Abdul Abulbul Amir
"Abdul Abulbul Amir" is a poem written in 1877 (during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878)) by Percy French and later set to music. It tells the story of two valiant heroes — a Russian, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, and one of the Sultan's mamelukes, Abdul Abulbul Amir — who because of their pride end up in a fight and kill each other. The poem inspired an MGM cartoon in the 1940s and a series of beer ads by Whitbread in the 1980s.
Frank Crumit, who was famous for his renditions of it, wrote three sequels: "The Return of Abdul Abulbul Amir", "The Grandson Of Abdul Abulbul Amir", and "Minnie Skavinsky Skavar".
|Lyrics as recorded in The New Harvard Songbook (1896)|
The song was adapted in 1941 into an MGM cartoon, Abdul the Bulbul-Ameer, with Fred Quimby producing and direction by Hugh Harman. Voice acting for the nine-minute cartoon was provided by Cliff Nazarro, Harry Stanton, Leon Belasco and Hans Conried, while Frank Crumit wrote new lyrics. It features caricatures of Groucho Marx, Lou Costello and Al Ritz as news reporters. In this version, Abdul is depicted as a bully who picks on Ivan's dwarf friend, provoking Ivan into treading on the Turk's toe. He has many traits of 1930s and 1940s cartoon villains, such as Bluto, including thick lips, a beard and a big belly. There is a brief swordfight, which soon changes into a brawl, that ends with Ivan and Abdul literally "out cold", after falling through a frozen lake and emerging frozen in a pillar of ice. The more positive portrayal of the Russians could have been due to the newly formed alliance between Britain and the USSR following Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in the year of the cartoon's production and release.[original research?]
In the 1980s Whitbread adapted the song using their own lyrics for a series of commercials on British television, suggesting that the two protagonists were great fans of their beer who squabbled over trivialities, because they had forgotten that "the best best needs no etiquette". The commercials starred Stephen Fry as Ivan, Tony Cosmo as Abdul, Tim McInnerny and Roy Castle, and were directed by Paul Weiland.
A variant of the poem appeared in an ad for Springmaid cotton sheets in Life magazine, Jan. 7, 1952.
In popular culture
Author Steven Millhauser, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, used a variation of the song in his first novel Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943–1954 By Jeffrey Cartwright.
In the 1949 film Task Force, Gary Cooper's naval aviation officer character "Jonathan Scott" sings a line from "Abdul..," telling Jane Wyatt's character "Mary Morgan" that all the Annapolis cadets in his day had to learn the song.
In Beau Sabreur, the 1926 sequel to Beau Geste, the novelist has a femme fatale whistle a tune (which the narrator identified as 'that popular aire') then she sings a verse to tease the French officer she calls 'Major Ivan.' She uses the words 'Ivan Potschjinski Skivah.'
A parody of the song, in which Abdul and Ivan engage in a competition for which can have sex with more prostitutes in a given time, is sung at rugby clubs, and appeared on the album Wicked Rugby Songs by The Shower-Room Squad.
- Fry, Stephen (2010). The Fry Chronicles. London: Penguin Books. pp. 234–238. ISBN 978-0-7181-5483-7.
- Whitbread Best Beer commercial (1982). United Kingdom.
- Whitehouse, Robert Treat; Frederick Bruegger (1896). The New Harvard Song Book: a collection of the latest college songs and glees sung by the Harvard University Glee Club. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Oliver Ditson. p. 139. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
- Barrier, Michael (25 September 2003). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. New York City, New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press US. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-19-516729-0.
- Webb, Graham (2000). The animated film encyclopedia: a complete guide to American shorts, features and sequences 1900–1979. Jefferson, North Carolina; London: McFarland. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7864-0728-6.
- "Banned MGM cartoon: Abdul The BulBul Ameer". YouTube: SecretNadeShiko. Retrieved 10/9/2012.
- Millhauser, Steven (1996 (1972)). Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943–1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright. New York: Random House. pp. 71–73. ISBN 0-679-76652-9.