One of the points I keep making around here is that there is very little fantasy in the Haunted Mansion. It's not like a movie or a show depicting a make-believe world or a world remote in time and/or place. Nor is it a world that you are watching like God from some unseen vantage point. Quite the contrary; if you stipulate that ghosts exist, everything else about the attraction is presented as if it were a real-world location that you yourself are physically visiting. As I've said before, I've said this before.
Another, related point that I have made now and then is that the notion that ghosts are real is presented in the HM as truly a fantasy element by anyone's measure, even by people who really do believe in ghosts, since these ghosts turn out to be fun-loving spooks intent on nothing more serious than having a big party. Even true believers don't think that the spirits of the dead gather in retirement communities and are just itching to come out and boogie. Without giving it sufficient thought, I have suggested elsewhere that this comic twist is original. Um . . . not quite. I've changed my mind about that, and this post explains why.
Zest in Peace
Already in "The Skeleton Dance" (1929) you had a cartoon about the dead coming out at midnight for a musical romp, and of course "Lonesome Ghosts" (1937) has impish spirits who scare people for laughs. Those are perhaps the most famous ones, but there are other early cartoons in the same vein. They certainly contain elements of the HM formula, but in all cases the jolly spooks are simply characters in a comical fantasy world, so the frolicking doesn't come as any big surprise. By the time the dancing skeletons and jokester ghosts show up, we've already accepted anthropomorphic cats and talking mice the same size as ducks, so it isn't much of a leap.
Besides those, we have already seen (or heard, I should say) that before the Haunted Mansion came along, the basic "silly spook" idea was already there in comic songs about midnight jamborees and swingin' séances and the like. In my original post on the topic, I overlooked what is perhaps the oldest example of such songs and only added it to the end of the post after it was brought to my attention by faithful Forgottenista Melissa. It's "When the Night Wind Howls," or Sir Roderick's song, from the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse (1887). After adding it to the post, I didn't give it any further thought, but I should have.
The opera was originally called Ruddygore, but after complaints that this was a bit too
gruesome, G & S changed the spelling to Ruddigore. "Ruddy," of course, means red.
As far as I can tell at this point, Ruddigore is the earliest clear example of a popular entertainment presenting the audience with reasonably well-adjusted ghosts who carry on a social life in our world much like the living and materialize at midnight for the sole purpose of having a good time. Importantly, they manifest themselves in a world that is supposed to mirror our own—within the conventions of comic opera, of course. Liberal as such conventions are, there are not and could not be talking animals or people blithely defying natural laws in Ruddigore. Furthermore, the ghosts are altogether frightening at first, and their predilection for merry-making comes as a surprising new revelation. We have something close to the whole formula here.
I think it not at all unlikely that the Disney Imagineers were familiar with Ruddigore and that it may well have been a seminal influence on people like X Atencio and Marc Davis. At least in Long-Forgotten land, that qualifies as a big deal.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ruddigore, it's a comedy bordering on farce, burlesquing many of the conventions of stage melodramas. For our purposes, all you need to know is that the plot involves a family curse that requires the head of a noble family to perform some dastardly deed every day or else die in agony. The current baronet, Robin Murgatroyd, is too timid and too virtuous to fulfill his duty properly, and it falls to the ghosts of his ancestors to pay him a visit and see that he begins to take his destiny more seriously. Apparently they can still suffer if the current baronet is negligent in committing his daily crime, and the spirits are prepared to torture him into compliance if necessary.
The critical scene opens with the ancestral ghosts making their appearance by stepping out of their portraits, and their spokesman is a certain Sir Roderick Murgatroyd, Robin's uncle. After Roderick identifies himself, Robin exclaims, "Alas, poor ghost!" Roderick's reply is our money quote:
The pity you express for nothing goes;
We spectres are a jollier crew than you, perhaps, suppose!
"We spectres are a jollier crew than you, perhaps, suppose."
Isn't that the whole Haunted Mansion show in a nutshell?
I can't think of a more succinct or a more apt summary.
From The Illustrated London News, Jan. 29, 1887 (Robin is prostrate with terror.)
Roderick and his ghastly company then break into a song about lively spooks come out to socialize. To the best of my knowledge, it's the granddaddy of them all. You will recall from our earlier post that this was a popular genre, with exemplars stretching down through a heyday in the 30's and 40's to a last gasp in the 60's with "The Monster Mash" and "Grim Grinning Ghosts." * The lyrics to "Sir Roderick's Song" are strikingly similar to GGG in both form and content, so you might say the genre ends where it began. As for the tune, I have to admit that it took awhile to grow on me, but I've come to like it. (Yo, all you guitar heroes out there: it isn't hard to imagine a Metal arrangement. Get busy.)
