Thursday, January 26, 2012

Remembering Polycarp: A Cajun TV Show Host for Children

[I originally wrote this article for Wikipedia.  Since the writing is my own, I repost it here on my blog.  I include extra images below and I'll add more information about Polycarp shortly.]

Polycarp (pronounced POE-LEE-CARP) was a fictional character who served as a local children's television show host. His program, "Polycarp and Pals," aired from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s on KATC Channel 3 in Lafayette, Louisiana.[1]

Rough print of
Polycarp promotional photo.
(Source: KATC-TV 3)

Background

Polycarp was portrayed by KATC employee John Plauché (27 July 1932 - June 1978),[2] whom KATC hired in May 1963 and whom it credited for the show's originality. "It is a land created through the wonderful imagination of John Plauche, who as Polycarp Phillipe Pecot Number 2, makes our lives a little happier, the world a brighter place [in which] to live."[3] (Polycarp would often jokingly warn viewers in his Cajun-accented English "Don’t ask for Number One ‘cuz dat’s my daddy and dey don’t like him anyway.")[4]

Polycarp on the studio set.
(Source: KATC-TV 3)


An avuncular Cajun dressed in a plaid shirt, waistcoat, and crumpled straw hat, Polycarp lived on a houseboat, the Narcisse Number 3, "somewhere way back in the Anse La Butte Swamp midway between the Parishes of Fantaisie and Réalité," as a KATC newsletter put it in 1967.[5] (In later programs Polycarp traded his houseboat for a general store.) KATC described Polycarp's imaginary world as "A modern-day 'fairytale' land of happiness and laughter for girls and boys and tall people . . . undoubtedly the happiest place in Acadiana." The station likened his program to "a cruise . . . [through] his small but laughing world of Cajun friends and swamp critters . . . [such as] Maurice Mostique, the giant mosquito with a wingspan of 13 ¾ feet, [who] sings a pesky song while Ole Blue, the 738 ½ pound junk-collecting catfish, thumps against the boat as we float along the bayou."[6]

Polycarp at the mic.
(Source: KATC-TV 3)


In addition to showing classic Warner Bros. cartoons, the program featured original skits and recurring characters. Those characters included T'Toot, a retired Indian fighter; the Crazy Professor, an inventor and graduate emeritus of UPI (University of Pecan Island); Tante Baseline, owner of the Anse La Butte Swamp Gumbo Factory; Joycie, a female filling station attendant "who's the world's champion dual-wheel semi-trailer flat-tire fixer"; The Headless Man, who "sent his head out to be cleaned and it was accidentally sent to the Avery Island Pickle Factory instead" and lived in the locked cabin of Polycarp's boat; Doctor Rollingstone, "the hipster swamp doctor who has a transistor radio stuck in his stethoscope"; and King Simon, "the duly elected boss of the swamp."[7]

Polycarp swamped by fan mail, 1967.
(Source: Acadiana [KATC-TV 3 newsletter])

Popularity

KATC noted that, "Polycarp's much loved pals . . . [are] as familiar to the children of Acadiana as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck" and claimed that Polycarp was "ranked as the top children's TV personality in the state."[8] As evidence of this popularity, Polycarp received over 3,000 letters and postcards from local children over a seven-day period during a fall 1967 Halloween costume giveaway promotion.[9] In October that year, the University of Southwestern Louisiana's Alumni Association, Athletic Association, and its band named Polycarp the first "Mr. Acadiana," an honor it bestowed annually during the school's homecoming football game to the USL alumnus who best "fosters the tradition and the ideals of the school and of the area. . . ." (Plauché had graduated from the university in 1957.)[10] By 1967 Polycarp appeared in Lafayette-area parades driving a restored 1935 International Harvester vegetable truck, dubbed by KATC the "Poly-Car."[11]

In 1976, producer J. D. "Jay" Miller of Crowley, Louisiana, issued a 45 RPM record on his Yule Time record label featuring Polycarp reading “The Night Before Christmas.”[12]  (Listen to the recording here.)

Polycarp 45 RPM record, 1976.
Note that although his name is misspelled,
John Plauché is credited as the recording's writer.
(Source: Author's collection)  

Theme song

Polycarp's eponymous theme song (rendered "Polycarp Phillip Pecot #II" on the 45 RPM record label) was recorded in 1966 by local swamp pop musician Johnnie Allan to the tune of The McCoys' 1965 Number 1 hit song "Hang On Sloopy".[13]  (Listen to the recording here.)

