Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Alice, Where Hath Thou Gone?

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 m

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.


Judy Berman said...

Mark ... I remember both versions of Bosco. Thanks for the refresher and another great story.

Kirstin said...

Hi - I was doing a search for the Alice down the drain rhyme and found this post. Thought I'd let you know that this is how my sister remembers it...
Alice, where are you going? upstairs to take a bath. Alice was tall and skinny, just like a young giraffe. Alice got in the tub, forgot to put in the plug. Oh my goodness oh my soul there goes Alice down the hole.

Mark Murphy said...


Thanks very much for your note. And please thank your sister for me.

Obviously, then, this ballad was not confined to the Murphy family. And there's at least one other version of it out there.

Given that, I'm surprised that there doesn't seem to be much if anything on the Web about it.

Anyway, thanks again.

Lisa Paulo said...

My grandmother sang this sonf to me:

Lisa where are yougoing? Upstairs to take a bath. Your shape is like a toothpick. Your head is like a tack. Lisa got in the bathtub. She pulled out the plug. Oh my goodness! Oh my soul! There goes Lisa down the hole! Oh Lisa my love!

The last line sung in a crying voice. I heard it in a newer movie once but can't remember which one. Did you ever find out the origin?

Mark Murphy said...


Thanks very much for your note.

It had been a long time since I searched for Alice on the web, but this time I decided to take a different approach.

This time, instead of asking for Alice, I merely typed in "toothpick taking a bath," because the name of your particular toothpick is Lisa and I figured maybe Alice is known by one or two other names elsewhere.

Sure enough, I found a version in which she is named Gladys.

But Alice, I found, still exists -- on YouTube, where you can find several versions of kids singing it, proving that parental (or even granparental) sadism dies hard.

Here's the closest Alice will probably get to a Busby Berkeley-ish production number:


Danielle Pluzsik said...

For me it was:
"Mimi, where are you going?
Upstairs to take a bath
Mimi, with legs like toothpicks
And a neck like a giraffe, raffe, raffe
Mimi, up in the bathtub
Pull out the plug and then...
Oh my goodness! Bless my soul!
There goes Mimi down the hole!
Mimi, where are you going?
Glug, glug, glug. Sluuurrrrppp!!!"

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks, Danielle.

I guess there are a number of versions of this little ditty. I wonder whether it exists in the U.S., or whether other countries have their own versions of Alice/Mimi. Kind of like the way Laurel and Hardy are known by other names in other countries.

I'd be curious to know where it started -- and whether parents today are still using it to terrorize their kids.

Lisa Paulo said...

this is Lisa again and my grandmother in the US sang that to me so...yes it exists in the US. My great-grandmother was from Wales and married an English man so the roots of that song could very well be the UK :)

Lisa Paulo said...

I never realized the original name in the song was Alice. Maybe it was originally based om the tale of Alice in Wonderland but instead of a rabbit hole it was referenced to the tub drain hole.

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks for your comments.

I hadn't thought of a possible connection with "Alice in Wonderland," but as you point out, there is a similarity that is worth considering.

However, I should clarify that I'm not at all sure that Alice was the original name of the toothpick. It could have been. All I know is that Alice was her name in our household.

Lisa Paulo said...

I'm surprised there isn't more about this song on the internet or in general since there seems to be so many versions of it and it seems to have made an impression on so many people. Thanks for starting this blog.

Rae said...

So happy to find this! Our version was:
Alice, where art thou going?
Upstairs, to take a bath
Alice, with legs like toothpicks,
And a neck like a giraffe.
Alice stepped in the bathtub
Pulled out the plug and then
Ohmygoodness, ohmysoul,
There goes Alice down the hole
Glug. Glug. Glug.