Eli's Corner

Tom Wesselmann and "Release Me"

As I've written about on this archive/blog in the past, I met Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann in the early 1950's when, as draftees, we served together in the same unit at an army base in the deep South. Tom, who passed away in 2004, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but we hit it off immediately when we discovered our mutual interests in humor, gag cartooning and "classic" country music. This story concerns country music. 

Here's some background information, so that you'll be able to follow what I'm writing about. First of all, Tom's hometown, Cincinnati, is right across the Ohio River from Covington, Kentucky, where there was a very popular and powerful radio station, WCKY (CKY = Covington, Kentucky). WCKY served up country music to a good portion of the U.S.A. -- I could even pick it up at night in Brooklyn.  The station is still on the air, but with a completely different format. So Tom grew up very well-versed in the country music genre, much more than I was. But I found country music fun to listen to, was anxious to learn, and Tom taught me well.

By "classic" country music, by the way, I'm talking about the King, Hank Williams (not his son, Hank Williams, Jr.) and other legendary performers such as Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Hank Thompson, Faron Young and Marty Robbins, to name just a few.

In those days, country music was going through a phase of "sequel" songs. Example: Hank Thompson came out with an extremely popular song called "The Wild Side of Life", in which he lamented that "I didn't know God made honky tonk angels". Before long, Kitty Wells recorded "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", which went viral, as we would say today. That megahit was the main reason why Kitty Wells eventually became known as "The Queen of Country Music". Another example: A hit song by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Huskey, "A Dear John Letter", created the sequel "Dear Joan" (sung by Jack Cardwell) and still further, another sequel, "Forgive Me John" (sung by Shepard and Huskey again). So the country music scene at that time was being flooded with sequels.

One more bit of background material before I get to my story: At that particular time, all the Hollywood studios were fighting off the juggernaut of Television -- and they were hanging in there by re-releasing their old hit movies. Not re-making them, just re-releasing them. So a first-run movie in those days could easily have been an "M-G-M re-release" or a "Paramount re-release", and so forth.

That's about it for background information.

In the early 1950's, country music star Ray Price came out with a wildly popular song called "Release Me". It was a classic that was all over the radio stations. It was also a crossover hit that has lasted to this day. You can still hear many versions of it today. Tom and I enjoyed making fun of it. I particularly loved the ingenuity of the rhymes in the song. Here are some of the lyrics:

"Please release me, let me go.

I don't love you any more.

To live together is a sin.

Release me and let me love again.

I have found a new love, dear--

and I'll always want her near.

Her lips are warm while yours are cold.

Release me, darling, let me go."

(Well, at least "near" and "dear" rhymed)

But I digress. At some point Tom got a furlough approved and took off for a week. When he returned and wanted to know what was new, I excitedly told him that the radio stations were all playing a sequel to "Release Me", and that it was called, naturally, "Re-Release Me". I told him that in the sequel the man and woman had gotten together again . . . but it didn't work out . . . again . . . and now the guy wanted out . . . again. I said that I had heard the sequel so often on the radio that I already knew some of the words. And I sang a verse to him (I was well-prepared -- I had written my phony verse during the week and had it memorized).

It went like this (to the tune of "Release Me"):

"Re-release me just once more --

Like you did that time before.

To stay together isn't right.

Re-release me and set me free tonight." 

Tom's reaction was incredulity at first. Then he listened attentively to my lyrics, laughed appreciatively, nodded his head and said, "Yep, that sounds just stupid enough." 

He had bought it! The whole shebang! It was only the next day, when he wondered why he wasn't hearing the song being played on the radio, that I confessed.

You can read more about Tom Wesselmann and me, and also about his brief career as a gag cartoonist, by checking out my previous postings about him. I've done a few over the years and you'll find them all under the category of "Eli's Corner".


Cartoon Caption Contest Trivia

About five years ago, shortly after I started this Archive/Blog, I was contacted by the Editor of The Gayco Tablet, a newsletter dedicated to "improving the health of residents in long-term health care facilities". He asked for permission to use reprints of my cartoons in the newsletter.

I looked over the issue he sent me and found that it was chock full of helpful information on Alzheimer's, dementia and other eldercare quality-of-life issues. I decided that it was worthy of "pro bono" treatment and told the Editor that he could pick and choose any of my cartoons from the site and that there would be no fee involved.

The newsletter has been irregularly reprinting my cartoons since that time, and the Editors even created a panel called "AS NEEDED FOR LAUGHTER" to showcase the cartoons.

