By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 6, 1933
“What the world needs,” said Jim Frise,”is a new plaything.”
“Mmmm,” said I.
“Prosperity,” went on Jim, “is based on fresh inventions. First, we had the sewing machine. Everybody bought a sewing machine. Just about the time the world was full up with sewing machines, along came the motor car.”
“Haven’t I heard this before?” I asked.
“Not this way,” said Jim. “Well, everybody was so busy making motor ears, and all the things that go with motor cars, such as highways and garages, that everybody had money to buy a motor car, and there we had the good old virtuous circle—“
“I thought circles were vicious,” said I.
“Circles are virtuous,” said Jim, “when they create work and so enable people to buy the thing they are making.”
“Go ahead,” said I.
“Then along came radio,” orated Jim. “So everybody started making radios to make the money to buy a radio. See?”
“And now what?”
“And now,” concluded Jim, “we haven’t a new idea to work on. That’s all that is the matter with the world. It isn’t economics or tariffs or breakdown of finance. It is just that we haven’t got something new to work on so that we can afford to buy it.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Well,” said Jim, “I’ll tell you one thing. I was up at my dentist’s the other day, and he said that in ten years’ time it will be the rule for everybody, at the age of about thirty, to come and have all their teeth out.”
“Ouch!” I said, being forty.
“After a certain age,” said Jim, “our teeth not only are no more use to us, they are an actual menace to us. Teeth were all very well a thousand years ago, when we used to gnaw bones. And then we got rid of our teeth naturally. We either broke them out gnawing bones, or we had them knocked out in battle. To-day we eat soft food, so that we never lose a tooth. And we have long-range warfare, in which nobody loses his teeth unless they go with his head as well. Why, with the old bar room gone, and law and order prevailing the way it does, we keep our teeth until they poison us.”
“Do they really?” I asked.
“Say,” said Jim, “the dentist took an X-ray of one of my teeth and he found an abscess as big as a marble. You know those pains I had in my back? Well, sir, one week after I had that tooth out, the pains in my back vanished. That darn tooth was simply poisoning me to death. That’s teeth for you. They are sneaky.”
“How does this affect the world situation?” I inquired.
The Next Big Prosperity
“Why,” cried Jim, “can’t you see that the next big prosperity in the world will be the false-teeth prosperity. If we can only persuade everybody that they are feeling that way because of their teeth, and that all they need is to have the treacherous teeth taken out and false teeth substituted, there will be the greatest boom you ever saw. False teeth factories will spring up all over the earth. Dentists’ offices will occupy all the empty skyscrapers. Long queues of people lined up in the streets outside the dentist’s offices, and fleets of trucks bearing tons of false teeth to the cities. Boy, what a spectacle!”
“How long will it last?” I asked.
“The world,” cried Jim, “is not yet false tooth conscious. When false tooth production gets going in a big way the world will become false tooth conscious, and the advertising world will be called into action. There will be breakfast teeth, luncheon teeth and dinner teeth. There will be informal teeth and teeth for formal wear. There will be teeth to wear golfing, and teeth to wear at the office, small, hard, business teeth.”
“Aw, Jim,” I complained.
“You don’t realize how big business is built,” said Jim. “Just as sure as fate, once we can convince people that their natural teeth are slowly killing them, and start them wearing false teeth as naturally as we have persuaded ourselves to have our hair cut, boy, there is no limit to the way it will build up into a colossal industry.”
“I have always thought that if I had false teeth,” I said, “I would use some imagination in the matter. I think I would fancy black and white teeth, alternately set, so that your smile looked like an old-fashioned tile fireplace.”
“The girls,” said Jim, “are coloring their finger nails to match their gowns. Think of being able to have red, pink, blue teeth, to match your finger nails and gowns! Or your car, a maroon car and a lovely ravishing mauve smile!”
“Maybe you think,” went on Jim, “that it would be a short-lived prosperity. But look at all the other things the motor industry started, the tire factories, the garages, big and small, all over the land, employing tens of thousands, the highways, the hot dog stands, the gas pumps, every one of them an industry in itself. Think of the boost the packing houses got when the motor car created the hot dog stand. Think of all the gadgets you can get for your car, the road maps, the trick carburetors, the paint, every littlest thing employing somebody and making money for somebody. It would be the same with the false teeth industry.”
