Monologue/Dialogue

May 1, 2013

The Genius of Paul Rhymer, I

By Jim Sizemore

I wrote The following essay about Paul Rhymer’s classic radio program “Vic and Sade” on April 20, 1995, to promote a talk I gave at the University of Baltimore. The program featured actors reading from Vic and Sade scripts. If you want to know more about the work of Paul Rhymer, or listen to one of the taped shows, click on the “Paul Rhymer” and “Vic and Sade” links in the sidebar. (For a start I recommend the show “A Letter From Aunt Bess.”)

Paul Rhymer’s knack for writing dialogue is nowhere more evident than when a character delivers a telephone monologue. Sometimes it’s Vic on the phone curtly dealing with a salesperson or a wrong number, or Rush gabbing with Bluetooth Johnson, Nicer Scott, or another of his buddies from the neighborhood. Most often, though, the telephone monologue falls to Sade when she’s home alone taking a break from her domestic duties. The monologue I’ve chosen as representative is from an undated script, most likely from the early 1940s, since Sade’s amiable Uncle Fletcher is featured. Uncle Fletcher joined the show as an on-mike character around that time, and here makes one of his slapstick entrances. When he enters, in the company of Rush, Sade’s telephone monologue, or “solo,” is transformed into a trio. Actually it’s a quartet if you count “Ruthie,” on the other end of the telephone line.

ANNOUNCER: Well, sir, it’s early afternoon as we enter the small house half-way up in the next block now, and here in the living room we find Mr. Victor Gook all by herself. Mrs. Gook is at the telephone conversing with her close friend and confidante Mrs. Frederick Stembottom. Listen:

SADE (to phone): I didn’t take you away from anything, did I, lady? Well, ish, I haven’t really got anything to say now that I’ve called you. (giggles) Yes . . . well, what happened I went like a house a-fire all morning long and done nine million jobs around the house and then got dinner and pitched in on my upstairs the minute the boys left for the office an’ school, and finally did quit and wash and put on a clean apron and then discovered I’d been on the go so much I couldn’t settle down. (laughs) You know how that is lady. Person gets theirself all keyed up and they hafta slow down gradual or the boiler explodes. (laughs) Yes . . . so I telephoned you. Hey, maybe that’s not very complimentary. (loud lady laugh) No, but you appreciate how I mean, Ruthie. Sure. Yes, isn’t it a quiet afternoon. One of them hushedy-hushedy afternoons where a person sits and listens to pins dropping. Little bit ago I was out on the back porch shaking my mop and ‘way off in the distance somewhere I heard some fella say giddap to his horse and I bet twenty-five cents he was clear away over on Chestnut Street and that’s eight hundred miles from here if it’s an inch. Yeah . . . you run inta real still afternoons every so often. Like Sunday kinda. I was sayin’ to . . . say, lady, hang on a second, I think I heard my kitchen door. (calls) Hello? Groceries? You, Irving?

RUSH (off): Hi, Mom.

FLETCHER (off): Afternoon, Sadie honey.

SADE (calls, in some surprise): Well—hello. (to phone) Uncle Fletcher and Rush just walked in, Ruthie. I can’t imagine what Rush’s doing home from school. (crash in the kitchen) Oh, my goodness. (calls) What happened?

FLETCHER (cheerfully, off) Fell down.

SADE (calls sharply) Who fell down?

RUSH (off, cheerfully): We both fell down.

SADE (not loud): Oh, for mercy’s sake. (to phone) What, Ruthie? No, we don’t need to hang up. There’s no reason why we hafta cut our conversation short just because . . . huh?

RUSH (approaching): Uncle Fletcher tripped on his shoelace, Mom.

FLETCHER (approaching, cheerfully): No broken bones, Sadie, Honey, no broken bones.

SADE (to phone): Well whatever you say, lady. Seems like a shame though. I take you away from whatever you’re doing and just because my family busts in we hafta cut short our . . . (giggles) . . . well, ish.

RUSH (coming up): Principal called a special teachers’ meeting, Mom.

FLETCHER (coming up): Using the telephone, are you, Sadie?

SADE (to phone) No, you needn’t bother to call back, Ruthie.

FLETCHER (gently): Mama’s using the telephone, Rush. I’d stop my titters, whimpers, and guffaws.

RUSH (amused): O. K.

FLETCHER (sententiously) When the older folks is using the telephone it’s always best to let up on the titters, whimpers and guffaws.

RUSH (chuckling): I’m letting up on ‘em.

FLETCHER: You’re a good boy.

SADE (to phone): Well, all righty, Ruthie, whatever you say. Dandy. Fine.

FLETCHER (to Rush, sententiously) There was a little boy in Detroit Michigan neglected to let up on his titters, whimpers and guffaws while Momma was using the telephone and he disappeared and all they ever found was one of his tiny patent leather booties, the tassel singed at the bottom.

RUSH (chuckles): I’ll remember that.

