206: Ring of Terror
by Trey Yeatts
Look at that, Tom. It says, “Centerville. A real great place to raise your kids up.”
In the offbeat 1971 musical film 200 Motels, co-written and directed by Frank Zappa and starring Zappa, his band The Mothers of Invention, and Ringo Starr, Centerville was the small town wherein the characters were driven insane.
[Sung.] Look for, the union label. When you are dying and ...
“Look for the Union Label” is a song written by Paula Green and Malcolm Dodds in 1975 for a contest sponsored by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. It was used in commercials for several years. Sample lyrics: “Look for the union label/When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse/Remember somewhere our union’s sewing/Our wages going to feed the kids and run the house …”
“Art Director Gene La Rouche.” Hey, Lyndon LaRouche’s brother. They just bought drugs from the queen of England.
Lyndon LaRouche is a Democratic and Labor Party politician who ran for president eight times between 1976 and 2004 and also attracted a devoted (and sometimes violent) following. In 1988, he was sent to prison for six years for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tax violations. He is also a conspiracy theorist, believing that the Soviet Union or the International Monetary Fund introduced AIDS to kill Africans, that George H.W. Bush’s family helped fund Adolf Hitler during World War II, and that Queen Elizabeth II is a leader of the international drug trade.
Suits by Botany 500.
If you have ever watched a 1970s game show, you will have noticed that the host’s suits were often provided by the clothier Botany 500. They also provided suits for a number of other famous TV shows, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Kojak, and Bewitched.
Body by Fisher.
Fisher Body was an automotive coachbuilder founded in Detroit in 1908; it is now owned by GM. Fisher supplied the bodies for GM cars, and until the mid-1990s, their cars carried a display plate that read "Body by Fisher" on the door sill. (Thanks to Clarence Ragland for this reference.)
He looks like Count Chocula.
Count Chocula is a chocolate-flavored children’s cereal that was introduced in 1971. The Count himself appeared in animated commercials for the cereal; he was voiced by Larry Kenney, doing a Bela Lugosi impersonation. He was followed by a series of “monster” cereals—Franken Berry, Boo Berry, Fruit Brute, and Fruity Yummy Mummy—but Count Chocula remained the most popular. As of 2010 the cereals were sold only seasonally, at Halloween.
Shouldn’t they have their high beams on? –Must be cold.
Funeral processions traditionally drive from the church or funeral home to the graveyard with their headlights on. In some places, it is the law. Also, “high beams” is slang innuendo for erect nipples.
Okay, everybody on stage for the big Cossack number.
Cossacks are an ethnic group native to present-day Ukraine and southern Russia. They date back to circa the 1300s and are mostly known in modern times for their tradition of military service, their prowess with horses, and their involvement in various wars, including the Russian Civil War in the early 20th century, in which they fought against the victorious Bolsheviks. The traditional Cossack uniform included a long, open-fronted coat called a cherkesska, worn with a colored waistcoat (a beshmet), usually topped with a fleece hat.
The caterers are here. They must be serving Tombstone pizza.
Tombstone is a brand of frozen pizza created by brothers Pep and Ron Simek in 1960s Wisconsin. It was named after a bar they owned, the Tombstone Tap, which was across the street from a cemetery. In 1986, Tombstone was sold to Kraft, which sold it to Nestlé in 2010. In the 1990s, Tombstone commercials were all over TV, with their slogan, “What do you want on your Tombstone?”
Oh, look. She’s mad ‘cause she lost her job on Petticoat Junction.
Petticoat Junction was a TV sitcom about life at a hotel in a small town. It aired from 1963 to 1970 on CBS as part of their interconnected triad of “rural” sitcoms, the other two being Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. Its cancellation despite decent ratings was the first of the so-called “CBS Rural Purge” in 1971. In an attempt to “urbanize” their programming, all three of the above-mentioned shows, along with Hee-Haw, Mayberry R.F.D., and others were cancelled, even though they all had average-to-good standing in the ratings.
Ah, “The Funeral” by Henry Gibson.
Henry Gibson (b. James Bateman; 1935-2009) was an actor best known for being a regular on NBC’s sketch comedy series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-1973) for three seasons. In one recurring sketch, he would appear dressed as a hippie, holding a huge artificial flower, and recite a poem, starting off by saying, “[The title], by Henry Gibson.” He also appeared frequently on the ABC anthology series Love, American Style (1969-1974), played the leader of the Illinois Nazis in The Blues Brothers (1980), and played mysterious neighbor Dr. Werner Klopek in the 1989 horror-comedy The ‘Burbs.
[Sung.] Paylow, Pay-ay-ay-low. Directors come and they want to go home.
A corruption of lines from “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” a traditional Jamaican folk song most famously recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1956. His single, in fact, started the calypso craze in the U.S. Actual lyrics: “Day-o, day-o/Daylight come and me wan’ go home.” Director Clark Paylow (1918-1985) found most of his work in Hollywood as an assistant director working on TV shows such as Sky King and as a production manager on films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Check it out. Bob Dobson from the Church of the SubGenius. –The Almighty Bob.
A reference to the parody religion the Church of the SubGenius and its “founder,” J.R. “Bob” Dobbs. According to its mythology, Dobbs was a well-coiffed, pipe-smoking salesman who saw a vision of God (an angry alien) in a television in 1953. In actuality, the “church” was founded in 1979 in Dallas, Texas, and took on a life of its own over the next couple of decades, thanks in large part to the rise of the Internet.
Oh, it’s Joe Franklin.
Joe Franklin is a radio and television personality regarded by many to be the first TV talk show host in history. His show was based in New York, started in 1951, and was broadcast until 1993. The program’s nostalgic bent, along with seemingly random celebrity appearances and panels, made it popular, leading to it being parodied on Saturday Night Live by Billy Crystal and Franklin himself appearing in 1984’s Ghostbusters.
Mr. Magoo, what happened to you?
Mr. Magoo was the elderly, nearsighted star of a series of short cartoons that first appeared in 1949 and lasted well into the late ‘70s. He was voiced by Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. Leslie Nielsen played Mr. Magoo in a live-action film released to little success in 1997.
Sure, you know what “Gloomy Gus” means, but do you know whence it came? Gloomy Gus was a character in the comic strip “Happy Hooligan” by funny page pioneer Frederick Burr Opper. It first appeared in print in 1904; contemporary to the strip, USC football coach Elmer Henderson (1889-1965) was nicknamed “Gloomy Gus” because he badmouthed the team’s prospects before every game. Oddly enough, he holds USC’s best career percentage: 45-7-0.
Some filled with a creamy nougat center.
Nougat originated in Italy and is a candy filling usually made with sugar, ground nuts, and egg whites. It’s used in candy bars such as Mars, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, and Baby Ruth.
I’d buy Polaroid.
Polaroid Corporation began in 1937 as an eyewear company (making polarized sunglasses, hence their name) in Minnetonka, Minnesota. In 1948 they introduced the first instant camera, the Land Camera. “Polaroid” eventually became a brand eponym for any kind of instant photograph. When Kodak introduced their own instant camera in the mid-1970s, Polaroid sued them for patent infringement. An epic legal battle unfolded over the next fourteen years, one that ended a few weeks before this episode first aired in 1990, with Kodak ordered to pay $909 million (much less than Polaroid had wanted, but still substantial). Kodak also ceased manufacturing their cameras and film, leaving unhappy customers in the lurch. Unfortunately, both companies failed to anticipate the rise and ubiquity of digital photography. Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and stopped producing film in 2009. (Thanks to Larry Hastings for the Polaroid v. Kodak reference.)
Johnny Yuma was a rebel.
A line from the song “The Ballad of Johnny Yuma,” a.k.a. “The Rebel,” written by Richard Markowitz and Andrew Fenady and performed by Johnny Cash. It was used as the theme song to the ABC western The Rebel, which ran from 1959 to 1961. Nick Adams starred as Johnny Yuma, a veteran of the Confederate Army who roamed the Old West.
Oh, Yo-Yo Ma. It’s his favorite cellist.
Yo-Yo Ma is an award-winning American cellist who began performing at the age of five and attended Juilliard when he was nine. He has won multiple Grammies and performed all over the world.
Hank Ketcham’s buried there.
Hank Ketcham (1920-2001) was a cartoonist who created “Dennis the Menace” in 1951. He continued to draw it until he retired in 1994, when his assistants Marcus Hamilton and Ron Ferdinand took it over. The strip was named after his then-four-year-old son Dennis; when Dennis wrecked his room one day after refusing to take a nap, Ketcham’s wife informed him, “Your son is a menace!”
Oh, that’s nice. I’m calling Betty White.
Betty White is an actress who rose to fame playing the Happy Homemaker, Sue Ann Nivens, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s. She is known to a later generation as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls (1985-1992) and as a feisty old broad with a sense of humor about herself.
“Lewis B. Moffitt.” Sat on a toffitt.
A reference to the nursery rhyme “Little Miss Muffet”: “Little Miss Muffet/Sat on a tuffet/Eating her curds and whey/Along came a spider/Who sat down beside her/And frightened Miss Muffet away.” The earliest known version appeared in 1805, although some attribute it to Thomas Muffet, an entomologist who died in 1604.
“1955.” If man is still alive.
A paraphrasing of the opening line from the hit 1969 single “In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” by Zager & Evans. (“In the year 2525, if man is still alive ...”) The song lists various years, separated by 1,010 years, and details the deterioration of mankind. Though it was a number one song in both the U.S. and U.K., the duo never had another charted hit. It has been covered more than sixty times and is frequently parodied.
[Flashback effects on screen.] Doodly-doodly-doodly-doodly-doodly ...
This is imitating a harp glissando, which is a frequently used means in film of letting the viewer know that they are about to see a flashback. They were often used in dream sequences in stage productions, and this carried over to the early days of radio and film and then television.
Hope they don’t have those chili peppers. I hate chili peppers. Love hamburgers.
Callbacks to Show 202, Sidehackers (“Chili peppers burn my gut”), and Show 203, Jungle Goddess (“Hamburger and french fried potatoes”).
Where was I? Oh yeah. “See Dick. See Dick make a lateral incision ...”
A parody of the old Dick and Jane children’s books published by Scott Foresman, which were standard reading textbooks from the 1930s to the 1960s. They included such simple, repetitive phrases as “See Spot run. Run, Spot, run.”
Tropic of Cancer.
Tropic of Cancer is a novel by Henry Miller published in 1934. It’s about an expatriate writer in France and the bohemian community he lives in. It became notorious for its frank discussions of sex and its colorful language and consequently was banned in the United States. Legal wrangling continued until 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the book was not obscene and could be legally published.
Sorry, snow cone. –Who is she? Janis Ian. –She looks like a model for Resusci-Annie.
Snow cone is the generic name given to treats of shaved ice coated with flavored syrup. Janis Ian was a singer/songwriter during the 1960s and 1970s. Several of her hits have to do with teenage angst, including “Society’s Child,” about an interracial romance, and “At Seventeen.” Resusci-Annie is a realistic mannequin that has been used to train people to perform CPR since 1960. Her face is based on the death mask of a young drowning victim pulled from the Seine in France in the 1880s. Since her identity was never established, romantic stories circulated in which she threw herself into the river due to unrequited love, and copies of her death mask became a popular decoration throughout Europe.
Yeah, purple microdot.
"Microdot" is the slang term for a commonly available tablet form of the psychedelic street drug LSD; it earned the nickname for its tiny size. The most frequently seen colors of microdots are yellow, purple, and red.
Glen and Glenda.
