Archy and Mehitabel

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The first illustration of Archy. Seen in an advertisement in the New York Tribune on September 11, 1922, introducing the new column.

Archy and Mehitabel (styled as archy and mehitabel) are the names of two fictional characters created in 1916, by Don Marquis, a columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper in New York City. Archy, a cockroach, and Mehitabel, an alley cat, appeared in hundreds of humorous verses and short stories in Marquis’ daily column, The Sun Dial. Their exploits were first collected in the 1927 book “archy and mehitabel,” which remains in print today, and in two later volumes, “archys life of mehitabel” (1933) and “archy does his part” (1935). Many editions are recognized by their iconic illustrations by George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat.

History[edit]

Marquis introduced Archy into his daily newspaper column at The New York Evening Sun. Archy (whose name was always written in lower case in the book titles, but was upper case when Marquis would write about him in narrative form) was a cockroach who had been a free verse poet in a previous life, and took to writing stories and poems on an old typewriter at the newspaper office when everyone in the building had left. Archy would climb up onto the typewriter and hurl himself at the keys, laboriously typing out stories of the daily challenges and travails of a cockroach. Archy's best friend was Mehitabel, an alley cat. The two of them shared a series of day-to-day adventures that made satiric commentary on daily life in the city during the 1910s and 1920s.

Because he was a cockroach, Archy was unable to operate the shift key on the typewriter (he jumped on each key to type; since using shift requires two keys to be pressed simultaneously, he physically could not use capitals), and so all of his verse was written without capitalization or punctuation. (Writing in his own persona, though, Marquis always used correct capitalization and punctuation. As E. B. White wrote in his introduction to The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel, it would be incorrect to conclude that, "because Don Marquis's cockroach was incapable of operating the shift key of a typewriter, nobody else could operate it.")

There was at least one point in which Archy happened to jump onto the shift lock key—a chapter titled Capitals at Last (styled as CAPITALS AT LAST).

Pete the Pup is another of Marquis' characters.[1] Pete is a Boston Bull Terrier with a passion for life and devotion to his "master". Like Marquis' other animal characters, Pete types his poetry at night on the author’s typewriter (seldom capitalizing or using punctuation). Unlike many of the other characters' contributions, Pete writes about his uncomplicated life without strong political or social references.

Publications[edit]

Collections of the "Archy" stories have been published and re-printed numerous times over the years. Titles in the series include:

  • Archy and Mehitabel (1927)
  • Archys Life of Mehitabel (1933)
  • Archy Does his Part (1935)
  • The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel (1940)
  • Archyology (1996)
  • Archyology II (1998)
  • The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel (2006)

Archyology and Archyology II were compiled and published for the first time in the late 1990s. The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel was released in July 2006, edited by Michael Sims.

Adaptations in other media[edit]

A musical version of the Archy and Mehitabel materials was recorded July 7, 1953 and April 9, 1954, entitled archy and mehitabel with Carol Channing as Mehitabel and Eddie Bracken as Archy. It was followed by echoes of archy, recorded August 31, 1954. The credits read: Words - Joe Darion, Music - George Kleinsinger. It was originally released as Columbia Masterworks ML 4963 in 1955, and was re-released on CD, combined with the unrelated work Carnival of the Animals, as part of the Columbia Masterworks series.

The music and lyrics from the album were the basis of a short-lived 1957 loud and brassy Broadway musical titled Shinbone Alley, starring Eddie Bracken as Archy and Eartha Kitt as Mehitabel. It was based on the columns and on the Columbia Masterworks album, but with additional music by Kleinsinger and dialog by Mel Brooks.

On May 16, 1960, an abridged version of the musical was broadcast under the original title archy & mehitabel as part of the syndicated TV anthology series Play of the Week presented by David Susskind. The cast included Bracken, Tammy Grimes, and Jules Munshin.

Some of the songs from the album were used in 1971 in an animated film, also called Shinbone Alley. Directed by John Wilson, produced by Preston M. Fleet (the creator of Fotomat and Omnimax),[2] written by Mel Brooks, and starring Eddie Bracken and Carol Channing. It was not a commercial success.

Actor Jeff Culbert toured a solo show to fringe festivals across North America during 2009 to 2011. The show, archy and mehitabel, was based on Archy's writings and involved Culbert playing the characters of Archy and Mehitabel.[3]

Composer Gabriel Lubell wrote a work for baritone, clarinet, cello, and piano called Archy Speaks (2009). The work sets four of the original poems to music.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 3 August 2007, issue of Science an editorial[5] was run claiming to be written by Mehitabel commenting on a recent paper about the domestication of cats.

The Montreal indie rock bank Parlovr features a song titled Archy and Mehitabel on its eponymous 2008 album.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Marquis, Don (1950), the lives and times of archy and mehitabel, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., archived from the original on 2012-04-05 
  2. ^ "Preston Fleet, 60, Creator of Fotomat And Omnimax, Dies". The New York Times (Santa Barbara, California). 3 February 1995. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Culbert, Jeff. "archy and mehitabel". JeffCulbert.ca. Retrieved 2012-08-21. 
  4. ^ Lubell, Gabriel. "Gabriel Lubell: Composer, etc.". GabrielLubell.com. Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  5. ^ Kennedy, Donald (3 August 2007). "Domestic? Forget it". Science (Sciencemag.org) 317 (5838): 571. 
  6. ^ "Parlovr tracklist". 

External links[edit]