Anyone from my bloated generation who ever spent time in a doctor’s waiting room should remember Highlights magazine and one of its regular features, “Goofus and Gallant,” that moralizing, heavy-handed cartoon example of the bad kid and the good kid.
Goofus was always doing bad shit, like shooting the bird with his slingshot, and Gallant was the good kid who dives in front of Gallant’s slingshot to take a rock for the bird, or Goofus would break the lamp and hide the evidence while Gallant breaks the lamp and sells a kidney so he could pay for the damage, that kind of ham-fisted good vs. evil malarkey.
Even as a kid I mocked the cartoon, and mistrusted both Goofus and Gallant for their extremist points of view. But as I got older, I began to see the value of the cartoon, for the way the characters clearly (and bluntly) demonstrated for a young audience the basics in how to play nice – and how not to – on a crowded planet.
So I began to see Goofus less as a victim of his obvious impoverished upbringing, and more as a scheming, self-centered lout whose id had run amok, and saw Gallant as less of a smug, holier-than-thou middle class asshole with a saint complex and more as a guy sincerely trying to do the responsible thing.
As usual, the truth is somewhere in between: both are assholes, and I’ve made it my life’s work (for the last 30 minutes or so) to prove it. Meet the real-life boys – now they’re old men – who served as the inspirations for Goofus and Gallant:
Frank “Goofus” Klinghoeffer, 75, is a retired police officer (several departments) living in Phoenix, Arizona. A self-professed “thug turned cop,” Klinghoeffer was suspended five times in his career for police brutality, most notably during the 1968 Democratic Convention, when he shoved a bouquet of roses up a protestor’s anal cavity and said, in front of national news cameras, “now, whenever you fart it’ll smell like peace, ya stinkin’ hippy.” Ironically, Klinghoeffer was decorated for valor by the Birmingham Police Department for similar actions during Civil Rights demonstrations there.
Klinghoeffer spends his time these days collecting stamps, raising gamecocks and most recently, working on a play.
“It’s a musical comedy set during the Nuremberg Rally,” he says. “It’s sort of a companion piece to the Sound of Music. Sort of.”
Billy “Gallant” Purcell, also 75, lives in Boca Raton, Florida. A retired dentist from New Jersey, Purcell actually turned to a life of crime as a young man.
“I robbed a few liquor stores is all, because I needed the money to pay for my mother’s breast enhancement surgery and I’d already given a kidney to pay for the lamp, so, you know … I figured the law would never suspect Gallant. Guess I was wrong,” says Purcell, who was released from prison after three years for good behavior, and worked his way through dental school as a female impersonator at an Atlantic City nightclub.
“I think the pressure of trying to stay like Gallant just got to be a little overwhelming,” says Purcell, a Born-Again-and-Again-and-Yet-Again Christian who spends his weekends on street corners in small towns “marketing” on behalf of the Westboro Baptist Church.
“I learned long ago that I don’t have to concern myself with living up to that impossible standard,” Purcell says. “Instead, I can abuse and harshly judge others who can’t live up to that standard, either, with my offensive signs and bat-shit behavior, so life is good. Life is good.”
Next week, the Timbertoes: Pa’s woody prompts Ma to say, “is that your twig in my hollow, or are you just happy to seed me?”