Goodbye to Mr. Burns, Harvard’s Greatest Weapon
With news that voice actor Harry Shearer will not rejoin the cast of the Simpsons next season, we must bid goodbye to the many characters he voiced as we knew them. That includes C. Montgomery Burns, Springfield’s most decrepit plutocrat. Rather than kill Burns off (he is, after all, at least 104 years old) the show will recast him. But with Shearer’s departure, we lose the man that gave life to a character who was, at heart, the greatest prank Harvard alumni ever pulled on their rivals at Yale.
That’s because Burns, an evil Springfield power plant owner, graduated from the Yale class of 1914, where he was a member of Skull and Bones and a boxer in the etherweight class. (His frightful lack of bodily strength is a running gag on the show.) As such, he provides fodder for the Simpsons writers to take swipes at Yale. “Simpsonologists do not need to dig too deep to uncover an explanation for the usually unflattering Yale mentions,” explains Fred Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations. “The Simpsons Archive lists 21 Harvard-educated writers for the program over time. The best-known ex–Simpsons writer, Conan O’Brien, was president of the Harvard Lampoon.”
Thus, after a trip to the annual Harvard-Yale football game, Burns muses, “I don’t know why Harvard even bothers to show up. They barely even won.” At another point, a confused Burns encounters a dog, whom he declares “has the proud baring and glossy fur coat of a Yale man,” referencing the outerwear favored by turn-of-the-century Yalies. Upon grabbing the dog’s paw, Burns thinks he recognizes a secret handshake. “Smithers, I believe this dog was in Skull and Bones.”
Given his greed and cruelty, Burns’s association with Yale isn’t one you might find in their admissions pamphlets. But his reputation doesn’t stop fictional Yale admissions officers from hitting Mr. Burns up for money when he attempts to get his son into school. The younger Burns’s test scores are so low, Yale representatives tell him, that Burns would have to donate an international airport t0 convince admissions officers to look the other way. “Are you mad?” Burns scoffs. “I’m not made of airports!”
Simpsons showrunner Al Jean says that they will replace Shearer with “the finest voiceover talent available,” but as when other iconic cartoon characters have changed voice actors in the past, you can imagine there will be something lost in translation. And so, Harvard will lose the oomph behind one of its greatest weapons in the long running war with its Connecticut rivals.