Fun in Bed

The Drink


Or, The Applejack Re-Review

Blondes go down after the second drink, and after the third, picture stars ask you to move over. 

1 PART GRAPE JUICE                                                       1 PART APPLEJACK
Ice, Shake, and Serve

– From So Red the Nose

After being incredibly pleased with myself for hunting down that American classic known as applejack, I must now confess that I made a horrible mistake. Well, not “I” so much as the manufacturers, who labeled their product “applejack,” even though a “smooth blend” apparently has as much to do with the original, old-timey drink as “processed cheese food” does with aged cheddar. How could I have been so naive?

This conclusion, by the way, came from Imbibe! by David Wondrich. I started reading it over weekend, so expect to see it quoted liberally and authoritatively. Anyway, Wondrich recommends the unAmerican but more authentic Calvados apple brandy as closer to what was drunk historically.

The Calvados has a very similar taste to the the Laird’s blend, but with a very noticeable extra bite and kick to it, a very delicious kick. It was much more flavorful than the Laird’s, but both the Calvados and they Laird’s are very drinkable for hard liquors; I could enjoy them without any mixer at all. And I certainly enjoy Calvados more without this mixer.

Yes, this post’s actual cocktail, the Fun in Bed is pretty repulsive. I may be biased because I don’t like grape juice, but in my defense, I didn’t even know that about myself until I had this drink. Maybe because I haven’t been offered a chance to drink it since about the fourth grade, but it is so much sweeter, syrupier, and heavier than I remembered. And alcohol does not help relieve any one of those qualities. I will say this: the drink’s taste matches the book’s medicinal theme perfectly.

The Book


We decided that since you can’t go to a show we must bring a show to you…That is, an ever-changing background, a fast pace, and nothing longer than a good twenty-five cent cigar. Only, instead of doing it with the intention of relieving a tired business man’s mind, we’d apply the principle to a tired patient’s body.

As for the need for such a book, all we can say is that despite the progress of medicine and surgery during the last fifty years they keep building bigger hospitals and filling them with bigger troubles.

We are supplying a demand, not creating it.

– From Fun in Bed

The first of several cartoons in Fun in Bed. It reads “Why, you poor darling, you don’t know how badly I feel about this.”

Fun in Bed: The Convalescent’s Handbook is kind of amazing to me. Not the just fact that it exists, but especially that it was a bestseller and enough of a cultural touchstone that the So Red the Nose editors thought to approach Frank Scully. Today, we mostly remember Scully as a UFO true-believer in the 1950’s and, hence, the namesake of a non-believer in the 1990’s. But in the 1930’s, this journalist’s apparent claim to fame was writing novelty books for lazy get-well gift-givers.

This book is, essentially, an adult version of those activity books that only kids read (use?) nowadays. And when I say “nowadays,” I mean 2008 at the very latest, as I’m betting that Angry Birds has greatly reduced the print kid-distracter industry.

As the gotcha’ name suggests, Fun in Bed is full of jokes, games, puzzles, cartoons, essays, (terrible) poems, and stories by various authors unified around the sickness theme, including such variety ranging from a persuasive essay by one of the era’s leading public health writers to a three-page-long dumb blonde joke.

Scan 11

A diagram on playing hospital bridge and “giving nurses extra work.”

Forgetting the invention of the iPhone for a moment, the biggest reason Fun in Bed would never be written today is that people don’t really “convalesce” anymore. Baring some kind of horrible, life-changing accident, I don’t think I know anyone who has slept more than one night in a hospital, let alone the 18 that the “my diary” section of Fun in Bed assumes.

Yet the book takes it as a given that long hospital stays are some kind of common experience that everyone goes through sooner or later, like visiting in-laws or the waiting room at the DMV. Scully even gives his “credentials” with the dates of his own 25 hospital stays, the shortest of which was one week, the longest of which was 56.

Come to think of it, I have noticed a preponderance of invalids; pale, sickly children; and morphine addicts who never seem to leave their bed in a lot of early modern literature. There’s probably a really interesting essay to be written about the changes in cultural attitudes, popular scientific understanding, and health care practices that created such a huge cultural shift in the past 80 years. Not by me of course. I have more drinks to make.

Forgotten Classic or Better Left in the Past?

Scan 15

On of Fun in Bed‘s many interactive activities. I’m pretty sure I saw the last one in Highlights Magazine.

Fun in Bed suffers from the same problems that Swiss Family Manhattan did for me: the jokes are either interesting from a historical standpoint, but not funny, or so cliched that they are still not funny. It has the arrogant doctor cliche, the nervous soon-to-be dad in the waiting room cliche, the overbearing Jewish grandma cliche. Actually, there is a whole section simply titled “Jewish Jokes,” complete with many an “oy vay (sic).”

Still, I found Fun in Bed to be a lot more entertaining to read than Swiss Family Manhattan. Maybe the focus on one topic made it more interesting and less complicated than sweeping social satire, or the quick-read format made it easier to digest.

So would I recommend seeking this book out? Well, no, but it’s not uninteresting. There’s a silly but charming humor piece by a vaudeville star and early Loony Tunes contributor, a surprisingly honest first-hand account of the complicated emotional role of a long-term nurse, and a fascinating mini-memoir about a literal snake oil salesmen from the old west.  But, the thing about a compilation book is that anything in it worth reading is can be found somewhere better.

After some 28 printings, Fun in Bed: The Convalescent’s Handbook was finally put to bed for good. Used copies are available for cheap.

Next time:

1933 - Rockwell Kent - Seal Hunter, North Greenland


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