Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Drew Friedman Rocks!

(Above) After decades in vaudeville and films with his madcap brothers, GROUCHO MARX moved to TV in the 1950s hosting a weekly comedy-quiz program, You Bet Your Life. The series was less a game show than a carny-booth showcase for Groucho's humorous quips, eye-rolling double-takes, and sarcastic asides. The contestants were total strangers seemingly introduced backstage (though some were cult celebs such as Lord Buckley and Tor Johnson, or savants with odd talents); their physical features, accents, and names were fair game for Groucho's ridicule. The show debuted on ABC radio in 1947, moved to CBS in '49, and jumped to NBC-TV in '50, where it remained for a decade.

Groucho had two sidekicks: handsome emcee
George Fenneman, who played the affable straight-man; and a marionette duck who bore a cartoonish resemblance to the host. The duck dropped from the ceiling on two occasions: 1) to reveal that episode's "secret word," and 2) clutching two $50 bills if either contestant uttered the word. In an era before puritanical tobacco bans, Groucho never appeared on-camera without a lit cigar.

(Above) Don Knotts portrayed high-strung Mayberry Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife in the 1960s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show. Fife was a quixotic small town crime-stopper projecting a veneer of situational command that didn't fool anyone (including his acting peers, who accorded him four Emmy Awards for the role). The Museum of Broadcast Communications described Fife as “self-important, romantic, and nearly always wrong. While Barney was forever frustrated that Mayberry was too small for the delusional ideas he had of himself, viewers got the sense that he couldn't have survived anywhere else.”

Knotts (b. Jesse Donald Knotts, July 21, 1924, Morgantown, W. VA.; d. Feb. 24, 2006) first teamed with Griffith in the 1958 film
No Time For Sergeants. In 1960, when Griffith signed to star in his own sitcom, Knotts was recruited as his sidekick. Knotts, believing the show would end after five years, signed a multi-picture deal with Universal in 1965. When Griffith announced the TV series would continue, Barney’s absence was explained on-camera as a “promotion” to the Raleigh NC police force.

The neurotic Knotts persona beguiled fans on the big screen in
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), and others. He later played landlord Ralph Furley on TV’s Three's Company. He even brought Barney back to the soundstage, reuniting with Griffith in the 1986 made-for-TV movie Return to Mayberry. In 2000, Knotts was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Disclaimer: The Drew Friedman portrait is a parody of LIFE magazine in the mid-1960s. This is NOT a replica of an actual LIFE cover.

(Above) Maestro of the Machine Age, RAYMOND SCOTT (b. Harry Warnow, Sept. 10, 1908, Brooklyn; d. Feb. 8, 1994, Los Angeles) was a perfectionist bandleader and quirky composer in the 1930s and ‘40s who evolved into a high-tech musical guru in the ‘50s and ‘60s. His early works, particularly Powerhouse” and The Toy Trumpet,” were immortalized in countless classic Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoon soundtracks. A half-century later his novelties spiced episodes of The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, Animaniacs, The Oblongs, and Duckman. The recordings of his 1937-39 six-man “Quintette” (depicted in the portrait) screamed animation—yet Scott never wrote a note for a cartoon in his life. He was creating what he termed “descriptive jazz,” typified by such wild titles as “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House,” “War Dance for Wooden Indians,” and “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals.”

But control-freak Scott never seemed satisfied with real musicians expressing his musical ideas, so he used the electronic parts catalog to build the perfect sideman. From the late 1940s on he worked extensively in electronic music as an instrument inventor, jingle composer, and experimentalist. Owner of dozens of US patents, Scott was hired by
Berry Gordy in 1971 to head Motown’s electronic research department. His pièce de résistance was the Electronium. A linguini-tangle of circuitry housed in a wooden cabinet, it was Beethoven-in-a-box—a device that would compose using artificial intelligence.

Looking beyond, Scott thought that instruments themselves were merely an evolutionary stage. Writing in 1949, he foresaw a day when “science will perfect a process of thought transference from composer to listener. The composer will sit onstage and merely THINK his idealized conception of music. His brain waves will be picked up by mechanical equipment and channeled directly into the minds of his hearers, thus allowing no distortion of the original idea. Instead of recordings of actual music sound, recordings will carry the brainwaves of the composer.”

(Above) This work depicts Drew Friedman’s old friend (and favorite artist) Robert Crumb presenting his original Cheap Thrills comic strip album cover art to Janis Joplin (with members of her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, milling around) in 1968. The (fictitious) incident is pictured taking place backstage at the Fillmore West concert hall in San Francisco.Interestingly, Crumb had originally intended his art for the LP back cover, with a portrait of Joplin to grace the front. But Joplin—an avid fan of underground comics, especially the work of Crumb—so loved the Cheap Thrills illustration that she demanded Columbia Records place it on the front cover. (Janis, a star at that point in her escalating career, had the authority to hire her own cover artist.)

Amusing side note: In the late 1960s, Crumb (an ardent fan of
1920s jazz and blues and a man who was never comfortable with psychedelic chic) briefly yielded to prevailing fashion and wore his hair fairly long (as depicted). Joplin encouraged her friend Crumb to “loosen up” and wear hippie clothes and beads,” but the legendary cartoonist just couldn’t get with the program.

Epilog: Robert Crumb, on Janis
(Nov. 2008): “She was my buddy—poor thing. She was a very talented, gifted singer, but she got sidetracked by fame and her life went into a disastrous tailspin. In her last days she was surrounded by sycophants and music business hustlers just full of bad advice. She was young, and in spite of her tough, hard-drinking exterior, innocent. She just wanted to please the crowds, who got excited when she screamed and stomped her feet and carried on histrionically onstage. Janis sweated blood to please the crowds. But I think she was a better singer years before that, when she sang old-time Country music and Blues in small clubs. She was great then, a natural-born country girl shouter and wailer in the good old-time way.”

(Above) Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Shemp Howard ahieved cinematic immortality portraying bumbling fools. In hundreds of shorts and feature films starting in 1934 at Columbia Pictures (with baby Howard brother Curly), every simple situation became insanely complicated, every sure-fire plan backfired. Their illogical, self-defeating antics inevitably provoked some nemesis to knock a little sense into their heads. Often the comic foil was veteran actor Vernon Dent, who made impatience a virtue. Dent logged more appearances in Stooge films than any supporting actor, playing detectives, hotel managers, fake foreigners, and salesmen.

Think of all the negative-role model behavior these three legendary “nitwits” showcased for American youth. In today’s risk-averse culture, in which kids must be shielded from even slapstick “violence,” these films—if made at all—would be required by PC moralists to run endless disclaimers and parental warnings.
Where’s Vernon Dent when you need him?

If you go to Drew Friedman’s web site, you can buy your favorite print here.

All descriptions of the characters above and the artwork is copyright © Drew Friedman.


Anonymous said...

This post is ultra cool! Brings back memories!

Fashion Serial Killer said...

awesome stuff.. i have that Cheap Thrills record!

Unknown said...

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