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Time to Re-Define the F-Word

Monday, November 17th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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This past week a group of scientists from the European Space Agency landed a spaceship on a comet. Contemporary feminists commented on the happening, but not for the reason you’d think. Screw science. One of the guys on the team talked about the major breakthrough in an on-the-spot interview while wearing a shirt with barely-clad, busty women brandishing guns. Social media chaos ensued. The scientist cried out an apology over the Internet. Apparently the rather clever hashtag #shirtstorm is the real reason why Obama cancelled the space program.

And you wonder why Lana Del Rey would rather spend her time talking about Space-X and Tesla instead of associating herself with the pioneering movement for women that has turned into a forum for Dunham-loving yuppie nags. Celebrities are distancing themselves from the f-word because so-called feminists think the greatest thing they can do for womankind is to complain about a scientist’s tacky shirt. I’m sure that really inspired a teenage girl out there to forego joining ISIS and join in the fight against… dudes bearing busty broads?

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Blondie’s Chris Stein Shrugs Off Iran’s Violent Treatment of Women

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

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Debbie Harry’s ex-boyfriend and Blondie co-founder Chris Stein has just released a photography collection, featuring his lifelong muse.

And why not? No less an authority than rock photography guru Bob Gruen famously said, “You can’t take a bad picture of Debbie Harry.”

Unfortunately, Stein marrs the collection with a stunningly multi-level-stupid comment, regarding his famous picture, above.

Stein quips to who else but The Guardian:

UK tabloids don’t push the limits of credibility any more than their American counterparts, but in a way they got there first. Here, Debbie is reading about sexism under the ayatollah.

Get it? Decades of well-documented, sharia-inspired violence against women in Iran was probably exaggerated, according to Stein, because it was reported by a lower class “red top” English tabloid back in the 1970s.

Stein further ingratiates himself with his British host by slagging stupid, hysterical American “yellow journalists,” too, for no apparent reason.

Factor in the word “sexism” as his mealy-mouthed synonym for “rape, torture and murder,” and it’s quite breathtaking how much smug “enlightened” ignorance Stein managed to squeeze into two just sentences.

Especially the same week that Iranian authorities executed a woman for killing her rapist.

All this from a man I feel safe in presuming voted for Obama twice, and whose views on every subject are reliably, predictably “progressive.”

But of course!

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Cat Stevens: Why He Still (Sort Of) Matters

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

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In his 1970s prime, Cat Stevens looked like Russell Brand just thinks he does.

Neither fellow is quite forlorn or angular enough to be my type, but I can certainly understand the appeal of the former, if definitely not the latter. (Ugh.)

As Dennis Miller still likes to muse sometimes on his radio show:

Can you imagine how many women were throwing themselves at Stevens back in the day?

(Except not in those words.)

Stevens has been Miller’s bete noir for a while now.

Here’s Miller circa 1989, back when he anchored “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live:

And former folk singer Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, came out this week and said he advocated the assassination of Salman Rushdie. So much for that “Peace Train” crap, huh, Cat? … Yeah, I could see this comin’ years ago on his old album, Tea for the Killerman. You, uh, you remember the big hit:

I’m being followed by a big Muslim
Big Muslim, big Muslim

Big Muslim, big Muslim
Big Muslim, big Muslim

How can I try to explain
When he do I turn away again
It’s hard
But it’s harder to ignore it
If they were right, I’d agree
But it’s them they know, not me now
There’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

Yeah.

Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world!

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Think Pop Culture Doesn’t Matter? Visit Sleepy Hollow, New York

Friday, October 31st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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If you’re still operating under the false notion that pop culture doesn’t have a real impact on everyday life, take a look at America’s oldest example, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

When Washington Irving penned The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon, he probably had no idea that his short story would inspire the beloved town of his youth to turn itself into a living homage to his tale. Settled in the late 1600s, the village was originally an agricultural and manufacturing zone of Tarrytown, New York. Nicknamed “Sleeper’s Haven” by early Dutch settlers, Washington Irving picked up on the Anglicized version of the name, “Sleepy Hollow” when staying with family in the area as a boy. Eventually millionaires like John D. Rockefeller would build mansions around the industrial zone that would become known as North Tarrytown at the turn of the 20th century. But it was Irving’s story that proved eternal when, in 1996, the village voted to rename itself Sleepy Hollow.