Sir Roderick's Song (When the Night Wind Howls)
When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, and the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds, sail over the midnight skies--
When the footpads quail at the night-bird's wail, and black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres' holiday--then is the ghosts' high-noon!
CHORUS. Ha! ha!
Then is the ghosts' high-noon!
As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees, and the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tomb-stones are gathered the bones that once were women and men,
And away they go, with a mop and a mow, to the revel that ends too soon,
For cockcrow limits our holiday--the dead of the night's high-noon!
CHORUS. Ha! ha!
The dead of the night's high-noon!
And then each ghost with his ladye-toast to their churchyard beds takes flight,
With a kiss, perhaps, on her lantern chaps, and a grisly grim "good-night";
Till the welcome knell of the midnight bell rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers in our next high holiday--the dead of the night's high-noon!
CHORUS. Ha! ha!
The dead of the night's high-noon!
Ha! ha! ha! ha!
As uncle Roderick strolls about onstage singing about "grisly grim" good-nights and "the welcome knell of the midnight bell" in a booming baritone, it's like seeing a more mobile version of "Uncle Theodore," Thurl Ravenscroft's singing bust.
There are clips of several different performances of this scene on Youtube as of this writing. THIS ONE is particularly good and includes the entire ghost scene. In productions like this one, it's difficult NOT to think of the graveyard jamboree in the Haunted Mansion.
For Ruddigore, Gilbert and Sullivan borrowed ideas from their own earlier work. The device of having ancestors step out of their portraits had already been used in Ages Ago (1869), as we have seen elsewhere, and the lyrics of "When the Night Wind Howls" were inspired in part by a Gilbert poem published previously in Fun magazine:
The flowery, lovesick mood of the poem is unlike anything in the Mansion, but many of the concepts are similar, such as the idea that there are myriads of ghosts running around having a good time, and that they get a bang out of scaring people, and the idea that they greatly appreciate morbid, cold, and corrupted things that we mortals find appalling, which is milked for humorous purposes. One recalls the Ghost Host's comments about how "delightfully unlivable" the place is, with "wall to wall creeps and hot and cold running chills."
As Puck Would Have It
Another remarkable precursor to the grim grinning premise of the Haunted Mansion can be found a few decades later. Just as we have in the wake of Ruddigore a string of novelty songs about reveling revenants, so too we have a subsequent graphic presentation of the same basic joke, dating in this case to 1906.
(Credit for this discovery goes to Craig Conley)
We see a group of happy ghosts in 18th century attire, drinking punch and celebrating at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Some old walrus in then-contemporary dress is looking on, unperturbed. His artistic function in the cartoon is to represent us the readers, not terribly different from the sketchy figures Claude Coats put in his concept sketches to represent the Disneyland guests.
There he sits, looking on from his doombuggy, as it were.
Let's crop him out, leaving only ourselves as observers.
Let's crop him out, leaving only ourselves as observers.
You know, that could almost pass for a Marc Davis concept sketch (and Conley is certainly justified in calling it a precursor to Davis's work). You can easily imagine this little group at one end or the other of the Grand Ballroom. Of course, the Mansion is up and operating all year round, so Christmas is a poor choice for a celebratory occasion, as it is tied to one spot on the calendar (Tim Burton notwithstanding). Anonymous celebrations without predetermined dates, like weddings or birthdays, work better in a ride, so we make that simple substitution, and voilà.
The ghost sketch is by Louis M. Glackens and appeared in the November 28, 1906 edition of Puck. Puck
(1871-1918) was America's first successful humor and satire magazine. Here's an outrageous cover from 1912:
The magazine featured superb work by a stable of immensely talented
artists, including Glackens, who produced many full-color covers.
(A Glackens cover)
Puck is one of those sources concerning which it is safer to assume that the Disney artists knew it and consulted it than to assume that they did not. As for L. M. Glackens, he is a very interesting fellow. In addition to being a great graphic artist, he was an animator for awhile, back in the 'teens, back when the art form was truly in its infancy. Furthermore, he will forever enjoy a unique and important
connection to joy buzzers and whoopee cushions. Immortality indeed.
Now that you're curious, you can read more about him HERE.
