Thursday, April 19, 2007

Underdogs, then and now

In my early years, I wanted to be a movie star. And not just any movie star, but a star who was loved for who they were. In other words, if I made a movie about my life, it would be a box office hit! In fact, that’s what my movie debut was going to be. A movie about my life. And it would, of course, be a blockbuster. My second film was going to be a sequel to “Oliver!” the classic musical. I had recently seen it at school, and enjoyed it a lot. Plus, everyone said I looked like Mark Lester, the kid who played Oliver. Hey, why not? I practiced for hours saying, “please sir, I want some more. . .” (No, not really. But it just sounds funny) :)

My third film was going to be about Underdog. You know him. He’s the dog in the red underwear who flies around saying, “There’s no need to fear! Underdog is here!” Voiced by Wally Cox of “Mr. Peepers” fame, the character stood for truth, justice and the American way. Sound familiar?

Why did I choose Underdog? That’s a good question! His show had been off the air in my area for at least a few years (and has been off the air there for decades now, except for a brief “revival” in the early 1990s). But another popular movie at the time was “Superman”, the Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder version. I suppose that in an effort to maintain my superstardom, it made sense that I would want to do a film about a superhero. But who could I be? I’m only in fourth grade. Which superhero could I play? How about Underdog? He’s kind of short. That’s it! I’ll put on red underwear and a dog suit! I could play Underdog!

When I think about how I imagined the Underdog movie, the similarities to “Superman” are very evident. There’s even a scene where they get mugged! Yes, the Underdog movie would have been essentially a “Superman” rip-off. But Underdog himself was borrowing from other famous heroes, wasn’t he? His episodes ended in cliffhangers, just like Batman. He flew around like Superman. He had an energy pill just like Popeye had spinach. Underdog took a little from many other heroes to become a hero in his own right.

But there is one scene from my imaginary “Underdog” movie that I would like to share with you. It involves an incident between Shoeshine Boy (Underdog’s alter ego) and Sweet Polly, Underdog’s love interest. This is before Shoeshine becomes Underdog. During an argument, the angry Polly calls Shoeshine an “underdog.” Having never heard the word before, Shoeshine goes home and looks up the word in the dictionary. He reads the definition: “An unimportant, or weak person or thing. The one less likely to win in a battle.” And Shoeshine begins to cry.

That is what the word means, after all. And yet I didn’t think of Underdog this way, but as a hero. Well, at least he’s a bit more successful than Super-Grover! At least he does indeed rescue the girl and triumph over the bad guys. If that doesn’t make him a hero, then what else could? “Underdog” is no underdog! And yet that seems to be the way we treat him. We don’t name Underdog when we name our favorite superheroes. It’s like his appearance in the Super Bowl ad. It’s like, “oh yeah, and there’s Underdog, too.”

I think it’s because Underdog is in many ways, an “average” superhero. If we were grading him, we’d probably give him a “C.” He does his job reasonably well, and that’s it. What’s missing with Underdog is any kind of depth of character, or any kind of deep relationship with others. Although he loves Polly, we never see them “dating” the way Superman and Lois do in “Superman.” He doesn’t suffer the kind of angst that makes Spider-Man famous. He doesn’t have ego problems, like so many characters do. When I remember that imaginary scene where Underdog learns the true meaning of his name, I realize how significant it would be for the character. He calls himself “Underdog” because he wants to show that even an underdog can be something spectacular. Even an underdog can win. And that’s something very important. I didn’t become a movie star. I became a relatively normal, boring guy. And that’s okay. Because even an underdog can do great things.

This summer, there’s going to be a movie about a famous super-hero. No, not Spider-Man, UNDERDOG! My dream is coming true. There really is an Underdog movie on the way. It’s live-action, and will feature a real dog in the role that could have been mine. It should be fun, but I wonder if it’s going to have a scene where Underdog realizes the irony of his name. I wonder if there’s going to be a moment of drama like that. I fear there may not be. The Underdog movie may not make Underdog any less of an underdog. But that’s okay. Remember, there wasn’t much like that on the show, either. All we may get from this is a good time, and that’s fine too, because that’s just as much as the Underdog show can offer us.


Here’s the slow-loading web page about the movie. At this point, there's not much there but promotional art of our hero. Later on, I would assume we will get to see more. Please do not load this page if you’re in a library, as the theme music will annoy everybody. Including yourself.

You prefer the animated version? Well, there are some more Underdog DVD releases in the works:


If you’re a fan of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, then you remember Underdog as one of the classic balloons from the late 70s early 80s that graced the skies above New York City. You can see a drawing of the balloon on the cover of a new book about underdog. You can read about it (& more about the Underdog show) at this site:

And if you want to see the balloon itself again, check out the Woody Allen movie “Broadway Danny Rose.” The balloon makes a cameo, as does Big Bird!

By the way, my fourth film was going to be “Superman vs. Underdog.” Now don’t ask me why they were fighting, but obviously there must have been a good reason. And really, there was. It was to glean even more love from my imaginary audience.

Thanks for reading, imaginary audience. :)


MEREDITH IN DISTRESS: Imagine this. You are awoken by a telephone call at 4:30 a.m. You answer the phone. On the other end is Meredith Vieira, who says in a muffled voice, “Thelp me, pthleaze, thelp me.”

March definitely went out like a lion for Meredith. In the last week of March she bumped her head while ice skating, her daughter became ill, she cracked her front teeth and part of her wallpaper caught on fire.

(All this reminds me of a cool quote. Meredith is obviously someone with a real “damn-the-torpedoes” spirit. But as someone once said, with a “damn-the-torpedoes” attitude, you occasionally get hit by one of the torpedoes! But that comes with the territory. We all get hit by the torpedoes sometimes. Thankfully, Meredith is strong enough to keep sailing.)

Excerpts from Meredith’s blog after cracking her teeth:

So at 4:30am, I called my assistant Amanda and said, through my lisp-like-lips. “Thelp me, pthleaze, thelp me.” Amanda called my dentist, Marc Lowenberg who wasn’t there, but his partner Dr. Brian Kantor, was on call. I’d never met Dr. Kantor but I sure was happy to hear that he would meet me at the crack of dawn, with my cracked teeth.

My makeup artist Eve met me at Dr. Kantor’s office so she could start putting on my fake eyelashes while he was putting my mouth back together. My teeth may have been flawed, but my eyesight was 20/20—that doctor Kantor is a real cutie (sorry, ladies, he’s married. And I guess so am I…) He’s also a terrific dentist and had me out of there with perfect pearly whites within 40 minutes.

Eve and I raced over to the studio where she and my hair stylist Deirdre played tag team getting me ready for air. And I made it.

One more day to go before vacation. If I can just keep my mouth shut and my feet firmly planted on the ground, I might live to enjoy it.

What terrible fate awaits her next? Is she to be kidnapped by a crazed fan who writes a blog and thinks he can play Underdog? Tune in next time, or better yet, read her blog at the site below:


ON YOUTUBE: ALL THE GREAT OPERAS IN TEN MINUTES. By request from my Mom. Here’s a very funny film by Kim Thompson that many of us got to see in school or on the Bravo network. If you like opera (and you have a sense of humor), you’ll like this clip. If you DON’T like opera (and you have a sense of humor), you’ll like this clip. WARNING: By YouTube standards, it’s a long one. If you have a slow web connection, like yours truly, I suggest that you download three minutes one day, then three minutes the next day, et cetra. You’ll find it in my favorites folder on the front page of my YouTube page: