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Preserving the people, places, and things from the pop culture past...because some of us still believe in yesterday.

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    I've never been a fan of child actors/actresses, and even less of a fan of today's mini-sized reality TV "stars" such as Honey Boo Boo. But a few weeks ago I caught the 1934 Shirley Temple movie Bright Eyes on TCM one evening and couldn't help but watch as the adorable Temple sashayed her way through one of her trademark songs, "On the Good Ship Lollipop", and fool an older spoiled brat she was living with. 

    It was easy to see why Temple became a big screen favorite during one of the worst economic times in America's history, The Great Depression. A talented dancer by the time she was three, she could memorize and mimic choreography in a matter of seconds, and her dimpled smile and bouncy ringlet curls quickly won over movie audiences. In keeping with the times, she was often cast as an orphan to show audiences that even children could overcome adversity. By the time she was in her teens, however, film producer David O. Selznick warned Temple that she would be typecast, and her movie resume began to wind down.  

    What is perhaps more remarkable, however, is what she did with her life long after her film career ended: there was to be no addiction, no downfall, no troubling adult life that so many child stars who came after her fell into. Instead, Temple enjoyed a happy, lifelong marriage to her second husband, Charles Black, became an U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, and a breast cancer survivor. With breast cancer, she became one of the first female celebrities to speak openly of the disease, which resulted in over 50,000 fan letters and cards thanking her for making it acceptable and less fearsome for women to seek medical treatment. 

    I admit that I have a lot of catching up to do with Temple's movies and career, but there's no doubt that she will be missed and adored for a long time to come. If I could, I'd toast her with a glass of her sweet, cherry flavored non-alcoholic signature drink, which my father introduced me to when I was a kid (and which I still love.) 

    Here's a few of Temple's notable musical performances from some of her films--and I also recommend looking up on YouTube the made-for-TV movie about her career, Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story (which was based on her autobiography.)

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    I never know when inspiration for a Go Retro blog post is going to strike. Earlier today I was watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (more soon on why I was home watching this show) when one of the questions asked about the title of a 1967 military etiquette video from the U.S. National Archives. The correct answer was "How to Succeed with Brunettes." Say what? Naturally, I had to check this out for myself!

    It turns out that How to Succeed with Brunettes is nothing more than a dating etiquette training film for male military personnel, mostly full of common sense tips. Although, from some of the scary shit I've seen on OKCupid lately, some of today's men could use a refreshed course in some common dating sense. Basically the video keeps presenting scenarios--one that is the incorrect way for a man to conduct himself followed by the correct way. One of the scenes that cracked me up during an incorrect scenario was the fella using the restaurant table's candle to light his cigarette.

    I also initially thought that the first actor at the beginning of the film was an African American man picking up a Caucasian woman, which would have been controversial in 1967. 

    Of course, the film does beg the question why brunettes? Why not corresponding videos on how to succeed with blondes and redheads? It should have just been called How to Succeed with Women. Or, How to Be a Gentleman. Period. 

    It's pretty mundane stuff, but here is the entire film, which is about 16 minutes long (only the first half is really worth watching for a few chuckles.) For something a little more entertaining, check out this military video aimed at female personnel that I wrote about a few years ago that includes a hot chick go-go dancing in a minidress. 

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    You may have noticed that Go Retro is suddenly being updated more frequently these days. There's a good reason for it.

    A little over a week ago, my position at my full-time job was eliminated. I've been laid off before and thought the rodeo ride this time wouldn't affect me negatively, but to be honest I was a bit shell shocked and definitely not myself for the first few days after it happened (that's also why I just wasn't feeling the love for The Beatles' 50th anniversary in America, even though listening to the Fabs could have provided some much needed medicine.) I was worried about what the future might hold, and sad about suddenly being cut off from my usual social contacts during the work week. 

    It wasn't until this past Sunday afternoon--when I picked up and started to re-read one of my favorite Law of Attraction/positive thinking books--that the fog finally began lifting. 

    The good news is, I now feel a lot more like myself, and very optimistic about my next career venture, whatever that may be. Now's the time to start thinking about reinvention, and what it is I really want to do. I have a lot more skills under my belt compared to the last time I lost a job, including social media, blogging, and a few published freelance articles that I've sold to websites. I'd love to find a job that combines social media management, copywriting and blogging, but I also love the idea of getting into journalism, perhaps working for a local magazine. 

    Also, there is another thing that I am absolutely sure of:

    I am a good writer. 

    Nay, I am an excellent writer.

    I affirm that not from an arrogant, narcissistic standpoint, but as a comparison point from what my posts looked like when I first began this blog, back in 2007 (?) or so. I also have a good friend who told me recently, "You know, you always were a good writer in my opinion, but in the past few years or so you have really elevated to a whole new level." 

    Thank goodness for Go Retro. If I didn't have this blog, I'd surely be starting one during this time--but 7 years of experience authoring it, resulting in 400 Google followers and 953 Facebook followers (as of this posting) isn't too shabby. 

    Also, what does my layoff mean for the blog, anyway? It can only mean good things--especially now that I have more time to post, tweak the layout and work on a new banner. (Now if I could only do something about the quality of AdSense ads and their click value...)

    So thank you, as always, for being a reader and a fan! I know that this post's title is from a David Bowie song, but being a bigger fan of Bobby Darin, his song "Change" resonates more with me:

    Whatever you've done it's all over 
    Wherever you've been is so strange 
    Yesterday's long gone forever 
    Damned if what you're feelin' isn't change. 

    - Bobby Darin, "Change"

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    For the life of me, I will never understand why Peter Strauss never became a huge, bona fide movie star in every sense of the word. He had (has) looks, charm, talent, and class. Very little media attention was given to him in the 1980s and 1990s. The most I could find and get my hands on at the time were two interviews in the 1980s: one for US magazine and one for Parade. In both, he came across as an easy going, humble, sensitive, somewhat private family man whose other profession in addition to acting was the patriarch of his own orange farm, called The Peter Strauss Ranch.   

    Perhaps that is why the Hollywood motion picture industry never came calling; at least not in full force (Strauss did star in a few big screen movies, including a slightly cheesy sci-fi called Spacehunter.) Strauss was scandal-free; to the best of my knowledge there were no addictions or dark secrets with this man. He was what you call a straight up guy. 

    My first introduction to Strauss was in the 1985 TV miniseries, Kane & Abel, based on the best-selling novel by Jeffrey Archer. Up until that point, my celebrity crushes had included a wide variety of "types" that typically befall teenage girls...there was the rocker (Daryl Hall), the hunk (David Hasselhoff), the bad boy (Don Johnson) and the funny man (Bill Murray.) But Strauss was different. He was mature, classy, handsome...and he was playing the part of a Polish baron, complete with an accent. As a Polish American girl whose only point of reference of famous Polish men at that time included Bobby Vinton and Ted Knight, I immediately fell in love (OK, so Strauss himself isn't actually Polish. His background is German-Jewish. But so what? The point is, he played the part convincingly. And he was so handsome.) 

    If I'm not mistaken, Strauss was known as "The King of the Miniseries" in the 1980s. It's easy to see why--he had made his television mark in the 1976-77 series Rich Man, Poor Man starring alongside Nick Nolte. Other series included Masada, Tender is the Night, and The Brotherhood of the Rose. There were also several notable TV movies including The Jericho Mile, Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy, Under Siege, The Penalty Phase, Texas Justice, and Men Don't Tell (a movie about abused husbands, co-starring Judith Light as an abusive wife.) 

    I also think it's a shame that Strauss didn't star in a prominent TV series during this time, although he came close. One of his projects that I distinctively remember (namely because he had a nearly naked scene in it) was the 1989 TV film Peter Gunn--yes, that Peter Gunn, complete with Henry Mancini's score--the likes of which television audiences hadn't seen since the 1960s. It was supposed to be a pilot, but apparently network executives felt the movie was too underwhelming to develop it into a series. Strauss's Gunn wasn't the drinking, smoking gumshoe that Craig Stevens' portrayed in the original, but he was classy and cool, and looked sexy behind the wheel of a vintage car. He also appeared in one bathroom scene holding nothing but a towel over his private parts--which was a rather risque move for ABC at the time (and which caused my teenage ovaries to nearly self combust.) If someone out there ever uploads this scene to YouTube, I'll kiss the ground they walk on. 

    Offscreen, Strauss has been married three times, most recently to actress Rachel Ticotin since 1998. He also has two sons from his second marriage to a French woman. But did you know he once dated Patti Davis, slightly disgruntled daughter of President and Nancy Reagan? Lucky beyotch...
    It's been several years since I've watched Strauss in anything, and that's a crying shame. According to the Internet Movie Database, he just wrapped up what appears to be a minor role in a movie called Drawing Home, and has made appearances on Law and Order, as well as a few television series I'm unfamiliar with. I miss this man, and a visit to my library's website to make some DVD requests is in order. 

    Happy Valentine's Day to all my readers and followers!

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    "It's not supposed to happen. But it does, more often than you think. And when it does..."

    With Peter Strauss on my mind since last week's post, I decided to look up and watch the 1993 television movie Men Don't Tell, starring him and Judith Light. If you've never seen this film, I highly recommend checking it out on YouTube and approaching it with an open mind. Somehow I missed it the first and only time is aired on network television, despite its tense subject matter, which received a lot of buzz. You see, this is a movie about domestic violence--with a twist: the wife is the aggressor/abuser, and it was based on a true story. 

    When it aired on CBS in 1993, it infuriated a lot of feminist groups. After all, women are incapable of being the abusers in a relationship, right? Wrong. According to recent statistics, up to 40% of domestic abuse victims (at least in the UK) are male (this doesn't clarify how many are gay men being abused by gay partners.) Despite the movie's rating success (coming in third behind Home Improvement and 60 Minutes and being seen by over 18 million American households) it has never been re-aired on network television, but it did receive some play on Lifetime. It has also never been released to DVD and to the best of my knowledge, no other film has covered the same subject matter since.

    Another myth that the movie aims to dispel about male domestic violence victims is that they must be weak, wimpy excuses for men. Director Harry Winer purposely wanted a masculine actor for the role, but as he soon found out, even men were ignorant about the topic of the film. According to Winer, "Our first choice was an actor who said he was very offended that we sent him the script. He was angry at his agent for soliciting the script and forwarding it to him for him to read. Peter Strauss, a very bright man, accepted and did a very good job."

