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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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    All images from CityGal on Angelfire
    A few years ago I received an invitation in the mail to be part of a TV focus group event that was taking place at a local hotel. We were told that the group wanted the public's opinions on new TV pilots that had the potential to become full-fledged sitcoms. In exchange was the chance to win free groceries and other prizes. Little did I know at the time that it turned out to be a scam--the "pilots" that were shown to us were clearly anything but NEW programming. The clothing, hairstyles, cars and huge honking telephones were dead giveaways that they were filmed in the early 90s. One show we watched was about a woman who felt she had a past life connection with a love interest. The acting and storyline was so horrendous it could make any soap opera look like Downton Abbey.

    One sitcom that they aired, however, stands out to me to this day because it was the best one. It starred Valerie Harper and was called City. We were told that Harper was considering making a return to sitcom television and the network needed test audiences to provide their opinion of it. What they didn't reveal, however, is that City had already aired its entire 13 episodes on CBS from January through June 1990.

    City was Valerie Harper's return to sitcom television after her previous situation comedy, Valerie, resulted in her dismissal from the show over salary and contract disputes. Harper starred as city manager and widow Liz Gianni, who had to deal with the bureaucratic day-to-day job duties as well as a truly kooky staff (including a stupid security guard who coats himself with White-Out to ensure that no one could ever steal it) and her 19 year-old college dropout daughter, Penny, who is the cause of some household angst thanks to her dating choices.

    Unlike Valerie Harper's iconic Rhoda, Liz Gianni didn't sport headscarves, but she did have some amazing big hair in this series along with feminine power suits. Among her eccentric crew was Anna-Maria Batista (Liz Torres), a Cuban purchasing agent who pronounced "yep" as "jep," Wanda Jenkins (Tyra Ferrell), an African American secretary who was once married to a classical pianist, Gloria Elgis (Mary Jo Keenan), a city social worker and spoiled bubblehead, and Roger Barnett (Todd Susman), the assistant city manager with a weakness for gambling. Everyone reported to the corrupt Deputy Mayor Ken Resnick, played by Stephen Lee. No doubt the producers probably had the unique characters of Night Court in mind when the sitcom was conceived. 

    There were some weird coincidences between City and Valerie, which by this time had been renamed The Hogan Family after Harper's character was written off the show and replaced by a new female character played by Sandy Duncan. The actress who played Liz's daughter, Penny, on City was LuAnne Ponce--the sister of one of the boys who played Valerie Harper's son on Valerie, Danny Ponce. Valerie Hogan's husband on Valerie was named Michael, as was Liz Gianni's late husband on City. CBS also scheduled City to air opposite of The Hogan Family on NBC. 

    City is so elusive in television history that I couldn't locate any video clips to include in my post. For whatever reason, this show failed to secure a second season despite debuting with really great Nielsen ratings which held strongly through April 1990. It's a shame that it only lives on thanks to a lame research company's attempts to pass it off as modern-day TV fare. 

    As far as the research study scam, no real harm was done. They collected everyone's addresses, but I don't think they did anything with them as I didn't receive any unwanted junk mail as a result. Valerie Harper's husband considered suing the research company that aired the pilot of City across the country, as the use was unauthorized. At least these screenings have exposed some folks to a series that deserved to air longer than it actually did.



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    The Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon that Amanda at MadeForTVMayhem organized still marches on, and it's been wonderful seeing all of the love this week for one of our favorite TV ladies. I've had so much fun reading the other posts that I realized one of my own wasn't enough for me. So today I want to talk a bit about Rhoda Morgenstern's signature bohemian look and how Valerie Harper herself was inspired to create her character's fashion sense. Disclaimer: I'm pulling much of the details from a story The Hollywood Reporter posted a couple of weeks ago. 

    I'm sure that when many of us think of Rhoda, we immediately think of headscarves. "That's so Rhoda" I think to myself when I see someone wearing a scarf this way--even if it's in a fashion photo taken years before television audiences were introduced to Rhoda. Headscarves were to this iconic TV character what a leather jacket was to Fonzie, and what shoes would become years later to Carrie Bradshaw. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later for a bit on her spin-off sitcom, Rhoda, Mary's best friend was rarely seen without a colorful scarf tied around her head. 



    There actually seem to be two stories about how scarves found their way into Rhoda's closet. The first is that Valerie Harper's secretary used to wear scarves and inspired the look. 

    But according to The Hollywood Reporter, it was another woman who was responsible for being Rhoda's fashion muse. A forthcoming book by author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, MaryandLouandRhodaandTed: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show A Classic, explains that Rhoda originally was portrayed as a somewhat dowdy character, with baggy clothes that would keep her blended with the background. But Valerie Harper lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers, and she was inspired to kick her character's wardrobe up a notch when she saw Mary's stand-in, Mimi Kirk, hanging out on the set one day. 


    Kirk, a self-proclaimed "late hippie" and free spirit of her own, was wearing a scarf around her head and colorful clothing. Harper was inspired and asked the show's co-creator Allen Burns how he would feel if Rhoda dumped the "schlumpy" stuff. Rhoda, after all, was a creative individual; she worked as a window dresser for a department store. Why shouldn't her clothing reflect that artistic quirkiness?

    Burns was all for it and as Kirk told The Hollywood Reporter, she actually made a lot of Rhoda's scarves herself, as not every store scarf was the right size and shape to tie them just so around a head. A lot of Rhoda's headwear was crafted from fabrics including bed sheets and table clothes that Kirk would cut and sew. She also made a lot of Rhoda's jewelry and went to Harper's house for a little closet cleaning, getting rid of anything that Rhoda wouldn't wear. 

    I love this clip that I found the other day, which explains how to get the Rhoda look:




    It's interesting to note that by season three of the spin-off series Rhoda, the character was becoming a savvy businesswoman and underwent a wardrobe makeover, ditching the scarves and bohemian clothing for more workplace-oriented attire. Someone--perhaps the writers, perhaps Harper herself--felt that Rhoda needed to be less artsy and more sophisticated (not that scarves can't be sophisticated.) No matter. Rhoda was beautiful either way--and her trademark accessory lives on in television history. 


