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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

NYWF_7-64-Progressland

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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Disney And The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Chris Queen
The Unisphere served as the icon of the 1964-65 World's Fair.

The Unisphere served as the icon of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which took place at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York. Today, many people know of it largely because of Walt Disney’s involvement in it. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at Disney’s contributions to the World’s Fair, but first, let’s glance at the origins of the Fair.

In his excellent essay on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Bill Young sums up its legacy:

The Fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding,” dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” and was often referred to as an “Olympics of Progress.” The theme center was a 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the earth called Unisphere with the orbit tracks of three satellites encircling the giant globe.

By the time the gates closed more than 51 million people had attended the exposition; a respectable attendance for a World’s Fair but some 20% below the projected attendance of 70 million. The exposition ended with huge financial losses and amid allegations of gross mismanagement.

Today the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair is remembered as a cultural highlight of mid-twentieth century America. It represents an era best known as “The Space Age” when mankind took its first steps toward space exploration and it seemed that technology would provide the answers to all of the world’s problems. The exhibits at the Fair echoed a blind sense of optimism in the future that was prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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A Day in the Life of the Fest for Beatles Fans 2014

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Beatles-themed sensory overload: That is how to describe The Fest for Beatles Fans in New York City, held from February 7-9 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. What’s it like roaming a Fest that fills four floors of a New York hotel with musicians, historians, artists, authors, yogis, meditators, the famous and well over 8,000 fans from 40-odd states and five continents? Take a look at a day in the life of The Fest.

Awesome Beatles historian Bruce Spizer and the moron at Capitol who kept turning down The Fab Four's early hits. "Harmonica-Americans don't listen to harmonica." #NYCFEST14

Beatles author and historian Bruce Spizer opened Saturday with a presentation on how the Beatles conquered America, no thanks to Dave Dexter, Jr., the Capitol Records guy who rejected hits like ”Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” because they had “too much harmonica.”

Dear Prudence Farrow talks India, the Maharishi and TM #NYCFEST14

Dear Prudence Farrow spoke about her spiritual journey in India with the Maharishi and the Beatles before leading an introductory transcendental meditation session. The room, dubbed the Ashram for the occasion, was so packed that more chairs had to be brought in for the standing room only crowd.

The line to see Good Ol'Freda #nycfest14

Good Ol’Freda Kelly, secretary to Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, and president of the original Beatles fan club, is signing autographs! Quick, get in line!

Good Ol'Freda! #NYCFEST14

Still down to earth after all these years, Freda hates being the center of attention but enjoys being with the fans. Her grandson, a toddler, was happily drawing next to her. “Would you like Nile’s autograph?” she casually asked, to which I happily agreed. Good Ol’Freda is the Queen of Beatles Fans: regal, royal, lovely. Her documentary Good Ol’ Freda is a must-watch.

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How Were You Impacted by the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show?

Sunday, February 9th, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Fifty years ago tonight, as a nine-year-old girl living in a Boston suburb, I — along with 73 million Americans — watched the Beatles perform on the popular Ed Sullivan Show.

After watching I knew (as much as a nine year old was capable of knowing) that I had witnessed a MAJOR cultural and historic event.

How did I know this?

How could I NOT have known?

President John F. Kennedy famously said in his 1961 inaugural speech that “the torch has been passed to a new generation,” and on that night the Beatles became the musical torch.

Upon the show’s conclusion, I distinctly recall my father saying with complete confidence that “the Beatles are just a passing fad.”

His prediction was totally expected from someone born in 1922, but I knew otherwise. For the Beatles had a sound that was so unique, engaging, modern, young, hip and vibrant, I knew right then that my world was going to be radically different from that of my parents.

Sunday, February 9, 1964, was when a “cultural earth mover” began digging the divide that would later be called “the generation gap.”

Monday on the school bus my friends and I yelled Beatles’ songs out the window. When we arrived in our third-grade classroom there was talk of nothing else. How could there be when clearly something monumental had happened the night before?

