“To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes … without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled.”
-George Washington at Valley Forge,
April 21, 1778
General Washington's headquarters
g the winter of of 1777-1778 the prospect of more fighting during the war for Independence, was not possible because of the weather, and the poor condition of Washington’s troops. They had fought their last battle of 1777 at White Marsh, and he had decided to rest his troops at a relatively safe and secure position at Valley Forge.
Named for an iron forge on Valley Creek, the area was close enough to the British to keep their raiding and foraging parties out of the interior of Pennsylvania, yet far enough away to halt the threat of British surprise attacks.
The poorly fed, ill-equipped army, weary from long marches, struggled into Valley Forge, and the winds blew cold, as the 12,000 Continentals prepared for winter’s fury.
The first properly constructed hut appeared in three days. Within six weeks, more than a thousand huts were finished to provide shelter for the rag-tag army. But everything thing else, food, clothing, shoes, and medicines were left wanting.
Because of the harsh conditions, and lack of supplies, it is hardly remembered that over 2000 men died, without a shot being fired.
Disease at Valley Forge was rampant. Sanitary conditions in the 18th Century were very poor. Small pox, typhoid or typhus (known as putrid fever), pneumonia, and dysentery were some.
Valley Forge Arrival
Most of the troops were inoculated for small pox at Valley Forge, but these men were usually on an inactive status because they were quarantined.
It is a little known fact, that more Americans died during this winter, than at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown combined.
It is also a little known fact, that over 5000 Americans of African descent served in Washington’s army. African American men were active members on the battlefield, a mixture of freed and enslaved men who took up arms.
After the war had ended, a resolution passed by Congress in 1779 decreed that any enslaved man serving with the Continental Army, upon the termination of their service, would be a freed man. And while a majority of men of African descent were freed, a large portion of them were not.
Also not widely known is the fact that a great number of Native Americans from the Oneida Indian Nation in particular had a crucial impact during the Valley Forge encampment.
Washington’s troops were the most racially integrated of any American army fielded, up until Vietnam.
So severe were conditions at times that Washington despaired that the army might have to be disbanded, and every man let go to forage for himself. But with the help of men like General Christopher Ludwig, Friedich Von Steuben, Henry Knox, and a host of Camp followers that consisted of the families, wives, children, mothers, and sisters of the soldiers, who were continually trying to help and raise the morale of Washington’s men, the army survived.
Huts for the soldiers
On June 19 1778, after training all winter and their ordeal finally over, they left Valley Forge to pursue the British, and continue the war for Independence.
One of Valley Forge’s first tourist attractions was the historic house now called Washington’s Headquarters, dedicated in 1879 by the Centennial and Memorial Association of Valley Forge.
One of the earliest people to come as a tourist (and write about the experience) was John Fanning Watson who visited in 1828.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania established its first state park at Valley Forge in 1893.
Valley Forge became a National Park in 1976, for the Bicentennial.
Birth and Death: November 30, 1924 – November 20, 1973
Most known for: An American comedy writer who became famous as a song parodist in the early 1960s.
First album:My Son, the Folk Singer (1962). It became the fastest-selling record album up to that time.
Biggest hit: Sherman’s biggest hit single was “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”, a comic novelty in which a boy describes his summer camp experiences to the tune of Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours.
Allan Copelon?: Sherman took his mother’s maiden name after being abandoned in childhood by his father, Percy Copelon, a stock car racer, mechanic, and inventor. Much later, Copelon offered to pay for Sherman’s education if he would re-take the family name, but when no support was forthcoming, the young man became Allan Sherman once again.
TV Show Writer and Producer: Sherman created a game show, which he called “I Know a Secret.” TV producer Mark Goodson used Sherman’s idea and turned it into I’ve Got a Secret, which ran on CBS from 1952 to 1967. Rather than paying him for the concept, Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions made Sherman the show’s producer. Sherman was reported to be warm and kindhearted to all who worked for him. But sparks often flew between Sherman and anyone who was in a position to try to restrain his creativity.
As producer of I’ve Got a Secret, which was broadcast live, he showed a fondness for large scale stunts that had the potential to teeter on the brink of disaster. He once released 100 bunny rabbits onstage as an Easter surprise for the Madison Square Boys Club, whose members were seated in the studio. The boys were invited to come up onstage to collect their prize. Although the resultant melee made a good story, it did not necessarily make for good TV. The relationship between Mark Goodson-Bill Todman and Sherman became strained to the breaking point when he finally fought to execute an idea that was destined to fall flat. His plan was to have Tony Curtis teach the panel how to play some of the games he had played as a child growing up in New York City. The problems manifested themselves when it became obvious that Tony Curtis had never actually played any of the games that Sherman had brought the props for. The situation might have been salvaged had the props worked as planned, but they did not. The handkerchief parachute failed to open and land gracefully and the pool “tank” which was propelled by rubber band moved painfully slowly. The spot, which aired June 11, 1958, was a disaster and Sherman was fired as producer. His dismissal did not, however, prevent Mark Goodson-Bill Todman from bringing Sherman back many times as a guest on their shows in subsequent years after he achieved celebrity status following the release of his albums.
