Dec 28, 2007

Happy 85th Stan Lee

Stan Lee is probably the worlds most well known comic book professional and if you don't believe it, ask anyone who doesn't read comics on a regular basis to name someone in the profession. (Okay, Charles Schulz and Walt Disney might be the first names you hear because people who don't know anything about comic books really don't know anything about comic books, but that's a technicality that can't be helped.)

He was a 40 something comic book editor sick of his job and ready to quit when he came up with the Fantastic Four. The comic was successful and so he stayed and created Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil & a host of other demi-gods that populate the world of modern American mythology.

Stan, like Walt Disney was one of the few creators smart enough to establish a bond with his audience. On Sunday evenings Uncle Walt would visit your living room personally introducing you to his characters & theme park . "Stan the Man" did the same thing monthly in the Marvel letters column. With nicknames for the Marvel Staff (known to regular readers as the Marvel Bullpen), and gimmicks like The Merry Marvel Marching Society & the Marvel No-prize, Lee had a way of making you feel you were a part of something cool and you didn't have to take it seriously.

For me, Stan was the Dave Letterman of comic books. It was his sense of humor that made him one of my childhood idols. He made reading comics fun. I wanted to be Stan Lee or at the very least, have a job at Marvel. Reading the monthly antics of the Marvel Bullpen and realizing that this was how some adults actually made a living made me envious. I could hardly wait to grow up, move to New York and write Iron Man stories for a living and if you knew just how much I hate cold weather you would see just how powerful Stan's monthly brainwashing really was.

Happy Birthday Stan. Thanks for populating my childhood with stories of amazing heroes overcoming impossible odds and thanks for the laughs. Until the Hulk wears a tutu and sings "I'm A Little Teapot", make mine Stan Lee.

Wood Shavings!!!

Nov 26, 2007


Photo (without editorial comment) is a free wallpaper download at

Oct 31, 2007

In 1926 at the age of 10, Forrest J Ackerman bought his first science fiction magazine and it altered his life. At 13, he started a science fiction club and as a teenager he was getting letters published in most of the pulp magazines of the day. He attended the world's first Science Fiction Convention wearing a costume (putting him in the running for the world's first hard core fanboy), published the first science fiction fanzine and coined the phrase "sci-fi". (A phrase I happen to love and still use, showing hard SF readers that I am truly a hack.)

In 1957, Ackerman who was working as a literary agent for many science fiction writers had a meeting with publisher James Warren in New York. While this meeting is the stuff of legends, it started as a simple business lunch. Two guys figuring out how to best use one another and make a few bucks in the process.

Ackerman had with him a French film magazine that paid tribute to the old black & white horror films. The magazine interested Warren and the two talked about a one-shot American version of the mag. "Forrey" (Ackerman's nickname) mentioned he had collected somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 thousand movie stills which would come in handy for just such a project. (How's that for understatement?)

The next meeting was in Forrey's 18 room mansion in Southern California which was filled ceiling to floor with unbelievable movie treasures. Convinced they were on to something, Warren stayed in LA as he and Ackerman created the magazine's content in a couple of weeks.

The 2 man team team aimed the writing squarely at kids. They filled the project with the same puns and goofy humor you heard from local horror hosts. Warren chose the pictures and Ackerman wrote the articles filled with the tidbits, he had acquired from 30 years sci-fi & horror collecting. The magazine couldn't have been more authentic. or come at a better time.

Famous Monsters of Filmland was released in January of 1958. For the cover, Warren dressed in a smoking jacket and a Frankenstein Mask in a sort of twisted homage to the "Playboy" lifestyle and two hundred thousand copies were printed. The magazine was so popular it went to press a second time and a magazine legend was born.

There's no way to overstate the impact of Famous Monsters. The magazine became a flashpoint for an undiscovered fandom. Kids who thought they were the only ones who loved monsters found they weren't alone. In their enthusiasm, they wrote stories, made home movies, started clubs, illustrated their own comics and found world wide pen pals. For the monster consumer, ads in the back of the mag offered posters, books, makeup, masks and hundreds more monster products no respectable monster kid wanted to live without. The atomic age of monsters had arrived.

Oct 29, 2007

Birth of the Monster Kid

Television was hungry for content. with 168 hours of possibility in a week, TV couldn't make shows fast enough. Networks and stations were asking studios for movies from the very beginning but studios were having none of that.

