Sparklemania! (Writer’s Workshop)

Let’s talk about sparkle, shall we?

If you’re familiar with the Dick Tracy comic strip, you know that Sparkle Plenty is the daughter of B. O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie. The Plentys were introduced at a time when country bumpkins were all the rage in comic strips. Not long before, Al Capp had introduced Li’l Abner and the whole gang at Dogpatch, and Billy DeBeck introduced Snuffy Smith in the Barney Google comic. Even though Barney’s name is still on the comic, he hasn’t made an appearance recently, the whole thing pretty much centered on Snuffy since the 1940’s.

Sparkle Plenty playing the ukulele.

The Farkels, from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, have a daughter named Sparkle, played by Goldie Hawn. In that recurring sketch, Dan Rowan plays Frank Farkel, JoAnn Worley his wife Fanny, and Dick Martin plays Ferd Burfel, their neighbor. Other members of the cast play the assorted Farkel children (Arte Johnson is Frank Farkel IV, Ruth Buzzi is the slightly insane Flicker Farkel, and Sparkle’s twin, Mark, is played by Henry Gibson, or at least that’s how I remember it). Interestingly, all of the Farkel children look like Ferd. At some point during the series, they introduced a dance called “The Farkel,” which Ferd demonstrates here…

Laugh-In ran from 1967 to 1973, which possibly predates many of my readers. It does live on in reruns, which you can see on the Decades network weeknights. Check local listings, as they say. I guess when I was first watching it, I never realized just how much work they put into each week’s show and what a talented bunch they all were. The cultural references are a bit dated, but there’s plenty there you’ll find amusing.

Speaking of cultural references, there is a teacher at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois by the name of Colby Burnett. If you watch Jeopardy! like we do, you might remember that he was the winner of the Tournament of Champions back in 2013. He’s a history teacher, and I remember in one conversation with Alex Trebek, he discussed how he starts teaching American history with the most current events and works his way backwards, because the way the school year works, they only get as far as World War II before the year ends, and he wants his students to understand more current history before discussing why those things happened. I thought that was an excellent technique.

Anyway, back to sparkle…

I looked at Wikipedia’s disambiguation page for the word “sparkle”, and lo and behold, there are dingbats for a sparkle and a heavy sparkle: ❇ and ❈. There are lots of other meanings and uses of the word, but one they seem to have forgotten was Sparkle glass cleaner, which unlike Windex is purple and doesn’t have that ammonia smell. Here’s a jingle for it, that played on Chicago radio not long ago.

Of course you can use vinegar and water to clean glass, too.

Yeah, I had trouble with this one…

19 thoughts on “Sparklemania! (Writer’s Workshop)

  1. Didn’t know about Dick Tracy references because I didn’t read that one but yes, Laugh-In. That was good TV back then. Had trouble with this one? You could have fooled me. I have a bit of sparkle all over my world!

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    1. Dick Tracy has been a feature of the Chicago Tribune for close to eighty years, so I grew up with it. It was right on the first page of the Sunday comics, so it was hard not to read it. I think the strip is on its fourth artist by now. So many of the legacy cartoons (Tracy, Moon Mullins, Gasoline Alley, Steve Canyon etc.) have outlived their creators by decades or more.

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  2. Had to laugh. A few days ago you wrote a very informative blog about how our American English spelling of words came to differ from English spelling of the same words. — And today you’re writing about B. O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie? Those comic strips you mention were a big part of a kid’s life back in the day. Did you know that Mayor LaGuardia of New York had a Sunday morning radio show that featured him reading the comics to the kids in his audience. Listened to him many times.

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    1. I never realized that LaGuardia was broadcast nationwide. I had heard he read the comics over the radio, but I thought that was just carried in New York.The things you learn…

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      1. I’m going to back off my statement of “listened to him many times.” Apparently he just did it during a newspaper delivery strike which lasted 17 days. I don’t know how a Chicago station picked it up.

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  3. I watched Laugh-In, too. I remember the Farkel thing, but didn’t understand the reference, which you explained. I remember the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award. LOL. And Goldie Hawn dancing in that bikini with graffiti all over her body. Oh and Arte Johnson as the German smoking the cigarette and the guy riding the trike that falls over. I guess I watched it from around age 10 to 15. I don’t think I realized how long it was on.

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    1. At one time or another, Judy Carne, JoAnne Worley, and Teresa Graves also danced in bikinis and body paint. I don’t believe they ever got Ruth Buzzi or Lily Tomlin to do that part. I’m just reacquainting myself with the show after a very long time; they play it a couple of times a day on Decades. There’s a whole vibe to that show that’s like a time machine, where I watch and suddenly it’s 1969 again.

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    1. Of course I remember Blondie! Did you ever see the “Blondie” movies with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake?

      I used to read the comics every Sunday, even the ones that most kids didn’t, like Moon Mullins, Steve Canyon, Dondi, Brenda Starr, Winnie Winkle, Gasoline Alley etc. Why? Boredom on Sunday afternoon, I guess. I remember a lot more about the comics than most. Plus, there’s a guy named Josh Fruhlinger who has a blog called “The Comics Curmudgeon” (http://joshreads.com). Every day, he picks several strips and makes cruel sport of them. Many are ones I’ve read since I was a kid, so it keeps me up-to-date on them.

      A really great resource for comics is Don Markstein’s Toonopedia (http://toonopedia.com). He’s got every kind of comic you can think of, from newspapers, to comic books, to television, even some comics that are published in magazines like Playboy. I can get lost reading that…

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      1. I read some of the same comics that you did. In fact, I remember reading Moon Mullins, Steve Canyon, Dondi, Brenda Starr, Winnie Winkle, Gasoline Alley. Little Orphan Annie, The Phantom, etc. Reading the comics on a Sunday was a ritual. Thanks for the info, btw.

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  4. Don’t you just love that you can find almost any old school classics on YouTube? That Farkel video is so funny. No wonder my mother is such a nut. She’s from the Farkel days.

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    1. Your mother is probably a contemporary of mine. Strange times, the Sixties, and I spent most of the strangest years as a preteen. Watch the Laugh-In shows on Decades, they’ll give you insights into the times.

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