Sunday, December 26, 2010

Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?

It was on this day in 1954 that faithful listeners were asked that question for the very last time. It was the final broadcast of a radio program that started on a Thursday evening in July of 1930. That’s when they were introduced to “The Shadow.” The now-famous character’s voice was supplied by James La Curto in a program called The Detective Story Hour.  Street and Smith publishers sponsored the program (which lasted about a year), along with their magazine series The Shadow, A Detective Monthly.

In September 1931, the show was aired on The Blue Coal Radio Revue. This version starred Frank Readick, Jr. The show kept its original running time of one hour, and for a month or so, CBS listeners could hear it at the original 9:30 p.m. time slot on Thursdays as well as an additional broadcast on Sundays at 5:30 PM. But in October 1931, the 9:30 time slot was taken over by Love Story Drama, again sponsored by Street and Smith.

After a year on CBS, the series moved to NBC in October 1932. Blue Coal remained the sponsor and Frank Readick, Jr. stayed on as the star but the time slot was changed to Wednesdays. In October 1934, the program was aired at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. Readick starred in most of the episodes, but La Curto appeared in a few episodes.

The program changed back to Sundays at 5:30 p.m. in September 1937, and Blue Coal remained the sponsor. But the program had a new voice for Lamont Cranston: the new radio and theatre personality Orson Welles. The 1937 programs also began to feature "The Shadow" as a character in the stories, rather than merely as a narrator. Orson Welles was "The Shadow" through 1938.

Bill Johnstone became the new voice in 1939, and the role switched to Bret Morrison in 1943. Near the end of 1944, John Archer took over and stayed in the role until September, 1945, when Brett Morrison returned and remained the voice of “The Shadow” from that point until the final broadcast on December 26,1954.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Memories

As a boy, I had such a hard time going to sleep on Christmas eve. It was the anticipation, the mystery, the not-knowing-and-still-hoping that the gifts I had asked for would be delivered.

One year it was a record player. And then the English Racer bicycle. My favorite year was the one that I got my electric guitar and amplifier from Montgomery Wards. It was a deep red solid body guitar, and the amp had a "tremelo" feature on it that you could activate with a push-button pedal. So cool.

No, it wasn't easy falling asleep with so many important uncertainties floating through your mind. But somehow, after tossing and turning and knowing I would never go to sleep again, I drifted off. Things happened shortly after that, and I was oblivious to the events until the next morning.

When I woke up, in the wee hours of a winter morning, when it was still gray outside, I would creep into the living room to see the splendid display that Santa had left for us. An electric excitement equivalent to power the lights on our tree coursed through my veins on those Christmas mornings which now seem so long ago, but yet still so near.

Time passed. I watched our son go through the same wonder and surprise on his childhood Christmas mornings. And I shared them with him, along with my wife. I couldn't help remembering my own childhood Christmases as I watched him enjoying his.

And today, I'm certain he shared the same memories as he watched his two children, their eyes growing wide when they saw the new gifts under the tree—the gifts that weren't there when they went to bed the previous evening.

I'm guessing the same memories are being shared all over the world on this day. I hope yours are as wonderful as they were when you were a child.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


There's something about tangerines. It's a combination of attributes—from the feel of their pebbly, bright orange skin to the smell and taste of their juicy interior. Even today, these sensual inputs trigger memories that take me back to my childhood and to this special time of year,.

When I was a boy, my mother always had tangerines in the fridge when the Christmas season drew near. It was a tradition. I don't recall ever having them in the house at any other time of year. But at Christmas, there they were. Always.

And there were other things, too. Special things that only came out during the holiday season. Maybe the fact that they only came out at that time was the reason they hold such special memories. One of those things was a big wooden bowl that my dad filled with nuts in the shell.

There was a wide variety including the light tan English walnuts, the orange-colored Filberts, the dark brown Brazil nuts, and the easy-to-crack almonds. And of course, my favorite, the pecans. Somewhere in that wooden bowl, mixed in with the nuts, you would find a silver nutcracker and a few picks that looked like dental instruments. These were quite necessary in order to get every last goodie out of the shell. We didn't waste things back then.

Now that I think about it, I'm kind of looking forward to making a trip to the grocery store tomorrow and picking up a few of those tangerines. I may get a selection of various nuts in the shell, too. I might have to buy a nutcracker if I can't find ours. Where do those things disappear to when you're not looking?

Aren't Christmas memories the best?

Christmas is coming...

Max charged up the Wayback Machine overnight, so we’re ready to go. The holiday season is approaching. Let’s take a trip back in time and find out what was selling during the Christmas season. What were the popular items that all the good little girls and boys wanted?

Max is going to set the dial for the year 1959 and the location for downtown Kansas City. We’ll arrive shortly in front of Macy’s and take a gander into the decorated front window.

Here we are, and the window looks gorgeous, as usual. There are green trees with white lights. A train is chugging past the animated elves and reindeer. And just look at the toys!

I see a Milton Bradley Candyland game and Chutes and Ladders. There’s a big, shiny red Schwinn bicycle leaning majestically against the back wall right next to a Radio Flyer wagon.

On the other side is Robbie the Robot waving his arms at Betsy Wetsy. And right next to her is Barbie in her zebra striped bathing suit. Next to the Litte Chef Stove there's a can of Lincoln Logs, some Tinker Toys, and an Erector Set. Matchbox cars are driving through the snow, and there’s Davy Crockett wearing his coonskin cap.

Back in the corner is a View-Master, Silly Putty, a Slinky and Mr. Potato Head. Wow! But I don’t see the official Red Ryder 200-shot carbine-action range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.

It's amazing how times change. When we were kids we were perfectly pleased with a coiled up piece of wire that would slink down the stairs. And we knew we had to be good or we wouldn't get anything but a bag of coal.

Today it's cell phones, X-Boxes, and the Wii. But even during the fifties things may have been changing. The boy on the left seems to be wondering, "What the heck was I thinking when I asked for this?"

So, Christmas is on the way. And if you've got 99 cents to spare, you could make my granddaughter very happy. See the book cover on the right sidebar? The one that says "Scary Night Music"? That's the link to an ebook. She's the cover model and the star of the mystery. I told her I would split any income it generated. She has a lot of faith in my marketing abilities, so she's hoping for lots of money.

If you have an e-reader you might want to order a copy. If you've got a reluctant reader in your family, it might be the trick to get them interested. It's a wee bit scary, but not too bad. Even if you don't have an e-reader, you can a Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac free at so you can read ebooks on your laptop. How cool is that? How did we get by without all this high tech stuff in the fifties?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Truman Library

For those of you who don't know, I grew up in Independence, Missouri. Most of you will remember that as the home of President Harry S Truman as well as the location of William Chrisman High School and Truman High School. Not to mention HiBoy's, but that's a subject for another post.

As a child, I was quite familiar with the Truman home on the Independence square where the President and his family lived after he returned to civilian life. I remember driving past the construction site on 24 highway many times as they were building the Truman Library. (And, just to you know, that location is just a little bit east of River, where one of the oldest HiBoy's is located.) And, even though I grew up within a few miles of the library site, I never took the time to visit it. Until a few weeks ago.

