Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Importance of Literary Name Choices

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Every once in a while, those of us keeping WB together get to feeling burdened by the needs of others, whose problems—as the late, great Leonard Spock pointed out—outweigh our own as individuals. But then we think of a classic tale, patched together by six writers, of selflessness being its own reward. And we feel better.

We speak of course about It's a Great Existence, the story of Eugene Bailey and his wife Gertrude, who eke out a reasonable living in the little town of Mount Bedford. Eugene runs the Local Citizens Credit Union while Gertrude raises the children, including Jennifer, who puts some rose thorns in her daddy's coat pocket one night (giving rise to the famous scene where Eugene exclaims, "Jenny's thorns!")

All goes pretty well until a day when Eugene's forgetful uncle, Fred, who helps to run the credit union, misplaces an $8,000 deposit in the lobby of a bank run by the Bailey family's arch-nemesis, Mr. Pfefferhasen, who hates the credit union because it offers lower interest on loans. Spying the panicked uncle from inside his office, the evil Pfefferhasen sneaks into the lobby, steals the deposit, and calls the credit union examiner to report the theft—by Fred.

This, of course, is where things start to fall apart for Eugene, who pretty quickly is out getting drunk, starting fights with his friends Josh the cop and Tony the cab driver, and wishing he'd never been born. Luckily, God sends an angel named Ralph to intervene just as Eugene flings himself off the top of Mount Bedford. Through a series of flashbacks, Ralph shows Eugene how the lives of everyone around him would be different if he had never been born.

This is especially true for Eugene's childhood employer, Zlotnik the pharmacist, who would have accidentally poisoned a customer if Eugene hadn't double-checked the label, and for Spike Bailey, Eugene's little brother, who would have drowned during a winter sledding accident without his older brother to save him.

The story comes to a rousing happy ending with Ralph persuading Eugene to live, Eugene running down Main Street and shouting out "Merry Christmas, Local Citizens Credit Union" and festive greetings to Josh and Tony, then singing New Year's carols with Gertrude and the kids as everyone in town comes to give him money. Even his former high school competitor for Gertrude's affections, the wealthy industrialist Herb Wainscot, wires $25,000 over to Eugene's credit union.

Mr. Pfefferhasen is never charged for stealing the credit union's deposit, nor does he repent and give the money back, because the six screenwriters couldn't find a way to work that in. But since he's cleverly named for a stewed rabbit, viewers will understand that he's cooked no matter what.

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