Deep in the vaults of Warner Bros. there is a series of Merrie Melodies cartoons featuring Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph E. Wolf. It has been years since I have seen the animation; however, the tan sheepdog with the unruly mop of auburn hair and the thin brown wolf that bears an uncanny resemblance to Wile E. Coyote (except for Ralph’s red nose and Wile’s yellow eyes) are readily recalled.
The gist of the series was that each morning, Sam and Ralph would arrive at the sheep pasture, punch in at precisely 8 a.m. on a tree mounted time clock. As they arrived, they would cordially greet each other with the familiar, “Morning, Ralph” and “Morning, Sam” and when the whistle blew, assume their respective positions as predator and protector of the sheep.
All day long, each and every day, Ralph would pursue sheep and Sam would always foil Ralph’s best laid plans to nab one. The natural rivals were relentless, admirably performing the job that nature had assigned to them. Often, when the noon whistle blew, the two adversaries would eat lunch together and then after the break, resume battle for an afternoon of exhaustive combat.
Without fail, at exactly 5 p.m. the whistle would sound and the two gladiators would gather their empty lunch pails, and as they exited the meadow, both would clock out. As they departed, with all the civility of a couple of fishing buddies who had spent a day of recreation together, they said, “Goodnight, Ralph” and “Goodnight, Sam.”
The innate humor of the sedate, if not affection, off-duty relationship between these two personified natural enemies has wound itself into American pop culture. “G’night Ralph…G’night Sam” gives us pause because it presents us with a dichotomy that is both unusual and unexpected.