Fine and Dandy
Bill Long 2/4/06
On the Surprising History of Bland
If there ever was a subject I never expected to be writing about it is the phrase "fine and dandy." I heard it intoned in my youth on occasion when an older person of particularly bubbly temperament described how he was feeling. As I grew up and learned other such terms (such as "copacetic"*), I just attributed
[*I don't have space here for a detour into the word "copacetic." While the earliest attestation of it in the OED is from 1919, its use as "Kopasetee" by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1864) in his wildly controversial Nigger Heaven (1926)--describing in detail the social, intellectual and musical life of the Harlem Renaissance [a new edition of this work has recently been published, with introduction by Kathleen Pfeiffer]--probably should point us to the Black culture of the earliest 20th century NY as the place where the term arose.]
them to the way that older people talked, and I thought nothing further about it. Indeed, as my own kids grew up and learned words for describing things, they often rendered some of my vocabulary obsolete (for example, I was brought up to refer to people from China as "Orientals," whereas everyone knows that they really are "Asians"). Thus, I believed "fine and dandy" was simply a term that had no meaning other than as a synonym for "fine." As I did a little digging, however, I found an interesting legal case relating to the words as well as a club, formed in the mid-1920s, called the "Fine and Dandy Club," developed by an eager Fuller Brush salesman. Let's begin at the beginning.
First Use of the Term
The OED defines "fine and dandy" as "fine, splendid, first-rate." The first attestation it provides of this phrase is from 1908: "I got yore smokin', Orphant! Her she is, right side up and fine and dandy!" Yet, a little research revealed that the phrase originated in a song from Act II of the 1903 musical extravagana, Wizard of Oz. As the online summary says: "In act Two of the 1903 Wizard of Oz King Pastoria and his girlfriend Tryxie Tryfle have a lovers' quarrel, after which Tryxie laments the loss of her previous beau, Sammy, in the hit song from the musical." Lotta Faust's performance of "Sammy" helped propel this work to national notoreity. The thing that made the song so alluring was the way that Faust singled out a man in the audience, in what became known the "Sammy-box," and imploringly "came on" to him during the song. The crowds loved it. The first verse of the song ran as follows:
"Did you ever meet the fellow
Fine and dandy,
Who can readily dispel
Your ills and woes?
Did you ever meet the boy
Who's all the candy
Where e'er he goes?
That's the very sort of fellow
I'm in love with,
He is all the daffodils
Of early spring,
And to me the finest bliss is
Just to revel in his kisses
When to him I sing:" (Chorus follows).
Success breeds imitation. So it was that the actress Fay Templeton (1865-1939), an Arkansas native and daughter of parents who were both actors, began performing in the otherwise not illustrious Broadway show The Runaways (from May-Oct. 1903). In this show she sang or imitated other female performers in a number of works. One of those she imitated was Lotta Faust's performance of Tryxie's song "Sammy."
Her performance reached the attention of Bloom & Hamlin, who were, respectively, the owners of the copyright in the song "Sammy" and the owner and manager of the musical extravaganza Wizard of Oz, and they did what all such owners do: they sue. So, in 1903, while the Runaways was running, they brought an action for injuctive relief in federal court for the Eastern District of PA against Nixon, the manager of The Runaways. Such an action would have had the effect of putting a stop to performances of this part of The Runaways. A small irony in this case is that the decision was handed down on Nov. 23, 1903, a month after the show had ended its Broadway run. But that is no matter for law; there are legal principles to be hammered out for the next such case.
The issue in the case, Bloom & Hamlin v. Nixon, 125 F 977 (ED PA, 1903) was framed as follows: Had Nixon violated sec. 4966 of the Revised Statutes (of the United States), as amended in 1897, which imposed a liability of damages upon any person "publicly performing or representing any dramatic or musical composition for which a copyright has been obtained, without the consent of the proprietor of said dramatic or musical composition.." At first glance, without knowing all the details of the case, it seemed as if Ms. Templeton's imitation of Ms. Faust's performance in Wizard of Oz might, in fact, actually violate the statute. Certainly no permission had been obtained; certainly she had sung parts of the song "Sammy." In addition, as the court said, Miss Templeton was said to possess "unusual powers of mimicry." Nevertheless, the court didn't grant complainants' request for an injunction. Here is why.
The court pointed to several differences between the Templeton and Faust performances. First, the chorus girls, who "backed up" Faust when she approached the "Sammy box" to sing, weren't there for Templeton. Second, Templeton only sang the chorus of the song. Third, the court placed the emphasis on Templeton as an imitator of gestures and personality, and not of music. "It seems to me that the chorus of the song is a mere vehicle for carrying the imitation along." Finally, the audience at The Runaways was warned that Templeton's song was only supposed to be a parodic imitation. The court therefore rested its decision on two points: (1) to hear the song, in fact, you still had to go to Wizard of Oz; and (2) Templeton's imitation was of Faust and not of the song. While the latter might seem a bit of a stretch, it probes an important question for copyright infringement litigation--what is the copyright "thing" and what is being "imitated" by the action sought to be enjoined?
Well, this gets us started on the phrase "fine and dandy." But now let's turn to the way that it was taken over in the world of salesmanship in the 1920s.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long