Monday, May 31, 2010

Buried by Technology

Am I the only person who could care less about the new Apple iPad? Ever since this latest gadget came out, it’s all I hear and read about. The CEO at my company brought his into work for anyone who wanted to play around with it and I had zero interest. I just can’t fathom carrying a computerized tablet the size of a book around with me all day and using it. To be honest, I think people need another advanced piece of technology like they need a hole in their head. We are absolutely buried by technology. It runs our lives – a little too much. I have no problem with computers or mobile phones, but I do have a problem when people are so attached to one they actually sleep with it. It bothers me when people are talking into one during a movie or play or texting when they’re having dinner with a significant other or friends. The worst is when you hear about an accident that was caused by a driver texting while on the road. It’s gotten so bad that Oprah Winfrey has started a campaign on her show to get people to pledge that they will not use any mobile device for any reason while driving a car. It kills people.

I actually consider texting to be the WORST invention of the past few years. It is degrading the quality of communication and dumbing people down, it is dangerous and distracting, and teens are now “sexting” each other and getting into hot water. But I digress…

I realize that it may be hypocritical as a blogger to be so against technology, but other than at work, I try do not use it more than a couple of hours a day. Most weekends I like to check my email and update my Facebook status in the morning, and then be done with the Internet unless I know I need to check my messages. My mobile phone isn’t very text friendly and it’s for emergency use only. Also the Internet, when used properly and by the right people, proves to be our greatest invention of the past 25 years. However, I know when to not overuse it. I’m too busy wanting to get outside to work in the yard, meet up with my friends, ride my bike, practice my guitar, write, cook or knit. I was actually connected to someone on Facebook not long ago who was married but clearly had no life or hobbies as he was constantly posting random music videos and leaving numerous comments for people morning, noon, and night. His numerous updates clogged my status update page. He used Facebook to “friend” strange women all over the world even though he was not connected to his wife. Needless to say, even though he was someone I had met in person way back in the day, I defriended him. He is a good example of how a sick person can get even sicker when the right technology is made available 24/7.

People from the 50s and 60s dreamed of a day when technology would make their lives run smoother – you can find fun videos of the future from this era on YouTube. However, I don’t think they could ever imagine a day when it would make everyone so secular and socially awkward, or that people would become so obsessed with it. Kids don’t pick up the phone and call their friends when they want to get together. They don’t even email any more – they text, and use abbreviations to get their message across. How is this generation going to talk to other people in person when the situation forces it? It reminds me of a short story I read online not long ago by E.M. Forster called The Machine Stops. It takes place in a futuristic society where no one goes outside. They all sit in individual rooms and their entire existence is run by a machine. They never leave their pod. If they get hungry, they press a button and food is delivered to them. If they want to change the lighting, they press another button. All communication with other people is done via the machine. I found the story so scary, especially considering Forester wrote it 100 years ago. Do you think he knew more about world predictions than we do?

What did we do before all this technology? Well, we spent quality time with family and friends, actually had hobbies, and kids would go outside and make new friends and play. My mother says my brothers and sisters would build forts and play hopscotch and used their imagination. Today’s kids don’t seem to know what imagination is – they’re too busy playing video games or with a mobile device.

I’m sorry to ramble all over the place, but the bottom line is that all this technology is getting to be way too much, and not healthy for society. I’m not sure what it will take to wake everyone up - perhaps a plane crash due to a pilot browsing porn on his iPad? I hate to think of a national tragedy, but there’s already been several public transportation disasters due to operators texting or talking on their mobile phones. In a few months, I’m sure, Apple or another technology company will release something new to trump the iPad. I think if you need one of these so badly, you also need to get a life. Where does it stop?

Happy Memorial Day

Just wanted to take a few minutes to salute anyone who served our country, who died while fighting to protect it, and the families and friends of anyone who knows servicemen and women. I hope someday they'll be a generation living on this planet who has never known war or seen a current one in the media.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Children of the Corn Flakes

Children, it seems, have been used in advertising since it was invented. While I can understand the homey appeal of using innocent looking tots to shill food products, once in a while you come across one that makes you want to reach for a wooden stake. I think a lot of illustrators way back in the day were out of touch with how human children actually looked. Unnatural looking and exaggerated facial expressions were the name of the game. Most of these have found their way to other retro sites, but they're too good not to recycle. I found most of these demonic looking spawns on the ultra cool retro site Plan 59. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Wow, and that's some humdinger of a lipstick you're wearing, kid!

