by wjw on March 5, 2012

I was thinking today about James Burke’s admirable television series Connections, where seemingly unrelated historical events were shown to have contributed to a modern scientific discovery.

As a fond hommage to that series, I’d like to trace some connections myself— though I’m not going to do science history, because that’s not really my strong point.  So here we are in the field of popular entertainment.

First, the question: what do the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg have to do with a long-running Hanna-Barbera animated series and with a common summer camp craft?

The answer has to do with songwriter Abel Meeropol, who wrote under the name Lewis Allan.  Meeropol was a Bronx high school teacher who was inspired one day to write a poem, “Strange Fruit,” about the lynching of two black men in Indiana.  He eventually set the poem to music and performed it himself in the New York area, though the song didn’t receive significant attention until it was recorded in a classic arrangement by Billie Holliday.

That song alone would have made Meeropol’s name.  In any case, the science teacher was suddenly a songwriter, and he wrote a lot, and in a number of different genres— he not only wrote pop tunes for the likes of Sinatra and Peggy Lee, but an opera.    He needed the income, because he suddenly had a family: he adopted the two sons of the Rosenbergs after their execution.

Among his hits was the Peggy Lee hit “Apples, Peaches, and Cherries,” with its refrain of “Scooby-dooby-scoo-doo.”  (Can’t find Peggy Lee’s version of it online, sorry.)

The song was then translated into French— plagiarized, actually— by the French singer/guitarist Sacha Distel, as “Scoubidou.”

Meeropol successfully sued to receive his royalties, which in fact made up a sizeable percentage of his income thenceforward.

A French plaiting craft— the lanyards that countless children have made in summer camps or on holiday— originated in France and was named “Scoubidou” after the song.

And Hanna-Barbera’s valor-challenged Great Dane was named after either the Peggy Lee or the Distel version of the song.

If that song hadn’t existed, Scooby-Doo would have been named after some other popular song.  “Splish Splash?”  “Dizzy Miss Lizzy?”  “Tom Dooley?”  The mind boggles.

Anyway,  history would have been very different, no doubt.

Here’s Sacha Distel’s version, along with some fine examples of lanyard craft.


TJIC March 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm

> history would have been very different, no doubt.

I’m still waiting for Harry Turtledove to write an alternate history set in the world where Mike Brady on the Brady Bunch was played by the first choice, Gene Hackman.

I think I’ll probably be waiting for a while.

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