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    Photo via The Jane Austin Film Club
    Should I be ashamed that I had never heard of one of England's most prominent department stores, Selfridges, until PBS started promoting the premiere of the series Mr. Selfridge a few weeks ago? This latest Masterpiece Theater series premieres on Sunday, March 31 and stars cutie Jeremy Piven as the wheelin' and dealin' Midwestern American store mogul Harry Selfridge who made a name for himself when he opened up the first department store of its kind, Selfridges, in London in 1909. 


    An illustration of Selfridges' rooftop via Melbourne Blogger
    Big whoop, you may be saying. How exciting can a series about a department store be? That's what I thought until I found out that the flagship Oxford Street Selfridges at one time had a rooftop terrance that showcased gardens, parties, fashion shows, cafes, mini golf and even a ladies' gun club. Harry Selfridge also revolutionized the way customers shopped, by making a trip to the store fun and exciting. He started window displays and has been credited with coining the phrase "The customer is always right." (I am sure that many folks who work in service-related industries would like to slap him for creating that mantra.) Every detail of the store--from lighting to the way salespeople approached customers--was meant to provide a pleasurable shopping experience. Let's hear it for materialism!



    I am sure that the series' producers embellished the Selfridge saga with storylines and events that never took place and will play up Harry Selfridge's womanizing ways (Jeremy Piven looks like he's having too much fun with the ladies in the photo above to portray a dedicated family man.) According to the PBS site, a showgirl and "temptress" named Ellen Love will be one of the women drawn to Mr. Selfridge's charisma. PBS is clearly hoping to corral the Downtown Abbey fans like myself who are going through withdrawal, as the Selfridge promos starting airing the minute the last season of Downton ended. 

    Something sad and ironic to note, which may or may not be portrayed in the series: for all of his success, Mr. Selfridge went bankrupt during the Great Depression, pretty much because he couldn't curb his own spending habits and gambling addiction. 

    I guess we'll see how this plays out when Mr. Selfridge airs the first of its right episodes next Sunday on PBS. Here's a preview of the series:


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    Photo credit: Mathieu Meunier
    I know this blog has been quiet of late…and it's going to be even quieter as I'm leaving for Washington D.C. on Thursday for a mini-vacation and to see the cherry blossoms in the nation's capitol. In the meantime, there's something that's been on my mind lately. Go Retro is now six years old and in all that time there is a type of post I would love to do which hasn't been accomplished yet and that's to interview somebody. That's right, I'm looking for a great scoop--so consider this an open call to find someone relevant to pop culture history who wouldn't mind answering a few questions for this blog. Some of the subjects I have in mind include:

    *Someone who co-starred in a notable music video from the 80s who might have a story or two about the band/performer and the behind the scenes going-ons (I came close a few years ago when I almost got the woman who starred as Alice in Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" video, but she flaked on me. Pfffft. Her loss, right?)

    *Someone who worked behind the scenes on a notable TV sitcom or variety show from the 60s, 70s or 80s.

    *A former Playboy bunny who worked in one of the Playboy clubs

    *A former go-go or backup dancer for any of those variety/music shows

    *A roadie or groupie for a band/performer from the 60s, 70s or 80s

    *Someone who worked for or had a close encounter with the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or any other notable music group/performer from the era.


    You get my drift. Anyone who has a good story to tell. If you or someone you know fits the bill, feel free to email me at GoRetro1@hotmail.com.

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  • 04/15/13--11:53: Saxy Songs of the 80s

  • It must be the toughest gig these days to be a saxophone-playing session musician--you just don't hear them anymore in most mainstream music. One recent exception is Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" which featured the late Clarence Clemons. She gets an A for effort in my book, but the song still falls short of the memorable pop and rock tunes that prominently featured a sax--songs that all these years later we still remember for their sultry solos or melodies. 

    It's so strange to me that saxophones have disappeared as a pop music trend, as they're hip and sexy. And I'm sure we all know that no other decade personified the sax like the 80s did. It seems like every other song on the radio back then featured a saxophone. As with all other lists, this one is purely subjective...but here are the songs that had (in my opinion) the most memorable saxophones... 


    "You Belong to the City" -- Glenn Frey
    I was a big Miami Vice fan in the 80s, even though I was too young to know what was going on in every episode--the opportunity to drool over Don Johnson was my main motivation for watching the show. That, and the flashy clothing, cars and music. Miami Vice probably had the best soundtrack of any drama on TV at the time, and I still have a my copy...on cassette! One track that still stands out is Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City" because of the repeating saxophone riff throughout. Frey played all instruments on the song except for the sax...that was accomplished by studio musician Bill Bergman. 


    "Urgent" -- Foreigner
    This list wasn't put together in any particular order, but if I had to pick one top 80s saxophone song it would have to be Foreigner's "Urgent." Motown sax legend Junior Walker played on the album version (as did Thomas Dolby on synthesizer.) The whole song just screams sex and it wouldn't be the same without Walker's sax riff and scorching solo. 



    "Careless Whisper" -- Wham!
    A list of notable saxophone songs would not be complete without "Careless Whisper", a song which got overplayed both on the radio and MTV (and which Brooke Shields thought was about her after her breakup with George Michael--ha!) Michael was only 17 when he composed the song on a bus and thought up the sultry sax rift himself.



    "Smooth Operator" -- Sade
    What makes "Smooth Operator" stand out is the sax plays a starring role throughout the song, vs. just having a short solo--just like the character Sade is singing about; a rich, promiscuous playboy. Stu Mathhewman played sax on the studio recording and in the music video. 


