Monday, August 14, 2017

Archival Revival (Feed Your Head Edition)



It's recently come to my attention that this is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, which originally came about when a committee of San Francisco nonconformists, realizing the rundown neighborhood in which they lived and worked was rapidly becoming world-famous, decided that such a label might put a positive spin on things. However, in the years since, I think the Summer of Love has come to mean something much larger than that one neighborhood or those mere three months of the year. It's now synonymous with The 1960s (even if the decade was more than 3/5ths over by then.) Mostly because it was about this time that the general public became aware of a colorful (sometimes literally so) group of people known as "hippies". But what exactly was a hippie, and how did such an individual come to be identified with not just a season when a lot of people go on vacation, but an entire decade, or even an entire era? A while back I did a post on the TV show Star Trek where I digressed a bit to take a look at the social currents that were then swirling about the science-fiction series. Here is some of what I wrote: 



Eleven years before the Summer of Love.


Ten years before the Summer of Love.


Three years before the Summer of Love.



On January 14, 1967--halfway through Star Trek's first season--somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people showed up for The Human Be-In that was held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, a stone's (or stoner's) throw from the low-rent neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury. What exactly was this Be-In? A few months earlier, California had banned lysergic acid diethylamide, a psychoactive drug better known as LSD that allowed those taking it to visit strange new worlds without having to first book passage on a starship, and so this was a protest of sorts, though pictures of the event shows very few people carrying signs. Mostly they're dancing and appear to be having a very good time. Maybe that was their way of protesting. Whatever they were doing, it caught the attention of the national, and even international, media, which tentatively portrayed the event as a humorous sideshow to the serious issues of the day. There was a problem, though. What to call all these young people? Well, just calling them young people sounds OK to me, but perhaps that wasn't good enough copy. According to the writer Tom Wolfe, who kept close tabs (no pun intended; he was strictly an observer) on this scene, a good many of those young people liked to refer to themselves as acid heads. That wouldn't do for a family publication. Nor would another term they like to use, freaks. Newspaper readers might get the mistaken impression that 20,000 Siamese twins, hermaphrodites, and bearded ladies had shown up in Golden Gate Park. A 50-years old local columnist by the name of Herb Caen came up with a suitable alternative: hippies, and the term stuck beyond a Madison Avenue copywriter's wildest ad campaign. Within a few weeks, "hippie" had become a household word, even used by those who wouldn't let a hippie in their tool shed much less their house. The only people who weren't using the term were the hippies themselves, and even they eventually had to give in rather than disappoint all those teenage runaways now arriving weekly in Haight-Ashbury by the busloads, thanks to all the publicity the low-rent neighborhood had gotten (indeed, it soon became the most famous low-rent neighborhood on the planet.) Though he certainly helped popularize it, Caen didn't actually invent the term "hippie". The words "hip" and "hep"--both meant you were in the know--had been in use in the African-American community since the early 1900s. White kids were introduced to the terms via swing music during the '30s and '40s. As a minority of those white kids got older, especially if they were artistically inclined, or maybe were just different from anybody else (otherwise, what's the point of a subculture?), they moved to places like Greenwich Village, or North Beach in San Francisco (before rents went up in the latter and they all had to relocate to the more affordable Haight-Ashbury) where, since the middle of the 19th century, they were called bohemians. Not that that's what the Bohemians called themselves, at least not in the beginning. Those who didn't like artists, or people who were just different, sarcastically compared such folks to Gypsies, in the mistaken belief that the latter group had originated in Bohemia. Yet that label had gotten old by the middle of the 20th century, and so a few Bohemians took to calling themselves hipsters ("angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection" as one young poet put it.) "Hippie" was coined around the same time, probably by some unsung beatnik. Not that the unsung beatnik would ever have called himself a "beatnik" (at least not until the teenage runaways began arriving in Greenwich Village and North Beach by the busloads.) That term, too, was coined by the enterprising Herb Caen, though a friend of Jack Kerouac's by the name of Harold Huncke had come up with the "beat" part a decade earlier. So many terms, so many ways to attract teenage runaways, so many ways to scare the hell out of Middle America.


