Annotated "Bye Bye Birdie"

There seem to be an unusual amount of topical pop culture references in "Bye Bye Birdie". Not to mention some old-timey terms; at least old-timey to us living forty five years later. Maybe "obscure" would be more accurate. I can imagine someone going totally nuts with detailed essays on every proper noun and some of the more unusual common nouns used in the script. That could turn into a book. Here's a much briefer list based on some quick research. I didn't want to include everything, but it's a fine line deciding what's obscure and what's familiar. Some things that I might think are common knowledge might draw a blank stare from today's teens. So here's my stab at a minimal list of things that need explaining in the world of the early 1960s to more fully enjoy the little jokes tossed around in the show or at least to gain a better understanding of just what the heck the characters are talking about. (Surely there's something out there already doing what I'm trying to do here, only more completely, professionally, and interestingly???)

Act One, Scene 1

Arpege This perfume was first sold in 1927. You can still buy it today (around $40 for a 1.7 ounce bottle). It smells of honeysuckle, jasmine, roses and orange blossoms. Albert's quote is an advertising slogan first used when the product was introduced.
Rosie: A five-dollar raise in 1954 and a bottle of Arpege last Christmas.
Albert: Promise her anything but give her Arpege, Rosie.
Rosie: Yeah, but not a sixteenth of an ounce!
dentifrice This is just a fancy word for toothpaste; although it could be any tooth-cleaning substance, not just a paste.
Albert: Oh one last kiss; it gives so much bliss...what is your dentifrice!

Act One, Scene 4

jerries The Allies in World War I referred to Germans as "jerries", probably not as a term of endearment.
Albert: ...he cried eagerly, "Do you suppose I can get assigned to the front-line trenches? That way I'll be sure to get me one of those dirty jerries..."
Rosie: Albert!
Albert: ...Or whoever's dirty this time!

Act One, Scene 7

Nero Roman Emperor from 54-68 A.D. Born 12/15/37. Died 06/09/68. Known for fiddling.
Mr. MacAfee: Parliament has been dissolved; the Magna Carta is revoked, and Nero is back in town!
Ed Sullivan Variety show impresario. Born 09/28/1902. Died 10/13/1974. "The Ed Sullivan Show" ran from 1948 -- it was called "Toast Of The Town" then -- until 1971.
Albert: I just got the confirmation from New York. From Ed Sullivan himself.

Act One, Scene 8

Margo/Shangri-La In 1937's "Lost Horizon" (based on the book of the same name), a group of travelers are stuck in a utopia called Shangri-La, somewhere in the Himalayas. One of the residents of Shangri-La is Maria, played by Margo, a Mexican dancer and actress. When the travelers finally escape, Maria insists on going with them. But outside the realm of Shangri-La, her youthful beauty can no longer be maintained and she reverts to her true age, causing her to die and her appearance to transform to the hideously withered, wrinkled features of someone who has lived way beyond a normal life span.
Mrs. Peterson: This is Rose? I can't believe it. She looks like Margo when they took her out of Shangri-La.

Act Two, Scene 1

Albert Schweitzer Nobel Prize winner. Born 01/14/1875. Died 09/04/1965. Schweitzer was a theologian and musician before becoming a doctor at age 38. Then he started a hospital in Africa. For his work there, and his writings and lectures, he received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. With the Nobel money, he started a leper colony. I can only speculate as to why Rosie would say she's not his type.
Kim: All men can't be like that!
Rosie: Every one of them! Except maybe Albert Schweitzer. And I'm not his type.
Benedict Arnold/Mussolini American traitor. Born 01/14/1741. Died 06/14/1801.
Italian dictator. Born 07/29/1883. Died 04/28/1945.
Rosie: They're all the same. From puberty to senility...from Benedict Arnold to Mussolini...
Ingrid Bergman Oscar winning actress. Born 08/29/1915. Died 08/29/1982. In 1950 she had an out-of-wedlock son with Italian director Roberto Rossellini (not Mussolini), which was quite the scandal, and a few months later married him. (And seven years after that, they divorced.)
Kim: I never understood why Ingrid Bergman married him in the first place.