My wife's cousin and her husband visited us, and we were looking for something interesting to do. Someone suggested the Truman Library, and we decided to visit. It was well worth the trip and the time. In fact, I wished we would have had a few more hours to stay because there is plenty of history to see and learn about. I was particularly fond of the 1950s room.

So, if you're ever near Independence, Missouri, be sure to stop by and see where Harry worked.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Fifties Thanksgiving

In keeping with the Thanksgiving spirit, I am going to repost a true story of a Thanksgiving-past, and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy remembering it. It all happened back in the fifites on this very day...

At that time, my family was living in Independence, Missouri. My dad was a plumber and my mother was a stay-at-home-mom because families could afford that luxury in those days. My uncle (my dad's brother) was an accountant at General Motors. This was a more executive level position than my father had, and we all knew how "rich" our uncle was. They lived in a much larger house in Johnson County, Kansas, which is still one of the most affluent counties in the country. They drove a brand new Cadillac, and he got a new one every year.

On this particular Thanksgiving, they invited us over for dinner. I think it was on a Thursday that year if I remember correctly. We all get dressed in our very best outfits and hop into our 1957 Ford Fairlane. A few minutes later we're crossing the state line and heading into Johnson County. The pickup trucks and older vehicles that had been driving alongside us on the Missouri side were slowly being replaced by Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, Porsche, Cadillac, and all manner of high dollar vehicles.

A few miles later, we arrived at the house. It was the first time we had visited, and I was very impressed. It was two-story brick house that would easily fit at least four ranch style houses like ours inside. A long, wide driveway led to a two-car garage. Inside the tiled foyer, everything was beautiful and glistening. It appeared to be decor that was never to be touched except for dusting. I believe they had a maid that did that, but they had given her the day off apparently.

My aunt had worked hard preparing the Thanksgiving dinner. The table was set to perfection with everything in its proper location. And there was a variety of foods, including mashed potatoes (in a rather small bowl), green beans (in an equally small bowl), and another small bowl containing corn. I quickly took a head count. Including my parents, my two sisters, me, my aunt and uncle, and their son, I couldn't see how this herbivore ration was going to suffice. We usually had more than that our house for just the five of us. And with eight, I knew someone was going to leave the table hungry.

Then my aunt brought out a platter that looked huge in comparison to the meager size of the item centered on it. She set the platter next to me. I glanced at it with a question in my head, which spilled out, to my mother's dismay. "What's that?"

"Why, that's the roast," my aunt replied.

When I saw that minature piece of meat lying on the platter I knew something was going on. These people were rich. You could smell the money when you walked in the door, along with the tantalizing aroma of something that turned out to be a little disappointing because of its size. I was pretty sure they could afford eight roasts like that one without making a noticeable dent in the finances. So, I thought, it's possible this roast is just for me and everyone is going to get a similar portion. My other thought, horrid as it seemed, was that this was, indeed, the entire supply of meat for the meal.

At nine years old, boys will sometimes embarrass their mothers unintentionally by opening their mouths and letting their thoughts spill out into an unsuspecting world. It seemed a simple question at the time, but the look in my mother's eyes after I asked it told me it was obviously something I shouldn't have asked. "Where's the rest of it?"

Of course my comment was graciously laughed off in a professional holiday fashion, but the steam coming out of my mother's ears told me I hadn't heard the last of this.

Although my carnivorous craving wasn't totally satisfied, I didn't leave the table hungry. While my aunt had underestimated the protein requirement of eight people, she had erred in the opposite direction regarding the dinner rolls. Soft, warm rolls with an ample slathering of butter were one of my favorites. There was an abundance of them, and I got more than my fill. So I was quite thankful for that.

On the drive home, my mother surprised me by telling my father that was the smallest roast she had ever seen. He replied by telling her that his brother was very tight-fisted and only allowed his wife a certain amount of money for household expenses, including food.

Suddenly, the big fancy house lost a little of its glow. I settled back into the seat of our Ford, comfortable and secure, with an increased thankfulness for my situation. We were heading back to our own home — a place where there was always plenty of food on the table. And plenty of leftover fried chicken in the fridge if you needed a snack late at night.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Scary Old Stuff for Halloween

It’s Halloween, and time for something scary. The nostalgic video above features one of Disney's holiday classics. If your children haven't seen this one, it might give them a bit of a fright, but it's all in good fun.

The other three parts are available on YouTube if you'd like to watch the rest of the story. So enjoy! And don't forget to get some of those traditional Valomilk's to treat the little goblins when they come visiting your doorstep this evening.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Fluoride Cover Up.

Yes, folks, they used to tell us that lard was good for us. And we believed it.
And they also told us a lot of other things were good for us, too. This post is going to be somewhat different from the fun topics I usually cover. I'm going to jump up on my soapbox, just for today, and lecture a wee bit about something that really irritates me.

It's not so much the fact of what has been done that's irritating because the damage has been done. It's more the method in which it was skewed and delivered to the American public. It was deceitful in that they didn't really truthfully reveal the facts related to the decision and why they felt it preferable to subject American children to a dangerous situation rather than subjecting major industries and companies to massive litigation.

The subject I want to cover here involves the fluoridation of the nation's water supply, which began back in the early 1950s. We were told how good fluoride was for us and that it should be added to our water supply. Because of that decision, we had no choice. We've been drinking fluoridated water all our lives. It's possible that adding fluoride to our diet may help prevent tooth decay. But it's also possible that it was nothing more than a cleverly conceived solution to a large industry's problem and to prevent massive litigation against the Atomic Energy Commission and others.

Now, even though dental practitioners recommend and perform fluoride treatments, very few dentists are aware that the fluoride in public water supplies is not a pharmaceutical grade product. It is in fact industrial waste. It’s primarily the waste from the Florida phosphate industry. So why was our government allowing industries to dump their waste products into the nation's water supply?

In order to answer that question, we need to examine what was going on at the time. The American public of the 1950s was a gullible entity. We believed everything our government told us. And, because of that, it wasn't difficult to sell the benefits of fluoride (and bury the dangers and the potential litigation) if you enlist the services of respected authorities such as the Mellon Institute and Kettering Laboratory. And if you needed one of the most respected scientists of the day as a spokesman, there was none better than Dr. Harold Hodge of the University of Rochester. After all, Hodge had worked with the Atomic Energy Commission and was responsible for the Human Radiation Injection Project in which patients were injected with plutonium .

Dr. Donald Kehoe was also enlisted to help sell the advantages of fluoride to the American public. Kehoe was previously responsible for having lead added to our gasoline. This has been proven to be responsible for brain damage in children of that era. And, of course, they needed Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, to put a spin on the concept and sell the idea to the American public.

Naturally, getting this idea out to the American people required advertising, and advertising required funding. This was an easy sell to the companies who were potential defendants in the possible litigation that could have followed, and included such giants as Alcoa Aluminum, US Steel, DuPont, Monsanto, and others. Also, the Department of Public Health was involved for added credibility, as well as the American Dental Association. All bases were covered, and it was a complete and successful snow job.

Keep in mind that in the 1950s the Florida phosphate industry was being sued by farmers and citizens living near those plants because the fluoride was killing their cattle and destroying their crops. Unless something was done (cover up) other industries were going to be found responsible for similar dangerous activities and the resulting connections and damage awards could have been monumental. Because of the potential danger to cattle and crops, the Florida phosphate industry is today prevented from having to dispose of its industrial affluent in a toxic waste dump. Instead, they ship it in tanker trucks around the country and dump it in our water supply for our children to consume. Now, that's certainly logical.

