Although The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon addressed social concerns in its plots, the show was at its best when the story was vital, or life-changing, to a character.
In this fifth-season episode, Mr. Crabby Tree has found a second wishing well. But it had one iron-clad rule: Only one wish per customer.
Dudley, our simple-minded dragon, has a simple wish. He wants his basket to be full of dragonberries year-round. Mr. Crabby Tree thinks bigger. He wishes to be … a human!
Finally, after four-and-half seasons, viewers got to see the man inside the rubber tree outfit. Actor Graham Greene was now fully exposed—with clothes, of course. Alas, Ms. Wishing Well had poor fashion sense. She had given him a red shirt, fatigue pants and a tacky yellow tie.
Mr. Crabby Tree at first had great difficulty walking with human legs. But he soon adjusted. He relished the freedom he had in wiggling his fingers and toes and hopping and swinging from vines like a demented Tarzan. But he became frustrated (which for Crabby was not unusual). Being human also meant being social, like eating with silverware or not sticking stinky feet on a table. He didn’t want to move to a city where there weren’t as many trees.
Crabby had second thoughts. He missed being strong and sturdy like a tree. He had the body of a human but the heart of a tree. He cried out in anguish, “I made a terrible mistake! I want to be a tree again!” He returned to the Wishing Well and pleaded for another wish.
Ms. Well was emphatic. She could only give one wish per customer. No refunds, no returns. He could not change back.
What was Mr. Crabby Man going to do?
We interrupt our Dudley the Dragon coverage for this item of interest.
Children’s book author and agent Mandy Hubbard has compiled a list of what editors are looking for today. Read about the latest trends here.
Since Mr. Crabby Tree was a plant, rooted to the ground, he couldn’t go anywhere. He couldn’t go to the action. The action had to come to him.
In Season Three, “Mr. Crabby Tree’s Really Great Adventure” changed all that. By wishing on a shooting star, he was magically released from the ground, and he spent the rest of the episode doing all the things he wished to do for umpteen years: play tag, hockey, hide-and-seek, dance, do gymnastics, fish, and surf on a whale, of course.
Terry, Julia, Sally, Matt and Sammy the Frog were amazed—not just because the tree was mobile, but because he wasn’t crabby!
Alas, Mr. Crabby Tree had wished for just one day to be ground-free. That day ended. He had to stick himself in the dirt again, the poor fellow. But this was the world of Dudley the Dragon. Here, dreams come true. And so it happened another shooting star appeared and Mr. Crabby Tree could make another wish. “Here we go again,” said Dudley.
That was the last time Crabby was stuck. The next time we see him, in Season Four, “Dudley and the Tiny Raincloud,” a four-leaf clover has enabled him to walk. In “Good Knight Dragon,” he’s moving around after wishing on a lucky rabbit’s foot. After that, in “Mama Crabby Tree,” Crabby became mobile after throwing a penny in a wishing well. In his next two appearances he’s fully mobile, with no explanation. His independence was a fait accompli.
But the Crabby Meister had yet another wish.
One night by a campfire, Dudley the Dragon wrapped up a game with little Julia, who recently joined the cast. Nearby is Terry, another newcomer, who’s gazing at the stars through a telescope. And next to him is Mr. Crabby Tree, who wants to play a game. But, being anchored by his roots, he can’t play tag or hide-and-seek.
“I’m stuck in the ground,” he complains. “And you know how that makes me feel?”
“Crabby?” says Terry.
“That’s right,” the tree bellows. “CRABBY!”
Luckily, a shooting star streaks across the sky. Julia tells him if he wished upon a shooting star, you might get what you wish for.
Does Mr. Crabby Tree get his wish? Find out.
