Stacks o' Wax #25

Archy & Mehitabel: A Back Alley Opera (Columbia ML-4963; 1954)

This 1954 Columbia LP is a studio reworking of a stage production presented three years before by writer Joe Darion and composer George Kleinsinger at New York's Town Hall. The original performers were tenor Jonathan Anderson and soprano Mignon Dunn as New York Evening Sun columnist Don Marquis' blank-verse-typing cockroach Archy and his devil-may-care feline friend Mehitabel, but for the LP they amped up the star power with Preston Sturges stock company favourite Eddie Bracken, who did more stage than screen work in the '50s, and Carol Channing, who'd recently made her mark on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Darion and Kleinsinger would later rework Archy & Mehitabel: A Back Alley Opera into the musical Shinbone Alley with the help of comedy writer Mel Brooks, and although Bracken returned to the role of Archy and Eartha Kitt ably took over for Channing (adding the song Toujours Gai to her permanent repertoire) the 1957 show was a flop, running for only 49 performances, but made enough impact to become a regional theatre staple and, in 1971, an animated feature with Bracken and, once again, Channing.

Unfortunately, the cartoon's artwork doesn't contain much of the charm of the original Archy & Mehitabel drawings by Krazy Kat creator George Herriman, which illustrate the cover of this Columbia LP on the front and back and, unusually for this period, a unique cardboard inner sleeve which also includes liner notes by E.B. White.


estiv said...

Way cool. I started reading A&M in elementary school because there was a copy of the book in the house. It was also my introduction to the work of George Herriman, American genius. I remember a TV version which in my memory featured Henry (not Harry) Morgan as Archie, but the IMDB says it was in fact Eddie Bracken again.

Vanwall said...

Freddy the Rat Perishes - high art.

Bhob said...

David Wayne performed the flip side on the JUDY GARLAND SPECIAL of September 24, 1955.

It's the "theater cat" routine: "No modern cat could do it. They never could go through it. And I played Joe Jefferson's beard. Yes, I played Joe Jefferson's beard."

swac said...

That's extra funny to me, if only because in my head I sometimes get Shinbone Alley mixed up with Garland's feline film Gay Purr-ee.

john_burke100 said...

Tiny correction: archy wrote free verse (no rhyme, no meter) rather than blank verse (usually rhymeless iambic pentameter.)

"i was a vers libre bard"

is one of his early messages to the boss.

tone b hurt said...

All time favorite! A true masterpiece, released on Columbia Classical and Specialty collections. I cherish both the original vinyl and cd issues. I just posted a tribute to this great and unique work in a G+ community earlier this month. Great that you've shared it with the world too. Your page is terrific!