Friday, February 23, 2018


From Wikipedia:
[Harlan] Ellison has on occasion used the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird to alert members of the public to situations in which he feels his creative contribution to a project has been mangled beyond repair by others, typically Hollywood producers or studios (see also Alan Smithee). The first such work to which he signed the name was "The Price of Doom", an episode of 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' (though it was misspelled as Cord Wainer Bird in the credits). An episode of 'Burke's Law' ("Who Killed Alex Debbs?") credited to Ellison contains a character given this name, played by Sammy Davis, Jr.

So for the purposes of Toobworld, Cordwainer Bird is the former joke editor for Debonair magazine.  There is no connection to Harlan Ellison.  Ellison does have a presence in Toobworld, but nothing really worthy of the TVXOHOF at least.  Mostly his appearances have been as a pundit in discussion shows or as a couch guest on talk shows.  He has acted in a few shows, but those were all as distinctively individual characters with no real connection to Ellison.

("HE" is definitely part of the Tooniverse, however, with appearances on 'The Simpsons' and 'Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated'.)

So let's take a look at the "real" Cordwainer Bird of Toobworld....


Cordwainer Bird had risen to a prestigious position in the magazine publishing world as the Debonair joke editor.  Being a relatively young man (he was under forty during the episode) who knows how far he got?  I would not be surprised if he ended up as the managing editor at NewsTime magazine or some other high end publication.  He could even have been placed in charge of a chain of magazines, maybe even at Howard Publications which would have included People and Crime.  (If so, I wonder if he was able to see the similarities in resemblance between Glenn Howard and Captain Amos Burke?)

But working in the field of magazines wasn't Cordwainer's original dream.  As he demonstrated often in that four minute clip above, he wanted to be a dancer.  And it looks like he may have harbored resentment that he never made it, based on his race.  As he told Captain Burke and Officer Tom, they woulld probably have allowed Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire to dance on top of Burke's desk, but not him.

It's my belief that the reason why Cordwainer Bird was able to gain the editorship of the humor department at Debonair was due to his association with a legend in the joke biz - Maurice Sorrell, known to all as Buddy Sorrell.  We saw Bird trying to emulate Buddy's reputation as a "human joke machine" while he was in Burke's office.  

At the time of the episode, Buddy was working in New York as one of the writers on 'The Alan Brady Show', so the chance for Bird and Buddy to get together were no longer that frequent.  But I'm sure they talked often on the phone, coast to coast - the student picking up tips from his mentor.

Once upon a time, it's pozz'ble, just pozz'ble, that Cordwainer was an intern on the production team for Brady's variety show.  How did he land that job?  Perhaps he was working in a haberdashery to support his dance classes and as it turned out, the proprietor of the shop was a former comedy-writing legend known as Happy Spangler.  Once Spangler's own attempt to get back in the biz on the writing staff at the Brady show fizzled out, Happy could have recommended Bird for an internship so that he could learn the ropes.  And that led to the friendship between Buddy and Bird.  

We just never got to see it happen.  And maybe Buddy was able to help Cordwainer fly from the nest and stand on his own, by getting him a job as a junior writer on one of several shows - the Stevie Parsons talk show, 'The Dan Howard Show', or even the Jellybean puppet show.  

I'm leaning towards Stevie Parsons' talk show.  On a night when girlie magazine publisher Alex Debbs was scheduled to appear to plug his new magazine Debonair, Debbs might have seen something in Cordwainer Bird while waiting in the show's green room and so he offered the job to the young writer.

Years later, could Cordwainer have decided to get back into television again?  After the big social changes ushered in with the 1970s, maybe he wanted to ride that wave of relevance with cutting-edge material that would reach a wider audience.  And perhaps he finally embraced his own "black is beautiful" image rather than being bitter about not being white like Astaire and Kelly.  

So among the shows to be found only in Toobworld, he could have worked on 'The Dusky Realm', a rip-off of 'The Twilight Zone' - perhaps even writing an episode with controversial political and racial overtones based on that word in the title: "Dusky".

But no matter what path Cordwainer Bird's life took after we saw him back in the early 1960s, I believe he lived as long as the actor who played him - Sammy Davis, Jr.  (This is not to say he couldn't have lived longer, nor that he had to face the same fate as Davis suffered.)  But I think Cordwainer Bird is gone now and with him his perspective on the humor that lightened America's heart during a dark and turbulent time in its history.


  • 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'
  • 'The Name Of The Game'
  • 'The X-Files'

1 comment:

Tim@showboxbuzz said...

It was good to see Gene Barry once again on prime time TV.