Sunday, September 30, 2012

When Advertising Took a Trip

Looking back at vintage advertising through the decades, it's very evident that psychedelia spilled over into the advertising world during the late 60s. All of a sudden, the ads just pop with swirls of color and flower power. Some models in the ads look like they were on drugs...I mean, take the girl in the example above. This is an ad for dry cleaning, not the state lottery. No one looks this happy over dry cleaning unless they're tripping. From an artistic and pop culture standpoint, these ads are just plain fun to look at. (Note: all ads came from MewDeep via Flickr.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spooky Grooves: Disco Dracula

Image from imageshack
Halloween is just around the corner…let's get into the haunting spirit early with some gloulish disco grooves courtesy of a group that called themselves Hot Blood!

Not long ago I posted about a European disco dance troupe called Ballet Zoom, which included a performance to a song called "Soul Dracula." I couldn't get the song out of my head and discovered that it's credited to a group called Hot Blood...which put out an album in 1977 called Disco Dracula. Technically, Hot Blood wasn't so much a marketed group as it was a bunch of session musicians brought together for the purposes of putting out an anonymous German novelty disco record. There are only seven tracks and today was my lucky day considering some kind retro soul had uploaded all of them to Grooveshark.

So if you're in the mood for some obscure disco just for kicks, have a listen and let the Drac take you under his disco spell...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yes! It's the Benny Hill Show

Photo via
I consider it a privilege that by the age of 10 I was regularly watching The Benny Hill Show with my parents. When other kids were watching Fame and Silver Spoons, I was taking in the hijinks of Hill and his cleavage peeking crew as they chased after skimpily dressed women, known as Hill's Angels. Some of Benny's humor was actually perfectly appropriate for kids--a fixture of the show was vaudevillian slapstick and silly songs with cleverly disguised double-entendres which flew over my young head. But let's face it, the sketches that I remember most and that were the funniest were those that just barely made it past the U.S. television censors (if anyone was indeed censoring the show.) I distinctly remember one dance number where the entire male cast appeared on stage wearing trench coats, then flashed the audience--each revealing a nude colored body suit with a strategically placed fig leaf. By 1980s television standards, it really did look like everyone was naked. Another sketch showed a sequence of clips meant to emulate a couple copulating and reaching orgasm--a washing machine, a rocket ship blasting into space, fireworks, etc. I was never into Monty Python and I never really got The Black Adder, so The Benny Hill Show served as my introduction to British humor. I suppose for many boys my age at the time who were allowed to watch it, it also served as an introduction to sex. 

For many years, I didn't dare admit to my friends that I watched this show. It's not like I could have said at the lunch table, "Did you see that Bionic Baby sketch on Benny Hill last night? What a hoot!" They would have thought I was nuts! You see, a lot of people thought this was a sexist and politically incorrect show. Benny would often point out that while the men on the show ogled and chased the women, they never actually caught any. Like Wile E. Coyote chasing after the Roadrunner, Benny never did get the hot chick and it became a recurring gag for several decades. 

A comedian named Ben Elton made a ridiculous claim in 1987 both on the TV and in Q magazine that The Benny Hill Show was to blame for the increase of rape in England during the decade and that the show encouraged other violent acts towards women. He later tried to backpedal and said the comment was taken out of context, but it drives home the point on how seriously some viewers took the show. 

Something about the show that I only learned just recently is that it existed in one way or another since the 1950s. I always think of Benny Hill as a 70s and 80s television fixture because that was when I watched it (the Thames years as I call them, as the show aired on Thames in the UK before it made its way to the States.) Alfred Hawthorne Hill worked a number of odd jobs early in his life before getting into radio and comedy, and changed his first name to Benny to honor his favorite comedian, Jack Benny. Benny Hill's first comedic sketch appeared on the BBC1 channel in 1951 on a program called Hi There! By the late 50s, the format known as The Benny Hill Show had come to fruition. 

Here's a black and white sketch from the mid-60s. The first few minutes really aren't that funny, but the middle portion that takes place in the gym is classic Benny--utilizing creative camera work for comedic effect.