    Indeed, Strauss looks very macho in the movie, sporting a mustache, biceps and (quite ironically) those underwear shirts known as "wife beaters." His character, Ed MacAffrey, works as a construction site manager and drives a pickup truck. Judith Light plays his wife, Laura. 

    The movie opens with a police scene at the home of the MacAffreys. Laura is unconscious and taken away in an ambulance while Ed is detained by the police, who assume that he is responsible for his wife's injuries. In a series of flashbacks while being questioned, Ed reveals the incidents of emotional and physical abuse he suffered in the marriage with each event getting progressively worse as the storyline progresses. Fans of Who's the Boss? will admire Light's performance, but certainly not her character. Laura is controlling, neurotic, jealous, and quite possibly suffering from mental illness. An early clue of her behavior is seen at the beginning of the film when she dumps Ed's leftover birthday cake (with only a quarter of it eaten) into the sink. She's prone to emotional outbursts and jumps to conclusions easily, eventually believing that Ed is having an affair with a woman from the construction company. What starts out as a punch to his lip escalates into a rage-filled pummeling that results in a shiner. At one point she even cries, "Look what you made me do!"--a common excuse of many abusers. She also rams her car into his truck several times and tries to win him back with sex. 

    As wrong as it sounds, I will admit that at many times throughout the abuse scenes, I really wanted to see Ed fight back. He certainly is capable of doing so; in one early scene he is nearly mugged in front of his daughter but fights the thug off, then tells the girl that what he did was stupid and wrong. Ed is not only concerned about the welfare of his daughter, who has been witnessing most of her mother's outbursts (there's also a young son but for some reason he isn't present throughout most of the movie) but knows that punching Laura back would be wrong. He also still loves her, although each fight really chips away at their relationship. Towards the end of the film, Ed finally does defend himself and the couple's daughter when Laura hits her during one particularly nasty fight.  

    Another important light the movie shines on domestic violence is the lack of support and resources available to male victims. One of the most humiliating scenes is when Ed calls a women's shelter to make an appointment to talk to someone, and is immediately scorned as someone who is playing a prank, and hung up on. When Ed tells family members and friends that Laura punched him, they laugh it off in disbelief. His father, a retired police officer, even instructs him after one incident to tell the police that he was responsible for what happened but was also drunk. 

    It isn't until the near end of the movie that the MacAffrey's daughter reveals to the grandfather and police what has really been going on ("Mommy hits Daddy") and Ed is finally vindicated. 

    Reviews about the movie when it aired were very positive. Television critic Ray Loynd of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The most sobering point about 'Men Don't Tell' is that we go into the story conditioned to make jokes about wives hurling rolling pins at their husbands and then starkly witness how unfunny and terrifying it really is. Light's vicious, insecure wife is a harrowing portrait, although ultimately, to the actress's credit, touched with sympathy. Her bleak image in the movie's last scene is shattering under the fine direction of Harry Winer. And Strauss' pummeled husband --whose wife flails him with sudden, sharp fists that are so realistic they make you flinch--is a study of a warmly masculine man who is no wimp, AND NO WIFE HITTER, either."

    Something I noticed at the end of the film, unlike other made for television movies of its time that touched upon controversial subjects, was the lack of a hotline number that male domestic abuse victims could call to receive support. Perhaps it's because the notion was still so unknown at the time, that very few organizations that included or were aimed at men existed. Fortunately, that has changed--although many stigmas against battered men are still around. A few male domestic violence support groups tried unsuccessfully to get CBS to re-air Men Don't Tell 20 years after its release; hopefully this blog post will bring a bit more attention to the forgotten film. 

    You can view the full movie on YouTube here or here

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    When the legendary actress Kim Novak exclaimed "Frozen!" during last night's Academy Awards, I couldn't tell if she was talking about the movie or her face. I know I wasn't the only viewer who was a bit taken aback by Novak's Joker-like appearance, yet another Hollywood plastic surgery casualty. 

    There was a time when actors and actresses let themselves age naturally, and looked all the more better for it. Katharine Hepburn, as far as I could tell, never had work done and her pretty features are still intact in On Golden Pond, which was released when she was 74. Mae West also resisted plastic surgery, showing off her face and neck to whoever asked to prove she had no surgical marks. Instead, she shunned the sun, staying indoors during the midday hours and drawing the shades in her apartment. Eva Saint Marie is 89 and was interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning this week, claiming that she never had anything done to her face--and I believe her. She still looks stunning and completely natural. 

    You would think that seeing the disastrous, deformed faces of those who went too far would deter other celebrities from going under the knife or getting Botox injections. Among those who look drastically different compared to their younger glory days are Kenny Rogers, Mickey Rourke, Joan Van Ark, Meg Ryan, Bruce Jenner, Daryl Hannah, Carrot Top, Melanie Griffith, Joan Rivers, Cher, Priscilla Presley, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Barry Manilow, just to name a few. 

    Also, the girl who used to turn the world on with her smile, Mary Tyler Moore? I'm sorry, but she looks downright scary:

    One cheek is bigger than the other. Why...why....why would you DO this to yourself??? To be honest, I lose respect for people who overload on cosmetic surgery and are under some delusion that they look good. 

    Puffy duck lips, eyelids that refuse to shut completely, Michael Jackson-esque noses and facial implants that protrude have become the norm today among those who reach a certain age in American showbiz. It wasn't always this way...

    It used to be that plastic surgery as a medical specialty served a very positive purpose. Medical procedures to improve one's appearance have existed since ancient times, but after WWI plastic surgery was elevated to a whole new level when it was used to treat soldiers who had suffered facial injuries in battle--giving hope to disfigured patients. In the 1960s, silicone was created which eventually became used for breast implants. The 1970s saw plastic surgery being applied to just about any area of the human body for superficial improvement. 

    But when some celebs of yesteryear did have cosmetic surgery done, it was minor and barely perceptible. When Marilyn Monroe's medical records and x-rays became available for public auction last year, it was revealed that she had had a small chin implant done in 1950 to repair cartilage, and rhinoplasty to correct a small fracture to her nose. Hardly anything that qualifies as drastic. 

    Hollywood, unfortunately, is still obsessed with youth and age, at least when it comes to actresses. Renée Zellweger is in her 40s, the decade when suitable roles seem to dwindle for women on the big screen. She hasn't made a film since 2010 and she looks noticeably different these days compared to the Bridget Jones' Diary movies--her squinty eyes have been opened up, erasing her trademark look and making her look more like any other actress. She recently admitted in an interview from last year that she is "terrified of aging." It could be that she has fallen victim to the same irony Jennifer Grey did when she had a nose job done after Dirty Dancing. The change made her look so different, it hindered her career since she no longer looked liked the recognizable Baby.

    But getting a nose job is one thing; having repeat procedures until your face resembles a Halloween mask is another. I honestly can't think of a single celebrity who looks better after getting tons of cosmetic upgrades. It seems like it would be a lot easier to me to follow Mae West's lead and avoid the sun, exercise and eat right. 

    And if you still get the age spots and jowls? So what? It sure beats looking like a clown and having your distorted kisser splashed across the tabloids and social media outlets. 

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    I must confess one thing before starting this blog post: I've never watched a single episode of Breaking Bad. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen even a clip of the acclaimed series. I know, I know, I know. Despite hearing coworkers practically squeal with glee about the latest plot developments on the show every Monday morning, the storyline just never appealed to me. Maybe I needed to be there from the beginning to truly get it?

    Anyways, just because I'm out of the loop with one of the biggest shows modern society has ever seen doesn't mean that I cannot appreciate the fine example of man meat that Bryan Cranston is, especially now that his bald and goateed Walter White character has bit the dust. Cranston turned 58 today--and that means he has an acting career that stretches back into retro territory; namely, the 80s and 90s. Way before he was Walter White, Jerry Seinfeld's dentist, or Malcom's dad in Malcolm in the Middle, he was making appearances in several commercials. So, let's take a look at the ads that provided an extra paycheck while he was waiting for his big break...a breaking, break. 

    Preparation H: From Preparation H to Preparation there anything more humiliating in the commercial world than being the spokesman for ass cream? Good thing he's practically unrecognizable behind those oversized Foster Grants:

    JC Penney: "I got in. I got out. Nobody got hurt." Sounds like something Heisenberg would say.

    Carnation Creamer: There were lots of comments on this one about trying Gale's coffee. I have no idea who the Gale character is on Breaking Bad, but if the joke works...

    Exedrin: Here's an Exedrin pitch from the 90s. Why, look at that. Blue drugs!

    Shield Soap: This one's my favorite. BC is both a skunk and a hunk:

    And...this one's not a commercial, but pretty appropriate. Cranston was a member of his high school chemistry club. Say his name, indeed. 

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    Note: there are spoilers in this post.

    Last week I was a little bit down in the dumps. I felt so empty, and so betrayed.

    You see, I had finally finished watching the entire series of Rich Man, Poor Man on DVD...all 12 episodes of Book I and 22 episodes of Book II. No small feat. I've been binging on the series for the past few weeks, requesting the next installment of disks from my library's network while the current ones were still warm from spinning in my DVD player, lest there be a lapse in my RMPM enjoyment. 

    I was really expecting a fantastic finale to this series. But, Irwin Shaw and Ann Beckett, who wrote the script for Book II, are clearly cold-hearted, soulless cretins, because...

    Rich Man, Poor Man has the WORST ENDING EVER OF ANY MINISERIES/SERIES I'VE EVER SEEN. For nights on end I got sucked into Rudy Jordache's world...his marital problems followed by new romances...his senator career in jeopardy...his life in danger because of something dumb and selfish that his stupid, slutty alcoholic first wife did...his nephew and stepson's personal dramas. 

    And what was my reward for getting engrossed in these storylines for the equivalent of weeks of television viewing?

    RUDY JORDACHE DIES. He dies! He gets murdered in the final minutes of the entire series! Shot in the back by the same villain who killed his brother, Tom, who relentlessly pursues him all throughout Book II! What the hell!

    Shaw and Beckett should be ashamed of themselves! How dare they do this to me! I was so upset I actually woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it. I haven't been this peeved over a TV series' finale since ABC botched the American version of Life on Mars

    (Takes deep breath; repeats "It's only a TV series, Pam, it's only a TV series" over and over again.)

    And actually, Book I had a horrible ending (Tom dies)...but Book II's was worse. 