Broadcast schedule

In spring 1969, "Polycarp and Pals" aired for one hour each weekday and Saturday beginning at 7 a.m. CST (although on some weekdays it ran for an hour and a half, ending at 8:30 a.m.).[14] There is some evidence that a short-lived spinoff program, "The Polycarp Palace," aired on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. beginning in October 1967.[15]

TV Guide listing for "Polycarp & Pals"
from Wednesday, April 30, 1969.
(Source: Author's collection)


Footnotes

1. Shane K. Bernard, The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003), p. 104.
2. Social Security Death Index, http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/
3. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles," Acadiana, July 1967, p. 3
4. Debrah Royer Richardson, "Performing Louisiana: The History of Cajun Dialect Humor and Its Impact on the Cajun Cultural Identity," Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Theatre, Louisiana State University, August 2007, p. 197.
5. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles," Acadiana, July 1967, p. 3.
6. Richardson, "Performing Louisiana, p. 197.
7. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles," Acadiana, July 1967, p. 3.
8. Ibid.; "Polycarp 'Mr. Acadiana,'" Acadiana, November 1967, p. 1.
9. "Polycarp's Pals Keep Postman Busy,"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 3.
10. "Polycarp 'Mr. Acadiana,'"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 1.
11. "This Is It . . . The Poly-Car,"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 1.
12. Polycarp, “The Night Before Christmas,” Yule Time 45 RPM record 45-1000, 1976.
13. Johnnie Allan, "Polycarp Phillip Pecot #II (Hang On Sloopy)," Jin label (Ville Platte, Louisiana) #198, 1966. See Johnnie Allan Singles.
14. TV Guide, 26 April-2 May 1969 (Louisiana edition).
15. Patti Taylor, "Camera Angles,"  Acadiana , November 1967, p. 3.


The "Poly-Car," a vehicle in which Polycarp
appeared in parades around the Lafayette area.
(Source: Acadiana [KATC-TV 3 newsletter])


Addendum of 4 February 2012

One day around 1972 when I was about five years old my family and I were boating on Lake Henderson in the Atchafalya Basin.  It was towards the end of the day and we were heading back to the landing.

As we crossed the stump-strewn lake Dad spotted a man in a small motor boat trying without success to start his outboard.

When the man saw us he waved for assistance, so Dad steered over to throw him a line.  As we drew near I recognized the luckless boater.  And I can imagine myself thinking with astonishment, "It's Polycarp!"

Of course, it was really John Plauché, but for me, as for many kids in Acadiana, Polycarp was not a character played by a local actor, but a real person.

To me the man I saw was Polycarp . . . in a boat . . . in the Atchafalaya Basin . . . and everyone knew from TV that Polycarp lived on a boat in the Atchafalaya Basin!

That was the day my family rescued Polycarp Phillip Pecot #II.

Addendum of 15 September 2014

I distinctly remember the pronunciation of the name "Polycarp" as POE-LEE-CAR in the Cajun French manner (with a silent final consonant).  I have been told by a few people, however — including Johnnie Allan, singer of the Polycarp theme song — that the correct pronunciation, as used in the show, was POE-LEE-CARP.  If you remember the pronunciation one way or another, please leave a note below describing how you said "Polycarp."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From Fighter Jets to Football: Origin of the Phrase "Ragin' Cajun"

As I've mentioned previously, I enjoy debunking myths.  One myth that came up recently is the claim that "UL Lafayette [the University of Louisiana at Lafayette] was the first [entity] to adopt the nickname Ragin’ Cajuns" (The [Lafayette] Independent, 17 January 2012).

Actually, according to archival documents U.S. Marine Corps Reserve fighter squadron VMF-143 adopted the nickname "Ragin' Cajun" as early as 1950. (Louisiana historian Carl A. Brasseaux made the discovery; I merely located a couple more documents that confirmed the finding.) Note that the squadron technically used the term in the singular tense; still, one sometimes finds the term applied to the squadron in the plural.


I found this Ragin' Cajun squadron logo in the National Archives;
note the date 1 December 1950 in the lower right corner.
(Source: National Archives and Records Administration,
Washington, D.C.)


In short, the U.S. Marines fighter squadron used the term over a decade before UL-Lafayette (known at the time as the University of Southwestern Louisiana, or USL, formerly Southwestern Louisiana Institute, SLI) informally adopted the nickname and about a quarter-century before the university formally adopted it.


Details from the back of the National Archives copy
of the Ragin' Cajun squadron logo, dated here 3 August 1956.
(Source: National Archives and Records Administration,
Washington, D.C.)


