Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Retrospace screen cap from a July 2008 post.

Retrospace was born in June 2008 on a whim - I honestly thought I'd play with blogging for a few days then quit. Well, that soon turned into a daily routine which I have enjoyed immensely. There's simply nothing better than ending each day looking back on the glory days of the '60s and '70s, and being able to share my nostalgia with others of similar interest. In the beginning, I felt I was largely talking to myself (and with just a few readers, I basically was), but I enjoyed it so much it didn't matter. Now, a mere six months later, hundreds hop on retrospace every day, and I say the more the merrier.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working on retrospace has been learning new things, and then sharing that information. I'm sure you've noticed that I like to uncover some of the hidden, long forgotten niches of the pop culture landscape. Bill at The Uranium Cafe once gave a great comment that really sums up what I strive for: "You seem to continually pull a theme out of the air and then give a quick but informative write up. This post really wolloped me." While exploring these roads less traveled, I've discovered some interesting bits of pop history. Here's a few examples of odd things highlighted in '08:

Shirley MacLaine's daughter was the creepy kid on the cover of The Exorcist book. here
Jamie Gertz was in a Dungeons & Dragons commercial. here
Wesley from Land of the Lost is the man behind the children's cartoon Dragon Tales. here
Daryl Hall was into satanism big time (here) and so was Sammy Davis, Jr. here
Juan Epstein from "Welcome Back, Kotter" is indirectly linked to NASA space travel devices invented by the kid who was basis for The Exorcist. here
Jimmy Walker is related to Tootie through marriage. here
Kenny Rogers was a psychedelic pop star (here) and so was Mrs. Kotter. here
The Scooby-Doo template was copied a startling number of times on Saturday mornings. here
Musicians got extremely hairy in the late sixties and seventies, to where they are almost unrecognizable (here) ... and so on, and so on...

In the upcoming year there's just a few things I'd like to see here at retrospace.

1. I just got a new scanner for Christmas and so I'd like to start putting up scans from my old magazines, comics, etc. I recently tried it with my Dynamite magazine post, and had a lot of fun doing it.

2. More DVD reviews (movies and television). Many of you may have noticed with my recent Land of the Lost, Captain & Tennille, The Secrets of Isis and The Silencers posts that I've gotten carried away with capturing images and discussing the movie or TV show. Maybe it's a phase, but it's a lot of fun, and I plan a lot more in '09. Believe it or not, I've only done a handful of movie review posts (The Silencers, Cocksucker Blues , The Van, and Pretty Maids All in a Row) and I'd like to do a whole lot more in the upcoming year.

3. Lastly, I love to collect old records, but I still haven't gotten around to getting one of those gadgets that converts the vinyl to a digital format. Sometime in '09, I plan to start putting up music from my old eclectic record collection.

I'm sure other new ideas will present themselves over the next few weeks, months, years... however long I plan to stay with this blogging thing. I'd certainly appreciate any suggestions. Which brings me to one last thing - a big thanks to all those who've dropped by retrospace. I've been inspired by your comments and encouraged by your positive feedback. I don't make a cent from blogging, I lead a very busy life - I've got a big family and a demanding job as a forensic scientist (no, I'm not David Caruso), but winding down each evening in retrospace has been wonderfully fulfilling and therapeutic, and the great comments and daily increase in readership tells me I'm not alone in my world of retro love. So, thanks for coming and, most of all, have a Happy New Year!


Retro Film Report #2: The Silencers

I'm starting my review of The Silencers (1966) with this image because I think it encapsulates the movie better than any other frame: the ultra-cool Dean Martin has butts and boobs in his face the entire film.


The Boob Tube #3: Land of the Lost

With the approaching Will Ferrell film adaptation on the horizon in June 2009, I think it's best we clear a few things up regarding the original Land of the Lost.

1) First, LOTL was the greatest television show intended for young audiences in history. This is not an arguable point - it is a scientific certainty that should be considered the fourth law of thermodynamics.

2) The caliber of writing was nothing short of genius. Of course, with writers such as Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Theodore Sturgeon and D.C. Fontana, how could you go wrong? The stories often exhibited a complexity way beyond what one would expect from Saturday morning fare. Plus, the actors played the story straight with utter seriousness - it may seem campy today, but, like old episodes of Dr. Who and Star Trek, such is the fate of any science fiction show which pushes the envelope of imagination.