Glen or Glenda (original title: I Changed My Sex!) is a 1953 docudrama written by, directed by, and starring Ed Wood, who was himself a cross-dresser. Though it deals with cross-dressing and transsexuality and pleads for tolerance, it is often considered among the worst films ever made thanks to Wood’s “skills” as a filmmaker.
I look like Resusci-Annie.
See previous note.
“I was at the hairdresser’s.” Getting a punch job.
“Punch job” is slang for getting hit in the groin.
‘Cause I’m going to coat you with bear grease.
Bear grease is actually a thing, rendered from bear fat. It can be used to protect leather, as a hair pomade, and, thanks to its odd reactions to temperature and barometric pressure, as a weather forecaster.
For some wilding?
“Wilding” was a media term coined in 1989 after a gang of teenagers allegedly raped and bludgeoned a young female investment banker who was jogging in Central Park in New York City. Five of them confessed to the brutal crime, although they later recanted, claiming the confessions had been coerced by police, who were under intense pressure to solve the crime. The attack was the subject of many a hand-wringing newspaper editorial on the theme that civilization was on the verge of collapse. In 2002, a known rapist named Matias Reyes, already in prison for life for a series of rapes and a murder, confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence confirmed his guilt. In December 2002, the teens’ convictions were set aside, although unfortunately they had already served the full length of their sentences. Three of the wrongly convicted men sued the city in 2003; in 2014 the suit was settled for $40 million.
She’s the ginchiest. Life does begin at forty.
Here’s a word that did some evolving. When it was first printed in the 1930s, “ginch” or “ginchy” meant “a girl with whom you’d like to fornicate.” By the 1950s, it had become a synonym for “cool” or “groovy.” “Life begins at forty” is a well-known catchphrase originating in the title of a best-selling 1933 self-help book written by Walter B. Pitkin. It was also used as the title of a 1935 Will Rogers film. John Lennon recorded a song under that title in 1980 (the year he turned forty and, sadly, the year he was killed), but it was not released until 1998, on the John Lennon Anthology box set.
I’m going to have to take a sweater. My legs are old; my teeth are gray.
A paraphrasing of a running gag from Monty Python’s 1979 film Life of Brian. The elderly character of Matthias often responds to knocks at the door by saying some variation of “My legs are old and bent. My ears are grizzled” or “My legs are grey. My ears are gnarled. My eyes are old and bent.”
Don’t get me started. My missile’s ready to fire. –The shuttle has cleared the tower.
“Cleared the tower” is a phrase usually spoken once a rocket has risen above the tower that provides stability, fuel, power, etc., as it sits on the launch pad. Typically, the launch is controlled by officials at Cape Canaveral, Florida, but once the craft clears the tower, control shifts to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
To the moon. Alice.
A reference to the 1950s television sitcom The Honeymooners, which starred Jackie Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden and Audrey Meadows (who replaced Pert Kelton) as his long-suffering wife, Alice. “Bang, zoom, straight to the moon!” was one of Ralph’s threats to Alice, meaning he would hit her so hard that her body would be sent beyond Earth’s gravitational pull. For some reason, verbalized spousal abuse was humorous in those days, and the audience would laugh and laugh.
Bob has a problem. [Jazzy high-hat noises.] Bob wasn’t careful, you see; now he’s paying the price.
Probably a reference to the 1959 short film Innocent Party, which warned of the dangers of contracting syphilis from big-city hussies who wear tight knit shirts and go parking with high-school boys they don’t know, all to a cool, jazzy soundtrack. The film was used in school health classes into the 1980s.
[Imitating.] How would you like it if someone picked apples off of you?
A line spoken by an anthropomorphic tree in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
[Snake.] Hi, I’m Satan. This is what happens when you do the hanky-panky before you’re married. Let’s watch the fun. Really.
A reference to the biblical myth of the Garden of Eden and the tale relating to the temptation of Adam and Eve. In the book of Genesis, a talking serpent persuaded Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, thus lumbering humanity with the “original sin” of disobeying God. While the serpent has traditionally been regarded as a personification of Satan for centuries, the snake is never explicitly named as such in Genesis. Satan (a.k.a. the Devil) is the personification of evil, primarily featuring in Christian and Islamic traditions. He is most often described as a “fallen angel” of God, though his initial job seems to have been as a prosecutor of sorts, sent to test men’s faith. This riff is frequently uttered on MST3K when there’s a snake on screen.
Oh, Captain Spaulding.
Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding is the name of Groucho Marx’s character in the 1930 Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers.
Lucky for me, someone set a bale of hay near the door. What a hoot. Don’t pollute. Pardon me. I’ve gotta get in here.
“Give a hoot, don’t pollute” is the longtime slogan of Woodsy Owl, the spokescreature for the USDA Forest Service. Woodsy has been urging environmental action since 1970. In 2006, Woodsy was redesigned. The “old” Woodsy looked very much like a stylized owl, but the “new” Woodsy is more humanoid, wearing green pants and a white shirt but with fuzzy arms and a smaller owl head.
Oh, Steve. Put my truss back on.
A truss is a strap and pad system (sometimes with springs) used by hernia patients to apply pressure to the affected area and hold the hernia in place. They are rarely prescribed today.
He did the mamba mambo.
Mambas are a type of venomous snake indigenous to Africa; they come in several varieties, including the highly feared black mamba, whose bite has an untreated mortality rate of 100 percent. The mambo is a type of dance and music that emerged from Cuba in the early 20th century. A mishmash of cultures, the music itself derives from African folk tunes and the moves are a combination of English, French, and Spanish styles.
Get my nitro pills, will you?
Nitroglycerin pills have been used as a treatment for heart ailments since 1879. And, yes, these pills are the same nitroglycerin you see used in cartoons and movies as explosives. In fact, nitroglycerin patches should be removed from patients before electronic defibrillation to prevent explosions.
It’s the Dave Brubeck Quartet appearing at the Cafeteria tonight. –Looks more like the Davey Brubeck. –Dave Jr., and the kids.
Dave Brubeck (1920-2012) was a renowned jazz pianist who recorded highly influential works in the 1950s and 1960s and continued to perform through the end of the 20th century. The Dave Brubeck Quartet was his longtime group, and in 1959, they released one of the most famous jazz recordings ever made, “Take Five.” Google it; you’ll recognize it.
And that’s when we frag him! What do you say?
“Frag” is a military slang term dating back to the Vietnam War, meaning the deliberate killing of an unpopular or incompetent member of one’s unit, particularly the commander. It derives from “fragmentation grenade”—that weapon was a popular choice, as that made it easy to make the killing look like the result of combat (or an accident).
What say we bust loose nice, hot Bosco?
Bosco is a brand of chocolate-flavored syrup first sold in 1928.
Betty Crocker is the brand name developed by home economist Marjorie Husted in 1921 for the Washburn Crosby Company (later General Mills). The brand has become a standard for baked goods.
The guy’s not dead yet. He’s just really old. –[British accent.] It’s getting better.
A reference to a scene in 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which a man (played by John Cleese) is trying to dump his protesting elderly relative onto a plague cart filled with corpses.
These are baked yams. A Miss Karen Finley sent them over.
Karen Finley is a performance artist who is (in)famous for her theatrical pieces and recordings that have been labeled obscene for nudity and graphic sexual descriptions. Her proposed funding by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990 drew the ire of ultraconservative Senator Jesse Helms and was vetoed. Her 1986 show “Yams Up My Granny’s Ass” led to a Village Voice article in which writer Pete Hamill claimed (falsely) she sodomized herself with an uncooked yam; in fact, Hamill never actually attended the performance.
We secretly switched Tiny’s coffee with chicken-fried pork loin gravy. Let’s watch and see what happens.
Folgers Instant Coffee Crystals had a popular TV ad campaign in the 1970s and early 1980s involving real coffee at famous restaurants being covertly swapped for their instant brew. Amazingly, the people in the commercial could not tell the difference.
Looks like a precursor to the monster truck rallies.
Monster truck shows became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Monster trucks are modified pickup trucks outfitted with huge wheels and suspension; sometimes they race each other, and sometimes they drive over other vehicles, such as cars, school buses, and even small planes.
Rattle-rattle, thunder clatter, boom-boom-boom.
A famous jingle for Car-X Auto Service shops, which was used in commercials beginning in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, at the Dame Edith Evans College for Grownups.
The phrase “Meanwhile, back at _____” originated with cards inserted in silent films of the early 20th century. In westerns, this was often “Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...” Once audio became a common component, the phrase was still used by narrators in films, radio, and television shows. Dame Edith Evans (1888-1976) was a British actress famous for playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) and portraying Miss Western in Tom Jones (1963). On stage, she was known for playing the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, a role she assumed four times.
Isn’t that Don DeFore from TV’s Hazel?
Don DeFore (1913-1993) was a film and television actor. He was best known for his role as the neighbor, Thorny, on the ABC sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966) and as “Mr. B,” a.k.a. George Baxter, on the sitcom Hazel (1961-1966) for its first four seasons.
How’s the tuffet?
See above note on “Little Miss Muffet.”
The school song is called “Code Blue.” That’s Randolph Mantooth behind the wheel there. Hope he’s giving the movie the Heimlich here. –You’ve got to get that into every movie, don’t you? –Sorry.
“Code blue” is a medical phrase meaning “a patient requires immediate attention,” usually resuscitation or cardiac support. Randolph Mantooth is an actor best known for playing paramedic Johnny Gage in the 1970s NBC medical drama Emergency! The Heimlich maneuver is a technique for saving a choking person by dislodging the object that is blocking their airways. It was pioneered in 1974 by American physician Henry Heimlich, although in 2003 Heimlich’s colleague Edward Patrick claimed he actually developed the maneuver.
Look, everything’s made by the Japanese. –[Accent.] Uh! Godzira! Hurry! –Godzira in the back of the truck.
Godzilla is a Japanese kaiju (“strange beast”) that has appeared in nearly thirty films since 1954. In Japanese, Godzilla’s name is “Gojira,” which is a portmanteau of the words for “gorilla” and “whale.” Typically in Godzilla films, the man in the monster suit crushes large models of a city while citizens flee in terror.
Ana-tom-me. That must be where they do au-top-sees. –They make toys there.
A rather oblique reference to Tomy Co., a Japanese toy company that was founded in 1924.
Let’s see, the hip bone is connected to the, uh ...
A paraphrased line from the 19th-century spiritual “Dem Bones” (or “Dry Bones,” or “Dem Dry Bones”), written by James Weldon Johnson and based upon a passage in the Bible, Ezekiel 37. The song has been recorded by many artists, including Fats Waller, the Lennon Sisters, and Rosemary Clooney.
An imitation of Frank Nelson (1911-1986), who played sales clerks and customer service foils on The Jack Benny Program, and was famous for responding to Benny's pestering with this catchphrase. (Thanks to Christopher Eckart for this reference.)
Let’s see here. Nine-seven-six-CORPSE. Hello?
”976” numbers, like their “900” area code brethren, were created in 1977 as premium service telephone exchanges. This allowed companies to charge the caller premium rates for the service provided. Very often, these services involved adult chat lines, which gave the prefix a tainted reputation, though they were also used for weather, tech support, games, and polling or voting. Another use for the lines that led to many complaints from parents was marketing directly to children, with TV commercials urging them to call and talk to their favorite cartoon characters; after one child racked up a $17,000 phone bill, the FTC cracked down on the practice, and the ads were banned in the mid-1990s.
“This is Professor Rayburn.” Gene Rayburn. When Stanley grabs his tools, he blanks.
