Whatever Happened To? #4: Gene Gene the Dancing Machine

If you watched "The Gong Show" you remember Eugene Patton, better known as Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. Here's a few things maybe you didn't know about Gene.

He was the first African-American member of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees according to Wikipedia.

He worked backstage on "The Gong Show" and helped warm up the crowds. Chuck Barris was impressed by Gene and let him have a go in front of the camera. The crowds went wild. I think audiences today might not be so receptive, but it was the 70's and all about having a good time. Hyper-cynicism wouldn't come along for a couple decades. A camera operator who filmed Gene's first appearance on the show describes it in detail at POVonline:

I've been on many TV stages in my life. I've seen big stars, huge stars — Johnny, Frank, Sammy, Dino, Bob, you name 'em. I've seen great acts and great joy, and if you asked me to name the most thrilling moment I've witnessed in person, I might just opt for the Gong Show electrifying Stage 3 for all of 120 seconds. Maybe it was because it came so totally out of nowhere that it stunned me but everyone, including the stone-cold sober people, was suddenly just so...happy. There was something very, very invigorating and enjoyable about being in the midst of all that sudden happiness, however frivolous it may have been.

After "The Gong Show", Gene's limelight faded. He began working backstage on the "Tonight Show" and even made a cameo in the film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

In a sad bit or irony, Gene lost both legs from diabetes complications. Well, we'll always have the wonderful memories of this big guy dancing his ass off without a care in the world.

Question: What was the song that Gene danced to? Answer: "Jumpin' at the Woodside" by Count Basie.

Check out a video of my first choice for official retrospace mascot, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine!


Retro Film Report #1: Pretty Maids All in a Row

In my last post I brought up the film Pretty Maids All in a Row. This is one of those films I can barely recall, and would possibly dislike upon rewatching it. However, the longer it continues to be unavailable on DVD, the more intriguing it becomes.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the cast of characters associated with it:

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of "Star Trek", wrote the script and produced the film.

Roger Vadim, the director of Barbarella, directed it. He had just recently ended his marriage to Jane Fonda before directing Pretty Maids.

Rock Hudson stars as a pervert coach. Hudson's career was basically over in 1971, so I guess he was taking what he could get. In the film he looks rather haggard and unhealthy... a far cry from his Pillow Talk days.

Angie Dickinson is basically pimped out by Rock Hudson's character to one of the students, and Telly Savalas, of course, plays the cop.

The theme song, "Chilly Winds" was performed by The Osmonds.

The song was written by Lalo Schifrin who is best known for composing the theme music for the TV series "Mission Impossible". Schifrin has composed literally hundreds of film soundtracks including The Amityville Horror and Magnum Force.

One of the pretty maids is Joanna Cameron, perhaps best known as Isis from the TV series "The Secrets of Isis".

Another cop is played by Keenan Wynn, who played the Winter Warlock in Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Other notable celebs of the day include: James Doohan (Scotty on "Star Trek"), Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes), and Barbara Leigh (Vampirella).

Now, I like to talk about movies as much as the next guy, but I hate to read reviews of films that just ramble on, and on, and on. So let me just quote Roger Ebert who put it pretty succinctly:

"One thing you can say about Pretty Maids All in a Row. Rock Hudson sex comedies sure have changed since Pillow Talk...The movie itself is, finally, embarrassing."

That about sums it up. The movie is certainly a far, far cry from Pillow Talk. The movie is so unbelievably sexually deviant that I would say it is a far cry from movies released today! I honestly think that if you tried to make this movie today, you would be criminally prosecuted (or at least kiss your film career goodbye).

Again, I haven't seen it in awhile (oddly enough, it aired uncut on Turner Classic Movies and I missed it), so my memory may be a bit cloudy. However, I just remember the way the camera leers at the high school students, the illicit relationships between teachers and students, and the way in which the maids are disposed of made this a truly irresponsible picture.... and hence my need to see it.

