I saw the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” many years ago but remember few of the details. If I was going to give this parody a fair shake, I would rewatch the film just as I reread the origin story in Silver Surfer #1, August 1968 before I reviewed “The Origin of the Simple Surfer,” the first story in this issue (see Not Brand Echh #13 (Story 1)). But I’m not going to do that because I have this feeling that the parody mainly plays on the interracial relationship in the film, substituting Marvel (or Marble) characters, not to mention that the film came out two years before the parody and was probably not fresh in the minds of the readers, even in 1969.
Daring in its time, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” explores the reactions of a liberal older couple (played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy) when their daughter (played by Katherine Houghton, the real-life niece of Katherine Hepburn) comes home from a trip to announce that she is engaged to an African-American man, played by Sidney Poitier. The film was not only notable for its subject matter but for being the last pairing of Tracy and Hepburn. In fact, Spencer Tracy died 17 days after the completion of the film.
The parody is written and drawn by Stu Schwartzberg, whom we have seen once before, as the writer of “It’s a Mad, Mad Ave! A Brechh Smek at the Boob Tube!” reviewed at Not Brand Echh #11 (Story 2). I said, “I like this little two-page piece” and I gave it 4 webs. So, how does Stu do this time?
Spencer Tracy is sitting in a rowboat called the S.S. Titanic in his living room, fishing. Next to him is a pile of fish he has caught, including the Sunk-Mariner and his fishing line is in a fish bowl, labeled “Support Your Local Piranha,” a play on the 1969 film “Support Your Local Sheriff.” The piranha in the bowl has grabbed the line and is tugging furiously. Katherine Hepburn is approaching him with a fire hose and Katherine Houghton calls out, “Yeek! What’s Daddy doing??” (None of these three characters get names in this parody so I’m going to refer to them by their actual last names.) Hepburn responds, “He’s reliving a scene from a movie he was in, called ‘The Old Man and the Fish!’ He always slips into a fantasy world when faced with a degrading, humiliating situation!” “What degrading humiliating situation is he in?” asks Houghton. “He’s being featured along with us, in a ‘Not Brand Echh’ movie satire!”
This is a good start. I like that self-reflexive feel with Hepburn aware that Tracy is a film actor (he actually starred in “The Old Man and the Sea”) and that they are in a Brecch movie parody. It has that early Mad feel about it, which is not surprising because, according to Roy Thomas in Alter Ego #95, July 2010, Stu “was far more interested in Kurtzman- (or even Feldstein-) style parodies of movies and life than he was in lampooning super-heroes.”
Hepburn hoses Tracy off as he sits in his boat using a ruler to measure his tiny fish catch. His boat is now called “Sloop John B,” as in the Beach Boys song. Hepburn then towels off Tracy as he cooks his fish over an open fire in his boat, which is now the Hesperus, as in The Wreck of the…. She tells him not to put on one of his unpressed suits and he says, “that rumpled worldly look made my career.”
Houghton tells them that she met her date at “the Merry Marble Computer Dating Service and Wild Life Preserve.” “They also make comic mags,” she adds while paging through a copy of this issue of Not Brand Echh. But Tracy is paying no attention. “Remember this scene from ‘Judgement at Hacksensack?’” he says as he hits Hepburn over the head with a gavel. (Tracy played Chief Judge Dan Haywood in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” directed, as was “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” by Stanley Kramer.) As she gets rapped on the head, Hepburn calls out “Heah Come the Judge! Heah Come the Judge!” Believe it or not, this was briefly a hip phrase in the late 60s. It began with comic Pigmeat Markham but was mainly popularized by Flip Wilson and Sammy Davis, Jr.. The gavel rapping knocks Hepburn’s hair bun off her head. “You made me lose my bun! For the first time in 7000 pictures.” Well, it was a whole lot less than that but it did turn up in more than one film, including this one.
Houghton gets their attention by repeatedly slapping both of them in the face. “We trust your judgement, dear!” says Hepburn, “Oh, darling, you’ve made us so happy! Just don’t hit!”
The doorbell rings and Houghton runs to answer it. A bird emerges from the bun that Hepburn has put back on her head. It flies off as Houghton opens the door. “Mumsy, Dadsy…meet Brucie Banter! Isn’t he fantastic?!” Brucie Banter is in his Inedible Bulk form and he ruins the door frame as he enters. “Bulk pleased to meet girl’s parents!” he says. With that, Hepburn faints dead away, followed by Tracy. “Don’t try to hide it!” says Houghton, crying, “You disapprove, don’t you?”