Gene Rayburn (1917-1999) was the host of Match Game, a celebrity-laden game show that ran off and on in various incarnations from 1962 to 1999. Contestants were encouraged to fill in the blanks of risqué phrases to match celebrities. For example, “When Stanley grabs his tools, he screws.” The use of “Stanley” and “tools” here may be a reference to Stanley Tools (today, Stanley Black & Decker), a hardware manufacturer founded in 1843.
We’re going to Broadway!
Broadway is one of the oldest streets in New York City, dating back to the city’s founding as New Amsterdam; the length near Times Square in Manhattan is famous as the home of premier U.S. stage productions, and the spine of the city’s Theater District.
Morrison Hall. Break on through, dudes. –There’s the door of perception over there.
Jim Morrison (1943-1971) was the lead singer for the rock group The Doors (1965-1973). “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” was their first single, released in 1967. The Doors of Perception is a 1954 book written by Aldous Huxley about his experiences with mescaline. The title (itself a line from the 18th-century William Blake poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) was the inspiration for the band’s name.
Girl rhubarb. Girl rhubarb.
Along with “rutabaga,” “watermelon,” and “peas and carrots,” “rhubarb” is one of those words that background extras are told to mutter among themselves as a way to simulate conversation in films and TV shows.
But words will never hurt us.
A paraphrased line from the rhyme “Sticks and Stones,” published in the 1872 book Tappy’s Chicks: and Other Links Between Nature and Human Nature by Mrs. George Cupples. That version runs: “Sticks and stones may break my bones/But names will never hurt me.” It was offered as advice to resist playground taunts. As a recipient of such taunts, however, I can tell you that sometimes, words did hurt.
To do the Technicolor yawn.
Technicolor is a film process invented in 1916 to capture and develop color. Its eye-popping results were in high demand in Hollywood from the 1930s well into the ‘60s and were used frequently in lavish musicals such as The Wizard of Oz, costume dramas such as Gone with the Wind, and animated features and shorts. “The Technicolor yawn” is a slang term for vomiting that originated in Australia in the 1960s.
Show the boys your tuffet.
See above note on “Little Miss Muffet.”
Shouting “Dibs!” is generally a childhood method of laying claim to something. In most English-speaking nations, this is referred to as “bags” and dates back to the mid-1800s. As for the origin of the word “dibs,” opinions vary. Two leading theories: 1) it comes from the game of dibstones, which was similar to jacks, or 2) “dibs” derives from the word “divvy,” or “divide.”
“We shall begin ...” The Beguine.
“Begin the Beguine” is a 1935 song by Cole Porter, made popular by Artie Shaw and his orchestra when they recorded it in 1938; it was one of the classics of the swing era.
Tor wants a potato sandwich, too.
Tor Johnson (1903-1971) was a Swedish wrestler and “actor” who was often a staple of Ed Wood films. Tor appeared in three MST3K episodes: Show 320, The Unearthly; Show 423, Bride of the Monster; and Show 621, The Beast of Yucca Flats.
Now earlier today, I baked a corpse at 425 degrees.
A paraphrase of lines frequently heard in cooking programs on TV. The host will describe and demonstrate the creation of a dish, but because watching a casserole bake for an hour would be more boring than the Golf Channel, they show you one they made earlier, so you can see what the finished dish looks like.
[Gravelly voice.] My boss. He always goes on like this. Now on with the show.
Something close to an impression of Max, the chauffeur/butler/et al. of Jonathan and Jennifer Hart on the ABC mystery series Hart to Hart (1979-1984). Max was played by Lionel Stander, and he frequently called his employers “boss.” Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (played by Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers) were a wealthy couple who were also amateur private investigators. Because they got bored, I guess.
Remind me never to eat those SpaghettiOs. –One day, that’ll be me. –I just said remind me to not eat SpaghettiOs. What more do you need? I’m talking to you.
SpaghettiOs are a brand of canned pasta rounds in tomato sauce that are popular with kids. They were introduced in 1965 by Campbell Soup’s Franco-American brand after being developed by Donald Goerke as a type of spaghetti that would be easy for children to eat without making a mess.
How’s it going so far? I gotta eat soon. I got a Grateful Dead concert to go to. Hey, wait a minute.
The Grateful Dead was an American rock band that emerged from the San Francisco music scene of the late 1960s and went on to become one of the most successful and enduring bands from that era, due in large part to their incessant touring and their devoted following of fiercely dedicated fans: the “Deadheads.” A frequent symbol and mascot of the band was a skull; the album Steal Your Face depicted a stylized skull decorated with a red-white-and-blue lightning bolt, and the album Grateful Dead had a skeleton crowned with roses.
You do the Hokey Pokey, turn yourself around ... that’s really what it’s all about.
A paraphrasing of lines from the classic kids’ song “Hokey Pokey.” Some theories of its origin date back to the mid-19th century with the title being a corruption of “hocus pocus.” Elsewhere around the world, the song is known as “Hokey Cokey,” “Okey Cokey,” “Hokey Tokey,” etc.
Ugh, cancel that trip to White Castle.
White Castle is a chain of fast food burger restaurants founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas. Its burgers are also available through vending machines and in the frozen food sections of grocery stores.
Look, I said I’ll never eat SpaghettiOs.
See previous note.
Little army men.
Army men (a.k.a. plastic soldiers, Army guys, etc.) refer to the ubiquitous plastic figures from our youths. First made by Bergen Toy & Novelty in 1938, the designs and colors of the two-inch-high figures changed for the first couple of decades as they were manufactured to represent different armies (American, German, British, Soviet, etc.). About four decades ago, after a Vietnam-era lull, the American versions became standardized into about seven different “characters,” including flame-thrower guy, radio guy, commander with binoculars, crawling infantryman, and so on; the modern versions are also smaller, usually about one inch tall. Thanks to the popularity of the Toy Story films in the 1990s and a series of video games, plastic soldiers have again surged in popularity.
It’s eleven o’clock on the Big FM. Time for another fade.
Ah, radio. Before you kids had your iPods or whatever, you could wrap a wire around a quartz crystal, tie a transistor to it, plug on a battery, and listen to the Beatles. AM (Amplitude Modulation) radio was developed in 1906 by Reginald Fessenden. Before Reggie, any radio broadcaster was using that entire part of the spectrum instead of an individual setting. FM (Frequency Modulation) radio was developed by Edwin Armstrong in 1933. While AM radio can have greater range than FM, FM has the capacity for greater sound quality. That’s why most music stations are on the FM side of the dial. “Fade” can refer to the “crossing over” point at the end of one song and the beginning of another.
This is just a serving suggestion.
The phrase “serving suggestion” appears in television and print advertisements for food products and on the boxes themselves. Legally speaking, it’s so the morons out there don’t sue when they find that their box of Trix doesn’t include toast, OJ, and a glass of milk.
But first, the saw-the-lady-in-half gag.
Sawing a woman in half has been part of illusionists’ and magicians’ repertoires for nearly a century, but many claim it dates back to ancient Egypt. Art Metrano is an actor and comedian best known for his role as the antagonist Mauser in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985) and Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986). In the 1960s and ‘70s, part of his standup routine involved purposefully lame magic tricks (usually involving only his fingers) while he hummed the 1930 song “Fine and Dandy” by Kay Swift. The 2005 Family Guy movie Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story parodied this act (with Jesus in Metrano’s place), and Metrano sued for copyright infringement; the case was settled out of court in 2010. Metrano himself was disabled in a 1989 fall in his home. He still tours and donates the revenues toward helping people with spinal cord injuries.
Meanwhile, at the Amityville house.
See above note on “Meanwhile …” Amityville is a small town on New York’s Long Island, best known as the setting for the 1977 Jay Anson novel The Amityville Horror and a series of films loosely based on the book that were released from 1979 to the present. The house in question is at 112 Ocean Avenue (though the address has been changed and the home remodeled to cut down on lookie-loos). In 1975, the Lutz family moved into the home and claimed they were besieged by paranormal activity thanks to the murders of six people in the home just a year prior. The book was marketed as being a true story and, of course, so was the first film. The author and the Lutzes defended their story to the media, but independent researchers (including the TV show That’s Incredible!) thoroughly debunked many of their claims; while the murders did in fact take place, the paranormal phenomena reported by the Lutzes in the book were pure hokum. The convicted killer’s lawyer eventually confessed to concocting the tale with the Lutzes “over many bottles of wine”; he had hoped to use the stories to get a new trial for his client. Subsequent occupants of the home have reported nothing out of the ordinary. Except for the hordes of tourists.
Curly ... Moe ...
A reference to two members of The Three Stooges, a slapstick comedy trio that performed for five decades in the 20th century. They got their start in a vaudeville act called Ted Healy and His Stooges. The first lineup was Moe Howard (Moses Horwitz; 1897-1975), Shemp Howard (Samuel Horwitz; 1895-1955), and Larry Fine (Louis Feinberg; 1902-1975). Healy became angered that the Stooges were becoming more popular than him, and Shemp left, so Curly Howard (Jerome Horwitz; 1903-1952) joined in 1932. In 1934 the three left Healy and began their famous run of 190 shorts and five feature films for Columbia Pictures. After Curly suffered a stroke in 1946, Shemp rejoined the group. When Shemp died, he was replaced by Joe Besser (1907-1988) for the final 16 shorts. After Columbia closed its shorts division, the Stooges were out of a job, but reruns on television were making them more popular than ever. Columbia commissioned films beginning in 1959, but Besser had left the group. Comic Joe DeRita (1909-1993) replaced Besser for the films and was called “Curly Joe.” This last incarnation also produced live-action sketches for their 1965-1966 animated TV series, The New Three Stooges. A live-action travelogue TV series was planned for the early ‘70s, but Larry suffered a major stroke during filming of the pilot. Moe attempted unsuccessfully to revive the group for the next few years until his own death.
Looks like Tony Dow, doesn’t he?
Tony Dow is an actor best known for playing older brother Wally Cleaver on the classic sitcom Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963), as well as its 1983 TV movie Still the Beaver and the syndicated revival series The New Leave It to Beaver (1984-1989). Over the past few decades, he’s directed episodes for TV series such as Harry and the Hendersons, Coach, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Goodnight, Sergeant Carter.
A spinoff of The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was a TV sitcom that ran on CBS from 1964 to 1969. The show followed the exploits of naïve but good-hearted Mayberry, North Carolina, gas station attendant Gomer Pyle, played by Jim Nabors, who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, much to the chagrin of his short-tempered drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Vince Carter (played by Frank Sutton).
I don’t know about you, but that Irene Ryan is fine.
Irene Ryan (1902-1973) was an actress best known for her role as Daisy May Moses (a.k.a. Granny) on the TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, which aired from 1962 to 1971 on CBS.
So we’re waiting for the CDs to turn over and then we’re going to cash them.
“CDs” in this instance refers to “certificates of deposit,” a sort of “timed” savings account. The money is deposited with a bank, accrues interest, and then is withdrawn at a preset time.
Tell ‘em, Brünnhilde.
Brünnhilde is a valkyrie in Norse mythology who appeared in 13th-century sagas and poems (eddas) and in Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung operatic cycle. The character gave rise to the famous colloquialism, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” as her twenty-minute aria ends the interminable affair (and she is the classic buxom blonde in a Viking hat, wielding a spear, that you think of when you think of opera). By the way, the first known use of a variation on the saying is attributed to Texas Tech sports information director Ralph Carpenter in 1976.
Energy equals matter.
A reference to the famous physics formula “E=mc²,” or “energy equals mass times the speed of light squared,” first proposed by Albert Einstein in his ground-breaking 1905 paper “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?”