Want your message to get noticed? Include a photo of a redhead with freckles. Unfortunately, this kid looks exactly like the evil Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story.

This child looks absolutely not go near little Johnny when he's eating his Van Camp's beans.

Just plain creepy...the same kid recycled for various products:

This one really bothered me. Was it supposed be funny? If I ever caught a kid dunking my cat in dye, he/she wouldn't live to see their next birthday.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Modern Misuse of An Old Fashioned Word: Gentleman

Nothing gets my panties in a humongous wad like when I hear the term gentleman being misused and tossed around so cavalier today. It's like society has had some big brain fart in the past 40 years or so and forgotten what defines a gentleman. Here's some cringe worthy, misplaced examples of the term that I've heard in the news during this past week:

*A woman on Oprah who adopted a child from Haiti talked about an incident with a "gentleman" who "stared so intently" at her daughter with disgust like he did not approve of a white couple adopting a child of color.

*A woman who recognized a census worker at her door as a sex offender referred to the creep as a gentleman when describing the incident on Good Morning America.

*From a police report: "When police entered the gentleman's home, they discovered numerous human body parts in the freezer."

SCREEEECH!!! No, no, no! This won't do! (And by the way, I made up that last one just to prove a point.) Anyone who commits a crime - especially those that sexually violate or physically hurt others - is NOT, I repeat, NOT, a gentleman! A man who does not treat others with respect is NOT a gentleman. Someone who brags about his sexual escapades and himself in general is NOT a gentleman. When will the media, law enforcement, and the general public get this???

A gentleman, is, in fact, someone who is truly gentle - duh. Who knew. Thanks for putting up with the public service announcement.

Flying the Friendly Skies

A while ago I wrote about Five Things That Were Way Better Way Back When, and air travel made the list. In case you need further proof in how drastically traveling has changed in the past half century, just check out this promotional video for Pan Am from 1958. Sumptuous (and free) food options, plenty of room, and spacious restrooms that we can only dream about now. No one back then could have imagined, I'm sure, a time where they'd be charged for carry-on bags and a box of some disgusting processed junk.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Go Retro Has Over 100 Followers!

Fanfare, please - some time during the past couple of weeks my blog attracted its 100th follower, and it's now being followed by 106 readers! Once again I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who loves this blog and leaves comments. It definitely helps inspire me to keeping coming up with new posts and writing about a historical period that I'm passionate about.

Earlier today I updated my blog roll to include thumbnails of everyone's fabulous blogs out there that I read, along with the title of their most recent post. I hope you'll check some of them out - many of them do have a retro theme but a few do not, but all are good reading.

Although I've slowed down to about one post per week I still have some in the stay tuned. And here's to the next 100 followers!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mr. Moonbeam

It's time for a different type of post: a product review. You see, I never thought it was possible to fall in love with an alarm clock, but that's exactly what happened when the Moonbeam arrived at my house last week from LL Bean. I ordered one in green for my mother for Mother's Day and a yellow one for myself, and I'm so impressed with this retro clock that I had to let everyone know about it. (It may be hard to tell from the photos, but it really is a cheerful yellow color.)

The moonbeam is a reproduction of a clock that was first manufactured in 1952. I'm not sure who the original company was, but it says Big Ben on the box and Westclox on the bottom of the actual clock. The original ad copy reads as follows: "Are you the early morning hard of hearing type? Or just one more poor sleepy head, resigned to being roused, but wishing it could be done ever so gently? Then harken to the wondrous working of moon beam! for this completely different kind of electric alarm calls you silently. Yes, Moon Beam's first call is silent - A blinking light that will not even disturb the rest of the family. Not even the baby. But if you ignore the light and do not shut off the light with in a few minutes, Moon Beam adds to the light a cheerful audible alarm. Now what could be more considerate than that?"

The writer in me noticed some grammatical mistakes and inconsistencies in the vintage copy; however, the retro fan in me loves this clock. For starters, the style is quintessential mid-century modern and beautiful to look at - the clock looks like it belongs on Don and Betty Draper's or Pete and Trudy Campbell's nightstand (as you can see, it looks perfect with my retro styled lamp and night table.) It's also large by today's standards for alarm clocks: 6 1/2" wide by 5 1/2" high. It's electric, which may be bothersome for some people, but it also runs on two AA batteries - and should you lose power, the batteries automatically take over so you won't miss your wake-up call. There are three options for the alarm: the clock has a large, slightly florescent blinking light that flashes on and off (supposedly to gently wake your body up), a straight-on audible alarm (which is quite loud and sounds like the bell on old alarm clocks), or you can opt for a combination of the two where the light starts blinking 5 minutes before the alarm goes off.