By the 70s, Benny's male supporting cast was made up of Henry McGee, Jon Jon Keefe, Nicholas Parsons, and Bob Todd. But perhaps the most memorable actor on the show was Jackie Wright. He was the little old man with an unintelligible Irish accent who often appeared in drag or got slapped on his bald head by Benny. For many years, my parents speculated that Wright was actually Benny's real-life father but in fact, he was an Irish comedian who got discovered by Benny in the mid-60s. When he passed away in 1989 Benny told the press, "He was a lovely little fella...I'm saddened beyond words." 

Benny with Jackie Wright via
You never knew what you were going to see on The Benny Hill Show. In retrospect I've realized that Benny seemed to imitate more American pop culture figures and characters than British celebs; he lampooned Kojak, Cannon, Starsky and Hutch, The A Team, McCloud, Kenny Rogers, Marlon Brando, and Orson Wells. The Bionic Baby skit that I mentioned earlier was what would have happened if The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman met and had a child together; Benny plays several parts in the segment including appearing in blackface as Ida Amin. 

Of course, a post about The Benny Hill Show would not be complete without mentioning its closing number, Yakety Sax. I always thought it would be worth learning the saxophone someday just to be able to play this song at parties. The closing to this show always featured the cast running (more sped-up camera work) in a Keystone Cops style...literally a running gag! 

At one point The Benny Hill Show aired in 140 countries. According to a documentary called Living Famously, John Howard Davies, the former head of entertainment at Thames Television, cancelled the show in 1989 because "...the audiences were going down, the programme was costing a vast amount of money, and (Hill) was looking a little tired." However, the story I've heard on other retro blogs is that the downfall of the show was due to UK viewers getting increasingly upset by the T-and-A jokes, which seems a bit odd given that Benny's theme was hardly anything new and scandalous. Either way, the cancelation seemed pretty low brow to me considering that it happened right after Benny attended a successful Cannes television festival and thought he was getting a new series from Thames. 

When Benny Hill passed away in 1992, my parents and I were surprised to learn that the man who had seemed to enjoy such notoriety on television apparently lived a quiet life and had never married, although he proposed to three women throughout his lifetime, all of whom turned him down. He didn't own his home or a car, and enjoyed traveling to France. 

I have about three or four "best of The Benny Hill Show" VHS tapes that I gave to my father for what turned out to be his last Christmas and I haven't been able to bring myself around to watching them again since, as he was such a fan of the show. But perhaps it's time to reconnect that VCR...I'd like to think my dad will somehow be watching them with me. 

Clips from the show are not as plentiful online as I would have thought, but here's a few giggle worthy ones I roused up...


Jane Leeves, of Frasier and Hot in Cleveland fame, was one of the more famous Hill's Angels. If 2+2 was good enough for Benny, I'm sure it was good enough for male fans, too!

More Hill's Angels...gee, I don't have the faintest idea why guys loved Benny Hill so much, do you? Keep watching, my fellow does get funny for us:

That famous closing theme...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bomb Girls

Image from WebTVWire
If you're in Mad Men and Downtown Abbey withdrawal and disappointed about the cancellation of Pan Am, then Go Retro has a tip on a hot, new retro themed show for you: Bomb Girls, airing on the Reelz channel. Bomb Girls follows the lives of a group of "Rosie the Riveters"--women working in a munitions factory during WWII while the boys are fighting overseas. The series originally aired in Canada in January, and has now made its way to the States on Reelz.

And let me tell you, you have to be watching this show. Reelz has only shown the first two episodes and I'm already hooked. This is much better than Pan Am or most series that was set in a previous decade that network TV attempted: it has the guts and great storylines as well as acting, and doesn't shy away from showing the uglier side of the 1940s era. In the first two episodes alone, a girl gets part of her scalp ripped off when a hook along the assembly line gets caught in her hair, another has back alley sex with a soldier she just met the night before he leaves for overseas, and a bad test bomb puts the girls under unfair scrutiny by their archaic and sexist factory manager, who thinks nothing of barging into the women's locker room while they're in their underwear.

