Glossary of Names and Terms Used in Meredith Willson's The Music Man
One reason Meredith Willson's great American musical The Music Man is appealing is because of the fast paced and witty dialog. However, there are a few terms and expressions used in the show that cause most of us to run to dictionaries and encyclopedias. I believe that the performers and the audience always get a lot more out of a show if they understand the meaning behind the dialog and have a better feeling for the historical perspective of the show. To this end, I have written a short glossary.
We also refer the curious reader to Excursus #22 of The Toad's Words.
Captain Billy's Whiz Bang
After serving in World War I, Wilford H. "Captain Billy" Fawcett began printing a small bulletin of barracks humor for disabled servicemen in a veterans' hospital. A wholesaler picked up the publication and started selling it in hotels and drugstores. Captain Billy's Whiz Bang is considered the great grandfather of the National Lampoon and other humor magazines. Once considered risqué, it is now considered a mirror of contemporary society in the Roaring Twenties. Fawcett eventually built a successful magazine line with True, Cavalier, True Confessions, and Mechanix Illustrated. Fawcett eventually turned to paperbacks producing the famous Fawcett Gold Medal line. Note: If Captain Billy's Whiz Bang did not appear until after World War I, then Prof. Harold Hill's line in The Music Man is an anachronism.
The Uneeda Biscuit
Up to the 1880s, crackers were unbranded and typically sold loose in cracker barrels. But Adolphus Green, who had created the National Biscuit Company through the acquisition of many small bakeries, decided to develop a distinctive, nationally branded product that would take advantage of the manufacturing and marketing strengths of his new company. In 1889, Green hired the N. W. Ayer advertising agency to help develop the new product. After considering and rejecting a variety of names, Green settled on the name Uneeda Biscuit ("biscuit," Green decided, was more elegant than "cracker"). The product would be manufactured in a distinctive octagonal shape and sold in a waterproof wax paper-lined box.
Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was regarded by John Philip Sousa as the "Father of The American Band." Gilmore was born in 1829 on Christmas Day in County Galway, Ireland. He immigrated to Boston in 1849 where he became famous as a cornet soloist and bandleader. In 1857 he founded Gilmore's Band which featured two woodwinds for each brass instrument. This is the same as used in modern concert bands. He wrote "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and "22nd Regiment March". It was Patrick Gilmore and his band who started the tradition of greeting the New Year in Times Square. Gilmore died in 1892.
William Christopher Handy is considered the "Father of the Blues." He was born in a log cabin in Florence, Alabama, on 16 November 1873. Handy, a piano and trumpet player, left Florence and embarked on a musical odyssey that carried him to St. Louis and Memphis. With the publication of "Memphis Blues" in 1912, Handy standardized a unique, original form of American music that became known as "the blues". Later compositions, from "St. Louis Blues" to "Beale St. Blues", established gritty, soulful standards for this heartfelt musical genre.
In the 1920s, Handy moved to New York City and became a successful music publisher. Handy died in 1958.
John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa, or "March King" as he was known throughout the world, was born in Washington, D.C. in 1854. Sousa was both a band leader and a composer. Sousa was the director of the U.S. Marine Corps Band from 1880 to 1892. After being discharged from the Marine Corps he formed his own band and gave concerts worldwide. His marches include: "Semper Fidelis," "The Washington Post," "El Capitan," and "Stars and Stripes Forever." Sousa died in 1932.
The Great Creatore
Giuseppe Creatore, born in Naples, Italy 21 June 1871, came to the US in 1900 and toured from coast to coast and in Canada. In 1906 he returned to Italy and formed another band, which he brought back to the US. Creatore's Band recorded songs on 78 LPs such as "Electric March" and "American Army March.." He then settled in New York, and was active as impresario of various opera companies, which however were not successful; conducted band concerts during summer seasons in various U.S. cities. He died in New York on 15 August, 1952.
Frank Gotch, born in Humboldt, Iowa on 27 April 1878, is considered by many to be the first great professional wrestling champion. He is famous for his "step-over toe-hold." On Labor Day in 1908, Gotch, the then American Heavyweight Champion, defeated World Heavyweight Champion, George Hackenschmidt, at Comiskey Park in Chicago to unify the two titles. Gotch died in 1917.
Ed "Strangler" Lewis was born Robert Herman Julius Friedrich in Wisconsin in 1889. Around 1910, he took the name Lewis from a wrestler of the previous century known as Evan "The Strangler" Lewis, a master of the strangle hold. Ed "Strangler" Lewis never used the illegal strangle hold but developed the legal headlock which, when properly applied, would render the opponent unconscious. In the days of Gotch and Lewis, there was no time limit on matches. There is no evidence that Gotch and Lewis ever fought.