So far the light has not succeeded alone in nudging me awake, but perhaps that will change in the winter when early mornings are quite dark. The clock also has a gently glowing backlight for the dial face that can be switched on and off to easily read the time in the dark, and a snooze button that buys you a few more minutes of sleep. The ticking mechanism is very soft and barely audible.

The Moonbeam sells for $39.50 through LL Bean and is available in 5 soft retro colors (classic yellow, pale green, blue, dove gray, and vanilla.) A great gift for any retro fan!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Enjoli Woman

When I first saw this commercial as a child, it made me look forward to becoming a woman. I always thought the ad sort of epitomized having it all, along with the Revlon Charlie commercial.

And today? I just think it sounds stupid..."I can read you tick-o-ty tock"? Is she reading to the husband or her kids? "I can give you the shivering fits"...that sounds like a new flu virus. Work until 5? Don't I wish I could leave that early.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

She's Having a Baby, Then and Now

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there who read my blog! In honor of Mother's Day I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how pregnancy and childbirth used to be in the 20th century. Not to worry - this post will not make anyone squeamish. I just find it interesting how much attention is lavished on new mothers today compared to what our mothers and grandmothers experienced. In case you haven't noticed, our current society is absolutely obsessed with pregnancy and babies. Blame it on the media for following female celebs to get a photo of what may or may not be a "baby bump" (as if any of us care) and 9/11 for putting the focus on procreation. Babies are a booming business: there's oodles of baby care and child rearing products on the market that our grandmothers could only fantasize about. They also never received a baby shower. Think about that the next time you see a request for a $500 Pottery Barn nursery rocking chair or high end jogging stroller on a baby registry.

Here are a few things about becoming a mother that have changed during the past 60 years or so.

Maternity Clothing
There’s no contesting that this is one thing that has definitely changed for the better. In my mother’s day, maternity clothing meant stuff like the horrendous garb you saw on I Love Lucy when Lucille Ricardo got pregnant: an uncomfortable looking tent for a shirt, usually adorned with a bow. There was no such thing as spandex in the 1950s. Maternity clothing up until the 90s was also all about modesty - no one would ever conceive of showing off their belly, and bathing suits for pregnant women were unheard of. And would you check out this interesting early ad for Lane Bryant - a store chain for plus sized women which apparently had its beginnings in helping conceal pregnant bellies altogether. The copy says the catalog is delivered in a plain wrapper, so even your postman didn't even have to know that you were expecting!

The Baby Shower
Although baby showers are said to go back to the Romans and other ancient civilizations, I know one thing from talking to my mother and other ladies from her generation: they never had one. Research tends to indicate that the baby shower starting popping up in America after WW2, as the Baby Boomer generation was being born. One thing's for certain: moms-to-be didn't enjoy the lavish affairs that the baby showers of today have become, and they certainly didn't receive the latest designer diaper bag on the market.

Twilight Sleep
In the third season of Mad Men, Betty Draper is administered "twilight sleep" medication while in labor, and ends up having some strange conversations with her dead father. But for most women, twilight sleep ensured a painless and stress free labor and delivery. The delivery method was invented by a German doctor named Carl Gauss around the beginning of the 20th century. It replaced the old usage of chloroform and combined morphine with anesthesia to give the mother a dreamy childbirthing experience. By the 1930s it caught on in America and continued to be a popular method through the early 60s. There were some negative side effects associated with twilight sleep - it was said that babies born in this matter were "born sleepy" and doped up. What ultimately caused it to fall out of favor, however, was the fear of being sued by a mother who could not remember anything going on in the delivery room.

Although some women may differ in their experiences with this form of childbirth, my mother insists that for her it was "heaven" - you'd go to sleep and when you woke up you'd be holding the baby, with no to little memory of the actual act. Some of my siblings were born this way. When Grace Kelly gave birth to Princess Stephanie in 1965, she opted for more natural childbirth which finally put the twilight sleep craze to rest. By the 1970s, women had more pain control options available to them.

Dad-Free Deliveries
Another common practice about giving birth was keeping fathers out of the delivery room. They sure had it easy, pacing the waiting room back and forth and breaking out the cigars and congratulatory back slaps. As a result, they had no idea what their wives had to go through. By the 1980s, fathers were starting to become more hands-on with helping the mother of the child prep for pregnancy (remember the Lamaze classes craze?) and their job didn't end once the baby arrived - many started to get handy with diaper duty as well.

