My sister Randi is recuperating from back surgery – doing pretty well, I’m relieved to say- and apparently part of what she’s doing to pass the time is watch YouTube. . . which is such an amazing destination on the world wide web- and especially amazing because it has something for everyone. For me, YouTube has mostly been a place to find really cool opera stuff, including excerpts from Met telecasts that have never been released on home video – plus telecasts from lots of other opera houses including some featuring productions that are look like they were created by someone who was smoking something illegal as he or she drew the designs. There are all kinds of treasures, like Joan Sutherland’s last “Lucia,” where the audience goes absolutely insane at the end of her mad scene (appropriately enough) – or the fiery Maria Callas portraying Tosca on the Ed Sullivan Show – or the all-time best scream from an opera performance (Catherine Malfitano as Tosca- letting loose with a scream that could pulverize kidney stones) . . . and a few things that are interesting because they’re so awful. Once in awhile, an especially popular opera video will have 8,000+ hits, which will seem like a lot – until you happen to notice Danny Druggie and the Drips singing “pothead party favors” has been viewed 33 million times. Different strokes, I guess.
I also watch YouTube for figure skating – for Star Trek bloopers – for memorable sports moments (like a famous instance when Brett Favre broke down while being interviewed after the last game of the 2006 season when asked if this was it) – for famous speeches – for great moments from awards telecasts (like the time when a streaker invaded the Oscar telecast) – and even for commercials. My latest obsession has been a really wonderful Hershey’s commercial from the late 80’s with a bunch of brief clips from vintage footage of Charlie Chaplin, Gene Kelly, Shirley Temple, and the Three Stooges to a catchy song called “one of the all time greats.” I will sit and watch that 30 second commercial 10 times in a row without batting an eye, as though a man possessed. . . which probably makes me two mouse clicks away from being a certifiable Internet Addict. But at least I’m watching candy bar commercials.
Anyway, when I talked to Randi the other night she mentioned a couple of things which she had sought out on YouTube. . . and for all that I’d seen there over the years, she rattled off three things that I had not found there, and each one made me salivate like Pavlov’s Dog at a handbell concert. . .
#1- Skinny and Fatty – You have to be my age (mid 40s) to probably even know what this program is. It’s a Japanese film made in the mid 60s which aired on a Saturday morning anthology program called the Children’s Film Festival, hosted by Kukla, Fran and Ollie. I don’t remember too many of the episodes (frankly, a lot of them bored me compared to the action-packed cartoons that were my first love) but there was a film called Skinny and Fatty that was really incredible. . . and although I haven’t seen it in 35 years, I still get this little quiver in my gut thinking about it. The film was about two kids who become unlikely friends . . . a good hearted but very awkward, obese kid – and a much smaller kid who excels at athletics. The former is a new student in the school, and when he struggles to climb a pole during P.E class, the latter kid is drafted by the teacher to help him. Things don’t go too well (Fatty nearly crushes Skinny to death during that first attempt at pole-climbing) but they become friends and actually manage to win a special relay race. And then Skinny moves away, and the very last scene is of Fatty – now feeling much more confident about himself and having just managed to climb the infamous pole in gym class, which had been the bane of his existence for so long – standing on a hillside, yelling at the top of his lungs “Komatsu! Thank You!” even though his young friend by now is gone and can’t hear him. It turns out that 9 minutes of Skinny and Fatty is on YouTube – blurry as all get out but still so neat to see after all these many many years.
#2- Captain Kangaroo – I feel like I was raised on this show, and for years and years I have been wishing that one could buy episodes of it on home video. I could still sing the theme song – I could picture Mr. Green Jeans, Dancing Bear, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, the talking Grandfather Clock, the Magic Drawing Board – I even remembered that most episodes featured a quick commercial for Wonder Bread, done by Captain K himself right on the set, who would point out the Red, Green and Blue dots on the wrapper. (Now I know why my dad used to call me a Walking Encyclopedia of Useless Information.) For some reason, Captain Kangaroo has never been on home video (for all I know, most of the episodes were taped over or otherwise lost) and I was despairing at never getting to see this again. Why it never occurred to me to look on YouTube, I will never know. But Randi found several things, and sure enough – there they are in all their black and white glory. And suddenly, I’m 7 years old again, which for a 48 year old is pretty cool.
#3- “Shy” from Carol Burnett’s first telecast of “Once Upon a Mattress.” I cannot believe it never dawned on me to look for this on YouTube. What an incredible set of pipes this lady had, especially back in 1964! Ethel Merman had nothin’ on this lady. When Carol Burnett reared back her head and let loose with that voice of hers, she’s like the vocal equivalent of Moses parting the Red Sea….a miraculous force of nature, and hilariously funny to boot.
And here it is on my computer screen, available at the touch of a button . . .
We may be living in an era of skyrocketing gas prices, worsening storms, perpetual economic turbulence, deteriorating manners, ominous medical threats . . . but you couldn’t pay me enough to transport myself into some sweeter, simpler time in days gone by . . . not as long as I can have my Skinny and Fatty at the click of a mouse. Call me shallow, but that’s enough to make me truly grateful that this is the time and place and world in which I live. . . a time when the whole world and much of our past is literally at our fingertips.
Wonder of Wonders . . . Miracles of Miracles . . .
pictured: the aforementioned Skinny and Fatty, as viewed on YouTube.