Firstly, I hate talking about “Perfect Harolds” as if to imply there is an ideal Del Close laid out for us. Not true on many, many levels. That said, when you are teaching at one of the big theaters, when you have 18 students in class, when you are engaged in something easier done than said it’s great to have an example to point at at say, “Do that!”. So in the name of laziness I present the perfect Harold:
One of my sons favorite books is Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.” It’s one of the Busy Town books with anthropomorphic animals, trucks shaped like what they are transporting, and random pickles laying around on every page. My wife pointed out to me after reading this book for the hundredth time that it’s a perfect Harold. I think she’s right, and she’s not an improviser! (spoiler alert)
The story is ostensibly about the Pig family going to the beach for a picnic. Each page features a different location along their drive (the city, a farm, at a logging camp, etc,,,) and the appropriate cars and trucks that you would find there (passenger cars, tractors and log haulers for instance). While the Pig family is featured on every page they are far from the stars of every page. Countless mishaps and minor collisions give each page it’s own story. As an example, a minor character shouting, “Dump it there!” to her wheelbarrow-pushing husband causes every dumpable vehicle on the road to dump their own loads right where they are. Apples, coal and gravel go all over the street, narrowly missing the pig family Oh no! What a mess! In this way each page, while containing the Pig family, has it’s own independent identity. We could turn to a random page, know nothing of the pig family, and still enjoy ourselves. Like great Harold scenes, each page succeeds on its own without having to lean on the larger narrative.
More Haroldic still, there are inside jokes and recurring characters. Dingo Dog is driving recklessly and is being chased by Officer Flossy Fox. The chase is talked about explicitly on a few pages but while not often talked about the images of the chase are everywhere. Some pages just have Flossy. On others Dingo’s car is just seen peaking around from behind a bus. Other pages don’t have them at all but we know the chase is still going on. Like the fun running jokes in a Harold, they don’t try to take over the story or inject themselves into the text of every scene. They provide a fun accent to reward those that are paying attention.
The same is true of Goldbug. A small, golden bug that is hiding on every page. His presence is only mentioned once or twice but he’s always there, partially obscured by the action, yet not taking part in the action. This makes me think of strong Harold openings that have a clear but subtle and “hidden” influence on the show. Like tiny Goldbug on every page, the opening shows up in every scene but we don’t always see it. Nor do we need to, but the connections are there.
The Pig story concludes it’s arc; we see their picnic and subsequent drive home. Flossy catches Dingo. Gold bug waves to us. It’s over. The story of the Pig family is simple and not especially satisfying. But the story of their story, what happens around their story, is fascinating.