The latest issue of the newsletter arrived this week, and this was the panel I saw:

I gave it a quick glance and was about to move on to other business when I did a classic double-take. "Wait a minute," I said to my wife, "I never did that cartoon!" After a few minutes of recollection and investigation, I realized what had happened. True, I had never sold that drawing with the completely different caption that I originally wrote for it, but I had used the drawing for "Eli's Cartoon Caption Contest No. 37". The caption that The Gayco Tablet printed was Cary Antebi's winning entry. You can see it all right here.

So . . . congratulations are in order once again, Cary Antebi. The Editors liked your caption more than my original caption (no, I'm not at all insulted). As I keep saying, you are indeed one of the funniest people around!

Happy New Year

Wow, it's 2013 already!

I started this archive/blog in June 2006. I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you who have stood by me all these years a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.


Contest deadline extended due to Hurricane Sandy

Yes, last Monday we lost electric power due to Hurricane Sandy -- and of course lost the ability to use computers, phones, cell phones, etc. Personally, we had no other damage -- no flooding or fires or trees falling on our house or car. So we have definitely been lucky. Right now, my wife and I are staying with our son, about a half-hour's drive from our home. He has power, and all the other conveniences. It may be many more days before our own power is restored.

As for the Caption Contest, out of necessity I am extending it for another week, so the deadline for entries will now be midnight Tuesday, November 6th. Hopefully, by then, we will have power and can resume our normal activities at home.

Cartoonist Al Ross -- October 19, 1911 - March 22, 2012

I'm sad to report that legendary cartoonist Al Ross has passed away. He was 100 years old.

I received these two brief messages from Al Ross's son, Arlen:

-- My father, Al Ross, passed away today at the age of 100 years young! He was simply the greatest, and will always live on through his art, and his thousands of fans and his offspring! The world was a far better place with him, and now is still the better for it! Love you Dad!

-- My father Al Ross, passed away today at the age of 100. He was even a greater painter and fine artist than he was a cartoonist, if that can be possible! Gone is the greatest there ever was!!! Long live my Dad, Al Ross!

Al Ross was one of four cartooning Roth brothers. The other three brothers, all deceased, published cartoons under the names Ben Roth, Salo and Irv Roir. In his heyday, Al Ross's gag cartoons appeared extensively in The New Yorker and in just about every other national or international cartoon-oriented publication.

In the past few years I've written several pieces here about Al and the other cartooning Roth brothers, and I even have several photos up, some of them pretty old. You can find all the material by clicking on "Eli's Corner" in the right-hand column. Al was also featured in my "We All Have to Start Somewhere Department" (No. 16). And in addition, you can find several very heart-warming "comments" under some of the postings, notes that came in over the years from the Roth family, friends and neighbors.

Rest in peace, Al Ross.

Al Ross at his 100th Birthday Party.

Back in Business . . . Almost

Sorry for the long interruption, but what should have been just a software correction turned into a major rebuilding of the site on a completely new platform.

I haven't been ill or anything like that, but the site was definitely not too healthy. Hopefully I'll be resuming business as usual . . . or better than usual . . . very soon.

By the way, the site is being rebuilt by my son the computer whiz -- so for the price I'm paying him (zilch), I can't really push him to speed things up.

If you notice anything missing in the archive, or see anything obviously out of kilter, please let me know and I will try to get it corrected. And since the site will be on a new platform, there should be some interesting new features, too.

And yes, the Cartoon Caption Contest will resume as soon as I can manage it . . . hopefully by next week.


"Comments" working again

As a temporary band-aid, the "anti-spam word" device has been deactivated.

So now it is once again possible for you to submit comments and cartoon captions in the contest. Just follow steps 1) click on "Comments", 2) type in your name and caption and 4) click on "Submit". Forget about step 3.

Hopefully we'll get back to normal soon.


I was informed by an anxious caption-writer that my anti-spam word is not functioning. So of course it's been impossible for anyone to comment or submit captions for the current contest. Sorry about that -- I really don't know how long that's been going on, and I'm trying to have the glitch repaired.

"Al Jaffee's Mad Life"

Mary-Lou Weisman is the author of "Al Jaffee's Mad Life", a recently-published biography of cartoonist Al Jaffee. I wrote an online review of the book on Litkicks, and you can read it here.

Back again

O.K., I'm back, and lots of new captions have been posted. Contest No. 7 isn't over until midnight Tuesday, June 8th, so there's still plenty of time to come up with innovative stuff.

What a shame that I can't win this contest myself -- while I was away I came up with two great captions, both on topics that haven't yet been covered by anyone else. I'll tell them to you when I declare the winner.


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