Anyway, the issue and the opportunity for litigation was headed off at the pass by providing America with disinformation while adding an unnecessary environmental risk. But the monetary problem for industrial America and their executive bonuses was averted.

It's interesting that 98% of western European countries have rejected water fluoridation, and the childrens' teeth are as healthy as those of our children. And I'm stepping down from my soapbox now. If you want more information on this subject, view the video on the sidebar. It is packed with data and evidence on how we were duped and why it continues to remain a dangerous environmental hazard.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tom McCahill - Voice of M.I.

When I was a boy, my father looked forward every month to receiving his new copy of Mechanix Illustrated (MI). One of his favorite parts of the magazines were the articles written by Tom McCahill, aka “Uncle Tom.” When my father died, I inherited all of his old issues, dating back to the 1940s. And, I decided to do a little checking on Uncle Tom and see what he was all about. Here’s what I found. The following is primarily edited copy from Wikipedia.

Thomas Jay McCahill III (1907-1975) was an automotive journalist, born the grandson of a wealthy attorney in Larchmont, New York. McCahill graduated from Yale University with a degree in fine arts. He is credited with, amongst other things, the creation of the "0 to 60" acceleration measurement now universally accepted in automotive testing.
He became a salesman for Marmon and in the mid-1930s operated dealerships in Manhattan and Palm Springs, featuring Rolls Royce, Jaguar and other high-line luxury cars. The depression and his father's alcoholism wiped out his family's fortune.

Journalist and Automobile Critic

After graduating from Yale, McCahill managed and later owned Murray's Garage in New York City. During the war he wrote articles on a variety of subjects for magazines such as Popular Science, Reader's Digest and Mechanix Illustrated Magazine ("M.I."). Hitting on the idea that an auto-starved post-wartime public might be interested in articles on new cars, he sold the concept to M.I. in February 1946, first reporting on his own 1946 Ford. His opinions were fearless and this endeared him to some in the automotive world but created enemies too. Ever the sportsman- at six foot two and 250 pounds- he once fought off goons hired by (as is was believed at the time) General Motors. It is alleged that he sent two to hospital and the third running.

McCahill was a personal friend of Walter P. Chrysler and appreciated the handling and performance characteristics of Chrysler Corporation cars in the late 1950s and 1960s, which included many advanced engineering features such as front torsion-bar suspensions (combined with rear multi-leaf springs) for flatter cornering, powerful V8 engine options across the board and positive-shifting three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmissions. In a 1959 road test of the Plymouth Sport Fury (which he referred to as the "Sports Fury"), he claimed that the torsion bar suspensions were the finest in America. Few European sedans, said McCahill, could match the handling performance of the Plymouth.

On many of his earlier road tests, his wife Cynthia would accompany him as his photographer and almost always his black Labrador Retriever, "Boji." His later assistant was a professional driver and photographer Jim McMicheal, who was photographed sitting - or lying - in the trunk of every make tested and was known as "the trunk tester."

McCahill frequently used extreme metaphors and similes in his prose. For example, in M.I. he described the AC Cobra as "hairier than a Borneo gorilla in a raccoon suit". (McCahill was apparently unconcerned about the fact that there aren't any gorillas in Borneo). He proclaimed the ride of a 1957 Pontiac to be as "smooth as a prom queen's thighs".


McCahill reported in detail on every car imported to the U.S. during the early 1950s, all the while ridiculing the U.S. automakers for their excesses, including soft suspensions ("Jello suspensions" as he referred to them) and poor handling qualities. An example is provided by one of the first road tests of the 1958 Edsel in the September 1957 issue of M.I.: McCahill criticized the standard suspension as being too "horsey-back" and strongly recommended that Edsel buyers "pony up" a few extra bucks for the optional, heavy-duty (i.e. export) suspension package, which included heavier springs and shocks. He went so far as to tell his readers that "I wouldn't own one except with the export kit; without stiffer suspension, a car with so much performance (his test car had the 345-horsepower, 410 cubic-inch V8) could prove similar to opening a Christmas basket full of King Cobras in a small room with the lights out".

McCahill was in favour of lifting the Automobile Manufacturer's Association ban on factory backed stock car racing that was agreed upon by GM, Ford and Chrysler in June 1957 - however manufacturers continued under-the-table efforts to provide performance parts and engines to racing teams or performance-car enthusiasts. McCahill chose to live in Florida as its climate permitted owning such cars as his Jaguar sedan, as corrosion problems inherent with this type of car would have been compounded by the Eastern climate.

On The Chevrolet Corvair

McCahill conducted and reported on the first road test of the Corvair in 1959. In the presence of Zora Arkus-Duntov, chief Engineer of the Corvair project, McCahill ran the car at speed on the G.M. testing grounds. McCahill reported that he was pleased with the handling characteristics and that the Corvair handled better than the 1959 Porsche. This flies in the face of later findings by Ralph Nader.

Favorite vehicles

In the 600 road tests he performed and reported on, his favorite cars were the 1953 Bentley Continental and the 1957-62 Chrysler Imperial, each model year of which he owned as his personal vehicles.

In 1950 he purchased a new Ford and proceeded to acquire the assistance of Andy Granatelli in "hopping it up" by switching to high-performance heads and manifolding. He then tested the car extensively and noticed a 90 mile an hour cruising speed. The car became known as the "M.I. Ford" as it was frequently featured in the Magazine.

The wise and considerate McCahill de-tuned the car before selling it with 32.000 miles. The fear of mechanical failure at speed concerned McCahill with the safety of any future owner. He purchased a new 1952 Cadillac Series 62 sedan which he eventually raced in NASCAR speed week events. He also purchased new and reported on the '54 Jeep CJ3A, stating that while his Lincoln was the finest road car available at the time, in the end, the Jeep was the best idea that mankind had ever made. He claimed it would outrun a contemporary M.G.

Sounding Off

In a 1958 M.I. article McCahill accused the U.S. Auto Industry of causing the recession and poor auto sales of 1958 by standardizing styling and eliminating factory- or factory-sanctioned racing. He focused on AMC's George Romney, who claimed that the Rambler handled better than U.S. full-size makes. McCahill performed tests to prove him wrong.

He was at odds with Walter Reuther of the U.A.W. over the issue of poor quality in U.S. cars and the fact that European imports - at the time SAAB and Volvo in particular - were of high quality, outstanding performers and no more costly than a good used car for those who could not afford a new domestic car. McCahill railed against unfair trade with Canada and Europe. He demanded that the U.S. stop accepting imports and, in lieu of war reparations, force England, Canada and France (where one could purchase an English or German car, but no U.S. makes) to accept the forced sale of hundreds of thousands of used U.S. cars, a plan which he claimed would increase the sale of new vehicles by more than six million annually over the following five years, thus significantly accelerating the U.S. economy.

McCahill had become Mechanics Illustrated public face, and the industry quickly realized that his review could make or break a product instantly. When he tested the 1948 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98 powered by a flat-head eight-cylinder engine of prewar design, he claimed that depressing the accelerator was like "Stepping on a wet sponge". General Motors was incensed over his review of the '48 Olds and scores of angry letters from the corporation, as well as from Olds dealers and owners, came into to MI's 'office demanding his firing.