Street signs are orange and black, as is one of the village’s fire trucks. The Headless Horseman is the school mascot who, dubbed the nation’s “scariest high school mascot”, runs through every football game at half-time. Police cars and fire trucks also bear the Headless Horseman logo with pride. Halloween is celebrated throughout October with haunted hayrides, street festivals, a parade encompassing both Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown’s main streets, several ghost tours and performances of the Washington Irving legend. The Great Jack O’Lantern blaze puts Christmas light spectaculars to shame and Horseman’s Hollow turns a 17th century Dutch mill into a gory homage to the headless Hessian.

The Old Dutch Church, Ichabod Crane’s presumed safe haven, stands guard over a vast “garden cemetery” designed to allow Victorian families to picnic with their dearly departed. Tours of the cemetery can be taken both day and night and feature stops at the graves of Washington Irving and those who inspired characters in his tale. A fair runs every weekend alongside the cemetery, providing tour groups with the opportunity to walk the grounds with alcohol in hand. The gas station on the other side of the infamous bridge hawks t-shirts and other assorted Headless Horseman souvenirs. And if you’re hungry, there’s always The Horseman Restaurant, a hole in the wall diner that promises you’ll “lose your head” over their milkshakes.

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The 10 Greatest Moments from the Disney Renaissance

Friday, October 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Chris’s series exploring Disney history: “10 Disney Cartoons from the 1930s that Reflect the Can-Do Spirit That Survived the Great Depression,” “10 Ways World War II Affected Disney’s Filmmaking,” “10 Examples Of How Disney’s Productions Reflected The Changing America Of The 1950s,” “Walt Disney’s 7 Most Radical Ideas From His Last Decade on Earth,” “Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 1: How The Studio Reflected The Chaos Of The 1970s” and “Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 2: How The Studio Navigated The Hit-Or-Miss 1980s.”

A few years after Walt Disney’s death, the studio he founded entered a creative drought of nearly 15 years. The projects Walt had his hands on had dried up, and the most creative minds in the company were working directly on the theme parks. Ron Miller, Walt’s son-in-law, oversaw the company during most of this era, and, though the studio managed to produce some underrated cartoons and live-action films during this time period, nothing matched the artistry and innovation of the years when Walt was still alive.

When Roy E. Disney and Sid Bass brought Michael Eisner over from Paramount to head Disney — along with Frank Wells — the company experienced an almost immediate injection of creativity. In the realm of animation, most everyone dubs the period beginning with 1989′s The Little Mermaid the Disney Renaissance. (Some people end the Renaissance with the execrable Tarzan from 1999, but for me, this period ends with 1995′s Pocahontas.)

A lot of exciting things took place at Disney during the first few years of the Eisner-Wells tenure, and here are the ten best of them.

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10. Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas marked the end of the Disney Animation Renaissance of the late-’80s and early-’90s, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s nowhere near as good as the films that preceded it, largely due to its over-earnestness, Judy Kuhn’s vocal melisma, and the screenplay’s loose play with history.

However, Pocahontas deserves mention because of its firsts. It was the first Disney animated feature based on a historical person, and it also brought the Disney Princess banner to an American character (something the studio did much better in 2009 with The Princess and the Frog). Disney also deserves some credit for turning the dramatic “Colors of the Wind” into a smooth pop hit.

Even though Pocahontas isn’t the greatest of the Disney classics, it does belong among the highlights of the early Eisner-Wells era.

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Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 2: How The Studio Navigated The Hit-Or-Miss 1980s

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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For the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the company Walt Disney built and how it has survived over the decades. We talked about how the studio reflected the can-do spirit that beat the Great Depression in the 1930s, as well as how World War II affected Disney. We’ve also discussed the changing world of the 1950s and how Disney reflected it, and we looked at Walt’s seven most radical ideas from the 60s.

