next week will include one minute of universal tap-dancing.|
The Lux Radio Theatre was a longrunning radio specialty. The show presented hourlong, audio-only renditions of popular movies. The compression for time, and the adaptation to reflect that everything has to be audible, make for sometimes fascinating differences. There’s a version of The Wizard of Oz where the Cowardly Lion is played by … I don’t know, but it sure sounds like Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger; the singer declaring you’re a mean one, Mister Grinch) to me. And it’s not bad, but it highlights how Burt Lahr was just an enormous fuzzy ball of lovability. The adaptation of Jack Benny’s then-infamous (and not that bad) flop The Horn Blows At Midnight dropped the framing device and improved the film by at least one full letter grade. For a dozen years it was hosted by Cecil B DeMille, who performed just as you might imagine if you were writing a comedy sketch about an old-time Hollywood director introducing movies he didn’t make. By the mid-40s DeMille stepped down and William Keighley and then Irving Cummings took over hosting duties. But the DeMille thing is what’s being riffed on here, the fourth episode of The Stan Freberg Show, originally aired the 4th of August, 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
|00:00||Cold Open. Freberg talking with a bongo player who’s sensitive to how loud the show is. The sensitive bongo player’s from Freberg’s Banana Boat (Day-Oh) record, which was also released in 1957 and is how I know he’s a bongo player; that information’s not given here. I don’t know whether the record or the show came out first and so which was promotion for or callback to the other. Freberg expressing fear that he might be mistaken for a commercial might reflect how the show hadn’t got a sponsor, which you’ll notice now, and would become a minor recurring theme in the show’s run.|
|01:23||Great Moments In History. The story behind Paul Revere’s Ride. The punchline is the same as the story behind Barbara Fritchie, in the second episode. Historical researcher Robert E Tainter is mentioned again, described as having to mail his piece in.|
|02:24|| What Is Yogurt? If there is a funniest-in-retrospect bit of comedy, it’s people not understanding foods that have since become commonplace. Recommended other examples of this genre: articles from the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40 explaining what a “bagel” is; the way “pizza” was a reliable laugh line about something someone might eat from about The Honeymooners through the Kinks’ Soap Opera album.
Anyway, this is just a way to get Peggy Taylor in early to sing “I Like The
|05:15||Hi-Fi. Doctor Herman Horn explains Hi-Fi. It’s a fine bit of nonsense, with a bunch of weird sounds and odd explanations. I love the low-key nerd correctionism in Horn warning that “Hi-Fi” is two words and he won’t tell you again, which he doesn’t.|
|11:00|| Lox Audio Theater. The melodrama Rock Around My Nose, all about the terror of a man who can’t get close to his son. If you’ve wondered where the phrase “nose full of nickels” come from, you’re fibbing. (The particular cadence for chanting “nose full of nickels” reminds me of a running gag on The Jack Benny Show. I don’t know whether that’s a deliberate reference, a coincidence, or if both are a reference to something I’m not getting.) I love the line about how “that 73 cents bothered me”.
The sketch has an example of that motif where the child is “really” a cranky old man, part of a line of jokes that would include Baby Herman, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Of course, the kid is really played by
The close of the sketch, in which all the actors start fighting, is a direct riff of the close of Lux Radio Theater episodes. Those always featured, of course, the cast talking about what a great time they had and how they use Lux Soap all the time.
The close teases that the next adaptation will be Love Thy Neighbor. This is conceivably a reference to the 1940 Jack Benny/Fred Allen comedy based on their famous radio feud. I wouldn’t think so, since the movie was 17 years old at that point and I can’t imagine it lingering in the public consciousness, but I’ve been proved wrong about Fred Allen’s lasting reputation in recent weeks so what do I know. And Freberg and his writers might not have cared if they referenced anything anyone recognized as long as they were amused. But I’d bet on it just reflecting that it’s funny to say “love thy neighbor” in the midst of a brawl.
|22:25||The Yellow Rose of Texas. Adaptation of Freberg’s 1955 The Yellow Rose of Texas record, in which the lead singer squabbles with the drum player. This record was also one of those referenced in the cold open to the first episode of the series.|
|27:12||Closing. The bongo player has fully sampled the show and concludes it is loud.|
All my recaps of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.
Archive.org has this really nice system to embed media in other pages. Both videos and audio files. The scheme works really well if there’s a single file on the archive.org host page. If there’s multiple files on the page, though — if it’s an archive page with whole collection of something, like, every episode of a radio series — then it gets harder. The simple “Share This Item” link gives code that shares the whole collection. And that defaults to the first item in the collection. A bit of URL hacking can fix that. But I’m never completely sure I’m doing it right. So if you play this, and it’s just last week’s episode again, please let me know. I’ll try fixing it.
