Classic Retro Kids’ TV On-the-Cheap by Jonathan Kieran: MR. DRESSUP

CLASSIC RETRO KIDS’ TV ON-THE-CHEAP! by JONATHAN KIERAN

TODAY’S DUBIOUS HONOREE: MR. DRESSUP (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1967-1996)

A single adult man who keeps a biologically unrelated little boy living in a tree in his backyard? Welcome to kids' TV from the CBC!

A single adult man who kept a biologically unrelated little boy living in a tree in his backyard? Welcome to kids’ TV from the CBC!

GUILTY OF VEHICULAR FANSLAUGHTER: Ernie Coombs (Canada’s answer to Mr. Rogers … only a lot more caffeinated and likely to bounce off the cardboard walls)

RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: Nothing touches the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for producing tatty but creative kids’ shows that were built to last and rife with mangy-looking puppets suffering from Borderline Personality Disorders! As a bumpkin-child in the woods of upstate New York, I couldn’t wait to fill my impressionable mind with that one-of-a-kind brand of folksy Canadian Crazy that the CBC pumped into our living rooms on a daily basis via programming like The Friendly Giant and the legendary Mr. Dressup.

Mr. Dressup was probably the “King” of cheesy children’s TV, at least for youngsters in our region who depended upon the seemingly limitless pipeline of entertainment thrift utilized by producers just across the border — producers who had to stage a show with nothing but four or five Ping-Pong balls, construction paper, two asbestos oven-mits and maybe a ukulele. The brain-trusts in Toronto knew how to BRING IT! I only wish today’s bloated and shiftless TV execs could do in an hour with their $9 million budgets what Mr. Dressup’s team obviously did in 10 minutes for a few bucks and a six-pack of Carling-O’Keefe.

Mr. Dressup ran daily from 1967-1996, amassing over 4,000 episodes packed with wanton childishness. That was the whole point! Like most children’s TV programs since the days of Caesar and Cleopatra, the setting and context of the actual characters on Mr. Dressup lacked verisimilitude. Wait. Scratch that. The set-up made absolutely no freakin’ sense whatsoever. First of all, you had a loner-type adult person with no fashion-sense and no apparent prospects for marriage (Mr. Dressup) living in a tiny house crammed with semi-magical knick knacks and strange outfits that were kept in something called a “Tickle Trunk” while, out in the back yard, a child biologically unrelated to the adult lived in a tree.

Uh huh.

On the Mr. Dressup show, the treehouse-dwelling child was a freckled puppet named “Casey”. Casey looked like an unfinished Lady Elaine Fairchilde marionette stolen from the Mr. Rogers set, fitted with a blond page-boy wig and wrapped in a tea-cozy. A parade of disheveled, disoriented and equally unrelated puppet-people streamed constantly through the door of the little house to visit the adult loner and the boy he kept in the backyard tree. This highly unusual and improbable “family unit” was unexplained and therefore taken for granted by the viewing public at the time. We called it “the magic of children’s television.”

Today they call it “a particularly disturbing episode of Law and Order:SVU.”

But that’s how kids’ programming rolled in the days before unseen parents allowed their irritating real-life children to play in the park unsupervised with an obese purple dinosaur on Zoloft that taught them to chant endless verses of black magic composed by Lucifer, Lord of Hell.

In terms of plot, the Mr. Dressup show was rather formulaic and predictable, which was an attribute beneficial to a developing child’s mind, I believe. That whole dynamic has certainly changed. Mr. Dressup, ever-exuberant in his bow-tie and suspenders, would greet his friends in TV Land and prepare them for a morning of storytelling that always involved the retrieval of some indicative costume from the Tickle Trunk. The costume was usually made out of colored gauze, tinfoil and discarded candy wrappers, but we didn’t care, as kids. Sometimes, to our horror, the Tickle Trunk wouldn’t even open, forcing Mr. Dressup to actually “coochie-coo” the damn thing until it coughed-up the goods. That trunk was a coy little tramp.

