According to Google, Mr. Dressup’s (aka Ernie Coombs) 85th birthday was this week. Well actually, he died 11 years ago so no need to run out and buy a belated present although flowers might be in order. Anyhow, this got me thinking about the show, which unbelievably remained on the air until 2006. Obviously some of this was reruns since Ernie threw off his mortal coil in 2001, but on second thought you never know – it wouldn’t be the most bizarre thing about the show if they had managed to make new episodes with a less than animate Mr. Dressup.
In doing the due diligence for this article, I discovered that Mr. Dressup first hit the airwaves in 1967. This is a little disconcerting as I was well outside of the target demographic yet I have very distinct memories of watching the show. Perhaps it was due to the general lack of television programming available in the far flung reaches of the country. After all, considering the other choices, Hymn Sing or Don Messer’s Jubilee (or even the Pig and Whistle for that matter), Mr. Dressup is a tour de force of significant dramatic and cultural importance. Or maybe it had more to do with the fact that Dark Shadows came on the air around the same time and I became interested in the gothic genre, to which Mr. Dressup definitely belongs. Here are some of the decidedly creepy aspects of the show.
1. Casey, the child character, is an androgynous puppet with a bowl haircut that is probably hiding pointed ears or other indication that he/she is actually an alien. Perhaps whatever planet Casey is from does not have two sexes (or perhaps they have more than two sexes, which is an even better explanation for the fact that Casey’s gender is never revealed).
2. Casey lives in a treehouse in Mr. Dressup’s back yard. Am I the only person who thinks this is a little weird? First of all, the treehouse does not seem to have plumbing, heat or insulation of any kind and it is clearly located somewhere north of the U.S. border. Second, Casey is only rarely allowed to leave the treehouse and the only other place he can go is to Mr. Dressup’s house. Casey never gets visibly older or bigger, probably because we never see him eat anything. He also wears the same outfit every day. In any normal situation this would cause great concern but Mr. Dressup remains oblivious.
3. Or maybe he isn’t oblivious and instead we are witnessing his not-so-hidden dark side. In 1989, after 22 years of chronological stasis, Mr. Dressup abruptly announced that Casey was no longer on the show because he/she was now attending kindergarten and the associated academic pursuits left no time to continue with his/her theatrical career. At this point, the alarm definitely should have been raised, including an excavation of the foundation of the treehouse and also a thorough search of Mr. Dressup’s basement. Check the Tickle Trunk first.
P.S. I also add that Mr. Dressup dressed up in police uniforms and fireman outfits. I rest my case.