Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Touchy TV Topics: When Sitcoms Taught A Lesson

If there's one major difference I've noticed between modern comedy sitcoms and their ancestors of yesteryear (besides the fact that so many of today's shows simply don't strike me as funny) it's that half hour sitcoms of the 70s and 80s often dealt with controversial and/or uncomfortable topics, such as abortion, anorexia, drug use, and sexual harassment. I was reminded of this after Amanda over at Made For TV Mayhem posted about The Facts of Life and mentioned a notable episode that featured a teenage prostitute. Now, could you imagine this sort of storyline showing up on Modern Family, In the Middle, or Two and A Half Men? If it did on the latter, the producers would take advantage of Charlie Harper's promiscuous ways and treat it as a bad joke instead of the serious topic it should be.

Maybe we've just become really desensitized to certain morals, or maybe today's TV moguls are afraid of a backlash reminiscent of the one CBS experienced when it gave Maude an abortion in 1972, but during these messed up times, I feel television as a medium is missing out on an opportunity to teach a life lesson or at least make viewers work their brains again. In fact, the episodes of my favorite sitcoms of my preteen years that dealt with touchy subjects are the ones I still remember the most years after they aired. Here's a few notable ones, as well as some that I personally don't remember, but were still hard hitting:

The Facts of Life - Dieting Episode
Any time you have a show that revolves around the lives of young girls at a boarding school, there's bound to be episodes that confront sex, drugs, and other heady teen topics. The Facts of Life covered all these and more, but one half hour that particularly stands out for me was the "Dieting" episode from 1980. Sue Ann Weaver goes on a crash starvation diet to impress a boy from another boarding school that Blair has set her up with - after implying that she's too heavy to win his heart. Headmistress Mrs. Garrett gets caught up in the dieting hoopla, determined to fit into a size 12 dress. Things escalate when Sue Ann discovers the date will involve being seen in a swimsuit, and she ends up collapsing from eating too little, leading everyone to realize the pressures that society put on young women to be a certain size and to impress others is not the healthiest path to happiness.

Punky Brewster - Just Say No (aka The Temptation of Punky) Episode
Nine year-old Punky and her pal learn about peer pressure at a tender age when they join a girls club called the Chicklets, which is led by a jerk who looks like an extra from Desperately Seeking Susan. She reveals a stash of assorted pills, pot, and even coke (aka "nose candy") which she pushes on the tots, threatening them with some serious street slang: "I put my rep on the line for you two!" But perhaps the best moment in this clip is when Punky's teacher, Mr. Fulton - upon learning of her predicament - breaks into a rendition of James Brown's I Feel Good. Check out the clip below!

All in the Family - Archie and the KKK
There wasn't an ethnic group that didn't escape Archie Bunker's racist zings - he constantly referred to his son-in-law as a dumb polack, and England as a "fag country." However, as the series progressed through the 70s, TV's favorite bigot gradually softened his stance once he actually got to know people. In this two part episode from 1977, Archie is hanging out at his favorite bar, complaining about Mike's inability to agree with him on his political views when two men nearby overhear the conversation. They befriend Archie and invite him to join their secret group, called the Kweens Kouncil of Krusaders, an offshoot of the KKK. Archie soon discovers that his new friends plan to burn crosses on "commie" Mike's yard to teach him a lesson. He threatens the two men against the burning by revealing that he has black blood inside of him from a transfusion he received during his gall bladder operation, and can call on his black brothers to stop them:

One Day At A Time - All the Way
The social issues of birth control and teen sex made their way onto One Day At A Time several times, with Barbara struggling over whether to have sex and eventually decided to remain a virgin until marriage. In this episode, Barbara's older sister is feeling the pressure from her boyfriend of 3 months, Chuck, to go all the way. He claims that only freaks don't act on the urge to have sex. In the end, much to mother Ann's relief, she is happy she stood up for herself and decided to wait - at least for now.