So here’s the rundown for this episode, from the 21st of July, 1957:
|00:00||Cold Open. Stan Freberg interrupts one of his own comedy records again; only the one, this time. This record is “John and Marsha”, his first comedy record. The original is a story, in which a woman says “John” and a man answers “Marsha”, and that’s basically it. The comedy’s all in the structure; for me, it works. But that’s also why the interrupting Freberg saying they have a lot to say to each other is a punch line.|
|00:40||Opening Theme. So now you see how this quiet bit of customization is going to go.|
|01:30||Interview with the Abominable Snowman. This instance of the Abominable Snowman turns out to be ten and a half feet tall and wears size 23 sneakers. I do, really, have a friend with enormously long feet in real life and I’m not sure they don’t wear size 23. Not quite that tall, though. The narrator’s introduction about how the show “goes everywhere, sees everything, does everyone” riffs on newsreel hype.|
|08:00||Great Moments In History: the story behind Barbara Fritchie. Quick little sketch based on a poem that I only know because of a Rocky and Bullwinkle sketch, this bit, and a sketch from the Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America albums. The sketch shows that sort of cheery, lightly cynical existentialism that at least I see all over cartoons of the era.|
|09:15||Song. Peggy Taylor sings “Birth of the Blues”.|
|13:00||Carving A New Statue At Mount Rushmore. Absurdist bit about carving a 400-foot oleomargarine statue. The sort of sketch you can only do on radio or the cartoons. Mary Mararet McBride did a daily housewife-advice chat show on radio for decades, including what sounds like an admirably eclectic line of interview subjects. This sounds all respectable enough, although by 1957 she’d been on the air for roughly a quarter-century. Likely she served well as an old-enough-to-be-square reference. My favorite line is the carver declaring of someone, “I hate her but she’s a lovely girl”.|
|16:00||Wrong number. The major sketch this piece, without the political energy of last week’s Incident at Los Voraces. It’s a simple slow-build, slow-burn sketch where a onetime common accident just keeps getting bigger. My favorite line is its most instantly dated, the man declaring he’s so tired he “wouldn’t go out to see Davey Crockett wrestle Marilyn Monroe”.|
|23:50||Stephen Foster Medley. Is there any dated comic premise more wonderfully dated than the late-50s/early-60s hate-on-rock-and-roll bit? I say there is only if you divide the early-60s-hate-on-the-Beatles into its own genre. This sketch revives a record-producer character from Freberg’s record “Sh-Boom”, mentioned early on, who’d helped a recording get to true modern greatness by avoiding problems like the audience being able to make out a word the singers were performing. This is the same premise, doing a rock-and-roll version of Stephen Foster songs. It’s more cleverly done than funny, and I don’t think just because Freberg writes for clever. Nor because the premise is hilariously dated, embedded as it is in a moment when American popular music styles changed to what is still the default mode, and writing from the perspective of the now-obsolete styles. I think Freberg (or his writers) got caught in an authenticity trap. They got so committed to making plausible arrangements that, actually, “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” set to the tune of “Rag Mop” works. I’ve been caught in this kind of authenticity trap myself. I suspect it’s caused by certain nerd personality traits. Particular strains of cleverness and industriousness and perfectionism can combine to where the goal becomes executing an idea perfectly. It’s easy to forget that you haven’t developed or escalated the idea past the original premise.|
|28:00||Closing Remarks. No teaser for next week; the first episode said the Barbara Fritchie bit would be here.|
Artist Larry Lieber retired from the syndicated Amazing Spider-Man comic strip. D D Degg, with The Daily Cartoonist, reports that Alex Saviuk is now pencilling and inking the daily strips. Lieber had been drawing the strip for thirty years. Stan Lee is still the writer of record. Degg notes that Roy Thomas is “generally known” to be the ghost writer. He hasn’t gotten any official credit though.
So with that fairly answered let me get back to recapping the plot of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Any plot recaps — or other news that seems worthy — about the comic strip that I post later on should be at this link.
And my mathematics blog uses a lot of comic strips to inspire discussion, at least once and usually several times a week. Thanks for checking that out.
The Amazing Spider-Man
17 June – 16 September 2018.
When I last checked, Spider-Man and Iron Fist were enjoying the Ritual Fight Until They Realize They’re Both Heroes all superheroes must do. They were outside the 14th-floor window of the hospital where FBI Agent Jimmy Woo recovered from a clobbering. I guessed Spidey and Fist would stop fighting and team up by Wednesday. By Wednesday Spidey had stopped fighting on the grounds his Spider-Sense told him Woo was in peril. Iron Fist smashes through the building wall, interrupting the woman trying to inject Woo with poison. She and her henchman try holding Doctor Christine Palmer hostage, but Spider-Man webs them. The heroes vanish.
