Dispatches > The Buzz

Scooby? Where are you?

1970s classic makes a video comeback, as does pre-Nike sportswear, and Colt's .38 special is gunned down

Issue: "More clay than Potter," Oct. 30, 1999

Those meddling kids Jinkies! Despite cheap animation, virtually no budget, and endless repetition, Scooby-Doo has been king of children's TV for 30 years. Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy started tooling down the road in the Mystery Machine on CBS in September of 1969, one of programming guru Fred Silverman's first successes. Just think, the first generation to watch them is now pushing 40. Mr. Silverman wanted a cross between the teen sitcom Dobie Gillis and the classic radio serial I Love a Mystery. According to legend, Scooby's name came from misheard lyrics in Frank Sinatra's rendition of "Strangers in the Night" (Scooby Doobie-Doo). While made in the cost-cutter cartoon style of Hanna-Barbera, this was a break from the old Saturday morning mold; before Scooby-Doo, most 'toons didn't try to carry a single story over a half-hour. The show was an unexpected hit, in production off and on through 1991 and living on in cable TV reruns. Today the characters live on in made-for-video release; a new story called Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost features country star Billy Ray Cyrus singing the title song. (The original Scooby voice, Don Messick, died in 1997 and disk jockey Scott Innes now has the job.) Despite some ghostly titles, the shows were not occultish; in Scooby's world, the ghosts and goblins were always smoke and mirrors. At the end the bad guy, unmasked, would scowl and say, "I would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids." The simplified manner and familiar comedy bits were just enough to keep a grade-schooler watching week after week. In a style later seen on Murder She Wrote, whenever our heroes rode into town, strange goings-on started up. The scary bits were played for laughs more than thrills and everyone knew how the stories would end. The dog's "Rooby Roo" talk, mixed with the kids' 1960 slang, turned the dialogue into its own Scooby Doo dialect. Stick 'em up "Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal." That was the saying, but it's time to say goodbye to the .38 Special and other handguns sold by Colt's Manufacturing Co., the legendary gunmaker founded 144 years ago. Now, less than a third of the company's business is consumer handguns, and Colt will make mostly guns for collectors and governments, not the sort of thing a gun owner would use to defend himself in a dark alley. What seems obvious about the company's backtracking-and the major layoffs that come with it-is that Colt is reeling from lawsuits filed against gun manufacturers by 28 cities and counties around the country. Such suits seek to collect massive damages and put Samuel Colt's name in the same rogue's gallery as cigarette producer Phillip Morris. What can't be banned outright can be tortured into submission by lawyers. Colt is trying to save face in the midst of all this. The old slogan, "If it isn't a Colt, it's just a copy," is still emblazoned on the company's webpage. CEO Lt. General William Keys (USMC, retired) claims the cutbacks are part of normal business, not a reaction to political pressure. Yet one product that isn't going away shows where Colt may be headed. The Connecticut manufacturer announced recently that it was spinning off a company with the tacky name iColt, to produce the so-called "smart gun," which can only be fired by an authorized user. Demand for this weapon comes more from politicians than gun owners, but the race to develop the pistol continues. The Montreal Maroons? Could the clothes of the future be sports uniforms from the past? One up-and-coming retail chain called Ebbets Field Flannels sells the forgotten getup of old baseball, football, and hockey teams. The retailer, which has its first mall store in downtown Seattle and plans to go national, sells the look of teams like the 1954 Roswell Rockets, the 1937 Newark Tornadoes, and the 1934 Montreal Maroons. Visually, the tiny upstart store is quite a sight. Ebbets Field's clothes are the ultimate retro. It's a perfect example of using the pop culture of the past as a bulwark against the pop culture of the present. Except for some vintage NHL apparel, most of the store's pricey items are a sport's fan's headscratcher. (Who were the San Diego Gunners football team, anyway?) The style mixes sport, nostalgia, and the love of the local, of days when teams seemed less overpowering, less corporate, and less expensive. A look at the company's print catalog is a trip into what sports looked like before megapower licensing and Nike contracts. The company also sells its wares online at Ebbets.com and makes costumes for TV shows and movies. In baseball, the old Pacific Coast League, Negro Leagues, and pre-Castro Cuban Leagues were scrappy enough to keep their heads above water with far less exposure than the majors were. Today we would never find anything as off-the-wall as the Kalamazoo Celery Pickers or their ilk. This is part of America that only exists at minor league ballparks, and their history is usually too obscure to tell. Is this fashion or archaeology? Company owner Jerry Cohen describes Ebbets Field as the outpouring of his own obsession with old uniforms and his wish to give a voice to the "unsung heroes of the game."

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