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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Love Dat Gal!

(Edited since original posting to remove imprudent reference to Oprah Winfrey. No offense to Ms. Winfrey was intended.--R.)

She didn't have the best looking legs in the business, but a lot of people love her--including Kevin and I.

I'm referring, of course, to "Mammy Two-Shoes," the funniest character you never fully saw. And likely will never see again--unless you're willing to shell out for the TOM AND JERRY SPOTLIGHT COLLECTION (1 and 2) on DVD. Even then, you might not see her--or at least, hear her--as originally intended.

For those who don't have the cash to see her on video, despair not. There's a website out there (The Ultimate Mammy Two Shoes Page, on Tripod) devoted to all things "Mammy": pictures, sounds, a filmography of her appearances, a brief bio, and even--of all things--a "Mammy" chat room. You can find her, in all her politically-incorrect glory, here.

I apologize in advance for the annoying Tripod ads you may have to endure...

If you don't know who she is, that's understandable--one of the many animated victims of changing times, she's the "Rodney Dangerfield" of cartoon characters: cut, redubbed and (perhaps the most shameful indignity of all) re-animated out of existence.

"Mammy Two-Shoes" wasn't officially her name, of course--she had none. The name "Mammy Two-Shoes" was never uttered beyond the MGM studio walls, but was bestowed on her by the animators because that's all you saw of her--two shoes. Never in any of the cartoons in which she appeared did she show her face, though she had been seen full figure (no pun intended) in at least one--even if it was in long shot and silhouette.

She's the Hattie McDaniel-like black maid in some of the best Tom and Jerry cartoons, from the very first (PUSS GETS THE BOOT in 1940) to PUSH-BUTTON KITTY in 1952. The character for whom the sentence "Thomas, if you been in dat icebox, START PRAYIN'!" was practically a personal catchphrase. With a broom always at the ready to smack Tom, she, despite her face never being seen, had more personality than any half-dozen Disney characters. And judging from MOUSE CLEANING, a pitching arm that should have caught the attention of the Dodgers: she beans Tom with a lump of coal from a good 300 yards away!

Her relationship to Tom isn't always clear--sometimes Tom's owner, sometimes not, but always his constant nemesis. And don't think Jerry didn't take advantage of it--many of the plotlines involving Mammy concern Jerry's attempts to provoke her in order to get Tom out of the way. In fact, probably most of them, but the best were the ones that strayed from this formula. In THE LONESOME MOUSE, Jerry succeeds at arousing Mammy's ire toward Tom by making her think Tom destroyed the kitchen. Naturally Tom is booted "o-w-t out!", to borrow her unique spelling. Initially euphoric, Jerry yanks the stuffing out of Tom's bed, paints a Hitler mustache on his picture, and does the backstroke in Tom's milk dish. But the euphoria quickly fades when Jerry decides he really does miss the big lug--and schemes to get him back.

Which he does, of course, by taunting Mammy: chasing her up on a stool and hacking at it with the razor that had fallen loose from her skirts (as I said, these weren't PC cartoons). She retrieves Tom to dispatch Jerry, which he pretends to do in a particularly funny mock fight. All is well--at least until the next cartoon.

In OLD ROCKIN' CHAIR TOM, Tom and Jerry team up to combat a new cat Mammy has brought in, "Lightning," (so called because he literally morphs into a bolt of lightning when he runs) because she thinks "poor old Uncle Tom" is too old to catch mice. An accidentally-ingested iron and an impossibly powerful magnet were never so much fun.

But times were changing--starting with the end of World War II, we began to see less and less of her. By the time of THE MOUSE COMES TO DINNER in 1947, she's relegated to little more than a walk-on role, setting up the action and exiting stage left. She must have taken a Valium, because we don't see her again in the cartoon--strange considering the shambles Tom and Jerry make of the place. After 1952 she was gone, and much of the conflict--and fun--of the cartoons went with her. The white middle-class types of TOT WATCHERS were a poor replacement for the often feisty Mammy.

The cartoons transferred to TV pretty much intact in the 1950's, but in the sixties Mammy became a little bit of an embarrassment to MGM. A decision was made to edit her out of all the cartoons in which she appeared, to be replaced by a white maid (animated by Chuck Jones and voiced by June Foray). The cuts were anything but seamless--as anyone who's seen the Chuck Jones Tom and Jerrys knows, his style and Hanna-Barbera's do not mesh.

Ted Turner, who acquired the MGM film catalogue in the 80's, restored the original Mammy--with a difference. The hilarious vocal work of Lillian Randolph and the McDaniel-ish dialect were gone, replaced by a more educated, grammatically correct (and flat) black voice stripped of the nuance of the original. I can imagine no greater insult to the memory of a wonderful actress and comedienne. (Note: except what I did to her when I first posted this entry. I referred to her as Vivian Randolph, confusing her with COAL BLACK's Vivian Dandridge. Oh gods of animation, forgive me...I'll do penance by pounding myself repeatedly with an Acme mallet).

The TOM AND JERRY SPOTLIGHT COLLECTION DVDs compounded the problem at first by including some of the Turner-dubbed Mammy cartoons in its initial release, but fan complaints led to the offending disks being re-issued (though, on the commentary track for PUSS GETS THE BOOT, you can still hear the "redubbed" voice--which Earl Kress misidentifies as belonging to Randolph).

Nice to see ol' Mammy getting attention at last--now if only she could get the makeover she deserves in the form of restoration, rather than obliteration. Hey, maybe she'll make striped stockings a fashion trend.

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