At first they believed that TV was a passing fad and then they began to see it as the enemy. Movie studios believed it was televisions fault that movie ticket sales were down. Studios circled their wagons and refused to budge.

But TV found films in public domain and then a few far sighted cowboys who owned their old films, leased them to television and made a bundle. Movie studios realized their vaults were filled with silver to be mined and they began to make TV deals.

In Los Angeles, television producer Hunt Stromburg Jr. spots a Finnish actress at a Hollywood masquerade ball. Maila Nurmi wins first prize at the ball dressed as the spooky & stately character with an hourglass figure from Charles Addams New Yorker Cartoons. The unnamed character eventually evolves into Morticia Addams of the Addams Family, but first she spawns an undead army of late night ghouls with a twisted sense of what's funny.

Stromburg hires Nurmi and the two transform Addams nameless femme fatale into Vampira, a sexy vampire with a macabre sense of humor. Vampira is created to host ABC's late night movies in Los Angeles. Her show airs May 1, 1954 on KABC in Los Angeles and the world's first horror host(ess) is born.

Just three weeks into the new show, Newsweek runs an article on Vampira and a less than a month later, she has a 2 page spread in Life magazine. Independent Stations all over the country recognize the potential and an undead army of horror hosts rises from the late night television landscape.

Television's midnight matinees attract quite a following. Using old movies, cheap sets, bad makeup, amateur skits, and lame puns, horror hosts create a counter culture. The ghoulish humor attracts a loyal teen audience always looking for something to mock and because young kids want to be doing what the older kids are doing, it also attracts a younger crowd.

Kids who would be scared spitless in a theater, curl up on the couch and watch the scary parts between their fingers with regular commercial breaks where strange hosts like Zacherley (new York) & Ghoulardi (Cleveland) remind them not to take any of it too seriously.

In 1958 Screen Gems packaged 52 of Universal's horror movies into a bundle called "Shock Theater" and sold it to independent stations all across the United States. Included in that Package was Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man. Kids saw Universal's grand slam of horror for the first time and it was love at first fright.

America's monster kid is about to rise from the slab.

Oct 26, 2007

Universal Monsters Part Last

In the early 50's, ticket sales were down in theaters and studios were looking for gimmicks. Cinerama movies opened in NY and 20th Century Fox was playing with Cinemascope. A 3-D process was shopped around to the studios but no one was interested except producer Arch Obeler. He released his 3-D Bwana Devil in March 1953 and the fad swept the country. Studios took a second look and put their own 3-D pics into production. Universals first choice was Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

Of Universal's monster stable, I always liked the Creature the best and I don't really know why. I didn't see the movie when I was a kid. (I was a big wuss and even the barely spooky movies scared the crap out of me) and I don't remember the first time I saw it on TV. It seems to be a design thing. The creature just looks ... cool. Part fish, sort of froggie with an eye for the ladies. Not your typical leading man but he has his own kind of manimal magnetism.

Although uncredited at the movie's release, there were actually two different guys in the creature suit. Six foot five Ben Chapman played the creature in all his above water lumbering while Ben's underwater double was Ricoh Browning, a five foot ten swimmer from Florida. The foam & latex monster suits were custom cast to fit each of the two men and since they weren't in scenes together, the height difference wasn't noticeable. Neither suit was equipped with an air tank so some scenes required serious breath control.

The Creature spawned 2 sequels; Revenge of the Creature (1955) & The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). In the third film, doctors operate on the Gillman, in an attempt to make him more human. They also put him in pants and a goofy padded jacket which killed the series and even though there have been 3 or 4 serious attempts to bring him back, the creature has been floating in cinematic limbo for 5 decades.

For Universal, ol' gill face is end of the line. He is the last of Universal's classic monsters and you would think the story ends here but it doesn't. America's fascination with old black & white monster movies actually increases in the 60's. Dracula and friends had one last bash before they crawled back to the crypt and what a long strange crawl it was.

NEXT: Monster kids of the 50's & 60's owe their souls to an illustrator for the New Yorker, a beautiful Finnish model, the world's first sci-fi geek and that blue glowing cyclops with rabbit ears.

Oct 24, 2007

Universal Monsters Part 4

By the end of the 1940's Universal had defanged and declawed it's monster mill. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. played in an infinite combination of horror films with rambling names like the Ghostly Son of Frankenstein in the Mummy's Castle Risen From the Grave. And when Universal had plucked every feather and squeezed every egg from their ghastly golden goose, they chopped it up and served it as comic pate in Abbott & Costello Films.

