All the hoo-hah about History Channel’s hit miniseries Hatfields & McCoys got me thinking about Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy. The bloody Hatfield-McCoy feud that went on for several decades after the Civil War has been an enduring inspiration to makers of popular entertainment. Its pop-culture legacy includes everything from an Abbott and Costello feature to a 1975 TV flick with Jack Palance in fine, malevolent form, from Huckleberry Hound and Scooby Doo episodes to the game show Family Feud. History Channel’s new series may well be the best and most accurate take on the notorious rivalry, but Mirandy is surely the funniest.
It’s a cartoon. I saw it two, maybe three times when I was about, oh, 10 years old. It was shown occasionally on the Cactus Jack show, an afternoon kidvid extravaganza on WDAM-TV (Laurel-Hattiesburg, Miss.) that served up old theatrical cartoons, older B-grade Westerns and interviews in the Art Linkletter mold with studio-audience kids. I once embarrassed my folks on live TV by telling Cactus Jack (Goldman, I think his off-camera last name was) that I and most of my fellow Cub Scouts thought our den mother provided lousy snacks.
But I digress. Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy stuck in my mind for decades. I remembered a lively animated musical in which an elaborate shooting war among mountain folk involved using the titular matriarch’s rock-hard baked goods in place of bullets. I have been known on occasion to break out in the theme song’s yodeled refrain: “Paasssssss the biss-kits……”
Once, after we’d entered the Internet age, I attempted to find it online, but all my search turned up was a 1942 live-action short based on the song and starring Spike Jones and his City Slickers, a “Soundie” produced to be played on special, visual jukeboxes.
Not that Mr. Jones’ version isn’t pretty dang cool in its own right, but what I really wanted to experience again was the cartoon.
And now I have. My memories rekindled by the History Channel, I did a search and found the animated Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy on YouTube. It turns out it was a “Swing Symphony” produced at Universal in 1943 by Walter Lantz, the producer best known for his Woody Woodpecker series. It runs almost seven minutes, and it’s even better than I remembered, not the least of the reasons for which being that it’s in glorious Technicolor. When last I saw it, everything on my TV was black and white.
In Lantz’ Appalachian operetta, the barefoot, snaggle-toothed mountaineers, renamed the Foys and the Bartons, are so stereotypical they make Jed Clampett and his kin look like Dynasty’s Carringtons. If this toon was produced now, West Virginia or Kentucky would probably sue for defamation. But the long-bearded, flop-hatted rubes are funny from the first frame, and they move with a lithe and nimble grace, almost like dancers.
Mirandy, first lady of the Foy clan, looks kind of like Popeye in drag. And her petrified biscuits aren’t just used as blunderbuss bullets; one of them, errantly thrown away by a Foy, destroys a rickety cabin that belongs to the Barton family, thus starting the war. Animator Paul Smith made Mirandy’s baking routine an inventive hoot, and he comes up with some wild variations on the back and forth fusillades. Even a baby gets his shot in.
What I didn’t remember after all these years was how the feud turns out — how the animosities (and the deadly biscuits) are repurposed. I’m not about to give the twist away, other than to say it is very much a product of its time.
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.