However, it was widely known that McCahill's report motivated GM into development of Oldsmobile's new overhead-valve, high-compression "Rocket V8" engine, which made its début the following year in the 1949 "98." The format of the engine was filtered down to the smaller and lighter body/chassis used for Oldsmobile's lowest-price "76" series (powered by six-cylinder engines) and to create the Olds "Rocket 88." The Rocket V8 performed even better than in the bigger and heavier 98, thereby creating a whole new image for Olds and set the stage for similar designed V8 engines throughout Detroit over the next few years.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Hula Hoop Craze

It was a fad of the 50s. And most Baby Boomers remember them well. In fact, most of us had one, or more. I remember well the evening my family went out to buy three of them. One each for my two sisters. And one for me.

Being younger than I was, neither of my sisters was very in tune with what was cool. And they were perfectly happy to settle for a big, fat, hot pink, or electric blue plastic version. Since I was so much cooler than they were, I wasn’t going to settle for a run-of-the-mill pastic one. I had my sights set higher — stainless steel, and only about a half inch in diameter. Thin and sleek.

Of course, I didn’t take into account how un-cool I was going to look swinging my bony hips around to try to keep the thing going. But my mind was made up. And my parents must have driven to at least a dozen stores before we found one. And I was happy at last. Spoiled, but happy.

We didn't think to ask, and we weren't really concerned with where the things came from. But now that we're older, we want to know. The whole hula hoop craze actually began way back in 1957. And it didn’t actually start in this country.

It started in Australia, where Coles department store sold hoops made of bamboo. Unfortunately, the demand outpaced their supplier’s ability to keep up with the orders.

Enter Alex Tolmer, the founder of Toltoys. His company began manufacturing them from plastic, and sold 400,000 of them in 1957. They were marketed in the U.S. in 1958 by Melin and Knerr of Wham-O. They sold 100 million of them that summer. But by October of that year, the craze suddenly died. (I wonder who made the stainless steel beauty I owned.)

After the fad ran its course, another one began. Wham-O hit the jackpot again when they introduced America to the Frisbee. But that’s another story for another time.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tom and Jerry

Nope. We're not talking about the stars of Hanna Barbera from the 60s. Although that's going on my list as the topic for a future post.

This is a different pair. They are an American singer-songwriter duo consisting of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. They formed the group Tom & Jerry in 1957, and had their first taste of success with the minor hit "Hey, Schoolgirl". As Simon & Garfunkel, the duo rose to fame in 1965, backed by the hit single "The Sounds of Silence". Their music was featured in the landmark film The Graduate, propelling them further into the public consciousness.

They are well known for their close vocal harmonies and sometimes unstable relationship. Their last album, Bridge over Troubled Water, was delayed several times due to artistic disagreements. They were among the most popular recording artists of the 1960s; among their biggest hits, in addition to "The Sounds of Silence", were "I Am a Rock", "Homeward Bound", "A Hazy Shade of Winter", "Mrs. Robinson", "Bridge over Troubled Water", "The Boxer", "Cecilia", and "Scarborough Fair/Canticle". They have received several Grammys and are inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2007). They have reunited on several occasions since their 1970 breakup, most famously for 1981's The Concert in Central Park, which attracted about 500,000 people.

Take a moment and listen to their first hit. It's on the right sidebar. Just click on it and step back in time a few years. It sounds nothing like their final signature sound.

Thanks to Wikipedia for providing the bulk of the information above. And a big thank you to my sister in Peabody, Kansas, for the phone call that started the whole thing. If you'd like to read more CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why did they call it PEZ?

It's nowhere near Christmas, but I just remembered something. Every year at Christmas, my sisters and I usually received a PEZ dispenser with several of those cute little rectangular packages containing the PEZ pellets.

Maybe you received them, too. Or maybe you're planning on getting one for your children or grandchildren this year for Christmas. They make a pretty cool stocking stuffer. But have you ever wondered how they came up with that name?

As a kid you probably thought it was just called PEZ because that’s what it looked like and that's what it was. That’s what I thought, too. But now that we’ve gotten older we're beginning to wonder about things like that. At least I am.

So here’s everything I know about PEZ, so far.

The word "PEZ" is derived from the German word for peppermint — phefferminz. If you take the first, middle, and last letters of PheffErminZ, you get PEZ. And that’s where it came from, thanks to an Austrian candy maker named Edward Haas III. Originally the new peppermint candy was supposed to be an adult breath mint to be sold as an alternative for smoking. In 1947, Haas Food Manufacturing Corporation of Vienna began selling the brick-shaped candies in pocket tins. And in 1948, they came out with the dispenser that we all recognize now to be a regular PEZ dispenser.

In 1952, Ed brought his business to America. After some extensive research he decided to place heads on the dispensers and market them to children. That same year the first fruit flavored Pez was introduced along with the first Pez dispensers with character heads on them. The first flavors of Pez included cherry, lemon, orange and strawberry, and it’s believed that our friend Popeye was the first character to find his head on the top of a PEZ dispenser.

Several Disney characters were also among the first to appear. The top selling dispensers of all time are Mickey Mouse, Santa, and Dino the Dinosaur, from the Flintstones.

Many people collect the dispensers today because of the variety and rarity. But some of them are much more expensive than they were new. For example, a Locking Cap, Box Trademark Regular sold on eBay in March 2002 for $6,575. (What?)

I have had experience with PEZ, as I’m sure most of you have. Okay, not recently, although writing this is making me want to rush over to WalMart and buy me one of those dispensers. But was it just me, or did anyone else have difficulty getting that little stack of bricks into the dispenser without spilling them? It just reminds me of Ralphie Parker trying to pour those BBs into his Official Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action range model air rifle (With a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.) (They go everywhere, his dad told him.)

So, if you’re looking for something to collect, this might be your thing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Sea Monkey Craze

Does this ad look familiar? Many ads similar to this one appeared in the comic books back in the fifites? Well, I certainly remember it. In fact, I actually ordered a package of them. And, like many other American kids of that era, I was sorely disappointed when I discovered that they didn't look anything like monkeys.

Sea Monkeys were first marketed in 1957 by Harold von Braunhut as Instant Life, though Braunhut changed the name to "Sea-Monkeys" on May 10, 1962. The name "Sea-Monkeys" was chosen because of their playful behaviour. Braunhut is also the inventor of X-Ray glasses.

For many years, they were known for their exaggerated advertisements and packaging, which featured smiling anthropomorphic creatures who bore little resemblance to their true appearance. Underneath these pictures, which appeared on large numbers in comic books during the 1970s, was a disclaimer that stated, "Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia." The present disclaimer on the package states, "Illustration is fanciful, does not depict Artemia nyos."

Sea Monkeys were bred for their larger size and longer lifespan, making them more suitable as pets than the original breed of brine shrimp. The U.S. Patent 3,673,986 granted in 1972 describes this as "hatching brine shrimp or similar crustaceans in tap water to give the appearance of instantaneous hatching."

Other companies have distributed pets/toys along the Sea-Monkey model, including one by Wham-O, and "The Swarm", a product from Dr. Jordan's Formulae. In the late 1970s to early 1980s, sachets of "Sea Monsters" were sold in 25-cent gumball machines at A&P supermarkets. When added to water, the packet's contents provided the eggs, salt and nutrients to hatch the brine shrimp.