Movie monsters from the 1950's took on a new look. Mother Nature took her revenge on those who nuked her and unleashed giant ants, spiders and Gila monsters hell bent on eating isolated desert communities. UFOs also patrolled the skies.

The new movie monsters were bigger and meaner than they had ever been before. Monsters didn't come into your room like a mist and drain the life of one person at a time, these guys stomped on your house or unleashed a death ray on the whole neighborhood. This isn't your fathers Frankenstein baby, these are nuclear giants and alien thugs, sent here to eat you or beat you.

And teenagers loved it.

Kids with cars became it's own kind of hungry social monster and businesses scrambled to feed the beast. Two of the big winners were drive in restaurants and drive in movies. It seemed if kids weren't at one, they were at the other. Both were inexpensive and kept you out of the house for hours. To keep costs down, drive-in restaurants went to simple menus with cheap food and Drive-in theaters did the same. First run movies were expensive so outdoor theaters ran two cheap flicks for the price of one.

This market for cheap film also gave young wannabee producers and directors a new market with a new formula. Make a film in under 30 days. Add a menacing monster, give it a cool name and a cooler poster and cash in. The formula worked surprisingly well and insect wranglers and monster makers found steady work in Hollywood.

Oct 23, 2007

Universal Monsters Part 3 The Chaney Dynasty

Over the years, there's been a persistent rumor that when Universal first bought the movie rights to Dracula, they wanted Lon Chaney Sr. as their "Count". Considering Universal's track record with Chaney, the choice made sense. He had made big money for the studio in his roles as Quasimodo in " The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and Erik the Phantom in "Phantom of the Opera".(1927).

In his time, Lon Chaney was known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces". He used his talents as both actor and makeup artist to become one of Hollywood's top stars of the silent era. Chaney would use every bit of stage craft and technology at his disposal to create a role from the outside in. Audiences were fascinated with his ability to transform himself into characters with hideous deformities. As an actor, Chaney had found a way to make these characters physically scary and yet emotionally vulnerable. This knack for making monsters likable, scared thousands of people into the theaters of the 20's. It was a prime reason for the box office success of both Phantom & Hunchback and created the foundation of good cinema horror.

If the rumor of Chaney as Dracula is at all true, Universal had a few big problems to solve before Chaney could have donned the fangs. For one thing, he was now under contract with MGM. I don't know enough of Lon's personal history to say why he decided to move to another studio, but I'll bet it would have taken a lot of money and massage to get him back. I don't think Universal Studios had enough of either.

Sadly, the rumor became a moot point when Lon Chaney died from throat cancer in 1930. At the time of his death Lon Chaney was only 47 years old, but in his short time on the screen, he had shown movie audiences what great special effects makeup can do and he gave Universal it's first taste of big box office horror.

While the popularity of Dracula with Chaney in the lead can be debated, I can say with certainty that if he had taken the role, modern trick or treaters would need more than white face, plastic fangs and a cape to look like the "King of the Vampires."Basil Gogos illustration of Lon Chaney in his role as a vampire in "London After Midnight" (1927) Famous Monsters Magazine

Universal Monsters 3.1 Lon Chaney Jr. (The Sequal)

After the death of his father in 1930, Creighton Chaney decided to take acting seriously. The big shy 24 year old son of Lon Chaney was always drawn to his fathers profession but, he had only worked on the fringes of the business. More than one studio agreed to sign him to a contract if he would change his name to Lon Chaney Junior. Creighton refused and learned his craft doing bit parts and stunt work.

Finally after a few years in the trenches, Creighton agreed to change his name. The upside was a lot more parts, the downside was Hollywood assumed he knew as much about the business as his dad. Chaney's big break came when he played Lennie in John Steinbeck's "play-novelette" turned movie "Of Mice & Men" (1939). The favorable reviews got him a contract with Universal.

In 1941 "Junior "continued the Chaney monster dynasty by playing Lawrence Talbot, a young man who becomes a werewolf after trying to stop a vicious wolf attack. The Wolf Man (1941) was a success (yes, I could have said howling success, but sometimes it's just too easy) and Chaney played "Hairy" Larry for 5 or 6 more films in the 40's. In the endless parade of monster sequels he also played the Mummy, Dracula and Frankenstein's monster.

At the time of Creighton's death in 1973, he was especially proud of the fact he had played Talbot's every role on the big or small screen, a record that will stand until 2009 when Benicio Del Toro plays Larry Talbot in a modern remake of the original film.