    "Maneater" -- Hall and Oates
    Charles DeChant has been a band member of Hall and Oates since the 1970s, and actually plays several instruments including flute, guitar and keyboards. But he's mainly a saxophone expert and "Maneater" was a song that definitely let his sax skills shine. A song with a title like "Maneater" deserves a saxophone. Daryl Hall has said that the track at the time wasn't like anything else on the radio. It reached number one on the U.S. charts in 1982 and stayed there for 4 weeks. 



    "True" -- Spandau Ballet
    Steve Norman (also pictured at Live Aid at the top of this post) was Spandau Ballet's saxophonist, but didn't start with the band that way--he was originally a guitarist. By the third album he introduced the sax to the group's sound, lending a much-needed sax solo to their big hit, "True." 



    "Rio" -- Duran Duran
    British saxophonist Andy Hamilton played with several 80s bands including Wham!, Pet Shop Boys and Duran Duran. He's the saxophone player we hear on the song "Rio" but in the music video, two members of Duran Duran mimic the playing: bassist John Taylor while on a cliff and keyboardist Nick Rhodes on a raft. Hamilton also contributed sax to another DD hit, "Union of the Snake."



    "Who Can It Be Now?" -- Men at Work
    Greg Ham from Men at Work played several instruments, but it's his saxophone playing on "Who Can It Be Now?" that no doubt made the song a hit and introduced the world to the new wave Australian band. 



    There are dozens more songs out there and expanding the criteria here to include the 1970s would have brought Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel to the list. What are your most memorable saxophone songs?

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  • 04/21/13--06:19: The Milkman Cometh
  • Image via Antique Automobile Club of America forums
    The milkman: for those of us born after a certain time in America, we never got a visit from one...no fresh, cold milk waiting for us in glass bottles on the doorstep or in the milk chute every morning. But there was a time for many decades when regular milk delivery was a given. Milk delivery goes so far back that milkmen first delivered the goods by horse and wagon, before the automobile and milk trucks came along. Many people who did have milk delivered recall how the fat (cream) would rise to the top of the glass milk bottles and would be scooped out and eaten (yum!)

    There was even a milkman-themed board game produced in the 1950s, called Merry Milkman by Hasbro. As you can imagine, the object was simple: the first player to deliver all of their milk to the neighborhood won the game!

    Via image Northwest Leeds Tumblr
    By the time I was born in the early 70s, the milkman had practically disappeared from American neighborhoods. It's not difficult to understand why--milk first got delivered at a time when homes didn't have refrigeration and needed to be consumed fairly quickly before it spoiled. In the 1950s and 60s, not only did households have refrigerators, but the first paper milk cartons were being produced, which were cheaper than the heavy glass bottles milk was first carried in. It also cost more money to have milk delivered then buying it at the local store. 

    But the milkman may be making a comeback: in recent years I've seen news stories here and there about how the nostalgic love for milk (and food) delivery is keeping the milkman alive and well in some parts of the country. In Louisville, KY, Ehrler's Micro Dairy delivers milk, cheese, eggs and jam to customers three times a week. In one month alone, they delivered over 800 gallons of milk. 

    A.B. Munroe Dairy of Providence, RI, is another company that provides milk delivery, mainly to the Southern New England area. They've been in business for over 130 years. 

    And what about bigger city dwellers who crave home delivered milk? Manhattanites are in luck; Manhattan Milk, owned and operated by Matt Marone and Frank Acosta, deliver hormone-free milk and other goodies around the New York City vicinity. 

    Interestingly, the milkman never faded away in Britain, where milk delivery remains a trend. As in the States, British milk producers/transporters have diversified their offerings to include yogurt and other foods available for home delivery. In India, milk delivery has never gone out of fashion. 

    I'm not sure if I'd ever use a milk service myself--it's still pricier than visiting a store--but I do like the idea of a milk truck making early morning deliveries and keeping a small bit of nostalgia alive. 

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    Image via Mamecade

    A computer/technology pioneer and the cast of a sitcom that never showed a single PC on the set during their run…a match made in advertising heaven!

    According to an old L.A. Times article, the cast of M*A*S*H* replaced the Charlie Chaplin lookalike that IBM was previously usingto promote their computers in the late 80s. The president of the agency that created the campaign said that M*A*S*H* was a natural fit for the new strategy because they represented teamwork. By the time these ads aired/ran, the popular show had been off the air for five years. Maybe theexecutives also felt that American consumers would appreciate seeing familiar faces to shill computing products. Then again, lots of celebs were showing up in computer print ads and commercials around this time...Bill Cosby for Texas Instruments, Bill Bixby and Tandy and William Shatner pitching Commodore were just some of the celebrity endorsements for computers during the 80s. Whatever the reason, the second commercial spot here looks like a M*A*S*H*/The Office....er, mashup:




    A few years before this campaign, Alan Alda was the spokesman for Atari computer products. Is it just me, or is this commercial a little unsettling? What the heck is Alda doing dressing in a college boy's room, if he isn't his father? Shouldn't Hawkeye be checking out the girls' dorms?


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    Today I'm launching a new post theme for Go Retro: A Song's Story. We'll take a look at some songs from music history that have an interesting history behind them. 

    The reason for my first choice, "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down," is because I have a confession about it: until yesterday, I never knew that Cher was the original artist to sing the song and that Sonny Bono wrote it! Hard to believe, but I always thought Nancy Sinatra took the credit. Quentin Tarantino is responsible for my personal gaffe--like most people of my generation, the first time I heard it was during the opening credits of Kill Bill Volume 1. After the film was released, its exposure inspired a lot of bands and singers to cover it--most notably was "Shot You Down" by Audio Bullys who sampled the Sinatra version in what became a top ten UK hit. 

    However, after hearing Cher's original version which was released in 1966, I'm sold on it and prefer it over Sinatra's. I'm puzzled that I've never heard it on the radio, not even on oldies stations. It's already a haunting, depressing song--the singer is telling about her love who used to play with her when they were children and would pretend to shoot her while they rode on "horses made of sticks." They grow up and she marries him--complete with dancing and church bells--but then he leaves her. She's been shot down again yet again by the creep and it's devastating. But there's something about Cher's version that literally gave me chills as I listened to it twice--first of all, it has a Western/Spanish/gypsy theme running through it. No doubt Bono was inspired by the spaghetti westerns that were gracing movie screens in the mid-60s. It also seems to foreshadow the ultimate demise of Sonny and Cher's marriage in the 70s.  

