The Playhouse Story
How They Dood It
by Jim Copp
Working at home far into the night with three Ampex tape machines, a piano, a kazoo, to say nothing of a celeste, a pump – organ, bongo drums (and don’t forget the ratchet, the Autoharp, the tambourine, tin whistle, castanets, teacher’s desk-bell ) plus myriad reels of tape and editing gear, Jim Copp conjured a lunatic land that stretched all the way from Thimble Corner to Flumdiddle. And as the residents of this daft world were coming slowly to life, a half mile away at his home, Ed Brown – a recent retiree from his father’s steel business – sat at a drawing board designing a new album cover, or rehearsing his lines for the next day. Aborning were such Copp-Brown stars as “The Dog that Went to Yale”, Miss Goggins (a shrieking fourth-grade school teacher), the terminally provincial Glup family (“I thought all planes fly to Maine”), Feeble Phoebe, Mr. Hippity… Little Claude… Copp began as a night club piano-comic in New York (immediately following sojourns at Stanford and Harvard), splitting bills with the likes of Lena Horne, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday. After a World War II hitch, commanding an intelligence unit in Germany, he returned to his native Los Angeles, and for several years wrote and illustrated a breezy society column for the L.A. Times entitled “Skylarking with James Copp.” Finally, with friend Ed Brown, who was a recent U.S.C. grad, linguist, world traveler – and as it soon developed – near genius at design, he began to assemble the LP’s that would occupy the two of them for more than a decade.
“Harebrained!” said their families. But: “…a freshness and gaiety that haven’t been encountered since the long ago days of the young Disney,” said The New Yorker; and: “…may have opened up a new medium of expression, exclaimed Frederic Ramsey, Jr. in Saturday Review. And that is how it all began with the recordings of Jim Copp and Ed Brown. One record a year: it would start in early January – Copp seated at a desk or table or on a Hawaiian beach, writing the songs and stories for their next record. When the writing was at long last complete, a list was made of the sound effects that would be needed and when Copp and Brown had recorded or accounted for these, work began on voices: Copp made a list of all the speeches each character was to speak.
Weeks later, when one by one all these speeches had been recorded, sitting again at his desk, now with earphones and editing equipment, he would begin combining sounds, voices and music into a first rough draft. Unlike a stage play, the record was almost literally performed at a desk. Voices were melded into conversation. If needed, more music was added. Copp’s five or six-piece orchestra consisted of himself only, playing, one at a time, each instrument: the piano in the living room, the pump-organ in a bathroom, celeste in a bedroom.
While Copp was thus engaged, Brown, at his own house, began designing a unique gimmick to accompany the record and help in its sale.
Their first album, JIM COPP TALES, included a cartoon wheel that illustrated the action on the record. The listener could turn the wheel while listening. A more intricate extra was included with GUMDROP FOLLIES, where the double-sleeve jacket opened into a colorful theater stage with punch-out actors and scenery – trees, buildings, vehicles. The show unfolding on the record could be recreated on the small stage as the record played. Other albums contained geographical games (both Glup LPs) and a colorful slide show (SCHOOLMATES).
Fans sometimes ask who did which voices? Did Copp do all the low voices and Brown the high? No such simple answer is possible. Copp did the gruff voice of Rik, but he did the high, squeaky, speeded voices of Teenytiny, Junior Jones, Glue Glup and Etienne Ant as well, not to mention the voices of Zella, Miss. Goggins and Teenytiny’s mother. Brown was Teenytiny’s father and Gik and the Man in the Union Suit and sweated through exactly 200 speeches of Mrs. Glup before he’d finished. All of the voices without exception were done by the two young men.
When the record itself was finished and released, usually in October, the pair grabbed suitcases and embarked on a zigzag trip about the country, visiting I. Magnin, Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, F.A.O. Schwarz, Bergdorf Goodman and other stores that featured their records, promoting and autographing. These arduous trips generally lasted through the holiday season, and, as a result, many new listeners became acquainted with Jim Copp and Ed Brown.
Then off Copp and Brown went to Honolulu with their suitcases.
Many years have passed and Ed Brown, too, is gone, sadly for Jim. His new partner in the re-release of the Copp-Brown recordings is Ted Leyhe, of Berkeley, California.