Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Al Capp Radio Show Tapes: Issue #1

Al Capp was a 20th century humorist who ruled newspaper comic pages for decades with his satiric hillbilly adventure strip, Li'l Abner. Starting with the strip's 1930s introduction, he became celebrated and recognized over the years for his popular culture contributions: the Schmoo, the Double-Whammy, Sadie Hawkin's Day, and the Miniskirt (his assertion) among many others. But by the end of the 1960s, the "Old Left" Capp had come to be viewed as a conservative polemicist. An adversary of the "New Left" and, generally, the youth of the day, Capp is the cranky old establishment figure that exchanged views and insults with the Lennons at the famed Montreal "Bed-In for Peace" in May 1969.

The man held many opinions and offered them, well, not necessarily freely. Capp surely commanded a nice payday for the frequent work he performed as a wit on radio and television panel discussions. That is not to mention the scratch he was making with his public speaking engagements (notably, his confrontational college campus appearances), or from his newspaper and magazine opinion pieces. He felt it fair to say he loved to share his opinions and was popular enough to earn money doing it; he delivered them repeatedly in nearly every flow of popular media available throughout his career. This series of articles will tune the dial to one of these channels, his eponymous radio show. From the turn of the 1970s: this is The Al Capp Radio Show.

While there are currently some wonderful sites with great information on Capp, his art and his controversial history, there is very little to be found regarding his radio show. These articles will cover this particular vessel of Capp's opinions and attempt to place it within some historical context. We also hope to hear from anyone with more information regarding the show itself. As we move the story along to "the grid," we will share what we have determined and any information you the reader may have to contribute, whether it be fact or reasoned speculation.

In this first issue, we introduce The Al Capp Radio Show with (HAW!) an introductory presentation reel intended for prospective buyers of the show:

THE AL CAPP RADIO SHOW: The Presentation Reel

For more than seven minutes Capp and Pepper-Tanner staff hype each other and the show. Capp describes his fee for his question and answer sessions at the nation's universities as a bargain for his hosts because they get "two David Brinkleys, an Art Buchwald and a half, and four Ann Landers' for the price of one Al Capp." The implication is this bargain works in a similar fashion for your radio station as well.

Pepper-Tanner pitches the production will provide "with the music of Li'l Abner...fifteen new shows a week, a 90-second feature" with Capp providing a custom opening for the station or client. Here, it seems the show may have actually been called Al Capp On the Spot, as Capp runs through some sample openings combining this title and various sponsers.

Then, it's on to excerpts of his show, including his take on welfare mothers with "Mrs. Fruitful" of Detroit, pornography, as well as popular singers Joan Baez (more on her later) and Johnny Cash. But of course, Capp lets the listener know that these selected bits were merely the mildest of the bunch. Only if Capp joins your team will you get the "really good stuff."

"Oh, we're tricky, Pepper and Tanner and Capp," Capp trails off chuckling and leaving it for Pepper-Tanner to slam it home:

"Right, AL!"

THE AL CAPP RADIO SHOW: Tape 1, Episode 1
"Mr. Capp, why don't we see you on talk shows any more?"

The episodes generally begin with the voice of an unnamed "man/woman-on-the-street-type" posing a question to Capp. This, we will find, was a common device for Capp: introduce a topic through a question a typical person would ask, framed properly for a typically thoughtful Capp response. His response would be slick, no doubt honed to its finest edge from campus engagements.

Here, Capp describes a tour of Asia he took with fellow writers Art Buchwald and George Plimpton ("a rising young novelist"), visiting wounded troops in Vietnam. For the young men, the simple pleasure of seeing famous faces from home, faces they knew from television talk shows, was a treat.

He suspects the reason he isn't on those shows anymore may have something to do with a question he wants to ask these hosts -- the much more popular Johnny Carsons, Merv Griffins, and Mike Douglases.

(By the way, that isn't a self-portrait of Capp with Carson depicted here, but rather a Capp drawing of Senator George McGrovel sounding off on Tommy Wholesome.)

THIS SERIES IS SOMETHING NEW to MangMade. Stick around for the "really good stuff."

"Right, AL!"

Related Links:
Great Al Capp articles from Animation Archive
"Joanie Phoney" Li'l Abner episode strips at Mark Kausler's CatBlog
Art from Capp's Hardhat's Bedtime Story Book

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