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Al Martinez

I feel as though I have been kidnaped by gypsy vaudevillians. : Mom and Pop

June 25, 1987|Al Martinez

Hi, boys and girls.

I'm standing in a tiny sound studio in West Hollywood listening to Pip and Miss Merrynote doing songs from "Pip the Piper." Or maybe they're from "Jack-in-the-Box." It hardly matters. Kid shows.

Pip is playing a toy plastic flute and Miss Merrynote is at the piano.

Sometimes, for laughs, Pip plays the flute from his nose.

He swings it in a wide and happy arc as Miss Merrynote bops up and down periodically, all of which is intended to indicate they are having fun.

Then they sing.

Who's in the TV box, my friend?

It's Jack-in-the-Box and friends, my friend!

"Very nice," I say. "Well, I guess I'd better be on my way."

"Wait," Pip says, "listen to this one":

I'm really very proud to be a skunk! Whatever you happen to be, be proud!

"That's really cute," I say.

"Do the parody," Miss Merrynote says, still bopping up and down at the piano.

"Which one?" Pip asks.

"I'm really very proud to be a drunk."

"Naw, not that one."

"All right," Miss Merrynote says, "then let the guy go."

She is referring to me. I have been trying to open the door but can't find the handle. It is buried under soundproofing material.

I feel as though I have been kidnaped by gypsy vaudevillians.

"One more," Pip says brightly.

He wears a kind of pixie grin as he plays. Close your eyes and you can imagine his ears are pointed and he is six inches tall.

What if the tongue of a shoe could talk to youuu . . .

"How do you open the door?" I say.

Their real names are Jack and Phyllis Spear and they run a mom-and-pop studio, where they produce radio and TV commercials.

They call it a mom-and-pop operation because, except for actors and other free-lancers they hire as needed, they do all the basic work themselves.

The music is from their children's shows in the days of live television. Cartoons wiped them off the air, but they simply segued kids songs into jingles for commercials.

Phyllis snaps her fingers and bops as she does their Wendy's spot in a kind of rap rhythm:

One potato, two potato, three potato four, five different kinds, they all taste fine, with a medium drink, just a dollar ninety-nine, ummmmm.

They are in their mid-50s and have been married for 35 years, but they both remain amazingly perky. You don't see many middle-age perky people around anymore. By 40, all of the perk is gone.

As I enter the studio, Jack is arguing with a man who wants him to produce a commercial for something called the First American Law Center.

"Lawyers," Jack is saying disgustedly. "No ethics. No morals. No imagination. All they care about is profit. You don't believe me? Ask him." He points to the man from the First American Law Center. "He's a lawyer."

"Right," the guy says. "I agree with him."

Jack says, "We're making a commercial for lawyers, right? That's tough enough. I come up with, 'We all make mistakes. Nixon, Reagan, Hart, Bakker . . .' They want it to say problems, not mistakes. The whole thing is ruined!"

Commercials are not their favorite things to do, the Spears say, but it brings in money. Their hearts are still with Pip and Miss Merrynote, but Pip and Miss Merrynote didn't get the big bucks.

For a commercial you pay anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000. The Spears make up to 100 a year. Mom and pop do all right.

"Commercials are all a pain to make," Jack says, "but some are bigger pains than others. We were doing one for Pep Boys. You know, Manny, Moe and Jack? We wanted to lower a guy 80 feet on a piano wire into a building.

"We were going to hire a stunt man but the actor, who is kind of a macho guy, wants to do it himself, so we say OK and lower him on the crane with three cameras going and he throws up. Only then does the guy tell us he gets vertigo. Can you believe it?"

Jack oversees most of the technical work. Music is Phyllis' specialty. "I sing and dance and make lunch," she says, showing me a kitchen set. "We did some work here for a Vanna White special not long ago. A sweet, bland girl."

This is no small-time operation. BMW, Western Airlines, Cadillac, Taco Bell and the Encyclopaedia Britannica are among their clients. Oh Boy! Stuffed Potatoes, too.

They show me a 90-second videotape of a cooking show they're trying to sell called "Fish Maven." Maven is a Yiddish word for self-appointed expert.

In the video, Sandy Yudovin is talking about the versatility of salmon in a script written by Jack. He bobs his head back and forth as he says in a kind of sing-song tone:

It can be roasted, toasted, fiddle-fried, baked, boiled, stewed or poached.

"We were going to get an actor," Jack says, "but the guy really loves fish."

"Do Discount Tires," Phyllis says.

Jack breaks into a song about low prices and quality and reliability, but I'm already out the door.

So long, Pip. So long, Miss Merrynote.

Th-th-that's all, folks!

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