However, it wasn't what you called them, or what they called themselves that mattered. It was the sheer visibility that was so unsettling. Sure, there had always been Bohemians, but nobody gave them much mind until their numbers all of a sudden seemed to increase a thousandfold (thanks, no doubt, to post-World War II birth rates.) Difference had never loomed so large. The mainstream media could no longer treat it as a comedy side show. It WAS the serious issue of the day. In one respect, though, it still was a sideshow. They were freaks, as least as far as the non-freaks in the (soon-to-be prefixed as "Silent") Majority were concerned. Long hair on men was especially frowned upon. As was facial hair. Combine the two and you have what to 1967 Mainstream America would have resembled a bearded lady. That some of these strange, new people might differ from each other went unnoticed. Eventually, the hippies, Yippies, flower children, folkies, mods, Jesus freaks, back-to-nature hedonists, campus radicals, Weathermen, fugitives, hustlers, rioters, flag burners, bra burners, draft card burners, draft dodgers, doves, panhandlers, dope peddlers, Merry Pranksters, junkies, Transcendentalist Meditationists, Marrakesh backpackers, hitchhikers, organic farmers, communal dwellers, THE END IS NEAR (or NIGH) picketers, rock stars, rock concert promoters, sitar players, groupies, dee-jays, Sunset Strip go-go dancers, exhibitionists, Satanists, underground newspaper publishers, underground cartoonists, health store owners, head shop owners, cellar cafe owners, coffeehouse (but not coffee shop) owners, street performers, Off-Off-Broadway producers, avant-garde stage directors, experimental film directors, free-form poets, cut-up novelists, pop artists, potty-mouth comedians, Marvel superheroes, graffiti artists, New Journalists, public intellectuals (unless your last name happened to be Buckley), vegetarians, American Southwest desert nomads, gay liberationists, Maoists, Che Guevara admirers, Hell's Angels, Black Panthers, Black Muslims, dune buggy drivers, Volkswagen drivers, any Oregonians not employed by the logging industry, and last, but certainly not least, teenagers, were all filed (or lumped together) under a heading fraught with sociological meaning: The Counterculture. 

As I reread what I wrote, I see I left out a commonly used term of that era: Generation Gap, essentially the difference between teen or college-age kids and their parents on such matters as politics, morality, fashions, and what radio station the dial should be set on. If you're still not sure what the term means, watch just about any episode of All in the Family (the 1960s having spilled over into the '70s.) Is there still a Generation Gap? Maybe more of a cranny. I mean, kids still listen to different music than their parents. The reference points are still different. And a parent still may take offense if a member of the younger generation refers to one of their beloved movies or TV shows as "old". But it all lacks the sociological heft of the 1960s Gap. Back then parents felt THREATENED by youth culture. Today it's just a pain in the ass (as well as an irritating reminder that you're getting along in years and no longer "with it".) What I find funny is how often the middle-aged parent of today will nevertheless mimic the middle-aged parent of yesterday. More than once I've witnessed a father or mother born five or even ten years after the Summer of Love bitch and moan that "the kids these day are too wild. It's not like when I was young and we obeyed rules and blah, blah, blah..." The Gap has become routine, ritualized even, the complaints handed down from one generation to the next like an old heirloom. That original 1960s Generation Gap just seemed so much more vital, so much more urgent. 

It's now also so much in the past:


 
So go celebrate the anniversary with an Early Bird Special. Especially if you've got the munchies.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Home Wreckers

1943-2017
I've only paid sporadic attention to playwright (and sometimes movie star) Sam Shepard over the years, so I'm not going to give you a full rundown of his career. I did watch and "enjoy" the PBS version of his play True West with a young Gary Sinese and John Malkovich that first aired in 1984,  and has been shown several times since. If you're wondering why I put the word "enjoy" in quotation marks--Hey, I did it again!--the play is a trenchant commentary on the American Dream, family dynamics, the creative process, and what happens when you neglect the housekeeping. Shepard may have had some other response in mind than mere "enjoyment". Cold sweats, maybe. Anyway, have a look:



Whew!

An actress by the name of Margaret Thomson played the mother. I don't blame her for wanting to get the hell out of that madhouse and visit Picasso, even if he was dead by then. She could drop in on Matisse and Duchamp while she's at it.

Well, I hope you enjoyed that (I thought italics might work better.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Under the Radar: June Foray


1917-2017
You may not recognize the name or the face, but you just might recognize some of  the characters she played:



Lucifer the cat




Knothead and Splinter




Lena Hyena




Magica De Spell




Nell Fenwick




Ursula




Grandmother Fa




Jokey Smurf




Karen




Granny (replacing Bea Benaderet in 1955)





Witch Hazel (Disney)





Witch Hazel (Warner Brothers)





Cindy Lou Who





Natasha Fatale



And now here's something we hope you'll really like...



