Thursday, September 16, 2010

Early Influences: The Bad Good Guys (Part One)

When I was a kid, Walt Disney’s Scarecrow of Romney Marsh terrified me. If you’re a baby boomer, you just might know why. If not, I’ll give you the short version: The Scarecrow (played by Patrick McGoohan, better known for Secret Agent Man and The Prisoner) was a real mean piece of work. By day he was a vicar named Dr. Syn, but by night he donned a scarecrow costume and rode with a gang disguised as demons and ghouls. The locals thought he was a highwayman (or worse), and McGoohan did all he could to reinforce that belief. He smuggled goods and lynched his enemies (or pretended to, anyway). Needless to say, the Scarecrow did nasty real well -- when he wasn't barking orders in a voice that sounded like it boiled up from the guts of a sinner, he laughed like a demon who’d gargled with a busted bottle of acid. Compared to the action you’d find going on over at the Ponderosa on Bonanza with Pa Cartwright and Little Joe, this was pretty startling stuff. It was sort of like watching a series where Uncle Walt's Zorro jumped across the Atlantic, cut a deal with the devil, and started raising a full crop of hell.

If you saw McGoohan’s Scarecrow when you were six, it was the kind of thing that could put a mark on you. It marked me, anyway. The Scarecrow was one of my first encounters with a heroic character who played by a set of rules that was more fitting for a villain -- at least, Dr. Syn made it appear that way. When he put on that mask, he did not mess around. Seemingly, he was doing good by employing evil. For me, that was a concept that took root and dug in deep. It made the Scarecrow a fascinating character, one of a select crew I'll blog about in the coming weeks here at American Frankenstein.

Disney filmed three one-hour episodes of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, but—as fate would have it—the first one premiered the same night some British bar band called The Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan for the first time. Needless to say, that little coincidence helped make the Scarecrow’s television ride a short one… and more’s the pity.

But I remember him, and I was lucky enough to grab the DVD reissue of the show's three episodes a couple years back. Disney released that, and it went out of print almost immediately. More's the pity x 2. I'm sure these days it goes for big bucks if you can find it.

I also remember the great theme song that opened the show. Play around on youtube, you can probably find it there. As a kid I beat it down to the local department story and bought a 45 with the song on it. Boy, I wore that thing out. I think the flip side was Thurl Ravenscroft doing the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I wore that out, too. One day I left the record on the floor, stepped on it, and broke the damn thing. In my book, that qualified as tragedy. Still does.