The most famous name in the cast is Meg Tilly, who plays the ladies' floor matron, Lorna Corbett. She's dealing with a depressing home life; a disabled husband (a victim of the first world war) who also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her two sons are also fighting overseas.

Then there's Gladys, a girl from a wealthy family (whom the other girls initially despise because of her privileged background) who joins the factory so she can make a difference in the war effort. She tries in vain to convince her coworkers to speak up for better working conditions in the factory, and she's also dealing with overbearing WASP parents who want nothing more then for her to settle down with her rich fiance and start making grandchildren, not bombs. Kate is living under a new name after escaping her abusive, bible thumping father and Betty is her BFF and trainer of the factory girls...there may or may not be a lesbian undertone developing to Kate and Betty's friendship.

Photo from the Reelz Bomb Girls site
Along the way the ladies are dealing with sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions, and unhappy family situations. But of course, they always make time to let loose to jitterbug with soldiers to live bands at the swing I long for this type of recreation! 

Of course, every series must have a dreamy male lead and in Bomb Girls, it's Marco Moretti (played by Anthony Cupo), one of the guys at the factory who wanted to join the service but was denied due to his Italian-born heritage. Some of the other workers suspect him of being a communist who sympathizes with Mussolini; his father is in an internment camp. 

Image from Reelz Bomb Girls site
It's obvious that the creators behind the show did their research into the WWII era and what was expected of women working in a bomb factory. The show's official website has some wonderful photos of real-life bomb girls and interactive features; the show's page on the Reelz site has behind-the-scenes video clips. A clip on Reelz explains the untold dangers that went on in weapons factories during WWII; this series aims to give some long overdue publicity to the women who took up the war cause on the homefront and is a tribute to them. 

Bomb Girls airs on Tuesday nights on Reelz at 9 PM EST and repeats on Friday nights; check out the site for more info and if you catch the show, let me know what you think!

Here's the trailer for the show:

Bomb Girls   | Movie Trailer | Review

Sunday, September 16, 2012

24 Hours Without the Internet

I went 24 hours without the Internet this weekend. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I read all of my email on Saturday morning, took a quick look at Facebook, and since I didn't have any Meetup events planned this weekend (where members may be trying to contact me) I decided to tell the Internet to screw it. I wanted to take a break from computer screens and constant access and have a technology-free day. 

No accessing email, neither personal nor work. No visiting Facebook. No playing Angry Birds. 

No Twitter, no Hootsuite, not even for the company I help out with social media on the side. 

No texting. 

No dealing with questions from Meetup members, or approving anyone new who wanted to join. They would simply have to wait. I was inaccessible for the day.

I turned my phone on only once later at night, and that was to snap some pictures...then I immediately shut it down. 

If you're wondering what my day was like being Internet free, it was pure bliss. 

I read--a lot. I finished one book I'd been kicking around for the past two weeks and started a second one (which, as of this posting, is about 3/4 of the way finished.) No Kindles or Nooks--old school books in hardcover.

I worked on a fall sweater that's nearly done--just the collar is left to knit. I played with my cats. I strummed my guitar (which I haven't taken out the case for months now...sadly, all the callouses on my left hand have disappeared. I'm working on remedying that.) 

I did some major cleaning and reorganizing of summer clothes that will be put away for the months ahead. The only thing I didn't do was work out, because I had to leave my house by 3:30.

My verdict? All in all, it was a really great day. Refreshing, even. Surprisingly, even though I had no place to go until Saturday night, I felt amazingly productive. I spend so much time during the workweek in front of a computer, and sometimes for an extra hour or two at nights during the week, that I feel like computer screens in general suck energy from me through my eyeballs (and keep me from falling asleep right away if I'm on it right before bedtime...not a good idea.) 

The day also went by REALLY fast.

