Andy Kaufman’s yearbook photo from Grahm Junior College
This video of Andy Kaufman as “Indignation” Jones in a production of Spoon River Anthology was shot in 1969, when Kaufman was enrolled at Grahm Junior College in Boston. Lost in the Funhouse says the young actor got to show off his range in Don Erickson’s TV production class:
He became a stalwart among TV thespians in the innovative live-tape class productions conceived by Don Erickson, climbing into whichever personas were requested of him—he would somberly sing Jacques Brel dirges or issue grandiloquent soliloquies or pantomime street loon histrionics in sync to Top Forty hits. He inhabited several deceased lamenters who populated the ghostly town of Spoon River, Illinois, in Spoon River Anthology—a failed Broadway show based on a collection of woebegone poems by Edgar Lee Masters, which Erickson adapted for a class television project. He played a dead laughing guy and some dead old guys and a dead mystical guy and one dead extremely angry guy who spouted scorn through pursed and smacking lips that flapped and pouted under his thick-droop mustache (this was a very good look for a mean bastard, he thought)—“You saw me as only a rundown man with matted hair and a beard and ragged clothing!” he bitterly groused. “Sometimes a man’s life turns into a cancer—after being bruised and continually bruised until it swells into a purplish mass like growths on stalks of corn!!”
There doesn’t seem to be a tape of Andy’s reading of “MacArthur Park” in character as an aggrieved 80-year-old Jewish man (“Someone left their cake out in the rain? Oyyy, I don’t think that I can take it”), which Erickson later remembered as an outstanding performance. Kaufman read “MacArthur Park” again years later, in his Saturday Night Live audition, but he read it straight.
Below, Andy reads “Indignation” Jones’ part in Spoon River Anthology. (A maddening video here claims to show Kaufman’s performance of Jacques Brel’s “The Desperate Ones,” but ends before he appears. It does not, however, omit a second of Don Erickson’s introduction, in which he answers, at length, an Esquire article uncharitable to his productions. By the time he pauses in reading a letter from Lynne Margulies to complain that Esquire never ran his eight-page rebuttal—about 10 minutes in—you’ll envy “Indignation” Jones.)