Act Two, Scene 2

terramycin This antibiotic was approved by the FDA in 1950. You may know it by its generic name, tetracycline. It's used mostly for skin problems, such as acne.
Mrs. Peterson: Wait for me, Conrad! I'll make you a nice hot cup of terramycin.
Henry Luce Publisher. Born 04/03/1898. Died 02/28/1967. Luce was a co-founder of Time, Inc. in 1922. By the time of "Bye Bye Birdie", his empire included Time, Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated. (Today, Time, Inc. publishes 150 magazines and is a division of Time Warner.)
Albert: can print that in whatever cheap paper you happen to represent! (Pause) It's not a paper, it's a magazine. (Another pause) And it's not Mr. Lewis... It's Mr. Luce.

Act Two, Scene 4

Sammy Kaye Bandleader. Born 03/13/1910. Died 06/02/1987. His big band was popular enough to sustain a TV variety show for 10 years starting in 1950.
Mr. MacAfee (singing "Kids"): What's wrong with Sammy Kaye?
Amapola The song, "Amapola", was first published in 1924, but it became a #1 hit for the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra in 1941.
Rosie: From now on the sky's the limit...parties...balls...dances! Amapola, my pretty Ama... What's going on in there?

Act Two, Scene 6

Peter Lawford Actor. Born 09/07/1923. Died 12/24/1984. Member of Frank Sinatra's rat pack, Lawford was also part of the Kennedy family by marriage to John F. Kennedy's sister.
Mr. MacAfee: I intend calling the FBI! Who's the head of it now, dear? Is it Peter Lawford yet?
Flying Down To Rio/Greed 1933's musical "Flying Down To Rio" starred Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond. It was also the first movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. "Greed" is from 1924. The only connection I can see which might make them a great double bill is that they both involve love triangles.
Albert: Great double bill tonight... "Flying Down To Rio" and "Greed"!
Dolores Del Rio Actress. Born 08/03/1905. Died 04/11/1983. Originally from Mexico, Dolores Del Rio was a regular on the Hollywood party circuit when she was discovered in the 1920s and made a career in both silent movies and the talkies.
Albert: Gosh, I'll always remember that great cast. Dolores Del Rio...
Gene Raymond Actor. Born 08/13/1908. Died 05/03/1998. He debuted on Broadway at age 12 and had 40 years of work in the movies.
Mr. MacAfee: And Gene Raymond...
Mr. Keen "Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons" was a radio show that ran from 1937-1955. Mr. Keen was played by several people over the years, and apparently the crimes rarely involved the need to trace lost persons.
Mr. MacAfee: Call Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons!
The Shadow "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" The Shadow was a popular radio and comics character for many years, fighting crime in a dark, mysterious way. Lamont Cranston was a man ("wealthy young man about town") whose identity the Shadow sometimes assumed.
Mr. MacAfee: Call the Shadow! Look him up under Lamont Cranston...

Act Two, Scene 7

Murad These cigarettes appear to have been popular in the early 20th century.
Kim: Mmm, that is refreshing. Of course, I do prefer a Murad, but these'll do.
Granada The original version of this song, about Granada, Spain, came out in 1932 in Spanish. Popular versions have also been recorded in English and as instrumentals.
Rosie (singing "Spanish Rose"): The only song I'll sing will be "Granada".
Abbe Lane Singer and actress. Born 12/14/1932. Abbe Lane is Jewish. She became popular initially in Italian movies. For many years she was known as a nightclub singer of Latin songs, due to her marriage to Xavier Cugat. Fun fact: She was Beebe Gallini on "The Brady Bunch", the owner of a cosmetics company who wanted Mike to design a new factory for her.
Rosie (singing "Spanish Rose"): I'll be more Espagnol than Abbe Lane!

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Last updated 10 Feb 2007.