"Ready, Professor?"

For damn close to a half century, I’ve been saying “Ready, Professor?” to ascertain whether my companion is ready to embark on whatever the next phase of the adventure at hand might be. For almost that long, I’ve wondered where it comes from. When I said it recently to my sister, she asked, and it occurs to me that y’all can probably tell me.

It’s a cartoon – an old b/w one. It might be one of the Popeye cartoons, perhaps the one about “vaudeville is back” (is that a Popeye cartoon?). Who is saying it, though, and who the professor is – beats me.

You’ve identified more on fewer hints – any ideas on this?

My first thought was Mr. Peabody and Sherman but that wasn’t black and white and I don’t recall if that phrase was ever used.

No, way, way earlier than that – '30s would be my guess.

The first thing I thought of was “Gilligan’s Island.”

I submit Felix the Cat. While the Professorwas frequently after Felix’s magic bag, there was the odd cartoon where Felix and the Professor worked together.

It’s probably not much help, but I think it’s of vaudeville origin, and the “professor” being referred to is the piano player.

There was a pretty common meme (sorry, I couldn’t think of another word) in movies and radio in the 30’s. If someone was going to sing in front of a band or orchestra, the bandleader would be called “Professor” (I don’t know why). So “Ready, Professor?” would be asked to say “Are you ready to accompany me while I sing?” I think this would happen in vaudeville, where the performers wouldn’t know the name of the bandleader because the performers were always moving from town to town.

This is mostly from fairly vague memories of old movies, but I think it’s pretty accurate.

Yeah, that’s feeling more like it, Roddy.

Slight hijack – but hell, I’m the OP, I’m allowed to hijack –

In tap, there’s a very basic step known as the time step – stamp, hop, brush, brush. (There are, as there tend to be in tap, a billion variations as well.) Apparently this dates back to vaudeville – the tap dancers, who had probably never worked with the pit orchestra before, would come out and do a couple of time steps to give the orchestra the tempo they wanted the rest of the music played at.

If it’s of any use, my first thought on reading the OP was also Felix the Cat.

If the OP is right about this being an old (circa 1930s) cartoon, then it can’t be from Felix. There were Felix the cat cartoons dating back to the 1920s (One of the first TV images broadcast was of a Felix the Cat doll), but The Professor, Rock Bottom, The Master Cylinder, Poindexter, and the Magical Bag of Tricks originated much later, in the made-for-TV Trans-Lux cartoons circa 1959.

Those cartoons were black and white, and by today’s standards are old, so it’s possible that the phrase originated there. I don’t recal “Ready Professor” being a catchphrase from Felix, though, and i watched a lot of it.

Nope, it’s definitely not Felix – there’s a denseness and detail to the visual component that has to date back at least to the '40s, probably the '30s. I’m guessing Max Fleischer, which is where the Popeye connection is, but could be wrong about that.

I think it was a specific cartoon about Vaudeville coming back, and they (who? dunno) are running around this boarding house with all the old folks dusting off their costumes and props and preparing to hit the stage.

Me too. (My dad bought the box set)

I remembered a specific example: a 30’s movie called Idiot’s Delight, and you can see this clip also in the 1975 That’s Entertainment. Clark Gable is about to sing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with some chorus girls, and he says “Ready, Professor?”.

Here’s a clip. I don’t have speakers here at work, so I couldn’t check this in advance. I hope I’m right.

I think that I may have seen this. One of my college housemates was very into early animation and had dozens of video tapes of them. The cartoon that I am thinking of was reminiscent of Fleisher but did not have a well known character like Popeye in it.

I remember they played a song with the chorus “mama don’t want no music in here” in it. I don’t remember anyone saying “ready, professor” though.

It probably does come from the leader of an orchestra being known as the professor. The GQ thread Why (and which) bandleaders are called ‘professor’ or ‘perfesser’? traces the term back to the 1800s, but Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge probably is the popularizer of the term.

I actually found the cartoon that I was thinking of on Youtube. Although it was Max Fleischer, it wasn’t yours, twix. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-3B4chcDkQ).

Maybe this? http://www.bcdb.com/cartoon/24755-Vaudeville.html

Thanks for the clips, gentlemen – neither of them what I’m thinking of (as you knew), but both entertaining.

Hajario – can’t tell from the sketchy info on the “vaudeville” cartoon if that’s it, but it’s a good place to start searching. Thanks.

There was a Popeye cartoon called Puttin’ on the Act from 1940 in which Popeye and Olive decide to revive their old vaudeville act after reading a headline which states vaudeville is making a comeback. They’re so caught up in preparing that they don’t realize the newspaper is 40 years old. As Popeye is spinning Olive around to his famous tune, he says to a “conductor,” “Music, professor!”

Omigod, mobo, I think that might be it!