    If I am pissed, then I can only imagine how TV viewers who stayed at home for episodes on end (the VCR hadn't been invented yet, after all) must have felt the morning after the finale. The worst part is they didn't have the Internet and social media channels to voice their displeasure. Well, 1976/77 viewers, my wrath is for you. I feel your pain, believe me! Rudy Jordache should have lived! There should have been a wedding to Maggie! And what becomes of Wes, Billy, Diane, Annie, Ramona and Kate?

    Well, there was a 1979 TV movie that continued the storyline called Beggarman, Thief; however, I can't think about that right now. And despite the rubbish ending, there's much to be loved about Rich Man, Poor Man

    This was the first miniseries created for network television. I remember watching many miniseries during the 1980s. Rich Man, Poor Man really launched the genre and set the stage for Roots, North and South, Shogun, The Thorn Birds, Lace and countless others. It was based on a 1970 novel by Irwin Shaw. (Its sequel, Beggarman, Thief, was released in 1977 and Book II of the TV series actually isn't based on this book at all, although Shaw helped write the screenplay for it.)

    The series made household names of both Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte. Nolte had previously done mostly television roles but after RMPM got his first major big screen gig in The Deep. Strauss had previously appeared on The Streets of San Francisco, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Hawaii Five-O. After RMPM he would go on to star in several other TV miniseries and movies. 

    I don't want to take up too much time describing the RMPM plot, but basically, it's the story of two brothers, Rudy (Strauss) and Tom (Nolte) Jordache, sons of a German immigrant father (Ed Asner) who runs a bakery. The series opens with their hometown celebrating the end of WWII and takes us up through the late 1960s. 

    Rudy is a Dudley Do-Right in every sense of the word--he helps his pop with his bakery, wants to go to college and eventually marry his high school sweetheart, Julie Prescott (Susan Blakely.)

    Tom is the quintessential bad boy. Always getting into scrapes, causing trouble, chasing the wrong type of women, etc. A lot of the stuff he does is just juvenile, dumb and makes you shake your head. He and a friend even set a fire in a greenhouse one night because Rudy is a volunteer firefighter and Tom thinks it would be funny to make his brother come and help put out the fire.  

    As they grow up and get older, Rudy carves out a career for himself first as a department store chain executive and later, as a U.S. senator. He's the rich man. Tom develops a knack for boxing which eventually becomes his way of earning a living, making him the poor man. 

    Of course, along the way, a lot of other stuff happens. I was hooked instantly. But instead of giving you a synopsis of the entire series, I thought I'd instead make a list of the aspects of the series I loved the most, and which make it such a time capsule of 1970s TV Americana... 

    Stone cold fox. Hottie. Studmuffin. Rudy Jordache.
    Damn, That Peter Strauss Is Devastatingly Handsome
    Well, that's a no-brainer given that I grew up on Strauss during the 1980s. However, as Rudy Jordache (particularly the older Rudy Jordache, as I'll get to in a second) Strauss gives Jon Hamm's Don Draper character a serious run for his money in more ways then one. In fact, I'd say he has Draper beat ten miles. The amazing thing about Strauss' character is that as Rudy ages, he gets better looking. At the beginning of the series he looks like a high school kid (Strauss was 28 or so when Book I aired) with a boyish haircut. As Rudy matures, he gets more debonair with touches of gray in the Brylcreemed hair, some fine facial lines (kudos to the makeup team) and a killer wardrobe (hello, turtlenecks with jackets, my favorite late 60s look for men!) Strauss was also in great physical shape when this series was filmed...lean, muscular, great abs. He also appears to have a tan in many scenes. Rudy is passionate about both his department store and political career, and works his way up without backstabbing anyone. And the way he talks to the women in his life will make any female swoon. Don Draper who? Look at him. He's gorgeous. Yes, I know that Nick Nolte was crowned The Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine in 1992 and he was a hottie in his own right in RMPM, but it's Rudy for me all the way. And I mean ALL the way. Tee hee!

    Ungrateful hussy
    Most Hated Fictional Female TV Character
    For me, it used to be Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond. But after watching RMPM, that title has been easily toppled by Julie Prescott. Ugh! I wanted to punch her. She treats Rudy like crap pretty much from day one, is extremely selfish (she gets mad that he wants to further his education by going to college first instead of living in sin with her in the Village) and prefers losers and bad guys over Rudy. She gives her cherry away not to Rudy, but to an older, sophisticated rich man played by Mr. Brady himself, Robert Reed. She is a drunk, completely unsupportive of Rudy and his career--especially his political aspirations--and super sensitive to anything he says that she can twist into an excuse to get angry at him. The older she gets, the uglier her morose picklepuss expressions are. Double ugh! She's not good enough for my Rudy...and at one point, her hairdos become the most hideous caricatures of teased 60s hair you've ever seen. Thank God her continued role in Book II is short lived. Fortunately, Rudy finds himself a much better match in Book II with his attorney, Maggie, played by Falcon Crest's beautiful Susan Sullivan. 

    Forgiving Physical Features
    As is the case with a lot of other 1970s television series, it was interesting to notice that many of the actors chosen for Rich Man, Poor Man didn't have perfect features, unlike the plastic-y "perfection" of who's on TV today. Imperfect skin and teeth is noticeable, as is Ed Asner's gorilla-like body hair (yuck!) Strauss has slight pock scars on his cheeks, a go-go dancer has a large mole on her thigh, and Gregg Henry who plays Tom's son Wesley has a crooked tooth. It's actually rather refreshing to see more real looking performers filling the roles compared to today's standards. 

    The Most Random Cameo by a Singer in a Miniseries Goes To...
    Arlo Guthrie. He shows up during Book II performing "Alice's Restaurant" in a hippie coffeehouse, and even has a bit of dialogue afterwards. Who knew? I guess it was because he was needed to introduce the Annie character, a budding singer that Rudy's stepson, who is entering the record business, takes a liking to. 

    Shirley MacLaine, Is That You?
    Speaking of Annie, she was played by Cassie Yates and reminded me so much of a young Shirley MacLaine. They even have similar voices. Annie is an aspiring singer who is discovered by Rudy's stepson, Billy, but ultimately cannot deal with the sudden fame. A scene where she performs with her long haired, bearded backup band for a senator and his stuffy friends is quite amusing. Unfortunately, the series ended with her storyline pretty much up in the air, as with all of the surviving characters. I would have liked to seen her get her act together and end up with Billy.

    Let's Play the Rich Man, Poor Man Drinking Game
    Every time Peter Strauss puts his hands on his hips in a scene, take a swig of your drink. You're gonna be awfully wasted after watching a few episodes in a row. Seriously, just about every scene of Rudy Jordache once he becomes a senator includes him putting his hand on his hips. Also comical after a while were the numerous shots of a camera dizzily panning up the side of a skyscraper to indicate that the next scene was taking place in Rudy's apartment, Maggie's apartment, a hotel, or another building of importance. Yeah, we get it.

    Craptacular Set and Costume Design
    The clothing and decor in RMPM, particularly in Book II, represents the best and the worst of the 1960s and 1970s. Wide lapels, orange and brown for a suit combination, flowery shirts for men and prairie dresses just aren't flattering in my opinion, but they're all on display in their kitschy glory in RMPM. A lot of the sequences also take place in Las Vegas. You can't get tackier than a Las Vegas restaurant circa 1976. 

    The Dastardly Bastard Falconetti
    The rugged actor William Smith (he is a former bodybuilder, and the last actor to play the Marlboro Man before the cigarette maker's commercials were banned from television) plays the villain Falconetti (or as I like to call him, Falcon Eddie) in RMPM who is responsible for Tom Jordache's death at the end of Book I and stalks and plots against Rudy all throughout Book II. I couldn't stand looking at him or listening to him--but I have to admit, Smith did an outstanding job in the role. Falconetti is psychotic, violent, and unpredictable; a real loose cannon who is as quick with a smile as he is with a punch. Many of the chase scenes involving Falconetti are just ridiculous; bullet and bullet is fired and not a single one ever seems to hit him. Of course, he always manages to get away. I don't like how the writers clearly favored the bad guy in this series.

    It's a shame that for such an acclaimed series, it couldn't have delivered a better ending. Instead, the rug is jerked out from underneath you and you're left with so many unresolved questions. Part of the problem is Strauss was adamant about not reprising the Rudy Jordache role after Book II ended. Beggarman, Thief aired on TV in 1979, but without the original cast...and judging from online reviews, it had lost the RMPM magic by that point. 

    I'd like to think that after the screen turned black, Rudy Jordache was saved by the casino patrons on the street he collapsed on. He went into a coma, but recovered and celebrated his victory against a corrupt senator and married his lady friend Maggie. Yeah, that's exactly what happened. 

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  • 03/22/14--13:59: Products for Playboys

  • I recently had a gander at the Playboy online store, and was surprised to see a rather skimpy array of the usual yawn-inducing branded products...t-shirts, mugs, and fragrances. From what I recently found on Flickr, branded Playboy products from the 1960s were a little more interesting. All but one of the following ads were uploaded by the user classic_film. Hugh Hefner himself may want to take a look back for inspiration on juicing up his magazine's product line. Let's take a look at some of the items Playboy made and marketed to its readers back in the day...

    C'mon baby, light my fire. And that is one big ass lighter! Her eyelashes could get singed! Definitely not intended to be portable, but think of how comic it would be to pull one of these jumbo babies out when someone needed a light. It's a good thing that it "operates on a standard sized flint." Keep an extinguisher handy...

    I can appreciate that these sweaters were made of 100% virgin worsted wool (the only thing that's a virgin in the photo) because by the 80s, so many sweaters were being made of acrylic, a cheap substitute for the real thing. It's interesting that Playboy Club keyholders could simply charge to their accounts by giving the key number with their order. 

    No sweater? No problem. Just sew this bunny logo patch onto your jacket, your bag, the rear end of your jeans, etc. 

    This is probably the most unique and valuable item that Playboy ever sold. The Femlins were cartooned figures created by LeRoy Neiman in 1955 when Hugh Hefner wanted the Party Jokes section of the magazine to be adorned with an amusing creative element. Their name is a cross between "female" and "gremlin" and they also apparently prefer to cover up every part of their body except for the private ones! In the early 1960s these naughty figurines would set you back only $25, but today they are worth a LOT of smackers--a seller I found online was asking between $6,000 and $9,000 for his full set. A seller on eBay is asking nearly $2,000 for just one. Throughout the years, the femlins have adorned mugs, candles, books, shotglasses and playing cards, and still appear in the magazine. 

