NOTE: you must be over 40 years old or a classic TV buff to know what the flaming heck we’re taking about here.
The character on the left is Dumb Donald from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. He’s the Cosby Kid known for being as smart as a bag of rocks and wearing a ski cap over his head, presumably hiding a horrible disfigurement or premature baldness, or maybe just the total absence of a face altogether.
The character on the right is Mushmouth, also from Fat Albert. His chief claim to fame is that he spoke in a hee-larious (in the days preceding Political Correctness) speech impediment, putting “buh”s after each syllable.
You’d be surprised, actually. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, which ran on CBS on Saturday mornings from September 9, 1972 to September 1, 1984 and then in syndication until August of 1985, was a wildly popular show among the Generation X crowd; the cartoon was so popular, in fact, that according to Tim and Greg Burke’s book Saturday Morning Fever (if you don’t own this book, you should; it’s a great read) a fan at one time wrote and performed his own twisted episodes of the show for his college drama group, boasting such titles as “It’s Not Cool to Mess with Satanic Ritual” and “Weird Harold Gets AIDS”.
Yet somehow, many of our collective wires have gotten crossed over the years. For some reason, fans of the show frequently tend to remember the character of Dumb Donald as Mushmouth, like they’ll spot your bitchin’ Dumb Donald tramp stamp and then start talking like Mushmouth, for example. It’s like how many folks who remember Charles Schulz’s Peanuts seem to confuse the character of Schroeder for Linus, possibly since both characters wore shirts with horizontal stripes on them and both characters spent a lot of time with Lucy, though in the case of both characters, it wasn’t by choice.
Schroeder: Blond hair. Plays the piano. Digs Beethoven.
Linus: stringy hair. Addicted to security blanket.
Know the difference.
Getting back to Dumb Donald and Mushmouth, there have 3 notable examples in popular media where these 2 characters have been confused for one another:
- On an episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Susan Dey, then riding high on her role on L.A. Law, not surprisingly, there were numerous jokes and allusions to the show where Dey got her start, The Partridge Family, throughout the broadcast, culminating in a sketch in which she reprised her role of Laurie Partridge to partake in a battle of the bands with the Brady Kids, led by Jan (played of course by then cast member Melanie Hustell, famous for her dead-on Jan Brady impression). In the sketch, the battle got quite heated, with the characters throwing barbs at one another (Bradys: “Go cryin’ to Mama! You guys don’t have a Daddy!”, Partridges: “Well, you’re all half-adopted! What’s really going on over there??”), until things were broken up by then cast member Chris Rock, who rushed on stage wearing a Dumb Donald costume, hat and all, but speaks like Mushmouth: “At-buh least-buh you can talk-buh plain-buh!” Dana Carvey (as Keith Partridge) even acknowledges Chris’ character as “Mushmouth from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids“. Shame on you, SNL writers, you call yourself children of 70’s TV, and somehow that blunder made it to the air? No one put on the brakes?? Thankfully, the show made up for that faux pas a few seasons later in a later episode hosted by Bill Paxton, which featured a VH-1 Behind the Music parody of the gang’s Junkyard Band; here in separate vignettes, then cast member Tim Meadows played both Donald and Mushmouth, and this time they got the names and costumes correct. (Granted, Dumb Donald was depicted as having a drug-induced meltdown while wielding a pistol in a seedy hotel, and Mushmouth had served a dime in prison where he converted to Islam and changed his name to ‘Mustafa Mushmouth’ after discovering “A-buh-llah” in the joint, but hey, at least they got the characters’ identities right this time.)
- In the South Park episode “Treehouses”, there’s a running gag of the character Stan watching a spoof of Fat Albert called Fat Abbot. Abbot, of course, is foul-mouthed, ill-tempered and violent, prone to telling people off and threatening to bust a cap in their asses, once even threatening to blow Rudy the Rich Kid away after Rudy questions his accusing him of being “like school in summertime”, a popular Fat Albert crack meaning you have “no class”. He is backed up by a Dumb Donald lookalike character, who again speaks like Mushmouth: “I’ll-buh pop-buh a cap-buh in yo’ ass-buh too-buh. Bitch-buh.”
- In an episode of NBC’s NewsRadio, there was sub-plot in which quirky secretary Beth (played by Vicki Lewis) was attempting to make some cash on the side by designing and selling her own line of Dumb Donald hats. A running gag in the episode was that everyone who saw the hats would call them “Mushmouth hats” and Beth would have to correct them. “It’s a Dumb Donald hat!”
