What was the deal with putting A*S*T*E*R*I*S*K*S in movie titles? M*A*S*H may have started it in the movies. It was short for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and is Robert Altman’s most well-known film. The movie was just called MASH and they stuck asterisks in between the letters of the poster so you didn’t think it was about potatoes.

A few years later came the espionage spoof S*P*Y*S starring Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland, which bombed. Probably because of the stupid name. Why not just Spies? I haven’t seen it, but I imagine it’s a goofy acronym, like Secret Person Yankee Surveillance. Both of these movies star Elliot Gould, so maybe he is a secret asterisk supporter, or S*A*P.

The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N was a Broadway play based on the stories of Leo Rosten, and was written that way because it’s about a Yiddish speaking immigrant learning English in a night class, and he signs his name like that, in crayon. It came first in 1968, so perhaps this was the start? I’ve read Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, and he’s a fantastic writer. Thanks to @mercurie80 and his blog A Shroud of Thoughts for mentioning that one, and inspiring this post.

W*A*L*T*E*R was a failed M*A*S*H spinoff in 1984, and we didn’t see stars again until the ’90s, when  B*A*P*S came around- standing for Black American Princesses. Should’ve been B*A*Ps, but that just looks silly, doesn’t it? I’ve never seen it, despite it starring Martin Landau. It got awful reviews, but much of its humor has been internalized in how white boys imitate black women. It’s rather a shame that comedian Robert Townsend was involved, as his movies are usually pretty funny.

In the ’80s we got *batteries not included which mocks those print ads for toys that we drooled over, bought the thing for $5.95 and found out it required 12 D cell batteries that cost $20. But that wasn’t the same. I still didn’t see it, because the title felt so gimmicky. 

The father of all asterisks movies is **** by Andy Warhol, which is probably meant to mean “fuck.” But that’s not a commercial project, so it really shouldn’t count. There is a power in the use of punctuation, or lack thereof. Look at e.e cummings, who we still won’t capitalize, and the archy & mehitabel stories, which aren’t capitalized or punctuated because they are supposed to be written by a New York city cockroach jumping on the keys of a typewriter. 

I took punctuation very seriously as a child, and when I was in the shower, I would think up movie ideas. They usually involved me as a cross between James Bond and the Terminator, tasked with saving the world, with Sheena Easton and Nastassia Kinski hanging from each bicep. But some were spoofs, and my masterpiece of spy spoofs, dedicated to Mel Brooks, was entitled:

Yes, a question mark. Probably due to seeing the Get Smart movie THE NUDE BOMB (full review), my genius project was to have a global super-villain threaten the population by putting chemicals in the drinking water that made our farts lethal. Years before The Spleen from MYSTERY MEN, I’d come up with the concept of deadly flatulence. Our hero finds the antidote, which saves you by making your farts safe and super-powerful, and he’d use it to propel himself on a little broken-down moped. This is before Howard Stern’s “Fartman,” mind you. And because I thought this was just so damn weird, I was gonna name it “?” IMDb tells me that no one else did this until 2005. The problem being, how do you pronounce the damn title? My solution was to use the wonky question sound that “The Electric Company” played whenever Spiderman was puzzled. Of course, now that I look back, I should have just called it SILENT BUT DEADLY. I’d be a millionaire, if I’d only followed through with that script.

© 2010 Tommy Salami