All the fuss surrounding History Channel’s scripted miniseries Hatfields & McCoys – first the kerfuffle over its accuracy, then the (not so surprising) big ratings — got me thinking about Pass the Biscuits Mirandy! The bloody Hatfield-McCoy has been an enduring inspiration to makers of popular entertainment. Its pop-culture legacy includes everything from an Abbot and Costello feature to a 1975 TV flick with big, bad Jack Palance, from Huckleberry Hound and Scooby Doo episodes to the game show Family Feud. History Channel’s new series may well be the best and most accurate take on the notorious rivalry, but Mirandy is surely the funniest.
It’s a cartoon. I saw it two, maybe three times when I was about 10 years old. It was shown occasionally on Cactus Jack, the afternoon kiddie corral on WDAM-TV (Laurel-Hattiesburg, Miss.) that served up old theatrical cartoons, older B-grade Westerns and interviews in the Art Linkletter mold with studio-audience kids. I once embarrassed my folks on live TV by telling Cactus Jack (Goldman, I think his off-camera last name was) that I and most of my fellow Cub Scouts thought our den mother provided lousy snacks.
But I digress. Pass the Biscuits Mirandy! stayed stuck in the back of my mind for decades. I remembered it as a lively animated musical in which an elaborate shooting war among mountain folk involved using the titular matriarch’s rock-hard baked goods in place of bullets. I have been known on occasion to break out in the theme song’s yodeled refrain: “Paasssssss the biss-kits……”
Once, after we’d entered the Internet age, I attempted to find it online, but all my search turned up were the lyrics and a 1942 live-action short based on the song and starring its composer, Spike Jones, along with City Slickers. It was “Soundie” produced to be played on special, visual jukeboxes.
The lyrics are funny. A sample:
Pass the biscuits, Mirandy
I’m a-gonna load up my gun
I’ll use your biscuits for bullets,
I’ll put them varmints on the run
Jones’ version is pretty dang cool in its own right. But what I really wanted to experience again was the cartoon.
And now I have. My memories rekindled by the History Channel, I did a search and found the animated Pass the Biscuits Mirandy! on YouTube. It turns out it was a “Swing Symphony” produced at Universal in 1943 by Walter Lantz, the producer best known for Woody Woodpecker. It runs almost seven minutes, and it’s even better than I remembered, not the least of the reasons for which being that it’s in glorious Technicolor. When last I saw it, everything on my TV was black and white.
In Lantz’ Appalachian operetta, the barefoot, snaggle-toothed mountaineers, renamed the Foys and the Bartons, are so stereotypical they make Jed Clampett and his kin look like Dynasty’s Carringtons. If this toon was produced now, West Virginia or Kentucky would probably sue for defamation. But the long-bearded, flop-hatted rubes are funny from the first frame, and they move with a lithe and nimble grace.
Mirandy, first lady of the Foy clan, looks Popeye in drag. Her petrified biscuits aren’t just used as blunderbuss shot; one them, errantly thrown away by a Foy, destroys a rickety cabin that belongs to the Barton family, thus starting the war. Animator Paul Smith made Mirandy’s baking routine an inventive hoot, and he comes up with some wild variations on the back and forth fusillades. Even a baby gets off a round.
What I didn’t remember after all these years was how the feud turns out – how the animosities (and the deadly biscuits) are repurposed. I’m not about to give the twist away other than to say it is very much a product of its time.
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.