More recently, an Australian company, Little Aussie Products, has marketed "Itsy Bitsy Sea Dragons", with a different brine shrimp species.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Before American Idol

The television program that would eventually become The Original Amateur Hour, and would spawn such modern programs as Star Search and American Idol, actually began in 1934 as a radio show called Major Bowes' Amateur Hour.

Bowes's field assistant was Ted Mack, who scouted and auditioned talent for the program. After Bowes left the show in 1945 (and died the following year) Mack brought the show back in 1948 on ABC radio, where it ran until 1952.

The television debut came on January 18, 1948 on the DuMont Television Network with Mack as the host.
The format was almost always the same. At the beginning of the show, the talent's order of appearance was determined by spinning a wheel. As the wheel spun, the words "Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows" were always intoned.

Various acts, sometimes singers or other musicians, quite often vaudeville fare such as jugglers, tap dancers, baton twirlers, and the like, would perform, with the audience being asked to vote for their favorites by postcard or telephone. The winners were invited to appear on the next week's show. Three-time winners were eligible for the annual championship, with the grand-prize winner receiving a $2000 scholarship.

Some contestants became minor celebrities at the time, but few ever became really big show-business stars. The two greatest successes of the show's television era were Gladys Knight, then only a child, and Pat Boone, singing sweet ballads or occasional "covers" of songs which had been written and recorded by black artists which were then largely unknown to the show's predominantly white audience.

In fact, Boone's appearances on the show probably caused the closest thing that it ever had to a scandal. After he had appeared, and won, for several weeks, it was revealed that he had appeared on the popular CBS Television show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, meaning that he was technically not an "amateur" singer. He was removed from the program, but by then his fame was assured. Other future celebrities discovered on the show include Ann-Margret (in 1958) and Irene Cara (in 1967).

The greatest fame attained by anyone appearing on the show was that achieved by Frank Sinatra, who appeared on the show during its radio days with "The Hoboken Four". As the years went by, the audience for this program aged as well; the best proof of this was that the CBS Sunday -afternoon version of the 1960s was invariably sponsored by Geritol and other patent medicines.
Here's some more info about Geritol you might find interesting.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Quiz Show Scandal...

Perhaps no other figure involved in the TV quiz shows of the 50s had a more meteoric rise and fall than Charles Van Doren, a Columbia English professor who became a celebrated winner on "Twenty-One."

Only 30 years old when he first appeared on the program, Van Doren came from a family of intellectual achievers. Charles’ father was the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mark Van Doren. His mother, Dorothy Van Doren, was a novelist and writer.

As a professor of English at Columbia University, Van Doren earned an annual salary of $4,400. A friend, who had appeared on "Tic Tac Dough," told him of the money to be made from quiz shows. Van Doren applied. At that time, producers for the quiz show "Twenty-One" were looking for ways to bolster faltering ratings. In Van Doren, a charming and very presentable academic with name recognition, producers saw the kind of attractive winner who could popularize the show.

Producers scripted the program so that Van Doren and Stempel would have a string of ties to build the drama for Van Doren’s eventual victory. The clean-cut Van Doren, playing his part to perfection, became the new champion of "Twenty-One."

Ratings for the show began to rise. In mid-January of 1957, Van Doren went on a streak that earned him $90,000. He crossed the $100,000 mark by outscoring a former college president, Edgar Cummings. Van Doren, fed with answers and coached on how to act during the show, appeared to television audiences to know about topics as diverse as George Washington and Broadway musicals.

By the evening of February 11, Van Doren had amassed a staggering $138,000. The second challenger that evening was Vivienne Nearing, a lawyer, whose husband Victor had lost to Van Doren in January. Nearing and Van Doren tied that evening and two more times, but in their fourth contest, Nearing beat Van Doren.

Although his reign on national television had ended, Van Doren was still a sought-after television commodity. In April of 1957, the quiz show celebrity signed a $150,000 three-year contract with NBC, which committed him to appearances as a guest on Steve Allen’s show, a guest host on the "Today Show," and a panelist on NBC radio’s "Conversations."

When the quiz show scandals broke, Van Doren repeatedly asserted his innocence, repeating the lie to his lawyer, the district attorney, and even to the grand jury. Van Doren told the press: "It’s silly and distressing to think that people don’t have more faith in quiz shows."

Van Doren went so far as to offer to appear in front of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, which was investigating the quiz-show scandal, to assert his innocence. Calling his bluff, the committee subpoenaed him.

Van Doren finally confessed. "I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception," Van Doren told the committee on November 2, 1959. "I have deceived my friends, and I had millions of them." Van Doren asserted that producer Albert Freedman had persuaded him to participate in the deception by saying that quiz shows were entertainment and that fixing was a common practice. However, the argument that apparently convinced a reluctant Van Doren to play along was that his success would bring prestige to the pursuit of knowledge. Van Doren said he told himself he had been promoting "the intellectual life" to young watchers everywhere. In the press conference that followed his testimony, Van Doren reported that he had been "living in dread for almost three years."

I Scream! You Scream!

On those warm summer nights, the sound of that clanging bell told every member of Kiddom that the ice cream man was in the neighborhood. And how lucky we were if our parents gave us a bit of change so we could get ourselves a treat from the Good Humor Man.

Although the Good Humor Man was a fixture in America for many decades, it all started long before most of us were around. Harry Burt, a Youngstown, Ohio candy maker, invented Good Humor ice cream in 1920 and was granted a patent in 1923. By then, he had outfitted twelve street vending trucks in Youngstown with rudimentary freezers and bells. By 1925, his son, Harry Burt Jr. (1900 – 1972) opened a franchise in Miami, Florida.

The company was tremendously successful because it provided customers with an inexpensive diversion during the Depression. Jobs were scarce and Good Humor found all the employees it could use, despite an 80-hour work week and paramilitary discipline. While drivers were only paid commissions, it was not unusual for driver to clear the then princely sum of over $100 per week.

The company was also successful in attracting favorable publicity by parking trucks outside of motion picture studios. Over the years, Good Humor appeared in over 200 movies. In 1950, Jack Carson starred in the feature motion picture, “The Good Humor Man.”

The company's history includes many stories such a Good Humor man rushing a baby to a hospital for treatment or breaking up a counterfeit money operation in Long Island, New York. In 1929, the Chicago mob demanded protection money and destroyed part of the company's fleet. The resulting publicity helped put Good Humor on the map in the Windy City.

A “Good Humor” is a chocolate coated vanilla ice cream bar on a stick. Other “Good Humors” include chocolate coated chocolate (a.k.a. chocolate malt) and strawberry, plus bars coated in toasted almond, coconut, chocolate cake, strawberry shortcake and chocolate éclair. Weekly specials came in a wide assortment of flavors including a red, white and blue Good Humor for the 4th of July.

In 1965, the company introduced “Super Humors”, initially Chocolate Chip Candy and Chocolate Fudge Cake with a candy center. The next year, all Good Humors became larger “Super Humors” to justify a price increase.

I'm Lovin' It!

You can do one of two things right now. Either hop in your car and drive to McDonald’s, or hop in the Wayback Machine with me and Max and head back to 1954. How often do you get an offer like that? I’m guessing you’re choosing the latter. So hang on. Here we go.