    The song was released as a single and on the Cher album The Sonny Side of Cher. It reached number two on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1966. Sinatra's version was released the same year and pretty much hid in obscurity until it was chosen for the Tarantino movie. It has a more melancholy tone and an opening tremolo guitar effect. 

    Since its release, the song has been covered by Stevie Wonder, The Beau Brummels, Petula Clark, Vanilla Fudge, Lil' Wayne and Italian, French, German and Japanese artists. Cher herself updated the song in 1987 with a rock feel--but I prefer the original (unfortunately I don't think the audio is synched with this video, but it's the only clip of the music video available on YouTube):



    One cover of the song that I came across the other day and love is this version by a Polish singer named Ania Dabrowska. It was released in 2010 and features some pro drumming as well as a scorching sax solo--this right after I posted about how you don't hear saxophones so much in pop music anymore.



    And there you have it. The song will no doubt shoot me down for many more years to come. 

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    Up until not long ago, I long detested beards on men (well...and on women, too. Ha.) I can't even explain why--I just thought guys looked sexier and more professional when clean shaven, with nothing standing in the way of any food that might fall from their face while eating. But now, I think a short, well-groomed beard is devastatingly sexy on the right man. What flipped the switch for me? It was watching Christoph Waltz play Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained. That beautiful old timey facial hair is as much Schultz's trademark and accessory as the derringer he uses to blow to hell outlaws and abusive slave owners. Waltz has said in interviews that the beard was like a pet, and throughout the movie he cannot resist twirling his 'tache and smoothing it into shape...a character mannerism, I'm sure, he dreamed up himself. Plus he looks dashing with the right length of whiskers in a debonair brown and gray pattern which calls to mind a 1970s Kris Kristofferson. What I wouldn't give to feel those bristles gliding across certain parts of my body, but I digress...

    We're talking about RETRO beards here! And they are sexy and masculine if done right. 

    Beards have definitely been making a comeback on the celeb circuit in recent years--Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Jon Hamm are just a few of the men who have been sporting them off camera on a regular basis. However, gentlemen need to take care--and clippers--here, because once a beard grows past a certain length it ventures dangerously into ZZ Top, Ted Kaczynski, Grizzly Adams, biker dude, Santa Claus and crazy hippie guy territory. Also, neck beards are never--NEVER!--ever sexy. I don't care what your hipster friends tell you. 

    With that in mind, I rounded up a collection of dudes from back in the day who I think looked good with a certain amount of beard. Emphasis on good. Jim Morrison looked terrible with that caveman beard of his, as did Mick Jagger. George Harrison's Jesus look above is quite fetching, but then he turned into Rasputin the Mad Monk by the time All Things Must Past was released. So you won't find those examples here. Instead I present...

    Jeff Bridges

    Most of us are accustomed to seeing Bridges sport a goatee as "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski. But how hot was he in Against All Odds with his short, trimmed beard? So hot that Rachel Ward could not resist his charms among the Mayan ruins of Mexico. 

    Clint Eastwood

    The good, the bad, and the beard, which is a little bit of both and not ugly (and by bad I mean BADASS.) 

    Harrison Ford

    After finding this photo, I'm surprised that Harry never really was seen with a beard in his younger years. This is really a quite flattering look on him. Indy, leave the razor at home on your next adventure.  

    Paul Newman

    I don't think anything could have made Paul Newman look bad. Something about this beard...perhaps because it's brown...is bringing out his blue eyes even more. 

    Paul McCartney

    All of the Beatles had beards at one time or another, particular by the time Let It Be came out--I'd like to think they started the hairy trend, after all. Around the time the Beatles broke up, Paul looked like a stoned Neanderthal which is what happens when you get lazy about your beard grooming habits. But here in this photo, with a very short beard, I think he looks absolutely love me do-able. 

    Bruce Springsteen

    While I think The Boss looks better without the fuzz, he can still rock a beard--quite literally.

    Steve Jobs

    It was a bit skimpy in its younger incarnations, but I cannot leave Steve Jobs off a list like this. He did indeed look pretty good with a beard...even better than Ashton Kucher. 

    Robert De Niro

    One of the few times we've seen him with a beard--here with his Oscar for Raging Bull

    Eric Clapton

    Not very nice to the women in his life, but I'm guessing they couldn't resist Slowhand's whiskers. He did look very sexy throughout the 80s with the neat, trimmed beard. 

    Billy Crystal

    How cute was Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally when he had the beard?


    Christoph Waltz

    Well looky who we have here! Dr. King Schultz, the early years I presume. Yeah, I had to end it with that.

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    Image via bayswater97 flickr
    I'm sure that the lack of good customer service in today's society is something that everyone can relate to. I've held off on ranting about it for so long because I used to work in the hotel industry and a grocery store, and having been on both sides, can tell you that the customer is not always right--nay, sometimes they can be downright douchebags. I've also seen people treat perfectly nice retail salespeople horribly and have actually spoken up on more than one occasion and made off-hand comments, within earshot, about how rude they were when it was my turn at the register. 

    But lately the tables have been turning, and it's the people working in retail stores who truly have this I-couldn't-give-a-shit-about-you attitude. In the past few months, here are four scenarios I was part of:

    1. I was waiting at the counter to buy a blouse at a local consignment shop but the teenaged salesgirl behind it ignored me for a good 2-3 minutes as she was transfixed by her boss, who was assisting another customer as she set off the alarm trying to walk out of the store. She finally said to me without any greeting, "All you all set?" It took all my strength not to say something sarcastic but I did what any good customer does nowadays--I unleashed a bit of my wrath on Yelp. And I was not the only one which tells me there's a problem with the employees in that store. 