All of us were emotionally affected but not capable of articulating exactly what happened. All I remember talking about with my friends was which of the four Beatles was the “cutest,” but instinctively we knew it went much deeper.

Now, viewing the Beatles’ performance through a 50-year historical, musical, cultural and celebratory lens, I ask myself, “Was I exaggerating the importance of the evening?”

That question demanded answers. Fortunately, “valid” scientific research was just an email away and about to be provided by a good friend.

My friend was also born in 1955, just a month before me. (He is well-known in media circles and asked that his name be withheld.)

Furthermore, he grew up clear across the country from where I was in Boston. So, for all those reasons, I was keenly interested in comparing our impressions, which I’ll do on the next page.

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Paul, George, Ringo & the Prophet John

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The Beatles Generation in the #USSR #socialism #music #beatles

As the world mourned the loss of Soviet evangelist Pete Seeger last week, I encountered stories of real Soviets who found God, not in the hammer and sickle of the USSR, but in the smuggled bootleg lyrics of the Beatles.

How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is a fascinating narrative detailing Soviet Baby Boomers’ covert love affair with the Fab Four. Interviewing a variety of Russian Beatlemaniacs, including many post-Communist music scene movers and shakers, over the course of nearly two decades, British filmmaker Leslie Woodhead discovered that The Beatles were much more than a band in the U.S.S.R. For many Soviet teens, The Beatles were a glimpse at independence, freedom, and even God.

The idea that a rock and roll band could provoke the understanding of the intertwining of God and freedom, let alone inspire a search for the divine, is one that is largely lost on an American audience. After all, as Soviet teens risked Kremlin hellfire to listen to Beatles tracks, their American counterparts in the Bible Belt were throwing their records on bonfires, forced by a religious hierarchy that saw John Lennon and his band as a threat to Christ. Rock music then became the stuff of hippies, the class that scoffed at religious institutions and, like The Beatles, sought divine encounters and self-empowerment through eastern religions.

Arguably, the advocates of Beatles burnings did more to harm Christ’s reputation and following than John Lennon ever could. After all, as he explained, his ironic quip about Jesus was more of a warning than a declaration:

“I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I’m sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. From what I’ve read, or observed, Christianity just seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”

Ironically, it’s a warning that post-Soviet leaders like Vladimir Putin have heeded with their own political purposes in mind.

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The Religion of Beatlemania Still Going Strong

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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America is celebrating The Beatles’ Jubilee. 50 years ago this year The Fab Four landed on this side of the Atlantic and the ’60s officially began. (At least, that is, according to PBS.) With the announcement that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving Beatles, will reunite at the Grammys on January 26 and perform a concert to air on February 9, 50 years to the day of their Ed Sullivan premiere, it would seem that Beatlemania (unlike much of organized religion) is making a resurgence in pop culture. Think the Fab Four are so yesterday? Think again:

A 2009 Pew Research Center survey placed the Beatles in the top four favorite music acts of Americans ages 16 to 64 — suggesting the band that helped create the 1960s Generation Gap ultimately helped us come together. Perhaps that’s the Beatles’ greatest gift: music that can be shared not only across the universe, but across generational lines.

Imagine a mathematician trying to quantify each Beatles’ album with Martha Stewart-like graphics. Wait, you don’t have to, just check out one Millennial’s  4 Simple Charts Visualizing The Beatles’ Major Albums and you’ll find out that The Beatles aren’t just for rock n’rollers, they’re for nerds, too. ”A new project on Kickstarter aims to tap into the passion of teenyboppers young and old withVisualising the Beatles, a book of infographics about each of the Fab Four’s major records.” Seriously: If that doesn’t make you want to start a Revolution, nothing will.

