Saturday, January 18, 2014

Polly Lou Livingston: Sexy Elephant

If you don’t watch Adventure Time, you most likely have no interest in Polly Lou Livingston. Really, even if you do watch Adventure Time, you still might not know who she is. Let me tell you: She voices Tree Trunks, the miniature green elephant who bakes pies and who somehow gets to be the most sexually mature character on the show.

This may sound strange, me reading sexuality into a cartoon character on a show for kids, but trust me. On a show on which so many episodes focus on love of one sort or another, it’s notable how Tree Trunks has longings that burble forth in the form of depth-charge flirtations and a twangy, confident sensuality that you don’t normally associate with cartoon elephants. (Yes, she’s more grown-up about it than LSP, even if LSP talks about it more.) The most recent Adventure Time saw her marrying Mr. Pig, so perhaps she’ll burble less now, but I will guess that she won’t lose that sensuality. No matter what plotlines come Tree Trunks’ way, she’ll still be voiced by Polly Lou Livingston, the source of all that oomph. Her performance is so wonderfully unusual that each time I watch a Tree Trunks episode, I remind myself to find out exactly who this beguiling elephant is in real life.

I finally did.

Adventure Time was her voice acting debut, and she got the role as a result of being a friend of creator Pendleton Ward’s mother. Few pictures of her exist online, but a 2009 column on her in the San Antonio Current paints a more vivid portrait of her than any photos could. Key phrases:
  • “Somewhere between a hinge in quest of lubricant and Blanche Dubois as channeled by Olive Oyl, there’s no other tonality quite like it.”
  • “a genuine Lone Star Auntie Mame (or perhaps the love child of Eudora Welty and George Burns).”
  • “Chardonnay held aloft, massive jawbreaker necklace firmly secured, red sneakers propelling her five-foot-two frame from air kiss to air kiss — she’s her own Andy Warhol ‘Happening.’ As Polly Lou herself puts it, ‘Darlin’, if you’re not having any fun with fashion you’re missing the en-tiiire point.’”
Still, her fashion sense is one that demands visual documentation, so here is every photo I could find:

Of course, it’s her voice that makes me love her — and Tree Trunks. If you haven’t had the pleasure, please allow me. For example, here is Tree Trunks maintaining her genteel manners in the face of living wall of flesh.

And here is Tree Trunks in that same episode, proclaiming herself “the sexiest adventurer.”

Notably that episode ends in a way that underscores the sexier aspects of the character: her biting a crystal apple framed by branches that look peculiarly like labia. (And no, thinly veiled sexual metaphors are not exactly rare on Adventure Time.)

I mean, she is famous for her pie, first and foremost. In spite of or maybe because of that, a lot of her plots concern romance. She got a love ballad to sing with Mr. Pig, and Adventure Time chose to play it straight.

That same San Antonio Current column offers three sentences about Polly Lou Livingston’s love life: “I met my husband, Bobby Livingston, on a blind date in Rockport when I was home from Stephens College one summer. He was a Corpus Christi boy, recently out of the Air Force. We both transferred to the University of Texas together and were married for 49 years until his death in 2000.”

I posted the “Dream of Love” clip because it’s the first thing I thought of when I read about her husband having died. Even though she was voicing a cartoon elephant, I suppose Polly Lou knew what she was singing about.

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