    2. I was in a local Sephora and asked one of the salesgirls if they had a new black eyeliner pen in stock called Punker. She said she would check and went to another girl and asked her, who just looked at me, shook her head and said, "No, we don't have any left." No mention of when or if it might come back in stock, no mention of looking up another Sephora to see if they had any, and no mention of ordering it on the website. I walked out. 

    3. I was getting gas at a station location I don't usually go to, but had no choice as the other location is closed for renovations and they have the best gas prices in town. The guy in the booth was on his phone and didn't even look at me when I told him how many gallons worth I wanted. He did, however, look at the money like he was confused and couldn't subtract $45 from $60. So I repeated myself, he gave me the change, and I took it without saying a word. Pardon me for interrupting your personal phone call, asshat. 

    4. I went out to eat with a Meetup group and we were instructed to sit anywhere in the upstairs area. After being ignored by several waitresses walking by, one of them told us the table we were at was reserved, despite the fact that there was no sign on it. After we grabbed another table, the waitress asked what we were going to have for drinks. I said we hadn't received menus yet and politely asked for some. When she bought them out, she dropped them so hard on the table on purpose that they made a THUNK and walked away. Things seemed to go downhill from there. 

    Grrrrrrrr.

    This is such a departure from customer experiences I had growing up. I can still remember the managers of the shoe store and art supply store I visited as a kid, and the name of the kind man who ran the video store in town, Mr. Zappala (how many store owners today do you know by name?) When Mr. Zappala passed away from cancer, there was an outpouring of support in the local paper because everyone adored him. There were so many smaller mom-and-pop businesses around in the 70s and 80s, run by people whose livelihoods depended upon how happy they could make their customers. They couldn't afford to ignore people who walked through their doors...as that would eventually lead to theirs being shuttered. I can understand that working service jobs does not always deliver the greatest paycheck...but you know what? Neither was my hotel salary, but it was a job that paid my way through college, and therefore I had to respect it and the guests whether I liked it or not. If I didn't, I'd be out of a job. 

    So, I think part of the problem here is they're hiring nitwits who just don't care. And with a lousy economy, if a big store like Walmart loses workers, there's ten more out there desperate to replace them for a piddly paycheck. 

    Call it part of our increasingly isolated society where no one makes an effort to connect with other human beings. I won't even get into the rise of customer service hell, where you're stuck in "press this for that" purgatory trying to get ahold of a live person. It stinks, and there's not much we consumers can do except take to Yelp and other review sites. 

    I came across this 1970s McDonald's training video (gotta love that opening ditty, "the greatest gift you give is the smile you give to your brother...") Nowadays Grumpy Cat doles out more smiles than the workers at McDonald's, but the reason I'm showing it is because there's a segment about a young man who goes to an auto supply store and how he's treated. 

    If any of you have some great customer service horror stories to share, please do. 


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  • 05/20/13--17:00: Happy Birthday, Cher!
  • Cher turns 67 today, and to help celebrate the folks at Can't Miss TV invited me to post this groovy infographic showing the history of Cher's career. I'll always remember Cher's impressive movie career, especially as she hit her stride in films in the 70s and 80s, the decades I grew up in. Moonstruck remains one of my favorite romantic flicks, ever. Happy 67th to Sonny Bono's better half!


    Images under CC BY-SA 3.0& CC BY 2.0.  Additional data from Wikipedia and DirectSpecialTV.

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    Through early morning fog I see
    visions of the things to be
    the pains that are withheld for me
    I realize and I can see...

    That suicide is painless
    It brings on many changes
    and I can take or leave it if I please.


    The most amazing thing to me about "Suicide is Painless" (actual title: "Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)" is that the hard hitting lyrics were written by a 14 year-old, Mike Altman. A 14 year-old! He's the son of Robert Altman, who directed the 1970 movie M*A*S*H. Altman needed the "stupidest song ever written" for the scene in the movie where Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski fakes his suicide after suffering a bout of impotence with a visiting nurse. Altman tried his hand at writing the lyrics but didn't think they were stupid enough, so he handed the job to his 14 year-old son. Johnny Mandel composed the music.

    The result was anything but moronic: Suicide is Painless is one of my favorite TV/movie themes of all time, not because it's depressing but because it's so damn poetic and beautiful. If I ever get around to practicing my guitar again, this song is on my must-learn list. Since most people are accustomed to hearing the cheerful, instrumental version that was used on the series, I highly recommend checking out a cover where the words are sung. I know I included her in the last song's story post, but I really like Ania Dabrowska's version:





    One other tidbit about this song to save for your next trivia competition: Robert Altman told Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show that his son received over a million dollars in royalties from writing the lyrics, while he received only $70,000 for directing M*A*S*H.

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    Photo vis ThinkNice
    Phil Collins seems to be a pop culture conundrum to me--in the grand scheme of music history, is he terrible...or terrific? 

    It's a question I've struggled with ever since the 1980s, when I first became aware of who Phil Collins was. On the one hand, he's a tremendous drummer...and I know at least one drummer who admires his skills, particularly on projects outside of Genesis such as Brand X, which was a jazz fusion group active in the mid-70s and later again in the 1990s. On the other hand, Collins can be downright irritating--his sappy solo hits evoke strong emotions and usually not of the sympathetic variety; he's been called "The Most Hated Man in Rock and Roll." I found his 1989 hit "Another Day in Paradise" among a blogger's worst songs ever written list, who so aptly described the reasoning for his choice with five poignant words: "Shut the f*** up, moron." 

    So this post is my half-assed attempt at determining if Collins is painfully uncool...or coolly...er...painless? You know what I mean. No offense to the Collins fans out there; this is purely my opinion. Here we go.


    Terrific: He appeared as an extra in A Hard Day's Night. That's pretty cool, right? He was 13 at the time and is sitting in the audience during the television concert sequence, and also narrated and added commentary to the documentary You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night.