FLETCHER (gently): Yes—it teaches us a lesson.

SADE (to phone): All righty then, Ruthie lady, we’ll leave it like that. You bet. All righty, Ruthie. You betty, lady. Goodbye. (hangs up)

The Last Word
Even before Uncle Fletcher and Rush enter in this example, Sade’s monologue—through Rhymer’s word choices and emphasis, including pauses, giggles and laughs—becomes a dialogue. It really is a solo, of course, but written so skillfully that we can almost hear her duet with Ruthie on the other end of the line. clip2Rhymer, by his example—assuming we’re interested enough to pay attention—is teaching us how to write humorous dialogue even when what he presents appears, at first, to be a monologue. As with the example above, all his lessons are subtle. If we want what he has to teach us, we have to dig it out. After all, Rhymer’s purpose in “Vic and Sade” is not to conduct a writing craft class, he simply want’s to entertain us. But sometimes it does seem that he also intends to instruct us directly, as in the following excerpt from a 1939 script. As we join the Gook family this time, Sade is explaining to Vic that she has been asked by Mr. Gumpox, the garbage man, to circulate a petition in the neighborhood. Seems he’s unhappy with his rate of pay and will consider staying on the job only if Sade can get six hundred signatures, which he assumes will influence the city to give him a raise. (Click on image above to read the caption.)

SADE: Let’s see. I think I can remember most of that petition. “We, the undersigned, being in sane mind an’ sound body, do hereby command, request, an’ implore that Francis Gumpox be retained by the city. As homeowners with a passionate love for a beautiful town in which to live we feel that this community could never stand to lose the services of Francis Gumpox, who knows and loves garbage like no other man on earth.”

VIC (laughs): Oh, for gosh sakes, does that guy . . .

SADE: Wait a second, I left out a word. “Who knows and loves garbage disposal like no other man on earth.”

VIC (chuckles): Thunder.

SADE (giggles): The other word sounds funny . . . “knows an’ loves garbage like no other man on earth.”

VIC (chuckles): It all sounds funny.

© 2013 Jim Sizemore
This is an edited re-post from July 14, 2008

 


The Name Game

April 24, 2013

The Genius of Paul Rhymer, II

By Jim Sizemore

The following short essay about Paul Rhymer’s classic radio program “Vic and Sade,” is one of several I wrote to promote a talk I gave, titled Writing Humorous Dialogue, at the Institute for Language, Technology, and Publications Design, University of Baltimore, on April 20, 1995. The program featured local actors reading from Vic and Sade scripts. If you want to know more about the work of Paul Rhymer — or listen to one of the taped shows — click on the “Paul Rhymer” and “Vic and Sade” links in the sidebar. For a start, I recommend the show “A Letter From Aunt Bess.”

In humorous writing, the name of person, place or thing takes on an importance they seldom have in real life. The names in a funny novel, TV show, play, movie — whatever— often tells us something about the behavior and appearance of a person, or provides interesting clues about the place or thing being depicted. The name “H. K. Fleeber,” for instance, suggests someone given to “dorky” behavior — certainly not a character we would expect to be a brain surgeon. In funny fiction the character of a place may also be defined by its name. If one were to visit a town called “Dismal Seepage, Ohio,” say, one would not be surprised to find oneself in a geographical location featuring a swamp. The same idea applies with named things. A food item called “beef punkles” is a good example. We all know what beef is, but what the hell is a “punkle?” To me, the latter word suggests toughness, a cut of meat that requires forever to cook in the vain hope of rendering it tender enough to eat. (And the word “punkle” alone is — well — it just sounds funny.)

The above examples are from “Vic and Sade,” the radio show by Paul Rhymer that was broadcast on NBC from 1932 to 1944. During that time Mr. Rhymer wrote over three thousand 15 minute scripts, but only a few hundred of the shows still exist on tape. “Vic and Sade” is a simple program. The episodes, which were sandwiched between the popular “soap operas” of the day, consist entirely of conversations between and among the four family members: Vic and Sade Gook, their son Rush, and Sade’s Uncle Fletcher. All the other characters — and there are scores — are vivid despite the fact they are never heard on the air. Rhymer manages to breath life into them through the artful way he has the on-mike characters talk about them, or talk to them on the telephone. The strange names and behaviors he gives them also serve to make them memorable.

Rhymer admitted to being influenced by Charles Dickens, and that influence can be found in the names of his off-mike characters. A few more examples: “Mr. Chinbunny,” the high school principal; “Ike Kneesuffer,” Vic’s next door neighbor and indoor horseshoe-playing buddy; “Ruthie and Ted Stembottom,” Vic and Sade’s card playing neighbors; and other relatives and friends such as “O. X. Bellyman;” “Y. Y. Flirch;” “J. J. J. J. Stunbolt;” “Elton Wheeney;” “I. Edison Box” (love the rhythm of that one); “Miss Edith Klem;” and “Gus Blink.”