Huff Po details A Comprehensive Guide to The Beatles’ Invasion of Comic Culture for Millennial comic fans:

“Thanks to a book by Enzo Gentile and Fabio Schiavo, appropriately titled “The Beatles in Comic Strips,” we’ve been enlightened on the Fab Four’s history of comic book appearances. From subtle cameos to entire issues, the group managed to squeeze their iconic faces and psychedelic style into more than a few works of comic art.”

In March, Vans will release four pairs of Beatles-themed shoes for their Millennial audience:

“The most expensive of the bunch, the Sk8-Hi Reissue, features stylized portraits of all four Beatles running up the ankles apropos to cartoon portraits of each as they were animated for the film. The other shoes each feature psychedelic tableaus from the film. The Classic Slip-Ons play off the movie’s Sea of Monsters, showing trippy marine life swimming in an ocean of pink. The Era shoes depict all four band members, some wearing rainbow pants, hanging out in a yellow garden. And the final pair, a model called Authentic, is adorned with a pattern that reads “Allyouneedislove” running over and over again and into itself in purple, yellow and green.”

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The 1970s Culture Clash in 2 Songs

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard
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Last week I went through my collection of old 45 records (LMGTFY if you’re under the age of 40) and ended up taking a trip in the Wayback Machine — back to the beloved songs of my childhood in the 1970′s. I wasn’t old enough then to understand the cultural implications of the songs and I was largely sheltered from the tumultuous cultural shifts of that era in my family’s suburban community. Listening to those songs now, knowing the history and the context (and also seeing parallels to today’s cultural conflicts), it’s interesting to see how these battles were both reflected in the music of the time and affected by it.

The year 1972 was a heady time for women’s rights. The first woman was admitted to Dartmouth, the first female FBI agents were hired, Sally Priesand became the first female U.S. rabbi and perhaps most significant, both houses of Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification. Opponents of the ERA warned that if it passed, we’d see women in combat, the disappearance of single-sex bathrooms, and women losing custody of their children in divorce cases. (It seems ironic now that all of those warnings have come to fruition, despite the failure of the states to ratify the amendment.)

That same year, the Supreme Court heard Roe v. Wade, which became the law of the land a year later when the Justices of the nation’s high court discovered a previously unknown right to privacy in the Constitution. The ruling effectively invalidated most state and federal laws that placed restrictions on abortion.

Also in 1972, Australian-born singer/songwriter Helen Reddy won the Grammy award for Best Female Performance for her song, “I Am Woman.” In her acceptance speech, Reddy thanked “God, because She makes everything possible.”

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Why I’ll Never Look at Logan’s Run the Same Way Again

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

And neither will you.

The other night I fast-forwarded through Logan’s Run on Amazon Prime. I’ve always enjoyed the film’s futuristic production design, not to mention sexy Jenny Agutter in her skimpy costumes, or the lack thereof. The film now has the added bonus of looking charmingly mid-‘70s retro, or “Zeerust,” at the folks at TV Tropes.org call this phenomenon. (They also have a page specifically devoted to Logan’s Run itself.)

But when watching most recently, I noticed a detail in the scene in which Agutter’s character makes her debut, the ramifications of which I had never paid attention to before:

First the guy whom Logan rejects, and then Agutter’s Jessica 6 character beam into Logan’s apartment. Which means that the domed city has a teleportation system, ala Star Trek’s transporter device. And presumably, it’s built into everyone’s apartment inside the film’s domed city. And given what it’s being used for (so that before calling it a night, Logan can unholster his blaster, IYKWIMAITYD), it’s so safe, readily accessible and easy to use, it’s the equivalent of today’s hot chat party lines, which are advertised on late-night TV reruns.

So if all of that is true, why on earth do they need the little domed two-person cars that shoot between the buildings through Plexiglas tubes, sort of like the monorail going through the Disneyworld hotel crossed with a bank’s pneumatic drive-through cylinder?

They. Have. Perfected. Teleportation.

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Dean Martin Roasts: Remembrance of Zings Past

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

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I was always told never to talk to strangers, so if I traveled back in time to have a word with my younger self, I like to think I’d kick me in the shins.