Once Mr. Dressup donned the Kleenex cape or the fake beard made out of cotton yanked from a thousand Q-tips, he would tell some brief fairy tale that sent us all off to Imagination Town in our pea brains. After that it was time to head out into the backyard for a visit with Casey in the treehouse. The best part about Casey was actually his constant companion, Finnegan the Dog, who looked like an unlaundered sailor’s sock after a nine-month tour of duty. Finnegan the Dog was great because he was entirely mute. Couldn’t bark a note. Couldn’t growl. Couldn’t talk. He was the only silent creature of Irish extraction I ever saw. Mr. Dressup or Casey would talk to Finnegan or ask his opinion about something and the puppeteer would merely make Finnegan’s “mouth” move silently and he would whisper the answer in Casey’s ear. Casey would then translate/interpret Finnegan’s response. He was the original Dog-Whisperer, that Casey.

The entire, belovedly creepy Mr. Dressup crew -- l. to r. the clearly "out of it" and obviously overmedicated Aunt Bird, Alligator, Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan the Dog

The entire, belovedly creepy Mr. Dressup crew — l. to r. the clearly “out of it” and obviously overmedicated Aunt Bird, Alligator, Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan the Dog

An assortment of guests would soon follow. An alligator-puppet cleverly named “Alligator” might drop by to yammer-on about God-Knows-What and at least once a week you could count on a visit from Aunt Bird, who was the show’s requisite “dazed and confused” elderly puppet. Poor Aunt Bird never made much sense, always looked like she had possibly been mauled in an alley by Finnegan the Dog’s more aggressive canine relations, and she was a definite candidate for Lady Rogaine or whatever it is they recommend for women with unsightly bald patches. Sometimes in tow with Aunt Bird was her niece, Miss Biz, a bug-eyed specimen who was as neurotic and disconnected as Elaine Stritch. Miss Biz, with only about a dozen strands of pink, wispy boa-feathers protruding from her lumpy head as “hair” clearly inherited the Female-Pattern Baldness gene from her dizzy aunt. I always figured there must’ve been an ostrich or maybe a vulture in that follicle-challenged bird-family’s woodpile. Anyhow, after all of this pointless but riveting Goodness, Casey and Finnegan would go to sleep in the treehouse, Aunt Bird and Miss Biz would fly off to whatever sorry, hair-lined nest they called home and Mr. Dressup would conclude the show with a consultation of the Wise Old Owl, which was a framed picture of an owl that would magically come to life and open its cardboard eyes, roll them, say: “Who, who, to-wit, to-woo …” and then offer some word of encouragement to insecure children all over the world … or at least within a 150-mile radius of Toronto, Ontario.

It’s amazing how such low-budget yet creative and lovingly crafted productions had the power to mesmerize children, once upon a time. These characters became as familiar to us as friends when we were young and life was a bit simpler. It all went down not that long ago — as noted, the Mr. Dressup show racked-up 29 years of whimsical entertainment and over 4000 little episodes before the Tickle Trunk demanded a cut of the syndication profits or went on the fritz and refused to reveal its secrets for the unappreciative ADHD demographic of the burgeoning Cyber Age. That’s okay. When the asteroid hits and the Zombie Apocalypse is unleashed upon what precious little is left of civilization, we’ll all be forced to live in treehouses with pets rendered mute by radiation poisoning. I figure I’ll be one of the few who’s ready.

Thank you, Mr. Dressup.

DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: “Three little birdies, happy and gay. Three little birdies fly away.” (Classic chart-topping Mr. Dressup lyrics)

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Ernie Coombs, who played Mr. Dressup for almost 30 years on the CBC, went on to become a popular figure on the college lecture circuit, especially for generations of students who had “grown up” with the beloved children’s program. Ernie Coombs passed away in 2001. RIP, Mr. D. As for the OTHERS …

Casey from the Treehouse

Perhaps scarred by a youth spent living in the backyard tree of an unrelated adult male, Casey found the transition to adulthood somewhat difficult. Between government checks and visits to his parole officer, he still finds time to audition for local children's theater and enjoys macaroni art. He lives in Winnipeg.

Perhaps scarred by a youth spent living in the backyard tree of an unrelated adult male, Casey found the transition to adulthood somewhat difficult. Between government checks and visits to his parole officer, he still finds time to audition for local children’s theater and enjoys macaroni art. He lives in Winnipeg.

