Each year, Uncle John and his team of devoted trivia hunters track down fascinating facts, little known stories, and forgotten pop culture to fill several hundred pages of reading material. Why? To compile the annual Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, of course. Here’s the exact type of thing you’ll find — and plenty of — in Uncle John’s Greatest Know on Earth, a.k.a. Bathroom Reader #34.
In 1985, a full-page ad appeared in several Marvel Comics titles. It depicted patriotic superhero Captain America, wearing a top hat and dancing on a stage, with the copy announcing that the publisher was in search of a “a girl between 10 and 14 who can sing, dance, and act up a storm,” needed to play sidekick to Captain America in a $4 million Captain America musical scheduled to hit Broadway in 1986. No word on if Marvel found its co-star that way, but the production was seemingly doomed. The plot wasn’t about Captain America fighting his nemesis the Red Skull — he was working his way through a midlife crisis. After spending two years and half a million dollars on Captain America, producer Shari Upbin abruptly cancelled the show and tried to stage it on a shoestring budget in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but couldn’t raise funds after the 1987 stock market crash upended the economy.
Betty Boop was a popular cartoon subject nearly a century ago. Betty was a flapper who would go on strange adventures with her dog, Bimbo, and a creepy clown named Koko. In 2002, work began on a Broadway show about Betty and friends reuniting her grandfather, a wacky inventor, with his one true love, help him develop the greatest gadget in history, and save a theater from getting demolished. Two years later, producers ordered a new script from Pulitzer-winning playwright David Lindsay Abaire and replaced the composer with David Foster, a soft rocker producer who’d worked with Chicago and Celine Dion. Multiple other production problems pushed the debut of Betty Boop all the way to 2018. Finally, Foster washed his hands of the project, performing some of the songs from the dead show on NBC’s Today in 2019.
Comic strips have longed proved to be good fodder for Broadway — You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (based on Peanuts) and Li’l Albner were both big hits. But then, those strips ran for decades. By 2004, there likely weren’t too many people clamoring to see a Broadway musical based on Broom-Hilda, Russell Myers’ largely forgotten 1970s comic strip about a sassy witch. Still, producers hired some big names to bring the green-skinned slob to the stage, including Annie lyricist and director Martin Charnin, NPR host and humor writer Kurt Anderson, and composer Leroy Anderson. (He actually died in 1975 — his family allowed Charnin to raid his catalog of unused, unpublished music to cherry-pick compositions for Broom-Hilda.) After producers failed to attract investors to the project — and unable to cast top choice Catherine Zeta-Jones for the lead — Broom-Hilda quietly died and was never staged.