David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

The Scarlett Pumpernickel

That the Scarlett Pumpernickel was voted the 31st best cartoon of all time by members of the animation field is no surprise. Every frame is beyond brilliant. Daffy Duck portrays the title character, a swashbuckler replete with bandana. Sylvester the Cat plays the stuttering malefactor. Note the plume on the hat! Their sword play is scintillating.

Sylvester: The Scarlet P-p-pumpernickel! En garde! [Hero and villain cross swords]

Daffy Duck: Riposte!

Sylvester: Café au lait!

Daffy Duck: Champs-Élysées!

The only necessary context is that The Scarlett Pumpernickel is a parody of The Scarlet Pimpernel, a book. I suppose the cartoon is even funnier if viewers are familiar with the original. But Sylvester and Daffy using the only French words they know as fencing terms quacks me up. (Sorry.)

And it gets even funnier. In an effort to impress “J. L.” (J. L. Warner, head of the studio) Daffy escalates the action:

[Melissa screams in fear as the two start swashbuckling. The scene fades to J.L’s office]

Daffy Duck: Fight! Fight! Fight!

J.L.: Yeah, yeah, yeah, then what?

Daffy Duck: Then what, then, what… Oh, and the storm broke in all its fury and the dam broke!

J.L.: Yeah, yeah, yeah, then what?

Daffy Duck: The cavalry rode to the rescue, but they were a little too late.


Daffy Duck: The volcano erupted, and threw lava over everything in sight!

J.L.: Then what?

Daffy Duck: The price of foodstuffs skyrocketed!

(Which brings me to my favorite. The scene changes from Daffy frantically trying to impress the studio head to a brief shot of a plate with a tiny food item and a sign: “Kreplach, $1000.”)

J.L.: Is that all?

Daffy Duck[crawling out from under his pile of pages, overcome with exhaustion] “Is that all”?! There was nothing for the Scarlet Pumpernickel to do, but blow his brains out, which he did. [shoots through his hat]

And them the punch line: “It’s getting so you have to kill yourself to sell a story around here!”


I don’t know much about selling scripts to Hollywood studios in the 1950s, but I have watched my colleagues “help” students choose and apply to colleges since the late 1970s. The definition of help has transformed. Forty years ago, it was accepted as borderline unethical for a counselor–public school, private school, or independent–to say much more than, “this essay does not represent your best work.” Twenty years ago, counselors typically taught grammar lessons. “Let’s learn ‘who’ and ‘whom’ then you might want to make a correction in your second paragraph.” Ten years ago, counselors became proof readers and editors. Recently, I have heard stories about parents writing essays for students. In was then a short step from inventing essays to inventing students.

In addiction medicine, we say “the best way to stop is not to start.”

All the madness can be avoided by focusing on who the child is rather than on where she is admitted to college. If parents and counselors get out of the essay writing business, the children can step in to fill up the void. Students might find their voice by working on subsequent drafts of an essay themselves. They might come to believe that their parents trust them. Pretty much every college in the country requires first-year students to take English Composition. Students who were denied the opportunity to write their own application essays may be at a disadvantage in classes where in-class writing is both common and compulsory.

It’s priceless when Daffy and Sylvester mistake “cafe au lait” and “Champs-Élysées” for fencing terms. It’s less amusing when first year students end up in classes for which they lack preparation. Bringing some semblance of decency back to the written portion of the application process will allow counselors and parents to return to their proper roles–that of being adults who don’t have to escalate their “help” beyond all reason.

Links: Click here for the cartoon.



3 thoughts on “The Scarlett Pumpernickel


    My only critique: no Bugs Bunny!
    But seriously, recent events have highlighted the “privileged class” taking advantage of a system because they are economically empowered to do so. They are finding that the law applies to everybody, but their privilege allows them to purchase legal representation that will keep them out of jail.

    I have observed, and continue to observe failures in parenting and the results. One particular parent who did her sons homework, always argued his position in middle school, fought for him in high school: he wasn’t lazy, he must be learning disabled, now finds him as a young adult. The result is not good. He did have good athletic ability in football. Some of his friends are in the Pros. He had a full ride to college on a Football scholarship, but left. Now he’s “lost” at 26. A brother that got him in a union is disappointed because he does not to work, he has a girlfriend in a relationship built on lies, and his parents are worried the he may come back to live with them. Be careful what you create. We love our children, but they are fallible. By doing the heavy lifting early on, some may become conditioned to it as a way of life. It isn’t. Life can be hard. At some point we all have to face that. Our children will eventually have to face reality too.

  2. Richard A. Freeman

    The fervor and zeal that parents bring to the college admission process for their progeny has reached nosebleed territory. Anything goes. The offspring are the football. The parents (and the consultants that they hire) are the coaches and the players. The kids get tossed around while the parents and the consultants call the plays and run with the ball. The objective is to get the kids over the goal line. The whole process is backwards.
    The kids should call the plays and run with the ball themselves. The whole process of applying for college is to learn how to strategize, plan, organize, re-think the plan, execute, follow up, and deal with failure. Taking away the college application process from the kids is to miss the point altogether. If the kids get into a college through the overzealous assistance of their parents, then the kids may also just cruise through college, and never really learn how to strategize, plan, organize, execute, and fend for themselves. That would be a missed opportunity for the kids.
    Life is a learned process, with the emphasis on “learned.” The learning is not just the substance of academic courses. It is really about learning how to plan one’s time; how to “work the system;” how to deal with people effectively; how to achieve reasonable objectives. When parents get in the way of that process, the kids lose. No one wants to lose, or be called (as Trump often says) a loser. And when a kid applies for college on one’s own, he wins even if he loses the silver ring.
    Daffy and Sylvester have learned how to fight, fight, fight. Kids need to learn that, too.

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