Jewish World Review July 12, 2002 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5762

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

King of Kitsch | I had always assumed that the guy who painted the "Dogs Playing Poker" was an anonymous toiler, like a workman on the Sistine Chapel, or an audioanatromicist putting movable joints on a pirate of the Caribbean. But the New York Times informed me that Poker Playing Dogs was the work of one man, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, who died in 1934 at the age of 89.

From the article recounting the life of this remarkable man, I also learned that he'd written a comic opera about a New Jersey mosquito epidemic, and "designed comic cutouts-- 'Fat Man in Bathing Suit' for example-- for people to stand behind and smile for the camera."

My jaw dropped. Here are not one but TWO icons that this Renaissance man was responsible for. What else? What other artifacts did this man create or inspire? He wrote an opera, didn't he? Was he the first man to make a horn that plays "La Cucaracha" or "Ah Oo Gah?" The little flourish they play at sporting events: Da duh da duh da-duh!" I'll bet he wrote that.

I'll bet he invented Indian poker, air hockey, Bingo, and bowling, as we know it today, the bowling shirt at the very least, and the Hawaiian shirt as well.

Did he invent inflatable furniture, the Tiki torch, the lava lamp, chili lights, and the concept of the parrot jungle? Unless we find his notebooks we will never know.

But placing classic scenes from classic movies on dinner plate collectibles, well, that has Cassus Marcellus Coolidge written all over it. And the novelty key chain, the refrigerator magnet, the swizzle stick, the platform shoe, lifesized plaster dinosaurs, ice cube trays with unusual formations, the drinking bird that never ever stops, the magic eightball, wack-a-mole, and wind up robots?

What about the message tee-shirt, the bumper sticker, and the cap that's also a beverage holder? I can't prove he is responsible for all this, but a man capable of poker playing dogs is capable of anything.

I think he deserves a statue in a town square, a really big statue draped in black velvet that stands up and speaks, like the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln exhibit at Disneyland. Phrases could include masterpieces of spoken Americana, like "You got it," "It all good," and "Don't go there."

Even better, for the lovers of the world, when you push a button, the statue would play "Lara's Theme," "Love theme from the Godfather," or the Whitney Houston evergreen, "I Will Always Love You."

Throw in a nearby corn dog vendor, a slushie maker, and a machine that lets you try to grab little stuffed animals with a steel claw, and I believe we would have a fitting tribute to the man who gave the world laconic cigar-chomping mutts cheating at five card stud-- Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, the man, the myth, the legend, the Michelangelo, the Da Vinci, the Elvis of kitsch.

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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05/30/02: Pooches in sharkskin suits and the end of dog tags
05/22/02: We baby boomers used to rule the roost
05/20/02: The Files now Ex
05/14/02: Entangled in Spider-Man's web!?
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04/24/02: From child murderer to milk hawker
04/10/02: New realities
03/21/02: You did it your way? I have to kill you now!
03/12/02: Life in the warehouse
01/28/02: Shoes and food
01/24/02: Suspension of disbelief has nothing to do with whether we accept something as real or not
01/22/02: Save the Grand Ole Opry?
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12/11/01: KNITTING!
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10/01/01: Confessions of a sarcastic scribe
09/11/01: The end of Mom
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08/15/01: A wild and crazy world!
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07/31/01: Catchphrase history of the world
07/26/01: The Bride of Science
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07/13/01: Applying Newton's First Law of Physics to textbooks
07/10/01: The dumb and the dead

© 2001, Ian Shoales