We’ve arrived in southern California to find a salesman named Ray Kroc selling a machine called the Multimixer. Its primary benefit is that it’s capable of creating five milkshakes at the same time. At the same time Ray is selling these machines, brothers Dick and Maurice McDonald have successfully franchised eight McDonald restaurant locations in the southern California area. Their primary benefit is their Speedee method of providing mass produced hamburgers for 15 cents a pop. And that’s half the price customers are paying at the diners in these days. In addition, they offer French fries, Coca-Cola, coffee and milkshakes.

So we find the brothers working away at one of their eight franchise locations, and in walks Ray Kroc. Ray is immediately intrigued with this fast food process and asks the brothers if he can franchise the operation outside southern California. Ray is a good salesman and the brothers agree to his proposition. Before long Ray is opening his first restaurant in a Chicago suburb of Des Plaines. If we fast-forward a bit to 1958, the company is selling its 100 millionth burger.

Although the Automat in New York and White Castle preceded them, it was the streamlined production method developed by the McDonald brothers that set them on a course for greatness. Their Speedee Service System was influenced by the production line innovations of Henry Ford.

Since the menu items were limited, it allowed for pre-production of the products and offered almost immediate service to the customer. Since there were no traditional seating arrangements, consumers could walk right up to the service window, place their order, and enjoy a hamburger, fries and a Coke in a short time.

Ray didn’t purchase the entire McDonald’s operation outright in 1961. He was the architect behind making it a nationwide, and currently global, chain. And Ray wasn’t beneath the menial work required to ensure cleanliness in the restaurants. He frequently sprayed out the garbage cans with a hose and scraped gum up off the parking lot area at his own Des Plaines location.

In addition, Kroc also made it very easy for customers to view the food preparation by removing any walls between the cooks and the counter where patrons placed their orders.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I must be having a sugar craving. My mind is suddenly back in the fifties again with the thought of Nik-L-Nips. Remember those?
I didn't remember that was the name of them until I did a little research. I just called them "those wax coke bottles with the juice inside." I know you remember them.

I loved them, but I always thought there was way too much wax and not nearly enough juice. Even so, you could still gnaw on the wax for a little while and get a tad more of that sweet nectar. At least for a few minutes. Then you would get a sore jaw and a headache.

Another item we all recall, despite our failing memories, is the Popcicle. How could you ever forget those? It was the main name brand, but there were lots of imitators. And similar products still exist today. You can get them (along with everything else you need) at Walmart. I used to love to suck the juice out of those things until there was only a faint tint of color left behind. Why? I don't know. Because I could, I guess.
But my favorite in this arena had to be the Dreamcicle. It was orange on the outside with a velvet-smooth vanilla ice cream center. Yum! I wonder if those are still around.

And I've already mentioned the Valomilk in a previous post. If you want to read it, just click the Valomilk Link. There was nothing quite like them. If you click on that Valomilk link, and read the comments, you'll notice that Russ Sifers himself (the fourth-generation owner of the company) actually left one. How cool is that?

Remember the Slo-Poke? That was a favorite at the Saturday Matinee when we were watching War of the Worlds or The Day the Earth Stood Still. They seemed to last a long time. Fortunately most kids in the fifties didn't have crowns on their teeth. A Slo-Poke is a quick crown-remover.

There were many other sugar delights during those years. And we loved them any time we could get lucky enough to get one. If you remember some of the other favorites, add a comment and remind me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It's a Corvette!

Here's something for the guys out there.

Just as they are today, sports cars were popular during the 50s, if you could afford them. And when you're talking about sports cars, few compare to the Corvette. Many Corvette enthusiasts consider the 1957 Corvette the most aesthetically pleasing body style of the pre-1963 Corvettes, while others believe it was the best styling of all time. And this writer agrees.

But this Vette had a lot more to offer than style and beauty. In May 1957, the true performance version of the 283 made its debut. Sporting an advanced fuel injection system, the new "fuelie" 283 produced 283 bhp. Its 1 horsepower per cubic inch output was a record in 1957, and it was played up by the advertising and media.

At the same time, Chevrolet introduced its new four speed manual transmission, and the Corvette was on its way to stardom. When equipped with the 283 fuel injected engine, 4.11:1 rear axle, and the new four-speed Borg-Warner T-10 transmission, the Corvette could accelerate from 0-60 in less than six seconds, and do the quarter mile in the low 14 second range at over 100 mph.

After winning a few major races in 1957, sales for the year jumped to a total of 6,339 units, up from 3,467 for 1956. (But there were only 487 painted Arctic Blue like the one above.) It was an amazing automobile in its day, and it continues to be one of the most sought after classics.

The photos used in the article are an example of that beautiful vintage Corvette. It’s owned by my friends Bob and Kathy Willis, of Picton, Ontario, Canada. If you have an interest in all things Corvette, check out my other blog at Corvette - An American Dream Car. And if any of the ladies are still reading at this point, I wanted to let them know that I'm not starting a Betsy Wetsy blog. Ever.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wolfman Jack - Howlin' atcha!

It's the summer of 1968. I'm driving my beautifully gorgeous midnight blue 1964 Chevy Impala SS (convertible) across the Arizona desert. (Remember my Route 66 post?) The stars are shining down from a velvet sky, and Wolfman Jack is accompanying me every mile of the way. His gravelly voice comes out of my radio speakers strong and clear from XERB — the Mighty 1090 in Hollywood, California. The Mamas and the Papas are filling the night air with Dedicated to the One I Love. Does it get any better than that? I think not.

But the radio icon forever known as Wolfman Jack started his career long before that summer night. Born Robert Weston Smith on January 21, 1938, in Brooklyn, he was the younger of two children. In order to keep him out of trouble (why does this not surprise me?) his father bought him a transoceanic radio, and Robert became an avid fan of R&B music. After graduating from the National Academy of Broadcasting in 1960, he donned the DJ moniker of “Daddy Jules” at WYOU-AM in Newport News, Virginia. A change in the station's format dictated a change in name, and when the station switched to “beautiful music,” Robert became known as “Roger Gordon and Music in Good Taste.”

In 1961, he married Lucy “Lou” Lamb. (How appropriate is that?). Then in 1962 he moved to KCIJ-AM, a country music station, as the station manager and morning DJ, “Big Smith with the Records.” He first began to develop his alter ego while at KCIJ.

After that, he moved south of the border to XERF-AM with a 250,000 watt signal (five times the limit imposed on U.S. stations) coming out of Mexico that was capable of being picked up across the United States. This boosted (border blaster) signal reached a much larger listening audience and blanketed North America and even Europe and the Soviet Union. The power of the station’s reach, along with his unique delivery, helped Wolfman Jack achieve recognition worldwide in a short time.

According to Wikipedia:

That station continues to broadcast today with the call sign XERB. XERB also had an office in the rear of a small strip mall on Third Avenue in Chula Vista, California. It was not unlike the small broadcast studio depicted in the film, American Graffiti. It was located only 10 minutes from the Tijuana-San Diego border crossing. It was rumored that The Wolfman actually broadcast from this location during the early to mid-sixties. Smith left Mexico after eight months and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to run station KUXL. Missing the excitement, however, he returned to border radio to run XERB, and opened an office on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles n January 1966.