What difference would it make anyhow?

My pre-pubescent, Carter-era self would never have believed it when grown-up me assured her that (putting aside those brown polyester Sears catalog pants and the blue velour platform shoes and the Love’s Baby Soft and the baby blue, cap sleeved “two fried eggs” t-shirts and root beer-flavored Lip Smackers) one day, believe it or not, I — that is, we — would miss the 1970s.

Not just the late ’70s of my adolescence, but even the “Convoy”/Three’s Company/Bicentennial toilet seat ’70s.

It’s like the “beer googles” effect but for inanimate objects:

Pretty much any cultural artifact, no matter how hideous, starts looking pretty darn good after all these Bud Lights years.

Sometimes, those goggles work a little too well; we misremember stuff as being better — or just bolder — than anything we have now.

For example, a few years back, it became commonplace to cluck:

“They could NEVER make Blazing Saddles today.”

Please. Have you seen There’s Something About Mary or any random South Park episode?

Likewise, those of us of a certain age have been known to make the same fact-free claim regarding All in the Family.

True, the same network that once proudly aired that award-winning landmark television show couldn’t broadcast it now, but a cable channel certainly could.

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Johnny Carson, Bing Crosby, and the Birth of the Cool-Warmth

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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We think of William Randolph Hearst and the fictional Charles Foster Kane as media tycoons encasing themselves in living mausoleums as old men, but Johnny Carson was basically entombed the minute he was hired by NBC to replace Jack Parr as the host of the Tonight Show, except that we were invited to tune in and watch every night. As an audience, particularly during the blow-dried bell-bottom polyester lacuna of the 1970s, we were lucky Johnny was as cool as he was, a byproduct of the early 1960s Sinatra, JFK, Miles, Steve McQueen definition of cool, not the Brando/Fonzie primitive angry young greaser definition of the word. When Marshall McLuhan defined television as a cool medium in the mid-1960s, Johnny personified it – both cool and television. Especially the latter half of the equation.

Or as Kenneth Tynan wrote in his epic 22,000-word(!) 1978 New Yorker profile of Johnny Carson, “I once asked a bright young Manhattan journalist whether he could define in a single word what made television different from theatre or cinema. ‘For good or ill,” he said, ‘Carson.’”

But all transactions involve tradeoffs. While Johnny’s net worth soared as the most popular man on the most popular medium of the mid-20th century, Johnny paid a terrible personal price himself.

In her post yesterday on the new biography of Carson by Henry “Bombastic” Bushkin, his former business advisor and close friend, Kathy Shaidle mentions “Carson’s cool-warmth — that charming-yet-menacing mien — was always obvious to me, and I say that as an admirer of his abilities.”

Kathy mentions Carson and Bob Crane as defining the “cool-warm” personality, but wasn’t the grandfather of ”cool-warmth” Bing Crosby? Crosby displayed amiable warmth on the big screen, adopted a style of singing that let the microphone do the work, a much cooler style — though the word hadn’t been invented yet — than any other singer during the 1920s or ’30s, and in the process, became an international superstar who would go on to master live performing, records, radio, movies, and later, television, both as an actor and producer. (Bob Crane became famous on Hogan’s Heroes, a Bing Crosby production.) While not a macho figure, or a suave sophisticate like Cary Grant, Crosby lived out the cliche that “women wanted him and men wanted to be like him” — heaven knows my dad did — and yet, offscreen, Crosby was, according to his sons, the male equivalent of Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest.

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Nostalgic for MOM Power

Monday, September 30th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

80sfamilies

The 1980s were the decade of family television.

Okay, to be fair, family TV is a concept that stretches back to the nascence of the medium. But, unlike previous decades, ’80s family sitcoms featured nuclear families strengthened by empowered marriages, a concept struggling to survive in 21st century television. My generation was raised on the Huxtables, the Keatons, and the Seavers. A decade of friend-based sitcoms later (Seinfeld, Will & Grace, and the eponymous Friends) and what kind of families are premiering on TV in 2013? Struggling single mothers, gay single dads, middle-aged divorcees wreaking havoc on their grown children’s lives, and The Goldbergs.