As an aside,you just have to dig Bonnie Franklin's groovy green unicorn dress in these clips:

Happy Days - Hard Cover aka Fonzie Gets His Library Card
This episode didn't tackle a controversial topic, but it did deliver a brief message about the importance of reading. Fonzie takes Richie to a local library near his college after explaining that it's a hot hangout for picking up chicks, and obtains his first ever library card in the process ("Everybody is allowed to read"). For years afterwards, newspapers reported that the American Library Association claimed that there was a huge spike in new library card applications, which Snopes.com refutes.

And those are just a few examples off the top of my head. I know it really isn't up to network television to teach our society some moral values, but it sure would shake things up a bit and make some current shows more interesting. Note that tackling heavy subjects didn't diminish the humor of any of these programs - in fact, it heightened their staying power and credibility as memorable quality programming. If there are shows/episodes that you remember that I've missed here that had an impact on you or made you think, please feel free to let me know!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

What does knitting have to do with Thanksgiving? I have no idea, but this is one groovy combo indeed. How anyone would possibly have enough time to get four turkeys ready AND knit a Thanksgiving ensemble is beyond me, unless speed was involved.

Anyways, I wanted to thank this moment to thank all of my readers and followers...you're definitely one of the many things I have to be grateful about on this holiday and every day of the year...your positive comments keep me inspired to better my posts and keep up the blogging. I'm also extremely thankful to have so much in my life. So Happy Thanksgiving to all! Enjoy it. 

Whatever Happened to Waiting Until After Thanksgiving to Celebrate Christmas?

I realize I already wrote about this topic this time last year, but it bears repeating: Christmas has definitely arrived early this year. A little too early. A week before Halloween, a nearby mall started setting up its annual Santa display. Last weekend, Boston lit up its tree in Faneuil Hall. A few days before that, one of the local oldies radio stations announced that beginning now, it would be playing holiday songs non-stop through December 25. Driving home from work the past few nights, I saw several houses that were already decorated and lit up with Christmas nights.

Now take a look at the famous Norman Rockwell painting on the left. I don't see any tinsel or Christmas trees in that picture, do you?

As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief!" (and as Snoopy would say, "BLLLLLAAAHHH!") I love a good rendition of Jingle Bell Rock as much as anyone, but only after the turkey has passed through my digestive system. It's bad enough that advertisers are shoving holiday-related promotions down our throats right after Halloween, but the radio station turned me off - and therefore, I turned them off. Maybe I'm just weird, but I can't get into Christmas until at least a day or two after Thanksgiving - it's really that simple. And how frigging bizarre to me that people are actually getting into it and lighting up their houses already. I guess if they want to jack up their electrical bills, it's their business. 

To me it's just another ploy to get the public to shop. It seems people were observing that Christmas was becoming too commercial in the 60s and 70s, but now it's reached ridiculous proportions. Pretty soon, we'll be pulling out the decorations right after Halloween. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Putting the Kabosh on Spammers

Well guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I've just turned the word verification back on under my comment settings for this blog, because the amount of spam I am getting lately has just been overwhelming. It started out as spam in English, but now I'm getting Asian and Arabic spam, as well as generic requests addressed to the admin of GoRetro telling me that a link of mine is not working. I mean, enough already. I guess it's a good sign that your blog is getting increased traffic, but it's out of control. Who are these people and why don't they have a life? Or most likely they're bot generated. More importantly, do the jerks behind them think this lame marketing tactic actually works? I don't know anyone who admits to clicking on an off-topic advertising link on sites they visit.

Spam and spammers just suck; there's no polite way of saying it. I apologize for the inconvenience (that's for you, Marlene :)), but I really hope this cuts it out or at least cuts it down. 

Just for fun, and to keep a retro theme to this post, here's a thoroughly disgusting 1975 for Spam...spread? Ewww. 