Dan Patch (a big, light bay colt born in Indiana in 1897) was perhaps the best-known harness race horse of the Twentieth Century. He traveled the country by rail in his own private boxcar staging exhibitions. In 1906, he paced the mile in 1:55 - a record that remained unbeaten for 32 years. By the time he died in 1916 there was a chewing tobacco, a washing machine, and a dance named after him. Dan Patch was a "pacer," not a "trotter."
A hogshead is a very large barrel or cask with varying capacity to hold liquid. In the US a hogshead is 63 gallons (238 liters).
A demijohn is a very large bottle, sometimes up to 10 gallons in capacity. Most were hand blown and some have pontiled bottoms. They were used as containers to hold wine, molasses, and other liquids. Common colors were olive green and aqua, while amber is rarer and cobalt blue the rarest color for demijohns.
A noggin is a small cup or mug, usually of alcoholic beverage, about a quarter of a pint.
A piggin is a small wooden pail with one stave longer than the rest to serve as a handle.
A small wooden cask used to hold liquids, fish, butter, and other commodities. In England, it is a unit of measure - a quarter of a barrel. A firkin equals about 9 imperial gallons, or 56 pounds.
A cask holding the old unit of liquid measure of the same name equal to 42 US gallons.
Knickerbockers are also known as knickers. They are a short, loose-fitting pant gathered in just at or below the knee. The term probably comes from the costume shown in illustrations of Washington Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York.
Geoffrey Chaucer was the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages. He wrote The Canterbury Tales, a group of stories ranking among the masterpieces of literature. Chaucer was born in London around 1340 and died in 1400.
Francois Rabelais, a French humanist, is one of the comic geniuses of literature. Rabelais was born in about 1483 in Poitu, France. He was a Benedictine monk and became a physician. Rabelais' satirical masterpiece, Gargantua and Pantagruel, is a collection of five books. Beneath the often ribald humor of the book are serious discussions of education, religion, politics, and philosophy. The third book in this tome was condemned as heresy by the Sorbonne. He died in Paris in 1553.
Honoré de Balzac was a French writer of realist novels. Balzac was born in Tours, France on 20 May 1799. Balzac conceived of the idea of collecting his novels into one mammoth continuum entitled La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy.) Balzac infuses his novels with extreme realism. His description of background is almost as important as his development of character. Balzac died on 18 August 1850.
The dried, unripe berry of a climbing vine of the pepper family - sometimes called tailed pepper. Cubebs used to be crushed and smoked in pipes and cigarettes. Hence, cubebs are cigarettes containing the crushed berries.
Tailor-mades are machine made cigarettes. These came into existence around 1880.
Sen-Sen was the Tic Tac of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sen-Sen was developed before the turn of the century by T.B. Dunn and Co., perfume dealers. Hence, Sen-Sen was sold as a breath perfume. Sen-Sen can still be purchased today.
Balkline is a version of carom billiards with lines drawn on a billiard table to form rectangles. Balkline lost its popularity in the 1930's and gradually was replaced in popularity by pocket billiards or pool. Billiards refers to all games played on a billiard table, with or without pockets. However, some people take billiards to mean the carom games only (no pockets) and pool to mean the pocket billiard games. In the nineteenth century a "poolroom" was a betting parlor for horse racing. ("Pool" means a collective bet.) Pocket billiard tables were installed so patrons could pass the time between races. The two became connected and the "pool-room" developed bad connotations.
Steelies are marbles made of steel. They originally were the steel balls out of ball bearings.
Aggies are marbles made out of agate.
Peewees refer to smaller marbles, usually 1/2 inch in diameter or less.
Glassies are glass marbles.
O'Clark, O'Mendez, O'Klein
Herbert L. Clarke was a cornetist with John Philip Sousa. He was famous for his solo arrangements of numbers like the Carnival of Venice.
His archives reside at the University of Illinois.
Herbert L. Clarke
Mannie Klein was a trumpet player who was comfortable playing both jazz and classical music.
Rafael Mendez was a great Hollywood trumpeter of the thirties and forties.
The "O" in front of each name in The Music Man is Harold Hill's reference to the
Paroo's being Irish.
Cote a'Shropshyre sheep
Cote is a shelter or shed for small animals or birds.
Shropshire sheep are a medium-wooled sheep grown mainly for the meat they produce.
Copyright © Michael L. Van Blaricum, 1999-2009 -- All rights reserved.
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- 5 March 1999
Updated - 3 December 2009