But here's the primary reason I want to see Pretty Maids All in a Row:

I really treasure a movie (or even a picture or song) that serves as a brilliant snapshot of the time. For example, Blow Up may not be the best movie to come out of the 60's, but it's a great time capsule of Swingin' London - and for that, it's worth a watch. (Sigh) Oh well, maybe some day we'll be able to see the film Roger Vadim called "the most enjoyable piece of filmmaking I have ever done in my career."


Movie Meme: My Life in Movies!

No Smoking in the Skull Cave had a really interesting meme a few days ago that was a lot of fun to read, and I thought it'd be a lot of fun to create as well. The idea, according to becca, originated with samurai frog and basically goes like this:

Make a list of what you think was the best movie from every year since you were born.

The beauty of the concept is how it can vary widely from author to author. I can pretty much guarantee your list would differ significantly from the films on my list (no matter how eclectic your tastes)... and that's the fun of it. So, let's give it a try.

1970: Toomorrow

No, this is not a misspelling. Toomorrow was Don Kirshner's attempt to follow up the success of The Monkees and featured an early appearance by Olivia Newton-John. Since its original release it has rarely been played on TV and hasn't been released on DVD or VHS. Thus, like caviar, its greatness may lie in its rarity rather than true quality, but who cares? I mean, it's an outer space bubblegum rock musical, what's not to love?

1971: Pretty Maids All in a Row

This one deserves a post on all its own. It was directed by none other than Roger Vadim (Barbarella) with a screenplay by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry! Even better, it stars Rock Hudson as a sexually deviant coach, Telly Savalas and the beautiful Angie Dickinson. Like the previous year's selection, this one hasn't been released on DVD - probably due to some highly irreverent and irresponsible plot points which I won't give away.

1972: Superfly

This was a very good year in film (and I'm not talkin' about the overrated The Godfather). Imagine my dilemma having to choose between Dracula A.D. 1972, Deliverance and The Last House on the Left. Well, let's just say Curtis Mayfield had a lot to do with my decision.

1973: The Exorcist

If you've seen Regan climb down a flight of stairs like a demonic spider, then you know why The Exorcist is on my list. If this doesn't terrify you, what will?

1974: The Man with the Golden Gun

I wanted to choose The Satanic Rites of Dracula, but I couldn't pass up this magnificent Bond movie. You've got Herve Villechaize, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, and Christopher Lee. The cherry on top is the theme song by Lulu.

1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Simply one of the greatest movies ever made. I can't adequately describe this film's greatness, so I won't even try.

1976: Logan's Run

I recently read an article in Filmfax magazine where the authors of the original Logan's Run expressed their extreme disappointment in this film - it didn't live up to their script. Well, I must respectfully disaggree. If you happened to read my earlier post "The Future was Fab" then you know I typically like my science-fiction fun and entertaining without all that depressing dystopian Blade Runner crap. And if it features Farrah Fawcett, as in Logan's Run, then that's an added bonus!

1977: Saturday Night Fever

No self respecting discophile like myself would leave this one off the list (sorry, Smokey and the Bandit). The movie includes three iconic 70's film moments: (1) the opening scene where Travolta struts down the street to "Stayin' Alive" (2) Travolta primping for a night at the disco idolizing a Serpico poster with "Night Fever" in the background, and (3) Travolta showin' us how disco is done on the dance floor to "You Should Be Dancing". Pure 70's gold!

1978: Halloween

I can remember not being allowed to see this when it came out, but hearing my aunt and uncle describe scenes to my parents... and that gave me nightmares! Just the thought of this relentless and faceless bogeyman will stir the primeval scaredy cat deep within all of us. Perfectly executed by John Carpenter, this is the film that launched a thousand bad imitations.

1979: Phantasm and Rock 'n Roll High School

I told myself that I wouldn't have any ties on this list, and I'm not even out of the 70's and I've got a tie. I can't help it. To ask me to choose between the silver balls of death and The Ramones is asking the impossible.