    Playboy jewelry...earrings, cuff links, bracelets and a tie tack. Such simple trinkets, but why they're no longer offered in the product line (well, except for the tie tack) is beyond me. 

    The smell of sex, in a bottle.

    Well, this is one item that hasn't make a comeback, at least not yet. I published a post a few years ago on the popularity of pipe smoking in the 50s and 60s and while I'm not a fan of smoking, I must admit that pipes as a wardrobe element are kind of cool (my father smoked one, so maybe that has something to do with it.) By the time this ad was published, pipe customers were no longer limited to grandfathers in rocking chairs; the average American male was shown in many ads featuring unrelated products, perhaps to enhance the masculinity. Since Hefner loved his pipes during this time, it only makes sense that Playboy would issue its own. 

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    The smartphone is both a blessing and a bane of our modern existence. I'd be a hypocrite if I said I never used my mobile phone or didn't find it useful, but then again, I use it far less than the average American. Mobile devices are taking over our daily lives and draining society of whatever shred of social skills and human connectivity we still have left. Everywhere you go, someone is sitting or walking while staring at a tiny screen. And that's more than a little sad and pathetic--it's downright scary.

    One of the pleasures of watching a movie or TV show that was made or takes place before the 1990s is the absence of mobile devices. Of course, sci-fi enthusiasts and technology makers always fantasized about using phones where you could see the person you were speaking to, and wearing watches that doubled as communication devices. How cool we thought that would be! Now that that George Jetson fantasy is here, the reality of our situation seems far less sweet. Nothing is worse than someone using their phone in a movie theater, church, or during an intimate live performance of a play or concert. Actually, something is worse--texting/scrolling on mobile devices has caused car accidents and people to walk aimlessly off subway platforms (the jury's still out, I guess, on whether mobile phones cause cancer, but I remember meeting one guy in a meetup group who worked for a mobile phone company and insisted that they did.)

    I'm old enough to remember when mobile phones first started to permeate society and I still remember the first clunky model I purchased in the 1990s. When they could only function as a phone, all was fine and dandy. Even when engineers were able to whittle down shoebox sized mobile phones into the flip variety that fit in your pocket, they still didn't annoy me, despite my crossing paths with the occasional dolt who would shout into them in a public place or use them in the restroom while taking a whiz. There was no need to keep the phone out and in front of our faces during every waking hour.

    No, the moment we became doomed was when the internet, texting capabilities, games, and recording devices were incorporated into mobile phones. Now no one can go 5 minutes without scrolling that screen. It's gotten so bad that some people leave them on all night, and even check them when they get up to use the bathroom--a common scenario that Arianna Huffington addressed on the Ellen show, advising people to turn off their phones and put them away when they retire for the night, lest they jeopardize getting enough sleep. Can people really not resist checking their phones at ungodly hours?

    A friend of mine was surprised to learn recently that I don't keep my mobile phone turned on 24 hours a day and on some days, I don't turn it on at all. When I was working, I only turned it on during the weekends or at night if I'm leaving the house to meet with someone who may need to reach me. Now that I'm job hunting, I leave it on during the day since my mobile number is the one I provide on my resume but at night, it still gets powered down. Even my laptop--which is getting a lot more usage these days since I've been out of work--can really get to me after a few hours. I have to take frequent breaks from it or I'll go nuts. 

    I follow a dating coach's blog, and his rallying cry that is often repeated for both single men and women is that they absolutely must refrain from using their mobile devices if they have any hope of connecting with someone attractive they may meet while out and about. How can you expect to meet anybody if you're constantly connected to a device that makes you oblivious to all of your surroundings?

    What's even more disturbing to me is the next incarnation of mobile devices: wearable tech, such as Google Glass. Google Glass recently got a San Francisco woman into a lot of trouble, when she wore them to a bar and her annoyed fellow patrons started intimidating her and trying to snatch them off her face. Well, what did she expect walking around looking like a cyborg, wearing a contraption that can record people's every move and word without their knowledge? Thanks to her poor judgment, we have a snappy new term that aptly describes a person who converses with their Google Glass instead of the outside world: glasshole. 

    Is it a great thing that we have so many useful tools and apps packed into a small gadget that essentially holds our entire life? I still think so--but I think people need to use them more wisely. Get off the grid more frequently. Turn them off more often, don't use them so much when you're supposed to be paying attention to other people and for crying out loud, stop staring at one when you're walking down the street. Otherwise, I won't bother warning you about the open manhole you're about to walk into. 

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    File these ads under "wow--what were they thinking?" Or maybe, "were they thinking at all?" I have no explanations for these copywriting gaffes...if they were gaffes at all, and completely intentional to get attention. (And I think the above "ad" for Pontiac was Photoshopped. The original brochure photo found online did not have the "Spread Your Legs" copy.) So, without further ado...

    Well, what do you think? Which one looks the most "rapey" to you? Talk about a poor choice of words. Couldn't they have just substituted drafting wills?

    It's funny to think of a father licking his child, but even funnier when you learn what the word really meant. You see, kids, back in the day, "lick" was slang for "ass whupping" or "beat the sh*t out of"...which is kind of ironic considering this is an ad about constipation and that's exactly what the father wants to do to his son with the help of a hairbrush. If only little Johnny would just eat his vegetables, none of this would be an issue. 

    A little less retro due to the website address provided in the ad, but how could I not share this one. There ain't nothin' like the whiff of grandma's muffin!

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  • 04/10/14--08:46: Mickey Rooney's Racist Role

  • Mickey Rooney passed away earlier this week at the age of 93, and he's being remembered for many beloved roles; as a horse lover, two that come to mind instantly for me are the jaded jockey Mi Taylor in National Velvet, and the aging horse trainer Henry Dailey in The Black Stallion. But another role--which was omitted in many online retrospectives of Rooney's career--is memorable because of its awfulness, and that was when he portrayed a Japanese man in the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

    This is the Mickey Rooney role that most media sites didn't want to mention this week. I bring it up only because it's a good example of how racist Hollywood used to be towards people of Asian descent. It's so bad that it routinely makes lists of the most racially offensive movie characters, right up there with Long Duk Dong (cue the gong sound effect) of Sixteen Candles (who at least was played by an Asian actor, instead of a Caucasian actor wearing makeup.) 

    I've never read Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, so I can't speak to how the character is portrayed in the book. I only know that the movie version is one of the worst caricatures of an Asian on the screen. Buried under makeup, Rooney is nearly unrecognizable playing I.Y. Yunioshi, Holly Golightly's neighbor (and if I'm not mistaken, her landlord as well.) He has huge buckteeth, squinty eyes, glasses, and is portrayed as a clumsy, vision impaired oaf, repeatedly hitting his head on his bedroom lantern and bumping into doors. He also yells at Holly in an outrageous Japanese accent and mangles her name ("Miz Gorighty!")

    While some movie reviews at the time openly criticized the character, it wasn't until the 1990s that the role received a lot more attention than it had when the film was first released in 1961. In the 1993 biopic about Bruce Lee, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Lee and his date walk out of the movie theater where Breakfast at Tiffany's is playing because of the way the character is depicted and the audience's reaction:

    I will admit that when I first saw Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mickey Rooney made me laugh--not because I thought the character was actually funny, but because I couldn't believe the absurdity of it all. That's Mickey Rooney? I kept asking myself. And then I felt embarrassed for him. In his defense, by the time Rooney made this film his star had been dwindling in Hollywood for a while. A former child star who had enlisted in the U.S. Army during WWII, Rooney found upon his return that the movie roles just weren't as plentiful. He starred in a television series and turned to directing for a while. Breakfast at Tiffany's was one of the few big-screen parts he was lucky enough to get during this career slump. 

    This was also a time when Hollywood just wasn't acknowledging Asian actors, instead preferring to hire well-known names to play the parts, such as Tony Randall in the 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and Peter Sellers playing an Indian doctor in The Millionaires. However, even those roles weren't as over-the-top as I.Y. Yunioshi. 

    In 2008, Breakfast at Tiffany's was on the outdoor summer film schedule in Sacramento, California until much protesting caused organizers to substitute Ratatouille instead. also took aim at the film's outdoor screening in Brooklyn in 2011.

    Rooney himself remained blissfully unaware that the character was seen as offensive until a 2008 interview, where he claimed Asian fans had approached him over the years and told him he was funny. "Blake Edwards...wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director. They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it....Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it--not one complaint. Every place I've gone in the world people say, 'God, you were so funny.' Asians and Chinese come up to me and say, 'Mickey you were out of this world.'" Rooney also said that if he'd known people would be so offended he wouldn't have taken the role. 

    The fact that he mentioned Asians and "Chinese" is a whole other blog post.

    Has Hollywood learned its lesson yet? Perhaps not--the 2007 comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry featured an uncredited role by Rob Schneider as an Asian minister. Speaking about the I.Y. Yunioshi role, New York Daily News columnist Jeff Yang said it best when protesters tried to ban the film during the 2011 Brooklyn airing: "Far from boycotting the movie or even begrudgingly accepting it, I think it should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to fully understand who we are as a culture, how far we've come and how far we still need to go."

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    If you went to see a movie in a Maryland theater between 1960 and 1981, then anything you watched--even if it was a Disney film--was approved by Mary Avara and her movie censor board. For 21 years, Avara served as the head of The Maryland State Board of Censors. A feisty Catholic Italian grandmother who invoked the ire of filmmakers and movie critics, she gained celebrity status in the 1970s because of her fierce stance on pornographic pictures, making several appearances on TV talk shows hosted by Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas, as well as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

    I was reminded of Mary Avara when I watched The Wolf of Wall Street, as the never ending parade of nude women, sex, drug use and swear words would not have passed muster with her. Lots of people accused her of being a cranky old prude. In all of her interviews, however, Avara insisted that she didn't have a problem with nudity on the screen, or even sex, but with the way sex was portrayed when women were degraded or brutalized in a film, particularly in the porn industry that was gaining prominence in the 1970s. "My parents had sex and it wasn't dirty. My mother had 18 children. I got a family myself. I'd be pretty stupid if I didn't know what sex was," she told The Evening Sun in 1985. "The love between a man and his wife is a beautiful secret to be shared by them alone. But when love is expressed in front of a crowd on the street or the top of an automobile, it becomes as ugly as it is ridiculous. You can call that kind of stuff art or culture until you're blue in the face, but you can't change my mind about it," she said. 

    "The actors--if you could call them that--were like acrobats: inside out, upside down, all numbers and combinations, gigantic closeups of some of the worst-looking things I ever seen in my life. I made up my own ratings: G for garbage and R for rotten. How else could you describe such filth?"

