July 4 is the high holy day of hot dogs. Though the Founding Fathers didn’t indulge, this meat treat has been with us for nearly 150 years — nestled into American pop culture like, well, a steaming hot dog in a bun. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even served them to King George VI and his family during their 1939 visit to the Roosevelts’ home in Hyde Park, N.Y. (“King Tries Hot Dog and Asks for More,” one amazed headline read.) Hot dogs play a key role in film, television and literature. Here are some of my favorite examples.
“A Confederacy of Dunces,” by John Kennedy Toole
Halfway through the book, main character Ignatius J. Reilly becomes a vendor for Paradise Hot Dogs (the fictional counterpart of New Orleans’s real-life Lucky Dogs). Oh, to have seen him among the hot dog carts!
In just about every episode of this show, characters stop to buy food from New York street vendors. Tune into the frequent reruns to see the most New York detective of them all, Lennie Briscoe (the great Jerry Orbach), munching on a hot dog.
Set in Atlanta, a city that has a long hot dog history, “Matlock” starred Andy Griffith as a hot-dog-loving criminal defense attorney. The lawyer’s addiction came, the story goes, from a time when he was so poor that hot dogs were all he could afford to eat. Whether he ate his dogs with Texas Pete Hot Sauce, from Griffith’s native North Carolina, is unknown.
“Der Deitcher’s Dog,” Septimus Winner
This 1864 ditty is the earliest and best-known hot-dog-based composition. Many Americans know the opening: “Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?” Most people don’t realize, however, that the song ends with the lost dog gone into a sausage grinder to become a hot dog.
“Hot Dog Dance,”
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
This cartoon features Donald Duck, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and other animated friends teaching young television viewers a funky dance.
“I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener”
Is there a better-known jingle? Composed by Chicagoan Richard Trentlage in 1962, it stands among advertising giants. Also notable: Clay Warnick’s 1967 classic, “Hot dogs, Armour hot dogs, what kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?”
In the 1971 original, Harry (Clint Eastwood) never gets to finish a giant hot dog at his favorite diner because of a bank robbery across the street. But the greatest of all hot dog lines comes in a sequel called “Sudden Impact.” Talking to a hot-dog-munching colleague, Harry recites the sordid crimes he’s dealt with. “Nah, that doesn’t bother me. But you know what does bother me?” he asks. “You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? Watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs. Nobody, I mean NOBODY, puts ketchup on a hot dog.” Take that, hot dog barbarians!
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