Dedicated to SP4 " Big " Jim McInvale, 3rd Plt, C Co.
Who could ever have forgotten about Chickenman if you were listening to AFRN while in Vietnam. It was a classic that was started in 1966 as this article will outline. Jim McInvale, who was in my platoon, was a Chickenman fanatic and would not miss an episode if he could ever prevent it.
Speaking of Chickenman, there was a helicopter assigned to Alpha Company, 229th AHC, #102 called Chickenman and served the 1st Cav. When the 1st Cav was relocated down to Tay Ninh in October, 1968, the 229th moved south too and spent a week sitting on the ramp at Bien Hoa waiting for orders then flew into Quan Loi north of Lai Khe for a couple of weeks flying CA south of the fishhook - then Lai Khe was ready for the 229th to move into new revetments there.
I can specifically recall flying Huey’s with a pilot who had a chicken foot painted on the back of his helmet. I will probably never know which AHC he flew with, but I’m betting the “claw” must have had something to do with the character “Chickenman”. - Sarge
Chickenman is an American series created by Dick Orkin that spoofs comic book heroes, inspired by the mid-60s Batman TV series. The series was created in 1966 on Chicago radio station WCFL, and was then syndicated widely, notably on Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War.
In the series. Benton Harbor, a shoe salesman at a large downtown Midland City department store, spends his weekends striking terrific terror into the hearts of criminals everywhere as that fantastic fowl, Chickenman. Or, at least, that's what he tells everyone. In reality, he mostly hangs around the Police Commissioner's office and irritates the Commissioner's secretary, Miss Helfinger.
Each episode begins with an overly-dramatic theme, borrowed from the James Bond classic "Thunderball". The theme's four-note trumpet sound is echoed with Benton Harbor's "Buck-buck-buck-buuuuuck" chicken call, which is followed by a rousing cry of "Chicken-mannnn!" and voices shouting, "He's everywhere! He's everywhere!" This tagline became a memorable catch phrase, especially because it's repeated again at the end of each episode, two and a half minutes later.
In addition to the original series of 195 episodes, the series has been revived in two further series -- Chickenman vs. the Earth Polluters in 1973, and Chickenman Returns for the Last Time Again in 1977.
Chickenman was created in 1966 by Dick Orkin, at the time a production director at WCFL in Chicago. WCFL's Program Director, Ken Draper, was inspired by the success of the Batman TV show, and asked Orkin to put together a two-and-a-half-minute comedy feature with a similarly "camp" sensibility.
In a 1996 article, Orkin explained, "I was never clear about what 'camp' meant, except that I guess it had something to do with the sacredness of absolute values that, when extended to irrational limits, became just plain silly... Thank God I hadn't known 'camp' was later considered a literary technique, or that would have killed the doing of it for me."
Orkin's Chickenman series was part of the late morning show hosted by Jim Runyon. Orkin played the male characters, including Benton Harbor and Police Commissioner Benjamin Norton. In a 1992 interview, Orkin admitted that Benton's character was "a little cardboardy," and refuted the rumors that Benton roughly resembles Orkin's own character: "This is, of course, nonsense. The resemblance is not even close to rough. It's precise."
The female characters on the show were performed by Jane Roberts, a Chicago theater actress who worked at WCFL as the traffic reporter. "She would listen to municipal traffic channels and coordinate the information for airing on WCFL," Orkin recalls. "She would put on a rather husky, sexy voice and play herself off as Trooper 36-24-36. Jane was the only 'female' talent I had available to me. And she was the best at what she did. Roberts' characters included the almost-unflappable Miss Helfinger, Chickenman's mother Mildred Harbor, his mother's oldest friend Emma Leckner, and Emma's attractive-and-still-single daughter Sadye.
A quote for one of their pilots - “Howard Burbank who was in the unit in 1968-69 was kind enough to give us the following information about them.
To confirm a couple of things - “Chickenman” was the call sign unique to A/227 - a slick company flying UH-1H’s in the time period you were in-country. The Chickenman call sign is a corruption from Drumstick.
I arrived with A/227 shortly after the “change” was made. HQ had recently assigned new call signs to the 227 AvnBn - I don’t remember (CRS) C/227 - but B/227 was potato masher (Masher) and A/227 was officially assigned “Drumstick”. Must have had something to do with Thanksgiving? Anyway those there said EVERYONE hated drumstick. At that time a popular radio serial was The ‘Further’ Adventures of Chickenman - the great white winged warrior - Benton Harbor’s alter ego - etc. etc. etc. - Bawk, Bawk ,Bawk, Baaaaawwk! and the change was inevitable. Who started it no one knows (or admits) but when the CG 1CAV heard pilots using the unauthorized call sign the rumor is he went ballistic - (we were officially told to use Drumstick or else - which we dutifully ignored) - then after a tense couple of weeks, better sense prevailed and the CG realized the positive morale involved (and that we weren’t changing anyway). I don’t think Chickenman was ever made “Official”. While flying as Chickenman, we all prided ourselves on living up to the image (?) - and had a lot of fun parroting the familiar Chickenman sayings in radio transmissions. “Bawk, bawk, bawk, baaawwk!” being a common acknowledgment of a message.
Chickenman 102 would refer to the specific aircraft - not pilot. When we flew individual aircraft missions we used the last three digits of the aircraft tail number to identify ourselves - thus Chickenman 102 was used by any pilots flying that individual aircraft.”
Runyon performed the narration, including a closing tag for each episode that memorably began with an astonished "Well-l-l-l-l." According to Orkin, "Jim was incredible, he would adlib an ending for each episode. Jim made the work enjoyable and fun -- because we never knew what he was going to come up with. His big goal was to break us up at the ending and make us laugh.
Chickenman's rogues gallery includes the Choker, the Hummer, the Chicken-Plucker, the Dog Lady, Big Clyde Crushman, the Bear Lady, the Very Diabolical, Rodney Farber (a childhood playmate who never forgave Benton Harbor for breaking his red wagon one Christmas Day), and the Couple From SHTICK (Secret Henchmen To Injure Crime Killers). Benton Harbor is prone to spoonerisms, such as "I shall not rest while rime runs crampant in the streets of Midland City."
Chickenman roams Midland City seeking criminals in his yellow crime-fighting car, appropriately known as the Chicken Coupe. He has a secret headquarters, the Chicken Cave, accessible through a trap door in his bedroom closet. His armaments include the Geshtunkana Ray Gun, which is not lethal but makes the target "geshtunkana" for 24 hours. When Chickenman is busy, his mother Mildred fills in as "the Maternal Marauder", sometimes known as "the Masked Mother".
As the popularity of the show grew, Orkin created a production company: "I only intended the Chickenman series to run for a period of two weeks -- but obviously it lasted much longer -- it went on for four or five months. Suddenly a syndication company from Texas came in and asked if they could distribute the program nationally. Naturally, we said "yes." It was then that we formed an actual company, at the station, to continue producing the series. Chickenman was produced under the station's production banner for the next five years, then I bought the show just prior to leaving WCFL in the early 1970s. I continued to produce and syndicate it on my own."