1980: The Shining

I love every single millisecond of this film. This is the perfect picture - I wouldn't change one line of dialogue or a single camera angle (although, I hear Stephen King has a much different opinion). Note: It saddens me to not put The Empire Strikes Back on the list, but you just can't compete with Kubrick's nightmarish masterpiece.

1981: Cannonball Run

Look, I know it's no Citizen Kane, but let me throw some names at you: Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin, and Dom DeLouise as Captain Chaos. 'Nuff said.

1982: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I realize there's not a lot of Oscar winners on my list, and Leonard Maltin's list would be a whole lot different. What can I say except "All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine."

1983: National Lampoon's Vacation

I'd love to impress you with some obscure independent film from Brussels, but I've got to go with the Griswolds.

1984: This Is Spinal Tap

The Stonehenge segment has to be one of the funniest moments in movie history.

"In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people... the Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing... "

Notice the great string of comedies in the early 1980's! (Note: Revenge of the Nerds came out this year as well.)

1985: Better Off Dead

Another incredibly funny movie from the early 80's. This one kind of got lost amid the flood of John Hughes films and other teen comedies like Porky's. But if you haven't had a chance to see it, you're missing out.

1986: River's Edge

A rather bleak look at teenage life as compared to its contemporaries (Pretty in Pink, Can't Buy Me Love, etc.) with Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper and Ione Skye. A very enjoyable film... in a nihilistic kind of way.

1987: Evil Dead II

Ah, yes. The year of Ishtar and Dorf on Golf. I had to go with Sam Raimi's innovative horror film over Full Metal Jacket because the second half of Kubrick's film sucks (to put it bluntly).

1988: Scrooged

I can tell I am getting way out of my "retrospace" element now because it is getting harder and harder to find a movie I really liked. Most of the horror films are lame sequels and I was never much of a Rain Man fan. Check out The Ten Best Things About Scrooged at I-Mockery.com. My favorite is the adaptation of A Christmas Carol featuring the Solid Gold dancers!

Here comes two back to back Stephen King adaptations.

1989: Pet Sematary
1990: Misery

1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day

This year's films really sucked. Hook, King Ralph, JFK - I hate 1991's movies! Smokey and the Bandit where are you?

1992: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Captain Ron, Sister Act, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot... help me!! I don't even really like Bram Stoker's Dracula! Please tell me there's a few good movies this year that I'm just missing. Of course Reservoir Dogs and El Mariachi stand out as a new breed of film in stark contrast to the blandness of cinema this year. Foreshadows of things to come certainly, but I just don't enjoy either one of these films no matter how hard I try.

1993: Dazed and Confused

At last, after a bleak few years, a movie that I can sink my teeth into! I have watched this film easily a hundred times and it gets better each viewing. I have an entire post devoted to this film, so I'll spare you any further ravings. Suffice it to say that Matthew McConaughey's character is my role model for life.

1994: Pulp Fiction

Things are certainly looking up at the ol' cineplex once again. Pulp Fiction gave Hollywood a much needed kick in the ass.

1995: Tommy Boy

I'm starting to feel really old at this point. It seems like only yesterday that Tommy Boy came out, and I've still got thirteen years to go!

1996: Bottle Rocket and Fargo

Another tie... sorry, but I wouldn't feel right leaving either of these amazing films off the list.

1997: The Ice Storm

An excellent depiction of where the hedonism and amorality of the 1970's ultimately lead you: depressed and alone. This was the year Titanic came out, but I've never been much of a fan of this movie.

1998: Buffalo '66

Independent films had become really popular by this point. This one, starring queen of the independents, Christina Ricci, is one of the best low budget productions to come out of the 90's. Another great independent flick to come out this year was Slums of Beverly Hills.

1999: Office Space

If you want to know what my life is like from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, look no further than this near perfect comedy. I mean it nails "the cubicle life" with its TPS reports and "two Bobs" perfectly. I would love to hatch a plan from Superman 3 like Peter, Samir, and Michael Bolton. Of course you just might wind up in federal "pound me in the ass" prison.

