Charlie & Mister Charlie

Back in the 1960s, I couldn’t always keep track of what people were talking about, between the Vietnam War and Black Power.

“Charlie” seems to have been military slang for the Viet Cong. (And then there were usages like “Charlie Company” and “Checkpoint Charlie,” which were just a way of vocalizing the letter C.)

“Mister Charlie” seems to have been ghetto slang for “The Man” or something like that.

Ever wonder how the same nickname happened to be applied to such different phenomena?

As for the Viet Cong, the name “Charlie” came about as an abbreviation for “Victor Charlie,” i.e. a military vocalization of “V.C.” (Remember the old “Able Baker Charlie” code? That goes back to radio communications, where they had to spell out each letter of the alphabet with a whole word to make for unambiguous transmission.) My memory of being a kid in the 60s is a little hazy now, but I think when we played war games we mistook “Charlie” to mean any kind of Oriental enemy of Uncle Sam, including the Japanese. Then there was an epsiode of The Time Tunnel circa 1967 where they go back to Iwo Jima and a Japanese soldier captures one of the time travelers and calls him “Joe.” He says, “I call all 'Mellikans Joe 'cause they all rook same to me.” That only confused my kid brain further!

On the home front, James Baldwin wrote a play called Blues for Mister Charlie (but I haven’t read it; what’s it about? ). And the Grateful Dead did a hoodoo song, sung by Pig Pen: “Mister Charlie tole me so.”

"Well I take a little powder,
Take a little salt,
Put it in my shotgun,
And I go walkin’ off

Jooba Jooba
Holy Moley
Lookin’ high
Lookin’ low

Gonna stare you up and shoot you
Mister Charlie told me so."

And my favorite…
“Charlie made the bus fly, man!”

Cosmic Charlie, how do you do?
Struttin’ in style along the avenue.
Dum de dum de doobedy doo
Go on home your mama’s callin’ you.

Possibly related to the Mister Charlie thing, in The Defiant Ones (1958), Tony Curtis (playing a lower class white Southener) uses the term “Charlie Potatoes” to refer to someone who’s living the good life. If the general question here is “What’s the etomolgy of using Charlie or Mister Charlie to refer to a rich person or a person in a position of power” then it’s an interesting question, but I have no idea.

I’m glad some of you had positive experiences. I have a friend (a Friend of the Dvl, of course) who ran into Charley Phogg. Ended up with a blackened eye and a kicked dog. Shame. Bet ch’all know what advice I gave him.

I’d contribute, but I’d just be a tail-end charlie in a Dead thread.