Posted by: The Amoeba | April 18, 2009

The Amoebas Are Coming, The Amoebas Are Coming …

Yes, Latin scholars, that should be “The Amoebae Are Coming …” The title is a direct quote. It’s not my fault.

I suppose I’d better explain.

Yesterday (17 April 2009), somebody found this blog using the search string “amoeba jokes bugs bunny”. I wished to know where else this search would lead, not least to give me a clue as to why anyone would make it. So, I searched on it myself. And wound up reading about the glorious day when amoebae ruled Los Angeles, even making it onto the front page of the paper.

I’d tell you the story verbatim, but if I did:

    a. The fellow who tells it, Chuck Blore, is something of a wheel (more on that anon), and seems to pay attention to what’s happening on the Internet;

    b. He might think I was running a splog;

    c. He’s got lawyers.

So, you’ll have to go here to read the whole thing … and scroll halfway down the page to where it starts.

The short version goes like this. To tell it, you first need to know that Chuck Blore was the program director (= day-to-day operations manager) at radio station KFWB in LA, at a time when it had something like 40% of the market – a phenomenal percentage for a city that had something like 50 stations broadcasting.

Blore was driving into work when he heard his morning drive-time DJ – Bruce Hayes – make one of his patented random remarks.

Oh man, would you look at that? I think there is an amoeba loose in here. Oops, too late. Gone.

Blore stops the car, calls the station. No he wasn’t practicing safe driving. As you’ll soon see, we’re talking prehistory. The man found a pay phone. (We pause briefly while the under-twentysomethings do a websearch on “pay phone”.)

What the heck is an amoeba?

He got his answer (which was pretty close to the correct one), decided that this schtick could be funny, and told Hayes to carry on. Which he did. With messages like:

We’ve just received news on further amoeba sightings. Another amoeba was just seen sliding over the siding on The Pasadena Freeway. Ladies with butterfly nets are chasing him.

Plus:

[Another amoeba report] from The La Brea Tar Pits where the thick black muck is belching up amoebas which are, in turn, belching dinosaur waste.

And the City of the Angels erupted.

Blore went into his office to find KFWB’s phones ringing off the hook. And the police station’s. And the hospital’s. The hospitals got so many calls demanding information on “amoeba protection” that their phone system crashed. One of the calls to KFWB was from the FCC:

Who do you people think you are? Orson Welles?!?

Eventually, the authorities (with help from KFWB, which backed off on its gag) got Los Angelenos calmed down, and life returned to as near a semblance of normal as can be expected from a place nicknamed “La La Land”. But not before a cartoonist with the evening-edition tabloid newspaper, the Herald Express, was moved to draw up a panel showing a panicked citizen up a light pole, worriedly surveying the landscape while a radio in his hand blared:

The amoebas are coming! The amoebas are coming!

A panel that the paper published on its front page. The whole front page.

Now, as I may have mentioned somewhere around here before, I study amoebae and their kin for a living. I can pretty much guarantee you that there were, and are, amoebae in Bruce Hayes’s studio, on the Pasadena Freeway, and probably even in the La Brea Tar Pits. Give me a Petri dish, a cotton swab, and two weeks, and I’ll prove it to you.

But I will also prove that no one will be chasing them with a butterfly net. A big amoeba might be as big around as a human hair. Most of them are lots smaller than that. Hardly likely to be the subject of mass panic. (We’ll talk about amoebic dysentery another time, shall we? You might be dining right now …)

So what gives? What was it about that time and place that caused an amoeba joke to turn into Massisteria … um, mass hysteria? (I did not make that up.) Blore takes the fact that it happened for granted, not asking (at least, not in those parts of his book that he’s posted online) how come it happened. But this Amoeba wishes answers. And he thinks he just might have one.

Blore doesn’t actually say when this episode took place, but (I did some digging) it had to have been after Blore instituted his then-novel programming at KFWB in early 1958, and before Bruce Hayes left the station in early 1961.

The years 1958 to 1961 were also the ones in which the actor Steve McQueen appeared as the star of a television program, a Western called Wanted: Dead or Alive.

No, Wanted: Dead or Alive didn’t have any amoebae in it. What it did have was the power to turn the previously little-known McQueen into a household name. A household name whose previous efforts in various B-movies were suddenly profitable. One of those B-movies was making the rounds of the drive-in theatres, to large audiences, at about the time that Bruce Hayes was reporting amoebae popping up all through Los Angeles. A movie that was then, and still is now, the freakiest amoeba movie of all time.

The Blob.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.

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Responses

  1. See, kids. This is why you need an education – -so you don’t fall for radio and television promotional gimmicks and panic along with the rest of the city.

  2. But where is the fun in that Quilly? It gives that rest of us grazers a day off from the normal drivel we have to survive on a daily basis. No, education is overrated ;0)

    OC-enjoyed the retelling. You have a knack for making something so ordinary seen real adventurous.

  3. Now, to see an amoeba, you just have to google.

  4. I wouldn’t have panicked. I would have laughed my butt off. That’s hilarious. Especially the idea of a butterfly net.

  5. That’s hilarious! Now the panic is over Janet Jackson’s bra coming loose. We have got to get biology back into schools!

  6. But, Quilly! We’re supposed to be stimulating the economy here! You can’t do that by teaching people how not to be taken!

    Careful, OJM. Next thing you know, you’ll be invited to corporate boardrooms. But thanks.

    True, Doug. But interpreting scale remains a problem.

    That’s what KFWB was counting on, Lisa. I think they found out just how many rock’n’roll fans also read the National Enquirer … and believed every word. Since those rock’n’roll fans accounted for nearly half of the radio-listening public in L.A. in 1960 … ouch.

    But Lew (and welcome here)! It is in the schools! One of the biggest topics in fact … no, wait, you didn’t spell it buyology, did you? My bad.

  7. The man found a pay phone. (We pause briefly while the under-twentysomethings do a websearch on “pay phone”.)

    I had to laugh at this,

    “War of the Worlds” all over again, I am sure Orson Welles if he was listening must have had a smile on his face.

  8. I guess I should have added War of the Worlds (We pause briefly while the under-twentysomethings do a websearch on “War of the Worlds”.)

  9. Bill, I read that Welles was in Europe when the amoebae took over L.A. I agree, I reckon he would have been amused.

  10. Amoebic dysentery is hardly the worst thing to link to. Try searching up “amoebic meningitis” on Wikipedia.


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