Friday, July 24, 2009

Hamateur Night: Major Bowes parody

Hamateur Night is a hilarious 1939 cartoon directed by Tex Avery. Yes, doing the math, it's from 70 years ago...on radio there was a program known as the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. On the show amateur's would be heard singing or telling jokes...or playing a piano. It's been considered the great-grandfather of all amateur talent programs to follow in it's path. Bowes often struck a gong if he didn't like a performance...shades of The Gong Show of a later generation. Also heard was a bell, almost like the one's heard during boxing matches. If the amateur wasn't too well received then the bell would strike.

The radio show ran for many years, beginning locally in 1934 and going national in 1935, on NBC radio. The program moved to CBS radio in 1936 and remained there until 1945. Bowes died in 1946...his side-kick/talent scout, Ted Mack, brought the show back in 1948 and hosted the slightly re-named Original Amateur Hour until 1952. The program was in production off and on throughout the 1950's on television. In 1960 it went back to CBS and remained on the air until 1970...some say that the program ended production before CBS could cancel it officially. At the time, CBS was ridding it's network of top-rated program that attracted older and rural audiences in favor of the big city/urban audiences topical comedies could bring in.

By 1972 CBS had removed such big ratings winners as "Petticoat Junction", "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Green Acres", "Hee-Haw", "Lawrence Welk", "The Red Skelton Show", "The Ed Sullivan Show", "Gomer Pyle, USMC" just to name a few and replaced those programs in the prime-time line-up with the likes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "All in the Family", "M*AS*H", "The Bob Newhart Show", "The Waltons", "Maude", and others. In reality, a few of those shows had left the CBS network in 1970 and 1971...but the fact that so many of the programs were gone by 1972 shows how intent the network was at reaching a different audience.



In the above cartoon, spoofing Major Bowes' radio program, we see a display of amateur's who all get their comeuppance. There are plenty of topical jokes. The first act introduced is a parody of Stokowski, a musical conductor. In the cartoon he's referred to as Maestro Can-o'-Whiskey. A recurring joke is the Egghead character appearing in between acts singing a brief refrain of "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain", always being yanked off stage by several hooks. A lot of the animals were also featured in other Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. The rooster and Katherine Hepburn chicken, spoofing Romeo and Juliet, were seen in the cartoon, Daffy Duck in Hollywood. There is a recurring scene with a hippo character...he, too, was shown in a couple of other cartoons...specifically She Was An Acrobat's Daughter. In this Hamateur Night cartoon, the hippo has a very peculiar sense of humor and infectious laugh. Tex Avery voiced the character...he also used this voice in a cartoon short called The Bears Tale. The laugh is hilarious...now, this laugh will feature in toward the end of the cartoon...be on the look-out for it.

The cartoon ends with the host going by each amateur and through a series of boo's we're let in on the fact that the audience doesn't like any of the acts...until the host reaches Egghead. When he's singled out last the audience goes wild...much to the shock of the host. The camera shows the audience and we then understand why Egghead's simple rendition of "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain" is so well loved.

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