On his Lark?
The Studebaker Lark was a “compact car” (relative to other cars at the time) built by Studebaker-Packard Corporation from 1959 until 1966.
He’s a tower of Jell-O.
This insult appears to date back to 1948, to playwright George S. Kaufman and a game of gin rummy he played with his writing partner Moss Hart against two other players. Kaufman was winning; Hart was losing. When asked how he was doing, Kaufman replied, “Terribly. I have a partner who is a tower of Jell-O.” The 1982 film My Favorite Year borrowed the line: “Sy Benson: a tower of Jell-O,” and it has been used as an insult against numerous public figures since then. Jell-O is a sweetened gelatin dessert made by Kraft Foods. The powdered gelatin that serves as a base for the product was first developed in 1845 by Peter Cooper. In the 1880s, the patent was sold to a New York carpenter, Pearle Wait, who replicated the powder but added flavors to it. The first flavors available were lemon, orange, raspberry, and strawberry. The Jell-O name was bestowed upon it in 1897.
Grover’s Corners, after dark.
Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, is the fictional town depicted in the 1938 play Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder.
I’m Dickens. He’s Fenster. We’re cops.
I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster is a sitcom that aired on ABC for one season, from 1962-1963. It starred John Astin and Marty Ingels as carpenters Harry Dickens and Arch Fenster.
He’s in mourning. He’s wearing his underwear at half-mast. Definitely half-mast.
Crow very nearly slips into a Dustin Hoffman impression here, specifically his role as the autistic savant Raymond Babbitt in 1988’s Rain Man.
I really like that Larry Storch ensemble.
Larry Storch is an actor and voiceover artist best known for his role as Corporal Randolph Agarn on the TV series F Troop (1965-1967), the voice of Koko the Clown in a lengthy series of animated shorts, and Mr. Whoopee on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963-1966).
Abra Cadaver is a character in “The Wizard of Id” comic strip, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster the Wizard built out of spare body parts. The name is an obvious play on “abracadabra,” a word long associated with magic. It is believed to come from Aramaic words, meaning “create as I say.” The first recorded use of the word comes from a circa third-century A.D. text written by the physician of Roman Emperor Caracalla. He prescribed that an amulet with a triangular configuration of letters (spelling “ABRACADABRA” across the top and decreasing to “A” at the tip) be worn to alleviate malaria symptoms.
Can’t believe he’s wearing a Brat House T-shirt. I’m going to go throw up.
Given the history and culture of the area, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that there are several restaurants named “Brat House” (as in bratwurst) in Wisconsin.
I’ll curse the darkness.
A reference to the Chinese proverb, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Basically, “Stop complaining and do something.” It has famously been used to eulogize former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she died in 1962 and as the motto of The Christophers, a Christian inspirational group founded in 1945 (it was also used in the theme song of The Christophers, a weekly TV show that aired on ABC from 1945 until the mid-‘60s).
And she kept putting up posters of Bruno Hauptmann.
Bruno Hauptmann (1899-1936) was a German-born carpenter who in 1935 was convicted of kidnapping and murdering the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. The baby had been taken from his room three years earlier; a ransom was paid, but the child had been killed (perhaps accidentally) shortly after the abduction and his body dumped in the woods near his home. Hauptmann was arrested after he passed one of the ransom notes, and a large amount of the ransom money was found in his house. He claimed he was merely holding the money for a friend—the real kidnapper—but was convicted and executed the following year.
Meanwhile, at the coliseum, the vomitoriums are cleaned and readied for the day’s activities.
See above note on “Meanwhile …” A “vomitorium” is a passage designed for large groups of people to leave an event, common in Roman architecture. The name comes from the Latin word “vomitum,” meaning “to spew forth.” This has led to many misconceptions about the word, most (in)famously in a 1980 sketch on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Host Burt Reynolds played a guy trying to pick up chicks in a so-called “vomitorium,” a room lined with troughs where toga-clad folks tickled their gag reflexes with large feathers.
Look, it’s Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) was a Las Vegas staple and a member of Hollywood’s Rat Pack. He was known for his sense of style and predilection for audacious jewelry. His most famous song was 1972’s “The Candy Man,” he starred in films such as 1960’s Ocean’s 11, and he hosted the short-lived 1966 variety series The Sammy Davis Jr. Show.
In a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnalls’ front porch.
A reference to Carnac the Magnificent, a character played by host Johnny Carson during his run on The Tonight Show. Carnac was a mind reader with an enormous turban who would magically divine the answers to written questions hidden inside sealed envelopes. Those answers, of course, were kept in that jar on that porch, according to sidekick Ed McMahon. Funk & Wagnalls was a publisher of religious and reference books in the United States, founded in 1875. Their famed encyclopedias were published from 1912 to 1997. The company attempted to go digital at the turn of the century but failed. Their current parent company, Reader’s Digest Association, stopped using the brand name in 2007.
Wait a minute. Cupid didn’t have a flashlight. –Maybe he’s a movie usher.
Cupid is a Roman god associated with love, the son of Venus, the goddess of love, and Mars, the god of war (Eros is his Greek equivalent). He is often pictured as a naked, cherubic boy with wings and a bow and arrow. Whoever he shoots falls in love immediately.
Oh, Sansabelt jeans.
Sansabelt is a brand of men’s trousers with an elasticized waistband and hence no need for a belt.
“You’ve been acting like some sort of superman.” Thanks for noticing, Lois.
Superman is the fictional character born as Kal-El of the planet Krypton. The super-powered being with the alter ego Clark Kent was created in 1933 by high school students Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and first appeared in comics in 1938. Superman has appeared in many radio and cinematic serials, animated shorts, live-action and animated TV series, and several films. Lois Lane is a reporter with Clark Kent at the Daily Planet, Metropolis’s premier newspaper. For much of her character’s history, she’s been in love with Superman but not Kent. More often than not, she hasn’t realized the truth about Clark, despite being a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. From 1958 until 1974, she was the star of her own comic, Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane.
Like Them. Or It. Or The The.
Probably a series of references to Them!, a classic 1954 film about giant mutated ants; It, a 1986 novel by Stephen King (and a 1990 miniseries) about children besieged by a fear-sucking evil clown being; and The The, an English New Wave band started by Matt Johnson in 1979.
Here’s Opal, voted most like Barbara Bel Geddes.
Barbara Bel Geddes (1922-2005) was an actress and children’s author best known for playing Midge in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and matriarch Miss Ellie Ewing on the CBS prime-time soap Dallas for most of its run from 1978 to 1991.
It’s Divine in the early days.
Divine (a.k.a. Harris Glenn Milstead; 1945-1988) was a drag queen who appeared in a number of filmmaker John Waters’s movies, including Pink Flamingos and Polyester.
It’s the Warren Commission.
The Warren Commission was the presidential panel established to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963; it determined that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, although many people remain unconvinced.
Don’t bury me. I’m not dead yet.
See above note on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
It’s Yvonne De Carlo.
Yvonne De Carlo (1922-2007) was an actress best known for playing Lily Munster, the vampiric matriarch of the monstrous Munster family on the television show The Munsters (1964-1966) and in a reunion movie (1981). She also starred as Sephora in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments.
Bud, the King of Beer.
“Bud” is the colloquial form of Budweiser, the lager made by Anheuser-Busch (now Anheuser-Busch InBev) since 1876. It was named by Adolphus Busch after a brewery town in Czechoslovakia, Böhmisch Budweis. Beers produced in this part of Europe are named by adding “-er” to the end of the town’s name, thus a “Budweiser” beer already existed in Europe. This is why the American brand is called “Bud” in most markets outside the U.S. Beers produced by that Czech town had been called “The Beer of Kings” since the 1500s. Since Adolphus had already stolen the name of the beer, he went ahead and stole the slogan too, and Bud became known as “The King of Beers.”
What is this, an est meeting?
Erhard Seminars Training (est) was a motivational organization that offered expensive weekend courses in “human potential” from 1971 to 1984. Founded by Werner Erhard (the namesake of KTMA-era and Season One’s Dr. Laurence Erhardt), it was a spearhead of the self-actualization trend of the 1970s.
“I will kill him!” is an infamous line from the 1984 David Lynch film Dune, which was based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel. It was uttered by Sting, who played the wild-eyed na-Baron Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. It became a favorite of MST3K.
It’s George S. Kaufman, guys.
George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) was an American playwright and drama critic whose works include You Can’t Take It With You and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice.
[Imitating.] Be vewy quiet. I’m humiwiating myself. I’m shaming my famiwy for years to come.
Elmer Fudd is a character with a speech impediment in Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes cartoons; a hunter usually pitted against Bugs Bunny. He first appeared in 1940’s Elmer’s Candid Camera and was voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan from 1940 to 1959. After Bryan’s death, he was voiced by Hal Smith, Mel Blanc, Jeff Bergman, Greg Burson, and Billy West.
This guy later went on to head an S&L. –Stupid? –And Lonely? –Yeah. Saturday Night Live.
“S&L” is short for “savings and loan,” a particular type of financial institution that underwent a meltdown in the 1980s and ‘90s. S&Ls found themselves unable to make sufficient capital once interest rates were doubled to stave off inflation, and many lenders engaged in fraudulent tactics to stay afloat. Thanks to a push for deregulation, the fraud went unnoticed until a quarter of the country’s S&Ls collapsed. Nearly $100 billion dollars was lost and had to be repaid with taxpayer funds because of insured accounts. The long-running sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (often abbreviated SNL) has been on the air since 1975; the original cast included such world-class comics as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner.
Fantasy Gram. Bush division.
Fantasy Grams is a Minneapolis-based singing telegram service that started in the early 1980s.
Candygram for Mongo.
A line from the 1974 western comedy classic Blazing Saddles. Mongo was a dim, brutish assassin, played by Alex Karras, hired to kill the new sheriff of Rock Ridge (Cleavon Little). The Candygram was a Looney Tunes-esque deception to stop Mongo; the Looney Tunes theme was even played at the end of the scene. As for Candygram itself, it is a telegram service started by Western Union in 1960 that operates by sending its messages along with packages of chocolates. Many other companies have operated under that name.
It’s like 9½ Weeks.
9½ Weeks is a 1986 drama starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. It’s famed for its sexual content, depictions of mild sadomasochism, and, most notably, food-related foreplay. Don’t bother watching it, kids: it’ll just be sticky and gross, and you can see way hotter things on the Internet.
There’s a million bushes in this naked city. And a million naked people behind them. In the naked city.
A reference to the famous closing narration from the 1948 crime-drama film and the ABC TV series (1958-1963) The Naked City: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
Tommy, can you hear me?
A reference to the song “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” from The Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy.
My turn. Come here, my little Puck. My little man-woman.
A puck is a mischievous nature sprite popular in English folklore but made singular in William Shakespeare’s 1590-ish play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) was a troublesome sprite who guided much of the action in the play.
Become Jack Weston ... no problem!
Jack Weston (1924-1996) was an actor known for his character roles. He appeared in The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, Gator, Dirty Dancing, and The Four Seasons (as well as its CBS spinoff), among many others.
Well, thank you, Casey. –[Imitating.] Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!
Casey Kasem (1932-2014) was the long-standing host of the syndicated radio show American Top 40 (1970-1988; 1998-2003). His sign-off at the end of each show was “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!” Kasem was also a prolific voice actor, speaking for characters such as Shaggy on Scooby-Doo, Robin on Super Friends, Cliffjumper on Transformers, and many more.
“My assignment.” Should I decide to accept.
