Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's almost Thanksgiving!

Since Thanksgiving is drawing near, let’s take a look at one of the traditions we’ve been enjoying since the 1950s. I’m referring to the Peanuts characaters created by Charles Schulz. We’re going to go back in time again and see how it all began.

Charles Monroe Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Saint Paul. Schulz loved drawing and sometimes drew his family dog, Spike. He attended St. Paul's Richard Gordon Elementary School, where he skipped two half-grades. When he was in first grade, his mother helped him get valentines for everybody in his class, so that nobody would be offended by not getting one; but he felt too shy to put them in the box at the front of the classroom, so he took them all home again to his mother.

He became a shy timid teenager, perhaps as a result of being the youngest in his class at Central High School. One episode in his high school life was the rejection of his drawings by his high-school year book.

After his mother died in February 1943, he was drafted into the United States Army. Two years later shipped to Europe arrving in France on February 18, 1945 to fight in World War II. After leaving the army in 1945, he returned to Minneapolis where he took a job as an art teacher at Art Instruction, Inc. — he had taken correspondence courses before he was drafted. Before having his comics published, he began doing lettering work for a Catholic comic magazine titled Timeless Topix, where he would rush back and forth from dropping off his lettering work and teaching at Art Instruction Schools, Inc.

Schulz first made money for his comics when he sent in a drawing to The Saturday Evening Post. Schulz received $40 for the first drawing, and was asked to send more. Schulz sent in more comics similar to the first one. He received $40 for each of those. After sending a total of 13 cartoons in, Schulz ended his partnership with SEP.

Schulz's first regular cartoons, Li'l Folks, were published from 1947 to 1950 by the St. Paul Pioneer Press; he first used the name Charlie Brown for a character there. The series also had a dog that looked much like Snoopy. In 1950, Schulz approached the United Feature Syndicate with his best strips from Li'l Folks, and Peanuts made its first appearance on October 2, 1950. The strip became one of the most popular comic strips of all time.

Schulz drew much of his inspiration from his own life:

Charlie Brown, the principal character for Peanuts, was named after a co-worker at the Art Instruction Schools

• Like Charlie Brown's parents, Schulz's father was a barber and his mother a housewife.

• Schulz and Charlie Brown were shy and withdrawn.

• Schulz had a dog when he was a boy, although unlike Snoopy the beagle, it was a pointer.

• Schulz's "Little Red-Haired Girl" was Donna Johnson, an Art Instruction Schools accountant with whom he fell in love. Schulz was planning to propose to her, but before he got an opportunity to do so, she agreed to marry another man.

• Linus and Shermy were both named for good friends of his (Linus Maurer and Sherman Plepler, respectively).

• Peppermint Patty was inspired by Patricia Swanson, one of his cousins on his mother's side.

Schulz's family returned to Minneapolis and stayed until 1958. They then moved to Sebastopol, California, where Schulz built his first studio. It was here that Schulz was interviewed for the unaired television documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Some of the footage was eventually used in a later documentary titled Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz. The original documentary is available on DVD from the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Remember MIMI?

If you’re a baby boomer (and a guy) you probably remember one of our all time favorite magazines – Mechanix Illustrated. (Provided your memory hasn't failed you yet.)

If you're interested in MI in general, there’s another post in this blog from a while back that featured an article about our favorite auto guru, Tom McCahill. You can find it HERE if you’re interested in reading about Uncle Tom.

But today, we’re going to talk about the more photogenic stars that graced those pages. Yep, you guessed it, I’m talking about our favorite gal — MIMI! (And you'll understand why "stars" is plural in that sentence if you keep reading. Wait for it.)

Each month we looked forward to seeing that shapely young woman dressed in her skimpy overalls with the vertical stripes and high heels. And in the early sixties, she sported another wardrobe accoutrement: a matching railroad engineer's cap. But that was later discontinued.

She was usually pictured either holding, standing beside, sitting on, laying on, or just in the photo with a new product each month. But who was she? Who was this gorgeous girl-of-our-teenage-dreams model?

Actually, "Mimi" was not one person, but many. Each "Mimi" held the job for a year. Their names were never revealed except for the announcement of a new "Mimi" in each January issue. One Mimi did, however, hold the job for a few years in the sixties. An actress from Southern California, she left to live in Hawaii, and a readers' poll was conducted to choose a replacement from a short list. The readers' choice only lasted a short while, and was replaced by one of the runners-up.

So that brings us to the end with a haunting question. Who were these beautiful women? What happened to them? How many are still with us? If you were a MIMI, let us know. We'd love to do another post on here with a MIMI FOUND title. Maybe it was your mother, or your grandmother. If you fall into that category, or can provide any updated info, please leave a comment and we'll put a revised post together.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Suburbia is born

I decided to repost this.

Why? Because it brings back memories. And that's what this blog is all about. Plus, the economy is currently sucking and this was such a better time with less stress and more money.

Well, maybe not, but in any case, it was a different time than we are experiencing now. World War II had ended, and the servicemen had come home from Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and the African desert. Shortly after that event, a mass exodus began.

The economy was about to explode with success, and families were moving from the city to a new area known as Suburbia. There were two primary reasons for this. First, the GI Bill of rights offered servicemen low interest rates and a low down payment on a new home. Another major catalyst for this move was the insight of a building firm in New York known as Levitt & Sons. Between 1947 and 1951, this company built one of the first planned communities outside of the city. It was the first truly mass-produced suburb and is widely regarded as the archetype for postwar suburbs throughout the country. Unlike today, the housing market was about to explode.

All the homes were rented almost immediately, and hundreds of veterans were still applying. Although originally planned as a 2,000-home development, because of the demand the Levitts decided to build an additional 4,000 houses. The new community soon had its own schools, postal delivery, phone service and streetlights.

Levitt and Sons discontinued building rental houses in 1949 and concentrated on building a larger and more modern house. They dubbed it a “Ranch”. It would sell for $7,990. All a prospective buyer needed was a $90 deposit and the ability to make payments of $58 per month. The new Levitt ranch measured 32 feet by 25 feet. It was available in five different models, differing only by exterior color, roof line, and the placement of windows.

The kitchen was outfitted with a General Electric stove and refrigerator, stainless steel sink and cabinets, and the latest Bendix washer. The kitchen was located at the rear of the home so Mother could look out the window (typically above the sink) and keep a watchful eye on the children playing in the back yard. Immediately, the demand for the new Levitt ranches was overwhelming. So much so that even the procedure for purchasing them was modified to incorporate an assembly line method. A buyer could choose a house and sign a contract for it within three minutes.

By 1951, the Levitts had constructed 17,447 homes in Levittown and the immediate surrounding areas. As the GI homeowners settled into well-paying jobs and began their families, the Levitt models and the surrounding community were modified to suit the needs of growing families. 1950 ranches came with a carport and a 12-1/2 inch Admiral TV set built into the living room staircase. The 1951 model included a partially finished attic. Shopping centers, playgrounds, and a $250,000 (in 1951 dollars) community center sprang up to accommodate Levittown's active residents.