Sherman also produced a short-lived 1954 game show, What’s Going On? which was technologically ambitious, with studio guests interacting with multiple live cameras in remote locations. In 1961 he produced a daytime game show for Al Singer Productions called Your Surprise Package which aired on CBS with host George Fenneman.
My Son, The Folk Singer: Sherman lived in the Brentwood section of West Los Angeles next door to Harpo Marx, who invited him to perform his song parodies at parties attended by Marx’s show-biz friends. After one party, George Burns phoned a record executive and persuaded him to sign Sherman to a contract. The result was a long playing album of these parodies, entitled My Son, the Folk Singer, which was released in 1962. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
My Son, The Celebrity:My Son, the Folk Singer was so successful that it was quickly followed by My Son, the Celebrity, which ended with “Shticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other,” fragments of song parodies including Robert Burns’: “Dinna make a stingy sandwich, pile the cold cuts high;/Customers should see salami comin’ thru the rye.”
Success with Top 40 Hit: In 1963’s My Son, The Nut, Sherman’s pointed parodies of classical and popular tunes dealt with automation in the workforce (“Automation,” to the tune of “Fascination”), space travel (“Eight Foot Two, Solid Blue,” to “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”), the exodus from the city to the suburbs (“Here’s to the Crabgrass,” to the tune of “English Country Garden”), and his own bloated figure (“Hail to Thee, Fat Person,” which perhaps only half-jokingly blames his obesity on the Marshall Plan).
One track from My Son, The Nut, a spoof of summer camp entitled “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” became a surprise novelty hit, reaching #2 on the national Billboard Hot 100 chart for three weeks in late 1963. The lyrics were sung to the tune of one segment of Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”, familiar to the public because of its use in the Walt Disney film Fantasia. That December, Sherman’s “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” single appeared on Billboard’s separate Christmas chart. Sherman had one other Top 40 hit, a 1965 take-off on the Petula Clark hit “Downtown” called “Crazy Downtown”, which spent one week at #40. Two other Sherman singles charted in the lower regions of the Billboard 100: an updated “Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh” (#59 in 1964), and “The Drinking Man’s Diet” (#98 in 1965). He “Bubbled Under” with “The End Of A Symphony”, reaching #113 in 1964, spotlighting Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops Orchestra.
Decline in Popularity: Sherman’s career success was short-lived: after peaking in 1963, his popularity declined rather quickly. After the JFK assassination, impersonator Vaughn Meader vowed to never again do a Kennedy impression, and perhaps because of this ominous shadow – Meader was a very popular parody impressionist of the day – and the resulting reluctance to book such acts, the public saw less of Sherman’s type of comedy. By 1965, Sherman had released two albums that did not make the Top 50 and in 1966, Warner Brothers dropped him from the label. His last album for the company, Togetherness, was released in 1967 to poor reviews and poorer sales. All of Sherman’s previous releases had been recorded in front of a live studio audience – or in the case of Live, Hoping You Are The Same, recorded during a Las Vegas performance – but Togetherness was not, and the lack of an audience and their response affected the result, as did the nondescript backup singers and studio orchestra.
On and Off Broadway: In 1969, Sherman wrote the script and lyrics – but not the music, which was written by Albert Hague – for The Fig Leaves Are Falling, a flop Broadway musical that lasted only four performances in 1969, despite direction by George Abbott and a cast that included Barry Nelson, Dorothy Loudon and David Cassidy.Still creative, in 1973 Sherman published the controversial The Rape of the A*P*E*, which detailed his point of view on American Puritanism and the sexual revolution.
With Dr. Suess: In 1971, Sherman was the voice of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” for the television special. He also did voice work for Dr. Seuss on the Loose, his last project before his death.
Death: Late in his life, Sherman drank and ate heavily, which resulted in a dangerous weight gain; he later developed diabetes and struggled with lung disease. In 1966, his wife Dee filed for divorce, and received full custody of their son and daughter.
Sherman lived on unemployment for a time and moved into the Motion Picture Home, near Calabasas, California for a short time in order to lose weight. He died of emphysema at home in West Hollywood ten days before his 49th birthday. He is entombed in Culver City, California’s Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery.
Legacy: Sherman was the inspiration for a new generation of developing parodists such as “Weird Al” Yankovic, who pays homage to Sherman on the cover of his first LP. Sherman’s hit song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” has been translated into other languages. In one notable example, the Dutch-Swedish poet Cornelis Vreeswijk has translated the song into Swedish and adopted it as his own.
I am a recovering engineer and rocket scientist turned project manager turned management consultant turned publisher. I have always been a purveyor and proponent of education, expertise, erudition and enlightenment, and someday I will figure out what I want to be when I grow up.