Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Real Froggy Evening

Ol' Rip didn't want his fifteen minutes of fame. It was thrust upon him. He was Young Rip when he crossed paths with E. E. Wood, electrician and part-time cornet player with the Eastland Municipal Band. He was Ripley to his mother who had sent him to the store for a box of red ants.

Mr. Wood was on his way to the laying of the cornerstone for the new Eastland County Courthouse. The year was 1897 and people were starved for entertainment. So much so, that horned toads were regarded as pets. Even if they never brought the paper in or rolled over, people would watch their little wart-covered bodies sit immobile for hours. This was before Television, this was before Radio. Hell, if Edison hadn't invented the electric light, Mr. Woods wouldn't have been an electrician. Anyway, on the way to the festivities, Ripley scurried in front of Mr. Woods and changed his life forever. E. E. grabbed the unfortunate creature and put him in his pocket planning to present him to his sons at the end of the day.

Mr. Woods arrived at the site just in time to see the town fathers place various articles into the cornerstone/time capsule. Everyday items to be sure, but things that loomed large in the everyday lives of Eastland citizens. A few coins, a Bible, a newspaper and a bottle of whiskey had already been placed inside when the Mayor asked if anyone had anything else to contribute. Ripley chose that moment to scratch his little pointed head and Mr. Woods suddenly remembered he had something to offer. Everyone laughed when Ripley was lowered by his tail into his new home, for these were fun loving people who would've put someone's car keys in there, if cars had been invented. The cornerstone was sealed and Rip's mother and siblings starved for want of the ants Rip was to bring home.

Even in 1897 they didn't build things "like they used to" and 31 years later the courthouse needed to be replaced. When news of the demolition was announced in the paper, a now remorseful Mr. Woods reminded everyone that a horned toad had been placed in the cornerstone. This would be an opportunity to see if the Indian legend of the toad's longevity was true. Word spread and a crowd of 4,000 people showed up. Most of them left when they discovered it wasn't a hanging, but enough were there to witness Rip's resurrection. His seemingly lifeless body twitched and he seemed to inflate himself as he breathed the fresh air. Eastlanders went wild. Westlanders went wild. The bottle of 31 year old whiskey disappeared. Rip went on tour. He went to Washington D.C. and sat on the President's desk (This was Calvin Coolidge, a man only slightly more talkative than Rip), he went to St. Louis, he made public service announcements and endorsed tennis shoes. Robert Ripley (no relation) featured him in his "Believe It Or Not" column and newsreels showed Rip's face on movie screens across the land. Warts and all.

It's too late to make a long story short, so I'll leave out his kidnapping. Rip spent what were to be the last months of his life in Mr. Woods front window in a goldfish bowl sunning himself or burrowing in the sand. Rip had literally found his place in the sun. Neighborhood children caught red ants by the bushel for Rip. But in February a Norther blew in and the temperature dropped. While the Woods slept under quilts, Rip froze in the unheated front room. Eastland County wept. The Nation mourned. A casket company provided a glass case, a monument company a marble base, and a taxidermist performed the sad task for free. Like Lenin, Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, Rip was put on public display. (It was never proven that Rip was, or ever had been a party member). Eastland's favorite toad, the reptile that brought fame to a otherwise sleepy town can be viewed to this very day in the Eastland County Courthouse. (North side.)

From Wikipedia:

A mid-1950s construction worker involved in the demolition of an 1892 building finds a box inside a cornerstone. He opens it to reveal a singing, dancing frog, complete with top hat and cane. The man tries exploiting the frog's talents for money, but as it turns out, it won't perform in front of anyone else. For the rest of the cartoon, the man frantically tries to demonstrate the frog's abilities to the outside world, all to no avail. After his stay in an asylum, we see the haggard man dejectedly hiding the box in a building that's under construction. In the year 2056, the building is demolished by futuristic ray guns, and the box with the frog is discovered yet again, starting the process all over.

The cartoon has no spoken dialog, in fact no vocals at all, except by the frog, otherwise relying on pantomime and other visuals, sound effects, and music: mostly songs from the ragtime and early Tin Pan Alley era, with a dash of Opera showing the frog's versatility; along with one new song written for the cartoon "The Michigan Rag", a parody of pop-rag songs of the era.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The singing, dancing, top-hatted frog in question is a Warner Bros. character named Michigan J. Frog. What the J. stands for is unknown.