Summer camps have long used handicrafts to keep kids busy when they’re stuck indoors on rainy days. For many years a popular camp craft activity has been to make braided neckerchief slides, bracelets, and lanyards for whistles and pocket knives from colorful strips of leather and plastic. Scoutmaster Robert Link coined the term boondoggling to describe this handicraft that originated with pioneers who wove and braided strips of uncured animal hides into useful items like belts and quirts.
The 1929 World Scouting Jamboree was held in England
Fifty-six thousand Boy Scouts from around the world camped out at a 450 acre site near Liverpool. The public was treated to many demonstrations, including various types of handicrafts where Scouts turned turned scraps into useful items. The scout troop from Rochester, New York crafted colorful “boondoggles” from thin strips of braided leather and presented them as gifts to the VIPs in attendance. Shown below reviewing the troops are the most famous of the dignitaries: Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, and Edward, Prince of Wales.
The grateful Prince wore his braided leather boondoggle around his scout hat in the manner of the corded hatband used by the United States Army troops of the times.
The most well-known handicraft is quilting
In olden times, people bought fabric by the yard and cut and sewed their own clothes. Frugal people saved the scraps that were left over and sewed them together to make quilts, curtains, and towels.
The depths of the Great Depression
In 1935, a story in the New York Times reported that the federal government had spent more than $3 million training unemployed white-collar workers to lead inner city arts and crafts classes. One of the goals of the classes was to teach kids how to create boondoggles, objects handmade from discarded materials. These were small but useful items inspired by the things people made back in the pioneer days. Hundreds of unemployed teachers were paid $87 a month to establish recreational programs that showed children in poorer neighborhoods how to transform old cigar boxes, tin cans and other trash into useful gadgets.
Critics of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal jumped on this as wasteful spending
The true absurdity of the situation was how an activity that was an effort to encourage children to turn waste materials into useful things became a word that meant waste itself.
An often cited example of a boondoggle is California’s High-Speed Rail project
Huge cost overruns and delay after delay turned a $40 billion project in one costing twice that. Begun in 1996, there is still no end in sight. In 2018, the New York Times published an article headlined “A $100 Billion Train: The Future of California or a Boondoggle?” In February of 2022, the Los Angeles Times reported the costs of this boondoggle just went up another $5 billion.
Handicraft items woven from thin, flat strips of easily bendable plastic are popular with children in many countries
In France, the name for the weaving technique used to create boondoggles is called scoubidou, a familiar sounding word.
In 1940, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera created the first of 114 Tom and Jerry cartoon shorts for MGM. In 1957, Bill and Joe started their own television animation studio. Legend says the partners tossed a coin to see whose name went first. Wikipedia says their work won them seven Academy Awards, eight Emmy Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You probably know more of their shows than you think. Here are just a few:
- Huckleberry Hound
- Josie and the Pussycats
- Magilla Gorilla
- Quick Draw McGraw
- Top Cat
- Yogi Bear
- and of course, Scooby-Doo.
In 1969 Hanna-Barbera developed an animated show called Who’s S-S-Scared
It was about teenagers and a dog who solved mysteries involving monsters and haunted houses. CBS executives rejected their pitch, saying the show would be too frightening for children. Fred Silverman, head of Children’s Programming for CBS, liked the idea because he was a big fan of silly monster comedies like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
On a red-eye flight from New York to Los Angeles, Silverman had a brainstorm
While listening to Frank Sinatra’s classic Strangers in the Night, he misheard the nonsense lyrics as scooby dooby do. He said it suddenly struck him that Scooby Doo would be a great name for Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon dog. The show was changed into a comedy, renamed Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and this time around the network executives green-lighted it.
Iwao Takamoto, the artist who created the original design of the cartoon dog, learned to draw while confined in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War Two. Hanna-Barbera had lured Takamoto away from his illustrator job at Walt Disney Studios by promising him he would have a hand in developing characters, not just drawing them. Takamoto said he was the one who got the inspiration to name the character he created from Sinatra’s lyric and not the credit-grabbing Silverman.
Either way, Scooby Doo first appeared a year after Sly and the Family Stone released their psychedelic soul album, Everyday People. Click here to listen and watch their #1 hit that included the lyrics “and so on and so on and scooby dooby doo.”
The nonsense syllables Sinatra sang in Strangers in the Night were dooby dooby doo, not scooby dooby doo, and they were a form of what is called scat singing. The term scat singing applies to vocalists who abandon the melody of a song as written and improvise their own non-sensical utterances. Some say scat singing began when Louis Armstrong forgot the words to the song Heebie Jeebies during a recording session. True or not, scat singing became a staple of jazz vocalists and was also a favorite of pop singers of the Fifties (Be-Bop-A-Lula, Da Doo Ron Ron, and A–wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom).
According to some, the song Strangers in the Night was written by Ivo Robiç for a Croatian music festival. Others say Armenian-American pianist Avo Uvezian wrote it. A Brazilian-born French composer claimed it was stolen from the song Magic Tango, written eight years earlier (I was surprised to hear how much they sound alike). What is known is that Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder wrote the English lyrics to the song and Sinatra ad-libbed the dooby dooby doo part.
In spite of Strangers in the Night being a huge hit and one of his most popular ballads, Sinatra hated the song. In his book Sinatra: The Life, Anthony Summers quotes Sinatra as telling his musical coordinator “I don’t want to sing this. It’s a piece of shit.” One night after singing it in concert, he was caught on a live microphone saying “That’s the worst fucking song I ever heard.” RXMusic says when his orchestra repeatedly played the opening of this song to coax him into singing it in a Las Vegas casino, Sinatra told his orchestra leader that he would “stick that violin bow up where the sun don’t shine” if he didn’t knock it off.
Country singer Glen Campbell (By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Rhinestone Cowboy) was a Hollywood recording studio guitarist-for-hire before becoming a singing star. Songfacts.com tells us that while they were recording Strangers in the Night in the studio, Campbell was so awed by Sinatra that he couldn’t stop staring at him. Thinking he had impressed Sinatra, Campbell asked producer Jimmy Bowen what Sinatra thought of him. Bowen’s reply was “He wanted to know who the fag guitar player was who was lusting after him.”
Sinatra was a misogynist with Mafia ties and a long line of conquests
Bill Zehme, author of The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin,’ has this to say about Sinatra, a man he regarded with great respect: “How could you not admire a fellow who bedded Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Mia Farrow, Anita Ekberg, Marlene Dietrich, and Marilyn Monroe?”
In Deadeye Dick, Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical novel about the death of innocence, the title character described seeing the following piece of graffiti on a wall:
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