Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lady Elaine's can

Bill Madison has posted a lengthy interview with Betty Aberlin of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Aberlin's comment on Fred Rogers' sense of humor started me wondering:

In some of the earlier operas, there were some wicked puns, that later on, the icon would not have engaged in. I’m trying to think of them. There was the pineapple can opera. . . . There was some kind of lyric that was pretty double-entendre.
It so happens that we have three Mister Rogers operas in the family archives, all taped from television: Pineapples and Tomatoes (first aired in 1970), Key to Otherland (1975), and Windstorm in Bubbleland (1980). So I sat down to watch all three. And I can report that, yes, Pineapples and Tomatoes contains what seems to be an extended bit of double-entendre.

A synopsis: John Reardon plays Vice President Reardon of the Pineapple Can Telephone Company. Lady Aberlin plays the Opera Operator. X the Owl plays Benjamin Franklin. Lady Elaine Fairchilde plays herself. In the first scene, as VP Reardon, Miss Aberlin, and Ben Franklin chat over pineapple juice, an angry call comes in from Lady Elaine Fairchilde. She doesn't like the company's pineapple cans. Says Reardon, "She likes tomatoes better." He goes off to see her. The double-entendre turns up in an exchange between them:
VP Reardon: May I see your pineapple can, Lady?

Lady Elaine: Here it is, my lovely can.

VP Reardon: And where is the picture of the pineapple?

Lady Elaine: On the other side.

VP Reardon: I'd like to check it please.

Lady Elaine: I'd rather you didn't.

VP Reardon: Lady, may I check your can?

Lady Elaine: You may if you can.
It turns out that Lady Elaine has placed a picture of a tomato on her can. It's not that she likes to eat tomatoes or feel them or smell them: she just likes the color red.

VP Reardon returns to the telephone company; Lady Elaine follows; and Ben Franklin, it turns out, has saved the day, by inventing new colors for the company's cans. Yes, red is one such color. VP Reardon and Miss Aberlin confess their love for one another, and thus the opera ends.

The canned humor in the above exchange is charming, as is the play on can and may. (Can I stay up till ten? Please? Yes, you can, but no, you may not.)

According to the Wikipedia article on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, there were thirteen Neighborhood operas. Why they haven't been issued on DVD as a boxed-set is beyond me. Until the real thing comes along, you can watch some of Pineapples and Tomatoes on YouTube, a transfer from somebody else's old videotape: Part One, Part Two.

Another Mister Rogers post
Blaming Mister Rogers

comments: 9

William V. Madison said...

Watching the few clips on YouTube, I'm reminded that Fred Rogers' operas were the first that I ever saw. The message he conveyed -- that opera was approachable, accessible, and fun -- took hold, and opera has become an important part of my personal and professional lives. Hard to measure Rogers' influence on me, though with Betty Aberlin's encouragement, I have been trying.

William V. Madison
The Aforementioned

Michael Leddy said...

My wife Elaine has had the same thought about the Neighborhood operas. And where else could one hear great jazz as a regular part of children's television?

Betty Aberlin said...

There was always an excuse about not putting the operas out in another form (book with accompanying CD, book&music for theater production, collection of videos/audios). These ranged like so: PBS doesn't like them as well as the regular programing, they're too whimsical, there's no market for them, let them stay as is in the video vault, they are too imperfect vocally, would have to be re-produced and we can't afford it.

suffice it to say that there was no interest from the suits now running Family Communications - in part because they feared that Fred was no longer "now" and/or "commercial". They present a hefty monetary reward (this year to the Jim Henson Foundation), but zip for the Operas - which I love so dearly, and not just because I was given a bit of freedom in them.

so good of you to suss out the can-can!

Betty Aberlin

Michael Leddy said...

Lady Aberlin, it's an honor to have your comments on the opera situation. Perhaps someday it'll be set right.

You and everyone in the Neighborhood are beloved parts of our family's life, even if our children are now twenty and twenty-two.

Michael's daughter Rachel said...

Lady Aberlin!!! I cannot tell you what a treat it is to see your comment on my dad's blog!

WTG, Dad!!!!!

Michael's son Ben said...

I second that comment!

Elaine Fine said...

And here's an enthusiastic third from Michael's wife and the mother of his children!

Jack said...

Maybe I'm naive, but I didn't find anything double-entendre in the pineapple can exchange. Just a rather weak pun about "can" and "may." Maybe the people who see something scandalous in the exchange are just reading too much into it.

Michael Leddy said...

Hardly scandalous. But can can mean “buttocks.”