It's not often two generations manage to leave a mark in the movie business, but both Lon and Creighton Chaney were good at finding and defining imaginative roles and the Chaney monster dynasty will be be part of movie history for a very long time. It helps that they managed to create a few memorable characters for a movie genre exceptionally good at remembering their dead.

Oct 17, 2007

Universal Monsters Part 1

His day job was managing the Lyceum Theater in England. To supplement his income, Bram Stoker wrote fiction novels. His best known novel is Dracula but did you know it wasn't very popular at the time it was released?

When Dracula was published in 1897 sales were brisk for a time, but tapered off soon after. To make matters worse, the release in the U.S. was mismanaged and the book was instantly in public domain which meant no American profits.

It's funny to think the worlds greatest vampire may have rotted away in his inky leather bound coffin if it hadn't been for a little cinematic grave robbing.

By 1922 when German director F. W. Merneau decided to adapt Dracula to silent film, the book was dead on the shelves. (lame vampire humor) To keep it on the cheap, Merneau didn't bother with rights to the book, he simply changed Dracula's name to Count Orlock and fudged a few details. Hey, it's not a bestseller or anything, who's going to know or care, right? Merneau's Expressionist film became successful and it came to the attention of Florence Stoker.

Florence was Bram Stokers wife and the executor of his estate since his death in 1912. She sued Merneau and since her husband had spent many years in the theater, Flo's case was supported in the public arena by many popular English stage actors of the time. Well, nothing like a little celebrity to spotlight a cause. The book began to sell again.

Hamilton Deane was a stage performer with his own British Touring Company. He had been touring with a stage adaptation of Frankenstein and was looking for something new. Because of Dracula's current publicity, Deane approached Flo Stoker. Having been a stage manager himself, Bram Stoker had always imagined Dracula as a play. It probably didn't take too long to get a yes from Stoker's wife.

Dracula opened in the Grand Theatre in Derby, England in 1925 and it was so successful, Deane created a second touring company. During it's run the play was seen by American entrepreneur Horace Liveright who bought the American rights. The New York version of the play opened in 1927 with Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

When Universal bought movie rights, Lugosi lobbied hard for the part. The original plan had been to make Dracula a big budget movie with a big budget star but the late 20's were depression times and Universal was close to bankruptcy. To save money, the script became a basic rewrite of the play and Lugosi was finally hired because he agreed to work cheap.

Dracula was released Valentines Day 1931 and created a sensation. Lines for the movie circled the block and Dracula saved Universal's neck. (pun intended) The golden age of horror films had begun.

Aug 22, 2007

The last thing I want to do is write about Ray Bradbury.

I don't have anything against the guy, in fact the complete opposite is true. I love Ray's stuff. It's my personal connection with his stories that makes writing about him hard. I can't help falling into cliche. Summing up how grateful I am for his stories is beyond my writing and yet no tribute at all would be worse.

The first sci-fi book I ever read was Bradbury's "R is for Rocket". I discovered it in my Jr. high school library and the reading opened a whole world of imaginative literature. If I had never read another one of his books I would still be eternally grateful, but many of his stories are personal favorites.

Bradbury doesn't just write a story, it runs from his veins. He ties off his writing arm with a long rubber hose, uses his pen to extract a story and plunges the results onto paper. His stories of the impossible seem personal as if they've already been lived. Bradbury isn't just writing, he seems to be retelling stories as he heard them from the characters involved. I picture Ray in white tennis shorts at the last stool in the Mos Eisley Cantina, a sort of intergalactic Norm from Cheers. He's nursing a warm bottle of Atomic Ale and drinking in the stories.

I got to meet him once at a signing. I had a brand new journal I had purchased for writing down ideas. What better way to break in a book of ideas than to have a childhood hero sign it first? Seeing all white pages, Ray Bradbury took his sharpie and drew a big goofy face in profile. Next to the face he wrote his secret to success.

Write, Write Write, Dammit.

I've never received easier advice so difficult to follow.

Bradbury Links

Ray's official site is here.

Did you know Bradbury won a Pulitzer this year? Yup. "A special citation to Ray Bradbury for his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy."

An interview with Bradbury from Jason Marchi I think about 1998 or 99. At the time, Mel Gibson had planned to remake Farenheit 451. This article talks about that and other stuff.