A paraphrased version of a line (“Your mission, should you choose to accept it ...”), played at the beginning of most episodes of the 1966-1973 CBS series Mission: Impossible on a tape recorder to Jim Phelps (Peter Graves)—or, in the first season, Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill. The tape would give the details of that episode’s mission, and then the voice (supplied by Robert Cleveland Johnson) would say, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.” It would usually smoke and fizzle out shortly thereafter.
Should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your action.
Another paraphrasing of the “tape voice” intro present in nearly all episodes of Mission: Impossible (see previous note). The “secretary” giving disavowable orders to Phelps’s Impossible Missions Force (IMF), was understood (although not explicitly identified) to be the U.S. Secretary of State.
Love, Vincent Price.
Vincent Price (1911-1993) was an actor known for countless roles in B-grade horror films. His distinctively nasal voice, lanky frame, and pencil mustache graced such movies as House of Wax, The Fly, House on Haunted Hill, and The Pit and the Pendulum. He also hosted the PBS series Mystery! from 1981-1989.
I’m just a tower of Jell-O, dear.
See above note on George S. Kaufman.
Billy, don’t be a hero.
“Billy Don’t Be a Hero” was a hit in the U.K. in 1974 for the British band Paper Lace; in the U.S., people are more familiar with the cover version released the same year by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, which hit #1 for two weeks. Though associated with Vietnam, the lyrics are actually about the Civil War.
It’s the cars from Six Flags Over Texas. –Those go really slow. –The Good Ol’ Days Ride, right?
Six Flags Over Texas is an Arlington-based theme park that was opened in 1961 by Angus Wynne. It was the first of the Six Flags parks to be opened; now Six Flags Entertainment Corporation is the world’s largest amusement park company. The name comes from the slogan “Six Flags Over Texas,” which refers to the six countries that have ruled Texas at some point since the arrival of European colonists. The six nations/flags in question are Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America, and United States of America. The “slow cars” could be referring to the Chaparral Antique Cars ride, which opened at SFOT in 1962. I couldn’t find a “Good Ol’ Days Ride” at SFOT, or any other park, for that matter.
This is the classic exclamation uttered by Homer Simpson (referred to in scripts as “annoyed grunt”) on the animated TV series The Simpsons, which first aired in 1989. Twenty years before that, it was often said by the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) on the ‘60s sitcom Gilligan’s Island. Actor Dan Castellaneta, who supplies the voice of Homer, has said he borrowed the phrase from a comedian named James Finlayson, who appeared in a number of Laurel & Hardy shorts. In 2001, the expression made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, thus becoming officially enshrined in the English language.
Sometimes referred to as “sad trombone,” “loser horns,” or, more technically, “chromatic descending ‘wah,’” this sound effect dates back to early 1900s vaudeville. It carried over into radio and then television, most frequently on game shows. Today, it’s mostly known thanks to the series of “Debbie Downer” sketches on Saturday Night Live.
“I heard you guys gave him an assignment that dates back to the 15th century.” Discover America? –The Spanish Inquisition? –Break off from the Catholic Church?
In 1492, Italian Christopher Columbus reached the New World on behalf of Spain. Columbus has been given credit for his “discovery” ever since, even though 1) there were plenty of native people living here already and 2) Vikings had landed here centuries before. The Spanish Inquisition was a tribunal started in 1478 by the Catholic Church and the Spanish monarchy to weed out non-Catholic influences and practitioners, to enforce their views of morality, and to purge undesirable elements (like Jews) from society. It is remembered for its torture and brutality, for the great wealth seized from the tribunal’s unfortunate targets, and for more than 2,000 executions. The Inquisition wasn’t formally disbanded until 1834, although after the 16th century it largely concerned itself with censoring books rather than burning heretics. “Break off from the Catholic Church” could refer to either the Protestant Reformation or the English Reformation, both of which occurred in the early 16th century. In the Protestant Reformation, German monk Martin Luther became enraged over the practice of selling indulgences (basically, buying your way out of punishment for your sins) and posted his Ninety-Five Theses, a detailed breakdown of what he thought was wrong with the Church, on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. Within a decade, he was excommunicated and founded his own church, which was the beginning of the Protestant/Catholic schism in Europe. In the English Reformation, King Henry VIII got tired of his wife Catherine failing to give him a male heir and wanted an annulment so he could marry a newer model, Anne Boleyn. The pope refused, Henry went ahead anyway, and founded the Anglican Church. There’s more to it, of course, but maybe you should have paid more attention in school.
Hey, that’s where Fred Mertz dropped dead.
William Frawley (1887-1966) was an actor known for playing Bub on My Three Sons (aired 1960-1972; Frawley was on from 1960-1965) and, of course, Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy (1951-1957). In 1966, while walking on Hollywood Boulevard, he suffered a massive heart attack and was dragged to a nearby hotel by his nurse. He was then rushed to a hospital and pronounced dead.
A bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say, “Please share my umbrella.” Bus stop, bus goes, she stays ...
Lyrics from the 1966 hit song “Bus Stop” by The Hollies.
Man, that thing looks like a bumper car.
Bumper cars are small electric vehicles fitted with a rubber bumper and designed to be driven into each other for fun, a mainstay of carnivals and amusement parks. They were invented by Victor Levand in the early 20th century.
I’m dying to get in there. Get me! I’m scared and I’m still making jokes! Whoo.
A reference to an old joke about cemeteries (“Everyone’s dying to get in there”). Also, this riff is a paraphrasing of a line from the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, spoken by Sheldon Leonard as Nick the bartender: “Get me! I’m givin’ out wings!”
Many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.
Most of the second line of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem “The Raven,” first published in 1845. The famous opening lines: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary/Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore …”
Juliet? Juliet? I cometh hither, Juliet.
A reference to Juliet of the House of Capulet, lover and young wife of Romeo of the House of Montague, in the 1590s stage tragedy Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. The play itself was based on an older Italian tale first translated into English as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562.
Damn Jerries almost got me.
“Jerries” was a slang term for Germans used primarily by British forces during World War II, although it dates back to WWI. American soldiers favored “Krauts,” derived from “sauerkraut.” Both are considered derogatory.
U.S. Army Air Corps Staff Sergeant James “Kinch” Kinchloe (played by Ivan Dixon) and Free French Air Force Corporal Louis “Louie” LeBeau (played by Robert Clary) were characters on the CBS sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, which was set in a German POW camp during World War II; it aired from 1965 to 1971. Yeah, I don’t know how it lasted that long—or even got on the air in the first place.
I made it! I’m in Switzerland! Look, it’s the Von Trapp Family.
The Von Trapp Family Choir (or Trapp Family Singers) was an Austrian group of singers formed by Baron Georg Johannes Von Trapp, his seven children, and Maria Kutschera, a tutor who later became their stepmother (the couple had another three children together, bringing the total to ten). They escaped Austria to Italy during the Anschluss, the 1938 annexation of their country into Germany; in The Sound of Music, the 1959 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical based on their story, this detail was changed to have them fleeing over the mountains to Switzerland in a much more dramatic fashion.
Wow, everybody’s buried here. Jim Morrison. The Unknown Soldier. The Dead. –Rock and roll heaven. –Jimi Hendrix, there’s a little ...
See above note on Jim Morrison. He’s buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where his grave has repeatedly been defaced, with busts and other markers stolen. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a memorial, usually containing the remains of an unidentified soldier, who is meant to represent all unidentified or lost military casualties. After World War I, many nations began to build monuments of this sort; the United States’, unveiled in 1921, is located in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. “The Dead” refers to the Grateful Dead (see above note). “Rock and Roll Heaven” is a 1973 song by Climax that became a bigger hit the following year when it was covered by The Righteous Brothers. It’s about all the great musicians who died young. Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) is considered one of the most influential guitarists in the history of rock & roll. He is known for such hits as “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady.”
It’s the whole Gambino crime family.
The Gambinos are one of the major Mafia families in New York City, first established in the 1910s. They reached their height of power during the 1960s under Carlo Gambino and became well-known in the 1980s under the flamboyant leadership of John Gotti, who was eventually sentenced to life in prison in 1992.
It’s Stonehedge [sic], and I can’t even tell what time it is.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric arrangement of stones and excavated earth dating back some 4,500 years. Located in Wiltshire, England, the site is marked by dozens of huge, fifty-ton standing stones arranged in a rough circle. Modern theories on its purpose range from astronomical to religious to funerary.
That’s it. I finally did it. I finally broke my damn, dirty hip!
A paraphrased pair of famous lines from Planet of the Apes (1968), co-written by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling and starring Charlton Heston as an astronaut thrown thousands of years into the future who lands on a planet to find it ruled by talking apes. Spoiler alert: it’s Earth.
[Muffled screams.] –Nice Ray Milland, Joel. –Thanks.
The Premature Burial is a 1962 horror film based on an 1844 story by Edgar Allan Poe. It starred Ray Milland (1907-1986), an actor and director who won an Oscar for playing an alcoholic in 1945’s The Lost Weekend, and also starred in Dial M for Murder and the 1953-1955 CBS sitcom The Ray Milland Show (née Meet Mr. McNutley).
Wow, just one time, I’d like to bogey this hole. I really shanked it last time and now I can’t find the ball. –You’re in the bunker, I think. –I’m playing a Slazenger 9.
In golf scoring, a “bogey” means the score for a particular hole was one stroke over the par. In the late 1800s and into the 1900s in England, “Colonel Bogey” was an imaginary opponent for the purposes of scoring who always got par. Just before World War I, or so the story goes, there was a British military officer, nicknamed “Colonel Bogey” after the already-extant golfing term, who prefaced his golf drive not by yelling “Fore!” but instead by whistling loudly a simple two-note phrase. This led to the “Colonel Bogey March,” which Americans probably know better as the theme from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).“Shanking” in golf is a dreaded shot wherein the ball shoots off to one side immediately after being hit. A bunker or sand trap is pretty much what it says: a large ditch or pool filled with sand to provide an obstacle in the path to the putting green. Slazenger is a British manufacturer of sporting goods, including golf balls, founded in 1881.
Ma-zo-lee-um? –Yeah, mahzoleum. It’s for making dead people fresh and light.
A reference to Mazola Corn Oil, introduced in the 1911 by Corn Products Refining Company. Today it’s produced by Associated British Foods.
[Sung.] The hills are alive ... oh, maybe they’re not.
A paraphrasing of the title song from The Sound of Music (see above note). In the 1965 film, it was sung by Julie Andrews.
No one will be admitted during the breathtaking walking scene from Playstar Productions’ Ring of Terror.
A reference to a slogan used in the advertisements for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic Psycho: “No one … BUT NO ONE … will be admitted to the theatre after the start of each performance.” The gimmick was copied frequently in ensuing years, often by campy horror director and producer William Castle.
Jimmy crack corn (gulp), and I don’t care. Jimmy crack corn ... and I don’t care! The miss has gone away.
Lines from the song “Jimmy Crack Corn,” also known as “Blue Tail Fly,” which dates back to the 1840s. “The miss has gone away” is one version of the line. The most widely known versions are “My master’s gone away” and “My trouble’s gone away.”
Maybe Mr. Lincoln can help us. Let’s ask him.
The Lincoln Memorial is a monument in Washington, D.C., built to honor the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. The famous statue of sitting Lincoln was completed in 1920, and the Memorial itself was dedicated in 1922. Since 1929, a picture of the Memorial has been printed on the back of five-dollar bills, and it has been engraved on the reverse side of pennies since 1959.
Kind of a Louis Sullivan design.
Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) was an architect, the mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright, and is regarded as the “Father of the Skyscraper.” He also designed several famous tombs and mausoleums, such as the Charlotte Dickson Wainwright Tomb in St. Louis, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of his designs are in Chicago, including the Auditorium Building at Roosevelt University and the Carson Pirie Scott department store, now the Sullivan Center.
Listen, guys. All right, it’s Procol Harum doing a sound check. –Cool. –Skip the light fandango.
Procol Harum is a British rock band that formed in 1967, disbanded in 1977, and re-formed in 1991. Their biggest hit was 1967’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which included the line, “We skipped the light fandango.”
They got a Buddy Squirrel’s Nut Shack, 1 Potato 2, Hot Sams, RadioShack. This mall’s got everything.
Buddy Squirrel (no “Nut Shack”) is a small chain of Milwaukee, Wisconsin-area confection shops that opened in 1916. 1 Potato 2 is a chain of baked potato eateries frequently found in mall food courts. Hot Sam Pretzels was another Wisconsin-based chain of food court-type restaurants; it merged with Pretzel Time and was subsumed under the other brand name. RadioShack is a chain of electronics stores based in Fort Worth, Texas, and founded in 1921. The line “This mall’s got everything” is from the 1980 musical comedy The Blues Brothers, as Jake and Elwood drive through the Dixie Square Mall during a police chase and admire the wide selection of stores.
Verily, I shall sprint through the valley of the shadow of death.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” is one of the most recognized lines in the Old Testament of the Bible (King James version). It comes from Psalm 23 and is frequently used at memorial and burial services.
It actually says, “You stab ‘em, we slab ‘em.” That’s pretty funny. At least they’ve got a sense of humor.
An old telephone joke/prank played when answering a call. Other favorites (of my grandfather, anyway) include, “City Morgue, you bag ‘em, we tag ‘em,” and “Kelly’s Pool Hall, One Shot speaking.”
Goin’ to the chapel. Gonna get buried.
“Chapel of Love” (lyrics: “Goin’ to the chapel, gonna get married”) was a 1964 number one hit for The Dixie Cups. It was written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector.
It looks like the E.C. Escher room. –M.C. Escher.
M.C. Escher (1898-1972) was a renowned Dutch graphic artist known for his mind-bending works that appear to fold space upon itself and transcend logical expectations.
Hey, get me! I’m Edward R. Murrow already!
See above note on “Hey, get me!” Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) was a legendary radio and television newsman who had a profound influence on broadcast journalism.
It’s the power station.
A reference to Show 110, Robot Holocaust.
Looks like HAL's brain.
A reference to HAL 9000, the homicidal computer in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey—specifically to the scene where astronaut David Bowman is attempting to lobotomize HAL by entering his processor core and shutting down his higher functions.
I think it’s George Romero’s automat. –Yeah, there’s Hot Hoagie of the Living Dead. Buck and a quarter.
George Romero is a writer and director best known for his work creating the popular genre of zombie films. His films include 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead, 2005’s Land of the Dead, 2008’s Diary of the Dead, and 2009’s Survival of the Dead. He’s done non-zombie stuff, too. An automat was a restaurant where all food was purchased from vending machines; the first one in the U.S. opened in Philadelphia in 1902. They were killed off by the rise of fast food restaurants and by inflation, which made paying for meals with coins no longer practical.
[Imitating.] Cato? Where are you, my little yellow friend?
An imitation of Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the bumbling protagonist of the Pink Panther movies. In order to keep his reflexes sharp, Clouseau had ordered his servant Cato Fong (played by Burt Kwouk) to attack him on a regular basis.
Nice Hush Puppies.
Hush Puppies is a brand of footwear usually characterized by a brushed suede exterior and a casual look. They were first produced in 1958. The name of the shoe was originally going to be “Lasers” but changed after a trip to the South by sales manager James Muir. He ate a fried cornball known as a hush puppy and asked after the origin of the name. He was told that the snack was sometimes tossed to barking dogs to quiet them. “Barking dogs” = a slang term for sore feet. Ta-da.
Ah, Reese’s Pieces. E.T. must be on the premises.
Reese’s Pieces is a peanut butter-flavored candy made by Hershey as a spinoff of the popular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They were introduced in 1978 and languished in the shadow of the more popular M&Ms until 1982, when Mars Inc. refused to allow M&Ms to be used in the film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. So Reese’s Pieces became Elliot’s treat of choice to lure the adorable being out of hiding. Sales immediately shot through the roof—by some accounts, they tripled. Product placement in films has since become unfortunately ubiquitous.
See above note on The Pink Panther.
Merv Griffin? What are you doing here?
Merv Griffin (1925-2007) started out his career as a singer, but he came to fame as a TV talk show host during the 1960s and ‘70s. The Merv Griffin Show was the source of much controversy, as it frequently espoused anti-war views and invited such controversial guests as comedian Dick Gregory. Later, Griffin developed game shows, including Wheel of Fortune, Crosswords, and Jeopardy! This riff is a line from the 1983 Steve Martin comedy The Man With Two Brains. Spoiler alert: Griffin, who plays himself in the film, turns out to be the dreaded “Elevator Killer,” a serial murderer who remained at large at the end of the film. Audience members were implored to contact authorities if they saw Griffin again.
I hate the Dewey Decimal System.
The Dewey Decimal Classification system (or DDC) is a library organization method created by Melvil Dewey in 1876. It assigns each book a decimal number that makes it easy to locate and replace it on the shelves. It’s used in at least 135 countries.
All right? –S’okay. –S’all right.
An imitation of Señor Wences (real name Wenceslao Moreno; 1896-1999), a Spanish ventriloquist who made frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was known for his comic banter with a hand puppet named Johnny and a puppet hidden in a box who went by the name of Pedro.
[Whispers.] Fisher ...
See above note on Fisher Body.
Get that cat out of here!
Another line from the aforementioned The Man With Two Brains.
What is it, girl? Dad? He’s trapped? Down in Dead Rock Canyon?
An exaggerated (but not much) imitation of “dialogue” between Lassie the Collie and any one of several human characters from the 1947-1950 radio series, the long-running television series (1954-1973), two sequel series, an animated series, and eleven films. All of which, by the way, can be traced back to the 1940 novel Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight.
Never let ‘em see you sweat.
“Never let them see you sweat” was the slogan for Dry Idea antiperspirant. The commercials began airing in 1984 with various celebrities discussing how hard their lives were and how a damp pit could put a damper on their day. Dry Idea was launched by Gillette in 1978 and the line was sold to Dial in 2006.
Cat got your tongue?
Sometimes I like finding out the origins of common idioms. The phrase was first printed in Ballou’s Monthly Magazine in 1881: “Has the cat got your tongue, as the children say?” The Italians and Spanish have similar sayings that translate roughly to “Has the cat eaten your tongue?” The saying probably originated somewhat earlier than that, as things tend to circulate among children for a time before being adopted by adults.
[Imitating.] Please, don’t haze. I’m dead now. Don’t haze.
A reference to actor Yul Brynner (1920-1985), best known for roles in The King and I, The Ten Commandments, and The Magnificent Seven. He was a well-known smoker (having started at the age of 12), and after being diagnosed with lung cancer, he appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and said he wished he could make an anti-smoking commercial. After he died, a portion of that interview became a PSA for the American Cancer Society that included the lines, “Now that I’m gone, I tell you, don’t smoke. Whatever you do, just don’t smoke.”
Not! That’s rich.
Though many trace the use of “Not!” back to the late ’80s/early ’90s Saturday Night Live sketch “Wayne’s World,” it can be traced further back to SNL’s first season and a 1976 episode hosted by Madeline Kahn. In a slumber party sketch, the female cast members and Kahn played young girls talking about boys. Laraine Newman said, “Oh, yeah. Now I really wanna get married. Not!” Its usage dates further back, of course, but that’s the earliest appearance in popular culture I could find.
The Kraft tomb. That’s probably where Ed Herlihy’s buried.
Kraft Foods is a food manufacturer that was founded in Chicago in 1903. Of the dozens of brands under their umbrella, forty of them are more than a century old. The highest earners include Maxwell House, Kraft Singles, Oreo, Oscar Mayer, Planters, and Tang. Ed Herlihy (1909-1999) was a television and radio announcer known to most as the voice of Kraft commercials from the ‘40s into the ‘80s.
Help me, Batman. Help me!
Batman is one of the world’s most famous superheroes, created in 1939 by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Batman’s secret identity is millionaire (later, billionaire) Bruce Wayne, whose parents were killed in a mugging when he was a boy. He trained and studied for years and later adopted the bat motif to strike fear into criminals so that he might avenge his parents’ murders upon all evildoers. He first appeared in Detective Comics #27 and has since appeared in multiple films, TV series, animated series, and so on.
Déjà vu. –Looks like callback time, guys. Yeah, there he is. Bob Dobson.
“Déjà vu” is French for “already seen” and refers to the feeling that one has already seen or been a part of certain events. While some wish to ascribe spiritual or ethereal reasons for the feeling, scientists believe it may simply be the mind recognizing specific stimuli and then connecting it to half-forgotten memories or similar circumstances. Related phenomena include jamais vu, meaning a feeling of not recognizing something despite knowing it should be familiar, such as when you write the word “door” thirty or forty times until it begins to look peculiar, and presque vu, or “tip of the tongue” syndrome, the phenomenon of almost but not quite remembering a familiar word or name. We’ve all been there. See above note on Bob Dobbs.
Willis Cooper. That’s Alice’s dad, man. –No, he was killed in Vietnam. –No, that’s Eddie Haskell.
Willis (or Wyllis) Cooper (1899-1955) was a writer and producer who wrote Son of Frankenstein and the somewhat racist (to modern eyes, anyway) series of Mr. Moto films starring Peter Lorre as the literary Japanese secret agent, back in the days when they still cast white people as Asians. He was best known for the radio horror programs Lights Out and Quiet, Please! Alice Cooper (born Vincent Furnier) is a heavy metal musician who became infamous in the 1970s for his heavy makeup, songs like “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and accidentally killing a chicken in concert. Eddie Haskell, played by Ken Osmond, was the polite but sneaky best friend of Wally Cleaver on the TV series Leave It To Beaver. After the show went off the air in 1963, Jerry Mathers, who played the title character, left show business to have a normal life, and rumors began to spread that he had been killed in the Vietnam War, which was claiming the lives of thousands of young American men at the time. Mathers did serve in the Air Force Reserve, but was reportedly turned away when he attempted to enlist in the Marines, who feared a backlash if Beaver Cleaver was killed in Nam. Mathers did appear, in uniform and with a shaved head, at the 1967 Emmy Awards; rumors of his death were widespread by 1969. He survived the war unscathed, however, and later returned to acting.
What kind of Ford do you think we’ll have, you guys? –I think we’ll have a Ford Beebe! Beebe! Ford Beebe!
Ford Motor Company is one of the world’s oldest automakers, founded in 1903 by Henry Ford. Ford Beebe (1888-1978) was a writer and director of many serials, including several in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers series.
What kind of Saul do we have? –The good kind of Saul.
Saul Goodkind (1896-1962) was an editor and director known for his work on Flash Gordon serials with Ford Beebe, a series of Sherlock Holmes films, and Buck Rogers.
[Imitating Bela Lugosi.] To be or not to be. Blah, blah, blah. That is the question.
Another short, another heap of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) imitations. The Hungarian actor most famously played Count Dracula in the Broadway play and 1931 Universal film bearing that name. He also starred in several of director Ed Wood’s low-budget flicks. The line is a reference to the famous soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a c. 1600 stage tragedy.
And Madonna has a new look. C’mon, Vogue. There’s nothing to it. Strike a pose.
