Simanaitis Says

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ON THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

A RED SKELTON comedy show from 1950 was recently on “Radio Classics,” the old time radio channel of SiriusXM. A couple of things on it led to today’s tidbits about the persistence of memory.

The Persistence of Memory. This phrase is also the title of a Salvador Dali painting; the one with the melting watches.

Above, The Persistence of Memory, 1931, by Salvador Dali. Below, a still life, part of the top of our piano.


Red Skelton. Comic Red Skelton was also known for his art work, in this case, of clown portraits. According to Wikipedia, “… his art dealer said he thought that Skelton earned more money through his paintings than from his television performances.” Lithograph sales alone earned $2.5 million yearly.

Richard “Red” Skelton, 1913–1997, American comedian in radio, television, and movies; artist specializing in clown portraits. Image by an unknown artist; restoration by Adam Cuerden, available from the U.S. Library of Congress’s Prints.

Skelton’s zany comedy is remembered for his own characters, including Clem Kadiddlehopper, Cauliflower McPugg, and Junior the Mean Widdle Kid.

A regular on his show in 1949-1950 was Polly the Panhandler, portrayed by Martha Wentworth (later, the voice of Lucy, Nanny, and Queenie in Disney’s 1961 One Hundred and One Dalmatians).

One of Polly the Panhandler’s recurring bits was scrounging for cigarette butts, which jogs my memory to a puzzle I’d pose back when I was teaching Math for Elementary Teachers.

A Test of Logic. A seedy old college prof scrounges cigarette butts to support his lamentable habit. He finds that seven scrounged butts yields sufficient tobacco to roll a new cigarette. One day, he manages to find 49 butts.

How many smokes will he realize from this day’s collection?

From Skelton to R&T. Another regular character on the Skelton show was Lurene Tuttle, who portrayed radio Sam Spade’s office gal Effie Perrine. Which gets me thinking of R&T’s Lorraine Keeton, rest her soul.

Lorraine’s listing on the masthead was Reader Service, but she was actually R&T’s authority of all things grammatical. Lorraine seemed to know entirely by heart The Chicago Manual of Style. And, even more important, she knew R&T’s occasional quirks away from standard authorities.

Lorraine was charming, witty, and attractive. I always thought she looked like Marilyn Monroe, if the latter had allowed herself to reach middle age.

One of Lorraine’s abilities was knowing how to tap dance. Another was an apocryphal family secret: “My grandfather knew the day and the hour of his death,” she’d say. “The judge told him.”

Another Mind Jog. Lorraine’s apocryphal grandfather reminds me of journalism’s two greatest headlines. The first involved the only time I ever bought a National Enquirer, the lurid tabloid tempting folks at supermarket checkouts. I succumbed to “Machine Lets You Talk to the Dead! Build Your Own! Instructions Inside!”

Nor was I disappointed, exactly…. You hit the Record button of a tape recorder, turn the volume all the way up, and leave the device in an empty room for awhile after saying, for instance, “Grandfather, are you here?”

Later, play it back at normal volume. And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear his mutterings.

The tabloid even offered a reported communication from Joseph Stalin: “Hot here. Here hot. Terrible.” Proof positive.

The other memorable headline is from the New York Post, Friday, April 15, 1963. It read, “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR,” with the accompanying amplification, “Gunman forces woman to decapitate tavern owner.”

Radio Commercial Breaks. Though much of SiriusXM is commercial free, the “Radio Classics” channel is not. Indeed, its vintage commercials are part of the fun (though occasionally generating cringes): “What cigarette do you smoke, doctor?” “Camels!

Image from adweek.com.

The channel carries modern commercials as well. Those advertising CDs of old time radio have clear demographic focus. However, I’ve got to wonder about the health-related ones.

Do I have to be reminded, ad nauseam, that certain drugs have side effects half the commercial long: “If A, B, C, D, E, F, or G persists, call your doctor!”

Geez. I’d call my doctor even if one of these didn’t persist.

Memory Enhancement? Another commercial I find amusing is for an old-folks memory supplement.

Me? Uh, thanks, no. All I have to do is follow logical trains of thought. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

3 comments on “ON THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

  1. Bob DuBois
    August 17, 2020

    If the answer to your logic test is not 7, then what is it, and how do you arrive at that answer?

    • simanaitissays
      August 17, 2020

      Hint: And what is the result of smoking these seven cigarettes? And ….

      • Bob DuBois
        August 19, 2020

        Of course! And one more for good measure. Considering all the math I had in college, I sure suffered brain lock on this one.

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