Also this week may be a slow one on the blog...but I'm going to try to get another post up before the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Thanks for understanding!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dick Cavett

The logo for his show was groovy, but he was often not. Dick Cavett lacked Johnny Carson's shtick and spark, but he managed to interview some of the biggest music stars of their time and make them feel at ease. Today is his birthday, and I've been celebrating by watching a bunch of video clips from his 1970s talk show. Actually, a talk show hosted by Cavett has existed in one form or another for four decades now and is currently running on Turner Classic Movies, but it's his ABC version that ran from 1969 to the mid-70s that most people associate him with. Even though he was a bit before my time, I'm familiar with the interviews he did with John Lennon, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few. Never before have I seen such a mild mannered host conversing with these cool cats, and they usually seemed too happy to oblige. Joplin, in particular, seems to have been a favorite of his, appearing on his prime time show three times.

Here's some memorable clips from his programs...

The bemused members of ABBA attempting to sing "Don't Fence Me In" with Cavett's prodding.

The best line in this Jimi Hendrix clip is the last one:

Gloria Swanson sharing the same space as Janis Joplin. She wants "to do" Cavett's head:

Gina Lollobrigida steals interview time away from Woody Allen and Ruth Gordon, neither of who appear very happy about it:

Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal have a bad case of the bitchies. Even the rock stars didn't behave this badly. Have to say this is remarkably respectful compared to on-air feuds today.

Two Forgotten Friday Favorites: Foreigner

I must spread some love for Foreigner this morning. They are, without a doubt, one of my favorite bands of the 70s/80s. I think the ultimate 80s concert would be seeing Journey, Survivor, and Foreigner perform together because their sounds and names are similar. But of the trio, Foreigner - a mashup of British and American musicians; hence, the group's title - stands out the most to me. They were not the type to make social or political statements, but rather, their music dealt with the ups and downs of relationships and that's why I love them. This same group gave us what I consider to be one of the most romantic ballads ever written, Waiting For A Girl Like You, and one of the sexiest songs about straight-up sex ever written, Urgent. (URGENT! URGENT! EMERGENCY! Sorry. Couldn't control myself.) 

Both those hits, by the way, featured Thomas Dolby of She Blinded Me With Science fame on synthesizer. 

I don't think I've ever met anyone who has told me in person that they're a Foreigner fan, but they're definitely out there: so many glowing comments on YouTube. The group has expanded and shrunk through the years, losing and gaining members, but the songwriting/vocals of Mick Jones and Lou Gramm is still my favorite combo, and produced much of the well-known hits of the 70s and 80s. 

I hadn't heard 1987's Say You Will in years, and never saw the actual video until this week. This has a nice film noir look to it. I recognized Cathy Fedoruk, a fashion model from the 80s and 90s, as the call girl:

It's impossible for me to choose a second, but I cannot resist the song Urgent. Junior Walker of All Stars fame recorded the sax solo on the record.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Great McPufnstuf Ripoff

Does anyone else who was a child of the 70s remember the psychedelic "McDonaldland" commercials and themed playgrounds? It was an advertising concept that McDonald's introduced in 1971 and centered around a trippy, magical place where bushes grew an unending supply of french fries, Filet-O-Fishes swam in lakes, and apple pies sprouted from trees. In addition to Ronald McDonald himself, other inhabitants of McDonaldland included Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, The Hamburglar, the pear-shaped, purple, hairy Grimace, Captain Crook, and The Professor. 

This was the best quality version of an early commercial showing McDonaldland that I could find. The song is very groovy!

Tucked away in my basement, I have this wind-up McDonaldland train set and dolls of several of the characters sold during the mid-70s:

What I loved most were the McDonaldland themed playgrounds that only certain McDonald's in my area had. My brother took me to one when I was about five years old and I distinctly remember riding the Filet-O-Fish and playing inside Grimace:

If you're thinking by now that these mascots look like something Sid and Marty Krofft dreamed up, you'd be mostly correct. When McDonald's came up with the marketing concept in 1971, they modeled it exactly after the H. R. Pufnstuf TV show, created by the Kroffts. One problem, though - McDonald's never actually credited or paid the brothers. The pair sued the fast food giant in 1973, and ultimately collected over $1 million in damages about 4 years later. McDonald's was forced to phase out the magical sets and many of the original characters from their advertising. They tried to compensate in the 80s and early 90s by introducing new characters such as the French Fry Goblins and Birdie the Early Bird, but by then the magic was lost. Like a lot of things from my childhood, I'll always think of McDonaldland as distinctly 70s, never to be seen again. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

One Ad Too Good Not to Share: The Mighty Tiny

Courtesy of x-ray delta one on Flickr
Now don't get too excited, kid. For starters, your record player for Keebler elves only came with three Mighty Tiny records. How many times can you listen to "The Farmer and the Dell", "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"? How many times do you think your parents are going to put up with it until they toss Mighty Tiny, records and all, into the fireplace?