    Terrible: "I Can't Dance." Collins' whiny vocals in this song really grate on my nerves ("'Cause IIIIIIII can't dance, IIIIIIII can't sing") as does the "dancing" by the group--they just look like dorks. And seeing Collins on a beach with a pink tank top, baggy jeans and long hair (despite a receding hairline) is really unsettling. I don't care if it was the early 90s--this is just awful. 


    Terrific: A little 1988 movie starring Collins called Buster. Buster was about Buster Edwards, a petty crook who was involved in England's Great Train Robbery of 1963. I was truly prepared to hate this movie and thought that it would be yet another misguided attempt to turn a singer into a movie star. Surprisingly, it's not all that bad and costars Julie Walters. 

    Terrible: "Sussudio." What does su-su-sudio mean anyway? Collins admitted in the 80s during its release that the word has no meaning. And yet it manages to stick in your craw all day like lint to velcro. So. Damn. Annoying.

    Terrific: "In the Air Tonight." No need to go into much detail why. It will forever be associated with Miami Vice.

    Terrible: "Illegal Alien." Without a doubt, one of the worst pop/rock songs ever written, accompanied by an awful racist video. Collins tries to sing the song with a Mexican accent and the band wears mustaches and sombreros. One verse in particular was so controversial that it was omitted for radio play and from the video:

    "Keep your suspicions, I've seen that look before
    But I ain't done nothing wrong now, is that such a surprise?
    But I've got a sister who'd be willing to oblige
    She will do anything now to help me get to the outside"


    Yeesh. Phil, what the hell were you thinking? Can you imagine if they tried to release this song today? 

    Terrible: "Don't Lose My Number." This song makes about as much sense as a gorilla wearing a ballerina costume. The lyrics throughout are addressed to some dude named Billy--who the hell is Billy anyway? It's as if Collins assumes we should know. The video is even worse, mixing Western and Mad Max themes. 

    Terrific: The video for "Land of Confusion." Featuring the puppets of Spitting Image, this one will give you the heebie jeebies. Creative and unsettling.  

    Photo via A Blumes With A View
    Terrible: This photo. Something about his baldness and shorts reminds me of George Costanza's Art of Seduction pose from Seinfeld

    Terrific: "Easy Lover." I love this song. 

    Well I guess the conclusion we've come to here today is...Collins is both terrible and terrific!


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    It wasn't long ago that I was thinking about posting a new giveaway on Go Retro. Luckily, the universe delivered my manifestation when the owner of Shabby Applereached out to me with a giveaway offer for my readers! If you're not already familiar with Shabby Apple, let me just tell you they have the cutest vintage clothing around for retro loving ladies (sorry, gentlemen--I plan on hosting another giveaway soon that will appeal to you.) Their fashion lines always seem to get updated on a regular basis, too. 

    You can great a sense of Shabby Apple's vintage clothing styles. 

    Here's the details of this summer giveaway. One lucky Go Retro reader can choose a dress or skirt from a selected list of styles that Shabby Apple has set aside for the giveaway below. Do a search on the site to see each item.

    Snapdragon
    Heart of Me
    Dressage
    Grand National
    Hackney
    Captain
    Admiral
    Cut the Cake
    At last
    At first site
    My vow to you
    Maid of honor
    Together forever
    Ever after
    Save the date
    Moon River
    Ski Bop
    Some like it Hot
    Tiber
    Andes Skirt
    Jetty Skirt
    Ballerina
    Nantucket
    Boogie Woogie
    Marigold Skirt
    Lime Ricki Skirt
    Park Picnic Skirt
    Hully Gully Skirt
    Newcomb Skirt

    To enter, just leave a comment saying any ol' thing. The giveaway will run from today through next Wednesday, June 26 ending at midnight EST. I'll announce the winner on Thursday, June 27. Good luck!

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    A lot of folks who grew up on 70s and 80s television often mention the infamous "Monroe Rape" episode of Too Close for Comfort, but I wonder how many people know that Jack Tripper once unintentionally flashed part of his scrotum on Three's Company?

    It was an "oops" moment that went pretty much unnoticed in syndication until one eagle-eyed viewer caught the episode titled "The Charming Stranger" on Nick at Night in 2001. In one scene, John Ritter as Jack Tripper plops down on his bed wearing a pair of blue boxers, which apparently were a little too loose fitting in the crotch area. The viewer froze the frame on his recorder to make sure he wasn't seeing things, then notified Nickelodeon, whose representative was quoted as saying "Yes, his scrotum falls out of his shorts."  


    Snopes has a screenshot of what the viewer saw, above. Granted, it's one of those things that you would miss if you blinked your eyes, but Nickelodeon took no chances--promptly editing the episode for future airings. The entire season of Three's Company is now available on DVD; I have no idea if the scene was edited out before the release.

    The late John Ritter had the last laugh. When asked by the New York Observer what he thought of the controversy he simply said, "I've requested that Nickelodeon air both versions, edited and unedited, because sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don't."


    I'm thankful that it was Ritter flashing the camera and not Don Knotts.

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    Tabathia! Congratulations and I'll be sending you an email with info on how to claim your dress. Thanks to everyone who entered and I hope to hold another giveaway soon.

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  • 07/05/13--10:59: Monty Python's Safe Sex Tips

  • I know this blog has been rather quiet lately--maybe dead is the proper term. 
    I'm working on a few posts that are taking longer than I thought to complete. In the meantime, here's something short and sweet and frankly, a riot--that I came across on the Monty Python Italian Page on Facebook. It's Eric Idle's take on "The Joy of Sex", called "The Vatican Sex Manual"--and it's guaranteed to "add zest to your abstinence." I sincerely hope it doesn't offend anyone but if it does, you have no sense of humor. Something tells me George Harrison got a kick out of this. Click for larger image and be prepared for a few laughs. 