Madonna is a pop singer and cultural icon, a woman whose provocative lifestyle and skill at manipulating the media have often overshadowed her music. She first rose to fame in the early 1980s with such hits as “Lucky Star,” “Like a Virgin,” and “Material Girl.” Before long she had reinvented herself as a torchy platinum blonde, the first of many such transformations in her career. Other personas have included hippie, jock, British citizen, and children’s book author. “Vogue” was her biggest hit in 1990. Lyrics include: “Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it/Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it/Vogue.”
And of course, the boys in the back room.
“The Boys in the Back Room” is a well-known song performed by Marlene Dietrich in the 1939 movie Western Destry Rides Again. It was written by Frank Loesser and Frederick Hollander. Sample lyrics: “See what the boys in the back room will have/And tell them I’m having the same …” The “boys in the back room” is also an idiomatic phrase referring to a group of men who make decisions, usually in politics, behind the scenes.
Vandergrift generator. –Eddie Ray Acuff. –Dora Clementine. –Hugh Chet Huntley. –Anthony Averill Harriman. –Frank Mayo Brothers. –James Gnarly Farley.
Monte Vandergrift (1893-1939) was a character actor who appeared in nearly 150 films and serials in his short eight-year career. A Van de Graaff generator is that silver sphere with high voltage on the outside that makes your hair stand up when you touch it. It was invented by physicist Robert Van de Graaff in 1929. Eddie Acuff (1903-1956) was an actor who starred as the postman, Mr. Beasley, in the Blondie series of films (28 in total, based on the comic strip, that came out between 1938 and 1950 ... holy frak). Dora Clement (1891-1979) was a character actress who appeared in dozens of films from the ‘30s into the ‘50s. “Clementine” could refer to the hybrid orange or “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” the delightfully cynical 19th-century folk ballad (seriously; check out the lyrics). Hugh Huntley (1889-1977) was another bit actor. Chet Huntley (1911-1974) was a journalist and broadcaster best known for co-anchoring The Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC from 1956 until 1970. Anthony Averill (1911-1982) was a minor actor. William Averell Harriman (1891-1986) was Secretary of Commerce under President Truman, the 48th governor of New York, an unsuccessful presidential contender in the 1950s, and an ambassador to both Britain and the Soviet Union. Frank Mayo (1889-1963) was an actor in a staggering number of films and shorts from 1914 to 1949, racking up almost 350 credits. Props. “Mayo Brothers” probably refers to “Dr. Charlie” (1865-1939) and “Dr. Will” (1861-1939) Mayo, co-founders of the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. James Farley (1882-1947) was another prolific actor, appearing in 230 films and shorts beginning in the silent era with people like Buster Keaton and transitioning to “talkies” to work with the likes of John Wayne. “Gnarly” comes from the 1820s word “gnarl,” meaning “knob, knot.” In the late 1960s, it became surfer slang to describe a particularly dangerous wave. By the ‘80s, the slang had evolved to mean “disgusting and yet somehow also cool.”
Rosebud. Rosebud ...
Citizen Kane is a 1941 drama, acclaimed by many critics as the greatest film ever made. It was written by, directed by, and starred Orson Welles as media magnate Charles Foster Kane (based upon real-life newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who hated the film and tried to destroy it). At the beginning of the film, the elderly Kane dies while holding a snow globe and saying, “Rosebud.” Much of the rest of the film consists of flashbacks to Kane’s life as a reporter tries to find out who or what this “Rosebud” referred to. Spoiler alert: it was his childhood sled, seen being tossed into an incinerator at the end of the film.
Well, foreword is forewarned.
The saying “Forewarned is forearmed,” meaning that to be warned about something in advance is to be prepared to deal with it, dates back to at least the end of the 16th century. The classical Latin proverb “Praemonitus, praemunitis” translates as “Forewarned, forearmed,” but the two sayings may have evolved independently of each other.
Doctor Zorka, not a real doctor, believed to be dead, attempts to prevent the authorities from discovering his scientific secrets, the Helsinki Formula, by using a device which makes him invisible, a contract with The Comedy Channel. [Laughter.] I guess I’m outta here.
Helsinki Formula is a brand of “scalp health” products, including shampoos, cleansers, and baldness aversion creams. The Comedy Channel was the original home of MST3K. It was launched in 1989 and, in 1991, merged with its equally struggling competitor, Ha!, and became CTV: The Comedy Network. To avoid legal action from the Canadian broadcaster CTV, the name was changed a month later to Comedy Central.
Doctor Mallory will be represented by the oboe. And when you hear the scary oboe sound, stomp your feet and go “Boo.”
A reference to some specialty performances of Peter and the Wolf, a 1936 Russian children’s story and musical piece written by Sergei Prokofiev. Each instrument in the production represents a different character; the oboe, for example, represents the duck. At some performances for children, the audience is encouraged to make noise, dance, move, etc., when a character or sound is heard.
Nancy’s sister Jean will look around.
Nancy Drew is a fictional teenage detective in the classic series of children’s books. She was created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who also created the Hardy Boys, and is authored by a series of ghostwriters under the name Carolyn Keene. Nancy Drew debuted in 1930 and has remained consistently popular ever since thanks to judicious updating of the character over the years. Two short-lived television series adaptations were made, a film series in the 1930s was moderately successful, and a recent update made money but garnered little interest.
Hey, somebody left a mint. –Welcome to the Embassy Suites.
In some upscale hotels, it is common for a mint or some other treat to be left on the pillow after housekeeping has finished with the room. Embassy Suites Hotels is a chain of premium hotels founded in 1984 and currently owned by Hilton Worldwide.
It’s a Necco Wafer.
Necco is the acronym for the New England Confectionary Company, which was founded in 1901. Necco Wafers are their signature treat; they date back to 1847 and a dude named Oliver Chase (whose company later became NECCO). They come in eight flavors/colors, which supposedly are lemon, lime, orange, clove, cinnamon, wintergreen, licorice, and chocolate. The pink ones taste like Pepto-Bismol; I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s good or bad.
Shakin’ the bush, boss.
A reference to the famous line “Shaking it up here, boss!” from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman as a loner on a chain gang. During a bathroom break, Newman’s character is allowed some privacy but only if he shakes the bushes while he urinates so the guards don’t think he’s making a break for it.
That had to hurt. They’re always repeating these things on America’s Funniest Home Videos, aren’t they?
America’s Funniest Home Videos is a long-running ABC series that invites viewers to send in videos of their most embarrassing moments in order to compete for a cash prize. It first aired as a special in 1989. Funnily enough, Trace Beaulieu (Crow, Dr. Forrester) and Josh Weinstein (Dr. Erhardt, KTMA & Season 1’s Tom Servo) went on to write for AFHV for several years in the 2000s.
See you next fall.
A short inscription often written in school yearbooks at the end of the year when the signer didn’t really have much to say to you at all.
Itsy, bitsy ...
“Itsy Bitsy Spider” (a.k.a. “Eency Weency Spider,” “Ipsy Dipsy Spider,” etc.) is a children’s nursery rhyme and song that was first published in the early 20th century.
That’s Uncle Joe. He’s moving kinda slow.
A paraphrase of a line from the opening theme to the CBS sitcom Petticoat Junction (1963-1970). The original is: “And that’s Uncle Joe, he’s moving kinda slow, at the Junction/Petticoat Junction.” Joe was played by Edgar Buchanan (1903-1979).
[Imitating Oliver Hardy.] Here, Stanley. Take this.
Laurel & Hardy was a comedy team that produced a string of shorts and films in the 1920s and ‘30s. Oliver Hardy (1892-1957) was a stout man and played a childish, bossy, fussy character opposite Stan Laurel’s (1890-1965) thin, gentle incompetent.
[Imitating the end of The Three Stooges theme.]
An imitation of the song “Three Blind Mice,” which was frequently used in the Columbia Pictures–produced Three Stooges shorts released from 1934 to 1959 (although some shorts used different variations and even different themes altogether).
[Imitating Lugosi.] Next week I go to the ladies locker room at the YWCA.
The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) was founded in 1855 England by Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts. It was based on the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), which was founded by George Williams in London, 1844. Both aimed to insulate English men and women from social ills and unwanted influences, but those goals have, naturally, evolved over the years.
“... after Jim Daly.” That’s why he’s doing show tunes all the time.
Probably a reference to the actor and singer-songwriter Jim Dale, who wrote the theme to Georgy Girl along with a number of other U.K. pop hits. He acted in a number of the campy Carry On films in the 1960s, and has appeared in London and New York stage musicals, including Barnum, The Threepenny Opera, Oliver!, and The Music Man. His voice is also known to millions of Harry Potter fans, as he recorded all seven of the audiobooks in the series and won numerous awards for his narration.
No, it’s the Coppertop.
In 1942, Samuel Ruben and Philip Mallory created mercury-based batteries, which were long-lasting and reliable, but toxic. In 1964, the name “Duracell” was coined, meaning “durable cell.” The appearance of the batteries with their distinctive copper-colored tops led to the nickname “coppertops,” which has been used extensively in their advertising campaigns. Mercury use in batteries was banned worldwide in the 1990s due to its environmental hazards.
It’s registered under the name “Beelzebub.”
“Beelzebub,” meaning “lord of the flies,” was a Philistine god worshiped millennia ago. In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), it is regarded as just another false deity. By the time the New Testament was written, however, Beelzebub was conflated with Satan and the name became a synonym for the Christian antagonist.
Yeah, but it will fit on the CD on the extra bonus track.
CD, or compact disc, is a polycarbonate disc with binary data burned onto it and sandwiched between plastic discs and a reflective disc designed to reflect the laser that reads the data. They were designed in the late 1970s as a smaller-scale spinoff of Laserdisc video technology by Sony. In 1982, the first CD sold in stores was Billy Joel’s album, 52nd Street. At this time, the discs themselves were $30 or more and the players were $900. By 2007, more than 200 billion CDs had been made but their decline was in full swing as downloadable music files were taking hold. It was fairly common for “hidden” tracks to be included on CDs, particularly in the ‘90s. They were usually found in one of two ways. First, when the disc was inserted, if thirteen tracks, for example, were indicated when only twelve songs were listed on the case, you had a hidden track. Second, if the last song finished and there was just dead air for a long while but the track kept going ... there was probably a bonus track on the way.
“It’s Monk.” It’s one of the jazz murders.
Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) was a pianist and composer who is widely considered to be one of the most creative and innovative stylists in jazz music. His percussive, dissonant, and at times wildly improvisational approach to the keyboard has proved to be highly influential, if rarely imitated successfully. Though he wrote only about 70 songs, he’s the second most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, who wrote more than 1,000 songs. Among Monk’s compositions are “Straight, No Chaser” and “’Round Midnight.”
Join us ...
A reference to the famous line from the 1981 camp horror classic The Evil Dead.
How would you like a knuckle sandwich, Mr. Frank Mayo?
See above note on Frank Mayo.
Liston is down! Liston is down! Cassius Clay is the new world champion!
Charles “Sonny” Liston (1928/1932-1970) was a boxer who became the 1962 heavyweight champion of the world when he defeated Floyd Patterson in the first round. In 1964, in one of the most famous fights in history, he unexpectedly lost to underdog Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali). Liston was a controversial figure in the boxing world: he had regular altercations with the law and the criminal underworld even after his name became world-famous, and he died in mysterious circumstances (most likely of a heroin overdose). Ali was controversial, too. He announced his conversion to and membership in the Nation of Islam after the Liston fight, and he declared himself a conscientious objector, refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War (he also spoke out frequently against the war). He was arrested for this refusal in 1967 and had his world championship and boxing license stripped from him. Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction thanks to, essentially, a technicality. The whole ordeal and his vocal support for the sometimes militant Black Power movement left a nasty taste in many (white) Americans’ mouths for years. Unlike Liston, Ali has lived long enough to emerge on the other side of public opinion. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, and his fight against debilitating Parkinson’s Disease (diagnosed in 1984) has rallied sympathy.