Last year, Bradbury's childhood home of Waukegan Ill. started a story telling festival. The one night only event is scheduled for Oct 26. This year's theme is Literary Monsters for more info...

If you're looking for a good bibliography start here. If you're looking for a more in depth look at his work, this site from the UK is exhaustive

Aug 16, 2007

If anyone in the blogosphere is paying attention, I am sorry for the long delay. I will be back shortly. Please accept this Indian Head test pattern as a temporary substitute for content.

Thank you for your patience

Aug 3, 2007

Safety Card Friday #4

The characters are almost on model and the coloring isn't too bad but what's with the slogan? "Obey your Safety Patrol He is there to help you" Shouldn't it be they are there to help you Or obey your Safety Patrol leader? Something like that. I'm also not seeing Yogi as the safety conscious type. This is the bear who runs willy-nilly through Jellystone with unauthorized picnic baskets.

And what curbside danger is Yogi saving anybody from? If he's about to help Top Cat across the street, he's doing it with no crosswalk in sight. I'm thinking Yogi needs some supervision. Since Ranger Smith isn't doing the job, maybe it's time to call in someone with more authority. Yogi needs someone like Smokey Bear who can whack him with a shovel and knock some sense into him. Just don't ruin the authorized yellow safety headgear.

Happy Birthday Jay North

At some point every generation embraces it's inner brat. There's a long history of fictional characters that are funny because of their nasty behavior. Just how mean the characters can be or how much they can get away with depends on the mood of the country at the time. Before the kids of South Park there was Bart Simpson. Before that, Kevin Mcallister [Home Alone] & Junior [Problem Child] and on down the line. In the 50's, the brat du jour was Dennis the Menace.

Hank Ketchum was living in Monterey California with his wife Alice and 4 year old son Dennis. One peaceful day Alice checks in on Dennis who has been put down for his nap. Mrs. Ketchum discovers that Dennis didn't want a nap. He's not only awake, he's in the process of ripping his room apart.

I'm sure Hank can hear a commotion, but every married man knows what's coming next. No matter how bad Dennis has been, Alice can only be so mad at the kid but the rest of that frustration and anger has gotta go somewhere. Being smart, Ketcham stays in the studio and waits for the storm to come to him. He didn't know his wife's next words were going to change his life.

"Your son is a menace!" Alice roars, and the little light goes on. Our son Dennis ...the Menace. In her exasperation, Ketcham's wife helped to create one of the most popular and enduring comic strips of the 20th century.

Dennis the Menace first appears on March 12, 1951 in sixteen papers. Eight years later millions are reading the strip around the world and the Dennis the Menace TV show begins it's four year run. Jay North is hand picked by Ketcham to play America's new wonder brat.

North played Dennis for four seasons and may have played him longer but near the end of the third season, Joseph Kearns who had been playing Mr. Wilson passed away. The show brought in Gale Gordon to play Mr. Wilson's brother for season 4. It's no fault of Gordon's but the show didn't recover.

For North, Hollywood roles slowly dried up and he eventually became a prison guard in the Florida penal system. He is now retired and living in Central Fl. He occasionally attends nostalgia conventions signing autographs for fans and discussing his days as Hollywood's tow headed terror.

The official Dennis the Menace site is pretty good with lots of info on Hank Ketcham and his creation

Hank Ketcham also wrote his autobiography and you can get it from the publisher here. This same publisher [Fantagraphics Books] is also releasing all of Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace strips in a planned 25 volume set. Every year a new book is released with two full years of Dennis strips. If you're a big fan of comic strip art, you owe a visit to Fantagraphics site.

Jul 31, 2007

Happy Birthday J. K. Rowling & Harry Potter

The first book was an instant hit with kids. The original popularity of the young Harry Potter series was not due to it's extensive ad budget or endless television commercials, the popularity was due to kids [and adults] who loved the story and shared their enthusiasm with other readers. It was this unintentional literary grass roots movement that caught the media's attention.

In the first few years, Harry's popularity was fueled by a huge readers circle involving a few countries and in this day and age, that's intimate compared to the world wide media storm that circled around the last few books in the series.

As a lark and well before any author could imagine how her writing was going to change her life, J.K. Rowling made Harry Potter's birthday the same day as her own. She will share July 31 with her fictional creation forever. I'm sure it will be both a blessing and a curse. As Rowling enters her octogenarian years and Harry reaches middle age, new reporters will seek her out to ask the same old questions. They'll use a shared birthday as the story hook and bang on her door right around her birthday for the rest of her life. Rowling will always be able to gauge the popularity of her book by the amount of e-mail she receives in July.