Why does television have to flash back to the ’80s to produce a good look at American family life?

To be fair, we do have Modern Family, The Middle, and Last Man Standing. But where are the power couples? Where are Cliff and Clair Huxtable, the working professionals who managed to raise 5 brilliant kids in a rather down-to-earth upper-middle -class household? Or Jason and Maggie Seaver, who cut a deal so dad could work from home and be there for the kids? What about Steven and Elyse Keaton who relished in the political-intellectual challenges posed by their son Alex? Even Roseanne, for as brutish a look at blue collar America as it was, featured a loving and supportive married couple that weathered some serious storms.

This year’s premieres feature MOM, a single mother going through AA with their own drug-addicted mother, Back in the Game, a single mother left penniless on her father’s doorstep for refusing to get a boob job, and a self-titled Trophy Wife trying to relate to her step-kids.

So much for female empowerment.

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4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again

Friday, September 27th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

Star Wars Episodes IV, V, VI were brilliant, especially before Lucas decided to pretty things up. Here’s some guidance for Disney:

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Can This Powerful Song Change the Hearts of Abortion Supporters?

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard
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Can a 5-minute video about a teenager with a crisis pregnancy change the hearts and minds of abortion supporters? This song and video, by the former lead singer of the group Kansas, has the potential to do just that.

If you’re a child of the ’70s and ’80s, you probably remember the prog rock band Kansas for songs like “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind.” John Elefante became the group’s lead singer in 1981, the year the band was the top-grossing concert act in the world. Elefante later went on to have a successful career as a producer, with a number of the albums he produced earning GMA Dove Awards and Grammy Awards. Elefante also continued to perform; he has produced and/or performed on more than 100 major label albums.

Elefante is out with a new solo album, On My Way to the Sun (great reviews on Amazon), and one of the album’s singles, “This Time,” shares the story of his adopted daughter’s rescue from the abortionist’s scalpel.

The song tells the story of a 13-year-old girl with a crisis pregnancy. Terrified and alone, she falls asleep in the waiting room of the abortion clinic, where she sees the life of her unborn child unfolding in a dream:

There was a birthday cake and three candles
She was living in another world
She saw the little girl become a woman,
living in a happy home
Then she was suddenly awakened
by a voice that called her name

The clinic staff escorts her to the back — she has second thoughts. The nurses tell her, ”Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.You’re still young, we see this all the time.” She cries out to God for help and asks for a phone to call her mother. “Find my baby a home!”

Right then the Lord began to speak:
“You’re not taking this one! She’s Mine!
She’ll grow up to seek My name.
You’re not taking her this time.
I started before time began.
Her name is written in the Book.
They didn’t have the power to take her life.”

The story is powerful and soul-wrenching.

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4 Reasons to Fall in Love with The Wizard of Oz Again — And 1 Reason Not To

Saturday, September 21st, 2013 - by Kyle Smith

This week marks the re-release of The Wizard of Oz in 318 theaters nationwide to promote a Blu-ray re-release next month. The new version, a painstaking 3-D IMAX restoration of the 1939 classic (which was originally released one week before World War II broke out in Europe and was not a huge success at the time), is a visual marvel and a great way to catch up with the film if you haven’t seen it in a few years. Here are a few things that are wonderful about Wizard (and one that’s pretty lame).

1. It’s fast-moving without being jumpy.

Oz gallops right along from adventure to adventure — the Kansas scenes, the introduction of the witches and the Munchkins, the friendship with Scarecrow and the others, the Emerald City and the Wicked Witch’s castle. There’s barely a chance to catch your breath before the next episode of peril (or the next sparkling musical interlude). Yet the movie is composed of relatively long takes. There are only 650 edits in the entire movie — less than one-third as many as you would expect to see in a contemporary equivalent. It’s a film that consistently rewards the uninitiated with surprises (and the repeat viewer with dazzling set pieces that rank among the most justly famed images in the history of film) without any wasted moments.

