Wednesday, December 29, 2010

CAMP RUNAMUCK - Homer & Jethro

It's December 29th…here's a post on "Camp Runamuck," and you're wondering: "Why would anyone care about a summer camp…in winter?" Well, so were the execs at NBC, who by this time were solemnly checking the ratings for their sitcom about a boy's camp (and the efforts of its counselors to connect with the all-girls "Camp Divine" across the lake). But by winter of 1965, it was obvious that this show about campers was not warming up viewers, who instead were watching "The Flintstones" on ABC or Robert Conrad's spy-Western "Wild Wild West" on CBS.

However, in sympathy with the ill spirit of conjuring up a summer camp in winter, the Illfolks blog presents you with not only the original Frank DeVol instrumental, but the ambitious lyrical version from Homer & Jethro, who musta thunk that the show would be a hit and propel their "Old Crusty Minstrels" album to the top of the charts. They probably would've done better to cover Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah Hello Faddah," which was probably the inspiration behind the development of "Camp Runamuck." Sherman's novelty song was a hit in the summer of 1963, won a Grammy in 1964, was exploited via a fresh "1964 version" single the following summer and then its own board game in 1965 along with a children's book.

"Camp Runamuck" was simply not cut out to last more than a season (it's 26th and final episode aired April 15th, 1966). The show had a "zany" cast, but they were all minor sitcom actors who could be very funny in a supporting guest role, but didn't have the major skills to carry a series. Head counsellor Dave Ketchum was much more memorable as hapless Agent 13 on "Get Smart," mildly confused Dave Madden wasn't even much on "Laugh-In," and there was little for other sour or bumptious actors (Leonard Stone as the camp doctor, Hermoine Baddeley as the owner of the girls' camp) to do for big laughs. The lead was Arch Johnson, owner of "Camp Runamuck" but not the most hilarious of "blustery" and exasperated sitcom heavies. Probably the most notable cast member was Nina Wayne (brunette sister to infamous dizzy blonde Carol Wayne).

Some Brits might remember this series. The BBC actually imported "Camp Runamuck" as a Saturday morning kiddie show back in the 70's. One good thing about the piracy that has caused much fewer movie releases, and more mindless TV reality shows, is that budget-conscious cable stations and streaming video sites are starting to pick over the funny-bones still lying in the vaults. When very few new sitcoms last six episodes and are a total loss, a full 26 episodes of an old oddity sounds pretty good!

There were many one-season wonders back then, sitcoms that had a weak premise but professional writing and acting. Consider "It's About Time," about astronauts going back in time to encounter cave dwellers Imogene Coca and Joe E. Ross or "The Smothers Brothers Show" (Tommy, lost at sea, returns as an angel seen only by brother Dick). I don't think the alternatives are Jonathan Ross, Judge Judy or "the Kardashians visit the Jersey Shore." PS, if you were wondering if you'd ever get to see the legendary "worst sitcom of all time," you can. The Jerry Van Dyke-Ann Sothern novelty "My Mother the Car" is now streaming your way via

CAMP RUNAMUCK - sung by Homer and Jethro


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. However, one might also suggest that Camp Runamuck by Homer & Jethro was also a follow up to their 1959 smash "The Battle of Kookamonga", which also won a Grammy in 1959.

Ill Folks said...

Good point...they'd had success turning Johnny Horton's "Battle of New Orleans" into a piece about horny boys attacking a girls camp:

"...Well our counselor said we could take 'em by surprise
if we didn't say a word
till we looked 'em in the eyes.
We kept real still and we had our eyes 'a glued.
We saw how they were dressed,
they were swimmin' in the well, now..."

"Battle of Kookamonga" turns up on both of the single CD compilations on H&J, the Bear Family "Assault on Rock n Roll" and Razor and Tie's "America's Song Butchers."

Tim the Photographer said...

Holy Cow! I had completely forgot about the Camp Granada Game! that was one of my favorite games when I was a kid. You had to drive the little red camp bus around the board collecting the correct collection of creepy crawly bugs and snakes and what not, and then get out of camp (if I remember right). the trick was the little bus would "boil over" and if the radiator flopped down while you were driving your turn, you lost your turn. The front axle had a couple raised cams on it that would hit ridges on the back of the radiator and knock it over. the key was to drive the bus slowly and carefully keeping the front tires centered in the wheel wells. What fun. Must go to ebay so I can teach my grandkids this game!

Oh, and I LOVE Homer and Jethro. they had a great live album -- wish I could remember the name -- it's in my office at work. Rats.

Ill Folks said...

Hi Tim,

Yeah, the Camp Granada Game does turn up on eBay...thanks for the info on it. Seems they put some thought into the game instead of making it a generic cash-in.

H&J made several live albums: "At the Country Club, "At the Convention" and "Live at Vanderbilt U."

OleD said...

Funny you should mention "It's About Time". As I remember the first season they had the astronauts stuck in caveman times and when that flopped, the second season they brought the cave people into modern times!? About as lame as the shows they have now. Some things never change...

Anonymous said...

Dave Madden was great in The Partridge Family