Last week, we delved into what I call Disney’s wilderness years – the period after Walt’s death when the company had exhausted all of its founder’s projects and its output suffered creatively. We looked at the 1970s and how Disney reflected the both the general malaise and the leadership crisis the country faced.

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Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 1: How the Studio Reflected the Chaos of the 1970s

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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We’ve been looking at the output of the Disney organization by decade, from the 1930s to the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, and this week, we’re looking at the 1970s. Everyone who experienced that decade has an opinion about its culture, or lack thereof. From polyester leisure suits to Pet Rocks, the ’70s were the decade of disposable culture (in spite of some true classics like The Godfather films and Star Wars). I consider myself more of a child of the ’80s, since that’s when I came of age, but I remember my younger childhood in the ’70s — especially a lot of the music — fondly.

Much of the culture of the decade reflects a certain escapism. From the disco kids partying their troubles away, to the punk rockers flipping a middle finger at pretty much everything, to the banal pop of the mainstream, much of the music of the era plays on a desire to get away from the troubles of reality. Movies and television share a similar escapism — witness the endless disaster films and idiotic sitcoms of the day.

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Walt Disney’s 7 Most Radical Ideas From His Last Decade on Earth

Monday, October 6th, 2014 - by Chris Queen
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Walt on the set of The EPCOT Film in October 1966

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at how Disney and its productions reflected, and sometimes influenced, the times. We’ve seen how Disney mirrored the can-do spirit of the ’30s, how the studio overcame the challenges of World War II in the ’40s, and how Disney changed with the times in the ’50s.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, Walt Disney appeared to have done it all. He had elevated the cartoon from an opening-act short to a feature-film art form. He had conquered live-action movies and embraced television, and he even revolutionized the theme-park experience. But Walt wasn’t done — in fact, it looks like he saved his most radical and powerful ideas for the last years of his life. And here are seven examples to prove it.

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7. Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (1961-1969)

After a seven season run for Disneyland on ABC, Walt wanted to explore different options. His greatest desire was to broadcast a show in color. Even though ABC had broadcast the show in black and white, Walt insisted on filming most of the segments in full color because he believed color would add long-term value to his productions. Rival network NBC had begun to promote color series heavily since parent company RCA made color television sets, and, after a brilliant sales pitch from Walt, the network bit.

Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color ran for eight seasons before undergoing a retooling and title change. During those seasons, Walt took advantage of the new and exciting world of color programming when few producers were willing to branch out, especially in the earlier years. Once again, Walt willingly blazed a trail, and once again his pioneering spirit paid off.

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10 Examples Of How Disney’s Productions Reflected The Changing America Of The 1950s

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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In my last two posts, we’ve looked at how Disney reflected the 1930s and the 1940s. As the studio emerged from World War II and into a new decade, it faced a changing nation. In their insightful book A Patriot’s History Of The Modern World, Volume II, Larry Schweikart and Dave Dougherty write:

Long-held and oft-repeated notions that the 1950s were a decade of sameness and conformity in the United States miss the revolutionary changes occurring in the decade – radical shifts that, fundamentally, may have altered America and the world far more than the superficial changes of the 1960s.

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Far from reflecting a widespread sameness among Americans, life in the 1950s witnessed a burst of new businesses, consumer products, artistic expression, and social cross-pollination.

Disney ‘s productions from the 1950s reflect this rapidly changing America, and here are ten examples.

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10. Matterhorn Bobsleds (1959)

Walt had two needs to fill: one was a way to promote the upcoming film Third Man On The Mountain, while the other was an attraction to fill space on a hill between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. He remembered the majesty of the Matterhorn when he visited the set of Third Man On The Mountain, and the Imagineers designed a roller coaster based on the mountain.

The resulting attraction became the first steel-tube roller coaster, providing a smoother – yet still thrilling – ride than the traditional wooden coaster. Disney changed the way we think of thrill rides and opened the door for endless possibilities. The Matterhorn Bobsleds still bring excitement to this day. Check it out:

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10 Ways World War II Affected Disney’s Filmmaking

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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This is Part II in an ongoing series exploring cultural changes by decade. See last week’s first installment here: 10 Disney Cartoons From the 1930s that Reflect the Can-Do Spirit that Survived the Great Depression.

