Sunday, March 24, 2013

Are You Being Served? Mr. Selfridge to Premiere on PBS

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:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon: How Rhoda Got the Rhoda Look

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. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Land of the Lost (Valerie Harper) TV Series: City

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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Announcing the Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon!

I'm very pleased to announce my participation in a special event taking place next week--a Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon! From March 19th-22nd, several cool bloggers and myself will be posting all about the lovely lady who won our hearts over on 1970s and 1980s American television. A big shout-out and thank you go to Amanda from the awesome blog Made For TV Mayhem for putting together this blog-a-thon to celebrating the life and career of Valerie Harper. Want to know who else is participating? Here's the list--be sure to give these blogs and sites a visit!

Christmas TV History
Craftypants Carol
(Not all posts suitable for office viewing!)
Daily Grindhouse
How Sweet it Was
Michael's TV Tray
Moon in the Gutter

My post will be going up on March 19, so stay tuned. Are you a blogger yourself who would like to participate? Just visit Made For TY Mayhem and leave a comment for Amanda with a link to your Valerie Harper post!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Not Your Papa's Oldsmobile: The End of the Love Affair Between Teens and Cars

Ad via AdClassix
Man, remember how thrilling it was to get your driver's license? When I was in high school, entering your 16th year was an exciting time because it meant you'd get to drive. You'd savor the sweet feeling of freedom behind the wheel, as you no longer had to be shuttled everywhere by your parents, an older family member or a friend.

This is a feeling that was shared by teens when they became legally able to drive over the past 50 years or so. But lately, something has changed, as I found out via a few news reports last year. Teens and young adults are no longer in love with cars, driving, and auto culture. In fact, they'd rather own a smartphone or a tablet than an automobile. And many aren't even bothering to learn how to drive. In the 1950s, we would have called these kids "squares." But today it's the norm, and understandably, auto makers are a little concerned about it. 

The way I see it, there are a few reasons why today's young adults simply don't dig cars as much as previous generations did...

Friday, March 08, 2013

Two Forgotten Friday Favorites: Miami Sound Machine

We're more than a week into March, but someone needs to get that memo to Old Man Winter: it's snowing to beat the band in New England today. It's days like this that make me daydream about summer and to help me along, I'm listening to Miami Sound Machine. I loved Gloria Estefan's band in the 80s. Estefan met the band's leader, Emilio, in 1976 and they're still married today. They're also still performing although the band's name was dropped altogether in 1989 (when they were called Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine.) I guess it's all about Gloria now, but that's OK.

This group had so many hits that it's impossible to just pick two to highlight, but "Dr. Beat" was their first from the 1984 album Eyes of Innocence and just doesn't get radio play anymore. As far as videos go, it doesn't get much cornier than this, but it's catchy and helped set the band on its way to fame. 

"Bad Boys" is another favorite of mine--two versions of the video was created. The original is remembered for the cast of Cats, but there's an alternative version showing Gloria chasing a movie star which I like better, except that only half of the video got uploaded to YouTube (but I'm embedding it anyway.)

To my fellow East Coasters dealing with this storm, hope you stay safe and warm!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Banana Republic's New Mad Men Collection

Photo via BananaRepublic
Last week Banana Republic launched its latest Mad Men-inspired clothing collection. With previous collections I've always been disappointed by the designs--it seemed like Banana Republic's team was a bit behind by a few years from the current year the show was taking place in. 

Photo via InStyle
This time, however, they've taken some cues from Megan Draper's wardrobe and the look for the most part says late 60s, albeit on the conservative side. I haven't purchased anything yet, but I did visit my local Banana Republic store to take a peek. My favorite piece is the graphic green and blue dress that was clearly inspired by one worn by Megan when she seduced Don in his office. It's not too revealing that you can wear it to the office but also sexy at the same time. Made of rayon, it retails for $130.00. I also like the silk mod shirtdress that is typically like the ones Diane Von Furstenburg was designing by the mid-70s (100% silk; $140.00):

Photo via BananaRepublic
Then there is this very springlike green and white number. Made of polyester and rayon, it retails for $140.00:

Photo via BananaRepublic
I also like the black and white gingham pants, white jacket and accessories, particularly the geometric scarves ($49.50.)
Photo via BananaRepublic
I actually think the men have it a little more stylish this time around, with plaid sportscoats, striped ties, textured cardigans (the one shown below is priced at $89.50) and straw fedoras ($45.00.)
Photo via BananaRepublic
Photo via BananaRepublic
I wish, however, that Banana Republic would have made more of the line machine washer-friendly…most of the pieces can only be dried-cleaned or hand-washed, and that is one reason why I'm hesitant to splurge on anything, especially as I have so many other dresses that are even more retro looking than this collection. (And how come there are no miniskirts?) Still, there's enough mod in this selection to get you revved up for the season premiere of the show on April 7 on AMC. Better get to a Banana Republic store or the site soon while the getting's good!

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