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    You would think that in 1950s Americana, teenagers were a happy lot. They had drive-in movie theaters, rock and roll, their dad's Oldsmobile, and Clearasil. Yet the post-WWII era was responsible for launching a music genre that persisted for several decades: the teenage tragedy theme. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, young characters in songs met untimely deaths through car and motorcycle crashes, drownings and even suicide--and these songs routinely topped the U.S. music charts. 

    The question is why were these songs so popular? Teenagers sure weren't dreaming them up--it was the songwriters and record companies. Why did so many hits kill off the subjects of the songs? Who knows...but at least we can trace the beginning of this macabre trend to one event in pop culture history.


    Image via The Song Blog
    On September 30, 1955 the actor James Dean died after crashing his Porsche 550 Spyder nearly head-on into another car near the intersections of highways 46 and 41 in California. Just a week before Dean's death, a little rock and roll vocal group called The Cheers had released a single called "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots", written by the famous lyrical/composer team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. (Cool bit o'trivia for you: one of the members of The Cheers was Bert Convy, who would go on to be a game show host for Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw.) "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" is a snappy little number that tells the tale of a motorcycle lovin' fool that was the "terror of Highway 101", losing his life after colliding with a diesel truck. Most likely its inspiration came from the 1953 Marlon Brando biker film The Wild One.

    Black Denim Trousers by The Cheers on Grooveshark

    "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" might have faded into pop music obscurity if it weren't for the timing of its release. It climbed to number six on the U.S. charts. (Alas, The Cheers were not so cheerful, it seems: t
    heir follow-up teen tragedy song was "Chicken", which is about a disastrous hot rod race; it sounds almost exactly the same as "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots.") After its popularity came the funeral march of teen tragedy hits for songwriters and singers.

    There was "Endless Sleep" (1958) by Jody Reynolds, "Teen Angel" (1959) by Mark Dinning, "Tell Laura I Love Her" (1960) by Ray Peterson, "Ebony Eyes" (1961) by The Everly Brothers, "Last Kiss" (1962) by Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders, "Moody River" (1961) by Pat Boone and "Dead Man's Curve" (1964) by Jan and Dean, just to name a few. 

    One of my favorites from this period is Johnny Preston's "Running Bear" (1959) which I first heard when it was featured in the 1989 movie Scandal. Perhaps the "uga uga" chanting is a bit politically incorrect by today's standards but it's classified under the genre (due to its Romeo and Juliet theme) and I love its saxophone and rockabilly sound:



    Ironically, "Running Bear" was written by J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper") who died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens--another event which could be attributed to the genre, along with teenage car culture and the rise of the Motor City, Detroit.

    The radio waves got a little more cheerful when Beatlemania swept the world. But then a girl group named The Shangri-Las scored perhaps the biggest and most well-known teen tragedy song of all, the 1964 hit "Leader of the Pack." With its ominous opening piano strikes and motorcycle sound effects, it tells the tale of a girl whose rebel boyfriend dies in a motorcycle crash after her father tells her she must break up with him. It was banned for a while in the UK and became a hit there after the ban was lifted. The Shangri-Las seemed to be the queens of songs that dealt with teenage heartbreak at the time; their earlier hit of 1964 was "(Remember) Walking in the Sand" and in 1965 they topped the U.S. charts again with a somber song about a girl who runs away from home to be with a boy, causing her mother to die from loneliness called "I Can Never Go Home Anymore." 

    Here's The Shangri-Las performing "Leader of the Pack" on the TV show "I've Got a Secret"--with Robert Goulet providing comic relief:



    The hits continued throughout the 1960s with songs such as "A Young Girl" (1966) by Noel Harrison, "Green, Green Grass of Home" (1966) by Tom Jones, and "Ode to Billie Joe" (1967) by Bobbie Gentry. The 1974 hit "Billy Don't Be a Hero" by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods is mistakingly thought to be inspired by the Vietnam War, but is really about a Civil War soldier. 

    I also think that Skeeter Davis' hit "The End of the World" should be lumped into this category as well--even though there's no direct mention of suicide in the song, it seems to me the main character's point of view is that she can't go on living after a breakup. Sylvia Dee, one of the song's writers, drew inspiration for it after her father's death. 

    Probably the best thing to come out of the teen tragedy genre were the parodies. Even Lucille Ball got in on the act. While preparing for a 1965 episode of The Lucy Show called "Lucy in the Music World" she was advised that "Today's youth aren't happy unless they're miserable." She sings a song with Mel Torme in the special called "The Surfboard Came Back By Itself" about a surfer who's eaten by a shark--thus taking a playful swipe at two music genres of the time at once. (As an aside, I believe Ball was in her 50s in this clip yet looks like she's 22!)



    In the 80s, I distinctly remember the Julie Brown parody "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun"--a song written years before school shootings became tragic recurring events (I think it's safe to say such a song could never be released today, even though I admit my friends and I found it funny at the time.) 

    But the best parody, in my opinion, was the one recorded by Jimmy Cross in 1965 called "I Want My Baby Back." This sick, twisted song became a staple on the Dr. Demento radio show and was voted the World's Worst Record in the UK, but that's only if you take it literally. Cross "sings" (or rather, speaks most of the song) in an accent reminiscent of Gomer Pyle, from the point of view of a distraught necrophiliac boyfriend whose lover was killed by the Leader of the Pack himself, leaving her dismembered body all over the place ("over there was my baby...and over there was my baby...and way over there was my baby.") By the end of the song, the singer decides that he simply can't live without his girl, and digs up her grave and crawls inside the casket (accompanied by a creaking special effect that seems to go on forever.) 



    Fortunately, it does seem like the teen tragedy theme has died down (no pun intended) in recent years--but then again, I don't generally listen to the usual pop and hip hop stations, so I'm blissfully out of the loop. Would anything they could dream up today anyway have quite the same impact as these songs did? 

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  • 07/12/13--14:11: Movie Reviews: Them! (1954)

  • "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, no one can predict." - Dr. Medford in Them!