    Wherever Mary Avara appeared, someone usually argued with her over censorship and the right to artistic freedom. She got into an on-air tussle with Bobby Darin on The Mike Douglas Show in 1970, and with movie critic Rex Reed on the same show in 1974 when Deep Throat was released. Darin comes across as very articulate in the appearance, and claimed that as a parent he should have the right to decide what his son would be allowed to see, not a state board. Avara countered that not everyone had good enough parents who could make those judgments, and that she did her job to protect the youngsters. Reed actually admitted that he understood Avara's point of view, and was torn between arguing with her and agreeing with her. 

    I feel the same way myself. Censorship is dangerous territory. The problem with censorship is that everyone has a different opinion on what kind of content in a movie should be censored (Avara herself never really answers the question in the Mike Douglas clip about what constitutes her definition of a dirty movie.) And of course, everyone should have the right to decide for themselves what they would like to watch and what their kids should be allowed to watch (even if their judgment is bad.) But like Avara, I'm not a fan of porn and the way women have been portrayed in many of these movies. And like her, I would struggle to label such a film--or any film that completely turns me off--as a "form of artistic expression." But what turns one person off doesn't turn others off--I loved Django Unchained; the friends I went to see it with flinched and covered their eyes during many of the violent scenes.

    You can't blame Avara for being so outspoken. During the 1970s, filmmakers--and not just porn ones--were starting to push the envelope with increased violence, swearing, nudity and sex in their work. In the movie rating system's early years, several mainstream films earned the "X" rating: A Clockwork Orange (1971), Midnight Cowboy (1969), and Last Tango in Paris (1973.) 

    Of course, being banned can often be a blessing in disguise for a movie. One of Avara's biggest foes was director John Waters. He was still an inspiring director in the 1970s when she took aim at two of his underground films--Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble--which wouldn't have gained notoriety if she hadn't been so vocal about her contempt for them. She once quipped that saying his name "makes my mouth feel dirty" and that she had a special rating for his films, R.T. for "real trash." 

    In his 1981 book "Shock Value," Waters described his experiences with Avara: "Her Baltimore accent is so heavy, and she uses such bad English that I almost needed a translator to understand her. I looked at her crooked wig hat and polyester pants suit and realized there was no point in arguing style." Steve Yeager, who produced two documentaries on Waters, noted ironically that with her larger than life persona, Avara was not unlike the quirky Baltimore characters in many of Waters' films. 

    It should probably come as no surprise that Avara began her career as a South Baltimore bail bondswoman, before being appointed by the governor of Maryland to serve on the state's censor board beginning in 1960. She was paid $2,000 a year (which increased to $4,500 by 1981) to watch movies and she often brought her knitting along. 

    In 1981, the Maryland Senate, led by Senator Howard A. Denis (who was not exactly a fan of Avara's) refused to renew the annual $90,000 appropriation which included the censors' salaries. Avara expressed disappointment at the time, saying that she would continue to do her work without a salary if she could ("I was doing something I was really proud of," she explained.) She passed away in 2000 at the age of 90. 

    Maybe she was secretly a fan of smut?

    Love her or hate her, you have to admit the lady had guts.

    Here's some clips of Avara's aforementioned TV appearances in the 1970s:

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    I've complained on here before about the way people--Americans in particular--dress today, but the topic is worth revisiting. The massive decline in dressing nicely and appropriately in our country has gotten so bad that Bill Maher addressed our world of "slob culture" on Real Time in October 2013 (when Crocs were introduced in the late 90s, Maher quipped that people won't be happy until they can go shopping in a diaper) and I've read numerous blog posts attesting to how our European counterparts dress compared to us (hint: we've really let ourselves go.)

    Some might say I'm being snooty, superficial, judgmental--and maybe even a bully for having this opinion. I'm not saying that I have a problem with people wearing t-shirts, shorts, etc. when running errands, by the way. I love to dress casually myself and it would be pretty ridiculous to don a dress and gloves to pick up milk and bread, like they did in the 1950s. However, there is such a thing as being too casual. To me, it's not a question of bullying but of having respect for oneself and others when out in public to dress in a way so that we're not subjecting innocent bystanders to seeing a body part where normally the sun doesn't shine. This is the reason why sites like People of Walmart get the attention they do--many of the images on there are so unbelievably grotesque and repulsive (breasts, bellies, and butts spilling out of too tight fabric; underwear missing altogether; bodily fluids leaking onto the aisle floor) they make me throw up in my mouth.

    It seems nowadays that the only time people make an effort to dress up is when they HAVE to, like at job interviews, weddings, and funerals. And from what I hear, slob nation is making its way into those social situations, too. People today just don't seem to give a s*it about their appearance and the way they present themselves. 

    The Canadians apparently take more pride in their appearance than we do. Consider a recent story in the news about Mitchell Casado--a Canadian flight simulator pilot working for uFly--who was fired for not dressing professionally enough. He had appeared regularly on CNN to discuss the missing Malaysian airliner wearing jeans and open plaid shirts, which didn't sit well with viewers, who told uFly's owner that he was "shaming Canadians" and making the country look bad to the rest of the world. Despite warnings from his boss, Casado refused to upgrade his on-air wardrobe and was subsequently fired. I have one word for uFly's owner and his decision: huzzah!

    Coco Chanel once famously said, "Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably, and they remember the woman." That quote must be extended today to both sexes. Women notice certain things when they first see a man--his eyes, his smile, his shoulders. What do I always notice? The way he is dressed. Every time. Unfortunately, so many men today in this country seem to be horrendous dressers. (Side note: I am not laying all of the blame on men here. Women dress sloppily, too--but as a single woman, I've noticed a few things about guys that have turned me off.) 

    I have seen too many men dressed inappropriately in fine restaurants and other venues that call for some professionalism: baseball caps (a huge no-no when worn indoors, guys--remember that scene from The Sopranos?), wife beaters or tank tops (that expose their tattoos; lovely), baggy items that are way too large, sweatshirts, t-shirts, shorts, sneakers and sandals. I saw this very "ensemble" time and time again in men's online dating profiles for their main profile photos. And on the rare occasion they used a photo where they were wearing a suit, again, it was often way too large, unflattering, and clearly hadn't been tailored or chosen more carefully. 

    I went to a Meetup event after work once that was held in the downstairs lounge of a nice local restaurant. The guys who showed up--many of whom were single--looked like they were about to go hiking or to the beach. It was pathetic and unimpressive. Whatever happened to the saying "the clothes make the man"?
    Suits, ties, and dresses: Ah yes, the way people used to dress for summer BBQs. Extreme? Maybe, but have you seen the way people dress today?
    Take a look sometime at how male movie stars are dressed for a magazine shoot, and especially European celebs. They are always wearing a suit that's been tailored to work with their physique, and fit them properly, or a nice jacket over a button down shirt. Even the way they dress casually is heads and tails above us. Their pants are slimmer than that staple of American men's closets, chino pants--American guys say this style looks "gay"; I say it looks way more flattering than baggy pants (though part of the reason the slim pant trend will never catch on here is because of men's weight issues, which is another blog post entirely.)

    But I digress...this post is about how people in general dress today. I'm not asking that every man dress like Don Draper and go to work wearing a suit, tie, and hat (but us ladies would certainly not complain if the working world looked like that again, just saying.) I am asking for someone who dresses like a gentleman and presents himself professionally when the venue calls for it. A nice fitted sweater or button down shirt and clean shoes, for example, goes a long way. 
    Even the mod youth culture of 1960s England was made up of some pretty snazzy dressers...(picture via Paul Townsend on Flickr)
    It's interesting to look at vintage photos of any decade of the 20th century through the 1980s, and compare it to your average shopping mall photo of today. I'd say it was around the late 1990s that people gradually started slacking off more and more in the wardrobe department, perhaps due to the widespread adoption of casual Fridays in the workplace (which eventually became casual Monday through Friday) and the rise of the dotcom industry, with its laid back company culture (which allowed people to ride scooters inside the office; I worked for one of these places myself.) It was a privilege to wear jeans on Fridays, but now it seems we've gone to the other extreme, and in many offices the dress code is too lax or non-existant. 

    Today's pop culture doesn't help, either. Have you seen what celebs wear in public (when not posing for those magazines, of course) vs. how they used to dress when not filming a movie? A lot of so-called "stars" look like they left the local homeless shelter. The baffling popularity of reality TV shows like Duck Dynasty seems to send a weird message to men that walking around in camouflage with a beard and hair down to your nipples is sexy. 

    Whatever the reason, I refuse to believe that lack of money is the main cause for dressing like slobs. As Maher pointed out in his on-air editorial, if you can afford $17.99 pajama bottoms with the Budweiser logo on them, then you can afford the $11.99 jeans at Target. Or in my neck of the woods, if you have hundreds of dollars to drop on Red Sox tickets, beer, and hotdogs, you have more than enough for a decent coat or jacket. 

    I could go on and on about this topic all day, but I guess I will end on a positive note: if I'm ever having an "ugly" day, all I have to do to cure it is make a visit to my local store.

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    So I just finished watching this movie called Tuff Turf and I have a bold yet exciting premonition to announce: keep your eyes on this James Spader kid, because I have the feeling he's going to be huge! I'm telling you, this blonde dreamboat has got the Hollywood "it" factor and he's gonna be a bona fide star and the thinking women's sex symbol. Just remember that you heard it here first on Go Retro! You're welcome.