Rocky the Flying Squirrel!

When I reflect on the people who bring cartoons to life, I tend to think of such great animators as Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freling, Bob Clampett, Max Fleischer, Otto Mesmer, William Hanna and Joseph Barbara (when their work appeared on the big screen), Paul Terry, Gene Deitch,  Ub Iwerks, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnson, Frank Thomas, Jack Kinney, and, of course, Iwerks', Kimball's, Johnson's, Thomas', and Kinney's boss, Walt Disney. But the best animation might all be for naught if the characters being animated all talked like that guy on the phone who tells you he's sorry but the number you're trying to reach has been disconnected. Also, if the animation is naught oall on its own (e.g., William Hanna and Joseph Barbara when their work appeared on the small screen) and that makes the voice artists all the more necessary. So though Ms. Foray has left us, let's hope her particular vocal chords, along with those belonging to Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Clarence Nash, Arthur Q. Bryan, Paul Frees, Stan Freberg, Howard Morris, Bill Scott, Jim Backus, Alan Reed, and the aforementioned Bea Benaderet are forever preserved through movies, TV, and even computers.











Saturday, July 22, 2017

Graphic Grandeur (The Road Not Taken Edition)






Yes, the signature on these strips reads Gus Edson, who took over The Gumps after Sidney Smith's death in 1935, but he had an assistant in the late 1940s who may have penciled or inked or lettered or do whatever comic strip assistants do. According to some sources, he even drew the whole strip on occasion.

Martin Landau 1920-2017
The assistant later caught the acting bug.




North by Northwest (1959) That's the back of Cary Grant's head.



From the same film, that's Landau's foot and Grant's hand (unless they're stunt doubles--you can never be sure.)


 Landau played master-of-disguise spy Rollin Hand on TV's Mission: Impossible for three seasons. That's his real-life then-wife Barbara Bain in the center.


 Landau and Bain also appeared together on the runaway moon TV science fiction series Space:1999.


Not generally considered a high point in Landau's career, but I just had to show it. The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, a 1981 made-for-TV movie in which he played a mad scientist, with Bain as his, I don't know, lab assistant, I guess. This would be the last time husband and wife performed together on screen. The two divorced in 1993. That's 12 years after this film debuted, so I really don't think it was the cause of the split.


Things turned around for Landau in 1988 when Francis Ford Coppola cast him as Abe Karatz, business associate of 1940s automobile designer Preston Tucker in Tucker: The Man and His Dreams, based on a true story. Landau was nominated for, but did not win, an Academy Award.



A clip. That's Jeff Bridges as Tucker.



In Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Landau played Judah Rosenthal, a successful ophthalmologist who has his mistress just as successfully dispatched, and, for a while anyway, feels a tad guilty about it.  Landau was nominated for, but did not win, an Academy Award.

 

In this clip a conscience-stricken Judah relives a childhood memory. Man, listen to that family talk about the Holocaust and the nature of evil over dinner. I can't imagine what the conversation was like during dessert.


 As a down-on-his-luck Bela Lugosi in 1994's Ed Wood. Johnny Depp plays the title character, an independent film director who tries to engineer a comeback for the former horror star, and acquire a bit of fame for himself in the process (which he actually succeeded in doing, though both men were long dead when it finally happened.)



Lugosi's opinion of a fellow horror movie icon.


Makes up for not winning that Reuben.












Sunday, July 16, 2017

Spotlight: Ginger Rogers



The actress/singer/dancer was born on this day in 1911.



The extremely talented Rogers first became a star on Broadway in the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, which means diddly-squat to those of us not living in New York City in 1930. Fortunately, a Hollywood contract--and posterity--soon followed.





However, at first her Hollywood stardom did not quite equal her Broadway stardom. For instance, she gets fifth billing in Gold Diggers of 1933, though I will admit the "and" makes her name stand out a bit. More significantly, she stars in the musical film's opening number.



"We're in the Money"--I have no idea why, but dig the way she switches over to pig Latin right toward the end.