Gilbert and Sullivan, and L. M. Glackens, are among the earliest talents to present to the public fun-loving ghosts of the type we find in the Haunted Mansion, and some of the details of their work are close enough to the Disney project to raise suspicions about the possibility of direct influence. I expect that readers out there will have varying opinions about the strength of that possibility. I don't suppose we will ever know the truth, but in any event, I no longer think that the silly spooks of the Mansion are quite as unprecedented as I once did.
*Some may argue that 1984's "Ghostbusters" qualifies as the last major example of the genre, but I think the song lacks too many of the distinctive features that most comic ghost songs share in common.
Some prior art from Gilbert and Sullivan that includes some ghostly images from 1877 (10 years before Ruddigore):ReplyDelete
WELLS. Sprites of earth and air--
Fiends of flame and fire--
Come here in shoals,
This dreaded deed inspire!
Appear, appear, appear.
MALE VOICES. Good master, we are here!
WELLS. Noisome hags of night--
Imps of deadly shade--
Arise in hosts,
And lend me all your aid.
Appear, appear, appear!
Now shrivelled hags, with poison bags,
Discharge your loathsome loads!
Spit flame and fire, unholy choir!
Belch forth your venom, toads!
Ye demons fell, with yelp and yell,
Shed curses far afield--
Ye fiends of night, your filthy blight
In noisome plenty yield!
Interesting, but there doesn't seem to be anything tongue-in-cheek in that one.Delete
So cool to see more about Ruddigore here on LF! After being a fan of the show for so long, I finally had the chance to perform in a production of it last summer! I was a bridesmaid in Act I and an ancestor in Act II. (Yes, it’s usually an all-male chorus, but they were short of men.)ReplyDelete
Then, last weekend, I sang “When the Night Wind Howls” in a Halloween show in which there were also spooky scenes from Shakespeare being performed. It was only then that I realized Gilbert had lifted the line, “Alas, poor ghost!” directly out of the scene from Hamlet where the titular prince meets the ghost of his father. I guess half the trick of good art is knowing whom to "borrow" from!
Very cool, and thanks much for first bringing my attention to the opera!Delete
Ha, just watched Ghostbusters for Halloween. I think there are two levels to that story. The big narrative is the Gozerians trying to break through by possessing the Gate Keeper and the Key Master. But the other spirits like Slimer and the Librarian are not part of that plot, they seem to be "native" spirits caught up in the rush. Their "conventional" existence, (i.e. without the Gozerian interference) might be very much like the HM storyline of puckish spooks entertaining themselves at the expense of the living. Too bad we don't get to see this in the rush to the big finish.ReplyDelete
Very enjoyable post and makes me want to seek out this story for myself.
For another, perhaps even older take:ReplyDelete
The article even references Disney's 'The Skeleton Dance' under other media representations. No matter how macabre, there is the idea of a dance to make light of death - certainly a theme in the mansion. However, I will admit, it is not spooks returning from the grave in order to have a party.
I suspect we're dealing with a very, very old concept here. And if much of this early artwork, etc. can be traced back to the medieval church, can there be an older scriptural basis?
Yes, the Danse Macabre is essentially a grim grinning "Memento Mori," and there are perhaps ingredients in it that arguably make their way into the HM, but if so, it is piecemeal and indirect. There are individual elements in the HM mix that go back thousands of years, of course. As for the Bible, there are places that make the point in poetic form that everyone dies, whether high or low, and there are remarks about how, for the wicked, "death shall be their shepherd," but I think that's about it.ReplyDelete
Thanks for putting up the clip from Ruddigore. It does what so many horror-comedy films now fail to do: be scary, genuinely funny, and entertaining. What caught my eye in particular was the shuffling, shambling way the ghosts walk. I couldn't help but make a connection to the dancing zombies of the Thriller music video. It also reminds me of Michael Jackson's Ghosts. The ghosts in that movie/music video are very reminiscent of the ghosts in Ruddigore...if a little more decrepit. I agree that Ghostbusters is hardly the last of the traditional comedic ghost songs. I've found tons of spooky and silly supernatural based tunes from all different eras and genres all over Youtube. Because horror and fantasy now dominate our pop culture, I'm willing to say there are more of these types of songs than ever before, whether they are traditional or not is up for debate.ReplyDelete
Your comments remind me of something I should have noted: the "happy spooks" song genre lives on, but it is now seen as strictly children's entertainment.Delete
Why do you see the "happy spooks"song genre as strictly children's entertainment in the present day? I don't necessarily disagree, but I'd like to know your reasoning.ReplyDelete