To add insult to infamy, for a while during the last years of the USA Network’s airing cartoons during the day, for a time Fat Albert ran on USA just after the USA Cartoon Express (I’m guessing the reason Fat Albert was never actually part of the Cartoon Express was because it had pro-social values and an edutainment factor, so USA didn’t want to lump it in with their other shows, either that or the Cos paid them big time to give his show special treatment), and in one promo for the show, a voice-over speaking in a less-than-stellar Bill Cosby impersonation referred to Dumb Donald as ‘Weird Harold’.
“AW, COME ON!!”
7 thoughts on “Talkin’ Nerdy: The Dumb Donald/Mushmouth Conundrum”
How in the blue hizell does one confuse Mushmouth with Dumb Donald?
Methinks Cosby also prevailed upon Gene Rayburn to stop using Dumb Donald for questions on Match Game, hence the introduction of Dumb Dora.
I can see why so many people are confused (and I admit, I was one of them!).
I think the reason for the confusion is that Dumb Donald’s truly bizarre headgear (a visual aspect) and Mushmouth’s bizarre speech pattern (an audible aspect) are by far the most memorable characteristics of any of the characters on the show, and as our memories fade into the mists of time, we start to think that they belong to the same weird person.
There was also how Bill’s younger brother Russel wore his winter hat, coat and scarf all year long, even in the summer time. Seriously, what was up with that? Could Filmation really not come up with a more climate neutral daily outfit for Russel to wear?
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And since “Mushmouth” is a far more distinctive and memorable name than plain old forgettable “Dumb Donald”, “Mushmouth” is the name that people remember and associate with the resulting erroneously-combined weird character.
I’d say that’s more of a generational thing. To us Gen x-ers, someone referring to Dumb Donald as Mushmouth is like your parents watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and referring to Twilight Sparkle as Rainbow Dash. The above may be an issue for younger folks who only know Fat Albert through geek culture osmosis and didn’t grow up watching the show, like I did, but I personally never got the two characters mixed up, and the name “Dumb Donald” always stuck in my mind. It could be because I have an uncle named Donald, or it could be because I’ve always been a stickler for details and am kind of a weirdo, if that’s not evident by now.
Let’s look at Scooby Doo, whose very first series premiered in 1969. Everybody knows who the individual members of Mysteries, Inc. are. Even now, no one ever talks about Scooby Doo and calls Daphne “Velma”, and that’s because Scooby never truly went away; we haven’t had a gap of more than five years without their being some of sort of new Scooby project announced. By contrast, Fat Albert was pretty much done after it’s initial run on CBS and then in syndication (which was new episodes combined with reruns). There’s never been a “new” Fat Albert show, i.e., a reboot or revival series, and it seems unlikely that there ever will be, so now we have a generation of fans who have no childhood memories of Fat Albert and only know basic information about the show and it’s characters. Personally, I don’t see how anyone could forget a name like Dumb Donald (it’s alliterative, and alliterative names are usually easier to remember, which is why so many toons have alliterative names; because those names tend to stick in the mind), but I don’t want drift over into “Get off my lawn!” territory, so I’ll just say different strokes for different folks and leave it at that.
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To Goldstar’s point, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is another good example; when you and your friends and relatives watch TMNT together, nobody ever gets razzed for calling Raphael ‘Michelangelo’; and that’s because Turtles gets revived or rebooted every few years; your parents or grandparents might get the Turtles confused or they may call Splinter ‘Shredder’ or Shredder “Schrader’ or something similar, but they didn’t grow up watching the show. Anyone born after 1986 has never known of a time when TMNT wasn’t part of the popular culture.
Fat Albert‘s sudden disappearance from the public airwaves (the show never turned up on cable networks like Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, largely due to legal red tape and ownership rights, though it did air on Canada’s equivalent to Boomerang, the late Teletoon Retro channel) is indeed another contributing factor; nowadays only the boldest, most instantly recognizable elements of the show tend to stick out in the public’s collective consciousness; they remember a kid with a weird hat and one with a weird voice and tend to haze those 2 shticks together. I never did that personally, but I grew up watching the show (it was on the air consistently during my elementary through junior high school years). Most other folks tend to remember Fat Albert in a queasy, hallucinogenic way, like a fever dream.
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