On July 1, 1995, Wolfman Jack died of a heart attack in Belvidere, North Carolina, the day after broadcasting his last live radio program syndicated from Planet Hollywood in Washington, D.C. That night, he said, "I can't wait to get home and give Lou a hug, I haven't missed her this much in years." Wolfman had been on the road, promoting his new autobiography Have Mercy, The Confession of the Original Party Animal, about his early career and parties with celebrities. "He walked up the driveway, went in to hug his wife and then just fell over," said Lonnie Napier, vice president of Wolfman Jack Entertainment.

There’s a great deal more info at Wikipedia, if you’d like to know more. Also, his old radio shows are still being broadcast online. Here’s a link to a great site that will give you a schedule of the stations that are airing his shows if you’d like to take a trip down memory lane and remember when. WOLFMAN RADIO.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This is the day!

On this day, way back in 1930, James A. Dewar, invented what came to be known as the Twinkie. Why? It was somewhat serendipitous, actually. Several of the machines that were normally used to make cream-filled strawberry shortcake were sitting idle because strawberries were out of season.

Not to be stopped by a simple lack of strawberries, Dewar came up with something even better - banana cream – and called it the Twinkie. That filling didn’t survive in the Twinkie after World War II began, because bananas were rationed, and Hostess decided to switch to vanilla cream. The vanilla cream filling became so popular that Hostess nixed the banana cream idea and continues to use vanilla cream in Twinkies today.

According to Wikipedia, common urban legend claims that Twinkies have a shelf life of forever, or can last for a relatively long time of ten, fifty, or one hundred years due to chemicals used in production. While this urban legend is false, they can last a relatively long time (25 days or so), due to the fact that Twinkies are made without dairy products and thus spoil more slowly than most bakery items.

Ever deep fry your Twinkie?

A deep-fried Twinkie involves freezing the cake, dipping it into batter, and deep frying it. It was described by a The New York Times story in this way: "Something magical occurs when the pastry hits the hot oil. The creamy white vegetable shortening filling liquefies, impregnating the sponge cake with its luscious vanilla flavor. The cake itself softens and warms, nearly melting, contrasting with the crisp, deep-fried crust in a buttery and suave way. The piece de resistance, however, is a ruby-hued berry sauce, adding a tart sophistication to all that airy sugary goodness."

The Texas State Fair had introduced the fried Twinkie to great popular acclaim, and the notion spread to other state fairs across the U.S., as well as some establishments that specialize in fried foods. Fried Twinkies are sold throughout the U.S. in state fairs, as well as ball park games.

Although variations exist, the deep-fried Twinkie is usually prepared with a batter intended for fish, typically consisting of flour, egg, and vinegar. Prior to dipping, a wooden or plastic stick is often inserted through one end (to allow the consumer to hold it), and the Twinkie is then frozen overnight to prevent melting while being deep fried. After coating, conventional cooking oil is typically used.

The deep-fried Twinkie is usually topped with powdered sugar. It is sometimes accompanied by a fruit dipping sauce, frequently raspberry, although some restaurants may use chocolate or caramel sauce. A scoop of vanilla ice cream is sometimes added.

My hat is off to James A. Dewar for inventing one of my favorite snacks. Long live the Twinkie! I think I'll run out and buy a box as soon as I post this.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Let's Bake a Cake!

Since General Mills introduced America to Betty Crocker in 1921, every photograph of her has looked younger and more modern than the previous one. Is she real? Well, of course she is. If she wasn’t real, how could she have come up with all those delicious cake mixes and cookbooks?

Sitting on my desk right now is a beautiful, old Betty Crocker cookbook that my wife has had since her mother gave it to her as a birthday present on her 17th birthday. The copyright on the inside says 1956. This is a marvelous book with almost 500 pages and tons of 50s-style illustrations and photographs. And more recipes than you can shake a wooden spoon at.

I have had a request recently to include a recipe from the fifties, so I’m going to pick one at random, and tell you exactly how Betty does it. I’m going to give you her recipe for a Pumpkin Cake. Yummy! Here’s what Betty says:

Bake large Orange Chiffon Cake (see page 162)
(Rats. Now I have to go to page 162. Hold on.)

Okay, I’m on page 162 now. It says:

Follow key recipe for Large Cake (above) except omit vanilla and lemon rind. Add 3 tbsp. grated orange rind. Finish with Orange Butter Icing. (see page 177).

Oh, crap. We haven’t even gotten started yet and we’ve been re-directed three times. I shouldn’t have started this. I think she was just trying to make it difficult so we would go out and buy her cake mixes. Here’s what I would suggest. Go to Walmart and get yourself a Betty Crocker cake mix in a box. Take it home and bake it. But don’t add any vanilla or lemon rind. Throw in a little grated orange rind.

I’ll pick up Betty's instructions where we left off…

Place cake top-side-up on serving plate. With spatula cover sides, top, and inside center hole (center hole? When did we punch a hole in it?) with a fluffy white frosting (see page 180) tinted orange (pumpkin color) with yellow and red food coloring. (I guess you put this over the orange butter icing from page 177 that you’ve already slathered over it.) Color about ¼ cup with green for the stem. Smooth frosting in deep curves from top to bottom to resemble pumpkin. Make grooves in pumpkin by using tip of spatula, starting at bottom and going up to center. For the pumpkin stem, insert peeled banana in hole in center of cake. (There’s that hole again.) Use pieces of another banana as wedge to hold it firmly in place. Spread stem with the green tinted frosting. Serve the same day, removing the stem for cutting.

Personally, it seems like way too much trouble. Too many opportunities for error with all that page changing. I think you could get the whole thing at Walmart ready to eat and save yourself a ton of trouble. See the children in the picture above? See how happy they look? See the look on her husband's face? You can fool the kids, but hubby knows she didn't bake that cake. You can't fool a man who wears a bowtie. The little girl in the purple dress seems to be giving thanks that it's not another Halloween Pumpkin cake.

I'll find a simpler recipe with no references to other pages next time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Subliminal Advertising - Fact or Fiction?

Most Baby Boomers are quite familiar with the term. And until today, while doing some research, I believe it all. But now, with the new input, I'm not so certain. Here's what I discovered.

In 1957, market researcher James Vicary claimed that quickly flashing messages on a movie screen, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, had influenced people to purchase more food and drinks. Vicary coined the term subliminal advertising and formed the Subliminal Projection Company based on a six-week test. Vicary claimed that during the presentation of the movie Picnic he used a tachistoscope to project the words "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Hungry? Eat popcorn" for 1/3000 of a second at five-second intervals. Vicary asserted that during the test, sales of popcorn and Coke in that New Jersey theater increased 57.8 percent and 18.1 percent respectively.

It was later revealed, however, that Vicary lied about the experiment. He admitted to falsifying the results, and an identical experiment conducted by Dr. Henry Link showed no increase in cola or popcorn sales. This has led people to believe that Vicary actually did not conduct his experiment at all.

Vicary's claims were promoted in Vance Packard's book The Hidden Persuaders, and led to a public outcry, and to many conspiracy theories of governments and cults using the technique to their advantage. The practice of subliminal advertising was subsequently banned in the United Kingdom and Australia, and by American networks and the National Association of Broadcasters in 1958.

