“Funny Money” is the title of Chapter 32, (page 153) of the fifth edition of my book, “For The Love of Prague,” referring to the so-called currency of communist era Czechoslovakia. There was not enough room left in the book to show what those barely buying power banknotes actually looked like, so I’ll show you here.

The Czech crown today is one of the strongest world currencies, putting the once glittering US dollar in the shade. But in my early days here, paper for paper, toilet paper was more valuable than the local money. The only paper that had any real value were the cheaply printed little “Tuzex” coupons. Today, any simple color copying machine or inkjet printer could turn out easily passable Tuzex coupons, but of course in those day there were no such things as copying machines or computer printers! The state run Tuzex organization – the name combining the Czech words “Tuzemský“ & “Export“ referring to local & imported goods – was set up to offer choicer merchandise to those who could pay in convertible currency, meaning US dollars, West German Deutschmarks, and the like.

Tuzex coupons could be bought by anyone lucky enough to have real money. The Tuzex crowns were worth five-times the value of the official money.

Here are some examples of communist era banknotes, saved before they vanished. Mostly, they featured idealized images of happy workers, peasants, or „Peoples Militia.“

but the most notorious, put out as a last gasp by the faltering regime, was the 100 crown note featuring the portrait of the hated first communist president, Klement Gottwald. When this appeared, in early 1989, the Czech people took it as a final slap in the face, and the hated Gottwald banknotes were routinely defaced with horns and scars scratched onto them. The Mortified communist media had to take the embarrasing step of announcing that anyone caught defacing the currency would be heavily fined or imprisoned!


Another stab at wisdom from the fading brain of GeneDeitch:
“The only thing really worth having is Time. But it’s made of God’s own Teflon, and no matter how much of it we think we have, it slips right through our fingers.”

TV Guide, said to be the world’s largest circulation magazine, as part of it’s 50th anniversary year, honored “The 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time!” In its August 3-9 2002 issue - and my Tom Terrific was one of them, right up there with Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson, Bugs Bunny, Charlie Brown, and all! Here is the text by Ed Wiener, as he tooted for TT:

Mr. Hanks, the actor, has been referred to in the press as Tom Terrific. So has that other actor, Mr. Cruise. Which just floors 78-year-old Gene Deitch, who is genuinely thrilled that “the name of my character has actually entered the language.” When CBS wanted a new series of cartoons for its Captain Kangaroo show, it turned to its recently acquired TerryToons studio, and told Deitch, who was running the place, to come up with something fast, cheap and wonderful. He did, converting a former comic strip of his, "Terr'ble Thompson!", into Tom Terrific, a tireless boy with a hat like a funnel and an imagination without end. In 36 five-part adventures, Tom could, at least in his mind, turn into anything he wanted to in order to defeat the bad guys, especially the dastardly Crabby (“rotten to the core”) Appleton, and always with the unwitting and unwilling assistance of his mammoth, monumentally lazy best friend, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog. The brilliant, evocative drawing -- partly influenced by the UPA style of Gerald McBoing Boing -- was simple, spare, black-and-white, without backgrounds.
The stories, which perfectly captured the mind of a boy playing on his own, were ingenious and often written, under Deitch’s supervision, by a just-starting-out cartoonist named Jules Feiffer. (The two would later collaborate on the Oscar-winning animated short, “Munro”). “I knew and still know that it is story and character that determines success,” says Deitch, who has lived and worked in Prague since 1959. “An entire generation grew up on Tom Terrific on the Captain Kangaroo Show, and there are millions out there who remember him fondly, and that does give me endless gratification.”

This is a country that loves practical jokes. In the 17th century, Prague burgers were thrownout of the town hall window onto a pile of dung. Mocking Hebrew letters are mounted over a Christian cross on the Charles Bridge, a Saint with his testicles in a dog’s mouth is a statue on a main public street.

After the 1989 revolution, a memorial Soviet tank was painted pink. Recently, an enormous red neon heart , a symbol of a whorehouse, pulsed over the Prague Castle. And in this spring of 2003 the poster on the left was mounted all over Prague, and reproduced in all newspapers and magazines. The central logo says, “Czech Dream.” Below it hails a new “Hypermarket For a Better Life.” It lists the Grand Opening date, and ends with this line:Opening Day will offer a Surprise For All!” The ads in the media listed fantastically low prices on everything.

The “surprise” turned out to be a large meadow on which was set up a impressive but false wall of a building, painted with the colors and logo of the above poster. Hundreds of people were swarming arounded, mostly older people who had come from long distances, hoping to find the advertised bargains. They were mainly furious. The joke completey escaped them.

“Gotcha!” was not written on the other side of the wall, but it might have been. This grand hoax was cooked up by two university students who claimed to be demonstrating the falsity of advertising and the consumer society. How noble. We all know that people in general enjoy a good bargain, and are attracted to the chance for cheap shopping. So what else is new? All these jokers proved was their cruelty. And all of the ad agencies and media, who went along with the gag, willing to fill empty billboards and ad pages for free in an off season, are guilty, in my estimation, of co-cruelty.

When I was 12 years old, I thought such practical jokes were the peak of high humor.

In our early days in the animation studios, practical pranks were all the rage. Even now, television is loaded with stunts designed to make fools out of people. Sure, it’s all in fun, but I now think it’s the lowest form of fun. What about you? Do you say that I’m just a dried up old fogey who hates fun? Lemme know. XXX Gene