America's greatest whistler
Earl Hagen died on Monday. Without a doubt, more people in our country, and perhaps world- wide had heard Earl whistle than anyone outside of their immediate family. And most people had heard him whistle more than anyone in their family. Earl was the whistler of the Andy Griffith theme song which has certainly been played somewhere on television every day for the past 45 years or so. Can you find one person who can’t whistle that tune ? If everyone whoever whistled that tune gave Earl a nickel, he would have died a very rich man (which he may have anyway) . Earl also wrote that tune.
Earl was a writer of T.V. theme songs. He wrote the Dick Van Dyke T.V. theme as well as those of Danny Thomas, the Mod Squad and That Girl. Most, if not all of those shows were associated with Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard who were big time T.V. producers in the 50s and 60s. As I always like to imagine, my childhood was the “Golden Age” of T.V. theme songs. Catchy jingles which could sum up an entire T.V. series in less than two minutes. For some reason, these songs stick in my mind more than just about any memory I have. Earl’s themes tended to be upbeat musical numbers, although some had words. I recall “That Girl” had words, “If you find that girl to love, only one girl to love then she’ll be “That Girl” too ! “ Well, he was not much of a lyricist, but boy could he whistle !
I am a little confused about his credit for writing the Danny Thomas theme song which I recall being an upbeat version of “Danny Boy” (Londonderry air).Maybe they are referring to the little tune they played at the beginning of the show, in the background while they were introducing “ Rusty Hammer as his son and Angela Cartwright as his daughter.” That was not much of a theme. Probably the best loved T.V. theme song was on “Gilligan’s Island” which I once heard Sherwood Schwartz modestly say he had written himself, the night before the pitch to C.B.S., even though Sherwood could not read music, and based on the quality of the drivel he produced (The Brady Bunch), could barley write the English language.
What were the greatest of the T.V. themes ? That is, of course a matter of taste. In my mind, nothing was ever better than Bonanza. As fire blazed across your screen, four riders came charging out to the dramatic sounds of dum dee dee dum dee dee dum dee dee dum , DUM DUM DUM. I know, no lyrics, at least not in the introduction. Two songs were actually recorded to the music, one on one of the original shows and one later by Lorne Green when he put together his album which produced the hit single “Ringo” (or Rango, I can’t recall which). Actually, I think Rango was the name of the vehicle created for Tim Conway after the end of McHale’s Navy (“From San Antone to the Rio Grand, across the deep and burning sand, every outlaw feared the hand of danger, this Texas Ranger, Rango, Rango, Rango”). But I digress. The two Bonanza songs were different. The one on the show began “We’ve got a right to pick a little fight, BONANZA ! “. The one on the Album began “We’ve got a hold of a pot full of gold BONANZA !” and featured, as I recall, the immortal lyrics “ Hoss and Joe, Adam and Yo” but I only heard the song a couple of times at my friend Herb Farnsworth’s house so I may be wrong. I have never had a clear ear for lyrics.
When I was in 7th grade I used to watch the show “Get Smart”, but I always missed the opening because I had to watch the theme song to “Secret Agent Man” ON ANOTHER CHANNEL “ There’s man who leads a life of danger, to everyone he meets, he stays a stranger, with every move he makes, another chance he takes, odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow. Secret Agent man, Secret Agent man, they givin’ you a number and taken ‘way your name.”.At about the same time there was a great Saturday morning show starring space explorer puppets called “Fireball XL 5” great music, great lyrics “We’d take a path to Jupiter, and maybe very soon, we’d cruise along the milky way and land upon the moon.” A lot of Saturday morning shows had great themes, The Bugs Bunny show’s song is immortal “ Overture, curtains, lights, this is it the night of nights.” Which for many years I sang “ Over turn, turtle lights” because I was not familiar with show business lingo (and often had ear infections).
In the end I guess you can’t say which one was the best. I hate the fact that so many are forgotten, who can remember, “After all is said and done, there is really only one, oh Margie, Margie it’s you” ? or “Sugarfoot, Sugarfoot, Easy lopin’ ropin’ Sugarfoot” ? or “Wait’l you see my Gidget, you’ll want her for your valentine” ? As Woody Allen said in “Radio Days”, with every passing year, their voices grow fainter. So here’s to Earl Hagen, everybody keep whistling.