Thursday, September 16, 2010

AT THE TOURIST CAMP

As you've seen from other entries, I sometimes find the cover art more fascinating than the actual work itself. This was never more true than for AT THE TOURIST'S CAMP (1937), by Elsie Duncan Yale and Clarence Kohlman, who also provided us with the very odd and phantasmagorical MOOON MAIDEN.

Let's get the work itself out of the way. A short, 48-page work that purports to last an hour (although I suspect less), TOURIST'S CAMP is the story of Mrs. Smiley, who, along with her son Chester and her sister Miss Melody, runs a tourist camp named "Happy Haven". It has your usual assortment of oddball residents: the woman who loves, in equal parts, fishing and epic poetry; a wealthy if off-beat family from Texas; a very pushy 30s version of a Mary Kay saleswoman... and the stuttering Professor Propendorimentasia (Say that six times fast).

Now one would hope this would be a happy little troupe, but that's not quite the case. There is jealousy and snobbery and a touch of teenage lust and... well, just all sorts of things going on between the various tourists, which makes you wonder why they dont pack up and leave for a Happier Haven someplace. And into this soap opera arrives a lone hiker, Charles Dill, president of (what else?) a pickling factory.

But Mrs. Smiley's not buying that for a moment, because she knows that he's got to really be Charles Dial, a radio producer who's supposedly traveling about the country in cognito. As a result, everyone does a little star turn for "Mr. Dill", in the hopes of getting a job on the radio. Sadly for them, it turns out that he really is Charles Dill...

— but wait! The Professor isnt the Professor! He's Charles Dial, and he's so impressed with everyone that he gets Charles Dill to sponsor a radio show soap opera about tourist camp life, with everyone here for its cast!

EVERYONE (in concert). Hurrah!

... which takes us to the closing number:

ENSEMBLE. Then off to the city
To win a fortune or two.
No more, you see, may we campers be,
For we've too much to do.

PROFESSOR (sternly) You must be willing workers,
Rehearsing day and night
I have no time for shirkers
They never get things right

MISS MELODY. My heart is filled with grief and care
Ah Life you are so fickle
To think that I should have to share
The spotlight with a pickle

... and so on and so on as we build to a crescendo about roses and lilies and campfires and pickles and how we all just love each other... even if we really dont. But hey, it's summer, and they all have the chance for a cushy job with lots of pay, so, for now anyway, it's all good.

The copy I own is in perfect condition; it doesnt like it's been cracked open since printing, let alone actually be used — and honestly I'm not surprised. I suppose this could have been written as an easy-to-stage diversion at a real tourist summer camp, but I cant imagine any possible production possibilities beyond that. The music is interesting, but it's so solidly undercut by Yale's less than pedestrian lyrics. As for her book, well, it's just too... well, awful, even by 1930s standards. She tries so very, very hard to make things funny, particularly when it deals with the continually injured Chester (who's always managing to somehow hit himself in the head with a rake), except they rarely are: she's created an environment that barely masks a whopping big helping of hostility, to the point where it's difficult to care about anyone or his or her dreams of success as a radio performer. It's almost too delicious to think that one reason why Dial's taking this crew on is because he knows he can get storylines out of their just-barely-genteel interrelationships for years. It's hard to believe this comes from the same team that did the slightly surreal (and far more genuinely comic) MOON MAIDEN... not that that particular work was any great shake in the Grand High School Operetta Scheme of Things. But this is just so relentlessly weak that it makes RADIO MAID seem like a Gershwin show.

Then there's that cover.

Okay, two men, one in front and to the side of the other. If the perspective is to be considered correct (which is doubtful, considering it would mean the trailer on the left is parked on a pretty severe slope), the guy in back is huge. I mean, we're talking Andre the Giant big. Further, I'm not exactly sure what his friend is looking at, let alone why he's smashing his forehead into the very large question mark that the Very Large Man is apparently holding.

Also, note that the subtitle of this work is "Dad's Vacation". Dear Reader, I've been through this thing twice now, and there's no dad anywhere, unless we're looking at the family from Texas, who are third-tier characters. Maybe this was suggested by something that happened to Elsie or Clarence's fathers? Maybe it's a self-referential in-joke? I have no clue.

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