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August 14, 2007 6:33 PM   Subscribe

The Continental was a short-lived TV show that debuted in 1951 on KNBH Los Angeles and aired nationally on ABC and CBS during the 1952-1953 TV season. Sponsored by Cameo Stockings, the show featured Italian actor Renzo Cesana (who got discovered when Robert Rossellini produced a play Cesana wrote when he was 16!) purring seductively into the camera, while offering "sham-pan-ya" to an offscreen lady friend. Best known for inspiring a series of Saturday Night Live sketches starring Christopher Walken, the show inspired parodies in its own era, such as this Popeye cartoon (where Bluto tries to seduce Olive Oyl by posing as "The International"), a Jerry Lewis skit on the Colgate Comedy Hour that imagines the Continental as played by Marlon Brando, and a Pepe Le Pew cartoon where our amorous skunk attempts to seduce the feline object of his affection in The Cat's Bah. Unfortunately, Internet footage of the real show appears to be nonexistent, although you can buy some love songs recorded by the Continental off EBay.
posted by jonp72 (25 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is great stuff, thanks. I had no idea the Walken bit was spoofing a real show.
posted by brain_drain at 6:47 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Thank you for the sham-pan-ya, jonp72. It's delicious and bubbly and it tickles my nose.

No photos of Renzo Cesana, anywhere? My curiosity, it is piqued!
posted by iconomy at 6:53 PM on August 14, 2007


No photos of Renzo Cesana, anywhere? My curiosity, it is piqued!

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any photos of him as The Continental, although there are some photos of him online in his film debut, playing a priest opposite Ingrid Bergman in Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli.
posted by jonp72 at 7:04 PM on August 14, 2007


I'm a little confused... was the show on ABC and CBS simultaneously?
posted by Poolio at 7:08 PM on August 14, 2007


I'm a little confused... was the show on ABC and CBS simultaneously?

I think it was aired by CBS first, then picked up briefly by ABC after CBS stopped airing it.
posted by jonp72 at 7:15 PM on August 14, 2007


Is there a word for this phenomenon of second hand pop culture? Things that you know from a halo of references and riffs, but have never actually seen.

If not, there should be. It's a form of apathetic archaeological particle physics, deducing the existence of shadowy cultural ephemera from effects they have on visible media, all from the comfort of your couch. Cloud chamber culture, if you like.
posted by zamboni at 7:32 PM on August 14, 2007 [9 favorites]


Wow - both the fact that it was a real show, and the fact that other people had no idea it was either, are just flooring me. I'm at once glad to be let in on this "secret" and relieved that others were just as clueless as me, laughing at something I didn't even know was alluding to something else.
posted by yhbc at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2007


Is there a word for this phenomenon of second hand pop culture? Things that you know from a halo of references and riffs, but have never actually seen.

I think I've heard that referred to as "cultural osmosis".
posted by aldurtregi at 8:36 PM on August 14, 2007


I was always puzzled by the Walken sketch because the SNL audience was laughing so hard that I felt left out. I and most posting here seem to not have known the reference. Would studio audience?
posted by zorro astor at 8:41 PM on August 14, 2007


The TV Tropes hivemind seems not to have been able to come up with a decent name for this -- they called it the Weird Al Effect.
posted by darksasami at 8:52 PM on August 14, 2007


I have a few of those on itunes actually. They were on some of the lounge music compilations I own. Because I'm a fan of spreading romance, I'll post a couple for a little bit, just for you. Try not to crash my website, okay?

Enjoy, my darlings.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:34 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


It looks like The Continental Monologue is available here but I'm not sure (I get a message telling me I'm outside the US and can't listen to it).
posted by tellurian at 9:54 PM on August 14, 2007


Fabulously cheesy, thanks miss lynnster.
posted by tellurian at 9:59 PM on August 14, 2007


(Those are three of the monologues I have that I was just talking about.)
posted by miss lynnster at 10:00 PM on August 14, 2007


zambon - Needs more cowbell!

zorro astor - I dunno, I liked those skits becaise of the joke and had no idea that they were a - homage, so to say - to something done before.
posted by porpoise at 10:01 PM on August 14, 2007


I thought the sketches were funny in of themselves. Discovering it was a "real" character made it all the funnier. It's so disappointing we can't see footage of it.

I also thought Ed Glossard, Trivial Psychic was hilarious, although I doubt many in the audience realized it was parodying the Dead Zone.
posted by O9scar at 10:02 PM on August 14, 2007


The sun is set. The stars shine in the sky. The night air is tinged with anticipation. And it is time to meet the Continental.

All this time, I just thought Christopher Walken was a great actor.
posted by lukemeister at 10:03 PM on August 14, 2007


... now I feel left out because I got the Walken parody....
posted by eparchos at 10:23 PM on August 14, 2007


...Cesana insists he plays his part with a tongue-in-cheek seriousness, hopes only "to furnish the ladies with the illusion of an escapade while they remain in the sanctity and safety of their own homes." Of the ladies' husbands, he says handsomely: "American men have such a wonderful sense of humor."

Ha. I'm virtually fucking your wife, American man! Hope that sense of humor's working!
posted by mediareport at 10:52 PM on August 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


Hey, maybe Clive Owen'll be riffing on this in the upcoming The International?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:36 AM on August 15, 2007


I'm totally fascinated by this. I had no idea that The Brawny Man had such an awesomely smarmy great grandpa.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:15 AM on August 15, 2007


We watched some of the original show in my TV class during college. Walken's version of it is fucking spot on, except in the original version the woman (whose POV we are treated to) doesn't run away in terror but is actually turned on.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 10:58 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Don't forget Jim Backus' classic recording, Delicious!
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 12:17 PM on August 15, 2007


I've seen episodes, years ago, at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. I remember one episode where the Continental discovers a pair of gloves and asks the viewer rather disingenuously whether they're hers. No? Are you sure? No matter, my darling... (In other words, he can't even keep track of the number of women coming and going, let alone what they leave behind. And this was meant to appeal to the housewives!)

For me, the very best parody was done by Mad in 1954 -- "The Countynental!", illustrated by Jack Davis. And prominently featuring the word "Shom-pon-ya."
posted by ROTFL at 3:11 PM on August 15, 2007


Wasn't Fred Flintstone inspired to grow a moustache by Wilma and Betty watching an episode of this? Another reference that I missed, along with "It's the ooooonly way to fly", "Open the door, Richard!", and others.
posted by evilcolonel at 9:36 PM on August 17, 2007


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