Wednesday, September 05, 2007

My Hero

I recently re-embarked on an old search and finally found my very first, long-lost hero. Who is a cartoon character....

When I was very young, Wally the Watch, a character who made one appearance on Casper the Friendly Ghost, captivated me. Wally first appeared in a 1951 short called "Land of Lost Watches," in which Casper didn't figure at all -- though until very recently I didn't remember those details. I probably saw the short after it was edited together with others for syndication and plunked into a Casper half hour.

All I remembered was that I'd seen Wally and fallen head over heels in love with him. So much so that I re-created him in my child's mind and endowed him with supernatural powers far beyond anything he'd had in the cartoon. (Years later I would give those same powers to my fantasy alter-ego.) And I remember a childhood dream in which I was walking on the ocean floor and met Wally, who was sitting on a sunken log. We shared some small talk I don't remember, but I was thrilled to finally meet him face to face.

He was my protector. I convinced my parents to buy me a wind-up alarm clock that looked like him. Except that the alarm clock didn't have eyes and it was purple instead of gold. And since purple was my favorite color, that was okay.

It wasn't Wally, but it was okay.

As an adult I was left with the mystery: What about this character enthralled me so much that I transformed him into something much greater than he was and then depended on him for my psychological well-being?

Years ago I searched for Wally on the Internet and couldn't find him. Eventually I gave up. Recently I did another search and came across HarveyToons: The Complete Collection, which consists of four two-sided discs containing a total of 19 hours of HarveyToons. That's 52 episodes. And each episode contains three shorts plus a brief "Toon Take."

In other words, 156 shorts plus 52 Toon Takes.

Of those, one short is "Land of Lost Watches."

Of course I plunked down $25.99 (free shipping!) so that I could see a few minutes of Wally.

Here's the short in a nutshell:

1. Billy and Isabel, brother and sister, sit in a boat and catch a fish who talks. The fish, named Red Lantern, takes them to the sea floor with the help of magic seaweed that lets the children breathe underwater.

2. They enter the Land of the Lost, ruled by a walrus named King Find-All. There they meet Wally Pocketwatch. Wally used to belong to their father, who is a doctor. They also meet the love of Wally's life ("the tick-tock of my heart"), Rosita Wristwatch. Rosita belonged to a "lady acrobat." And boy, has she got legs.

3. Rosita is sent off to the Big Time. But that would separate her from Wally, who as a doctor's watch is destined to work in the Watch-pital. Sadness ensues.

4. Billy convinces King Find-All to let Wally enter the Big Time with Rosita because "Wally's timing was always perfect." But Wally, alas, bombs on stage. More sadness.

5. Rosita's up next. She thrills the audience (made up of Billy, Isabel, and a rogue's gallery of lost timepieces) with a high-wire act. But then she falls and is rushed to the Watch-pital. Yet more sadness.

6. Enter Wally ("Stand back everyone! I'm a doctor's watch!"), who dons a jeweler's loupe and performs surgery on Rosita with tweezers, sponge, oil can, jewels, screwdriver, mainspring, and a heart-shaped balance wheel. He becomes resolute and commanding, a far cry from the amiable milquetoast turned hopeless klutz from earlier in the short.

7. Rosita at first doesn't respond. ("Tick to me!") Much more sadness. But then she recovers! All is well in the Land of the Lost. Red Lantern returns Billy and Isabel to their boat and then splashes off toward the horizon. The End.

I'll ignore for the moment (as I did way back when) the relative passivity of the female characters and the unresolved matter of whether or not Wally and Rosita will have a commuter relationship after all. Wally was at first rejected, booed offstage because he couldn't dance, and then he took charge and essentially brought his beloved back from the dead.

Yeah, I'd call that good hero material. Survive all that sadness and being picked on and then save the day by being a miracle worker. I like that in a protector. So I gave Wally the power to manipulate energy beams and force fields and a whole bunch of other things, and Rosita and the rest of that gang left the picture entirely. And I was able to fall asleep at night because nobody was gonna mess with me while Wally was around. At least in my head.

(Copyright -- now owned by Sony -- prohibits me from posting the still shots I photographed off my computer screen.)

Somewhere around the time I first saw Wally -- I don't know if it was before or after I saw the cartoon, but it was before kindergarten -- I was whisked away by a strong undertow off Montauk Point, Long Island. It took my mother and her brother struggling together to retrieve me. But I was never afraid while I was underwater. I knew how to hold my breath because I'd learned to swim in the bathtub. (I was pissed when I grew too big to be able to do that.) At Montauk Point the undertow pulled my feet out from under me and I tumbled around and around, not knowing which way was up -- but everything around me was beautiful. After some moments I realized I'd need to breathe soon, so I started feeling a little concerned. But I wasn't afraid. The next thing I knew I was being hauled up into the air, my mother grasping one arm and my uncle grasping the other.

Back in Brooklyn I felt I'd almost drowned in the Community Center pool because the other kids kept pushing my head underwater. That was ugly. The ocean was beautiful. At the Center I was told I was overreacting. At Montauk I felt as though my relatives overreacted, considering their emotional state once they'd pulled me to safety.

I doubt I'll ever know which came first, seeing the pocketwatch at the bottom of the ocean bringing his love back to life, or my supposed near-drowning off Montauk Point.

But then, I didn't think I'd ever find Wally again.

Deviations: Covenant can be pre-ordered from Aisling Press. The Deviations page has additional details.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:46 AM  
Blogger shellmar1968 said...

Too funny...This was my all time favorite cartoon as a child. I was searching for it when I came across your blog. Thanks for the info.


10:27 PM  

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