Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts. And when we think about you, it makes me wanna fart. I mean, I hope we never part. Sadly, fans did have to part with Camp Anawanna and Salute Your Shorts—the Nickelodeon comedy lasted just two seasons from 1991-1992. Though there were only 25 episodes, the series became a cult hit.
1. IT WAS BASED ON A BOOK.
The show's creator, Steve Slavkin, co-wrote a book called Salute Your Shorts: Life at Summer Camp that was published in 1986. Cut to a few years later, when Slavkin was working as a writer in Los Angeles. He heard that Nickelodeon was looking for kid-focused sitcom ideas and pitched them a television version of his book. They loved the idea of a show based around kids at summer camp and gave him the green light to shoot a pilot.
2. AT ONE POINT, ALL OF THE CAMPERS HAD TO BE RECAST.
After the pilot was shot, the show got stuck in development for about a year. Kids can change quite a bit in just a year, and by the time Nickelodeon decided to move forward with the series, most of them were skewing too old. All Anawanna campers had to be recast—with the exception of one. “Donkeylips was the only holdover from the first show,” Slavkin said.
3. DR. KAHN WAS VOICED BY STEVE SLAVKIN.
Camp Supervisor Dr. Kahn, whom we hear but never see, was invented merely to fill time on the show. “I would go into editing and the show would be, like, a minute short,” Slavkin explained. To fill the minute, Slavin took stock photography, then would “just sit in a booth and make up stuff right there as the clock was ticking and record it. There was no genius involved—it was literally just to fill up the time.”
4. THERE WAS ALMOST NO HAIR OR MAKEUP ON SET.
to Slavkin, he wanted his cast to be as much like normal kids as possible. “I was looking for kids that had no acting experience. We put almost no makeup on the kids. We wanted their hair crazy, we wanted buck teeth—we wanted them to be kids.” In fact, when Megan Berwick, the actress who played Z.Z. Ziff, had to get braces in real life, Slavkin wrote it into the script.
5. THE WORD “ANAWANNA” HAS MEANING.
It’s supposed to sound like “I don’t wanna,” which may reflect how those kids felt about going to summer camp ... or listening to Ug the counselor.
6. THE SHOW WAS FILMED AT FRANKLIN CANYON PARK.
Some of the exteriors were shot at Los Angeles's Franklin Canyon Park. Franklin Lake was the go-to for any lake-based scenes. And even if you weren’t a Salute Your Shorts fan, you may recognize Franklin Lake as Opie’s fishing hole on The Andy Griffith Show, or as the lagoon from which the Creature from the Black Lagoon once rose.
Some of the outdoor camp scenes took place at Griffith Park Boys’ Camp, also in Los Angeles, and Venus De Milo—who played Telly Radford—had attended the girls’ camp at the same location. "The cool thing was, we’d go to the Batcaves—where they shot the original Batman—and I had already been there," DeMilo recalled. "That feeling of familiarity with the location—it was like camping when we were doing the show.”
8. THERE WERE A LOT OF NOTES FROM THE NETWORK.
Because it was a kids’ show, the Standards and Practices department was pretty strict. One scene Slavkin remembers in particular involved the kids sneaking out of their cabins to get candy. “We got a note: Can’t have candy. Why? Childhood obesity. So what were we supposed to do? They should sneak out and get fruit. I’ve never seen a kid risking a severe punishment for a ripe tangelo. But if that’s what they wanted, that’s what they would get. So there’s an episode of Salute Your Shorts where the kids sneak out ... for fruit.”
9. ONE DIRECTOR WAS CHOSEN BECAUSE OF HIS WORK ON PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE.
Nickelodeon was looking for young directors who had a unique vision for the show. Director Bryan Spicer was brought in after Nickelodeon execs spotted a unique shot he created for the short-lived sitcom Parker Lewis Can’t Lose—a guitar going down a wire from the school.
10. THERE’S AN ODD EASTER EGG IN A FEW EPISODES
According to Michael Bower, who played Eddie "Donkeylips" Gelfen, there’s a rubber chicken with a cigarette in its mouth in several episodes. “Danny [Cooksey, who played Bobby Budnick] was a huge Zappa fan,” Blake Sennett confirmed. “There was ... a rubber chicken reference on one of those records. So that’s where the rubber chicken reference came from.”
11. THE KIDS DIDN’T ALL GET ALONG.
As with any group of tweens and teens, the young actors had conflicts with each other, especially when it came to sharing dressing rooms. “They enjoyed me, but I don’t think they got my humor, because I was sort of a weird, fat kid,” Bower said. “Tim Eyster [who played Sponge Harris] and me, we had contradicting egos. That was a conflict, sharing a dressing room with him.”
Eyster, who now goes by Trevor, agreed: “I felt very ostracized. For me, going through that geeky, nerdy, awkward prepubescent phase happened in front of the camera. Whether in high school or on set, I was this lanky—well, lanky would imply tall, and I wasn’t even tall—awkward-bowl-haircut mama’s boy with glasses that had a kinda high voice.”
12. THE THEME SONG COMPOSER HAS A FEW MORE HITS UNDER HIS BELT.
The theme song is part of the reason people are so nostalgic for the show—and we have composer Ed Alton to thank for that. An industry veteran, Alton has also composed music for Head of the Class, The Single Guy, Suddenly Susan, Nikki, My Boys, and Whitney.
It has been said, by the way, that the Salute Your Shorts song is the only TV theme song in history that contains the word “fart.”
13. SOME OF THE ACTING IN THE THEME SONG WAS IMPROVISED.
When Michael Bower hits Venus DeMilo in the face, she didn’t know it was coming. He was mad at her for something that happened earlier in the day, and when they were told to raise their hands at the end of the song, he decided he would smack her in the face to exact his revenge. He did throughout several takes. “You can see it in her face at the beginning of every episode,” Bower said. “She looks right at me when I hit her in the face. It was great.”
The moment where Budnick pushes Sponge’s elbow off of his shoulder was also improv. “[It] would have happened off screen, too,” Eyster said.
14. THE WAY IT WAS SHOT WAS GROUNDBREAKING FOR A KIDS’ SHOW.
“We were doing a half-hour film every week on Salute Your Shorts, for all intents and purposes," producer Courtney Conte said. "Steve Slavkin had the directors push it in terms of directorial style.”
“We wanted to bring film techniques to kids’ television,” Slavkin said. “It was a single-camera show that was shot on video and put through the film-look process to give kids mini-movies about summer camp that were scored from beginning to end. We gave them a whole new look they’d never had before.”