Remember what life was like before the Internet and smartphones? I think my 24 hour purge helped me remember. I discovered that I didn't care what my Facebook connections were up to. I didn't worry about anyone trying to reach me. Had there been a dire emergency or something I absolutely had to know right away, I would have been contacted on the landline. I was starting to think the country should promote an Internet-free know, one of those obscure holidays that never gets a promotion like National Ice Cream Sundae Day or Elephant Appreciation Day (yes, these do exist.) Then I did a search and discovered one is already in the works: No Internet Day.

Unfortunately, I did need to log back on and return to reality today in anticipation of the week ahead. But whenever possible, I'm taking another 24 hour hiatus from the Web.  

Have you ever taken a break from technology and the Internet? Did it help you reconnect with yourself or loved ones?

Monday, September 10, 2012

How To Be A Playboy Bunny

All images via
Many of my long-time readers know that I harbor a fantasy of being a go-go dancer in a previous life. A Playboy bunny, I'm not sure. Wasn't it demeaning and sexist? Scanned literature that I found on the website seems to dispel some common misconceptions about women who worked as bunnies. A vintage Bunny Handbook on the site details the rules that the women had to adhere to, and they strictly forbid any hanky panky with the clients (not that I'm completely convinced all bunnies and keyholders were on their best behavior all of the time.) For young women who fit the mold, being a bunny in one of the Playboy clubs provided a decent salary (up to $200 a week), one free meal per day, and the chance to hobnob with celebs and participate in special promotions. So says the marketing brochure from the Ex Playboy Bunnies site. Let's have a look at the perks being a bunny provided. They certainly touted it as a glamorous profession. 

I think it's interesting that there were no height...or weight restrictions to be a bunny, just that you had to be "properly proportioned." But just the same, you don't come across many pictures of hefty bunnies. 

Alas, I can't apply for the job. I'm 15 years older than the age limit. I guess I'll work on my go-go dancing moves instead. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Two Forgotten Friday Favorites: Buddy Holly

Photo via The Beatles Rarity
It's amazing to me that Buddy Holly was considered enormously successful for only a couple of years before a plane crash took his life at the age of 22. His music would go on to inspire countless musicians, most notably The Beatles. Thanks to Paul McCartney--who organized a celebration of Holly's career in 1976, the year Holly would have turned 40--Buddy Holly Week is now an annual event. John Lennon is quoted as saying, "Buddy Holly made is easy to wear glasses. I WAS Buddy Holly."

Asking me to choose two favorite Buddy Holly songs is like asking a two-year old to sit still for five minutes, but I've tried my darndest:

Monday, September 03, 2012

One Ad Too Good Not to Share: Panasonic's Toot-a-Loop Radio

Ad from Vintage Ads

My sister gave her old Toot-a-Loop radio to me a few years ago. I've never played it other than to insert a 9-volt battery in it to make sure it still works, but it makes a fun 70s novelty piece. The Toot-a-Loop was produced in Japan for Panasonic during the 70s, and was a doughnut shaped AM radio that opened up into an "S" shape. It was available in several bright colors and as you can see from the ad above, served double duty as a bracelet (a very heavy, clunky and impractable one; trust me, I tried it) and as a pacifier (very odd.) 

One thing that amuses me in the ad above is the caption under the old man: "Hear rock and roll. And music." Because rock and roll is not least, not to the senior set. I love the Panasonic tagline "just slightly ahead of our time"...I suppose if you think about it, they were trying to come up with a way of making music portable, even though Sony would later perfect it with the iconic Walkman player.

Did I say one ad too good not to share? Make that two--I love the colorful collection of products that Panasonic was promoting at the time from the spread below. I think these were also known as "poppies." No doubt many of these are collector's items today, and sure would make for some groovy decor.

Ad via The Good Old Dayz
Did you or do you have a Toot-a-Loop radio, or any of these these products?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Case Against CGI Overload

Do you ever encounter younger people who have no respect for the way older, classic movies were made? Blame it on the CGI craze.

I was on YouTube the other night, watching the infamous "chestburster" scene from Alien, and while watching poor John Hurt writhe and scream in agony, this comment from the thread caught the corner of my eye:

"Isn't it fun to sit and laugh at how poor and crappy special effects were back then. I mean, you cannot take a killer alien seriously when it moves like THAT!"

