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The Appeal of Pop-Retro Obscurity
When the bit characters from our youth get their due.
Last weekend, my family and I went to see Thor: Love and Thunder at the theater. I was a huge Marvel Comics fan as a kid, and I’ve enjoyed nearly all of the MCU movies (to varying degrees) over the last 15 years. While this particular film wasn’t one of the better ones (it was so Police Academy-esque silly it made Thor: Ragnarok feel like a heart-wrenching drama), it carried on the honorable MCU tradition of introducing even very obscure characters, from the original comics, to the cinematic universe.
The homage paid to Marvel obscurity is an Easter Egg of sorts for those of us who grew up on the brand’s extensive catalog of superheroes and supervillains — a nod and a wink to the childhood enthusiasts.
Those who “get it” share a bit of an unspoken bond, and it’s pretty cool (in a very nerdy sort of way).
After the movie, as I was standing in line for the restroom, I was reminded of another enduring childhood brand that stokes a similar sense of “insider” pop-retro appeal.
The guy in front of me was wearing this shirt:
Actually, his shirt was gray with long sleeves (I found the above photo online), but the design at its center was pretty much identical.
Now, if you’re reading this newsletter, and you immediately know who that laid-back-looking rodent is (as I did at the theater), I’m very impressed. While Looney Tunes, the franchise he’s part of, is known by all, very few know him. In fact, the character is such a novelty that I felt compelled to strike up a conversation about the shirt with the guy wearing it… you know, since he “got it”. The guy was pleasantly surprised that I too “got it”, and the two of us shared some fun musings about the pop-culture significance of the era.
The character is Slowpoke Rodriguez, “the slowest mouse in all of Mexico". Few (if any) of you know about him, but you’re almost certainly familiar with his far more famous cousin, Speedy Gonzales, (the fastest mouse in all of Mexico).
Slowpoke only appeared twice during Looney Tunes’ heyday (in the 50s and 60s), and would probably be considered, in the year 2022, to represent an offensive ethnic stereotype. But decades of repeats in syndication, and his memorable persona, ingratiated him to childhood couch potatoes like me and the guy wearing the shirt (who, by the way, was Hispanic).
Honestly, for all the iconic, household characters that Looney Tunes’ produced way back then (and there was a ton), the bit players are still among my favorites.
Benny and George are good examples.
“Who?” some of you might ask.
Benny and George were physically and mentally mismatched cats, who were created as “Of Mice and Men” parody figures. I believe they starred together in just one cartoon (though Benny may have turned up a second time). It was called “Cat-Tails for Two”, and it’s hilarious.
The running gag is that Benny (the big, slow cat) keeps unintentionally injuring the smaller, smarter George. And no matter how angry George gets at Benny, Benny keeps boasting of the great friendship the two have.
I found a little bit of the cartoon on YouTube for your viewing pleasure:
But if I had to choose a favorite of the favorites among the Looney Tunes obscures, it would have to be Pete Puma, who made only two cartoon appearances back in the day.
The first one, entitled “Rabbit's Kin”, is uproariously funny (a true Bugs Bunny classic), and it’s almost entirely because of Stan Freberg’s voice-work and delivery. The character’s exhaling laugh (for lack of a better term) is impossible to listen to without cracking up.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret… I do a pretty darned good impersonation of Pete (made possible by many childhood viewings). I might even do it upon request if you run into me somewhere (as long as my kids aren’t around, because that kind of thing totally embarrasses them).
“I’m Mrs. Rabbit, the little feller's mother, and I've been so worrrrried about him. Eeeeee!”
Man, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore, and I suppose that’s part of the reason pop-retro obscurity is so appealing.
Have a favorite comic book or cartoon character you suspect I’ve never heard of? Tell me about him or her in an email, or in the comment section below.
RIP, James Caan and Gregory Itzin
To great actors passed away last week. One was screen legend, James Caan, who starred in a number of cinematic masterpieces, including The Godfather.
My favorite Caan role was as novelist Paul Sheldon in the 1990 screen adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror story, Misery. It’s an excellent film, and Caan keeps the audience right there with him through every tense scene.
On a side note, I saw Misery at least twice in the theater all those years ago. The second time was with my family, and I will never forget the experience because my father apparently mistook the horror flick for a slapstick comedy. He laughed loudly throughout, not just during the comedic scenes, but also during the most violent, terrifying ones (including Kathy Bates “hobbling” Caan with a sledgehammer). It was a pretty mortifying ordeal, in the packed theater, to my teenage self. But it’s an amusing anecdote now.
Gregory Itzin is perhaps best known for the his role as Charles Logan in the long-running television series, 24. He joined the cast part way through the fourth season, initially as the Vice President of the United States (before being sworn in as president following a terrorist attack on Air Force One). He was absolutely brilliant, hilarious, and forever memorable as the narcissistic (but chronically in-over-his-head) politician.
Both actors will be missed.
Obligatory Dog Shot
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In a recent newsletter, I wrote about visiting the Jack White owned “Third Man Records” store while on vacation in Nashville, TN.
Well, I left the shop with more than just some photos and memories. I also picked me up some vinyl, including today’s featured album from Mr. White himself: Acoustic Recordings 1998–2016.
The record was released in 2016 and is kind of a hodgepodge of acoustic tunes spanning almost 20 years. They include B-sides, previously unreleased tracks, and alternate versions of songs from groups he was in, as well as his solo career. It even has a song from the movie Cold Mountain, which some people may not realize he acted in.
I’d say the album as a whole is a blues and folk offering, and though I’ve haven’t gotten all that far into the 2 LP set, I’m really enjoying what I’m hearing.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!