3) The acting was superb. Spencer Milligan played Rick Marshall with astounding sincerity and believability. Wesley Eure brought energy and intensity to the show, and Kathy Coleman was so unbelievably likeable. Hell, I even thought Chaka (played by the youngest black belt in history, Philip Paley) was great. [Things went to hell on the third season: Milligan left and the stories got weak. This gush of LOTL love here refers only to the first two seasons]

4) The show had a dark underside. Every once and a while the show unexpectedly exhibited a moment of terror or brooding horror. Whether it was the Sleestak silently creeping through the darkened caverns, the Library of Skulls (an amazing example of the show's creativity and imagination!), the eerie Mist Marsh, or the mysterious Zarn - LOTL was often downright chilling!

5) Like any good work of science fiction/fantasy, LOTL had a rich mythology. The Sleestak were the descendants of the Altrusians whose civilization fell approximately 1,000 years earlier. The mechanics of the Pylons (the interdimensional elevators) and their strange light crystals were gradually understood by the Marshall family - but the overall history and composition of the land was never fully realized. What was the function of the giant pulsating crystal floating in the center of a void encountered in one episode? Audiences were begging to know. Sadly, the show never lasted long enough to clear up all the unanswered questions.

To give those unfamiliar with LOTL a taste of its greatness, let's take a look at a random episode, "Elsewhen", written by famed Star Trek alum D. C. Fontana.
Season 1, Episode 15: "Elsewhen" (1974)
The episode begins with Rick, Will and Holly exploring the ancient subterranean city of the Sleestak. Already, young audiences of the 70s are tense and nervous - those predatory Sleestak had a habit of popping out of nowhere like Michael Myers. Will Marshall says it's odd that the place seems eerily quiet, but his father assures him the nocturnal Sleestak are simply out hunting.

The Marshalls make their way to Enik's cave (Enik was an integral character in a prior episode) to once again rearrange some light crystals. The combination of crystals results in various outcomes (for example, the combination of red and yellow crystals create explosions). The crystals are obviously the Marshall's ticket out of the LOTL, and also a constant source of frustration and confusion. This time the Marshal clan is optimistic...

Dammit! All it manages to do is create a misty doorway to nowhere. Will and Holly get frustrated and fight, only to be lectured sternly by dad. Holly loses patience and decides to wander alone in the maze of deadly Sleestak caves.

Holly unexpectedly stumbles upon a new cavern with interesting architecture that resembles the pylons. The Marshalls decide to abandon the crystals to investigate. Before long they are travelling down a dark stairway deep beneath the The Lost City.

They discover a hole in a cave wall that appears to descend into the abyss. Will throws a rock down into it, but they never hear it hit the ground. Naturally, Rick will attempt to go down into it, and Holly becomes frustrated once again at being excluded. She travels back to Enik's cave and encounters a buxom woman who's emerged from the misty doorway Rick created earlier.

The mysterious blonde gives Holly some motherly advice and reveals that she has a scar on her arm acquired while helping her brother out of a "difficult situation". She also tells Holly to (1) beware of a Sleestak on the lower level and (2) get over her fear of heights. Then she presents Holly with 3 necklaces which possess special powers before abruptly vanishing into the mist.

Before long, Holly's back with her family and volunteers to go bravely down the bottomless hole herself. Considering neither Rick or Will will fit, they agree to let her. Holly doles out the necklaces to her dad and brother then makes the treacherous descent attached to a rope.

Oh, shit! Dad and Will are attacked by Sleestaks and Holly is sent plummeting into the abyss! As the Sleestaks haul away their human prey, we find that Holly is hanging alone in the dark, terrified at the end of the rope.

Things aren't looking much better for Rick and Will. Not only are they about to be sacrificed by the Sleestak to some god at the bottom of a pit, but it begins to dawn on them that Holly may die a miserable slow death hanging alone by a rope in total darkness.

This is when things start to get real complicated. Holly hears the voice of the blonde hottie from the mist urging her to be strong and "look at the earth". She then finds herself face to face with a mind blowing image of an inverted LOTL. Wikipedia explains: "This bizarre vision is never explained within the show, but may be related to the closed nature of the universe that the Land is in; just as the river loops back to its origin, the pit may descend so far that it comes out in the sky overhead." Whatever the reason, it certainly tripped me out as a kid (and perhaps more so as an adult).

