Thursday, January 15, 2009

Think Happy Thoughts

Do you remember? Were you there when it happened?

On a very special evening in 1955, you and your family may have been seated around your new black and white television for something very special. Maybe your mom made some snacks for the event, since you’ve recently bought TV trays. And maybe, just maybe, she let you and your siblings enjoy a glass of Kool-Aid.

The event was the 1955 television broadcast of Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin in the title role. She had filled the same role in the Broadway production the previous year, and in 1955, this production performed on NBC television in RCA's compatible color. It was again broadcast in 1956 and in 1960.

At six years of age at the time, I was riveted to the screen and thrilled when Peter took Wendy, Michael and John on a miraculous flight to Never-Never Land. I remember the excitement of meeting the Lost Boys and the mischievous fairy Tinkerbell. And I fell in love with Tiger Lily who, with her Indian Braves, was always on the alert for that troublesome Captain Hook and his band of Buccaneers.

It was quite an adventure and a memory that will live in my mind forever. I hope you’ll take a moment to watch the video in the sidebar and remember it as if it were yesterday.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Would You Like to be Queen for a Day?

During the fifties I remember watching Queen for a Day on our black and white Zenith television. My mother always enjoyed that show and I had visions of her being on it someday, but it never happened.

This program became popular, in part, due to the viewers fascination with big prize giveaway shows when it was born on radio in 1945 and continued as a radio program until 1957. In 1947 it was also broadcast on television and continued running until 1964. Even in those days, the prizes were pretty fabulous. Check out the 8 minute video on the sidebar to see the extent of the winnings.

With the show’s popularity with the viewers, NBC increased its running time from 30 to 45 minutes. Both the original radio show and the television version were hosted by Jack Bailey. It was broadcast first by Mutual, then NBC, and finally ABC.

The appeal of Queen for a Day was related to a woman hitting rock bottom, or close to it, and the tearjerking factor was always a critical part of the show. The program gave the contestant a one-in-four chance of making good, at least for one day in her life.

Using the classic "applause meter" as did many game or hit-parade style shows of the time, Queen for a Day contestants told why they would like the honour—and the twist of it was that the contestant had to talk publicly about the recent hard times she had been through. The more harsh the circumstances that led a contestant to want to appear, the likelier the studio audience was to ring the applause meter's highest level.

And, to the full accompaniment of "Pomp and Circumstance", the winner would be draped in a red velvet robe and a shimmering crown, and she would be festooned with a dozen long-stemmed roses, trips, a fully-paid night on the town with her husband or her escort, and other prizes. "Make every woman a queen, for every single day!" would be Bailey's trademark signoff.

Friday, January 2, 2009

That's Really Silly

Putty, that is.

Since 1950, more than 300 million eggs of Silly Putty have been sold. And they didn't come from a Silly Putty chicken. If we have to credit someone for the existence of Silly Putty, it would have to be the Japanese. If Japan hadn’t invaded rubber producing countries during World War II in an effort to cut off rubber supplies to the United States, we might never have experienced the joys associated with Silly Putty. So, let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine and find out why, and how, this whole thing started.

Rubber was necessary for producing the rafts, tires, vehicle and aircraft parts, gas masks and boots needed by the American soldiers during the World War II. Because of the need, many products were ratined, including rubber and nylon. American citizens were encouraged to make rubber products last until the end of the war and, to help the war effort, to donate any spare tires, boots and coats that they might own. At the same time, in an attempt to rectify this shortage, the government funded research into synthetic rubber compounds.

There remains some discrepancy over who invented Silly Putty. But the invention credit has been attributed to Earl Warrick of Dow Corning, and James Wright of General Electric. Regardless of who it was, both researchers discovered that mixing boric acid with silicone oil produced a gooey, bouncy material that would bounce, stretch, wouldn’t collect mold and had a very high melting temperature. (Plus you could copy the Sunday comics by pressing it onto the paper! That was my favorite part, except the words were all backwards.)

Great! New invention created to replace rubber. Except the tire test didn't turn out too well. Neither did the one for rafts or gas masks. So, it didn’t solve the problem they had set out to solve, and the new product languished in a laboratory for several years as nothing more than a curiosity. Wright sent samples to scientists all over the world, but no practical use was ever found for the product.

But in 1949, a sample reached Ruth Fallgatter. Ruth owned a toy store and immediately saw the marketing potential. She contacted Peter Hodgson, a marketing consultant, to discuss it. The two decided to market the product by selling it in a clear case for $2. The putty quickly outsold every item in Ruth’s catalogue (except for 50 cent Crayola crayons). Despite the fortune it made, Fallgatter lost interest in the product. But Hodgson saw its potential.

Although he was already $12,000 in debt, Hodgson borrowed $147 to buy a batch of the putty to pack one ounce portions into plastic eggs for $1. He gave it the name: Silly Putty. Hodgson sold over 250,000 eggs of silly putty in three days. Hodgson was almost forced out of business in 1951 by the Korean War due to the ration on silicone, the primary ingredient. The restriction on silicone was lifted the following year, and the production of Silly Putty was resumed. Initially, it was primarily targeted towards adults. However, by 1955 the majority of its consumers were aged 6 through 12. In 1957 Hodgson produced the first televised commercial for Slly Putty, which aired during the Howdy Doody Show. (September 28th post)

In remembering my adventures with Silly Putty, I tried to recall which came first — Silly Putty or the Hula Hoop. I'm not going to tell you. If your memory is better than mine, you'll know. If not, click the link at the end of this sentence and go to the Hula Hoop article. If you want to make your very own Silly Putty at home, it's easy. Just combine the following ingredients:

65% dimethyl siloxane (hydroxy-terminated polymers with boric acid)

17% silica (crystalline quartz)

9% Thixatrol ST (castor oil derivative)

4% polydimethylsiloxane

1% decamethyl cyclopentasiloxane

1% glycerine, and 1% titanium dioxide.

I know, it only adds up to 98%. There must be 2% of some secret ingredient that we don’t have in our cabinets, like all that other stuff. Keep in mind, don't mix driving or Silly Putty with alcohol. Like the driver of the car, alcohol causes Silly Putty to lose all of it's best attributes.

If you don't want to take the time or effort to make your own, you can go out and buy some. Crayola now owns the product, and it's still around. Just like we are. And that's a good thing.