Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why this scared the living shit out of me

OK, you have to realize one thing: this came out in 1957, so I was exactly three. So I had no idea at all why this grotesque little cartoon man was standing there making those grotesque little noises, or why those other lumpkins were marching back and forth holding signs I couldn't read.

I remember my older siblings saying a word that also made no sense: "Bilko." It reminded me of Bosco in milk, or something you'd feed a dog, like Milk Bone. Later I found out what it is to be "bilked". I remember little or nothing about the show except for a character named Doberman. (Ironically, the actor who played Doberman would later do the voice of one of the characters on Top Cat.) This got all mooshed together with Car 54, Where Are You? which I liked much better, cuz who doesn't love Fred Gwynne pre-Munster?, and cuzz there was a character played by Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster!!) named Schnauzer, another type of dog. See, it's all connected. Magic.

But when you're three, do you know any of this? When you're three, you sit in the middle of the room pounding wooden pegs into one-o-dem-dar t'ings, then turn it over and pound them in the other way.  I remember the black, smudgy, infinite depths, the flickering primitive cathode images that seemed made of phosphorescence and soot. I have such primeval memories of Ernie Kovacs that I think he became part of my developing brain stem.

Only one thing scared the bejeezus out of me worse than Bilko, and that was Topper. Topper was terrifying! Cups and hats and canes and things flew around in the air and you couldn't even see the strings. Why was this happening? What were those voices? Topper was sort of old when I saw it, coming on very late at night along with Love That Bob and I Married Joan ("what a pearl, what a girl, what a wife!").  I thought Ann Sothern was called that because she was southern. I thought Gail Storm was a real name.  I didn't get it, obviously. Didn't get it at all.