And just like that, I heard the record player needle scratch, the sad trombone play its "wah wah" tone. Everything stopped for a moment, and after the stupidity of the statement I just read was done sinking in, I couldn't hold myself back from firing off a scathing reply. It went something like this:

"Listen to me, you ignorant PUNK. You obviously have no respect or appreciation for the movies I grew up with. This scene is still scary and disturbing and giving it a CGI makeover, since that is the only visual effect you are familiar with, would ruin it and be a kick in the crotch to the special effects team. Now go burn in hell like the other piece of crap loser kids who think that nothing good was ever made until after they were born! Otherwise, I'm hunting you down through the Internet and giving you something to cry about. You drinking my sake, kimosabe?" 

OK, I didn't quite go that far, but you get my drift. I have a ton of respect for the special effects, makeup, and set design crews who work on movies. They are the unsung heroes who do a lot of the hard work behind the scenes to make something appear as believable as possible. I watched a documentary on the making of the movie Alien and as you can imagine, there was quite a lot of logistics involved in this particular iconic scene to get it to look as horrific and realistic as possible. I couldn't possibly fathom it getting a computer generated makeover. It's the fact that people with imagination physically built the baby alien and guts and figured out how to make it look like it was exploding out of John Hurt's chest that blows my mind away. Recreating it on a computer would look phony and stupid. What would be the point?

"Poor"? "Crappy"? Really, kid???

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying we should unplug the 3D animation and revert to old school stop motion animation (although I think stop motion animation is really cool.) I think the technology is amazing and it definitely serves a purpose, especially when a fantastical landscape is created. There are definitely instances where building a physical set (or dinosaurs) would be impossible, and that's where CGI comes in. However, like other technological advancements, it's often overused today and used in everything. One cringe-worthy example that comes to mind is Tim Burton's remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (renamed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after the book's title.) The 1971 original is my favorite childhood film, and the colorful psychedelic sets still dazzle. The chocolate room contained a REAL "river." The boat was real. The room full of flowers and mushrooms made out of chocolate were real, physical props. When Charlie and his grandfather tried soda pop that made them float in the air, they were suspended by wires, which you can actually see in some shots if you look closely enough (but so what?) 

By contrast, the remake was mostly CGI, even the Oompa Loompas. Forget giving a bunch of little people a shot at Hollywood fame--in the updated film, they were created using just ONE actor dressed as an Oompa Loompa, multiplied by the magic of computer special effects. It looked lame. 

In my opinion, what's needed is a happy medium. In the movie Pan's Labrinth, the fairies and other elements were computerized, but the creatures were still actors under makeup and prosthetics or robotic. It works well.

Carlo Rimbaldi with E.T. Photo via
CGI can also cost moviemakers more time and money than creating a physical prop. Carlo Rimbaldi, a special effects guru who designed E.T. (and who just passed away at the age of 86) had this to say about the CGI craze and its effect on the movie industry:

“The mystery’s gone. It’s as if a magician had revealed all of his tricks. Digital costs around eight times as much as mechatronics. E.T. cost a million dollars and we created it in three months. If we wanted to do the same thing with computers, it would take at least 200 people a minimum of five months."

Agreed. Special effects done the physical way have always left me wondering, "How DID they do that?" By the way, E.T. was made out of steel, polyurethane, rubber, and hydraulic and electronic controls. It's been said that the creature was to Rimbaldi what Pinocchio was to Gepeto.

Needless to say, it really gets my panties in a wad when someone from Generation Me, Myself and I thinks that CGI is the bomb and anything made before the year 1998 is lame.

So like Aretha Franklin, what I'm asking for is a little respect. Don't be lame and make fun of the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz, not caring that the film was made in 1939 for Pete's sake (sadly, there are misinformed knuckleheads on YouTube guilty of this as well.) Don't make fun out of Georges Melies, who pioneered early visual artistry in movies such as 1902's A Trip to the Moon. And never, ever dis the folks who worked on Alien. Otherwise, I'm having them mail a facehugger to your home. 

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