No Car Seat For That First Ride

Hard to believe, but at one time bringing the newest member of the family home meant the mother simply held him or her in her arms (and chances are the car she was riding in had no seatbelts to even protect her in case of a crash.) Carseats actually go back to the 1920s but sound completely useless: they were no more than drawstring backs that attached to the rear seats so that you could keep an eye on your tyke while driving (and so that he/she wouldn't get into trouble.) Through the 1960s the carseat had involved into a padded high chair, but remained flimsy and not effective at preventing injury in a crash. It wasn't until the 1970s when manufacturers starting improving and testing car seats for children.

Diapers deserve an honorable mention, too - it wasn't until 1960 or so that Pampers began to market a mass disposable diaper product. In the early 20th century, diaper services would pick up soiled diapers and supply the mother with a pack of fresh ones.

I hope everyone who is a mother enjoys her day!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It's Miller Time: A Tribute to a Forgotten Novelty Star

It's been said that to truly find happiness, you should do what you love and then find a way to make money from it. Someone who lived that dream was a lady who probably had no business being on shows such as Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas and The Tonight Show but was doing what she loved and making a living from it. Portly, 59 years old, and looking more like someone's grandmother or aunt rather than a go-go dancer, Elva Connes Miller - or Mrs. Miller, as she was known - belted out 60s pop standards including hits by the Beatles, Petula Clark, and Nancy Sinatra in a strange, wavering operatic style that would make Simon Cowell's molars hurt. Many people who remember the sixties are quite familiar with the era's other great novelty act, Tiny Tim, but fewer for some reason recall Mrs. Miller, perhaps because her 15 minutes of fame ended sooner. The difference between Mrs. Miller and Tiny Tim, not to mention the legions of today's wannabe but vocally challenged American Idol contestants, is that Mrs. Miller never sought fame: her success was simply the result of being in the right place at the right time, which enabled her to live out the American Dream. "Everyone has a hobby," she told the Progress Bulletin in May 1966. "My hobby has always been singing. I've made records and tapes of sacred or classical songs for my own amusement. A closet at home is filled with them."

It was that hobby of recording religious and classical songs ("just for the ducks of it", as Mrs. Miller put it) that caught the ears of Fred Bock, a record producer, (who later became her manager) during the 60s. Whether Bock saw genuine talent in Miller or an exploitation opportunity is unclear, but either way dollar signs must have been spinning on his pupils. He convinced her to record some modern songs and shilled them to a few record companies. Capitol Records, which was looking to experiment with a female vocalist with a new sound, was remarkably interested. Mrs. Miller's first LP, called "Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits", debuted in 1966 and sold over 250,000 copies. She followed it up with "Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller?" the same year, and "The Country Soul of Mrs. Miller" (which features her on the cover sporting a cowboy hat and Mexican bolero) a year later.

With that, an unusual star had been born. She not only appeared on the most popular variety shows at the time, but also joined Bob Hope in entertaining the troops in Vietnam and enjoyed a hilarious bit part in the 1967 movie The Cool Ones, singing "It's Magic" in front of an audience of giggling teenagers and a bemused Roddy McDowell. Elvis Presley even sent her a telegram before her appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Throughout it all, the lady originally from Dodge City, Kansas alluded a Midwestern, easy-going attitude and charm about her new-found fame. "I never worry about the future nor get concerned about the present," she stated to the Progress-Bulletin in 1966. "The last thing I want is an ulcer. There's no tragedy if this ends tomorrow. I've got my home and my family and I'm perfectly happy with them. Meanwhile, I'm having fun and meeting some wonderful people."

The mystery surrounding Mrs. Miller's success was always whether she was in on the joke or not. Surely she must have been aware of how bad her singing was perceived, especially while drawing fits of laughter, as during this 1966 performance below (this clip also highlights a good mix of the songs that she recorded):

Her voice sounds remarkably like a cross between Julia Child and Katherine Hepburn, punctuated by her whistling technique, which she achieved by sucking on ice for 20 minutes before recording a song. Although she is off-tune and off the beat in many recordings, she later insisted that Capitol forced her to sing during her worst moments. "I don't sing off key and I don't sing off rhythm," she told The Los Angeles Times in 1967. "They got me to do so by waiting until I was tired and then making the record. Or they would cut the record before I could become familiar with the song. At first I didn't understand what was going on. But later I did, and I resented it. I don't like to be used."