Tracy gets to the phone to call Charlie (whoever that is) and ask him to “get me everything you have on Brucie Banter” but Bulk picks him up and asks if he’s checking on him. “I was just c-calling a c-caterer for the w-wedding!” Tracy says. Bulk points out the window (actually, he points through the window, breaking it. “Bulk’s parents will be here to visit!” he says, “Look! Here they come now!” And Bulk’s parents turn out to be, “Solly Green the Giant” and “Phyliss Dilly,” takeoffs on the Jolly Green Giant who is the mascot for Green Giant canned vegetables (there was even a song by the Kingsmen!) and comedian Phyllis Diller. Tracy and Hepburn take one look at them and take off in their car. The Giant throws a big bowl of succotash at them, covering them in it.
They stop at a drive-in advertising “Ice Cream, 2800 Flavors.” Tracy tells the carhop that “You have a flavor I like, but I can’t remember the name of it.” The carhop serves him one huge helping of ice cream after another as he gorges on them. Both Hepburn and the carhop cover their mouths, sickened by the whole thing. Finally, he says, “That’s it! What’s it called?” and the carhop replies, “Chocolate.” Now, this seems like a waste of a page but Roy Thomas tells us, in A/E #95, that Stu “hit all the right notes, including a riff on the famous ‘ice cream’ scene.” Hmmm. I guess I’m going to have to look at the movie after all.
So, in the film, Tracy and Hepburn go to a drive-in and he tells the carhop that he wants to have an ice cream flavor he had before but he can’t remember what it is. He doesn’t sample a bunch of scoops. Instead, the carhop rattles off a bunch of flavors and Tracy decides it was Fresh Oregon Boysenberry Sugar. But when it comes, it isn’t the flavor he remembered. Still, he decides it’s pretty good and asks the now-exasperated carhop to remind him of this flavor the next time he comes in. A “hopelessly clunky bit of symbology,” according to the writer at Film Fracas. And now that I’ve looked at the film, I should add that the parents of Sidney Poitier’s character do show up for dinner and that Tracy does call someone asking for info on Poitier, but it isn’t Charlie he calls but his secretary Edie.
Back home, Tracy and Hepburn discover Bulk, Solly, and Phyliss gone. Houghton tells them that “the Marble Dating Agency is sending over another man…his nickname is Manny!” As Tracy and Hepburn celebrate in the background, Houghton rushes to answer the doorbell. “I just know he’ll be my Mr. Right!” But Manny is too big to enter the house. He is “Mangrok,” a takeoff on the Thor villain Mangog
wearing shorts with suspenders, a ribbon on his tail, a “Mighty Sore” t-shirt, and a Mickey Mouse watch. (The Drive-In next door is showing “Guess Who’s Coming Over in the Hot of the Night for the Love of Ivory,” a mash-up of our movie, “In the Heat of the Night,” and “For Love of Ivy,” all Sidney Poitier films.) Seeing Mangrok, Tracy and Hepburn faint dead away again. This time they don’t bother to get up. As Houghton calls the “Marble Computer Dating Service” and asks, “Could you send over a third eligible male? Mr. Mangrok is nice, but I’d prefer a more conservative dresser,” Tracy and Hepburn lie side by side with Hepburn saying, “Where did we go wrong?” and Tracy saying, “Dunno,” and Hepburn saying, “Where?” and Tracy saying “Jus’ dunno.” And that’s it. Whoop, wait a minute, wasn’t there supposed to be a Spidey appearance? That also takes place in the last panel, as Houghton calls the dating service. There is a picture on the wall of Spider-Man, signed, “Love, Spidey.”
In A/E #95, Roy says, “Stu might well have become one of the stars of NBE, had it lasted a bit longer,” and “This is the story in the issue that probably had the staff laughing around the Marvel offices.” But, I don’t know. It has its moments, particularly the riffs on Spencer Tracy’s other film roles, his rumpled suit and Hepburn’s bun, but it all seems a bit obvious and the ice cream routine, which takes up nearly a whole page in a six page story really requires familiarity with the movie to make it work at all. How many people remembered the scene from the movie, even back then, with this parody coming out two years after the movie?
By the way, I do want to emphasize that Stu was also the artist, although Roy says, “Stu’s own penciling was a bit sketchy, but Tom [Sutton]’s embellishing pulled it together nicely.” Sketchy or not, the composition is good and it has a nice spate of Marie Severin-influenced visual jokes and gimmicks.
But not enough of those visual jokes and gimmicks to lift it up above a rating of two webs.
Next: Four more pages in Not Brand Echh #13 (Story 6).