Walt Disney’s phone rang on the afternoon of December 7, 1941. His studio manager was on the other end to let him know that the Army was taking over the sprawling campus of the studio. The nation was already in shock at the bombing of Pearl Harbor just hours earlier, and Disney would cohabit with the United States military for the duration of the war.

The federal government commissioned hundreds of projects big and small for Disney, ranging from insignia design to training films to propaganda pieces. World War II changed the way the Disney Studios made films — from their efforts to support the Allies to anthology cartoons made for quick turnaround to new techniques to get their own products into the market, Disney emerged from the war a different studio than when the Army marched in on December 7, 1941. Here are ten examples.

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10. “The Thrifty Pig” (1941)

Even before the United States became involved in World War II in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood was willing to engage in helping “the war effort.” Our northern cousins in Canada commissioned a propaganda piece from Disney to sell war bonds.

“The Thrifty Pig” relied on the familiar footage from “Three Little Pigs” from nearly a decade before, with some noticeable changes: the Big Bad Wolf is now a Nazi, and the third pig constructs his house out of Canadian War Savings Certificates.

The aim of the cartoon, of course, was to encourage Canadians to “invest in victory” by buying the certificates. It was an early test of the effectiveness of Disney toward the efforts to defeat Germany and Japan – and it was a success.

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10 Disney Cartoons from the 1930s that Reflect the Can-Do Spirit That Survived the Great Depression

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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A couple of weeks ago, my friend and editor David Swindle published an open letter to me dividing the history of Disney animation into ten eras and encouraging me to explore the history of Disney through the same frame of mind. Here is the first in a series looking at the eras of Disney history.

As the United States slid into the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s, Disney’s output grew tremendously in quality and quantity. Walt and his team of animators and writers released plenty of entertaining product, but they also experimented, honing existing techniques and developing new ones. A struggling nation loved what it saw and couldn’t get enough.

Disney’s output during this time period reflects a uniquely American can-do spirit, one that helped this country survive the Great Depression in both determination and innovation. Here are ten great examples.

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10. “The Golden Touch” (1935)

The 1935 cartoon “The Golden Touch” carries a special significance not because of any achievement but because of its failure – and because Walt himself directed it. The short, which tells the story of King Midas, has more of the feel of an episode of the Twilight Zone than a charming Disney animated cartoon.

Walt took control of “The Golden Touch” after a period in which he had criticized his directors repeatedly. He had not directed a cartoon in five years. The short, with only two characters, ran long on time and budget. The characters lack the appeal and much of the humor of typical Disney characters, and the story takes a dark turn with little of the typical Disney optimism at the end.

As a direct result of the failure of “The Golden Touch,” Walt learned to trust his talented directors, and he allowed them to continue to create, which of course allowed him to oversee the company that would change entertainment forever.

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15 Songs Millennials Must Listen to in Order to Understand the 1980s

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

You’ve seen Thriller and heard all about Madonna, but what do you really know about the decade that ushered in the millennial generation? Think the era of scrunchies, boom boxes, pump sneakers and DeLoreans was just a fad? Think again. Some of the 1990s’ greatest pop culture trends were birthed in the millieu of Reaganomics, cable television, and a music video-loaded MTV.

15. Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon”

The ’80s was the decade of John Waters, the B-52s and all things camp coming to fruition. Decked out in eyeliner, lipstick and braids, Boy George popularized the aesthetic of this gay subculture with a poppy little tune about conflicted relationships. As for the music video, where better to set a gay guy’s love song in the ’80s than an 1870s riverboat called the “Chameleon” where a cheating gambler’s karma comes back to haunt him? Dude, it’s the ’80s: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” started here.

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13 Reasons to Fall in Love with Lana Del Rey

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

13. She has discovered a close kinship with George Costanza.

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Sure, she may come off all serious in her videos, but Lana Del Rey has a seriously good sense of humor. According to Rolling Stone, Lana Del Rey ”has a George Costanza-like plan for the future.”