Second, once you hit your teenage years you'll find out soon enough that sometimes, tiny isn't always worth opening your mouth for. In that case, Mighty Tiny = Mighty Fail. 

Such a strange ad but oh, to think there was once a time where kids actually did get excited about something that didn't beep, tweet, text or light up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Fun Trivia Facts About The Sound of Music

It's a no-brainer that The Sound of Music isn't exactly on the favorite films lists of most heterosexual men. However, whether you're male or female, gay or straight, I hope you'll enjoy these fun trivia facts about the making of the movie that I gleamed from various sources. I must admit that after all these years there were tons of cool factoids listed here that I'd never heard of before:

*Christopher Plummer hated working on the film. He referred to it as "The Sound of Mucus" or "S&M" and compared working with the cheerful Julie Andrews to "being hit over the head with a big Valentine's Day card, every day." Nonetheless, he and Andrews have remained close friends all these years.

*Among the child actors who auditioned to play one of the Von Trapp children were Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Veronica Cartwright, and the four eldest Osmond Brothers (Alan Osmond, Jay Osmond, Merrill Osmond and Wayne Osmond). Dreyfuss couldn't dance. Liza Minnelli, Patty Duke, Mia Farrow, Kim Darby, Lesley Ann Warren, Tisha Sterling, and Sharon Tate all auditioned/tested for the role of Liesl.

*Charmian Carr, who played the eldest daughter Liesl, admitted on The Oprah Winfrey Show to having a huge crush on her movie dad, Christopher Plummer (well, can you blame her?) Plummer drank heavily on the set and reportedly taught Carr how to knock back one or two. 

*Sean Connery and Richard Burton were considered for the part of Captain von Trapp.

*The gazebo used for the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" and "Something Good" scenes can still be visited in the Salzburg area, on Sound of Music tours. However, the public had to be excluded from the interior because film fans who were considerably older than "sixteen going on seventeen" were injuring themselves while trying to jump from bench to bench. The gazebo in Austria was only used for exterior shots. The actual dance by Charmian Carr and Daniel Truhitte was, in fact, filmed on a replica of the gazebo's interior on a sound stage at 20th Century-Fox in Los Angeles, as were the shots of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

*While the von Trapp family hiked over the Alps to Switzerland in the movie, in reality they walked to the local train station and boarded the next train to Italy. From Italy, they fled to London and ultimately the USA. Salzburg is in fact only a few miles away from the Austrian-German border, and is much too far from either the Swiss or Italian borders for a family to escape by walking. Had the von Trapps hiked over the mountains, they would have ended up in Germany, near Adolf Hitler's mountain retreat.  

*The house that was used as the Von Trapp home was actually owned by actress Hedy Lamarr.

*Debbie Turner, who played Marta, had many loose baby teeth during filming. When they fell out, they were replaced with false teeth.

*At the beginning of filming, Heather Menzies (Louisa) was about three inches taller than Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich). He had to wear heel lifts to make him look taller. By the end of the shoot, Nicolas Hammond had grown six inches (5'3" to 5'9"). He often filmed in no shoes and Charmian Carr had to stand on a box to make her taller. All of the Von Trapp children grew a lot during filming, so heel lifts and various camera tricks were used to keep their heights steady.

*In real life, Georg Von Trapp was not stern. The real-life Trapp children were a bit upset by the portrayal of their father in the film. Maria von Trapp requested that director Robert Wise soften the character of her husband, but Wise refused. 

*Christopher Plummer learned to play the guitar for his part, but the guitar (and his recorded vocals) were dubbed over. 