Spider-Man suggests they team up, the better to find the “Golden Claw” behind the attacks on Woo. Iron Fist resists the idea, but wonders if Spidey might be right. He reveals himself to be Danny Rand, billionaire CEO of Rand Enterprises, survivor of a plane crash in the Training-White-Guys-To-Have-Mystic-Powers-Of-The-Inscrutable-East district of the Himalayas and recently returned to civilization. Went to school with The Shadow, Mandrake the Magician, Kit Walker Junior, and the 90s-animated-series Batman. Peter Parker responds to this show of trust by running away. Also by collecting the camera he’d secreted away to get photos of his Fight Cute with the Iron Fist. His are the first photographs that prove Iron Fist exists, and they make a front page photo-and-story for Peter Parker.
Petey mopes, though. He feels guilty not responding to Iron Fist’s trust in kind. And for proving Iron Fist exists, when he’d been working sub rosa against The Hand, another of those criminal syndicates I guess. Robbie Robertson, managing editor of The Daily Bugle, gives Parker the tip that Iron Fist has something to do with the martial arts studio. Parker swallows his conscience enough to go there and ask for its manager, Colleen Wing. The woman running the place sets an appointment for him at 11:00, on Crouching Dragon street.
It’s in the Chinatown district of the comic strip. The National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism dispatches an observer they dearly hope they can spare from Mark Trail. The women from the dojo lead Peter Parker through the twisty passages deeper into Chinatown. And then turn on him, attacking him with swords he dodges by using his spider-powers. He worries how to keep dodging them without giving away his secret identity when someone clobbers him with a giant metal mace. I know it’s a standard joke in Newspaper Spider-Man snarking circles to mention how he keeps getting hit in the head. But, boy, he keeps getting hit in the head.
So the woman apparently running the dojo was not Colleen Wing. She was Suwan, grand-niece of the Golden Claw. Golden Claw has the real Colleen Wing bound. And he figures that Peter Parker, as the husband of Broadway actor Mary Jane Parker, is too important to simply make disappear somehow (?). Golden Claw demands to know what Parker knows of Iron Fist and Spider-Man. He claims all he ever did was get close enough to Iron Fist to take a photograph. Suwan searches Parker enough to find his boarding pass, showing he did just get back from Miami. She doesn’t search enough to find the Spider-Man costume he’s wearing under his clothes. She does discover Jimmy Woo was the FBI agent her grand-uncle ordered killed, though, and that’s a problem. She’s always loved him. Golden Claw has given her clear orders to get over him, but no.
And then in comes wide crime boss The Kingpin. He got released from jail at the start of this story. It’s part of the Superhero Parole Board’s longrunning, popular “Let’s Just See What They’ll Do” program. What he’ll do is order Wing and Parker taken to Wing’s studio where they can be set on fire. Iron Fist interrupts their murder, and punches the henchmen’s truck into Apartment 3-G. But they’ve still got Colleen Wing, and are ready to shoot her. And then Suwan does her heel-face turn, tasering the henchmen. She feels no loyalty to her grand-uncle now that he’s broken his pledge to not hurt Jimmy Woo, so, that’s nice to have settled.
She won’t explain the plot in front of Peter Parker. And that’s all right. He’s wanted to get into his secret identity anyway. He walks off, muttering, “Gosh, I wonder where Spider-Man, that excellent superhero everybody loves, is” and then coming back in costume. Iron Fist, Suwan, and Wing sigh, roll their eyes, and say, “Jeepers, it sure is lucky Peter Parker was able to get in touch with you by some mysterious means so fast”.
So what’s going on: Suwan leads them all to the Mammon Theatre. It’s the temporarily-closed location of Picture Perfect, the play Mary Jane Parker’s starring in. It’s also where Golden Claw and Kingpin booked their crime summit. Their plan: they’re going to tell everyone they’re taking over everybody’s rackets and this solves their problems, see? But Kingpin and Golden Claw are really going to kill them all. The first part of the plan goes great. All New York City’s gangsters are thrilled by this opportunity to be taken over. They’re fired up with enthusiasm and bullets. And that’s where the story’s reached now.
Alley Oop jumped the line, so we’ll just let him rest in 1816 Switzerland and that rerun. And next on my cycle is … Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.