The discombobulated “Aunt Bird”

WARNING GRAPHIC: This is a photo from the Ottawa Police Department's homicide unit, taken Thanksgiving Day 1996. It is the last known photograph of Aunt Bird. Her surviving family members refused to speak to Pop HazMat about the murder, which appears to have been related to the infamous "Savory Stuffer's" string of serial killings that terrorized Canada in the late 1990s.

WARNING! GRAPHIC: Above is a photo from the Ottawa Police Department’s homicide unit, taken Thanksgiving Day 1996. It is the last known photograph of Aunt Bird. Her surviving family members refused to speak to us about the murder, which appears to have been related to the infamous “Savory Stuffer’s” string of serial killings that terrorized Ontario in the late 1990s.

The Tickle Trunk

Of all the Mr. Dressup cast-members, the Tickle Trunk appears to have fared the best in private life. Tickle Trunk (pictured on the left) is now owned by Lance and Bartholomew,  a fabulous Greenwich Village couple who specialize in restoring worn-out receptacles of all shapes and sizes. "We needed a place to keep our collection of damask napkins and, well, we certainly love to tickle," said Lance. "It was really a no-brainer."

Of all the Mr. Dressup cast-members, the Tickle Trunk appears to have fared the best in private life. Tickle Trunk (pictured on the left) is now owned by Lance and Bartholomew, a fabulous Greenwich Village couple who specialize in restoring worn-out receptacles of all shapes and sizes. “We needed a place to keep our collection of damask napkins and, well, we certainly love to tickle,” said Lance. “It was really a no-brainer.”

EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC: Casey and Finnegan … Classic Moments to Treasure.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.
Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly and believes that any “writer” who gives-away a lot of stuff for free is a Wattpadder or a Smashworder.

He-Man & She-Ra: Proudly Fostering Body Dysmorphia since 1983! by Jonathan Kieran

POP HAZMAT RETRO HALL OF FAME presents Wonderfully Warped Children’s Television!by JONATHAN KIERAN

TODAY’S DUBIOUS HONOREE: He-Man (1983-1985) and She-Ra (1985-1986)

GUILTY OF VEHICULAR FANSLAUGHTER: He-Man, She-Ra, Skeletor, Battle Cat, Teela and all the elves working Mattel’s Everlasting Assembly-line of Dysfunctional Dreams.

He-Man and She-Ra ... Padding the bank accounts of psychologists specializing in Body Dysmorphic Disorders since the 1980s!

He-Man and She-Ra … Padding the bank accounts of psychologists specializing in Body Dysmorphic Disorders since the 1980s!

RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: If you were a trendy child growing-up in the 1980s and early 1990s, there’s little chance you escaped the pop-culture gravitational pull of He-Man and She-Ra, who were basically two sword & sorcery action-figures with their own animated Saturday morning infomercials thinly disguised as kids’ TV shows. He-Man came first as you were spooning Cap’n Crunchies into your spellbound face and dripping sugar-saturated milk all over your jammies and onto Mother’s new JC Penney area-rug. But you could hardly look away when He-Man sauntered across the screen in all of his garish, stilted-animation glory. He-Man was essentially a warrior-type dragged from any garden-variety epic fantasy novel, stripped of every piece of clothing a warrior would need, except for a colorful jock-strap and boots, pumped with a regimen of steroids that’d make Lance Armstrong look like a dilettante and armed (of course) with a magic sword.

Or maybe the magic sword was the talisman of She-Ra, He-Man’s twin sister, who got her own spin-off show/infomercial so the little girls and the gays would have something to razzle their dazzle while masticating Cocoa Puffs and Pop Tarts from 9AM til Noon on weekends. She-Ra was as overblown as He-Man, for these were the days when slightly doughy or out-of-shape heroes (like TV’s Batman and Robin or the skinflint “Shaggy” from Scooby-Doo) just couldn’t cut the cartoon mustard any more, so kids were being presented with progressively exaggerated images of the human body and schooled in the importance of having Big-Gulp secondary sex characteristics when the time came to transform into one’s crime-fighting alter ego. Thus, She-Ra was stacked like a particularly earnest Hooters waitress working the Halloween shift in a costume she spent maybe ten minutes putting together out of a tablecloth and some ornamental napkin holders from the Pic-N-Save. Her boobs were honeydew-perfect and seemingly attached to her chin, which looked like the surgically sculpted masterpiece of some sought-after Beverly Hills body butcher. Those Power Ta-Tas did not flinch an inch when She-Ra was conquering the forces of evil! In fact, it was probably her chi-chis that poked Skeletor’s eyes out … though the series never addressed that likelihood, to my knowledge.

