Monday, September 15, 2008

Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks

It should be noted that I believe the song that Fanny Brice is said to have sang in the 1939 article by James Street was actually Three Little Fishes (Itty Bitty Poo), a "Southern children's song" written in 1939 by Josephine Judson Carringer.

According to this article, Josephine Judson Carringer was musically gifted, highly intelligent, ad entered college when she was 16 yrs old. She wrote Three Little Fishes with Betty Lynn Kirk, her sorority sister at the University of Tennessee in the late 1930s. They then sold the song for $200 and Saxie Dowell adapted the lyrics and music into the piece that became a number one hit in 1939 as performed by the Kay Kyser orchestra with Ish KaBibble singing.

According to Time, June 19, 1939, "Saxie Dowell recently heard, in the South, an old nursery tune called Down in de Meddy. He thought it mighty cute." We can't blame Saxie for the giant PR machine which would deny buying music (especially for a mighty cute old nursery rhyme song), and so we can likely believe the rest:
The result was published last April by Santly-Joy-Select, Inc., which got out The Music Goes 'Round and 'Round and admits to liking "crazy things." Under its title Three Little Fishies, Saxie Dowell's song last week had set something of a current record by leading the field in sheet music sales for a month.

Three Little Fishies has verses which can be sung either in English (Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool) or in "fish talk" (Down in de meddy in a ITTY BITTY POO). The chorus can be sung only one way: Boop boop dittem dattem whattem Chu! The song, likely to cause reverse peristalsis in fastidious stomachs, is all about some "itty fitties" who "fam and dey fam" until they "taw a TARK!" (shark). Den dey fam back to deir poo. The publishers, wary of overplugging Three Little Fishies, withheld it from all but a few big orchestral names—Hal Kemp, Guy Lombardo, Kay Kyser, Paul Whiteman, each of whom recorded it. The song was plugged on the radio by Mildred Bailey, Fannie Brice, Judy Starr. Along with the itty fitties, fat Saxie Dowell fam into such fame that he is now thinking of leaving Hal Kemp and starting a band of his own.
The song is a relative childhood classic -- that is to say, if you had a corny family like mine, you heard your relatives sing it. Often. You may have even heard Madonna and Rosie O'Donell perform a cover of the tune.

Now, you might be wondering why I'd be taking so much time to discuss a cute old kids' song here at SPS. Well, the idea of Baby Snooks, the bratty character played by Fanny Brice fascinates me.


It plays well-enough on the Baby Snook radio shows but, as Brice was fond of dressing & behaving 'in character', once you can see as well as hear it takes on other elements.

Putting a grown woman in little-girl-garb may have it's humorous elements, but it also says something about power & dominance -- and you don't have to be a perv to see it. Little girls are innocence, but they are also property; they belong to daddy. Short baby-doll dresses, oh-so fashionable these days, communicate these things -- innocence and access -- which is why I don't own a single one of those monstrosities.

Having a bratty girl-child mouth-off to her master may be cute, but underneath it all lies -- as sure as those ruffled panties -- the idea that she will eventually heel and heed her master. Or, if she does not, then he is less-than-a-man and plays cuckhold to her charms. Sure, all this can only make it funnier; but did they get it?

Without Brice & Snooks, we likely wouldn't have had Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In -- but there's a huge difference between the two.


Tomlin's Edith Ann appeared alone in her giant rocking chair where she told stories about her family & dog. Having her be alone could have been a choice to deal with scale; but even so, simply being alone meant Edith Ann was not (as) eroticized.


Baby Snooks, by comparison, not only acted with others but interacted physically with them, drawing in all those adult contexts. There is a large difference between discussing a punishment, a la Edith Ann, and showing a grown woman dressed as a child over the knee of her daddy figure like Baby Snooks; the image has erotically charged elements.


At the base of this humor is prettified misogyny &/or glorified cuckholding. It's all good & fine for adult role-play sex-scenarios, really; but as entertainment one really ought to be aware that's what they are enjoying.

Baby Snooks (with Hanley Stafford as "Daddy") was performed on television only once (and this was Brice's only TV appearance too), on CBS-TV's Popsicle Parade of Stars in 1950 (one year prior to Brice's death). Entertainment folks document Brice's height &/or age as the reason for its failure, and Brice herself is said to have admitted that the character of Baby Snooks just didn't work properly when seen... But come on!

This wasn't the first time Baby Snooks had appeared before people. Baby Snooks was even in Judy Garland's Everybody Sing (1938) prior to radio success.



While Brice & Garland are wonderfully funny in that scene, this was not the usual Baby Snooks routine. Baby Snooks was built on the annoying relationship with her father and, sometimes, other men. The Baby Snooks character had been preformed live on stage for years and, height of male actors aside, there clearly were other issues at work here.


In his book Fanny Brice, Herbert G. Goldman writes of a Baby Snooks performance with Bob Hope (links again added by SPS):
Fanny, who rejoined the Follies at the Winter Garden, was still not in the best of health, and had to clear her throat in her Snooks scene Hope. "That's my cold clearing up," she ad-libbed at one point.

"I thought you were just oversexed," was Bob Hope's quick reply. The line stayed in.
Yeah. No wonder it just didn't work properly on television.

I wonder just what it is that people were thinking about Baby Snooks at the time.

You can download 10 Baby Snooks shows from me for just $3.

Note: Gone Fishing (06/01/1939) & Baby Fish Story (04/11/1940) have quite a bit of similar content for a woman who eschewed rehearsals, saying she wanted to give performances a spontaneity and unpredictability that would be lost with an over-familiarity with the lines and other players. That could just be the writers milking their own jokes. What do you notice about the shows?

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