“I think,” I said, “I’ll invest a little money in a patent rubber bag for carrying your spare teeth with you. For example, you start out from the house in your breakfast teeth. At the office, you change into your sharp-pointed, steel-gray teeth for business. At noon you get into your luncheon teeth, bright golden yellow, to match the noon sunlight. Then in the afternoon, your conference teeth, big, buck teeth, with hard, dominating look to them. A nice sanitary rubber pocket bag will be a universal necessity.”
“I’m going to patent a tasteless enamel, in handy packages,” said Jim, “so that you can paint your teeth any color on short notice. You can start out gloomy in the morning with black teeth, but by mid-day you can be cheered all up and have bright pink teeth, or the uppers pink and the lowers paddy green.”
“By George,” I said, “you’re not so nutty as I thought you were!”
“What’s more,” said Jim. “I have the courage of my convictions. I am prepared to have my teeth all out, and start the fashion of wearing fancy teeth.”
“It’s the kind of thing that appeals to me,” I admitted.
“Would you care to go into this with me?” asked Jim, earnestly. “We could start the ball rolling. We could start the world back on the road to prosperity. Twenty years from now, we would have our pictures in the rotogravure section. Mr. Frise and Mr. Clark, the two founders of the universal false teeth era, acting as judges at a dental beauty show at Palm Beach.”
“Ahhhh,” said I.
“How about it?” asked Jim. “Let’s have our teeth out for our health’s sake, and then get some fancy teeth to start the new fashion and start biting our way as pioneers of prosperity.”
“I owe my dentist about $17 at the moment.” I said.
“Listen,” cried Jim, “when we explain this idea to some wide-awake dentist, he’s going to see his chance to benefit the whole profession, and he will pull our teeth for nothing. He’ll make us up a half a dozen sets of fancy teeth. Don’t let the expense worry you.”
“Teeth pulling hurts,” I ventured.
“Aw, you wouldn’t mind suffering a little bit for the benefit of mankind,” exclaimed Jim. “Don’t be a piker. All great leaders have suffered.”
“I’ve been feeling little low lately,” I admitted. “Maybe it would benefit me to have some of them out.”
“All of them out!” said Jim. “All or nothing!”
So Jim made the arrangements. We went and saw a dentist that Jim used to go to school with up at Birdseye Center, and, like all dentists who have come up from the country, he has a sense of humor. He took off his white coat when we called and spread himself and us around on his big chair and a couch, and we quit for the day so as to devote ourselves to the scheme.
“I’m willing,” said the doctor, “to take as my share the extraction, treatment and manufacture of fancy teeth, on condition that you chaps will wear the teeth I make you. If you do not wear the teeth I make, then I shall make you ordinary plates and charge you the usual rates, plus the cost of extraction and treatment.”
“Oh, we’ll wear them,” said Jim. “We’re used to looking queer.”
Introducing a New Era
We tossed up to see who went first into the extraction chair, and Jim won. I have a coin I got in the war with two heads on it.
The doctor called in a pretty girl in a white smock and between the two of them they did Jim up in large bib and wheeled in a gas tank and then they asked me to sit outside. I heard various groans and grunts from inside the door, and low talking. I heard things clattering on the floor, which I supposed were the teeth flying in all directions. In few minutes, the girl beckoned me in and there was old Jimmie with a grin from ear to ear and thumb marks on his eyeballs and check bones, and looking just the least little bit battered.
“These will be healed in a few days,” said the doctor, “and in the meantime, I will get busy on the plates.”
“What thoo I eath for the firth few dayth?” asked Jimmie,
“Soft foods like soup, milk, orange juice,” said the doctor. “Now, Mr. Clark?”
“Aren’t you tired?” I asked. “Surely you don’t want to tackle me right away.”
“Sure, it’s nothing,” said the doctor. “I can pull ’em all day.”
“I think I am a little unnerved by the sight of Jim,” I said. “I wonder if it would do to-morrow, when I feel a little better. Anyway, I’ve got very brittle teeth. They always break off at the roots.”
“Lithen,” cried Jim, juicily, “get intho that kthchair!”
“One of us had got to be able to speak plainly,” I protested. “To-morrow will do, won’t it doctor?”