Skeletor ... Blinded by the Mighty Meemies of She-Ra or just a rip-off of Ghost Rider in Dungeons & Dragons drag?

Skeletor … Blinded by the Mighty Meemies of She-Ra or just a rip-off of Ghost Rider in Dungeons & Dragons drag?

She-Ra’s gargantuan hairdo was a thing of splendor in and of itself — daunting enough to make all 43 of the weaves and assorted clip-on wigs atop Beyoncé’s head writhe like Medusa-snakes in anger and envy. He-Man actually had even bigger and more ridiculous breasts than She-Ra. His torso looked like an airbrushed Smithfield ham balanced atop the legs of a Clydesdale draught-horse, with a baby watermelon stuffed in his red bikini.

For about fifteen minutes during the ’80s, we all loved these shows and couldn’t get enough of the ADHD-inducing drama, much less of the action figure tie-ins and “accessories sold separately.” Then we grew up, as well-adjusted children ought to do, and we moved on — thoroughly prepared for a culture of pervasive internet porn, rampant body dysmorphic disorders, obsessive workout regimens, bodacious breast augmentations, fake hair, fake names, fake intelligence, fake values, indiscriminate displays of physical violence and a vast gallery of narcissistic smartphone “selfies” taken in front of bathroom mirrors by the millions. It’s a lot easier to work for a set of ripped abs or buy a smokin’ hot rack than to fight the Forces of Darkness, these days. Fighting evil with magic swords? Nah, we didn’t bring that part of the show into the new millennium. We just brought the hotness and the Evil.

Thank you, Filmation!

DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: Here’s 10 indispensable He-Man quotes steeped in the kind of wisdom that explains exactly why your kids turned out the way they did.

EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC: The classic He-Man Intro. Note how the “pre-transformed” Adam (Prince of Eternia) appears to be voiced by a 59-year-old Presbyterian radio-announcer from Topanga with a deviated septum.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.
Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly and believes that any “writer” who gives-away a lot of stuff for free is a Wattpadder or a Smashworder.

 

Zanzibar … and a word.

Apologies, of a sort, for being so conspicuously off-the-radar these days, but the reasons for my social media inactivity are twofold and perhaps even a tad noble, now that I think about it.
In the first place, I have been working steadily on a monumental new work of fiction –an illustrated epic of (one hopes) world-altering significance. The planet might benefit from a heaping-helping of existentially buoyant magical entertainment right now. Which brings me to my second point.
The human race in general seems stressed and agitated to the point of rancorous intoxication, right now, and the internet (in my opinion) is largely responsible for both inspiring and amplifying the relentless sounds of hysteria that rise like a mushroom-cloud of radioactive chaos from the gloom-scape of our beleaguered “civilization.”
There’s just way too much damned noise around the globe, currently.
Way too many overwrought exclamations, emanations, pontifications, execrations, vilifications, and superfluous revelations.
Brains are being scrambled before our very eyes with needless, untamed, unsolicited information.
I, quite frankly, do not want to add to that debilitating cacophony by posting my head-thoughts every hour on the bloody hour, or even every week.
I’d much rather let individual works of art (literary, visual, aural) represent my contribution to this mortal coil, instead of incessant, trivial gabbling and opinion-mongering. (This post being, of course, an obvious exception.)
Call me a Romantic. Call me older. Call me quiet.
Quiet is a lovely thing.
That being said, a major work is slated for release in either mid-2018 or early 2019. Something heartfelt and rather elaborate, I must confess. More information about this project will be forthcoming when it is appropriate to come forth about such things.
In the meantime, the bustling Grand Central Station that is my frontal lobe continues to shuttle other ideas back and forth for purposes of sheer self-amusement and daily upkeep.
A three-act play for the stage is well underway, as is its screenplay companion.
The threads of two other long-gestating book projects are being sewn toward something resembling completion.
A new book is being outlined.
Two finished works of long-form fiction are awaiting, quite patiently, the proper publishing “home.”
It ought to be a busy rest-of-the-decade.
Otherwise, enjoy the continued, relative silence you’ll be “hearing” from me, and be sure to cultivate some of your very own, wherever you live and enjoy this one and only legitimate miracle called Existence.
Ta,
~Jonathan

