Friday, October 12, 2012

Allan Sherman's Lost Lyrics Friday, High School Edition

I see that I'm taking a chronological approach to Sherman's lost parodies, which seems reasonable.

The first one last week was his Jewish parody of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme, and this one is from his senior year at Los Angeles' Fairfax High School, which in 1940-41 occupied beautiful buildings and grounds that are no more.

In the fall of 1940, the Fairfax student newspaper, the Colonial Gazette, ran Sherman's new humor column, "Witz-Krieg." The title was a terrific pun that threatened a comic bombardment, and that is exactly what Sherman delivered.

Sherman in the spring of 1940. Courtesy of Nancy Sherman.

One of his earlier pieces for the column, published on October 25, 1940, was a bit of doggerel that does not make its complaint plain. Sherman was unhappy with American humor. Reading Samuel Clemens brings on "something close to delirium tremens." O'Henry and Ogden Nash, whose nonsense poetry Sherman often included in his column, also upset him. Sherman, not yet 16 years old, continued,

I also imagine that at a party
All present would be bored with these members of the literarty,
As it is probably true that Charles Chaplin
Has never read "The Education of Hyman Kaplan."
And other such facts too numerous to mention
Should be brought to the public's attention.
And so, whether you are a nobody or a somebody,
You ought to be as disgusted as I am with American humor, including the musical comebody.

This is an early cry for cultural diversity. The problem with American humor is that it is not Jewish enough. Chaplin's crime is not reading The Education of Hyman Kaplan, Leo Rosten's 1937 novel about a Jewish immigrant's comic determination to resist the tyranny of proper English. The book celebrates Kaplan's broken English, delivered in a heavy Yiddish accent.

Sherman demands that this problem "be brought to the public's attention." He was talking to himself. He had found his comic calling.


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