*In the closing shot, when the family is climbing over the hills to safety, it is not really Kym Karath as Gretl on the shoulders of Captain von Trapp. In the DVD version, it is revealed that while in Austria, Kym Karath gained a lot of weight. This was one of the last shots filmed and so she was evidently a bit too heavy to be carried on Christopher Plummer's back. Plummer requested a stunt double and that is who's seen being carried on his back.

*The real Maria Von Trapp has a cameo in the movie. She can be seen as the elder of two women in Austrian peasant garb who are in the background as Maria walks through a brick archway during "I Have Confidence".

*The opening film shot was actually the final sequence shot in Europe before the cast and crew returned to Los Angeles. It was filmed in late June and early July of 1964. Despite the warm and sunny appearance, Julie Andrews notes that she was freezing doing numerous takes of the scene. Director Robert Wise has said that he had to climb one of the trees nearby to be able to oversee the helicopter shoot without getting in the picture.

*At the musical competition at the end of the movie, Fraulein Schweiger--the third place winner--bows a total of 16 times.

*In Austria the film is know as "Meine Lieder - meine Träume" ("My Songs - my dreams"). It's not very well known there though, and the ending of the film was cut when it hit Austrian cinemas in the 60s.

*During the scene with Maria and the Captain at the gazebo, Julie Andrews couldn't stop laughing due to a lighting device that was making, in her words, a "raspberry" every time she leaned in to kiss Plummer. After more than 20 takes, the scene was altered to silhouette the two and to hide Andrews' giggles.

*The song "Edelweiss" was written for the musical and is little known in Austria. It was the last composition that Oscar Hammerstein II wrote before his passing in 1960.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Oh, Oh, Oh, It's Magic!

The week is proving to be busy, so it's time for a perfectly irrelevant post - how many songs can I list off the top of my head that are about magic or have the word magic in the title? As The Amazing Mumford from Sesame Street would say, abracadabra a la peanut butter sandwiches, here we go!

Do You Believe In Magic - The Lovin' Spoonful
Magic Man - Heart
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic - The Police
Black Magic Woman - Santana
Abracadabra - Steve Miller
Strange Magic - Electric Light Orchestra
Magic - Pilot
That Old Black Magic - Frank Sinatra
Magic Carpet Ride - Steppenwolf
Magic - The Cars
You Can Do Magic - America
Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles
Magic - Olivia Newton John
Puff the Magic Dragon - Peter, Paul and Mary
I Put A Spell On You - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Magic Bus - The Who
Which ones did I forget?

By the way, that mythical looking cat in the photo above is magician Doug Henning, who made many a TV appearance in the 70s. With his rainbow colored costumes, long curly locks and mustache and a later interest in transcendental meditation, you could say Henning was the original hippie magician. I was surprised to recently discover that sadly, he passed away in 2000 at the age of 52 from cancer. I don't really remember a word being said about it at the time, which is why he deserves some attention on this blog. 

Henning was born in Canada and starting performing magic when he was only 14 years old. Besides appearing alongside The Muppets and on Broadway, Henning enjoyed an annual special on NBC called Doug Henning's World of Magic. It debuted in 1975 and continued for seven years, drawing millions of viewers each time. He also created stage effects through his own production company for the music industry, including videos and concerts by Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind, and Fire.

He was also a bit of a crackpot. His fascination with yoga and the idea of levitation (he'd seen another magician do it on The Ed Sullivan Show when he was young) inspired him to abandon his magic career and run for political office for something called the Natural Law Party in Britain and then later in Canada. The Natural Law Party believed in "yogic flying," in which followers would hurl themselves a few inches into the air from a seated yoga position. Henning claimed that worldwide problems such as taxes, debt and disease could be cured by the exercise.

Needless to say, Henning didn't secure the minimum number of votes to run for political office, and he retired from that as well, turning his attention to transcendental mediation, and even toyed with the idea of opening up a TM theme park. 

On Henning's last TV special, he closed it with these poignant words, which I love: 
"Anything the mind can conceive is possible. Nothing is impossible. All you have to do is look within and you can realize your fondest dreams. I would like to wish each one of you all of life's wonders and a joyful age of enlightenment."

