Arthur Godfrey and friends

Today’s Zippy appears to be just a surrealist melange of pop-cultural absurdity (and can be enjoyed at that level), but in fact many of those absurdities are knit together in a web of allusions to elements of pop culture — probably even more densely than I appreciate.


It all starts with Arthur Godfrey, who appears transformed as the central character of the strip, Siddartha Godfrey, with Arthur replaced by the phonologically very similar name SiddarthaSiddharth or Siddhartha is the birth name of the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha.

Meanwhile, the title “Jerry Van Dyke Lives” introduces a secondary, parallel, theme having to do with Jerry Van Dyke.

Wikipedia on Godfrey:

Arthur Morton Godfrey (August 31, 1903 – March 16, 1983) was an American radio and television broadcaster and entertainer who was sometimes introduced by his nickname, The Old Redhead… At the peak of his success, Godfrey helmed two CBS-TV weekly series and a daily 90-minute television mid-morning show… One of the medium’s early master commercial pitchmen, he was strongly identified with many of his sponsors, especially Chesterfield cigarettes and Lipton Tea.

… Godfrey was also known for sparking impromptu jam sessions on the air with the band, all of them first-rate musicians who could create an arrangement as they went. He would sometimes begin singing with his ukulele, the band falling in behind him.

Significant elements in this telling: Godfrey’s red hair (a feature shared by Jerry Van Dyke); the long-standing routine of his mid-morning tv show (echoed in Siddharta Godfrey’s invariant routine); Lipton Tea (Constant Comment tea in the strip) and Chesterfield cigarettes (“cancer sticks” — Godfrey was afflicted with lung cancer and died of emphysema — which appear in the strip transformed into Dunkin’ Donuts Old-Fashioned Sticks, that is, donut sticks); the ukulele that Godfrey played and sang to on his show (parallel to the banjo that Jerry Van Dyke played on television).

Wikipedia on Jerry Van Dyke:

Jerry Van Dyke (born July 27, 1931) is an American comedian and actor, the younger brother of Dick Van Dyke.

He made his TV acting debut on The Dick Van Dyke Show with several guest appearances as Rob Petrie’s brother, Stacey. Later in his career from 1989 to 1997, he portrayed Luther Van Dam on Craig T. Nelson’s ABC sitcom Coach.

Van Dyke is an avid poker player and announced a number of poker tournaments for ESPN in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is also a 4-string banjo player with several performances on the Dick Van Dyke Show to his credit.

The hair.  Arthur Godfrey:


And Jerry with his brother Dick:


Old-fashioned donut sticks. With your morning coffee (or tea), you could have a classic ring doughnut / donut, or a filled one, or a cruller, or a donut stick, that is, a stick donut (often characterized as old-fashioned or old fashion). Some donut sticks in preparation (with sugar glaze):


Stringed instruments. Stringed instruments come in several categories according to the way they’re played: struck, bowed, plucked, or strummed (bowed and strummed instruments can also be plucked). The most widespread strummed instrument in the modern world is the guitar, but there are a great many other types (balalaika, bouzouki, lute, mandolin, etc.), including two rather similar “plinky” folk instruments, the ukulele (Hawaiian in origin), Godfrey’s instrument,  and the banjo (American in origin), Van Dyke’s instrument (there is even a hybrid instrument, the banjo ukulele).

Elsewhere in the strip. So there’s considerable allusional density in the strip already. Two items that I haven’t worked into the fabric are the references to the tv show My Mother the Car and to the Led Zeppelin rock classic “Stairway to Heaven”; but Bill Griffith is perfectly capable of throwing in stuff from left field on occasion (Judge Judy, taco sauce, Valvoline, Lithuanians, etc.).

Then there are the food references in the last panel: peach Melba, artichokes, and zucchini. All very sexual, though not easily connected to the other material in the strip: peaches and artichokes are both standard vaginal symbols (luscious inside, protective fuzz or coarse leaves, like pubic hair, on the outside), and artichokes are famously supposed to be aphrodisiac. And zucchini, like egglants, are standard phallic symbols (especially if you’re a man running naked on Main Street waving one).

Possibly this genital symbolism (which might not have been consciously intended by Griffith to serve this purpose) is connected to My Mother the Car and “Stairway to Heaven”. Sexual readings of the Led Zeppelin song are pretty obvious, My Mother the Car not so much, beyond the maternal reference.

[Added a bit later, supplying a fact that I did not know. From Ned Deily:

Jerry Van Dyke starred in My Mother The Car, with the voice of Ann Sothern as his mother’s spirit trapped in the car. One of the high points of NBC comedy in the ’60’s.]

2 Responses to “Arthur Godfrey and friends”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Sim Aberson:

    Arthur Godfrey remains a controversial figure to this day. Godfrey broadcast his show from a town near Miami Beach, and a main street in Miami Beach has been named after him. There are long-standing claims of anti-Semitism on Godfrey’s part, disputed by others, making the street naming problematic.

    Other controversies continue: over light aviation, over the firing of Julius La Rosa, over his treatment of his employees, and no doubt more.

  2. Arne Adolfsen Says:

    “My Mother the Car” was Jerry van Dyke’s NBC sitcom that ran one season, 1965-66. In it, van Dyke’s mother, Ann Sothern, was reincarnated as a 1928 automobile.

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