2000: Meet the Parents

There's probably something better than this, but I'm just not finding it. You have to admit though, the painfully awkward scenes between Stiller and DeNiro are fun to watch. Watching Gaylord Focker explain how to milk a cat is priceless.

2001: The Royal Tenenbaums and Mulholland Drive

Both, in my humble opinion, are works of genius. I'm tempted to put Donnie Darko on there as well, but having two on one year is pushing it.

2002: Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
2003: Kill Bill
2004: Hellboy
2005: Sin City
2006: Apocalypto
2007: Planet Terror
2008: Iron Man

Whew! That took a lot longer than I thought it would (I guess I'm just old). At any rate, I had a lot of fun doing it, and look forward to looking at anyone else's movie meme. If I have a glaring omission on this list, or you can recommend something for me to drop in my Netflix queue, please let me know.


A Sci-Fi Timeline

We are now about eleven years past the time of "Lost in Space" (set in 1997). Where's all the spaceships and robots?

It's interesting to look at various science fiction movies and television shows and take note of when they were supposed to take place. Often, like "Lost in Space" they are way off the mark, predicting amazing technologies that probably won't be invented for hundreds of years. However, sometimes they can be quite accurate. Let's look at a few.

Logan's Run is set "sometime in the 23rd century"
Teleportation devices in three hundred years? I guess it's far enough away in time that I can go along with it.

Land of the Giants is set in 1983. This is one of the more blatant errors in calculation. Fancy tourist spaceships are still nowhere in sight, and we're twenty five years past the show's setting.

The TV series U.F.O. (see image below) was actually set in 1980! That's even less believable than Space:1999.

Blade Runner is set in 2019.
Wow, eleven years to go before we have to start worrying about those pesky replicants.

The year is 2084 in Total Recall. Damn. I was kind of hoping that virtual reality thing would come around a bit sooner.

Forbidden Planet is set in the early 2200's.

The original Jetsons was supposed to take place in 2062. Man, my grandchildren will have it made!

The crew in Planet of the Apes left earth in 2006, went into hibernation and crash landed in 3978.

Here's the tag line for Escape from New York: The year is 1997. The Big Apple is the world's largest penitentiary. Breaking out is impossible. Breaking IN is INSANE.

The 1927 film Metropolis is set in 2026.

2001: A Space Odyssey was right on the money for a lot of things, but was off the mark on artificial intelligence and suspended animation.

Alien is set in 2122. Again, filmmakers have a tendency to underestimate the time it will take to develop this suspended animation thing.

The Buck Rogers TV series is set in 2491.

Rollerball is set in 2018. I can believe the technology and the "global corporate state" aspects, but I doubt sporting events will be this lame in ten years.

Back to the Future II is set in 2015. Only seven more years till the hoverboard!

The best method to avoid having your film or TV show woefully outdated may be to set it far beyond the present date like Dune, which is set thousands of years ahead. Or, opt for the Star Wars plan and have it set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....


Comic Books #3: Bad Comics

I'm sure the kids were lining up at the comic book stand to purchase this one!
I can just hear the little tykes now: "I'll trade you a Governor and J.J. for your Rockford Files and Rhoda comics."

Many of you have probably seen this notorious title from Spire Christian Comics. Other actual Spire titles: The Cross and the Switchblade and Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. Who needs Flash and The Green Lantern when you've got these!

What bothers me most about this one is not Robin's ridiculous hybrid costume. It's the awful close-up of a groin punch . Ouch!

In this exciting and action-packed issue the Man of Steel... has to eat lots of hamburgers. Excuse me? Did they run out of ideas or bad guys that this was the best they could come up with? Don't miss the next issue: Will the South Beach Diet help Superman get the weight off? The suspense is killing me.

Okay, I apologize for the juvenile humor here. I couldn't resist. Come back soon!


Wichita Lineman: Searchin in the Sun for Another Overload

I'm not a huge country fan nor am I much of a Glen Campbell fan. Nevertheless, "Wichita Lineman" ranks as possibly my favorite song ever recorded. Its unique tapestry of sounds, beautiful melody and lonesome melancholy combine to create what can only be called pure mellow gold. It's even been called the first existential country song (have there been others?). So, consider this post a tribute to this timeless Jimmy Webb masterpiece.

So, let's start with the true original. Glen Campbell on his variety show, bringin' us the goods, many years before he became a Rhinestone Cowboy.

Now that you've seen "Wichita Lineman" as it was meant to be sung, let's look at various covers of the tune - some good, some horrifically awful. The first is from Sergio Mendes & Brazil '66, who covered this song perhaps better than anyone else. Instead of recreating the song, they brought their own unique flavor to it, and I love it. Please don't discount this version outright - give it at least a good thirty seconds of your time. It'll grow on you.

Here we have a moog version of the song. Our song, "Wichita Lineman", is the first track on Nashville Gold: Switched on Moog. For some odd reason, I actually enjoy the moog version. I think it is because the hollow feeling emitted by the moog fits in well with the mood of the song. But be forwarned, I am easily the only living person on the planet that feels this way.

RecordRobot has a good helping of "Wichita Lineman" cover versions. Here's a sampling. I encourage you to browse on over to this awesome blog for a second helping. All Electric Love really has going for it is the cover, but, again, there's a certain something here that I like.

Here's a version by Sammy Davis, Jr. courtesy of RecordRobot. I wonder if this was during his Church of Satan phase. A couple posts back I talked about Sammy and his fling with Beelzebub. But enough about that, here's Sammy doin' what he does best... singing other people's material.

And another...

One of my favorites, possibly simply for its rarity, is a version recorded by Campbell himself with the Stone Temple Pilots. The recording never made it to an album, and all that survives is some grainy black and white footage.

Needless to say, the song's been covered countless times. R.E.M. did a version, and I think the song suits their style, but they really didn't add anything to the song except maybe make it more depressing. Andy Williams and Tom Jones also provided a rendition of the tune, which I'll spare you from. Suffice it to say, there's been plenty of tries to capture the magic of the Jimmy Webb song, but no one has come close to Campbell.

It's fascinating to think that Jimmy Webb's lonely drive down an Oklahoma road in the late 60's would result in a timeless classic and an endless supply of cover versions. I for one am mighty glad he took that trip.


Historically Bad: Pink Lady and Jeff

Whenever you see a "worst TV shows of all time" list, you can bet "Pink Lady and Jeff" made the cut. The show was absolutely insane in that it centered around two women (Pink Lady) who couldn't speak a word of English! The one host who could speak English, comedian Jeff Altman, didn't help matters with some of the worst jokes ever recorded on film. Together their banter can only be called "historically bad". Check out this quote in TV guide which NBC was apparently proud of in 1980:

How could this abomination actually exist? Well, for starters it was brought to you by Sid and Marty Krofft (the same fellas that gave us H. R. Puffinstuf ), so we shouldn't be too surprised.

An interesting fact is that the show was actually named "Pink Lady" (Jeff's name was never really part of the title). It seems Pink Lady was quite the popular act in Japan, and their manager wasn't about to let them share the marquee with some two-bit comedian.

The writer for the show was Mark Evanier. Prior to "Pink Lady", Evanier wrote comic books with the legendary Jack Kirby. Evanier was also the writer for "Welcome Back, Kotter". He's quoted as saying, "I still think that if we could have gotten rid of the Pink Lady part and gone with just Jeff, it would have been a darn good show." Good one, Mark.

One of the worst things I remember from the show was that it ended each week with Pink Lady dragging Jeff fully clothed into a hot tub. It was obviously a flimsy excuse to have the two women in bikinis, but got embarrassing after a while. For this, Mar Evanier should be prosecuted in a court of law.

Despite the shows abysmal failure, Pink Lady returned home to Japan no worse for wear. They were simply too popular in their home country to let a crappy American variety show cramp their style. As you can see from the ad below, they even endorse air conditioners.

