Wednesday, March 23, 2011

National Velvet

If you've never had the pleasure of seeing this movie, you really should. It's not only a starring role for the very young Elizabeth Taylor, it's also a great story. Mickey Rooney plays an excellent supporting role as well.

I'm betting Blockbuster has it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Time. It's something that is always with us. It's a part of our lives. In fact, it's what our lives are made of. Every day we have to ask and answer questions about it: What time is it? What time do you have to leave? How much time will it take to get there? What time can you start on this project? How long will it take?

Like our thoughts, time is our constant companion. But it doesn't go away when we sleep. It keeps ticking, passing by. Rolex, Timex, Seiko, Waltham, and many other companies have made their fortunes creating devices that allow us to keep track of it. Our days are measured in increments of hours, minutes, seconds. And our lives are made up of years, months and days. And there never seems to be enough of it to do everything we need, or want, to do.

And since we actually LOST an hour of time today with the advent of Daylight Saving Time (again) it seems that time is an appropriate subject to talk about today. I'll try to make it worthwhile so we don't WASTE any of it.

I watched an interesting and entertaining movie recently—one which I had never seen. It's called Peggy Sue Got Married. I'm sure most of you have seen it. I know my wife has watched it numerous times. She just keeps sitting through it, kind of like I do when Jaws comes on. But I was fascinated by the concept and the nostalgic era that it centered on.

I guess we've always been fascinated by time travel. Hollywood has made several movies involving the idea. One of the earliest entries into this subject was a film based on the novel by H.G. Wells entitled The Time Machine. I don't recall the main character traveling back to the fifties, but Hollywood must have sensed an audience for that time period a little later.

If you've seen the movie Back to the Future, you may remember that November 12th, is the date the DeLorean (equipped with the flux capacitor that would deliver 1.4 jigawatts at 80 mph) was set for when Marty McFly took it for a ride. They used the same date in the second installment, Back to the Future II. I'm not sure what significance that date holds, but I'm guessing there may have been a reason for choosing it other than an arbitrary date. If anyone has an idea, leave a comment.

Now, here comes the philosophical part of this post. The whole concept of time travel makes one wonder. Doesn't it? Have we been here before? Are we actually here from a future time? Or have we come forward from an earlier time? It also makes one wonder if we're ever going to come back here again, years from now.

In closing, let me leave you with this question to ponder. Did Bill Gates figure out how to bend the time/space continuum and come back to our era with his ideas on computers and how to build them? Or is he really from another planet? Maybe he's originally from the same race of entities that helped the Egyptians build the pyramids. You never know.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Great Decade for New Things!

Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine again and head back to the 1950s to see what was new. We're going to look at inventions and new ideas that were created or came about during the fifties. Fasten your seat belt before we take off (because they didn’t have them in 1950) and hang on.

1950 – The first credit card (Diners Club) invented by Ralph Schneider.

1951 – Super glue was invented. Power steering invented by Francis W. Davis. And Charles Ginsburg invented the first video tape recorder (VTR).

1952 – Mr. Potato Head was patented. The first patent for barcode was issued to Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver. The first diet soft drink was sold. And Edward Teller and team built the hydrogen bomb.

1953 – Radial tires were invented. The first musical synthesizer invented by RCA. David Warren invented the black box - flight recorder. And the transistor radio was invented by Texas Instruments.

1954 - Oral contraceptives (the pill) were invented. The first nonstick Teflon pan was produced. Chaplin, Fuller and Pearson invented the solar cell. Ray Kroc started McDonalds.

1955 Tetracycline was invented. Optic fiber was invented.

1956 - The first computer hard disk was used. Christopher Cockerell invented the hovercraft. Bette Nesmith Graham invented "Mistake Out," later renamed Liquid Paper, to paint over mistakes made with a typewriter. (They don’t sell much of that any longer.)

1957 - Fortran (computer language) was invented.

1958 - The computer modem was invented. Gordon Gould invents the laser. The Hula Hoop was invented by Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin. The integrated circuit was invented by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce.

