The Mummy

Two guys, two different types: McKuen the serious, McFadden the sillyass. Their paths crossed in the late '50s for some horrifically funny foolishness. Rod McKuen had little reason to laugh when he was a kid; he ran away from home at an early age and wandered for most of his teens, working a variety of odd jobs as he made his way closer to a show biz career. When he reached his twenties he began performing as a folk singer, gaining a foothold after appearing at the Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco in 1954. He gave acting a whirl with a role in the low budget '56 "youth" flick Rock, Pretty Baby starring Sal Mineo, then reprised his "Ox Bentley" character from that film in a non-Mineo sequel, Summer Love, did a couple of TV shots in between and wrapped his acting career with the 1958 covered wagon western Wild Heritage, opting to focus on poetry, songwriting and music-making from that point on, starting with a number of underachieving late '50s recordings for Decca Records and one hit as a songwriter, Tommy Sands' title track from the '58 movie Sing Boy Sing.

Working at a Pittsburgh steel mill wasn't the life Bob McFadden had planned for himself. During a strike at the mill in the late '40s he found enough free time to compete in a local amateur contest, singing and doing celebrity impressions. Response was positive, so he left for New York, eventually taking his comedy act to many top hotels and nightclubs, opening for big names like The McGuire Sisters and Harry Belafonte. At Brunswick Records (a Decca label) he put out a mostly unfunny spoken novelty single, "Frankie and Igor at a Rock and Roll Party" (cowritten with Decca staff arranger Dick Jacobs), latching onto a popular trend in the wake of 1958's frightful lot of hit records including John Zacherle's "Dinner With Drac," David Seville's "The Witch Doctor," Sheb Wooley's "The Purple People Eater" and "The Blob" by The Five Blobs).

McKuen got involved, contributing a more humorous and timely ditty called "The Mummy," spoofing the legend rooted in ancient Egyptian culture, not as yet the subject of a hit single. Boris Karloff's movie monster was childishly caricatured and updated to a trendy late-'50s setting, when nightclubs featuring hot jazz musicians and theaters showing schlock horror movies were often found on the same city block. McFadden's cartoonish Mummy proudly proclaims 'I scare people,' honking his toy horn as passers-by run screaming down the street to the beat of a drum-and-saxophone backing along the lines of "The Blob" and the earlier "Tequila" by The Champs; the singular reason for the bandage-wrapped misfit's rise from the dead after 1,959 years being to ' a copy of Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb,' alluding to the early-'59 novelty hit by self-absorbed hipster Edd Byrnes. Enter beatnik McKuen, replying to the Mummy's insistence that 'People are afraid of me!' with an unfazed 'Yeah, I'm hip.' Brunswick released the single that summer, crediting Bob McFadden and Dor (that's Rod backwards). It honked its way into the top 40 in mid-September and, oddly, fell off the charts just before Halloween. Perhaps trick-or-treat aficionados reacted to the the Mummy's question 'Aren't you gonna scream?' in a way similar to Rod's cool-cat character: 'Oh,, help.'

Bob McFadden and Rod McKuen

A couple of imitators named Bubi and Bob put out a version of "The Mummy" on Sphinx (gotta love that label name), but it was too late. McFadden and Dor released an album of horror tunes, Songs Our Mummy Taught Us, that actually had less to do with creepy comedy than its cover would suggest. Other than the first two singles and vampire-themed "I Dig You Baby," song selections ran the gamut from McKuen's jazzy-pop "The Beat Generation" (flip side of "The Mummy"), the follow-up McFadden single "Bingo," its game-parlor lyrical content limited to calling out numbers ('B-7! N-35! O-77!') and strangely intriguing filler like "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (sing along with the Mummy!), "The Beverly Hills Telephone Directory Cha-Cha-Cha" and "Noisy Village" (an obnoxious takeoff on Martin Denny's "Quiet Village"). The set's liner notes declard "The once-moldy Mummy has arrived, but he's downright schizophrenic" accurate assessment.

Bob McFadden didn't abandon the fright night hijinks right away. In time for Halloween 1960 he released "Dracula Cha-Cha," words and music by McKuen, apparently inspired by The Brides of Dracula though its execution was 180 degrees away from that of the Hammer film starring Peter Cushing as Dr. J. Van Helsing. He provided the voices of JFK's "Free Loaders and Relatives" on the multi-million-selling 1962 comedy album The First Family and worked steadily over the next three decades as a voice actor for cartoons, his passel of '60s TV characters including Fearless Fly, Professor Weirdo, Milton the Monster, Cool McCool, Oscar and Gadmouse, in addition to the commercial voice of Franken Berry (of breakfast cereal fame); in the 1980s he had a long run supplying several voices for the animated series Thundercats.

Rod McKuen didn't abandon the novelty record arena right away. In 1962 he returned to the charts with "Oliver Twist," not a song based on the Charles Dickens novel or Lionel Bart stage musical as one might expect, but a variation on the hottest of all dance crazes (as in 'Ya oughta see Oliver twist'). He composed music for many films and television shows and wrote or cowrote hundreds of songs; notable hits include "Seasons in the Sun" (recorded by The Kingston Trio in '64 and a number one hit for Terry Jacks in '74) and "If You Go Away" (a 1966 hit for Damita Jo), both English language adaptations of the works of Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel. "Jean," from the 1969 film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie starring Maggie Smith, was a hit for North Carolina-born singer Oliver; Rod received a Golden Globe Award for the song and his first of two Oscar nominations. No word at this time as to whether he's still in touch with his inner beatnik, bygone alter ego Dor.

- Michael Jack Kirby


The Mummy