Skip to comments.The Shmoo (How Al Capp's Cartoon Critter Captured The Nation's Attention)
Posted on 12/10/2002 6:32:55 AM PST by PJ-Comix
Have you ever heard of the Shmoo? You can be forgiven your ignorance on this subject since the Shmoo made its brief appearance in the newspaper comics pages over fifty years ago.
The Shmoo was the creation of cartoonist Al Capp in his popular Li'l Abner strip. With much fanfare Capp introduced the Shmoo in August 1948 and for the rest of the year the world went Shmoo crazy.
This creature inspired hundreds of Shmoo clubs all over North America as well as the "Society for the Advancement of the Shmoo." There were dozens of Shmoo products including Shmoo greeting cards, balloons, dolls, toys, jai-alai paddles, belts, suspenders, dairy goods, fountain pens, earrings, neckties, ashtrays, plant holders, soap, and curtains to name just a few. A garment factory in Baltimore turned out a line of Shmoo clothes including Shmooveralls.
The people of 1948 danced to the Shmoo Rhumba and the Shmoo Polka. The Shmoo entered our everyday language through such phrases as "What's Shmoo?" and "Happy Shmoo Year!" The best selling book, "The Life and Times of the Shmoo," was devoured by the reading public. Al Capp was even invited to go on a radio show to debate socialist Norman Thomas on the effect of the Shmoo on modern capitalism. Meanwhile in Germany, the commanders of the Berlin Airlift cabled Capp requesting a dozen inflatible Shmoos to be dropped from transport planes into Berlin as part of "Operation Little Vittles."
By now you are probably wondering why all the fuss over the Shmoo. Well, let me describe the Shmoo. It was a lovable bowling pin-shaped whiskered creature. The Shmoo yielded milk, eggs, cheesecake, and just about anything else you might desire. Shmoo meat when roasted was pork, when broiled it was steak, and when fried it was chicken. The eyes of a Shmoo made good suspender buttons and its whiskers made fine toothpicks. The skin when cut thin served as high quality cloth, cut thick it was leather, and cut in strips it became boards for housing.
Since the Shmoo was fast breeding and lived on practically nothing, it provided for almost all of society's needs. It turned out to be too much of a good thing. The Shmoos gave people all that they desired so the characters of Capp's comic strip quit their jobs. As a result of their indolence, civilization declined. Capp, himself sick of the Shmoo, finally dropped it from his strip early in 1949.
Fisher in turn detested Capp. He always claimed that he stole the Li'l Abner characters from him when in fact, Capp developed those hillbilly characters based on the folks he saw when he traveled to the mountains of West Virginia as a youth.
In the early 1950's Capp was attempting to get a broadcaster license for ownership of a TV station in New England. It was then that Fisher forged several several "pornographic" type cartoons (although mild by today's standards) and released them, claiming that Capp should be denied the broadcasting license because of this. The forgery by Fisher was soon discovered and the Cartoonists association removed Fisher from its ranks. Shortly afterwards Fisher committed suicide. An obituary in the N.Y. Times dryly noted that Fisher left the minimum legally allowed to his family in his will (a testament to his cheapskatedness).
The reason why I am bringing all this up is that I am thinking of contacting the History Channel and requesting that they broadcast a program about this amazing Cartoonist Feud which ended in suicide. I think such a show would also show the viewers the history of newspaper cartooning in America. Ham Fisher is also an interesting story. Of limited artistic ability, Fisher actually hit the road and sold his Joe Palooka strip to newspapers around the country. He hired cartoonists such as Capp to do most of the actual work but paid them miserably.
If the History Channel wishes to produce such a program, I know where many of the documents of the Capp-Fisher feud can be found. I think this would make a FASCINATING topic.
BTW, I was under the impression that Abner was set in the Ozarks, specifically Arkansas, not West Virginia.
Why the History Channel hasn't done a show about Capp I don't know. But a large chunk of the history of American newspaper cartooning can be told through him and especially though the incredibly bitter feud he had with Ham Fisher.
Yet MORE reason why the History Channel should do a show about him. I was watching the history of Bootleggers, Moonshiners, and Rum Runners last night on the History Channel and although I hadn't heard of a lot of the characters mentioned I found it absolutely fascinating. One of the best shows I've seen on the History Channel. And the segment on Junior Johnson running moonshine in fast cars in North Carolina was particularly interesting.
Are you aware that Li'l Abner ran until 1977?
Did they mention the biggest bootlegger of them all, Joe Kennedy? No? Thought so.
BYW I remember the Schmoo very well. I had a blow up one as a kid. I remember they used to procreate like rabbits on steroids too. Very funny. I think now that it was a metaphor for big government/socialism. He was very much an anti-socialist, at least in his later years.
That was back during the 1960's and Capp had a female folk singer in his strip that he named "Joanie Phoney" (a takeoff on Joan Baez) who, when asked to donate $10,000 to an orphange, refused and instead replied that she would play a concert for them because that too was worth $10.000.
Ummm.... Capp limped because he lost his leg in a streetcar accident as a youth. BTW, he chronicled this incident in his comix. This is why a History Channel program on Capp would be so TERRIFIC---there are many cartoons that Capp drew about his own life. He even had a Sunday strip around 1950 portraying an evil cartoonist based directly on Ham Fisher who treats Li'l Abner like dirt.
The Shmoo first appeared in the strip in August 1948. According to Shmoo legend, the lovable creature laid eggs, gave milk and died of sheer esctasy when looked at with hunger. The Shmoo loved to be eaten and tasted like any food desired. Anything that delighted people delighted a Shmoo. Fry a Shmoo and it came out chicken. Broil it and it came out steak. Shmoo eyes made terrific suspender buttons. The hide of the Shmoo if cut thin made fine leather and if cut thick made the best lumber. Shmoo whiskers made splendid toothpicks. The Shmoo satisfied all the world's wants. You could never run out of Shmoon (plural of Shmoo) because they multiplied at such an incredible rate. The Shmoo believed that the only way to happiness was to bring happiness to others. Li'l Abner discovered Shmoos when he ventured into the forbidden Valley of the Shmoon, against the frantic protestations of Ol' Man Mose. "Shmoos," he warned, "is the greatest menace to hoomanity th' world has evah known." "Thass becuz they is so bad, huh?" asked Li'l Abner. "No, stupid," answered Mose, hurling one of life's profoundest paradoxes at Li'l Abner. "It's because they're so good!"
Ironically, the lovable and selfless Shmoos ultimately brought misery to humankind because people with a limitless supply of self-sacrificing Shmoos stopped working and society broke down. Seen at first as a boon to humankind, they were ultimately hunted down and exterminated to preserve the status quo. (Thought extinct after the 1948 adventure, one Shmoo always seemed to escape to Dogpatch's Valley of the Shmoon to form a new colony and a later plot revival by Capp). Licensed Shmoo merchandise became a huge phenomenon in the late '40s and early '50s, spawning a wide variety of dolls, toys, glasses, wallpaper, belts, books, jewelry, balloons, clocks, ashtrays, cannisters, salt & pepper shakers, dairy products, banks, belts and ear muffs. There was even an official Shmoo fishing lure! These are all highly collectible items today.
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