Needless to say, Holly emerges from the chasm to find her father and brother about to be slaughtered in the name of a Sleestak god. She decides to rescue them by throwing a couple crystals. Dad begs her to stop, in the name of all that's holy, but it's too friggin' late.

Holly's crystals manage to incapacitate the Sleestak, but knocks Rick and Will down the sacrificial pit in the process. Way to go! In attempt to undo the damage she's wreaked, Holly follows her family down to the bottom of the pit via a rope. Amazingly, Rick repays her kindness by rescuing himself first (WTF?), leaving Will and Holly to find a way out of the hell hole themselves.

Holly manages to get Will (who was injured by the fall) hoisted up to safety, but must tango with the Sleestak god mano y mano. After a violent off-screen battle, we find that Holly has incurred a wound remarkably like the one on the arm of the blonde from the mist! Thus Holly realizes that the mysterious woman is actually a future version of herself!

In the final scene, Holly pays one last visit to her future self. “Cherish your father and brother, Holly,” she tells Holly in Enik's cave. “They won’t always be there....Give them all your love and understanding while they are.” The message strikes a chord with Holly, and it will make her strong and give her hope for the future. What a profound message!

Keep in mind all these intense and complex events took place in a 30 minute slot on Saturday mornings in between Cocoa Puffs and Stretch Armstrong commercials. A remarkable achievement indeed - one that I can only hope is translated faithfully to the big screen. The temptation to belittle the show or poke fun at the often cheesy special effects will be there, but if Will Ferrell and crew are real fans of LOTL, they won't forget the things that made the show great. The fact that the writer for the film is Adam McKay, the guy behind the awful film adaptation of Bewitched, leaves me a bit skeptical. We shall see...

Album Covers #4: Music to Blog By

I've seen old records on just about every ridiculous thing you can think of - there's literally albums to play ping-pong by, one called "Music to Grow Plants", and another called “Music to Recline By" (by Richard Maltby and his Orchestra). There's "Music for Swingin' Bowlers", "Music to Barbecue By", "Music to be Murdered By" and, believe it or not, even "Music to Sell Valves By" (don't believe me? go here).

But just when you think you've seen it all, along comes this one.... an album I guess you'd listen to before you go buy a Ukrainian car. Now I've seen everything.

Album cover swiped from I'm Learning to Share


Kid Stuff #5: Dynamite Remembered

Any child of the 1970's remembers the Scholastic Book Club. Once a month students could check boxes in a newsprint catalog of books and magazines to order. Most of the books were pretty awful like novelizations of movies and TV shows. I'm Learning to Share has a good gallery of Scholastic Book Club book covers.

Awful or not, the day the glossy new books and mags came in almost made school enjoyable. The poor saps who didn't order anything had to sit and watch enviously as you unveiled your treasures. By far the biggest hit, the one that made the no-orderers insanely jealous, was Dynamite magazine - the greatest magazine for 70s kids bar none. What made it so great? Let me count the ways.

The cover always featured a stark background with a pop icon dead center. One time it was Shaun Cassidy with Chewbacca, another time it was The Dukes of Hazzard, then Farrah Fawcett... you get the picture - stuff kids loved before the days of Nickelodeon and MTV. RetroCrush has a good gallery of Dynamite covers.

The issues were low on text and full of eye candy, and let's not forget there was a poster inside every issue. Here's a scan of a Dynamite mag I've managed to somehow not sell for a penny at a yard sale - the Fonz! Notice the wear and tear; these magazines were well loved indeed.

My favorite part of every issue were the Bummers. Here's a scan from the Fonz issue (click to enlarge). I guess my sense of humor has become more refined over the years - I used to double over laughing at these pathetic jokes. I was easily amused.

Other highlights in every issue were: "Count Morbida's Monthly Puzzle Pages", magic tricks, and let's not forget "And Now a Word from Our Sponsor".

And if that weren't enough to keep every 70s kid frothing at the mouth, there was a cool superhero comic segment in each issue! This Fonz issue has a full color two page Daredevil spread (in the days before Frank Miller retooled the blind superhero, making him edgy, of course, and less fun).