Now that the series is finished, a new Harry story begins and it's this next chapter in the saga I'm interested in. Where does it all go from here? Where will the community of Harry Potter fans find it's level? Will it's numbers increase after the ending like those of Star Wars or Star Trek? Will there be giant Harry Conventions or will it simply blend with current fantasy culture? As time moves on will the culture of the books or the movies become most dominant? Will these cultures be forced to split or will they share the same space and jab at each other only in fun? Will the box office of the last two films increase or will the intensity fade now that the story is over in it's original medium?

Harry Potter is not a fad, at least by my definition. Sure, the media spotlight and the gossip around the author will fade [thankfully], but the book series will take it's place on the classics shelf and be mentioned with Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz for the next century. How the movies are accepted is another story.

Nearly 15 hours of a story that grows darker every episode doesn't seem like a recipe for a family film favorite. You don't see Old Yeller as the center of many film festivals. Young goths of the future who see Harry as the poster child for their own misunderstood youth, will give it a cult following, but I have trouble seeing the middle of America accepting the entire body of work as a pop culture classic. Mass culture will likely cull the first movie from the herd and ignore the rest.

After the final film, the Harry Potter community has a big problem. Everything they feed on will now be up to them. Rowling has no plans for further Harry stories and she has stated that no one else will write about her characters. The communities of fans that are largest & strongest are those with something new to explore. Mickey Mouse, Luke Skywalker and James T. Kirk survive because they are professionally reinvented in new mediums. Excellent fictional characters who are kept from those opportunities [Bozo and Calvin & Hobbes come to mind], become fond footnotes only to be explored by those who remember and those who accidentally stumble across them.

On the plus side, creating a strong fan community has never been easier. The social nature of the Internet has given creative people a place to share their visions. It's easy for me to envision a world wide group of fans creating excellent new content for each other using the original characters creating by Rowling. Sure, it's already taking place with tens of thousands of fan stories and drawings and hundreds of Hogwart's sites and role playing venues where people come to chat in character, but what I'm talking about is quality over quantity, I see a sort of semi - pro movement where small pockets of Internet space is reserved only for the best of the best. I see excellent writers and artists contributing without payment because it's a great outlet for their talent.

Blogs have shown that there are hundreds of thousands of people who can and do create content as good or better than what you already consume [present company excluded]. It's already happening all over the net. I think the fan communities that will survive in the future will intentionally adopt this model for their own. Since Harry's fandom has spent it's whole life on the web, it could easily be carving that wave, but what they actually do remains to be seen.

No matter what, the first saga of Harry Potter is finished and Rowling's writing has never been stronger. The author is on to a new chapter in her own life and I wish her well. Amid all the current signings and readings I hope she has a moment to stop and realize just what a wide open year she has ahead of her. If I had been in her place the last nine years, I would tell my family to take this year off and don't wake me until July 2008. I suspect she will choose a different way to celebrate.

Jul 27, 2007

Safety Card Friday #3

Why would you choose the horse to ride a bike?. You'd think Quick Draw has the horsepower to get there pretty quick on foot. If you're a horse on a bike I'm pretty sure there's an Elmer's factory in your immediate future. Wouldn't big lumbering Yogi or Wally Gator be a better choice? [Yes, I am attempting to apply a strangely twisted logic to cartoon characters drawn over 40 years ago. These thoughts spill out naturally for me and the very reason I have ample medication and a blog.]

Today, Quicky would be wearing a helmet under the 10 gallon hat, but in the 60's nobody cared if children or horses were brain damaged.

Could the art have been done in-house at Hanna Barbera? Did they have a consumer product dept? Was it freelanced by an HB artist? The drawings are on model but who colored these things? Quick Draw is usually white with a brown hat. His hat and his hide should be switched. Is this his twin brother Quick Tan? Cousin Brick Jaw? I have so many unanswered questions.

Have a great weekend everybody.

Thank You Scott Corbett

You may not have heard of him but Scott Corbett changed my life.

It was early in my 2nd grade year and we were in the school library. Miss Sporky had given us 15 minutes to find something to read and time was running out. [I've forgotten my teachers real last name. I remember she was young and I had a crush.] I was in one of those kid panics, running through the stacks trying to find something before the librarian or Sporky gave me something off of the teacher approved reading list. The literary equivalent of brussel sprouts.

