"Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat" is a 1940 hit boogie-woogie song written by Don Raye. A bawdy, jazzy tune, the song describes a laundry woman from Harlem, New York whose technique is so unusual that people come from all around just to watch her scrub. The Andrews Sisters and Will Bradley & His Orchestra recorded the most successful pop versions of the song, but it is today best recognized as the centerpiece of an eponymous Walter Lantz Studio cartoon from 1941.
The short, released on March 28, 1941 by Universal Pictures features no director credit (Walter Lantz claims to have directed the cartoon himself), with a story by Ben Hardaway, animation by Alex Lovy and Frank Tipper, and voice work by Mel Blanc. The short is awash with blackface stereotypes of African American people and culture, and of life in the rural Southern United States.
The short opens to an orchestral rendition of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home", immediately setting the scene in the rural South of blackface minstrelsy. The setting is Lazytown, perhaps the laziest place on earth. The town's residents (all stereotypes of African Americans) nor the animals can be bothered to leave their reclining positions to do anything at all. Their pastoral existence is permanently interrupted by the arrival of a riverboat carrying a svelte, sophisticated, lightskinned woman from Harlem, whose physical beauty inspires the entire populace to spring into action.
The visiting urbanite admonishes one of the town's residents, "Look here, Mammy. That ain't no way to wash clothes! What you all need is rhythm!" She then proceeds to sing "Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat", which the townfolk slowly join her in performing. Thus begins a montage which is the short's centerpiece. The townsfolk are infected by the song's rhythm and proceed to go about playing instruments, dancing suggestively and even performing their daily chores with newfound vigor. By the time the young lady from Harlem is due to reboard her riverboat and return home, she's succeeded in turning Lazytown into a lively community of swing musicians.
Controversy over contentEdit
Despite the short's lighthearted tone and its unusual (for the time) featuring of a desirable young African American woman, modern viewers would likely find the depiction of Lazytown's residents as unkempt, mush-mouthed layabouts to be deplorably irresponsible. The depiction of the jazz singer from Harlem represents the "exotic sex symbol" stereotype foisted upon young Black women in cinema at the time and which dated back to the mulatto wench characters of blackface minstrel shows a century earlier. The short, like the infamous Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, does indeed derive almost all of its humor from minstrel show stereotypes of African Americans. Characters who appear in Lazytown include mammies, an old pappy, pickaninnies, dandies, and slave-like Jim Crows. Thus, few people have actually ever seen the short, and its presence in the modern American consciousness is virtually nonexistent.
In Leonard Maltin's Of Mice and Magic, Walter Lantz, discussing TV censorship, was quoted as saying: "The first thing that happened was the elimination of all my films that contained Negro characters; there were eight such pictures. But we never offended or degraded the colored race and they were all top musical cartoons, too."