Anyway, there's a plethora of information on the show on the internet, so there's really nothing new to tell. However, if you're considering renting or buying this DVD just so you can witness TV at its worst, I beseech you to refrain. It is oh so horribly bad that I'll wager you can't make it through the 8 minute YouTube clip at the end of this post.

In an earlier post I commented on a couple horrible renditions of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album: namely the attempts made by The Bee-Gees and Bill Cosby. I guess I should have included Pink Lady. Their "Pepper Keibu" apparently translates to "Sergeant Pepper" and contains the following profound lyrics:

"Sergeant Pepper! Don't interrupt me. Sergeant Pepper! We are in a verygood mood to have fun more. Your words like injections soaking deep into my heart."

A thanks to Platypus Comix for their nice scans of several Pink Lady TV Guide ads. View them here. Pink Lady also has a great site which contributed the advertisements above.


Robbie the Robot: Cameo King

Created for the science fiction film Forbidden Planet, Robbie the Robot went on to star in a ton of movies, TV shows, commercials and other media. I mean this robot is everywhere. I daresay you won't find a celebrity living or dead who's made more cameos than Robbie. I looked him up on IMdB and their list is not anywhere near complete. For example, I know he was on the "Perry Como Show" (1956), but this isn't listed on his filmography. So exactly how many times has Robbie popped up on print and screen? I don't think anyone can really say.

Before Robbie the Robot was on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (1959) as seen on the right, he originated on Forbidden Planet and followed up with its sequel The Invisible Boy. Below is a publicity shot of Robbie opposite co-star Anne Francis.

From Forbidden Planet on, Robbie enjoyed appearance after appearance in both print and screen. He made several appearances on "Lost in Space" and "The Twilight Zone". In addition, he made cameos on "Columbo", "Mork & Mindy", and "The Addam's Family".

Robbie is in the films Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (he's in Watto's junk shop), Gremlins, Earth Girls Are Easy, and Cherry 2000. He's been on "Wonder Woman", "The Banana Splits", "Hazel", "The Man from U.N.C.L.E", "The Simpsons" and even "Stacked" in 2005. Robbie also made a cameo alongside Mr. Whipple in a Charmin commercial.

My God, Robbie's taste for the limelight is unquenchable!

Also, Robbie commonly pops up in the background as in The Phantom Menace. Audiences often don't realize that he's even there. Exhibit A: Marvel’s Strikeforce Morituri #7 (June 1987). Can you spot our boy Robbie?

Little known facts: (1) there was a Robbie the Robot Dog comic book character (but Robbie claims no relation), and (2) Robbie the Robot was voiced by the same guy who did Aquaman on Superfriends.
And on a final note: there was a robot that landed on Gilligan's Island, but believe it or not, it was actually not Robbie.


Sinfully Underplayed #1: Marmalade

Above: Before they were Marmalade, they were the Gaylords (!)

Don't let this early goofy photo fool you. Jimi Hendrix said "I See the Rain" by Marmalade was the best song of 1967 - and if that's not a recommendation, then I don't know what is. They were the first Scottish group to top the UK charts, and would later release the hit "Reflections of My Life" in 1969.
The video is for their song "Rainbow" - not one of their greatest songs, but a really bad video worthy of a look.

During the late 60's and 70's, there was such a massive outpouring of new and brilliant music, that sadly many bands got lost in the shuffle. Some were popular for a brief moment, but for one reason or another, are lucky to be a footnote in the history of music. I hope that I can bring forward a few bands that deserve a second look.


Ads #3

"Introducing the job hunting tampon" with Ali McGraw

Advertising Rule #1: Never begin an advertisement for a product geared toward women with the title "Man Beats Wife". This can be taken a number of ways.

Advertising Rule #2: Don't use a picture of a cake which looks like a glistening pus filled boil to sell your product.

(Erp!)... Pardon me, but the idea of Rex Reed in the nude is causing me a bit of abdominal discomfort.

Sort of fits right in with my previous post (Hexploitation!) doesn't it? Just what those poor spirits need to deal with in the great beyond - a bunch of lame questions like "Should we go steady?"