What do you know - this post turned out to be more than irrelevant!

Here's some clips of Henning's TV and Broadway appearances, from back in his heyday:

Monday, November 08, 2010

In a Mummenschanz Trance

I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I was the other day when I found a whole bunch of vintage Mummenschanz videos from The Muppet Show - these guys were the bomb! Mummenschanz was a trio of Swiss mimes/puppeteers who made several TV appearances in the 70s. However, they were not like any mimes you ever saw before - least of which the annoying ones with white faces. Instead, they wore masks made out of moldable clay or removal parts or full body suits that allowed them to move around as various objects on stage. I can't even begin to describe how weirdly wonderful and creative them were - and while I admit being a little scared of them as a kid, I also found them fascinating. 

The name comes from the German word for mime, which is mummer. Two guys and a gal originally made up Mummenschanz. Bernie Schürch, Andres Bossard and Floriana Frassetto formed the group in 1972. They toured the world in the mid-70s and played Broadway for three years. Bossard passed away in 1992 and today there are four members, including Schürch and Frassetto. They were responsible for the shadow imagery of nominated movie titles during the 2007 Academy Awards ceremony.

Take a look at some of the videos below - they certainly took me back and I can honestly say I've yet to see anything like Mummenschanz for quite a while, at least on national television. Back in the 70s, you certainly had to be talented and creative to make it on TV. 

Does anyone else remember these guys?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Two Forgotten Friday Favorites: Nu Shooz

Those crazy DSW commercials with the stop-motion shoes remind me of the music video for The Point of No Return, which was a hit for Nu Shooz in the 80s. The husband and wife team of John Smith and Valerie Day fronted the group from Portland, Oregon. Their first big hit was I Can't Wait - but initially only on the local Portland stations. When a young Dutchman in Holland remixed the original song and imported it back to the States, Atlantic Records loved it and signed the band in 1986.

Other hits that followed include Don't Let Me Be the One, Should I Say Yes, and Are You Lookin' for Somebody Nu but I can't say they ring any bells. I just remember the two forgotten Friday favorites.

Smith and Day are still married today, and still performing. They re-released I Can't Wait to a much jazzier, acoustic arrangement in 2006, but the original version that burned up the dance floors in the 80s will always be my favorite. 

Wikipedia (by way of Billboard) says the song is played somewhere on the planet every 11 minutes - that's some staying power!

Here's the videos for I Can't Wait (the band apparently received a lot of curious questions about the dog wearing sunglasses) and Point of No Return, featuring some flashy 80s footwear:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Good Grief! You've Had a Lot of TV Specials, Charlie Brown!

Charlie Brown officially turned 60 this year, and in that time he and the rest of the Peanuts gang have starred in over 50 TV specials. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown kicked off what I like to refer to as the Peanuts Holiday Trinity, and of course we have the Valentine's Day and Easter specials, but what about the other 45 or so? Have you heard of or ever seen Why, Charlie Brown, Why?, What A Nightmare, Charlie Brown!, or It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown? It's about time some of the more unusual specials in the Peanuts collection deserve a little love - just like good ol' Chuck himself. Be forewarned: some of the themes featured in these forgotten gems include animal abuse, cancer, and bullying. Here's a look back at some of them...

It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown (1984)
Sadly, unlike the Peanuts specials that focus on timeless annual holidays, Snoopy's Flashbeagle performance will most likely never be seen on TV again due to its definitive 1980s vibe. In case you couldn't guess, this program was inspired by the movie Flashdance by way of Saturday Night Fever and features a cover of the early 80s song Mickey. As predicted, Snoopy dons a headband and leg warmers a la Olivia Newton John to dance to a catchy song called Flashbeagle.
However, one of the best reasons to see it is to hear the Peanuts gang sing The Pigpen Hoedown. It's guaranteed to stay in your noggin for at least 24 hours. 

