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Woody Allen and the Maniaks

on Tue, 06/02/2015 - 00:00

Woody Allen has led a celebrated and diverse career as a comedic talent. While still in his late teens, for instance, he started writing and selling jokes for a variety of television shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show, as well as such comedians as Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Bob Hope and Phil Silvers.

Then in 1960, Allen launched a successful stand-up comedy routine, and has consistently ranked in the top five of numerous “Greatest Stand-Up Comedians of All Time” lists ever since. Woody Allen later found success as a playwright with Don’t Drink the Water and Play It Again, Sam, before moving on to a film career that has garnered both Academy Awards and critical praise.

In December 1967, Woody Allen the comic became Woody Allen the comic book character within the pages of Showcase, a publication of DC Comics. The anthology series previously witnessed the Silver Age premiers of such classic superheroes as the Atom, Flash and Green Lantern, as well as the first United States appearance in comic book form of James Bond.

In issue 71 of Showcase, meanwhile, the real-life Woody Allen teams up with fictional rock band the Maniaks, capitalizing on Allen’s growing fame as both a playwright and the big-screen script crafter of What’s New Pussycat? and What’s Up, Tiger Lilly? Subtitled “What Swings, Fiddle Strings?,” the narrative centers on Allen’s comedic attempts to mount a Civil War-era musical on Broadway with the Maniaks in the starring roles.

Although Woody Allen is the only real-life person to actually appear in “What Swings, Fiddle Strings?,” allusions to other celebrities abound within Showcase nonetheless. In addition to the Maniaks, for instance, the actors that round out the cast of the musical include Jeannette Punchinello (Annette Funicello), Rock Hutsut (Rock Hudson) and British fashion model Twiggly (Twiggy). Humorous sidebars about Twiggly learning to speak with a Southern accent and the hiring of “play doctor” Milo Hackencouph to beef-up the script likewise compliment the proceedings.

Hackencouph resembles Groucho Marx, for instance, and enters the stage declaring, “The greatest play doctor there is, if I do say so myself! And I have to, because nobody else will!” He then removes a toy stethoscope and candy pills from a bag and asks, “Now, where are my play nurse and play patient?”

“Oops,” Woody Allen responds. “Wrong kind of play doctor!”

Woody Allen’s comedic persona is also on display as he casts himself as the “rugged handsome specimen of manhood” Captain Jack Strongheart and recites stories about his childhood. “Back in those days, my folk’s couldn’t afford to get me a dog, so they got me an ant and told me it was a dog,” he explains at one point. “I called him Spot.”

Although Allen wouldn’t begin populating his films with classic songs from the 1930s and 40s until years later, the musical being staged in “What Swings, Fiddle Strings?” uses the medleys of such standards as “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “With a Song in My Heart”—complete with humorous, re-written lyrics—for its production nonetheless.

“Blue men, to fight is what we’re here for,” goes one stanza of the adapted “Blue Moon” of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. “That’s what we’re shedding a tear for, that’s what we cry in our beer for.”

As for the plot of the musical—entitled Confederate Yankees—it centers around a Romeo-and-Juliet-like romance between a general’s daughter and low-ranking private, as well as the fate of two confederate spies who have infiltrated the frontier outpost of Fort Night. All ends well, however, when the lives of the spies are spared upon the late-arriving news that the Civil War actually ended before their attempts at sabotage, and the lowly private is given a promotion.

Woody Allen, meanwhile, ends up romantically involved with Twiggly, while the now Major Rhett Buttons and his bride-to-be Carrie Granite decide to live in the former Confederacy. “I plan to make millions exploiting something the South has more of than any other part of the country,” Rhett Buttons declares. “Civil War battlefields! The Yankee tourists will pay plenty to tour them!”

After the initial Broadway performance of Confederate Yankees, Woody Allen and the rest of the cast go to a nearby restaurant to await the reviews from theater critics Walter Kerr and John Chapman. The Maniaks, however, are more interested in the sales figures for Showcase number 71, as its success could potentially mean more appearances within the comic books of publisher DC.

Apparently both Confederate Yankees and “What Swings, Fiddle Strings?” did not receive the necessary accolades to keep their productions running indefinitely, however, as neither Woody Allen nor the Maniaks would ever appear in any additional issues of Showcase.

As the saying goes, “That’s show biz!”

Anthony Letizia

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