That last quote came when Mrs. Miller's fame was on the wane. After three albums, she was dropped by Capitol and picked up by a small label named Amaret. Her first LP with Amaret, called "Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing", was apparently the record producers' attempt to turn her into a late-60s psychedelic icon, as she's featured on the cover wearing a colorful dress and smirk and holding an outstretched plate of green brownies. On the album, she covers tracks full of hidden drug references such as "Mary Jane", "Green Tambourine", "Green Thumb", and "Renaissance of Smut." At that point the Mrs. Miller joke was old, and she eventually faded into obscurity.

Childless, what little money Mrs. Miller made from her singing career was used to care for her ailing husband (who was thirty years her senior.) She spent much of her free time attending classical music performances and enjoying visits with her nieces and nephews. She passed away in 1996.

Today, an entire century after her birth, there is still a legion of fans that enjoy Mrs. Miller's music and legacy. A compilation CD of some of her recordings (Ultra-Lounge: Wild, Cool & Swingin' - Artist Series Vol 3 Mrs. Miller) was released in 1999 and has received several high ratings and glowing reviews on Amazon (for the bargain basement price of $7.97.) Many reviewers cite Mrs. Miller's ability to make them laugh or feel better after a bad day, and that her singing reminds them of their mother. Indeed, the characteristic of Mrs. Miller's singing that so many people find endearing is the joy that comes through in many of her recordings. It's pretty obvious from listening to many of the track samples that she simply loved singing, and I would theorize that her ordinary appearance and approachability appealed to many people.

That, perhaps, was the secret to Mrs. Miller's short lived success: her hobby allowed her to live out a dream that most people cannot obtain, but can admire greatly.

And just in case you didn't get enough of those singing chops, here's some of the popular 60s hits that she covered, including my personal favorite, These Boots Were Made For Walking.

Monday, May 03, 2010

At the Carhop

One thing I've never had the pleasure of doing is eating at a carhop. In fact, I don't ever recall a notable one existing in the Boston area by the time the 70s and 80s came along (although I'm sure at least one reader will let me know if that wasn't the case.) Carhops started popping up in the 30s as a dining response to a new automotive world and had taken off by the 50s. At carhops, you'd pull your vehicle up to a designated parking spot and never got out of it. Waitresses, usually on rollerskates, would take your order and bring you your food. If you've seen the movie American Graffiti, a carhop is featured prominently in the film.

Considering how sedentary our society has become, it's surprising that carhops peetered out over the past 30 years. Now two restaurant chains, Ruby's Drive-In and Sonic Drive-In, are bringing back the carhop atmosphere and putting their servers on rollerskates. Both chains are hoping the retro twist will attract diners away from McDonald's and the usual fast food chains.

It's a great idea, and I hope one opens in my area soon. In the meantime, here's a collection of vintage photos of original carhops. And if you have fond memories of visiting one, I'd love to hear about them.

I love that this photo shows that not all of the skating servers were girls. Why should male customers have all of the fun and eye candy?

This one's from 1945...a little more modesty because of the trousers.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

No, I Have Not Abandoned My Blog

It pains me when another day goes by without posting anything new to this blog. No, I haven't run off to Europe or fallen off the face of the earth. Rest assured Go Retro is not going away; I just haven't had the time or been motivated enough to get a worthy enough post up. My mother just had knee replacement surgery so a lot of my evening and weekend time is taken up with helping with the shopping, cleaning the house, maintaining the yard, etc. A second reason is I just currently don't have access to a lot of cool old magazines and stuff to scan like other retro bloggers do.

I still love this blog and I want to thank everyone who has stopped by, left comments, and signed up as Go Retro followers. I can't tell you how grateful I am for the positive response to topics that I love writing about and I'm also overdue in paying many of you a visit and adding your own sites to my blogroll. I definitely plan to remedy that soon.

Tomorrow I am participating in my second annual Walk for Hunger in Boston - a charity event that helps feed millions of needy Massachusetts residents. It's a 20 mile walk and I loved doing it last year. It's doubtful I'll have time tomorrow to get a post up as a result.

Also some brainstorming is in order for future posts/blog ideas. I have a very bad habit of thinking of cool/fun things to post and then failing to write them down.

This sounds like it's rambling over all the place...but I just wanted to send a little shout out to all of my readers that I promise to get back in the groove soon. Besides, I'm now two people away from 100 followers so I have to! I hope everyone is doing well.

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