Al Capp's Shmoo

A look at Al Capp's cartoon character the Shmoo which became a big fad in the late 1940s and the reason for its sudden demise.

You can be forgiven your ignorance on this subject since the Shmoo made its brief appearance in the newspaper comics pages over fifty years ago. The Shmoo was the creation of cartoonist Al Capp in his popular Li'l Abner strip. With much fanfare Capp introduced the Shmoo in August 1948 and for the rest of the year the world went Shmoo crazy.

This creature inspired hundreds of Shmoo clubs all over North America as well as the "Society for the Advancement of the Shmoo." There were dozens of Shmoo products including Shmoo greeting cards, balloons, dolls, toys, jai-alai paddles, belts, suspenders, dairy goods, fountain pens, earrings, neckties, ashtrays, plant holders, soap, and curtains to name just a few. A garment factory in Baltimore turned out a line of Shmoo clothes including Shmooveralls.

The people of 1948 danced to the Shmoo Rhumba and the Shmoo Polka. The Shmoo entered our everyday language through such phrases as "What's Shmoo?" and "Happy Shmoo Year!" The best selling book, "The Life and Times of the Shmoo," was devoured by the reading public. Al Capp was even invited to go on a radio show to debate socialist Norman Thomas on the effect of the Shmoo on modern capitalism. Meanwhile in Germany, the commanders of the Berlin Airlift cabled Capp requesting a dozen inflatible Shmoos to be dropped from transport planes into Berlin as part of "Operation Little Vittles."

By now you are probably wondering why all the fuss over the Shmoo. Well, let me describe the Shmoo. It was a lovable bowling pin-shaped whiskered creature. The Shmoo yielded milk, eggs, cheesecake, and just about anything else you might desire. Shmoo meat when roasted was pork, when broiled it was steak, and when fried it was chicken. The eyes of a Shmoo made good suspender buttons and its whiskers made fine toothpicks. The skin when cut thin served as high quality cloth, cut thick it was leather, and cut in strips it became boards for housing.

Since the Shmoo was fast breeding and lived on practically nothing, it provided for almost all of society's needs. It turned out to be too much of a good thing. The Shmoos gave people all that they desired so the characters of Capp's comic strip quit their jobs. As a result of their indolence, civilization declined. Capp, himself sick of the Shmoo, finally dropped it from his strip early in 1949.

Al Capp attempted to revive the Shmoo in his comic strip in the late 1950s but the times just weren't right. A world that went wild for the Shmoo in 1948 ignored the Shmoo ten years later. Capp quickly retired the Shmoo from his strip for a second time, allowing the Shmoo to live on only in memory.

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