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‘Good ol’ Freda’ Breaks Her Silence About the Beatles

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Good Ol Freda

Over the years we’ve heard so many stories about the Beatles and just when it seems we’d heard it all, one woman who was involved with the band throughout their entire career is speaking out for the first time.

Beatles manager Brian Epstein hired an unassuming teenage girl from Liverpool to serve as the secretary to his musical charges, and Freda Kelly filled that role for the band’s entire career and even for a year after their 1970 breakup. She’s going public in a new documentary.

A film, titled “Good ol’ Freda,” was financed through crowd funding site Kickstarter, which raised almost $60,000 from 660 backers. McCartney even gave his blessing to the project, approving the licensing of four original Beatles songs – something that seldom happens in film – and audiences are able to visually feast on never-before-seen photographs.

Kelly basically gave away all her memorabilia (likely worth millions now) to desperate and devastated fans in 1974. She went above and beyond during her time to ensure that fans were given the real deal. That involved sneaking threads from McCartney’s shirts, arranging for hair snippets and making sure Starr really did sleep on a pillowcase before returning it to an overjoyed fan – but apparently she drew the line at fulfilling requests to send along fingernail clippings. So intent on being honest, the secretary once let go of a whole crew of assistants who were exposed for trying to pass off a girl’s hair for that of a Beatle.

Kelly opens up on plenty of topics in the documentary, holding back about very little. She additionally helped take care of Ringo Starr’s parents, a part of her job she remembers with great fondness in the film.

And as candid as Kelly became throughout the filming process, there was still one topic in particular that was off-limits.

“I asked if she dated any of the Beatles,” [director Ryan] White said. “And she stared me down in her charming way.”

Kelly does, however, confess to zipping her lips about such things as Lennon’s wandering eyes while married to college sweetheart, Cynthia Powell. Yet she had no qualms about putting the boys’ in their place when the occasion called for it.

The public will hear many of the tales in Good ol’ Freda for the first time when it opens – Kelly’s own daughter admits to not knowing “95 percent” of her mother’s stories.

Good ol’ Freda opens in select theaters today, and will release simultaneously via video on demand and iTunes. Here’s the trailer:

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Alabama’s Back… And It ‘Feels So Right’

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Alabama's Back!

The music of country superstars Alabama have reached at least two generations of fans. For those of us who grew up in the band’s heyday of the 1980s, everything they touched – from “Mountain Music” to “Love In The First Degree” to “Take Me Down” – turned to gold and platinum. For me, Alabama epitomized country crossover, recording great songs that transcend genre without watering down their country roots.

In their stellar career they managed to top the country charts 33 times – including 21 consecutive #1 hits – and cross over to the pop charts five times between 1981 and 1999. When they retired in 2004, millions of fans hope it would only be temporary. And now Alabama is back with a new album.

Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, and Teddy Gentry are back together, out on tour playing to thousands every night and releasing a new album of duets this week called “Alabama & Friends.” And after more than four decades, they feel dusted with good fortune.

[...]

The group makes its return as country reaps the benefits of the doors they kicked open back in the late 1970s and ’80s when they helped move the genre from the state fair and community center circuit into a local arena near you.

“We brought a lot of rock principles as far as live shows to the country music arena for the first time as far big sound systems, moving lights,” Cook said. “We played hard even though we were playing country music. Looking back, we were renegades at the time — tennis shoes, T-shirts, long hair — it’s no different than today.”

Alabama, in fact, is counted as one of country’s most beloved acts 15 years after its last hit single. Content to sit it out over much of the last decade, the band decided to give it another go after coming back together to organize a benefit for tornado victims in their home state last year.