I don't know; it's just that when I try to think of later examples of the "happy spooks" genre, all I can think of is stuff like the Milton the Monster theme or Frankenberry commercials, or stuff like that from the 60's, which qualify only vaguely in that they present spooks and monsters with "normal" personalities in supposedly comic conditions. It's hard for me to imagine anything that's "adult" or even "teen" fare. "Ghostbusters" would be the closest, but it isn't really the same thing. Admittedly, I can't think of any good, concrete examples of kiddie songs either. It just seems to me that it would be kids today who go for the Monster Mash type of shtick.Delete
One is reminded of MadTV's spoof Scandinavian pop song about a happy spooks party. In the clip, the song begins at about 1:15.Delete
I think Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (an animated musical) provides a good example of "happy spooks" in "normal" situations.The whole movie shows how dull and rigid life can be and that love is what makes existence worthwhile (living, dead, undead, or anything else). The dead in this film are portrayed as living a normal existence and are actually much happier than the living people. There are some very funny scenes and touching scenes when the dead come up to the living world: a child meeting his long-dead grandfather, a widow reuniting with her long-dead husband which turns into a "Gone with the Wind" parody, and Christopher Lee as a fire-and-brimstone bishop who has his epic rantings about unholy demons responded to with resounding 'whatevers" by the dead. While I think that some younger kids may go for the goofier stuff, others might not. As a kid, I felt that a lot of monster stuff aimed at kids actually took the real meanings and feelings out of supernatural stories by turning them into excuses for bad puns (No offense, Dan!). I think it all depends on how it's written. I preferred The Adams Family over The Munsters because of the different tones. Both are about out- of- the- ordinary families just trying to live in everyday society. The Munsters try and fail at living what they believe is normal, while the Addams have fully embraced their all-together ookiness and have made it work. The Munsters are what we are; the Addams are what we strive to be in our own ways. I think there are examples of the "happy spooks' for adults and teens out there today but, like anything worthwhile, it takes effort to find them.ReplyDelete
Good points. Burton may be the best example all the way around. Beetlejuice and Frankenweenie, etc. It's probably no coincidence that they thought his material could be grafted into the HM on a seasonal basis.Delete
Greetings and Gratitude. I thoroughly enjoy every post into the postmortem.ReplyDelete
Do you have a high resolution image of "THE OLD SIDEBOARD"? I think it's marvelous and I am determined to track down an original page at some point, but in the meantime wondering if you, or spirit sleuth Craig Conley, have one to share.
Ruddigore is one of my favourite Savoy Operas. I can totally see it inspiring the Haunted Mansion, both being parodies of gothic melodrama.ReplyDelete
I never really thought about it, but Roderic's song does sound a lot like Grim Grinning Ghosts. In the 1980's television film with Vincent Price, the ghosts take the Latest Ruddigore to a graveyard and sing the song there, while partying it up with plastic skeletons. Also, one of the ghosts to come to life is actually a bust rather than a painting. He doesn't sing but he bites Robin's hand at one point.
It's all really silly and low-budget, but it's a silly opera:
The original backstory of the "Blood Family" sounds a bit similar to the curse on the Ruddigore Baronetcy:ReplyDelete
So it's very likely that the responsible parties were familiar with this opera.
Kreepy here. Great Post!ReplyDelete
I see quite a few connections to Ruddigore and GGG. I can totally see nods to Ruddigore in the graveyard scene. The bullet points are:
First and least, Ghost to his Ladye Love has Owls, as does the graveyard.
Shroud, footpads quail=grounds keeper
Black dog = hellhound
Specter’s holiday = GGG
Fen = discarded singing frogs
Gristly grim = grim grinning
Breeze sweeps over the trees = As the moon climbs high o'er the dead oak tree
welcome knell of the midnight bell = When you hear the knell of a requiem bell
To a lesser extent, the endless wraiths remind me of the “inky clouds… sailing over”
I’m sure more connections could be made but these ones really stand out.
One thing that hit me when I read the lyrics was in Ruddigore, is that it is a nightly jamboree. You have excellently argued that GGG is a one-time event. However, this connection (to me at least) puts a new spin on the “retirement home for ghosts”/Club Dead atmosphere. Did it alter your ideas at all?
Nope. The shock on the Caretaker's face is still decisive. You've stumbled upon an event that has never happened before. It's always your lucky day on Disney rides. How long the retirement home has been open for business, we're not told.Delete
I figured you would say that. I think a key word is "materialize". Ghosts can walk through walls, and it wouldn't be fun being trapped within the walls of the mansion. I'm sure they party most nights. HOWEVAH, our "sympathetic vibrations" are what allows them to interact with us. The veil is parted and they can cross over.ReplyDelete