“Make it to-morrow if you feel a little squeamish. You are a little pale.”
So I escorted Jim back to the office, where he sat speechless and sunken jawed. Then I went in and arranged with the editor to be sent out of town to London and Strathroy on urgent business.
I was away four days, and when I got home, Jim was waiting for me to come up and try on his first set of new-era teeth.
“He said he made them very simple in design,” said Jim. “Just a modest patten, but it will do for a start and give some idea of what can be done by the emancipated dental profession.”
The doctor was eagerly awaiting us, and from pad of cotton wool he produced an upper and lower set of false teeth.
They were magnificent.
The uppers were red, white and blue, slanting obliquely from right to left. The lowers were green, black and yellow, slanting obliquely from left to right, so that when the teeth were set, the various colored bands met, in a kind of herring bone design, the black meeting a red, the yellow meeting a blue, and so on, with a most arresting, glittering, prismatic effect.
First Things Always Sensational
Jim inserted them tenderly into his still sore mouth.
Then he turned and favored us with terrific grin.
The dentist’s girl fainted and we put her on the couch.
“Magnificent!” I gasped.
“Wear those,” said the dentist, “and the job hasn’t cost you a cent.”
“They taste funny,” said Jim, speaking thickly.
“Take them along,” said the dentist, “and try them in from time to time until your mouth gets used to them.”
Jim studied himself in the mirror, grinning fiendishly, and I thought his hair turned a little whiter.
“All right, me boy,” he said to me: “how about getting into the chair now while we are here?”
“Jim,” I said, “I have been thinking about this. It seems to me a pretty scurvy trick to horn in on your idea. When this thing transforms the world, when it brings back prosperity, when the factories of the world are belching forth false teeth by the train load, what a shabby little man I will appear in the eyes of posterity when it is known that I stole your idea and tried to pose as co-emancipator of mankind.”
“I thought so,” said Jim.
“How do you mean?” I asked. “I feel that you should be allowed to take the full credit for this marvellous plan of yours. Let me come along in a few weeks, when the fashion gets going. I’ll be one of your first converts. But not until you have established full claim to the revolutionary idea.”
“I thought so,” repeated Jim, looking at me with his teeth bared. I bowed my head.
We got in the elevator.
The elevator girl caught a glimpse of Jim in the mirror and she dropped the steering wheel and the car stopped in mid-flight. The girl screamed and whirled the wheel.
“Here,” said Jim, taking the wheel and bringing the elevator to the ground floor.
We went out the lobby and Jim cast smiles in all directions at the people resting on the big sofas. Several of them passed out and others covered their eyes. Out on the street we stopped to wait for traffic to let us across and a man driving a truck looked at him. Jim opened his mouth and grinned. The man, never taking his eyes off Jim, stepped savagely on the gas and ran into another car. There was a traffic mix-up and Jim, stepping forward to assist the tangled drivers, smiled upon them, and two drivers got out of their seats by the far door and ran.
“Keep your mouth shut,” I rasped at Jim.
A policeman walked over to the melee and Jim grinned at him across the hoods of cars. The cop lifted his arm and shielded his eyes, staggering back out of the confusion.
“Let’s get away.” I said, seizing Jim’s arm.
We got into my car and headed for the office.
“The first motor car,” said Jim, “created a sensation. They had to have a man with red flag walking in front of all motor cars. The first radio, I can remember the excitement, the crowds of people gathered to listen to the squawks and squeaks. Everything new causes a sensation.”
“He made those teeth too loud,” I said. “If they only weren’t set on the bias. It is that herring bone pattern that causes the fright.”
“They will get used to it,” said Jim.
But I notice this morning that Jimmie is wearing an ordinary set of ivory colored teeth.
“Where are the fancy teeth?” I asked.
“I’m saving those for formal occasions,” replied Jim.
Editor’s Notes: The rotogravure section references the special sections of newspapers where photographs were printed. Rotogravure was the printing technique for photographs, and some newspapers (including the Star Weekly), produced them. They were primarily used to highlight photos of interest that did not have to be accompanied by a story, instead just a line or two would be used.
The elevator girl running the “steering wheel”, was the manual control, looking more like a crank to move the elevator up or down. Most elevators were run this way before World War Two, as the operator had to manually line up the floors and operate the doors.