Want a Walnetto? You Bet Your Sweet Bippy!

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was a TV sketch comedy show that was broadcast from January 22, 1968, to March 12, 1973. The show was known for its quick edits and one-liners — sort of a new Vaudeville for the Television Age. It was also known for its erudite political satire and cutting-edge humor. It launched the careers of several actors and comedians, but also spawned catch phrases that became part of everyday speech and culture. One of the things that endeared these phrases to the Boomer Generation was that celebrities — ranging from John Wayne and Jack Benny to a candidate for the office of President of the United States — appeared in incongruous cameo spots for their chance to utter these memorable phrases.

While some phrases were adapted from older idioms, others were unique to the times. Yet here we are, 40-plus years past the show’s final broadcast, and boomers across the country will remember every one of them. Were you sitting in the living room and watching Laugh-In when you first heard these phrases spoken?

Sock It To Me
Judy Carne was the first of the Laugh-In cast to speak that famous phrase, arguably the most famous of the Laugh-In phraseology. In fact, she was hired into the Laugh-In cast to be the “Sock It To Me Girl.” The wife of Laugh-In producer George Schlatter suggested the phrase may work into a nice skit after hearing Aretha Franklin sing Respect. That same year (1967), Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels released Sock It To Me, Baby. So the phrase was out there, but now it was given new purpose.


In Laugh-In’s case, “Sock it to me” had a more slapstick connotation than that of the songs; every time Judy Carne said it, she was sure to be hit with something — from a hammer to feathers; splashed with water either from a bucket or rained on from above; dropped through a trap door or even shot out of a cannon.

Later, other cast members said the phrase with similar results, but when guest celebrities would say it, it was often as if it were a dare, asking the question, “Sock it to me?” The most famous of these was Richard Nixon. George Schlatter had sent invitations to both candidates for president in 1968: Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Against the advice of his advisers, Nixon accepted, and the presidential candidate took six takes to say the famous phrase. Humphrey later said that his declining the invitation may have cost him the election.


You Bet Your Sweet Bippy
Dick Martin often said this phrase when asked a question by Dan Rowan. The phrase meant something akin to, “to be sure,” or “of course I’m sure.” The term “bippy” is said to be a slang version of the human buttocks. Mister Boomer recalls kids saying the phrase because they felt it sounded like swearing. Kids found it was off-putting enough when voiced around adults, so they felt mischievously subversive repeating it. Since it came from TV, it was therefore technically acceptable and they wouldn’t be reprimanded.

Do You Want a Walnetto?
Walnettos are chewy caramel candies with walnuts that were first introduced in 1919. It was one of the top 10 best-selling candies through WWII, but faded in the 1960s. Laugh-In put the brand back in the spotlight, and popularity of the candy increased as a result of Arte Johnson’s character — the old man Tyrone — trying to use the phrase as a pick-up line.

Here Come De Judge
Comedian Pigmeat Markham used the phrase in his act for years, but before that it was heard in Vaudeville. When Mr. Markham discovered that Laugh-In was using his catch phrase, he petitioned George Schlatter to bring him on the show as a guest star. Pigmeat Markham did appear on the show and, dressed as a judge fro the ski to follow, said the phrase as a prelude to his own courtroom entrance. Schlatter liked him so much that Markham continued to play the part of “De Judge” for a whole season.

Flip Wilson was one of the cast members who got to shout the phrase, but most boomers will recall Sammy Davis, Jr. strutting across the stage and making the phrase his own. Many boomers repeated Mr. Davis’ dance and cadence in classrooms and playgrounds.