    OK, so Tuff Turf was released in 1985, nearly 30 years ago. And as everyone knows, James Spader did gain notoriety and now has a myriad of admirable film, stage and television roles under his belt (most notably on NBC's The Blacklist.) But it's interesting to note that it wasn't Tuff Turf that got him noticed (even though it was his first starring role in a film) but Pretty in Pink, which came out in a year later. I confess that up until recently, I had never heard of the movie Tuff Turf and I certainly do not remember seeing any publicity for it in the 1980s. Despite that, for a forgotten teen exploitation film it seems to have a cult following--with many fans considering it to be one of the best films of the 80s era. I would have to disagree--much of it is downright awful--but I will say if you're looking for a film that looks the part of the 80s in regards to big hair, fashion, and soundtrack music (and not always in a good way) then this one certainly nails it. 
    Things I learned from watching this movie: James Spader actually has a tattoo of a spade on his shoulder (a tattoo done the right way, like this, is hot.)
    Given my passion for actors I've deemed sexy, it should come as no surprise that Spader was my main motivation for watching this movie (OK, I'll admit it--if he weren't in this, I couldn't have gotten through it at all.) Had the movie been better written and more successful, it may have made him a teen mag cover darling with his image wallpapered across every locker room at every junior high in the country (including mine) after this movie was released. He's positively dreamy in it--a white high top sneaker-wearing rebel with a cause (and lush blonde locks that beg for my fingers to run through them) who has dance moves that are more than passable. He even "sings" in the movie, too, if you can forget for a few minutes that he's really lip synching to another performer's voice.
    Her forehead band drives me nuts in this movie
    Spader plays Morgan Hiller, a (formerly) rich kid whose family has moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles after his father's business fails. The night before the first day of school, Morgan is riding his bike through his skanky urban dwelling new neighborhood when a gang of teenage thugs attempt to mug a businessman waiting for the bus. Morgan foils the assault by spraying a can of soda in the perpetrators' faces as he rides by. The next day at school, he immediately gets called to the principle's office for riding his bike on the school grounds (what?) and is noticed by the group of hoodlums and their main moll, Frankie (played by Kim Richards, with crimped hair nearly as long as Crystal Gayle's and a wardrobe that any hooker would admire) who want revenge. Deep down, however, Frankie seems to be mirroring my thoughts while she carefully eyes Morgan: who is that mysterious stone cold fox and how can I get into his pants? 
    Proof that Robert Downey Jr. loves ESPRIT clothing
    In one of his classes, Morgan is befriended by Jimmy, played by Robert Downey Jr. I didn't even realize it was Robert Downey Jr. until the scene when Jimmy gives Morgan his switchblade to protect himself from the bullies. Outside at recess, Morgan discovers the school gang has confiscated his bike and are racing their cars in circle around it in the school's driveway. Whadya know, school officials aren't around and no one does a darn thing about it. Can someone explain why this is allowed, yet Morgan was reprimanded for simply riding his bicycle in the same area?

    The thugs eventually run over Morgan's bicycle (which flies through the air in that overly done, classic slow motion sequence.) Morgan's parents are furious when they discover him trying to repair his mangled bike, as if it was his fault. Dejected, Morgan leaves his house to go watch Jimmy's band play at a local warehouse. (Downey is the drummer and a sight to see, wearing nothing but a bowtie and pants that look like they came from a sex shop.)

    At the dance, Morgan grabs Frankie and starts twirling her around on the floor, much to her protests and the chagrin of her gang, who eventually chase him off and threaten him outside the warehouse. They also steal his Porsche and take it for a joyride. Oh, it really isn't Morgan's Porsche--he just drove it to the dance because he spotted the keys just dangling there in the ignition when no one would bite at his hitchhiking attempts. Who leaves the keys to their unlocked Porsche in the ignition? No one with a brain, but apparently this plot detail was necessary, because it conveniently lands the head thug Nick (and Frankie's boyfriend) in the pokey. 

    With Nick out of the way for the time being, Morgan soon gets his chance to woo Frankie when he and Jimmy pick her and her friend up while cruising around the neighborhood. The quartet end up at a Beverly Hills country club (Morgan's idea) and crash a private party  there for some free food. This was my favorite part of the movie, because I saw Spader slip suddenly into his future Raymond Reddington character from The Blacklist (fellow Blacklisters will know what I'm talking about), turning on the charm to canoodle his way into the party and schmooze with the guests. When the band takes a break, Morgan takes the stage and serenades Frankie with the lamest ballad possibly ever composed, something called "I Walk the Night":

    What follows this scene may be one of the most ridiculous dance sequences ever conceived, even by 80s' movie standards. Morgan and Frankie go to what is obviously an adult bar/club (how two underage teens would be granted access to this place is beyond me.) At this point, Jimmy and Frankie's girlfriend have disappeared. A Tower of Power-like band credited as Jack Mack and the Heart Attack starts to play, and Frankie starts dancing seductively on every square foot of the place--twirling, bending, strutting and even cartwheeling across tables, the bar, and the go-go dancer's poles--her long, crimped hair flowing closely behind. This goes on for what seems like an eternity, finally culminating in Morgan and Frankie's first passionate kiss. 

    Despite now having feelings for Morgan, Frankie for some unknown reason continues to see Nick (who has now, we assume, been released from jail without explanation.) Shortly afterwards, Nick asks Frankie's father for her hand in marriage--and Frankie doesn't protest. Despite all this, Frankie accepts Morgan's invitation to dinner to meet his parents...which ends with Frankie acting like a rude child and storming out of the house after Morgan's mother makes a comment about Frankie's mother, not realizing she is dead.

    The last half hour of the movie reminded me of the old saying about stepping in s*it and smelling like it, as Morgan's involvement with Frankie leads to his father landing in the hospital. As to be expected, there's a huge showdown between Morgan and the thugs in the warehouse, and Jimmy appears with a pair of Dobermans to help save the day. As horrible as it all is, the ending credits are the icing on the cake and not to be missed. They come at us from left field and feature another performance by Jack Mack and his band, singing "T! U! F! F! You're so TUFF!" No, really. 
    T! U! F! F! You're so TUFF!
    The dialogue in this movie is poorly written, and there are lots of pauses which seem like they were meant to fill the voids where the screenwriter couldn't think of anything to say. Another huge problem with this movie is its identity crisis. The film tries to be too many things at it a drama, action, teen romance, dance, or comedy movie? It is not even close to a John Hughes movie, although at times it tries to be. Spader's character seems to ramble all over the place, too...he's a leather jacket wearing rebel, a sweater sporting preppy boy, and a sentimental romantic rolled into one. 

    Despite its flaws, Tuff Turf is still worth viewing if you want to see Spader and Downey looking like kids very early in their careers, or if you need a dose of 1980s' cheesiness. As for me, I was left with a very serious craving to watch Pretty in Pink again, to see a teen drama/comedy/romance done right. 
    Note to self: this is the perfect photo for Photoshopping my head over Kim's...

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  • 05/17/14--13:56: So Long, Barbara Walters

  • Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of Barbara Walters. My distaste for her began sometime in the 1990s, when she started interviewing (and therefore bringing attention to) incarcerated perpetrators of high profile crimes and overexposed celebrities. Her "10 Most Fascinating People of (insert year here)" TV special started off innocently enough, but in recent years became a personal punching bag for me, when I would fantasize about interviewing the most fascinating people of, say, other words, people with actual talent who deserved the publicity. And don't even get me started on some of the cackle-hens she hired to share the table with her on The View. So why even post about her retirement at all?

    Because if it weren't for Barbara Walters, there may never have been an Oprah Winfrey, a Jane Pauley, a Katie Couric, a Joan Lunden, a Diane Sawyers, and countless other female reporters/ get the idea. I can't deny that Walters broke a glass ceiling for her industry and it wasn't always easy; she had to share the ABC anchor desk with the curmudgeonly Harry Reasoner, who would often voice his displeasure by throwing on-air barbs at Babs. Larry Flint was hoping she'd accept his $1 million offer to pose nude in Hustler. Over on Saturday Night Live, the writers poked fun at Walters' distinctive speech pattern (and mild impediment) via Gilda Radner with her "Baba Wawa" character. In Walters' 2008 autobiography Audition: A Memoir she tells of how her daughter told her about the character and insisted that she watch the sketch because she thought it was hilarious. Walters admitted to being less than amused. 

    Speaking of her autobiography, if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. Walters' childhood was fascinating. Her father was involved in show business, booking talent, producing the Ziegfeld Follies of 1943 and running the New York version of the Latin Quarter nightclub. He'd gain and lose fortunes through the years, but Walters enjoyed a close relationship with him and grew up surrounded by celebrities, which would come in handy later on since she said she never felt intimidated by them. Indeed, I can't deny that Walters knew how to talk to people, and often asked celebs and world leaders the questions that the public wanted to know (well, except for maybe what kind of tree Katharine Hepburn would be.) One of Walters' early accomplishments was writing a magazine article that later became a book called "How to Talk to Practically Anyone About Practically Anything" that she felt would help socially awkward, tongue tied people in social situations. 

    And because of that I have no choice but to wish Barbara Walters well with her retirement. It's the end of a television era, for sure. The View is going to a bit less cackling without Walters' presence. 

    By the way, click here for one of Gilda Radner's Baba Wawa skits.

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  • 05/19/14--14:10: The Junior High Dance
  • Note: none of these kids are my former classmates; it's just a random photo I grabbed.
    It's prom season, and I've seen a few bloggers waxing nostalgia about their big high school night. I actually don't remember too much about my own high school prom, because it was so normal. I went with my clique of equally dateless (and awesome) girlfriends, and from what I do remember, everyone was nice to each other. No, the prom that is still a hangnail in my memory is my junior high school prom, because it was one of the worst and humiliating nights of my life. 

    Or maybe technically it wasn't a prom, since this was the 9th grade we're talking about, but the unjustified hype surrounding it made it feel like a prom. When I was going to school, junior high consisted of grades 7-9 (today 9th graders in my town attend the high school, like they do in most school systems.) The school made a huge honking deal about sending us off to play with the big kids, and the last few weeks revolved around a series of events to celebrate our "graduation." One of these was the dance in question. 

    To say that junior high was a really rough time for me is like saying Jon Hamm isn't a bad looking guy. Bullies were to me what zombies are to The Walking Dead. There was no escaping them. Every hour of my average school day--from the bus stop to classes and recess--was full of bullies galore. And the girls were worse than the boys. Three of the girls at my bus stop lived across the street from me, and were all part of the "popular" crowd. They constantly took shots at my designer label-free wardrobe and nothing was off limits, even my Sears and Roebucks shoes that they referred to as the color of "shit brown" one particularly bad morning. Responding to them with the simple phrase of "F*ck you" backfired. They spent the rest of the week mocking me in my voice wherever I went. It didn't stop until I broke down in tears in front of my mother, who made visits to each girl's house to talk to their mothers. 

    Granted, I'll be the first to admit that if they handed out class awards for The Unsexiest Girl, I'd have won hands down, just squeezing out the Jehovah's Witness classmate who dressed like the women in the Warren Jeffs compound. I had short, layered hair that had been permed, big framed and thick lensed 1980s glasses, and I rarely wore makeup. I was also tall and skinny, which for some reason worked against me during this time. 

