Were you able to make your 50th high school reunion, Ozark? Or were you pushing a walker in a nursing home? Athletics is hard on the knees. Did you ever marry Dinah, your hometown girl, or did the sports groupies become too tempting?
For a few years in grade school the comic strip “Ozark Ike” was wildly popular. Each day’s episode in the Philadelphia Bulletin was the next day’s main topic at recess. At the playground baseball games, everyone wanted to be Ozark Ike.
Ozark Ike was a blatant copy of Li’l Abner. Like Abner, Ozark was a mountain hillbilly of honest simplicity with an almost pornographic girl friend, but he was a fantastic baseball player that brought him in contact with the flatland world. His family, the McBatts, were constantly feuding with the Fatfields. Ike’s girlfriend, plagiarizing the West Side Story, was a Fatfield.
The cartoonist died after only a few years. The strip was carried on for a while by others but without the original spark, and it lost reader interest. But the unspoiled wisdom and nobility of the back-country bumpkin will always be common mythology. It was popularized in the Tarzan series and still pops up occasionally, most recently as Crocodile Dundee and even the adolescent Harry Potter. No doubt we will see it again in some form.
Which brings me to Li’l Abner and how amazingly original his originator, Al Capp, was. Li’l Abner himself was merely the framework to showcase a wide array of memorable minor characters.
Fearless Fosdick was a cartoon that Li’l Abner read—a cartoon within the cartoon. Fosdick was a parody of Dick Tracy with the same sharp chin always seen in profile, but he wore a tight black suit with incongruous hillbilly field boots. He was often full of bullet holes that showed right through his body. Large holes would even have a bird perched on the edge, but he never seemed to notice them. He was a bungler like Inspector Clouseau and would often shoot innocent bystanders by mistake, sending them spinning in the air with similar holes.
Li’l Abner also had shmoos that are unknown to children today. Shmoos were white, bowling-pin-shaped pets that were cuddly, affectionate, and loyal. If you needed to take out your aggressions they loved to be kicked, and an especially hard boot could cause them to swoon in ecstasy. They also laid eggs, gave milk, and were delicious to eat, obligingly falling over dead if anyone even looked hungry.
But the cartoon was best known for its women that were occasionally declared pornographic. Daisy Mae showed a lot of cleavage and wore a ragged skirt that was barely-covers-paradise short, but she came off so wholesome we never noticed. Stupefyin’ Jones was something else. Julie Neumar played her perfectly in the movie. The mere sight of her would stop men dead in their tracks with their mouths hanging open, red-veined eyes bulging out. I have known girls with just that effect. One glance and their stupefying power would hit me. I could feel my jaw slackening and my eyes expanding and there was nothing I could do about it. Most were from Lansdowne High (such as Stupefyin’ Juliet Calabro), probably because of my testosterone level then. They are much fewer, now.
My personal favorite was Moonbeam McSwine. She lived with the pigs and always had flies buzzing around her head and little waves of odor radiating from her body. But I was sure I could get past all of that. In my teenaged fantasy, it was even part of her attraction.
Then there was Joe Btfsplk who walked around with a tiny storm cloud of trouble over his head. Knew plenty like that, too. Even felt that way sometimes myself. And, of course, Sadie Hawkins, whose name entered the English lexicon.
The setting was the town of Dogpatch, a collection of dilapidated rural houses and not a real town with paved streets and stores. An early cartoon placed it in eastern Kentucky. The name still refers to any similar town. It did have a central park with a memorial statue of Civil War hero Jubilation T. Cornpone and one of the WWI flying ace, Cap’n Eddie Ricketyback. The one industry was the Skonk Works in nearby Skonk Hollow that brewed Skonk Oil whose poisonous fumes killed many. Kissin’ Rock was near Suicide Leap. The list goes on and on. At one time half of the American idioms seemed to have come from Li’l Abner (the other half from Popeye).
In 1967, Capp licensed Dogpatch as an actual theme park in Arkansas, but, true to its name, it failed in 1993.
So, where are you now, Abner? You’re pretty old and probably are really “Li’l.” Do you and Daisy look like your parents, Mammy and Pappy Yocum? Did Daisy take up smoking a pipe? Pass me some of that kickapoo joy juice.