Ogersray isay estbay owknay orfay erhay anymay ilmsfay--excuse me, I meant to say, Rogers is best known for the many films she co-starred with Fred Astaire in the 1930s (plus one final one in the late '40s) Though the pairing was and is justly celebrated, they weren't quite equals. Dancing was Astaire's main thing in the 1930s, and if that's all you're concerned with, you're probably better off seeing the man in a movie with Eleanor Powell or Cyd Charrise. Rogers, of course, could dance, too, but it's telling that she rarely gets a solo number. Does that mean we should regard Top Hat or Hold That Fleet as basically Fred Astaire films? Not if you're concerned about more than the dancing. Astaire's singing was OK, but he could barely act--at least not in the 1930s (he had gotten much much better at it by the time the nuclear war drama On the Beach was made in the late 1950s. He must have found the apocalypse inspiring.) Rogers could sing as well as Astaire, and could act circles around him--usually at just that moment he was dancing circles around her. And it's that dichotomy that made them click as a team.






And someone once said, she had to do everything he did, but backwards and in high heels.



A brunette Rogers went dramatic in 1940s Kitty Foyle...




...and won an Oscar.



As good as Rogers was in that, in my opinion her real forte was comedy. Here she is with a young David Niven in 1939's Bachelor Mother.



Let's jump ahead to the 1970s, when a still-vibrant Rogers tripped the light fantastic with none other than Johnny Carson (poor Ed never got the chance to cut in.)

Ginger Rogers died in 1995, but her films endure. Good thing Hollywood called.



 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Graphic Grandeur (Technology Edition)





Cartoonist Rube Goldberg was born on this day in 1883. During his long life, Goldberg drew comic strips, funny postcards, and political cartoons, but is best know these days, and in fact was best known in those days, for a series of cartoon inventions in which a simple end was accomplished through an unjustifiable means. Most of these fanciful machines appeared in a once-popular now-defunct general interest magazine called Collier's under the title The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but Goldberg seems to have done similar-type strips (including some of the aforementioned political cartoons) both before and after that time frame, though minus the Butts name. Actually, it was the cartoonists own name that we now associate with such devices. I'm sure somewhere or other you've come across the term "Rube Goldberg machine", but perhaps didn't know what it meant. Well, here's some examples:













If you squint (sorry, but part of the cartoon is cut off if I try to make it any larger) you might see the names Marcantonio and Faye Emerson, two people well-known in their day but largely forgotten about now. Vito Marcantonio was a liberal Republican (you read that right) congressman back in the 1930s. His New York City district was the same district that propelled Fiorello La Guardia, another liberal Republican, into the mayoral office. Marcantonio seems to have been to the left of La Guardia as he quit the Republican Party and joined  the socialist-leaning American Labor Party as the '30s gave way to the '40s. His constituents didn't seem to mind this walk on the radical side, as he served in Congress another ten years. Goldberg, a Republican but not a liberal, did seem to mind, as I can't can't think of any other reason the cartoonist would have placed him behind the Japanese emperor. As to why the latter is in a baseball uniform, it probably has something to do with the his country being under U.S. occupation, and thus undergoing a process of "Americanization". Faye Emerson was a movie and early TV actress who got as much attention for her personal life as for any film or series that she starred in. Emerson's second husband was Elliot Roosevelt, son of  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her inclusion in this cartoon, however, may not have been a political jab as she had divorced the New Dealer's son by the time this appeared. She was one of TV's first sex symbols and known for wearing low-cut gowns, most likely the object of the photographers attention. 

  
Skitch Henderson was an up-and-coming TV band leader when he married Miss Emerson.  He later on conducted the Tonight Show Orchestra for Steve Allen, Jack Parr, and, until he was replaced by Doc Severnson, Johnny Carson.


Gorgeous George was an early TV wrestling star known for his humorously flamboyant preening. Like a lot of ex-presidents, Hoover spent his retirement (which lasted some 35 years) making speeches.











Born on the Fourth of July, Goldberg was an American original who got one of the highest accolades that can be bestowed on an American original: his own postage stamp in 1995. Of course, you have to be deceased to get that particular accolade. Fortunately, there were a few others that came Goldberg's way while he was still around to bask in the glory.


The above won Goldberg the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning 




Goldberg was the first president on the National Cartoonist Society, and in 1954, the award given out by the society--sort of like an Oscar or Emmy--was renamed the Reuben (what "Rube" is short for.) That's Goldberg on the left  handing the Rueben to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz in 1955. Goldberg himself won the award in 1967, but I can't find any photos of that, so you'll just have to settle for this one of him and Sparky.

Rube Goldberg died in 1970. He spent his childhood in the horse-and-buggy era and lived long enough to see a man walk on the moon. No wonder he was so obsessed by technology.