    So maybe it was very naive and not very wise of me to develop a crush on one of the popular guys in my grade, but we can't control our hormones. Looking back now, I don't know what I ever saw in Kevin Murphy. He really wasn't all that good looking (big nose, dark beady eyes in retrospect), more of a jock, and the one big thing I remember about him was when his mother died suddenly during the 8th grade. He came from an Irish Catholic family and had something like 10 or 11 brothers and sisters. As harsh as it sounds, I can only surmise that his mother's body simply gave out from having so many damn children.

    At the time of the 9th grade dance, Kevin was dating Stacy Gold--a popular girl with a loud, rude voice whose outward appearance matched her personality: she was butt ugly. She always had acne, which is ironic since I'm sure that if anyone else less worthy than her in our class had the same skin condition, she wouldn't have hesitated calling them pizza face and a variety of other nasty names. No amount of Aqua Net, teased hair, and supposedly trendy clothing could distract from her bad complexion. I'll never forget the time she played beauty expert and declared to our sex ed class that she rinsed her face with cold water because it closed her pores, preventing zits. I wish I had the courage to quip at the time about the lot of good it did her. 

    In my mind, however, I was determined to ask Kevin to dance with me during the junior high prom. Why? Because I had never danced with a boy before and I knew I wouldn't get another chance to dance with my crush. 

    At the dance, despite my flat chest, I wore a strapless cotton spring dress, feeling very grown up and yes, sexy. I'm sure I did wear makeup as I wanted to put my best foot forward. I hung out with my group of friends and decided that I couldn't ask Kevin to dance right away. Besides, I had to wait for the right moment when he wasn't dancing with Stacy. So first I asked another guy, Eric, whose last name escapes me.

    The reason I chose Eric is because he was a bit of a nerd. I figured he wouldn't turn me down; after all, he kind of acted like Monroe from Too Close for Comfort. But when the dance ended, Eric quickly stepped away from me and said not-too-subtly, "Well, that was nice. I'm glad it's over. Bye."

    His rudeness didn't deter me, though. I wanted to dance with Kevin. Ah, he was so handsome in his tux. So when my moment came--Starship's hit "Nothing's Going to Stop Us" started playing and Kevin wasn't dancing with Stacy, I made my move. 

    I was so nervous...I'm sure anyone who came within close enough proximity could hear my heart banging away against my ribcage. I'm sure my palms were getting damp and I'm sure my approach came out in a squeaky, shy, little girl voice: "Hi Kevin. Would you like to dance with me?" 

    Kevin hesitated and said "Uh...what?" but did proceed to dance with me once my request sunk in. 

    It should have been a private moment that lasted a couple of minutes, and just for the two of us--even if Kevin didn't speak to me during that time I didn't care; I just wanted to relish touching him and swaying to Starship and be left with a nice memory for the rest of my life. The first boy I ever danced with! 

    Instead, Stacy Gold pointed and laughed at me the entire time I danced with her date. She wouldn't stop pointing and laughing. Her friends noticed, and began to laugh. 

    Like someone who is awakening from a traumatic event, I don't remember what happened next. I'm pretty sure Kevin broke away from me before the song ended, disgusted by having to endure my presence so close to his and Stacy's taunts, and I doubt he said thank you or much else. I must have made my way back to the table. And then it actually got worse...

    The person who I had considered my best friend at that time, Heidi, came running up excitingly to me a few moments later. I thought she was going to support me, to say it was alright, that Kevin and his date are dicks and who needs him, anyway. Instead she bobbled up and down like Kelly Ripa after having 5 cups of coffee and excitingly blurted out, "You won't believe who I just danced with! Kevin Murphy!"

    This was someone that I had been friends with since kindergarten. We had pretty much spent every weekend, every school vacation, and every summer together for the past 9 years--sleepovers, pizza parties, movies, rollerskating, arcade visits, you name it. Lately, though, she had taken to saying odd things to me such as, "I dreamed that Don Johnson picked me up in a convertible for a date and we drove past you and waved and laughed." She knew about my crush for months--and apparently didn't give a snot. I do not remember what my response was to her, but I do know it was the end of the friendship. Being betrayed by a friend in this way felt far worse than the rejection of the object of my affection. 

    As it turned out, entering high school after that summer was the best thing to happen to me at that time. I was worried that people would continue to taunt me, but the merging of our class with members of the other junior high across town seemed to make everyone more accepting. I met the most wonderful group of friends, and many of us have connected on Facebook and are still friends today. I grew out the perm and gradually learned how to dress and present myself (something which I feel I didn't completely grasp until the past few years.) All of the "popular" kids just kind of did their thing and left me alone. I didn't date anyone until college, but the scars of what happened to me that night have reappeared a couple of times to let me know I still had some releasing to do--and now that the incident has been written and published, I feel like that releasing is now complete. 

    Why write about this incident in my life at all, more than 25 years after it happened? Because 1. it needed closure and final forgiveness like I said (yes, despite my jabs I do forgive all of these dolts, since I know the past can't be changed) and 2. I feel for kids that are being bullied, because it was a big part of my life for many of my school years. It's even worse today now that most kids are using social media, and teasing and bullying is prevalent online. It was bad enough in the 1980s; today I can't even imagine. 

    There's a third reason. I'm really proud of the woman that the 15 year-old socially awkward, shy girl grew up to be. The 42 year-old in me now would put those 9th grade snots in their place and make them polish my shoes with their corsages. I'm pretty sure (with the exception of my former best friend) that if any of them passed me on the street today they wouldn't recognize me. (As it turned out, I did see Kevin Murphy in a local town video store about 7 years after high school graduation...with a verrrry bratty, unruly child in tow that he could not control. Like mother, like son with the early start on big family breeding? Good luck with that. And no, he didn't notice me.)

    There was a campaign launched a few years ago called It Gets Better. The project was aimed at gay teens who are enduring bullying, but I really think the message extends to anyone who is being teased or tormented. It may not happen right away, but it does get better. I'm proof of that. 

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    So I was doing some research into television variety shows of the past (in lieu of Maya Rudolph's flopped variety special on NBC a few weeks ago) when I came across some mentions of "the worst variety show ever" and "one of the worst shows in television history." A show so horrendously bad that it only lasted for 5 weeks and its 6th episode never aired on TV. We're talking about the 1980 variety show Pink Lady (later called Pink Lady and Jeff. To be honest, I had never heard of this show--but its name and quick death intrigued me. More amazingly, I also learned that this flop had been produced by our old friends, Sid and Marty Krofft. Well, that did it. I had to learn more about it!

    For starters, let's explain who Pink Lady and Jeff were. Pink Lady was a Japanese female duo comprised of Mitsuyo Nemoto ("Mie") and Keiko Masuda ("Kei.") The girls were superstars in their native Japan, supposedly selling more albums there than The Beatles (a very common, overused, and probably often inaccurate comparison metric that has been cited throughout musical history since the Fab Four broke up.) They had a hit here in the States in 1979 with the disco tune "Kiss In the Dark" and were one of only two Japanese artists to have charted on the Billboard Top 40 (the other honor goes to Kyu Sakamoto with his hit "Sukiyaki.") The girls were childhood friends who were discovered on a Japanese talent show in the mid-70s. After "Kiss In the Dark" became an American hit, they were featured on a news show hosted by Walter Cronkite, which is how Sid and Marty Krofft got wind of them. 

    Fred Silverman, the President and CEO of NBC at the time, saw them on Cronkite's program and decided he could cash in their success. He brought Pink Lady to the Krofft's attention to produce a variety show for them. The show would be co-hosted by comedian Jeff Altman--you know him from The Starlight Vocal Band and the film American Hot Wax. (After Pink Lady and Jeff, he would go on to appear regularly on Solid Gold.)

    In keeping with Japanese quirkiness, Sid Krofft felt the show should be "the strangest thing that's ever been on television." Silverman insisted that it should be more like Donnie & Marie, and Krofft gave in.  

    There was one huge problem...the women didn't understand English, despite having recorded songs in the English language. That became apparent within minutes of meeting with the Krofft brothers, who had been informed otherwise. Thus the girls' heavy accents and mispronunciation of words became a running (and rather politically incorrect) gag on the show, with Altman trying to explain things to them, leading to more confusion. Each show ended with the girls declaring "hot tub time" with Altman, Pink Lady, and their guests getting into a hot tub before the closing credits rolled...a cheesy excuse to show the girls in bikinis to viewers each week. 

    The language barrier meant that Pink Lady had to pre-record songs to be performed on the show, and lip-sync them in front of the audience. It also caused problems for the writers, since any last minute changes to the script weren't allowed because Mie and Kei wouldn't be able to learn them in time. 

    Another problem with the show was the waning interest in variety programs by the late 70s. The format was considered to be an older audience's favorite, and advertisers were looking to reach younger viewers. The show had to coerce its guest stars into appearing with hefty paychecks, but the list of star power that appeared on Pink Lady in only a span of 5 weeks is amazing: Blondie, Sherman Hemsley, Larry Hagman, Sid Caesar, Donny Osmond, Cheap Trick, Hugh Hefner, Lorne Greene, Alice Cooper, Red Buttons, Florence Henderson and Jerry Lewis were all guest stars. Roy Orbison also appeared on the last episode of the show, which never aired on television, but which is included on the DVD: 

    Because so few clips of the show exist on YouTube, it's difficult for me to make a fair enough assessment of how awful the show really was. Yes, it looks corny and stupid, but is it really any more cringe worthy than some of the reality shows on TV today? I don't know, given the choice between The Real Housewives of... and Hugh Hefner warbling through "Chicago...My Kind of Town" with a bevy of Playboy bunnies, I'd opt for the latter. Honestly, I find Altman way more annoying and unfunny in the few clips I've seen than Pink Lady. 

    One interesting tidbit about the show is that Jim Varney, who would later gain fame as his Ernest character, got an early career start on Pink Lady as a recurring comedy sketch actor.

    The premiere had bad ratings, and the show was moved to Friday nights, which is where TV shows go to die. It was cancelled after only 5 weeks. You might be glad to know that their failed American TV career didn't tarnish Pink Lady's reputation. They performed a farewell concert in 1981, reunited in 1996, and celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2003 with a successful tour. 

    Here's one of the hot tub scenes that wrapped up each show. Do any of my readers remember Pink Lady and Jeff?

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    (Author's note: this post spares everyone trivia tidbits about this movie; instead this is about my observations on the film and its lasting impact on me. Also please note that I have not seen the film Prometheus, although I understand it's a prequel of the Alien franchise and have heard spoilers here and there.)