“I’m really specific about why I’m doing something or writing something,” she says. “But it always kind of gets translated in the opposite fashion. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve learned that everything I’m going to do is going to have the opposite reaction of what I meant. So I should do the opposite if I want a good reaction.” She’s surprised to learn that George tried this approach in an episode of Seinfeld. “Oh really? That’s awesome. Me and George Costanza! Oh my God!”

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Whatever Happened to Our Top 10 Favorite Tiger Beat Cover Boys From the 1970s?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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If you were a teen (or pre-teen) girl at any time in the 1970s, you probably held in your (amateurly manicured) hands at some point a copy (or many, many copies) of Tiger Beat magazine. Known for glossy covers that featured saucy shots of the day’s most popular teen idols — most of them males and many of them shirtless — Tiger Beat (and its twin magazine 16) usually included a centerfold pin-up of a pop star of such import that the mere thought of his poster on her bedroom wall could persuade a young girl to part with her babysitting money.  My bedroom wall was plastered with Bobby Sherman in all his glory — the purple shirts unbuttoned to the waist, the velvet choker necklaces, and those gorgeous blue eyes! Also clad in all black, with his beautiful brown tresses casually flowing in the breeze. And at least a half dozen other iterations of Bobby posing and smiling (or pouting). My cousin had all the Donny Osmond pin-ups, while my girlfriend across the street papered her walls with David Cassidy. We’d carefully remove the staples from our teen idols’ midsections, lovingly unfold our new treasures and smooth out the creases before taping (or push-pinning) them to our bedroom walls.

Did you ever wonder what became of the teen idol whose visage used to cast his gaze upon you every night as you drifted off to sleep?

Here’s what happened to 10 of our favorite Tiger Beat ”Cover Boys”:

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Escaping The Village: Freedom And The Prisoner

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - by Francis W. Porretto

Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, a 17-part serial of which he was the star and one of the writers and directors, is one of the great cultural legacies of the late Sixties for several reasons:

  • Its portrayal of “The Village,” a synthesis of the ideal English seaside resort with the total-surveillance nightmare of Orwell’s 1984;
  • The varied and ingenious series of trials of his intellect, his ingenuity , and his integrity to which McGoohan’s unnamed protagonist was put;
  • The exceptional quality of the scripting and acting throughout;
  • The care put into retaining the key ambiguities, which was apparently one of McGoohan’s priorities.

Nothing quite brings home the uniqueness of the series as powerfully as that last point, which is heated to a rolling boil in Episodes 16 and 17, co-starring the immortal Leo McKern.

McGoohan once said that the key theme of The Prisoner is that “Freedom is a myth”:

Interviewer Warner Troyer: This is a kind of banal question I guess, but if you could leave one sentence or phrase or paragraph in the head of everyone who watched The Prisoner series – the whole series – one thing for them to carry around for a while when it was over, what would it be?

McGoohan: Be seeing you.

This was an invocation of The Village’s relentless surveillance of Number Six, for whom The Village was putatively created as a place of confinement and trial.

McGoohan’s perspective on freedom-as-myth partakes critically of the concept of purposeful self-command as the negation of freedom. This is underlined by contrast: through the condemnation, in the final episode, of Number 48 — “uncoordinated youth; rebelling against nothing it can define,” — and Number 2 (Leo McKern) — “an established member, turning upon and biting the hand that feeds him.”‘ For all revolts against control will be either thematic or unthematic. In the former case, the rebel defies an external locus of control; in the latter, there is none. The sole unaddressed alternative is internal control: self-command in obedience to values and priorities one enforces upon oneself.

In this regard, let us hearken back to episode 16, in which McKern’s Number Two strains to break Number Six’s will at long last, and pays dearly for it:

Number Two: Why did you resign?

Number Six: For peace.

Number Two: What peace?

Number Six: Peace of mind.

It seems that McGoohan, in couching the line that way, was emphasizing that the point of Number Six’s resistance was merely to reaffirm his will to resist: a rebellion against external control whose aim was solely to break that will. The theme is freedom and only freedom… but Number Six’s self-command, which he has asserted throughout and against which he will not rebel, remains in place.