There were many other catch phrases that became famous from the show, including:

Beautiful downtown Burbank — which was the location of the studio in which the show originated.
Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls! — a reference to the encyclopedia makers; Mister B’s family got their Funk & Wagnalls one letter book at a time as a bonus from the supermarket.
“I didn’t know that.” — Dick Martin used this phrase to respond to something that happened or was said in an episode.
Flying Fickle Finger of Fate — was an ersatz award invented by Laugh-In, and usually bestowed upon government officials or incompetent people. Announcer Gary Owens often repeated the alliteration in his show summary.
“Ve-e-l-l-l-ly eenteresting.” — Another phrase made famous by a recurring character on the show. In this case, Arte Johnson, dressed as a Nazi soldier and usually hiding behind a plant, observes the strange behavior before him and utters the phrase in his best fake German accent.
“One ringy-dingy…two ringy-dingies…” — Cast member Lily Tomlin invented her Ernestine character as a telephone operator in 1940s hair and dress. She would say the phrase in a nasal tone while waiting for the person she dialed to pick up the phone.
“Blow in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere.” — Another catch phrase from Dick Martin. It was his way of adding a non sequitur to what might otherwise be an innocent-sounding statement by Dan Rowan.

Then, every show closed with Dan Rowan saying to Dick Martin, “Say good night, Dick.” Dick Martin would respond, “Good night, Dick.”

Of course, there were many more. The cast was constantly changing as the show launched the careers of new comedians — including Alan Sues, Arte Johnson, Goldie Hawn, Flip Wilson, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley and a host of others — while established stars appeared in cameo roles. Only Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Gary Owens and Ruth Buzzi survived the entire run of the show.

How about it, boomers? Do you still find yourself repeating a Laugh-In phrase from time to time?

Must-See Military TV Shows for Boomers

There were a number of TV shows in the 1960s that had a military scenario as their basis, covering just about all of the branches of military service. Whether they were hour-long dramas or half-hour comedies, their goal was not historical accuracy or even military support, but rather, sheer entertainment. Despite this fact, for boomers growing up after WWII, in many cases they provided a window on that era that our parents and relatives pretty much did not want to talk about.

Mister B’s father was a big fan of many of the shows, so for the most part, they were the choice for family viewing when they were aired. Dozens were produced, but here are a few of the most popular, in chronological order of when they appeared:

Combat! (1962-’67)
The longest-running of the 1960s military-based shows, Combat! chronicled the events surrounding American soldiers fighting in France during WWII. An hour-long drama, it starred Vic Morrow as Sgt. Chip Saunders and Rick Jason as platoon leader Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley. Mister B and his father enjoyed the show immensely. Mister B especially liked PFC William Kirby, who was a wise-cracker and the squad’s B.A.R. man (Browning Automatic Rifle).

The show was also known for its guest stars, the list of which reads like a who’s who of the most popular actors of the day, including Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, James Coburn, Dwayne Hickman, Telly Savalas, Richard Basehart, Eddie Albert, James Caan, Leonard Nimoy, Frankie Avalon, Sal Mineo, Tab Hunter, Beau Bridges, John Cassavetes, Roddy McDowell, Mickey Rooney, James Whitmore, Dennis Hopper, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, Keenan Wynn, Fernando Lamas, Ricardo Montalban, Claude Akins, and Dean Stockwell, to name a few.

In real life the U.S. Army fought in France less than a year, but in the series they fought on for five seasons. The first 4 years were filmed in black & white, while the final season was presented in color.

McHale’s Navy (1962-’66)
Ernest Borgnine starred as Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale and Tim Conway was Ensign Charles Parker in this comedy series about a Navy PT crew during WWII. Boomers all knew about PT boats after reading President John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage account of his WWII service, but in this lighthearted show, the crew was always getting into some sort of trouble, yet somehow thwarted the enemy along the way.

12 O’Clock High (1964-’67)
American airmen in England was the basis of 12 O’Clock High, an hour-long drama about flying day missions over Nazi Germany during WWII. It starred Robert Lansing as Brigadier General Frank Savage, who was one of Mister B’s mom’s favorite actors.