    I was in the 5th or 6th grade when I first heard about the chilling "chestburster" scene in Alien, and still remember the moment to this day. One of my classmates--who was also one of the class bullies--had brought his Kenner Alien action figure to school and described to us in disturbing detail, and with much gusto (which included swinging his arm hard, with a closed fist, in a punching motion) about the scene where the baby alien bursts out of John Hurt's chest. Some of my female classmates actually gasped. 

    I hadn't seen the movie yet even though it had been released a few years earlier, and I was now scared but also strangely curious about watching it. Looking back, I'm surprised that my brother didn't take me to see it when it was released during Memorial Day weekend in 1979. After all, he had tugged me along to see Jaws in 1975, when I was just three and a half years old. It was my earliest motion picture experience in a theater, and I loved it. I vividly recall the opening scene with the swimming girl getting pulled into the water, and the ominous music. Even at my young age, I knew the shark wasn't real. I wasn't scared. But Alien was in a different realm altogether; many critics declared it the most frightening movie that had ever been released at the time, with heartstopping special effects. Yeah, it probably was a wise decision that my brother didn't take his 7 year-old sister to see a movie about space creatures busting out of people's bodies. 

    It wasn't until I was a pre-teen that I finally saw Alien--with my parents, when it aired on ABC, of all places. Thinking back, it's amazing that the movie wasn't edited all that much for prime time viewing, because the infamous Kane death scene was virtually the same as when I watched it on YouTube years later. And, honestly, I have to thank ABC for keeping it intact, or I wouldn't still be thinking about the movie from time to time 35 years after it premiered in theaters. OK, I'll admit it: I think about it every time I get a belly cramp. 

    Alien truly is a work of art. It would be too simple to call it a horror movie. To quote my friend and former coworker Vinny, "(It's) not a horror movie, (but) a terror movie. There's a difference. There are monsters onscreen for all of like ten minutes total." Indeed, it's what we can't see in Alien that makes it so terrifying, along with the pacing of the film. It sets a tone and makes us wait. You also never get a really good look at the creature, at least not for more than a few seconds. Director Ridley Scott knew what he was doing: "I've never liked horror films before, because in the end it's always been a man in a rubber suit. Well, there's one way to deal with that. The most important thing in a film of this type is not what you see, but the effect of what you think you saw." 

    "It's alive!" Giger and his xenomorph creation.
    The effect of what we think we saw has been haunting us now for 35 years. It's timely that the Swiss artist H. R. Giger passed away just a few weeks ago. When Alien screenwriter Dan O'Bannon saw Giger's nightmarish work, he knew it could work for the film, and introduced Scott to it. If you've never seen Giger's work--and it is as impressive as it is creepy--I recommend not viewing it online just before you go to bed. The alien was already there in all its scary splendor in Giger's 1976 painting Necronom IV. Giger was recruited for the movie's set designer team and was responsible for creating not just all life stages of the alien but the inside of the derelict spacecraft the team comes across as the beginning of the movie and the surface of the planet it rests on. A whole new extraterrestrial world was created and shown to us on the screen--the likes of which we hadn't seen before. 

    But it's not just the monster that makes the movie so bone chilling; it's the claustrophobic nature of the Nostromo spacecraft, with its tight quarters, rooms, and hallways. It's the fact that humans are the prey in this story. 

    The crew of the Nostromo were supposed to be average, working class Joe schmoes, another aspect that makes the movie scary, as we can relate to them more. I appreciate that everyone cast for the film was not especially glamorous looking (yes, even Sigourney Weaver in her Ripley role is a plain jane to me.) Had the movie been made today by a different director and crew, Hollywood would insist on hiring the prettiest people they could get for the money. 

    Even the official trailer is scary and brilliantly done, never giving away anything (unlike many of today's movie previews.) I've never seen it before until now and it literally gave me chills. One can imagine the anticipation this must have built up before the film was released:

    It wasn't until just a few years ago that I learned just how much Alien drips with sexual imagery, and I don't just mean Sigourney Weaver in a space capsule wearing skimpy panties and a tanktop. Giger's work doesn't shy away from male genitalia, so it shouldn't be too surprising that the alien itself (also known as a xenomorph) is phallic shaped at birth and its head, when fully grown, looks like a penis. For as far removed the characters are in space and time, surrounded by technology, there's no escaping the universe's basic--and ancient--biology. We get the sense that these creatures have existed for millions of years, long before human existence--the fossilized "space jockey" with the ripped open ribcage that the crew encounters early in the film alludes to this fact. Knowing all this makes the movie even more delightfully disturbing to me. Some viewers have even speculated that the film is a feminist statement and is "payback" for all of the times a female character was brutalized, raped and murdered on-screen; after all, the lone survivor at the end of the story is a woman, and all of her male colleagues (and one female and one android) have been killed off. One is violated in an almost sexual manner as a facehugger breaks through his helmet and forces its way down his throat. 

    Speaking of the infamous chestburster scene, I have to admit that I am a big fan of the British actor John Hurt, who plays Kane in Alien. So much so that a proper tribute to him has been long overdue on this blog. It saddens me to see him suffer such a horrific death in this movie and yet the scene has become so iconic that he's almost Christ-like in his performance. I was disheartened to see comments a while ago on YouTube about how "awful" and "cheesy" the special effects looked during this moment of the movie, according to younger viewers who had never seen it before. In my opinion the scene is just as unsettling and graphic to me today as the first time I watched it, especially after watching a documentary on the making of the movie (again, not something I recommend viewing right before shutting out the lights.) A lot of physical work went on behind the scenes to make it look realistic: a fake model chest, an alien puppet, squirting blood. I've read that it was accomplished in one take. Had the movie been made today, it would have been created with a computer. 

    There are two factors that make it so terrifying. First, the build-up. It takes a while once Kane starts convulsing before the alien is born. You know something awful is about to happen but Ridley Scott makes us wait for it. (Side note: at one point during this scene you can see the spaceship's cat, Jones, casually washing himself in the background as if he couldn't care less, which as a cat lover I found highly amusing.) Second, the set and characters' clothing are bathed in white and bright light, which really accentuates the blood and gore. We didn't know much about Kane up until his violent, untimely death. I must admit that I've wondered what his personal life was back at home--did he have a girlfriend, a wife, children? We'll never know. The image of his wrapped, lifeless body being discarded as space trash is the saddest moment in the movie for me.

    The full grown alien was portrayed by a Nigerian born man named Bolaji Badejo. I wrote about Badejo and his quick lived Hollywood career on this blog a couple of years ago. He was a 26 year-old graphic design student having a drink in a London pub in 1978 when a casting agent for Ridley Scott noticed Badejo's tall, gangly frame and hired him to play the part of the alien. Badejo took his job very seriously, and it was not an easy one--the costume nearly suffocated him, the head of the alien weighed a ton, and a lot of KY Jelly was used to create the creature's saliva. Scott was hoping to show the alien doing a lot of almost acrobatic movements which proved impossible due to the costume's logistics. Badejo's story, sadly, does not have a Hollywood ending. He committed suicide sometime during the early 80s, and apparently was suffering from depression, which may or may not have been due to the fact that he was kept isolated from the rest of the cast so that he wouldn't scare them. His name is only mentioned in passing in the movie's Blu Ray box.   

    The only aspect that truly bothers me about Alien is the inclusion of the cat, Jones--I am an animal lover after all, but I suppose not knowing whether the cat is going to survive or not makes the movie that much more of a thrillride (I hate the scene, though, when Sigourney Weaver is running with Jonesy in tow and keeps banging the poor little guy against the walls as she tries to get to the space pod before the ship blows up.) 

    Lots of films have tried to emulate Alien and bank on its success, stealing plot details here and there (Mel Brooks' sci-fi spoof Spaceballs recreated the chestbursting, with John Hurt and a singing baby alien.) They may flatter but they can't recreate the same caliber of success. I know that Prometheus is a pre-quel of sorts of Alien, but I have no desire to see it, at least not at this time. I also didn't watch any sequels beyond 1986's Aliens, other than catching clips here and there on TV, as I felt it would diminish the legacy of the original. 

    No, I prefer to keep the questions of where xenomorphs come from unanswered, preserving the mystery--and the nightmares--of the movie that started it all in 1979. 

    (Why did I write this post and search for accompanying images just before going to bed???)

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    As a child of the 1970s and 80s, I grew up with lots of great, classic toys that I have fond memories of: Hasbro's ride-on Inchworm, Sears Kombi Kitchen, and Big Wheel to name a few. But there's one toy that I look back on and still shake my head over, and that's the Sit 'n Spin. 

    Really, what was the point of this toy? Playskool (the current manufacturer) states on its site that the toy "encourages balance and coordination." Are they pulling my leg? Because all it ever did for me was make me incredibly dizzy, nauseous, and would sometimes give me a headache. You couldn't use it for more than a minute at a time because any longer would give you those previously mentioned symptoms plus make you want to pass out. As a result, even at my tender age, I knew better enough after a few times not to use it anymore. It wasn't long before I soon saw it being discarded into a garbage bag and taken to the end of our driveway.  

    I know, I know, I know...I'm sure some Sit 'n Spin fanatic out there right now is exclaiming to him or herself, "Is she crazy?!? Who didn't love this toy, and throwing up all over mom's shag carpet after using it?"

    The toy was invented in 1973 for Kenner and is still being manufactured, which means it has existed for 41 years now. That means there's a demand for it--perhaps composed of sadistic parents who encourage their toddlers to knock themselves out using it. 

    The Sit 'n Spin is even more pointless in my opinion than Romper Stompers--those clippity-cloppity buckets made famous by Romper Room that you would stand up on and attempt to walk around in. I bashed them several years ago on this blog, which pissed off at least one Romper Stomper fan. But c'mon, using Romper Stompers while attempting to go down a flight of stairs was a recipe for disaster and a trip to the ER.

    Of course, what makes the Sit 'n Spin name all the more amusing to me today is its adult definition. Didn't Mimi on The Drew Carey Show often tell Drew to "sit on it and spin"? (If not, I'm sure I heard it on some sitcom on a regular basis.) I feel like repeating the phrase to whomever thinks the toy "encourages balance and coordination."

    I can appreciate the simplistic nature of the toy (sitting on the plastic bottom disk and spinning yourself around using the top one) and the fact that it is not technology-based. That's as far as my personal love for it can go. But today's kids must enjoy it or they wouldn't still be making it. 

    I am alone in my opinion? Did any of my readers have and absolutely adore the Sit 'n Spin?

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