    Them! is an awesome movie and I loved every minute of it. I could end my review right there and then, but of course you deserve more. You may think that a horror movie about giant mutant ants is best viewed during Halloween season, but the summertime is perfect for watching this flick. After all, insect populations are at their highest right now and so is the temperature. So get the popcorn ready but don't bother with the bug spray--there isn't enough Raid in a store aisle that can kill off the creatures in Them! After viewing it for the first time, I can understand why the movie is considered a classic and a favorite among sci-fi/B horror movie fans. 

    Them! was released in 1954--during the Cold War era--and was one of those horror movies that played upon the fears of what nuclear technology could do to planet earth and its species; most often, that animals and humans exposed to radiation could grow to unnatural sizes and in grotesque ways. It was the first of the "big bug" movies (titles that were released after the success of Them! include Tarantula, Earth vs. The Spider, Beginning of the End and many more) and is routinely considered one of the best of the genre. 

    I'm always hesitant to give a boring scene-by-scene synopsis of movies in my reviews, but I think the first half hour of the film is worth describing. 



    The movie opens with two police state troopers--Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake)--traveling through the New Mexico desert when they receive a call about a little girl wandering by herself nearby. When the officers pick her up, she's in a catatonic state, staring straight ahead and is unresponsive. They put her in their cruiser and continue on to investigate a trailer home--belonging to the girl's family--that has been ripped into. No money has been taken, and there's no sign of the other family members. A bag of sugar has been broken into. 

    At first, the baffled policemen think this is the work of a "homicidal maniac." But then they visit the local general store which has been ripped apart in the same manner. The cash is still in the register, but a barrel of sugar has been ransacked. The policemen discover the store owner's body and his twisted rifle. Peterson walks out of the store to file a report, leaving Blackburn to guard the store. Blackburn hears a strange sound outside of the store, goes out to investigate, and is killed by one of the giant ants (which we don't actually see.)

    A large, strange footprint is found in the sand and at this point authorities are called in to help with the case: FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) who is unable to identify the footprint, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn; you know him best as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street as well as many other roles) and Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), a father/daughter team of entomologists from the Department of Agriculture. 


    Dr. Medford has a theory as to what is going on, but is hesitant to reveal it yet. Instead he performs an experiment with the little girl that was found and is recovering in a hospital. Since it was reported that the general store's owner's body was discovered to contain "enough formic acid to kill 20 men", he waves a bottle of formic acid under her nose. Suddenly, she awakens from her zombie-like state, is terrified, and starts screaming "Them! Them!"

    It isn't long after this before Dr. Medford's theory and fears are confirmed: nuclear bomb testing done in the area in 1945 has caused house ants to grow to hundreds of times their size, with a taste for human flesh (as confirmed by one amusing scene where an ant drops a human ribcage from its mandibles.)



    The crew locates the entrance to the ant nest and throws cyanide into it with the hopes of eradicating the colony. For me, this was the creepiest part of the movie--who the hell would go investigate a giant ant nest, even if they had to?  At this point, I will say no more for those who haven't seen the movie. 

    One of the reasons Them! succeeds so well is the amount of suspense that is built up before the ants appear on screen, which isn't until a half hour into the film. If you watched the movie without seeing the poster or knowing anything about it first, it would definitely add to the mystery. We hear them a few times before we see them--and the high pitched, pulsating, echoing sounds they make are truly creepy. It's the perfect build up! 



    By far I think the most impressive performance in this movie is by the little girl, Sandy Descher (although everyone is good and there's an amusing scene involving Dr. Medford trying to communicate via radio headphones.) A child actor who also appeared in The Last Time I Saw Paris and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Descher was 8 or 9 when Them! was filmed and her brief but pivotal role as a girl terrified out of her wits really adds to the suspense. 



    Now, about those ants. I'm sure many CGI enthusiasts would scoff at the mechanical ants in this movie, but I can definitely appreciate the work that went into creating them and would imagine they looked menacing on the big screen at the time the film was released (and trust me, they do look cooler on film than the screenshots make them look.) Their construction and operation (they were really purplish-green in color, by the way) was overseen by a man named Ralph Ayers and helped earn the movie an Oscar nomination for its special effects. I think my only disappointment is that we don't get to see them "flying" as reported by several characters in the film.  



    Many elements prevalent in Them! reminded me very much of the Alien franchise, particularly the second film, James Cameron's Aliens (1986.) The orphan girl wandering around in shock, the inhospitable, windy environment, creepy dark passageways and creatures that emit a deadly acid (not to mention egg laying queens) are found in both movies. The scene where the crew finds hatched eggs in one of the ant farm's chambers was straight out of the 1979 Alien for me. 

    Plus, there's something about seeing a movie such as this one in black and white that really adds to the creep factor. The cinematography over the desert scenes is impressive. 

    Another giant ant movie was released in 1977: Empire of the Ants starring Joan Collins. It was based on a short story by H.G. Wells and frankly, looks and sounds terrible. However, for a creepy and crawly good time, you can't beat Them! and those prophetic last words as spoken by Dr. Medford in the movie's final scene will haunt you long after the screen fades to black. 

    Here's the official trailer to Them! and you can watch the entire movie for free, online here at Mevio


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    Man, it's been hot! It's days like this that remind of something my parents used to say...that nudists have the right idea! And that statement always makes me think of the 1964 Peter Sellers movie A Shot in the Dark. This was the second film in The Pink Panther series, and definitely one of the funniest. The best scene in this movie is the nudist colony sequence--it's physical comedy such as this that would inspire Mike Myers' Austin Powers series later on. Careful usage of props and scenery prevent anything from being revealed and yet it was groundbreaking for its time. 

    Just check out the 10 minute sequence below (unfortunately, I don't think the audio is synched with the video; I hate it when that happens.) Clouseau is on the trail of Maria Gambreli (Elke Sommer, who publicly admitted to visiting nudist colonies off-screen.) I watched it for the first time in many years and honestly, found it funnier than most of the "comedies" Hollywood puts out today.

    Stay cool and safe, my Go Retro readers!


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