But in 1958, Vicary conducted a television test in which he flashed the message "telephone now" hundreds of times during a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program, and found no increase in telephone calls. In 1962, Vicary admitted that he fabricated his claim, the story itself being a marketing ploy. Efforts to replicate the results of Vicary's reports have never resulted in success.

Apparently, advertisers continue to use this type of persuasion in their print ads. Or, is it possible that we are just finding things there that weren't actually intended? I'm not sure. But here's a site with a lot of images you might find interesting.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lazy Sunday

Okay. I'll admit it. I'm totally lazy today. And I'm just now getting to my writing assignment. But it's Sunday. So, I've just been remembering.

When I was a kid, my dad always took a nap on Sunday afternoons. It was a quiet time. My mother told my two younger sisters and I that our father worked very hard and he needed his rest. So we were very quiet while he napped. Being unemployed myself at this point, I don't take a nap, but I could if I wanted. It would probably do me just about as much good as my job search has so far. But who's complaining? Back to the story.

Later that evening my father would fix supper and give my mother a rest. It was usually something really yummy like barbecued ribs, salmon croquettes or boiled shrimp. It was Sunday, after all. I remember on those Sunday evenings I would stand in the kitchen and watch my dad prepare everything. Sometimes he would even let me help with minor tasks.

We lived in a small, three-bedroom ranch in Independence, Missouri, that had a proportinally small galley kitchen. But, being small myself at the time, I was able to squeeze my bony little body between the end of the countertop and the refrigerator.

If you've forgotten how those countertops were made back in the early fifties, maybe this will spark your memory. (You'll understand that pun a bit later.) They were typically made with a plywood base with linoleum (ours was dark green) glued to the top surface. As a finishing touch, there was a chrome, L-shaped, ribbed band screwed along the edge. That served two purposes: it covered the vertical edge of the plywood, and it kept the linoleum from peeling up. This was long before Formica.

Anyway, when I stood there with my back against the fridge and my arms resting on the countertop, I always got a mild shock (there's that "spark" pun mentioned earlier) when I touched the metal edging. It wasn't bad, but it was enough to wake you up.

After supper we would settle back in the living room and turn on the old black-and-white Zenith console television and watch Disneyland on ABC. My favorites were those Walt would pick that featured a Donald Duck or Goofy or Mickey Mouse animated featurette. When that happened, life just didn't get any better. Those were the days.

And if you'd like to see something interesting, check out the video clip HERE! It's archival footage of construction at Disneyland back in the fifties. You're going to love it! Also, if you scroll down far enough on this site, you'll find another video on the right sidebar. It's a 9 minute clip from the very first Disneyland Television Broadcast. It was first aired in 1954.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Lone Ranger Rides Again!

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty "Hi Yo Silver!" The Lone Ranger. "Hi Yo Silver, away!" With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains, led the fight for law and order in the early west. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!

Most of us Baby Boomers are quite familiar with that previous paragraph. We listened to it every day on our black and white television sets (usually with "rabbit ears") between 1949 and 1957. But a lot of you may not be aware that The Lone Ranger existed long before those years of our enjoyment. Let's hop into the Wayback machine and take a little journey through time.

The media legend began on January 30, 1933, when the first of 2,956 episodes of The Lone Ranger premiered on WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan. Later it was picked up by NBC’s Blue Network (which became ABC), which broadcast the last episode on September 3, 1954.

On the December 7, 1938, radio broadcast we learn how a Texas Ranger named Reid first met his future sidekick, Tonto. In that episode, "Cactus Pete," a friend of Reid’s, tells the story. According to that tale, Tonto had been caught in an explosion when two men dynamited a gold mine they were working. One of the men wanted to kill the wounded Tonto, but Reid arrives on the scene and makes them administer first aid. The man subsequently decides to keep Tonto around, intending to make him the fall guy when he would later murder his partner. Reid foiled both the attempted murder and the attempted framing of Tonto. No reason was given in the episode as to why Tonto chose to travel with the Lone Ranger rather than continue about his business. A reasonable assumption would be that he felt a sense of gratitude to the man.

By happenstance, the pair discover a magnificent white stallion, wounded by a buffalo. They nurse the stallion back to health, which is then adopted by Reid as his mount, Silver. Whenever the Ranger mounts Silver he shouts, "Hi-yo Silver, away!" which besides sounding dramatic, originally served to tell the radio audience that a riding sequence was about to start.

They also find an old mentor of Reid's, who has discovered a lost silver mine some time back. Reid's mentor is the only one other than Tonto who knows the identity of the Lone Ranger, and he is willing to work the mine and supply Reid and Tonto with as much silver as they want. Using material from his brother's Texas Ranger vest, Reid fashions the mask that will mark him as the Lone Ranger.

In addition, the Lone Ranger decides to use only silver bullets. The precious metal serves to remind the masked man that life, too, is extremely precious, and, like his silver bullets, not to be wasted or thrown away. Vowing to fight for justice and never to shoot to kill, together, the Lone Ranger and Tonto wander the Old American West helping people and fighting injustice where they find it. During these adventures, Tonto often referred to the Ranger as "ke-mo sah-bee", a word he said meant "faithful friend" or "trusty scout" in his tribe's language.

The Lone Ranger displayed in the adventures that he was also a master of disguise. At times, he would infiltrate an area using the identity of "Old Prospector", an old-time miner with a full beard, so that he can go places where a young masked man would never fit in, usually to gather intelligence about criminal activities.

According to "The Legend of Silver", a radio episode broadcast September 30, 1938, before acquiring Silver the Lone Ranger rode a chestnut mare called Dusty. After Dusty was killed by a criminal that Reid and Tonto were tracking, Reid saved Silver's life from an enraged buffalo, and in gratitude Silver chose to give up his wild life to carry him. Silver's sire was called Sylvan, and his dam was Musa.

The origin of Tonto's horse, Scout, is less clear. For a long time, Tonto rode a white horse called White Feller. In the episode titled "Four Day Ride," which aired August 5, 1938, Tonto is given a paint horse by his friend, Chief Thundercloud, who then takes and cares for White Feller. Tonto rides this horse, and simply refers to him as "Paint Horse," for several episodes. The horse is finally named Scout in the episode "Border Dope Smuggling," which was broadcast on September 2, 1938. In another episode, the lingering question of Tonto's mode of transport was resolved when the pair found a secluded valley and the Lone Ranger, in an urge of conscience, released Silver back to the wild. The episode ends with Silver returning to the Ranger bringing along a companion who becomes Tonto's horse, Scout.

The Lone Ranger program offered many radio premiums, including the Lone Ranger Six-Shooter Ring and the Lone Ranger Deputy Badge. Some of the premiums used a silver bullet motif. One ring had a miniature of one of his six-guns atop it, with a flint and striking wheel, as used in cigarette lighters, so that "fanning" the miniature pistol would produce a shower of sparks.
During World War II the premiums adapted to the times. For example, in 1942 the program offered the Kix Blackout Kit.

Some premiums were rather anachronistic for a 19th-century hero. In 1947 the program offered the Kix Atomic Bomb Ring, also known to collectors as the Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring. This ring was a miniature spinthariscope that actually had a small amount of radioisotope in it to produce the scintillations caused by nuclear reactions. With its tailfin piece removed, the "bomb" body looked like a silver bullet.