Graham Greene played Mr. Crabby Tree for some 13 episodes. At the time he was best known for his work in Dances With Wolves, for which he was nominated Best Supporting Actor in the Oscars in 1990. In 1992’s Thunderheart, Greene played—oddly enough—a gruff cop on an Indian reservation. He played a Rambo-type soldier named Cherokee in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Episode 2, “Wardogs.” But Dudley fans of all ages will forever remember him as the irascible tree whose bark covered a heart of … sap.
“With Mr. Crabby Tree, there was lots of ad-libbing and adding to the story,” Greene told The Lethbridge Herald. “We’d act really stupid until the kids came on set, and then have to settle down and act like adults.”
Executive producer Peter Williamson told The Vancouver Sun, “He really likes this job. He’s really enthusiastic. He actually phones us and says, ‘When are you shooting?”’
“I just love doing it,” Greene said to the Toronto Star after spending four hours in the rubber tree outfit. “You can be as broad and as cheap as you want to be. I can act out, go crazy . . . and I get recognized now. Not for Dances With Wolves or Die Hard 3, but as Mr. Crabby Tree.”
Seven years later, in 2005, Greene told an audience at Humber College, “I bust my tookus with all these major roles and they give me an award for being a goof in a tree costume. Two of them.”
Indeed, in 1994, Greene won a Gemini (the Canadian equivalent of the Emmy) for Best Performance in a Children’s or Youth Program or Series. He won again in 1998 for performing Crabby in the episode, “The Tiny Raincloud.”
For Greene’s 1994 victory, Williamson said, “I couldn’t resist it. I’ve told him it was the first time an actor has ever won an award for being wooden on stage.”
Sources: Bob Sokolsky, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA, June 26, 1995, “Dragon’s Show is Taken Off Endangered List,” p. B5; Greg Quill, Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario, June 1, 1997, “Dudley the Dragon Fires Up Cast and Crew Shooting Final Season of This Hit Children’s TV Series is Both an Art and a Business,” p. B8; Kathy Kasner, The Lethbridge Herald, December 4, 1994, “Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle,” p. 3; John McKay, The Vancouver Sun, June 29, 1996, “Dudley Does Right in U.S. Market,” p. C12.
Sesame Street had Oscar the Grouch.
Dudley the Dragon had Mr. Crabby Tree.
Yes, this unhappy crabapple tree had good reason to be unhappy: He was the only apple tree in the forest. A nearby orchard had been cut down to make room for a highway. Those trees were his friends! Not only that, but people were abusing wood byproducts, like wasting paper. Nobody visited him except Didi the Woodpecker who jackhammered his bark all the time. No wonder he was so crabby. Hmph.
Crabby’s catchwords were usually “What th—?” and “Don’t touch the bark!” and a raspy laugh that went, “Hehhhhhhhhhhhhh.” And he would instantly fall asleep with a snore that ended with a “meenymeenymeenymeeny.” Or something like that.
One time, Dudley and the gang saved him from being chopped down by a nutcase who called himself the King of All Living Things. Even so, Crabby Tree tried to sour everyone’s Christmas by giving out poisoned apples—the kind that made people crabby. But the persistent duh-ragon managed to make him sorry for his misdeed, and together they restored everyone’s holiday cheer.
That Crabby Tree was a good fellow for the remainder of the series, even if he was, well, crabby.
The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon premiered in Canada on October 2, 1993, some ten years after Dudley’s debut in The Conserving Kingdom. But Breakthrough Films and Television Inc. wanted him to be seen south of the border. For that, they signed with PBS affiliate WEDU in Tampa, Florida. WEDU would co-sponsor the show, distribute it, and share in profits from the merchandising.
Dudley himself promoted the show at the PBS National Convention in Orlando in June 1994. He entertained the kids and impersonated Richard Nixon for PBS President and C.E.O. Ervin S. Duggan. He also “shamelessly” chased women down halls and into elevators during a Saturday night hospitality reception. The St. Petersburg Times reporter was assured that this was the road show version of Dudley; on TV he would be the epitome of politeness.
