No, that happy fellow you see here isn’t Alice.
His name is Bosko.
Not to be confused with that chocolate syrup called Bosco that was popular (or was at least advertised a heck of a lot when I was a kid) and that had this jingle:
Oh, I love Bosco!
That's the drink for me!
Chocolate flavored Bosco
Is mighty good for me.
Mommy puts it in my milk
For extra energy.
Bosco gives me iron
And sunshine vitamin D.
Oh, I love Bosco!
That's the drink for me!
I suspect that the alternate version of this jingle was better known to my generation:
I hate Bosco,
Bosco's not for me,
My Mommy puts in my milk
Just to poison me,
But I fool Mommy,
I put it in her tea,
And now there's no more Mommy,
To try and poison me.
The Bosko in the picture is in a scene from a motion picture that was a first – a landmark in the history of cinema. And no, I’m not kidding about that, and I’ll explain later.
But back to Alice.
She was a tragic figure from my childhood. The source of a minor trauma, if you will.
The kind of trauma that Fred Rogers, who understood kids better than anyone, zeroed in on years later in one of his songs.
I can still see him perched on his bathtub the day he reassured his very young viewers that “You can never go down the drain.”
Some in our family made fun of him for doing that. I myself was long past being a toddler (I’d probably recently collided with that 10-ton truck that is known to all as Puberty) and so chances are that I, with the knowing ignorance of youth, joined in the japery.
But if I mocked Misterogers, I suspect my heart wasn’t in it.
Because his song did touch a nerve. And evoke memories of the long-lost Alice.
I made her acquaintance when I was a little kid, at that stage where your parents still don’t trust you to adequately bathe yourself.
And to pass the time while she was making sure my neck and back were as presentable as possible, my mother would croon a tune about Alice. My father might well have sung it too when he filled in for her, but I mostly remember my mother singing it.
And although I think my mother sang it to other kids in the family, I suspect she sang it to me because she liked the effect it had on me – me, the kid who was able to read at a very early age and was, therefore, considered precocious and relatively sophisticated.
For though I tried not to show it, the song did scare the heck out of me.
Which is ironic, because now I can remember only parts of it.
I believe it began with a little musical dialogue:
“Alice, where are you going?”
“Downstairs, to take a bath….”
I can’t remember the lyrics from the middle part of this ditty, but I remember the melody, which, along with the words, built up the kind of suspense and tension that Alfred Hitchcock would have envied.
For you see, our Alice happened to be a toothpick.
And the last two lines went something like:
(Blank blank blank blank blank) in vain:
There goes Alice down the drain!
So of course, when my mother would pull the plug, there was that momentary fear – flying in the face of all that was known about physics – that I might too meet Alice’s fate. Irrational, yes? But then again, although I knew how to read, Archimedes wasn’t one of my favorites.
Some time ago I began wondering where my parents picked up that song.
So I consulted everybody’s reference work: the Internet.
Where you can find anything.
And I mean anything.
And I found nothing.
Absolutely nothing about Alice the Toothpick.
Talk about dying in vain.
My best guess is that someone in my mother’s family made it up. Maybe her brother – my uncle – who was a published poet. Or their father – my grandfather – whom I never met but who was known for his sense of humor.
I suppose it might have come from my father’s side of the family, but I doubt it. His relatives had no discernible sense of humor and I can’t recall them ever laughing at anything, although I suppose that the sight of some guy falling down a flight of stairs might have given them a chuckle, especially if they'd pushed him.
And because no one is still around from my mom’s side of the family, I guess Alice’s origins will forever remain a mystery….
The photo with our friend Bosko is from a 1930 cartoon called “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub.” It was the first Looney Tunes cartoon ever made, and it was animated by one of the true (and I fear still unsung) geniuses of animation, Isadore “Friz” Freleng.
Freleng went on to become a cartoon director – most of the Tweety and Sylvesters were his, he also gave us Yosemite Sam and he helmed (as we critics like to say) my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoon, “Little Red Riding Rabbit.”
And more than a quarter century after drawing the primitive “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub,” Freleng made a masterpiece, “Three Little Bops,” with voices by Stan Freberg.