Monkey Business

Ava Maria Tedesco is a tender-hearted girl of thirteen. While she knows that stuffed animals aren’t real, she can’t quite help but extend to them the same compassion she showers on animals, people in need of prayer, sometimes her siblings, and always her parents, Grandma Josephine, and Sister Mary Agnes. One of Ava’s favorite stuffed animals is Mr. Monkey. Unfortunately for Ava, her older sister, Katherine, knows this. Katherine only meant to kidnap Mr. Monkey for a short time to torment her younger sister, but when she hides the rubber-face stuffed toy in their mother’s dryer, all does not end well.

I based Ava Maria’s favorite stuffed toy on one I had as a child. In fact, Freddie is still packed away in my basement with all my other childhood stuffed toys even as I type. I don’t know where I obtained Freddie or how that came to be his name. I just remember being fascinated by his rubbery face, hands (one of which holds a banana), and little white shoes. Even before I can remember, one of Freddie’s shoes somehow became slightly detached from his hairy legs and had to be safety pinned in place.

When I researched the doll for my novel, The Tedescos, I came across pictures of the one I had as well as one with the word Zip on the front of his yellow shirt. The Zip doll was the representation of the actual chimpanzee, Zippy, who was a television star in the 1950s. Zippy had been discovered by Bob “Buffalo Bob” Smith of Howdy Doody fame, and the chimp appeared on the show. Zippy also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, Captain Kangaroo, Gary Moore Show, and Jackie Gleason Show.

The Ruston Company made the Zip stuffed doll in response to Zippy’s popularity on Howdy Doody. Howdy Doody ran from 1947 until 1960, and while I have yet to find documentation supporting this fact, either The Rushton Company continued to produce the popular stuffed doll long into the 1970s (my childhood) or children took extremely good care of their toys. Another possibility allowing the doll to make it into the 1970s is what I call ‘the knock-off’ factor in which Zip lookalikes, such as the one I have, were produced well beyond the demise of the Howdy Doody show. Columbia appears on the tag of some of these dolls identifying them as made by another toy manufacturer.

My version of the rubber-faced monkey doll is apparently known as Mr. Bim, and he may or may not be holding a banana, have red suspenders or black pompom buttons, and have yellow or white fur representing a shirt. In 1984, Dakin produced an updated version of the Zip doll.

In addition to the stuffed monkey dolls I’ve described above, there are a whole host of monkeys in other colors of fur, with or without hats, some with different facial configurations, and more. So while my Freddie and Ava Maria’s Mr. Monkey might not be original Zip dolls, they are no less loved.

Bad Medicine

One of the weirdest things I had to research for my novel, The Tedescos, was the song “Witch Doctor.” I checked first of all to make sure it had been released before my story took place. The song, performed by Ross Bagdasarian Sr., was released in 1958 by Liberty Records. Bagdasarian is better known by his stage name David Seville.

The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Top 100 and was considered a surprise hit on the chart. “Witch Doctor” became David Seville’s first number-one single and held this position for three weeks. The single sold over one million copies in the United States and finished at the number-four spot on Billboard for 1958.

The ridiculous song tells the story of a man in love with a woman who does not feel the same way about him. In an effort to secure her affections, the man visits a witch doctor for advice. The witch doctor replies with the now-famous refrain, “Oo ee oo aa aa ting tang walla walla bing bang.” This phrase is repeated throughout the song with the alternating endings of “bing bang” and “bang bang.”

And let me tell you, there is heated debate to this minor detail. Some people will sing every line of the witch doctor’s comments as “bing bang” while other sticklers for detail will insist upon singing it the correct way as “bing bang” the first time followed by “bang bang.” I actually watched the video of David Seville singing the song, my eyes narrowed in concentration to read his lips, just so I could settle the dispute.

The witch doctor’s voice is Bagdasarian’s own voice sped up to double speed. This technique was later used when Bagdasarian, as David Seville, created Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Grandma Josephine Tedesco borrows the witch doctor’s famous line when her youngest son, Danny, involves her in a crazy, money-making scheme. Because Grandma Josephine isn’t always aware of what she’s doing, she’s given a pass. However, Danny does not fare so well when his older brother, Joe, finds out he employed their mother in shady business.

Since I don’t want to be the only one with this annoying lyric stuck in my head, I have provided a link to Ross Bagdasarian/David Seville singing “Witch Doctor” on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Meet the Tedescos

As I prepare to query my novel, The Tedescos, I thought I’d better introduce the family to you so you’ll know who I’m talking about in upcoming blog posts for Research Road and Edible Fiction.

Joe Tedesco is the big-hearted, sometimes clueless, but always lovable patriarch of the Tedesco Clan whose primary job is to bring home the bacon and do his best to not muck things up too badly for his lovely wife, Shirley.

Shirley Tedesco is the savvy, stay-at-home matriarch of the Tedesco Clan responsible for keeping her husband, their brood of eight rowdy children, and her crazy mother-in-law in line. Hers is a difficult task.

Sixteen year-old Joe Jr. is the good-natured, oldest sibling with a love for sports, girls, and food, but not necessarily in that order.

Katherine, the second oldest sibling at fourteen, is a mastermind of manipulation who knows how to play her father for whatever catches her eye.

Thirteen year-old Ava Maria is the saintly, third oldest sibling whose limitless compassion extends to stuffed animals, overworked nuns, and anyone in need of prayer.

Holly and Noelle, ten years-old, are the pink and blue wearing Christmas twins possessing twice the sweetness or twice the mischievousness depending on what the situation requires.

Billy (age seven), Grace (age six), and Pauline (age five) are the youngest three siblings who work as a unit whether it’s planning or executing the next round of trouble they’re going to get into.

Grandma Josephine, Joe’s widowed mother, lives in the twilight realm between long-term memory and reality as she navigates her way through the golden years.

Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the unmarried, shiftless member of the family who is long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic.

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