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The 10 Most Underrated TV Comedies of All Time

Friday, June 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

10. Sullivan and Son

This working class comedy executive-produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley is fraught with all the non-PC ethnic and sexual humor you’d hear in a working class, Irish-Korean, middle-American bar like the one in the show. Created by Korean American actor/comedian Steve Byrne and Cheers writer Rob Long, the TBS sitcom reminds you that some jokes are still OK to crack. The stellar cast features Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) and comic genius Brian Doyle-Murray, along with Christine Ebersole and Owen Benjamin, who portray the drop-dead hysterical mother-son dependent duo Carol and Owen Walsh. 

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The 10 Most Cringe-Worthy TV Flops

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

We’ve all heard of the horrors of Cop Rock and Manimal, but after receiving a reader tip on one of their worst TV shows of all time, I did some digging and uncovered these utterly classic samples of bad television that would make great material for Joel McHale or the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

10. Bucky and Pepito (1959)

Produced by Sam Singer, “The Ed Wood of Animation,” Bucky and Pepito was a typical story of an “ambitious” white cowboy and his “lazy” (literally, they sing about it in the theme song) Mexican buddy trolling the old west on a zero budget. According to Toonopedia, “Cartoon historian Harry McCracken once said the pair ‘set a standard for awfulness that no contemporary TV cartoon has managed to surpass. They were great at what they did, which was being bad.’” Thanks to Bucky and Pepito, cartoonists have debated creating a Sam Singer Award for truly bad animation.

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Mary Blair: Unsung Disney Artist

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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She developed the unique color palette for many of the iconic Disney films of the 1950s. She produced some of the most evocative artwork from the Disney Studio’s 1941 South America trip. She created the characters for a beloved classic Disney Parks attraction. She outshone the men she worked with – including her own husband. Yet for some reason, Mary Blair doesn’t have the household name she deserves except among Disney aficionados.

With his new book The Art And Flair Of Mary Blair: An Appreciation, animator and historian John Canemaker hopes to change that perception. (I’ve waited nearly two years for this book’s release, and it was worth the wait.) Canemaker explores a woman with priceless talent who led a difficult, sometimes tragic life – an artist who has gone woefully underappreciated. As Canemaker writes on one of the book’s final pages:

The general public’s knowledge of Mary Blair’s name and her art is limited. Only one of her children’s books is still in print, and the hundreds of conceptual paintings she made for animated films are stored at the Disney studio or are in private collections.

Mary Richardson was born in Oklahoma in 1911, but her family moved to Texas when she was a young girl. The daughter of an alcoholic, she asked for money from the family budget to purchase art supplies because she knew that her father couldn’t then spend it on drinking.

Her talent earned her a scholarship to the famed Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and there she met Lee Blair, whom she later married. The Blairs harbored dreams of becoming fine artists, but the obvious need for money led them first to Ub Iwerks’ studio, then to Harman-Ising/MGM.

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Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 6: ‘A Living Blueprint Of The Future’

Monday, April 21st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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We’ve made it to the end of our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s influence on it. If you’ve missed the rest of the series here’s where you can find the rest:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’
Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’

In this segment, we’re going to look at the legacy of the Fair on Disney’s theme parks. As we discussed in the first week of the series, Walt Disney used the New York World’s Fair as a sort of testing ground for an East Coast Disneyland concept. The success of the Disney-designed pavilions convinced the company that their secret land purchases in Florida would pay off. As Jeff Kurtti noted in Since The World Began, his (sadly out of print) account of Walt Disney World’s first 25 years:

Ninety-one percent of the guests at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair attended at least one of the Disney shows. And although critics scoffed at Disney’s creations, their popularity convinced many in the Disney organization that the theme park concept was fundamentally reliable, regardless of geographic location.

Since the Fair, Disney has opened a resort with five theme parks in Florida, expanded Disneyland to a second theme park, opened a two-park resort in Tokyo and single-park resorts in Paris and Hong Kong – with a resort in Shanghai set to open in late 2015.