By June, 150 PBS affiliates had signed for 25 episodes, the first two seasons. By fall, nearly 200 of 280 PBS stations had signed for the show, including 23 of the top 25 markets. When the series premiered on WNET New York, it had attracted two million viewers–despite a lack of promotion. It was the largest audience for that Sunday 10:00 a.m. time slot in over two years.
Macy’s Department Store executives were impressed. Their own kids loved Dudley. So they contacted Meridian Direct, which handled Dudley merchandising in the U.S., to have the friendly green dragon appear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Rob Stone, Meridian’s president, was only too happy to comply.
Sources: Walt Belcher, The Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1994, “Barney’s new rival? – WEDU discovers Dudley the Dragon, A Challenger to the Purple Dinosaur,” p. E18; Jennifer L. Stevenson, St. Petersburg Times, June 8, 1994, “PBS Puts Its Shows on the Road with a Roar,” p. 6B; Tony Atherton, Kingston Whig – Standard, Kingston, Ont., December 20, 1994, “Ex-Civil Servant Likely Next Hit: New PBS Star Dudley is a Do-Right Canadian-Style Dino,” p. 26.
In 1992, Levy and Williamson purchased the rights for Dudley the Dragon from the Ontario Ministry of Energy. Together with Dudley’s performer, Alex Galatis, they created a series, The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon. Funding came from a slew of sources: the Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada; Energy, Mines and Resources Canada; Environment Canada—Environmental Citizenship Initiative, Government of Canada: Science Culture Canada Program; Health Canada; Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy; Rogers Telefund; and the Ontario Film Investment Program. Twelve episodes were made for the first season, promoting the values of the sponsors—i.e., environmental awareness.
The stories took place in a magical forest along the coast of British Columbia. A ten-year-old girl, Sally, is reading a book about a dragon who gorged himself with dragonberries and fell asleep for a hundred years. “I wonder whatever became of that dragon?” she asks. Lo and behold, the dragon wakes up behind the boulder next to her. After they scream at each other, Sally and Dudley calm down, introduce themselves and become friends. Sally and her detective brother Matt help the befuddled dragon find his home and clean it. And they would continue to clean the environment in the episodes to come.
Sources: Justin Smallbridge, Maclean‘s, February 19, 1996, “Dudley is No Dud; Children Love the Goofy Canadian Dragon,” p. 62; The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon, “Dudley Finds His Home,” TV Ontario, October 2, 1993; Neepawa Banner, September 27, 1993, p. 27A.
Once upon a time—the year 1983, in fact—the Ontario Ministry of Energy wanted to educate youngsters on energy conservation. Karen Waterman wrote a play called The Conserving Kingdom. In it, King Kilojoule of Saver City doesn’t want his daughter, Princess Penny Wise, to marry Prince Wantnot of Wasterville. Why? Wasterville is polluted and cluttered with garbage. And Prince Wantnot squanders his kingdom’s energy resources, much to the detriment of their sole energy supplier, a bumbling dragon named Dudley. Wantnot needed energy education!
The play was performed in grade schools from 1984 to 1987, in three provincial tours, in both English and French. The kids got the message, and they were entertained. They especially liked Dudley, the funniest character in the cast. The play’s popularity led to a broadcast version for TV Ontario in December 1986. Its producers, Ira Levy and Peter Williamson of Breakthrough Entertainment, saw Dudley’s appeal extending beyond just a TV special.
Dudley the Dragon’s career was just beginning.
Sources: Judy Nyman, Toronto Star, October 21, 1984, “Play on Energy Conservation a Big Hit,” p. E19; Rita Zekas, Toronto Star, December 20, 1986, “Hothead Dudley Fuelling Career with Energy Film,” p. F4.
Children’s book writer Lupe Fernandez has self-published an ebook, The Wooden Men. He’s making it available through Amazon’s Kindle Direct service. He discusses his journey into Kindle publishing at The Pen and Ink Blog. An interesting account.