No Time for Sergeants (1964-’65)
First came the book (1954), then a teleplay (1955), then Broadway (1955), then the movie (1958) before it was made into a TV series. Each accounted the time that character Will Stockdale, a country-bumpkin farm boy, was drafted during WWII and spent his time in the Army Air Force, which was then a part of the Army.

Andy Griffith starred as Stockdale in the 1955 teleplay, then reprised the role on Broadway. Don Knotts made his Broadway debut in that production as Corporal Manual Dexterity. The play ran for two years.

Sammy Jackson starred in the comedy TV series. He had one line in the movie version, but when he heard that Warner Bros. was producing the TV series, he convinced them that he should play the lead. Character Will Stockdale’s experience growing up on a farm helped him win friends and admiration from his superiors; he could help analyze aerial photos, and had backwoods experience that came in handy for survival situations. The TV show lasted one season.

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-’69)
A spinoff of The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle got its inspiration from No Time for Sergeants. Originally, Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) was an inept auto mechanic on Griffith’s show, meant to appear in a single epsisode. The character was so popular he became part of the cast for a full year before the character joined the Marines to launch the spinoff. Gomer was played as much more of a naive idiot than Stockdale on Sergeants. He was the constant thorn-in-the-side of Frank Sutton, who played Sergeant Carter. Later the two characters became friends in the plot line. Gomer is best remembered for his exclamations of “Shazam!” and “G-aw-aw-l-l-l-y.”

Hogan’s Heroes (1965-71)
How could a comedy set in a Nazi prison camp be funny, let alone successful? Simple. It was all about the characters. The American soldiers, led by Bob Crane as Col. Robert Hogan, came and went from the camp without the knowledge of their captors. They conducted espionage missions and generally disrupted the Nazi’s plans.

Most notable among a great ensemble cast was Werner Klemper as camp commander Col. Wilhelm Klink, and the character every boomer knew: Sgt. Hans Shultz as played by John Banner. His kindhearted yet inept character had the habit of looking the other way when the soldiers he was guarding conducted themselves in a manner that would make him look bad. This resulted in his uttering the famous line, “I know nothing!” at least once every episode. Every boomer repeated that line — fake German accent and all — many times in school and home situations.

F Troop (1965-’67)
The remote Army outpost named Fort Courage, Kansas, shortly after the Civil War, is the setting for F Troop. It was a place where the Army shipped its misfits and less-than-stellar officers. Forrest Tucker starred as Sgt. Morgan O’Rourke and Larry Storch was Cpl. Randolph Agarn. The two were constantly scheming of ways to make money through illicit trading or other business shenanigans, sometimes in cahoots with the local Indian tribe, the Hekawis. Ken Berry, as Capt. William Parmenter, was the commanding officer who never caught on to the goings-on in his own troop. The show was filled with slapstick and visual humor. Mister B especially liked when the Indian Chief Wild Eagle (Frank Dekova) introduced his tribe as “We’re the Hekawi,” sounding like he was lost in an Abbott and Costello routine.

Rat Patrol (1966-’68)
Three Americans and one Englishman are on long-range patrol in the North African desert during WWII in this hour-long drama. Their mission was to engage Nazi Field Marshall Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

Christopher George starred as Sgt. Sam Troy and Eric Braeden was his German nemesis, Capt. Hans Dietrich. As many of the military-based shows, historical fact was tossed to the wind in favor of an entertaining plot line.

Mister B’s family regularly watched all of these shows, with the exception of Hogan’s Heroes and Gomer Pyle. Those were tuned in on occasion, but not on a weekly basis. Mister B became aware of Hogan’s Heroes through reruns years later.

The shows of the 1960s primarily used World War II as their backdrop. It was 1972 before M*A*S*H appeared for its eleven-year run. Like its predecessors, it was entertaining, but unlike the others, it took place during the Korean conflict, and was largely seen as a dimly-veiled metaphor for Vietnam.

Which military-based shows did you watch, boomers?