Hey, look. No jackrabbit starts! Oh!
A “jackrabbit start” is when one leaves a stopped position while driving and, basically, stomps on the gas, throwing one’s head into the headrest and possibly even squealing the tires. Other than being bad for the tires, jackrabbit starts burn up a lot of gas.
Drive along this rear projection. Take a left at the cyclorama.
Rear projection was a filmmaking technique (largely abandoned with the advent of digital technology) of projecting a previously filmed background behind the actors in the foreground. A cyclorama is a painting on the inside of a large cylinder, intended to provide an audience with a complete panoramic experience. These were popular attractions in the late 1800s. For stage and film productions, cycloramas featured paintings on the outside of a rotating cylinder to provide a sense of movement. Though rotating cycloramas are no longer used in filmmaking and only rarely in stage shows, the term survives, often as just “cyc,” and is used to refer to nearly any large, plain stage drape. Colored lights or other effects are then projected onto the cyc.
The Getaway Chase Game, getaway! –Gotta getaway, gotta getaway ...
The Getaway Chase Game was an electric car game (akin to slot-car racing) sold in the mid-to-late 1960s at Sunray DX (now Sunoco) service stations for a few dollars with the purchase of eight gallons of gas. I assume they’re singing a jingle from the commercials, but I couldn’t verify that.
We don’t know who it is. Let’s just shoot all the tires and let God sort it out.
A paraphrase of the line “Kill them all and let God sort them out,” frequently uttered by, shall we say, the more jingoistic among us, particularly when a new military campaign is undertaken. Believe it or not, the phrase dates back to 1209. It is attributed to Catholic papal legate and inquisitor Arnaud Amalric (d. 1225). He attempted to convert a rogue group of Christians living in southern France, and when persuasion failed, he initiated a crusade against them (the Albigensian Crusade). When one of the soldiers asked him how to distinguish “their” Christians from “our” Christians, Amalric reportedly responded, in Latin, “Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.” The soldiers enthusiastically went on to slaughter almost 20,000 men, women, and children and burned the city of Béziers, according to Amalric’s report to the pope.
[Gravelly voice.] I woulda put on my belt but they haven’t been invented yet, boss.
See above note on Hart to Hart.
Eat it boy, do it. –Don’t drool on me. –I’m gonna snag on you.
Snagging or snicker-snagging is the bullying practice of holding a victim down while dangling a glob of spit above him. Usually, the spit is sucked back in by the bully just before it falls.
He’s only stunned.
A callback to Show 205, Rocket Attack U.S.A.
[Gravelly voice.] That guy’s right. He really does have a flat butt, boss.
See above note on Hart to Hart.
Is that where you make those great baked beans? – [Imitating Lugosi.] Whistleberries you must never taste.
“Whistleberries” is a delightful bon mot for beans, owing to their tendency to contain oligosaccharides. That’s a kind of sugar that can’t be broken down in the stomach; only in the intestine. Once there, the enzymes make short work of the sugar, but the gaseous byproduct only has one way out.
[Imitating Lugosi.] It’s called a Rubik’s Cube. Don’t screw it up.
The Rubik’s Cube was invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik. It was a fad toy during the 1980s, consisting of a cube with different colored sides that rotated; the object was to get all the colors to match once you had scrambled the cube up. In 1983, there was even a short-lived animated series, Rubik, the Amazing Cube, which aired Saturday mornings on ABC. Rubik was a magician’s tool that could fly and had magical powers, but only if the colors all matched up. Naturally, every episode featured Rubik getting scrambled, and one of the characters had to solve the puzzle.
Shooters. All right. The source of all your power is Cuervo. –[Gravelly voice.] I’m gonna need a lime, boss. My gag reflex is right at the surface.
José Cuervo is a brand of tequila from Mexico first produced in 1900. See above note on Hart to Hart.
[Imitating Lugosi.] Make it ahead of time. Keep it in the freezer. Makes Bomb Pops, too.
Bomb Pop is a frozen treat made by Blue Bunny. It is a tall Popsicle-like confection consisting of three different flavors. There are many variations, but the original trio of flavors, introduced in 1955, were cherry, lime, and blue raspberry.
[Imitating Lugosi.] It has a nice bouquet. Good legs. A real smoky single malt.
A collection of descriptors for both wine and spirit tasting. “Bouquet” refers to the aroma. “Legs” refers to the tracks of the drink that remain on the sides of the glass as it is swirled. “Smoky” refers to the smoky flavor (sometimes from peat smoke or from the wood of the cask) the drink exhibits. A “single malt” whiskey or scotch is a drink that is made at one distillery with only one kind of grain.
I’ll give you five dollars if you have a hardboiled egg in your purse.
Let’s Make a Deal is a television show that originally ran from 1963 to 1976. It has come and gone again in various reincarnations; the current version has only been running since 2009. At the end of each episode, the host (usually Monty Hall) would venture into the oddly attired audience and ask people if they happened to have random things on their person. If they did, Monty gave them some cash.
He’s ours. We’re going to have to brand him. You hold him down, Hoss. Little Joe, keep this thing ... make it hot.
Hoss and Little Joe were two of the sons in the ranching family on the TV show Bonanza (see above note). Hoss, the middle son, was played by Dan Blocker until his death following surgery to remove his gall bladder in 1972; the producers chose to kill the character rather than replace Blocker with another actor. Little Joe, the youngest son, was played by Michael “Teenage Werewolf” Landon, who also wrote and directed a number of the show’s episodes.
“You think Monk’s got it?” Sure. He wrote “‘Round Midnight,” didn’t he?
See above note on Thelonious Monk.
Mayberry. [Imitating Lugosi.] My favorite town.
Mayberry, North Carolina, was the fictional small-town setting for The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968) and Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-1971). The town was based on Mount Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown.
So, with grenadine or without, my dear?
Grenadine is a red, sweet, tart syrup used in the making of cocktails, such as Tequila Sunrises and Shirley Temples. It gets its name from the French word for pomegranate, grenade; pomegranate juice was one of the original ingredients.
I can get a contract with Dave Geffen.
David Geffen is an American record, theater, and film producer who founded Asylum Records and Geffen Records. He is also the “G” in Dreamworks SKG, having a hand in such films as Little Shop of Horrors, Risky Business, and Beetlejuice.
Would you prefer a Long Island Iced Tea?
Long Island Iced Tea is an alcoholic beverage made with vodka, gin, tequila, rum, triple sec, sour mix, and cola. It looks like tea, thus the name, but it has an extremely high alcohol content (approximately 44 proof).
I’m ... having ... chest pains!
A reference to the (in)famous commercials for LifeCall, which produced small electronic devices to be worn by the elderly to notify medical services in case of a home accident. In an ad that first appeared in 1989, an elderly man named “Mr. Miller,” clutching his chest, pressed the button on his device and said, “I’m having chest pains!” According to the Internet (so, you know, grain of salt), the actor who played Mr. Miller died shortly after filming and his family was surprised to see him on TV weeks after the funeral, as he didn’t tell anyone he was doing the ads.
First word, sounds like ...
A reference to the guessing game Charades. A person acting out a word, title, person, etc., is not allowed to speak and therefore performs various hand gestures to get people to guess the first word, second word, etc., and then what it may sound like and so on.
He’s doing his Joe Cocker there.
Joe Cocker (1944-2014) was a British soul singer who formed his Grease Band in 1966 and performed such hit songs as “Feelin’ Alright” and “Delta Lady.” Cocker reportedly spent most of the 1970s in an alcohol-induced stupor before scoring a comeback in 1983 with “Up Where We Belong,” a duet with Jennifer Warnes that was included on the soundtrack for the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman. He was legendary for his seemingly spastic arm and hand movements when he performed. John Belushi famously parodied Cocker on Saturday Night Live, on one occasion while Cocker stood right next to him and sang.
Don’t smoke. Please don’t smoke. I’m dead now.
See above note on Yul Brynner.
It’s a Boy Scout conference.
The Boy Scouts of America, part of the international Scout Movement, is one of the largest youth organizations in the U.S. Since its founding in 1910, BSA has trained more than 110 million members in responsible citizenship, character development, and self-reliance through outdoor activities.
“Dear John, what I have to tell you is ...” Oh, never mind.
A “Dear John” letter is, essentially, a break-up letter. The term dates back to at least World War II, when servicemen would get letters from home. Typically, a letter would begin with flowery, affectionate prose, but if it began with a brusque “Dear John,” the G.I. braced himself for what followed. The first known printed use of the phrase appeared in 1944. A Swedish film in the 1960s and British and U.S. television series in the ‘80s were named Dear John; their premises stemmed from break-up letters.
Oil can. –Don’t smoke. Please.
In the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, based on the 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, “oil can” are the first, tentative, barely audible words spoken to Dorothy by the Tin Man, a.k.a. The Tin Woodsman. He is asking her to oil his joints so he can speak and move. See above note on Yul Brynner.
These Game Boys are great. I’ve got Centipede.
Japanese entertainment company Nintendo’s second foray into handheld consoles (after the Game & Watch) was the Game Boy in 1989. It was a phenomenal success and not discontinued until 2003. If one combines the sales figures for Game Boys, Game Boy Colors and Game Boy Advances, it has outsold every video game system ever produced, handheld and not, by a substantial margin. Centipede is a video game released by Atari into arcades in 1981. Players used a roller (or trackball, a sunken control sphere) to move a character around the screen and a button to fire at swarming insects as they descended through a field of mushrooms.
First one smelt it dealt it.
A common playground taunt when a flatus is perceived.
“Palooka” is a slang term that usually means “dim, incompetent, mediocre.” It may derive from the derogatory term “polack,” meaning a person of Polish descent. “Joe Palooka” was a popular comic strip by Ham Fisher that ran from 1930-1984 about a bright, morally upstanding champion boxer. In 1925, sportswriter Jack Conway had used the word to mean “a mediocre prizefighter.” Despite Joe being the most famous Palooka, and despite his reputation as a good, smart guy, it’s Conway’s version of the word that survives to this day.
Let’s hope the rear projection holds out.
See above note.
Zorka must be a power line protestor.
In the mid-to-late 1970s, there was a big to-do in Minnesota over a project to build hundreds of high-capacity power lines on farmland throughout much of the state. It was called the CU Project after the two main companies in the mix: Cooperative Power Association (CPA) and United Power Association (UPA). Farmers, politicians, civic groups, and more seized on the controversy and spoke out against it, dragging the project’s review process out from just a few months into nearly three years. During this time, a group of protestors who called themselves “Bolt Weevils” (see what they did there?) tore down twenty power-line towers and shot thousands of electrical insulators (the ceramic knobby bits where the cables connect to the metal bars). In the end, the protests and delays were for naught. The power lines and towers were erected, but at least the farmers whose land was directly impacted got a much bigger payout.
And guess what time it is? –We better go. –It’s time to split. –Good night. You’ve been a great audience. The Phantom Creep audiences are the greatest audiences in the world!
Jackie Gleason moved filming of his television variety show to Miami Beach, Florida, in 1964, and closed nearly every show after that with the line, “As always, the Miami Beach audience is the greatest audience in the world!”