Each of the four pavilions that Disney designed and built for the Fair have left their mark on the Disney brand over the past 50 years. It’s A Small World, with its inimitable spirit and charm, has made its way to all five Magic Kingdom-style parks and has been consistently popular since its Disneyland debut. That attraction also inspired and informed the spirit of World Showcase, the half of Epcot in which various nations show themselves off to guests, living in harmony along World Showcase Lagoon.

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Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Welcome to Part 5 of our series on Walt Disney’s contributions to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York City. If you need to catch up on the rest of the series, here’s where to look:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’

This week we’re looking at an attraction that made its debut at the World’s Fair and is still beloved today – It’s A Small World. It’s one of the attractions that appears at every Disney resort, on three continents. Because of its ubiquity all over the world, according to Disney, the title song “is always playing somewhere around the world.” During the course of a 16 hour day in any one of the parks, the song plays 1,200 times. Love it or hate it, It’s A Small World is one of the quintessential Disney attractions, but it almost didn’t make it off the drawing board.

A scant nine months before the Fair, Pepsi approached the Disney Studios requesting that the Imagineers develop an attraction that the company would sponsor to benefit UNICEF. Bob Thomas picks up the story in Walt Disney: An American Original:

A Disney executive, believing that three projects were more than enough to occupy WED, sent the Pepsi-Cola people to an engineering firm that specialized in children’s playgrounds. Walt was angry when he heard about it. “I’m the one who makes those decisions!” he declared. “Tell Pepsi I’ll do it!”

Walt detailed to stunned Imagineers his plan for “a little boat ride” in which guests would see simple, childlike figures representing the cultures all over the globe. He enlisted some of his most trusted artists to design the attraction. Mary Blair, whom Walt called his “favorite artist,” imprinted her unique stamp on the look of the ride. Marc Davis oversaw the animatronics, while his wife Alice and Joyce Carlson designed the costumes for the dolls. Claude Coats engineered the layout of what Walt would call “the happiest cruise that ever sailed.”

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Happy #RexManningDay, Empire Records Shoppers

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

For those of you unfortunate enough to not have grown up Gen-X, today is #RexManningDay, the day in the fictional world of the film Empire Records during which pretty boy “pop star Rex Manning was scheduled to do a CD signing at Empire Records, one of the last vestiges of what has come to be known as “independent rock”.

Released in 1995, Empire Records celebrates the small independent music store, planting the seed for what would eventually become Record Store Day. A Breakfast Club-esque group of staffers celebrates alt rock and all things un-pop while ex-Hippie store manager Joe Reaves (Anthony LaPaglia) struggles to keep his uptight yuppie brother from selling out to a chain music store. All sorts of drama ensues as Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger fight over guys, Robin Tunney dabbles with suicide, and Ethan Embry gets accidentally high to Gwar. A lot of great music is played, culminating in a rooftop concert that raises enough funds to keep the store open, proving there is a good side to community organizing after all.

Of course, there’s an official website for Rex Manning Day, but if you’d like to travel even further down memory lane, check out 13 Favorite Empire Records Memories, get 9 Fashion Lessons from the movie,  or read 5 Fun Facts about the film. Better yet, head on over to your local record store and celebrate the things that make America great: small business, independent music, and a healthy dose of snark.

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Walt Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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In case you’ve missed the rest of the series:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’

Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’

Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’

Welcome back to our series where we’ve looked back at the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and Disney’s input into it. This week, we’ll see how Disney teamed up with one of the country’s most recognizable corporations to create a pavilion that celebrated American ingenuity and free enterprise.

In Disneyland’s early days, Walt devised the idea for a side street offshoot from Main Street, U.S.A. At the Edison Square attraction, Disney would team up with General Electric (which had its genesis in Edison’s company) to present the story of how electricity benefited a typical American family from the turn of the 20th century, through the present, and into the future. Disneyland’s souvenir maps listed Edison Square among the park’s coming attractions, but by 1959, General Electric (GE) requested that Disney use their idea in a pavilion at the forthcoming World’s Fair in New York City. They called the exhibit General Electric Progressland.

GE knew they had partnered with the right organization, and their promotional materials for the Fair touted Walt’s involvement:

Walt has used all his resources to make Progressland the number one attraction at the Fair. He has filled it with surprising, often startling, and always pleasing evidences of his great ability to entertain.

