If there’s one thing that marks the humor of a Warner Bros. cartoon it’s that so much of it is topical.
Catch-phrases from radio, commercial jingles and slogans, caricatures of particular motion picture stars–all were grist for the Warners’ mill. So why should the newly-arisen format of the quiz show be any different?
Ostensibly, Rookie Revue (1941, Freleng) is a satire of life at the Army camps that had sprung up all over the place now that Our Boys were “gone with the draft”. All of the usual tropes of military life get the once-over here–including the count-off of soldiers in line. And here’s where things take a detour into Game Show Land.
In the line is one soldier who cannot remember that “four” comes after “three”. And things go immediately into a parody of “Take It Or Leave It’, one of the popular quiz shows of the day.
“Take It Or Leave It” is the antediluvian antecedent of the more recent “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”–and a direct ancestor of the “$64,000 Question”, which was so big at a later date.
Contestants were brought up from the studio audience, and were asked a series of questions, each of which was worth twice the value of the preceding question.Thus, we started with one-, two-, four-, eight-,sixteen-, and thirty-two dollar questions, leading to the ultimate goal of every contestant–the Sixty-Four Dollar Question.
That doesn’t sound like much in the year 2017. But, in 1941, sixty-four dollars was a good, middle-class week’s salary.
Indeed, the phrase “The $64 Question” became everyday slang for a real tough problem.
One other catch-phrase from that show found its way into Warners toons. There were no “safety nets” on “Take It Or Leave It”. If you answered a question wrong, you lost the money you had earned up to that point, and it was back to the audience for you.
And you can bet that when contestant–male or female–was deciding whether to go for the next question, or stop and keep the money already earned, would hear a chant fro one or more members of the Studio Audience form whence he or she came.
“You’ll be SORR-REEEE!”
Chanted to a particular tune–something along the lines of the notes used for the NBC Chimes (ironic in that “Take It Or Leave It” was mostly a CBS show), it became one of the most identifiable things on the show–and was, thus, fair game for Warners’ writers.
Not only does this show up in Rookie Revue, but Warners would find it useful in other cartoons. So, as an example, in Daffy’s Southern Exposure (1942, McCabe), when Daffy announces that he’s staying up North to check out this ‘Winter business” (showing a poster for a beauty-pageant involving a “snow queen”), he is greeted by the remaining ducks, who interrupt their headlong flight to warmer climes to let Daffy know what they think of that plan.
“You’ll be SORR-REEEE!”
“Take it Or Leave It” lasted into the 1950’s on radio, with a succession of comic hosts,including, at various times, Phil Baker, Garry Moore and Eddie Cantor.
In its last season on the air it was known as “The $64 Question”.
A few years later, that figure would be multiplied a thousandfold, producing one of the iconic game shows of the 1950’s–and leading to a scandal that wold rock all of television.
But that’s another story, for another column.