Alabama & Friends includes duets with current hot country artists like Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, and Luke Bryan (clearly aiming for the soccer mom demographic), along with country stalwarts like Trisha Yearwood and Jamey Johnson. The new record is part of a celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary and included two brand new Alabama tracks. Here’s hoping for another 40 years of top-notch country music from these amazing musicians.

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The End Of The Line For A Classic Vehicle You Didn’t Know Still Existed

Friday, August 30th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

2vwvan

During my middle school and early high school years, my family owned a Volkswagen Type 2 Camper Van. We used to take it camping in the mountains or at Disney World, and it was as much fun as a conversation piece as it was as a vehicle. I wanted that vehicle for my own so badly, and my dad told me he’d give it to me when I turned 16. I imagined how great it would be to have a cool drink waiting for me in the icebox at the end of the day, and of course I knew it would be the perfect tailgate vehicle on fall Saturdays in Athens. Alas, my dad sold it when I was 15, and I never got to own one.

Volkswagen introduced the Type 2 (call it the Camper Van, Bus, Microbus, or Kombi if you want to) in 1950, and it was a fixture on American roads until 1967. Other countries held on to it longer, including Brazil, the last country to continue producing and selling them. Brazil began making the Kombi in 1957, an astounding record of longevity that, sadly, will end this New Year’s Eve, when the last van rolls off the assembly line.

As FoxNews.com reported last year, the van sold there as the Kombi is finally being discontinued due to upcoming safety regulations that it simply can’t be modified to meet.

To mark the end of its historic run, Volkswagen will build 600 “Last Edition” Kombis featuring retro white and light blue two-tone paint and vinyl upholstery, whitewall tires, white painted hubcaps, a set of curtains and a numbered plaque.

No longer air-cooled, the Kombi is powered by a flex-fuel 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine to accommodate Brazil’s wide use of ethanol, but comes only with an old-school four-speed manual transmission.

The price for the Last Edition Kombi is approximately $36,000, so it’s not exactly the people’s van of old, but with some originals now selling for over $200,000, this limited edition could be a real (as in the Brazillian currency) deal.

Even though rumors abound that VW will introduce a minivan concept with a similar style to the old Type 2 in 2014, it’s sad to know that the last of these funky, kitschy bits of car culture comes off the line this year.

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Book Review: Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Marty Sklar

These days, a career that spans fifty-plus years at one company sounds like a pipe dream. The late John “Flossie Mae” Raiford delivered food to drive-in clients at The Varsity in Atlanta for 56 years. Earlier this year, one of Kroger’s executives retired after a half century with the grocery chain. Google “50  year career” and you’ll find plenty of charming and inspiring stories of long careers with a single employer. And then there’s Marty Sklar.

Sklar was still a fresh-faced college student and editor of UCLA’s Daily Bruin when Disney hired him to create a souvenir newspaper for their new park, Disneyland. Following his graduation in 1956, he joined Disney full time. He began writing speeches and articles for Walt Disney himself, and after Walt’s death, Sklar moved up the ranks in Imagineering until his retirement in 2009. Lucky for us, Sklar has finally told the story of his 53 year career at Disney in his new book Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms (also available for Kindle).

Dream It! Do It! reads as part memoir, part inspirational tome. Sklar writes in a conversational style – you can really imagine him telling the stories directly to you. He shares his memories of working with Walt Disney, including some stories most readers have never heard. He relates the ups and downs of working at Imagineering – the successes, the projects that required a second try, even the moments where language and cultural barriers presented challenges. In one particularly poignant moment, he expresses his anger at having to write Walt’s obituary the day he died rather than planning ahead when many at the studio knew Walt was terminally sick.

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Hundreds of Drive-In Theaters May Close Permanently at End of Season

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard

800px-Bass_Hill_Drive-in_Cinema

There are only 356 drive-in theaters left in the U.S. and the majority of them may close at the end of this season if they don’t upgrade to expensive digital equipment. Hollywood movie studios will stop producing movies in 35mm film in 2013 and a large number of the remaining drive-ins in the country cannot afford the estimated $80,000 to upgrade to digital.