As I wrote in my book The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (2003):

South Louisianans who comprised Marine reserve squadron VMF-143 expressed ethnic pride by nicknaming themselves the Ragin' Cajuns, the earliest known use of this now familiar phrase. The squadron's emblem was a charging cartoon pelican (the Louisiana state bird) bedecked in boxing gloves and carrying a lighted bomb in its mouth. According to former squadron commander Carol Bernard, the Marine Corps activated several Ragin' Cajun pilots during wartime, transferred them to other squadrons, and sent them on combat missions over Korea in new jet fighters.

VMF-143, the Ragin' Cajun squadron, evidently posing somewhere
outside south Louisiana, given the hill in the background.  (Source: Carol Bernard, New Iberia, La.)


As for when UL-Lafayette began to use the "Ragin' Cajuns" nickname, I noted in The Cajuns:

During this same period [1974], USL officially renamed its football team the Ragin' Cajuns, a name it had informally adopted in 1963, when the school's student newspaper noted, "USL football fans are coining another nickname. . . . Instead of the official Battling Bulldogs, Southwestern boosters have started referring to Coach Russ Faulkinberry's squad as the Raging [sic] Cajuns" because nearly all the players were south Louisianians.  The school's other athletic teams soon were donning the name on their traditional red and white uniforms.

I date the official change of the team's name to 1974 because of the headline "Augie's Doggies Turn Cajun" appearing in the 1975 USL L'Acadien student yearbook.  The article featured the previous year's football season;  "Augie"  referred to then coach Augie Tammariello.

Although UL trademarked "Ragin' Cajuns," the Discovery Channel is now using the term as the title of a new "reality" program about Louisiana shrimpers.


A clearer version of the Ragin' Cajun fighter squadron logo (no date).
(Source: Carl A. Brasseaux Collection,
Southwestern Archives and Manuscripts Collection,
UL-Lafayette, Lafayette, La.)


Addendum of 11 April 2012:

I recently received an e-mail from John Hornung, a former member of the Ragin' Cajun squadron.  Mr. Hornung has written a memoir of his time in the Marine Corps, called Private 1543868 (available for purchase from Barnesandnoble.com by clicking here).  Below is an excerpt about the squadron from Mr. Hornung's book:
[O]n May 6, 1956, I enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve and joined VMF 143, the Ragin Cajuns. VMF 143 was a Marine Fighter Squadron stationed at Naval Air Station New Orleans on Lake Pontchartrain. As you entered the front gate of the Naval Air Station you passed under a large sign proclaiming, The Home of the Ragin Cajuns. The air base was located one and a half miles from my home.

An F4U Corsair, the original fighter plane
of the Ragin' Cajun squadron.
(Source: NASA.gov)

Since I would be going off to boot camp in a few weeks, I was assigned jobs requiring short learning curves. One of those jobs was conducting aircraft preflight checks and engine tests while our pilots attended briefings in the ready room. The aircraft of VMF 143 was the famous F4U Corsair of WWII in the Pacific. It also served with distinction in Korea. The fun part for us mechanics was strapping into the pilot seat and starting up the massive engine. Once warmed up we put the engine through its paces and conducted tests to check the engine’s condition. We checked oil and hydraulic pressures, instrument readings, and placed a load on the engine by increasing the pitch of the prop under increasing levels of RPMs. Once we completed our check out and shut down, the Corsair was ready for its pilot. I’m sure we had a swagger in our walk as we returned to the flight shack. . . . 

An AD4 Skyraider, which the
Ragin' Cajun squadron flew beginning in late 1956.
(Source: NASA.gov)

After returning from boot camp in December 1956, VMF 143 was relieved of its F4U Corsairs and given AD4 Skyraiders. AD4s were the largest single prop driven aircraft ever built. They carried the largest load of arms of any single engine aircraft. They served in the Korean War and in the Vietnam War. One shot down two Russian MiG jets in Vietnam. These were wonderful birds. We mechanics enjoyed working on them and checking them out for our pilots before takeoff. In 1957, while stationed for two weeks training at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Base North Carolina, VMF 143 set a unit record for total flying time. In January 1958 VMF 143 became VMA 143 and we received our first jet aircraft, F9F Cougars. The fun in the pilot seat ended. The F9Fs didn’t require any warm up and cockpit check out. We strapped our pilots in their seats and they taxied off with us covering our ears from the loud wine of the engine.

An F9F Cougar, the jet fighter to which the
Ragin' Cajun squadron would graduate in 1958.
(Source: NASA.gov)

Source: John Hornung, Private 1543868 (Williamsburg, Va.: Jack be Nimble Publishing, 2010).  Thanks to Mr. Hornung for permission to publish this excerpt.