Place names come in for the same creative treatment. (How could you ever forget the name of that swamp town in Ohio? You haven’t, have you?) Vic’s friend “Homer U. McDancy” resides in “East Brain, Oregon.” The Gook’s favorite restaurant in town is called the “Little Tiny Petite Pheasant Feather Tea Shoppe.” Sade never misses the washrag sales at “Yamiltons Five and Dime.” Vic is endlessly being billed for his two dollar payment overdue at “Kleeberger’s Department Store.” Several of Uncle Fletcher’s friends live downtown at the “Bright Kentucky Hotel,” which is so close to the railroad tracks that vibrations from passing steam engines cause the beds to “walk” across the floor as hot cinders fly in the open windows.

Paul Rhymer also likes to do switches on place names. He sets an anecdote in “Chicago, Maryland,” for instance, or “St. Paul, Kentucky.” The device may at first seem forced — that is, until one looks at an actual map. There one finds real place names like “Hollywood, Florida,” “Paris, Texas” and “Rome, Georgia.” And did you know that the name of actor James Stewart’s hometown, near Pittsburgh, is actually “Indiana, Pennsylvania?” Rhymer’s humor is based firmly in reality and his place-naming technique points up the fact. The names may be exaggerated, a bit off center, but they’re plausible. They have a familiar sound that adds to the fun.

In addition to his playfulness with the names of people and places, Paul Rhymer enjoyed inventing strange foods, flowers and other everyday items, and he gave them names that on first hearing sound as though they might be real but at the same time are — once more — just slightly off. In her garden, Sade cultivates a species of flower called “Panther Blood.” It’s never described in the scripts, but I always visualize it as being a deep reddish-purple, the color of over ripe eggplant. And when Sade prepares those tough, slow-cooking beef punkles for lunch, Vic is often late getting back to his office at the “Consolidated Kitchenware Company, Plant Number Fourteen,” where he is chief accountant. (His secretary, by the way, is named “Miss Olive Hammersweet.”) For a beef punkles side dish, Sade occasionally serves “scalded rutabaga” with a slice of “limberschwartz” cheese melted on top. Sounds, uh, sort of delicious . . . ?

One last Paul Rhymer food item that I can’t resist. Seems a friend of Uncle Fletcher’s invented “Stingeberry Jam” and a mysterious breakfast cereal called “Brick Mush,” and has persuaded Fletcher to enlist Fletcher’s niece, Sade, to selling the products to her neighbors — much like a milk or bread route. Sade likes Brick Mush but she refuses the Stingeberry Jam franchise because, she says, “It smells bad and churns and writhes and crawls and breathes in the jar.”

This is an edited re-post from June 30, 2008

Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.

Based On Real People

February 27, 2013

This is an edited re-post from June 20, 2008

My Sunday “Lonely Guy” activity is to read the New York Times and watch C-Span 2 Book TV, muted. If I glance something interesting on the screen — Christopher Hitchens, say, ranting about why we should be in Iraq — I may bring up the sound. That seldom happens. Most Sundays, only the rustle of newsprint is heard in my living room. Sometimes, though, the thing on TV that catches my eye is the shape of a nose, or a hairstyle, or an odd mouth and I feel a powerful urge to draw it — and the rest of the head. So I open my sketchbook, select a soft pencil from the coffee mug on the table by my chair, and set out to prove once again that I’m not only the world’s worst caricaturist, but should also get a medal for being the slowest. Of course, the nice thing about sketching talking heads on TV is they hold still for long periods, which means I can take all the time I need to get it wrong.

I have no idea why I doodled all that stuff on the sides, or wrote “The Other End” at the bottom, but I do enjoy making those little “drop” shadows under the letters. The thing that drives me mad, though, is that I have no memory of who most of the people are. (Memo to self: Keep better sketchbook notes). All I know for sure is that these folks appeared on C-Span 2 sometime in December, 2006. Also, I’m pretty sure the guy on the top left is a well-known newsman, one of the Kalb brothers, but which one? And the blond woman near the bottom of the left column is an expert on world religions. Interesting face, and I loved the informed talk she gave (I have the sound up while I sketch). Of course, all this assumes that I managed a passing likeness of at least those two.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

August 31, 2012

Feet

By Mary Azrael

(Click images for larger versions.)

The “Hip Shots” series of photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly,” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.

Copyright © 2012 Mary Azrael.

Today’s Gag

January 9, 2012
Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

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Dialogue Doodle

August 25, 2010

A Life Lesson ?

The other evening, as we passed a young couple strolling in a local park, my companion and I overheard the following bit of conversation, herewith reported more or less verbatim:

Waspish-American Male: I cannot believe that I lived a whole month with Kentucky people! (Pause.) Very different culture . . .

Asian-American Female: Kentucky people! You actually went to China with Kentucky people!?

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Photo Quote

January 2, 2010
“Never boss people around. It’s more important
to click with people than to click the shutter.”

Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1898 – 1995