A year or two ago, Eve was watching a Family Channel show called The Latest Buzz, about five ninth-graders who get hired to revitalize a struggling Teen magazine. I liked this show quite a bit, even before I heard them refer to their high school as Ernie Coombs High, which had Eve rolling her eyes and asking why I was freaking out. Because Ernie Coombs is a Canadian god, child, how have I not communicated that to you yet?
The theme song still makes me smile giddily. It reminds me of fireflies dancing a mad reel (possibly after a hit of cocaine). It’s one of the greatest disappointments of my life that I’ve never learned to play it on the piano.
So I did a little research to refresh my memory for this post and – you guys – I totally thought Ernie Coombs was born in Canada. He was born in MAINE. He didn’t come here until he was almost FORTY. Mind. Blown (he became a Canadian citizen in 1994, so it’s all good). He was Mr. Rogers’ understudy! Mind. Blown. Again. Mr. Dressup was actually originally a character in a show called Butternut Square that only ran for three years – Coombs then took the character into a spin-off that crushed the original show. It was like The Simpsons of children’s programming!
It’s a strange experience watching episodes of Mr. Dressup on Youtube. Casey’s bowl cut and extravagantly rosy cheeks are the tiniest bit creepy now (“and he has no eyes! I’m scared!” Eve said). The parts where Mr. Dressup visits them in their treehouse and then goes back into the house, only to have them pop up behind a counter are a little unsettling too – but not as much as when Casey is perched on the top of the couch with a pair of unmoving legs dangling over, *shudder*. That said, Ernie Coombs has one of the kindest faces I’ve ever seen, and his interaction with the puppets is always totally genuine (I don’t mean to be a hater, but I always found Mr. Rogers a bit cloying). Dude had mad drawing skills too – check out the rocking market bag and bunch of bananas in this episode.
Noodling around on the internet looking for Mr. Dressup references turns up some interesting stuff; in a taped rehearsal, Mr. Dressup actually says “get out of here, you old fart” at one point (scandal! outrage!). Also, on some dating site frequented by people of questionable recall skills and intelligence, a debate broke out over whether Casey was a boy or a girl. The Wikipedia article says that Casey’s gender was left ambiguous purposely, although there is no citation for this. Someone on the site questioned whether Mr. Dressup was introducing kids to alternative lifestyles with an ambiguously gendered character, and someone else piped up “well when I was growing up we all thought Casey and Finnegan were gay.”
Um, ‘scuse me? The next comment said “I think you mean Bert and Ernie.” I SHOULD HOPE SO, since Casey is a four-and-a-half year old and Finnegan is his DOG, light up another spliff and quit ruining everyone’s childhood will ya?
I remember being so sad when I heard that Ernie Coombs’ wife died after being hit by a car in 1992. She ran the Butternut Day Care, and in my mind they’re this perfect, loving, nurturing couple who should have had more years together. Coombs died in 2001. But we have a blue bench with a storage compartment in the basement that we call the Tickle Trunk, and I know we’re not the only ones.