What A Nightmare, Charlie Brown! (1979)
Actually, this special should have been named What A Nightmare, Snoopy! because that's exactly what happens to our favorite pooch after he gorges himself on pizza and milkshakes. I definitely remember this Peanuts sequence as one of the scariest and most sinister ones that Charles Schulz stamped his approval on. After pigging out on the meal, Snoopy goes to sleep and has a horrific nightmare where he's part of a sled dog pack led by a cruel owner who whips the dogs and starves them. Poor Snoopy has a hard time fending for himself until he grows fangs, puffs his fur up, and fights back against his vicious sled mates. Towards the end of the dream, the sled dog master forces the pack over a lake full of melting ice. They all plunge into the water as Snoopy, who is now the lead sled dog, tries in vain to pull them up - or at least prevent himself from drowning. I swear, just watching the below sequence again on YouTube after all these years gave me the heebie jeebies!

Why, Charlie Brown, Why? (1990)
In this bummer of a Peanuts special, Linus struggles with life questions when a female classmate he is fond of is diagnosed with leukemia. Yeah, you heard that right. The girl's name is Janice and she describes the testing that was done to detect the disease and her resulting chemotherapy, which causes her long, blond hair to fall out. The show portrays Janice being bullied because of her bald head, and addresses the feelings that siblings of sick children often go through (Janice's sister is jealous of the gifts and attention that Janice has been receiving, prompting Linus to give her a present.) The program was inspired by a letter the American Cancer Society sent to Schulz, requesting a five-minute animated short that they could show to young cancer patients. Schulz expanded it into a half-hour program. 

I really commend Schulz and the producers for making a cartoon that takes on a tough topic and aims it at young viewers. The following clip seriously choked me up a bit, but what's most disturbing about it is Lucy's callous and ignorant attitude towards Janice's illness - bitch seriously needs a slap in the mouth! "No thank you, I don't want to catch your crabbiness." You go, Linus!

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending: after several months of treatment Janice is able to go off of chemotherapy and reveals to Linus that her blond hair has grown back. 

She's A Good Skate, Charlie Brown (1980)
If you still think of Peppermint Patty as a tomboy (or - cough - closet lesbian), this special gave her a chance to show off her more feminine side as she trains and participates in an ice skating competition. Who knew?

The best part is when Snoopy tries to fix the faulty tape player that has mangled Patty's music (I love the disgruntled sounds he makes and Marcie's "Relax, sir! Relax until they fix the music!"). Little Woodstock steps into action and saves the day by whistling O Mio Babbine Caro. Such multi-talented Peanuts characters!

It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown (1977)
I've saved the best for last, because for once Charlie Brown gets what he deserves after all these years - respect, and a chance to kiss his number-one crush, the little red-haired girl, Heather, who has been voted homecoming queen. Sadly, he has no memory of anything that happened after the smooch (despite a very trippy vision of soaring above the clouds in sheer ecstasy), but Linus - who may or may not be fibbing - tells Charles that he was the life of the party by dancing (the hustle, the bump, and the chicken) with Heather and all of the girls in her court.

Did any of these jog your memory? Did I miss any of your favorites? If so, let me know!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Go Retro's Retro Hottie of the Month: Christopher Plummer

This month's Retro Hottie of the Month is for my mother - she's been in love with Christopher Plummer ever since The Sound of Music was released 45 years ago. Who can blame her? He is yummy indeed, but I must admit that when Captain Von Trapp starts blowing that whistle, I want to rip it from his hands and blast it in his ear. I plan on posting about my love for The Sound of Music later this week (the cast recently reunited on Oprah) but in the meantime, here's a collection of Plummer photos. 

The Canadian-born Plummer developed a bit of a bad boy reputation in his younger days. This 2005 interview quote from Entertainment Weekly cracked me up: "(We didn't drink) because we had problems. We drank 'cause we adored it! We adored getting drunk, you a--holes! Don't tell me that it isn't fun! I can't bear that. Oh, you must have had some awful childhood, that you drank like that. Nonsense! Actually, I was taught as a child to drink. I came from a family that loved wine. I was twelve, I think, when I was drinking wine with dinner. I'm glad I had fun and lived in a fun time."

We'll drink to that!

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