I don't know what caught my eye but in the last few seconds as Miss Sporky was using her teacher voice to get kids to the checkout line, I finally settled on "Ever Ride A Dinosaur?" by Scott Corbett. I'm sure it was the dinosaur cover that cinched it. Last minute as it was, it was one of the best choices I ever made.

I laughed out loud while I was reading the book which got me in trouble during free time and when it was time to do my oral report, my favorite anecdote had me laughing too hard to talk. Of course that got the class laughing and Miss Sporky had me sit down before I was through. That book traveled through a lot of 2nd grade hands that year.

I don't know why I connected with this book. I liked reading comic books, I liked reading comic strips and I didn't even mind reading textbooks but this was like a reading vacation; a sort of reading road trip. Most of my reading was for getting from here to there but Corbett's book was like finding the open road, the trip was light and relaxing. Recreational reading became a lifelong habit.

Like all kids that lock on to something good, I went searching for more Scott Corbett and the old boy didn't disappoint. I found "The Lemonade Trick, the first in a series of a dozen books that Corbett started in 1960 and finished in 1977. "The Limerick Trick" [4th in the series] was and still is, a personal favorite.

Corbett was born July 27 1913. He had a degree in journalism and was a free lance magazine writer in NY. During WWII, he was a reporter for Stars & Stripes magazine and an editor of Yank, an armed service magazine based in Paris. After the war, he taught at Moses Brown, a private school for K-12. He would teach during the day and write late afternoons. He wrote five adult novels before turning to kids literature. Corbett died last year at the age of 93 . He's not a media darling but with over 80 books to his credit and 30 years of kid lit, Scott Corbett leaves a legacy any author would be proud of.

Jul 25, 2007

Ding-A-Ling Robots Topper Toys

At the end of the 1960's Topper Toys released a series of 6 inch tall robots known as the Ding-A-Lings. Each Ding had it's own personality which usually revolved around their occupation. They also had some manual function they performed, usually by pushing down on their heads. [For instance, the fireman squirted water, the chef shook salt, the boxer would punch etc.]

The thing that makes this small line of robots stand out is the track. Topper designed a suspended track system that let the Ding-A-Lings run both over and under their track. Dings ran right side up on the top and traveled upside down on the bottom. Three separate playsets could combine to create a sort of robot train layout in infinite combinations.

While you could just roll your Dings across the kitchen floor for imaginary adventures, getting them to run on the track required a little juice. The traveling Dings were powered by 2 AA batteries from a power pack purchased separately. You could run as many robots on the track as you wanted as long as you had a power pack for each one. It wasn't long before tykes like me were begging for more than one power pack and more track.

Toy catalogs of 1971 reveal that Topper had bigger plans for the robot line with more Dings and more accessories, but Topper's president was charged with mismanagement of funds and the company was forced to file bankruptcy. It wasn't long before Topper closed down completely.

In it's short run, the Ding-A-Lings series produced approximately a dozen robots, three playsets, the Ding-A-Lingmobile and a huge King Ding the Ding-A-Ling king. There are also a few Ding-A-Lings that were only available overseas.

Usually a toys name has something to do with it's function, but in the case of the Ding-A-Lings, I don't know the connection. What makes them dingy-lingy? Did they have some bell that rang in the prototype stage? Is it something incredibly obvious I've missed? Above are five of the 12 to 15 dings still in their individual packages. Every Ding-A-Ling came in it's own packaging and one or two also came in the playsets.

This big guy is King Ding, leader of the Ding-A-Lings. King is run by Brain one of the small Ding-A-Ling's who fits inside. He had his own elevator that slowly took him up into King Dings big empty head. This was the guy you wanted to see under the tree.

If you're interested in this line of toys, I'd start with these three sites:

Big Red Toybox is one cool site for vintage toy collectors. Besides selling reproduction parts for hard to find toys, it's got a great encyclopedia of toys. & the have a lot of info as well.

This last tidbit is a link to a 4 minute Ding-A-Ling commercial. I tried to embed it here but my computer skills suck. It was created to get retailers excited about the new Ding-A-Lings and track. If you had these toys in your youth, you may notice a few old favorites look different. That's because they were using prototypes for the commercial. Prototypes are the Holy Grail of collecting. It's every collectors dream to find an early edition of a prized toy.

Jul 20, 2007

Safety Card Friday #2

----------------------------- ----C'mon, pull my finger!