Drive-in theaters are woven into the fabric of American culture — at their peak in 1958 there were over 5000 drive-ins in the U.S. Many couples and families have fond drive-in memories — they evoke images of the past, when Americans were unplugged from technology and the entire family could spend an evening sitting in the fresh air in lawn chairs (or a beat up car) enjoying a movie for a reasonable price. And B.Y.O.S. — Bring Your Own Snacks — no need to smuggle Milk Duds into the theater in your pants!

My parents used to take our family to the drive-in dressed in our pajamas so they could just toss us into bed when we arrived home after the late show. We would feast on huge Tupperware bowls of homemade popcorn and drink Pepsi from glass bottles. I have a vivid memory of the funeral march scene from the 1973 James Bond flick, Live and Let Die.  I was in third grade and our parents — not really the sheltering types —  thought we would be asleep by the second movie that night (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here).  I don’t think I slept soundly for months after that.

Remember the clunky silver sound box that hung on your car window before the theaters converted to FM sound? And the etiquette that all but a few miscreants willingly followed to make everyone’s experience more pleasant — parking lights only, keep your foot off the brake pedal, don’t obstruct the view with your hatch, large vehicles at the back.

I cherish memories of drive-in dates and groups of friends crammed into my best friend’s Chevy Nova to take advantage of the per car rate (it’s still only $18/per car in our area). Later, when we had kids of our own, my husband took our boys to see Spider Man, Iron Man, and a host of other superhero movies for their boys’ nights out. We also joined other families who all parked together — tailgate party style — with coolers full of juice boxes, fruit, cheese, and baby carrots. Those were the years we had to park in the back row because we all had minivans. Fortunately, there was enough adult humor in Shrek and Night at the Museum to make it fun for the adults as well as the kids, despite the minivans and the healthy culinary choices.

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A Long Lost Mickey Mouse Cartoon?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Get A Horse

Mickey Mouse has experienced quite a renaissance lately. The Epic Mickey video games featured him prominently, and this summer’s series of shorts on the Disney Channel – funky, stylized world travelogues featuring the Mouse himself – have brought him back into the spotlight in a major way. In June, Disney announced that another Mickey Mouse short, “Get A Horse!,” would debut for the public before the studio’s animated feature Frozen this November (the studio showed it at the Annecy Film Festival on June 11 in France).

The interesting thing about the film is that no one quite knows whether it’s a long lost restoration or a new film done in a throwback style. Disney himself provides the voice of Mickey Mouse in the short, and the studio is billing it as a “never-before-seen” film, which would lead you to believe it’s something Walt Disney Animation has found covered in dust on a shelf.

But who are we kidding? Shelved projects from the Mouse House, and certainly long lost films we’ve never heard anything about, are a bit rare. Everything Disney did or tried to do is well-documented and has been dragged out into the light of day. And trotting out a long-lost hand-drawn classic might be a little awkward in the wake of the studio’s dismantling of its hand-drawn animation division, wouldn’t it? This is surely something new. But to keep the air of mystery going, the studio hasn’t been forthcoming on answers.

This short would of course mean Walt Disney’s first on-screen credit in many years, and it pairs neatly with the first ever fictional portrayal of Walt this Christmas in Saving Mr. Banks. The synopsis of “Get A Horse!” is as follows:

Starring the one and only Mickey Mouse and featuring Walt Disney himself as the voice of the iconic character, this black-and-white, hand-drawn short follows Mickey, his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow as they delight in a musical wagon ride—until Peg-Leg Pete shows up and tries to run them off the road.

Is “Get A Horse!” really an old chestnut that Disney found in the archives, or is it something new made to look old with modern movie trickery? We may never know, but the hype surrounding the short may bring that many more moviegoers in to see Frozen.

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