But the purpose is never lost sight of — to tell the story of electricity and the way it is changing the world — past, present and future . . . to showcase a great industry, the electrical industry, and tell how it has grown and prospered (and helped the nation to grow and prosper) in a free, competitive society.

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Disney And The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’

Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’

Welcome to the third week of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Disney’s involvement in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. If you missed last week, we looked at Ford’s Magic Skyway pavilion and Disney’s spellbinding work on it. This week we’re talking a look at another pavilion that allowed Walt to raise the bar on one of his newest innovations: Audio Animatronics.

Walt became interested with animatronic figures when he brought a mechanical toy bird back from a trip to New Orleans. He took the toy apart to see how it worked and to figure out how he could improve on it. His work on the mechanical bird led Walt to task Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers to create a “dancing man” animatronic, and they did so using a film of actor Buddy Ebsen singing a vaudeville song on a proscenium stage as a guide. An entire attraction built around Audio Animatronic figures – The Enchanted Tiki Room – opened at Disneyland in 1963, but Walt had even bigger ideas.

Walt and the Imagineers began to develop the concept for a side street off Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. called Liberty Street. The area would center around the founding principles of the United States, and its key attraction would be One Nation Under God, a celebration of America culminating in a Hall of Presidents.

In 1962, World’s Fair mastermind Robert Moses visited Disneyland to check on the progress of Walt’s exhibits for the Fair, and Walt showed him the Hall of Presidents concept, inviting Moses to “meet Mr. Lincoln.” Moses found himself taken aback by the animatronic Abraham Lincoln that he declared, “I won’t open the fair without that exhibit!” By the following summer, Moses had convinced the State of Illinois to include the Lincoln show in their pavilion.

The Fair’s guidebook describes the attraction, entitled Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, like this:

After watching a brief sound and slide presentation, “The Illinois Story,” visitors enter a comfortable theater where the figure of Lincoln rises from its chair and recites excerpts from some of the speeches of the Civil War President. The figure is capable of more than 250,000 combinations of actions, including gestures, smiles and frowns; the facial features were taken from Lincoln’s life mask.

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Disney And The 1964-65 World’s Fair, Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’

Monday, March 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Welcome back to our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s involvement in it. Last week, we looked at the background behind the Fair and the factors that led Walt Disney to take part in some of the pavilions. Today we’re diving into one of those pavilions where Walt and the Imagineers lent their touch – the Magic Skyway, presented by Ford Motor Company.

When Walt began to seek out corporate partners for the New York World’s Fair, General Motors was near the top of the list. Their Futurama pavilion turned into the hit of the 1939 Fair, which raised the stakes for GM at the sequel of sorts to that earlier event. GM was already in talks with Disney to sponsor a new attraction at Disneyland. GM chose instead to create a sequel to Futurama and put the kibosh on the Disneyland attraction, suggesting to Walt that he reach out to Ford.

Disney’s wonderful 2009 box set Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair contains not only a terrific selection of music from the fair – including early concepts, behind-the-scenes recordings, and unused pieces, but its liner notes also tell an extensive tale about each pavilion that Disney developed. Stacia Martin’s essay on The Magic Skyway tells the story well.

By 1960, Disney and Ford agreed to work together, and the auto maker secured a seven acre site. The next year, Disney pitched its first concept: The Symphony Of America, a ride across the country (in Ford vehicles, naturally) demonstrating “the land, its contrasting moods and its industry.” Ford nixed the idea, informing shocked Imagineers that the company wanted “something bigger” and was afraid that the concept was too close to Chevrolet’s “See The USA In Your Chevrolet” ad campaign.

After going back to the drawing board, Disney came up with concepts that Ford could accept. The attractions sat within the impressive Ford Wonder Rotunda, a 235-foot-in-diameter atrium which led to a seven-story show building. Inside the Wonder Rotunda, guests could visit the International Gardens, scale models of scenes from 11 countries in which Ford had manufacturing facilities. These scenes reflected Walt’s love of miniature dioramas, of course.

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