So my big idea what to do next was The Stan Freberg Show. This ran from the 14th of July through the 20th of October, 1957. It was a half-hour sketch-comedy show. And it ran after The Jack Benny Show, Sunday nights at 7:30 Eastern. Or, at least, it ran after reruns of the The Jack Benny Show. By 1957 the United States broadcast networks were shutting down scripted fiction radio. They wanted people to be watching television, with better advertising revenues, instead. By 1962 the last entertainment shows of this kind were off the air. There’ve been attempts to bring scripted fiction radio back. But it’s never lasted.
The Stan Freberg Show‘s interesting for being one of the last major original new programs. It’s built around Freberg, a writer and performer of wit and musical talent and a sort of gentle anger that everybody’s a fool. He’d become a voice actor on arriving in Hollywood. You might know him from the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies as the male voice actor who isn’t Mel Blanc. (Or the guy who did Elmer Fudd.) In the early 50s he started recording comedy albums, many of them spoofs of popular music. My generation may know him best through a long-running commercial featuring him and his son, who had a report due on space, then he got the new Encyclopedia Brittanica, something that he thinks he made … abundantly clear.
So let me take a quick look over these shows. Here’s the first, originally aired the 14th of July, 1957.
Running down the sketches:
- 00:00. Cold Open. Short bits from several of Freberg’s musical comedy albums, which start talking to one another and back to the “real” Stan Freberg. Good reminder to an audience that might know they remember this voice from somewhere, but not where.
- 01:31. Opening Theme. We’ll come back to the lyrics.
- 02:15. Opening Remarks. When Stan Freberg says “Goodnight, folks” and they start playing Hooray for Hollywood, it’s riffing on Jack Benny’s closing theme.
- 03:00. Musical Sheep. A surprisingly Muppet Show-ready sketch, based on whalloping sheep to play a tune. It’s got me idly curious just how far back the “hitting animals to make music” bit goes. I suppose at least as far back as bones were used for percussion instruments. It’s also got me a bit surprised that Freberg — a puppeteer on top of everything else — didn’t ever guest-host the Muppet Show.
- 07:15. Freberg’s Fable: Incident At Los Voraces. So, back in like 1995, The Dana Carvey Show opened its brief run as a prime-time sketch-comedy show with a bit where Carvey, as President Bill Clinton, breast-feeds live kittens. Long after the show’s cancellation one of the writers, I think Dino Stamatopoulos, described to Conan O’Brien how they had ratings reports, broken down by six-second intervals, and could just watch the size of the audience plummeting before they even got to the opening credits. Prime-time sketch-comedy was always a long shot. But it’s easy to imagine the show might have had a better chance had they opened with This Week With David Brinkley On A Roller Coaster.
So, this sketch. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s kind of wild. It builds off something already crazy, Texas Oil Millionaires. In the 40s and 50s, when not funding insane right-wing paranoia, they’d also build ludicrously oversized hotels, often in Las Vegas. To turn that into a parable about atomic war, though — that’s getting crazy.
It’s earnest, certainly. It shows a desire to say something important about the most important thing there was to talk about. Along the way it has a bunch of great exaggerated jokes. The woman hoping to swim across the hotel pool, accompanied by naval escort, fits the American tall-tale comedy tradition. (It also reminds me, at least, of a commercial Freberg did for his own ability to make radio commercials. As a stunt for it, he would drain the Great Lakes, fill them with hot chocolate, and have a fleet of fighter jets cover them with whipped cream a mile deep, in under eight seconds, and try getting a spectacle like that on television.) The suggestion of airlifting a chunk of the Israel-Egypt border, and hosting a war for entertainment, is audacious. I’m still not sure if it’s in good enough taste for the laugh it earns. Still, it’s working at being crazy big. And there’s a lot of bits along the way that are wonderfully weird, like the Inaugurieties of 1960. Or that Rock-and-Roll-Romeo bit.
But it’s also a twenty minute sketch about a pair of Las Vegas hotels that blow each other up. It’s well-made satire. But it’s grim stuff. I think the best you can say at the end of the sketch is, well, I’m not such a short-sighted fool as to use a neutron bomb for a firework. I’m more intelligent than the idiots of this world. It’s cold comfort, even if you’re completely sure of yourself.
I can’t say this sketch killed the show at its start. I don’t know anything about how it was received at the time. I can say my reaction to this. I’ve listened to this episode a couple times. And my reaction was, oh gads, I already feel bad enough. This might be environmental. I don’t remember the sketch feeling quite as forlorn when I listened to it a couple years ago, before the current hyperfire started. Still, credit to the show for wanting to say something.
Did you notice the mention of Lawrence Welk?