Zanzibar Circus 5.11.17

More Zanzibar on the way. Give us a wee bit. We’ve been busy.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of Confessions from the Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop Culture Zombies (Brightbourne) as well as the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books. He is also the creator of the comic strip Zanzibar Circus (or, in the case of today’s careless screw-up, Planet Zanzibar.) Look for an epic new tale of staggering proportions in 2018. Meanwhile explore this site to learn more about Jonathan’s current titles, or buy his books on Amazon by clicking the cover images to the right in the sidebar. Enjoy your life before the cataclysm strikes.

Happy Thanksgiving: Zanzibar Circus 11.22.16

… Make merry and be happy. Try not to strangle your liberal or conservative loved ones over the mashed potatoes.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of Confessions from the Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop Culture Zombies (Brightbourne) as well as the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books. He is also the creator of the comic strip Zanzibar Circus. Explore this site to learn more about Jonathan’s work, or buy his books on Amazon by clicking the cover images to the right in the sidebar.

At Last … Zanzibar Circus

Yes, I know: I’ve been threatening to release this comic tour-de-farce for months. Sorry, but there were so many other endeavors with which to occupy my questionable interests that I never got around to it until now. For example, it took me a significant amount of time to figure out how to operate the many sinister and relentless updates & upgrades foisted upon us tech-weary types by the erstwhile user-friendly Apple corporation. User-friendly. Talk about “once upon a time.”

Too, there were the recent holidays, a week’s impromptu sojourn in Las Vegas, and scattered bits of that random stuff they call “work.” Of course, a fair amount of existential anxiety about the state of our spiraling civilization had to be conjured, endured, and finally processed through the powers of my inestimable comprehension, to boot. You didn’t think I’d just interrupt the perfectly healthy flow of a Lifelong Panic Attack to draw little cartoons, did you?

At all events, it’s here. Zanzibar Circus. Rudimentary. Simple. Speaks for itself. No further introduction or explanation needed. Expect an installment every week or two.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author and illustrator of Confessions from the Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop Culture Zombies (Brightbourne), along with the Rowan Blaize series of contemporary fantasy books. He is also the creator of the Zanzibar Circus comic strip. Learn more about his books here at jonathankieran.com or buy them on Amazon by clicking the cover-links above on the right.

#SomewhereInEzekiel? …

"Nancy? Um ... Does babbling nonsense into the air make the invisible man in the sky feel good about himself? And what's with our arms? I mean, mine aren't very long. Is it really that important to be a couple of feet closer?"

“Nancy? Does babbling nonsense into the air make the invisible man in the clouds feel good about himself? And what the hell are we doing with our arms? I mean, mine aren’t very long. Is it that important to be a couple of feet closer? Does it make me a better Christian, this shit with the arms?”

"Not really. We do this to be ready when He sends down the heavenly shower of Skittles. Yea, glory! Taste the Rainbow, hallelujah!"

“Not really. We only do this to be ready when He smites Earth with the Heavenly Tempest of Skittles! Don’t you ever read the Scriptures, Sheila? Jesus Christ, get with the program. Now let me be. I feel an anointment of tongues coming on, bitch! Yon-dalla-walla-walla shandala King James shaniqua shaniqua Zanzibar-fondue macarena shandala Bible Bible Bible Bible!”

"Oh! Gummy nuggets of colored corn-syrup from God. We're SAVED!"

“Oh, praise Him! Gummy high-fructose Redemption Nuggets from Above! We’re SAVED!”

... Taste the Rainbow (Hallelujah)

… Taste the Rainbow (Hallelujah)