Characters

by Mark Osterman

I remember one day when France and I were eating in a restaurant and we overheard someone describing our show to another person in great detail. We leaned over to thank them for their enthusiasm and they just could not picture us as Bumstead and Oakley. Then I put on my round glasses and ...they were amazed that we were telling the truth. I always wondered how Clark Kent got away with it...until that day. Ah, the twisted lumber of humanity.

 

The name Bumstead came from a patent medicine bottle well known by bottle collectors: Bumstead's Worm Syrup. The "BB" Bumstead is in reference to a dear man, now departed, who first taught me to play the ukulele and some of the greatest songs I ever knew. His name was Beauveau Borie Beals, a Harvard graduate in the late twenties and dear friend of my father. Beau was in advertising with N W Ayer, one of the most important agencies in the East. My father was also a writer, my mother, an artist. France's father was also in advertising and was an artist as well. As they say, the apple doesn't rot far from the tree.

 

France was written into the show as K.T. Oakley, daughter of Annie Oakley, because when we met in 1990, she was bored with just watching the show over and over again. She has a very soft voice, but very funny body language; so her part evolved as all action....narrated by me. She also played fiddle, washboard, wash tub bass and did a solo on a 1" harmonica she used to sell at the end of the show.

 

She was said to be the daughter of Annie Oakley, even though the real Annie (married to Frank Butler, also a trick shooter) never had children. We gave her a vintage type military hat to wear because a western hat didn't seem appropriate for a show on the east coast. Actually, I understand that Buffalo Bill wintered his show just ten miles from where we lived in Pennsylvania.

 

France had (still has) a really nice early 22 caliber rifle that had the lines of a much more serious gun. She also used a very small, brass bound 32 caliber cap and ball pistol with real ivory grips which she could twirl. The little girls really looked up to her character....as did the older men.

 

Regarding Screaming Weasel; ten different people played that part in the twenty years we performed. Most of them were teachers. Throughout the period we did the show I was a fine arts photography teacher at the George School, a private Quaker boarding and day school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The first "genuine Faux Indian" was my father, John Osterman. We did a very funny routine where we played duets. I played a rare bass banjo (sporting a 17" head!) and my father played a very long harmonica or one of the 1" varieties.

 

The show was really a monologue. The second "Indian" after my father, was great on guitar but had a stuttering problem. So, I never wrote a part for him. When he couldn't do the show for one reason or another, I hired others to play that part. I was never sure who would be available at any time. So, the Indian was mute except for some humorous asides; remember that he was not portrayed to be an actual Indian...but a fool or "zany" in European mountebank lingo. Screaming Weasel's main purpose was to hand me props so that I would never loose eye contact with the audience.

 

My biggest fans were the boys from age 8-15. We called them "Sted Heads." On a long show, say several days with four shows a day, there would be dozens of them who came to every show and knew every line. They were usually the children of other people working the festival. From time to time we would have to pull them together to let them know how "special they were" and to not shout out the punchlines of the jokes during the show.

 

One summer day, on the last day of a seven day show, two young boys offered to perform our show for us. We dressed them up in parts of our gear set up all the props and let them toss the pitch. By the end of the ballyhoo, they had an audience of around three hundred and then put on the entire show, line for line. I laughed so hard the entire time, that my stomach hurt and my eyes were swollen with tears. I often wonder what ever became of those two.

 

Only Love is more powerful than Lenape Liquid! Mark Osterman writes: "...A favorite of me and my wife on a steam locomotive caught off guard by Screaming Weasel. Screaming Weasel never spoke, only screamed whenever his name was mentioned during the show. It was also implied that this character was never actually an Indian, but a not so bright white man doing a very poor job of playing an Indian."

 

Photograph by

Mark Osterman, Dr. B. Barabus Bumstead & K.T. Oakley

Dr. Bumstead's Celebrated Lenape Liquid Show

 

 


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