1959 The internal pacemaker was invented by Wilson Greatbatch. The Barbie Doll was invented. Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce both invent the microchip.

And that’s just part of it. There’s lots more that came out of that decade. Check back here to read about a lot of other things that were going on during those great years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Happy Birthday Barbie!

Let’s take a ride. Hop in the Wayback Machine, buckle up and hang on. We’re heading back to the fifties again. (How surprising is that?) Our first stop is going to be in Europe, so now we can all say we’ve been there.

It’s 1956 and a young woman named Ruth Handler is visiting Germany with her children Barbara and Kenneth. (Are you guessing where this is headed?)
But let’s back up a bit. Before this trip, Ruth had often watched her daughter, Barbara, as she played with her paper dolls, often giving them adult rolls.

It's important to note that at the time, most children's toy dolls were representations of infants. Realizing that there could be a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company. He was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel's directors.

But during that trip to Europe in 1956, Ruth Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.

The adult-figured Lilli doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. Upon her return to the United States, Handler reworked the design of the doll (with help from engineer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler's daughter Barbara.

The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. This date is also used as Barbie's official birthday. Mattel acquired the rights to the Bild Lilli doll in 1964 and production of Lilli was stopped. The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette.

The doll was marketed as a "Teen-age Fashion Model," with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.

Ruth Handler believed that it was important for Barbie to have an adult appearance, and early market research showed that some parents were unhappy about the doll's chest, which had distinct breasts. Barbie's appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll's eyes were adjusted to look forward rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model.

Since it’s introduction, it is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.

After 52 years, Barbie has become a cultural icon and has been given honors that are rare in the toy world. In 1974 a section of Times Square in New York City was renamed Barbie Boulevard for a week, while in 1985 the artist Andy Warhol created a painting of Barbie.

In case you missed the 50 Year Anniversary Barbie two years ago, she was obviously dealing with midlife and any crises that might have fostered. The manufacturer decided at that time to include a set of mini-tattoos for her. (Does that help a midlife crisis?) In addition, there was a faux tattoo gun for the children to use on themselves. How darling is that? I'm not sure what kind of message that sends, but I don't want to sound judgmental.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, Max Factor, Hollywood Movies, and Maidenform Bras!

Prior to the 1950s, with a few exceptions, most Hollywood pictures were filmed in black and white. And being a film lover, I have no desire to see Bogart in anything but the original black and white version of Casablanca.

But when Technicolor began replacing black and white film, a huge impact was made on cosmetics. Even on the giant silver screens, the actors were illuminated with unblemished perfection in perfect color.

Because every average American woman had a desire to mirror that quality in their own appearance, makeup artist Max Factor developed an everyday version of the foundation makeup he used on the stars.

This new product, called “pancake,” was used to cover skin imperfections. At the same time he brought out a line of lipsticks and eye shadows.

Titanium was added to the recipe later in the 50s to tone down the brightness, resulting in lips with a pale, shimmering gleam. This concept was later extended to create frosted nail polishes in pink, silver, and a variety of other colors.

The 50s marked the introduction of “spectacles.” These were the name given to women’s eyeglasses that were frequently inlaid with diamante or covered with glitter. They had exaggerated wings on the outer corners that flared into the style of butterfly wings, or cat's eyes. The ones at the right look like Silly Putty.

The ponytail was a popular hairstyle in the 50s for younger girls. This eventually matured into the French Pleat. Among the older and more sophisticated crowd, the permanent wave was a popular style, made famous by Elizabeth Taylor.

The pointed pre-formed conically stitched bra was a popular fashion accessory of the 50s. Kind of like the bullet bumper of a '57 Buick.

But without one, the sweater girl just didn’t look right. And if you watch some of the videos from the 50s, you'll notice the dancing girls appear to be wearing similar accouterments. Yeah, it was all great fun, until someone lost an eye.

By the mid 1950s pointed toe shoes with heels up to 5 inches were a common sight. There is no doubt that the trademark of the fifties was the stiletto heeled shoe, first seen in 1952 at a Dior fashion show.