Safety card #2 has some very good advice but in this case, where would the kids sit? This guy's got his steering wheel in the middle of his dashboard in a really small car. They couldn't even sit in his lap, with Pebbles big head, the guy couldn't see to drive.

Where are they going at that age anyway? Did Fred send them to the store for a pack of Winstons? Are the kids running away [again]? At least Pebbles was smart enough to bring Bamm-Bamm. The guy in the car is in a lot more danger than the kids.

Jul 18, 2007

Disneyland Opening Factoids

Disneyland opened to the public for it's first full day of operation on July 18, 1955 . Below are a few facts about the park and the times.


US President: Dwight D. Eisenhower
US Vice President: Richard M. Nixon

Stamp: 3 cents
Bread: 18 cents a loaf
Gas: 29 cents a gal
Coffee 79 cents a lb.
Eggs: 79 cents a doz.
Milk: 92 cents a gal

Population of the US is 165,931,2024.
Avg.Income: $4,962/yr
Min. Wage: 75 cents an hr.


June 7 - The $64,000 Question #1 show of the year
Sept 10 - Gunsmoke
Oct 3 - Captain Kangaroo
Oct 3 - The Mickey Mouse Club

64% of all homes in America have a television


Anaheim had five hotels and two motels for a total of 87 rooms. There were 34 restaurants in the city and forty-two Policemen

To build Disneyland, the Disney Studio purchased Seventeen parcels of land for an approx total of 160 acres.

At the time Disneyland began construction there were 4,000 orange trees on the property and less than 20 houses. Two or three of these houses were saved to become Disneyland offices.

Construction required:
3.5 million boardfeet of lumber
1 million sq. feet of asphalt
5,000 cubic yards of concrete
35,000 cubic yards of dirt for the Main Street Railroad Station berm.
1200 full size trees & 9,000 shrubs.

At it's opening Disneyland employed 850 people

Walt Disney was 53 years old.

"Some eager guests were waiting for admission as early as 2 a.m. today for the 10 a.m. opening of gates to the artful combination of world's fair and amusement park. By 9 a.m., Disney officials said there were thousands parked and waiting at the gates." -- article, Santa Ana Register.

Police were kept busy looking for "stolen" vehicles, which were merely misplaced in the 100 acre Disneyland parking lot and an all-points bulletin was issued to be on the lookout for a 16 year-old boy who ran away from Utah to see Disneyland. [Insert your own Utah joke here)

Disneyland opens to the general public at 10 a.m. with admission costing $1.

The first ticket, is purchased by Walt's brother Roy

Dave MacPherson of Long Beach, Ca. waits all night to be the first guest in Disneyland. The wait is worth a lifetime pass.

Being young & cute is worth a pair of lifetime passes for Michael Schwartner and Christine Vess. They're the first two kids in the park and get their picture taken with Walt.

Each attraction had to be paid for individually, with prices ranging from ten to thirty-five cents.

Parking was a quarter.

The park is open till 10 P.M.



The Disneyland Band may be the longest temporary gig in the history of music. Originally scheduled to be there for the fist two weeks, they still play daily.

The Fire Wagon - Horse-Drawn Street Cars & Surreys. - The horses had been trained in four hour shifts while music, chatter, crowd noise, car horns and shouts were blasted from speakers.

Main Street Cinema - Playing Steamboat Willy since day one

Main Street Penny Arcade

The Santa Fe / Disneyland Railroad: -The one idea that was in every plan for a Disney park.


The Jungle Cruise - The Cruise was originally going to be a ride down famous rivers in America but Art Director Harper Goff loved the movie "The African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. He talked Walt into the jungle theme.


Canal Boats of the World - Quickly becomes Storybook Land

King Arthur Carrousel- Disneyland's oldest ride. The carousel was made by the William Dentzel Company in the 1920s. Some of the horses date back as far as the 1880s

Mad Tea Party

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Peter Pan's Flight

Snow White's Scary Adventures


Golden Horseshoe Review

The Mark Twain- The hull was made at the Todd Shipyards in Long Beach Ca. while the upper decks were made at the Disney studio. Both pieces were moved to Disneyland where miracle of miracles, they fit together perfectly.

Mule Pack

Stage Coaches

TOMORROWLAND - [Tomorrowland was originally designed as a view of what life would be like in 1986, the year Halley's comet would return.]

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - This exhibit of props from Walt's feature film wasn't open on July 17. It's the only ride premiering on the 18th

Space Station X-1