Doing a little research for this post, I learned that Jane Stine was the editor of the magazine from 1974 to 1977 - the wife of bestselling children's author RL Stine, who was then a Dynamite scribe. This interesting article points out that the Dynamite staff consisted of only three people who rotated duties!

Of course, you don't need a staff of a hundred people to reach an audience of 70s kids - you just need to know what these kids like to read... and Dynamite knew only too well. There were the imitators (i.e. Bananas), but Dynamite stood head and shoulders above the pack, and spoke to a generation of kids growing up in the 1970's. This snippet from an article called "Kids Through the Ages" in my Fonz issue says it all:

"... All the noise in the Sixties helped bring peace in the Seventies. And what else will the Seventies bring? That's up to you. You are a Seventies Kid. What you do today may be gone tomorrow, or it might just be remembered as one of the signs of your time."

Amen, Dynamite magazine. Thanks for the memories.


A Look at Holiday Gatherings

Well, Christmas is over, but for many who attended an office Christmas party the gossip and scandals have only just begun. There's always some poor drunken fool who gets carried away by the spirit of the season and jumps at the chance to drop the office etiquette and lets his hair hang down (a bit too low). Check out the inebriated boss swilling around on the floor tugging at his employees' legs - will there be mild embarrassment and apologies the next work day? or simply a pretense it never happened?

Maybe I'm getting old, but I'd rather be at ABBA's Christmas party. Just a low key party with a few friends and loved ones, good food and some tasty beer. It being 1972, I'm sure there was fondue somewhere - man, I loved fondue. Things were simpler then too; the Pet Rock was the most popular gift in 1974.

Speaking of Christmas parties, this next advertisement is a must read. If this were printed today it would be burned in the public square; back then, however, it was all in good fun. Here's the print:

"He who entertains, be he bachelor or married man, cannot be ignored in our anthology of parties. It is not uncommon today for a man to hold a guys-only party, usually to play cards or watch a sporting event on television (and the holiday season is a favorite for football fans). The men only affairs are never elaborate. A simple menu and a simple setting are all that are necessary. If wives are involved, their part is to help see that everything is prepared and set up, and then to disappear (to their women-only tea). The number of guests is then limited to the space around a table or the number of comfortable seats around the television set."

Men-Only parties aside, Christmas gatherings should be about togetherness and family. However, I think most people have Brady Bunch or Norman Rockwell expectations that everything will be absolutely perfect. This leads to the after-Christmas blues where maybe everything wasn't as perfect as you envisioned: Uncle Norm drank too much nog and shocked the children with some expletives, the turkey was dry as jerky, the ungrateful kids whined about their presents, and your sister-in-law seems to somehow become less friendly with each passing year.

But that's what it's all about (Christmas Vacation taught us this valuable life lesson), and that's why Christmas Rush (1947) may be my favorite Norman Rockwell Christmas painting of all. It's the most honest and best encapsulates the true feeling of Christmas: It was great, but, damn, I feel like I've been beat like a rented mule!


Shroom Santa

Well, things have been extremely busy the past several days and I haven't had time to post at all. Let me make it up to you with a 1943 comic book featuring a psychedelic mushroom chomping Santa Claus. It's sort of a take-off on Alice in Wonderland but with Santa.

It starts with Alice who just can't keep her hands off the shrooms. You can almost hear "White Rabbit" playing in the background as she entices St. Nick to take a bite...

Well, you don't need to tell Santa twice - he's all over that shroom, and munches it greedily...

Of course, it isn't long before Santa's tripping all over the place. Pig babies and so forth start to really freak Santa out.... but I won't spoil the ending. To read this entire bizarre comic check out Pappy's Golden Age Comics.

Well, I hope everyone has a nice Flokking Christmas. Happy Holidays!


Kid Stuff #4: Stretch Monster Love

With Christmas fast approaching and buying gifts for my own children, it got me thinking about what Christmas present I enjoyed most as a kid. I think my answer would have to be Stretch Monster.

I mean no disrespect to the original Stretch Armstrong, but the stars were aligned with Stretch Monster: the perfect age (I was 7), the perfect timing (really into monsters), and the perfect temperament (easily amused and destructive). It would seem Stretch Monster and I were meant for each other, and I manhandled the hell out of him!

When did this manhandling end, you ask? How long can a boy possibly be entertained by a goo filled doll? Ahh, this was truly the gift that kept on giving - my stretching, squashing, kneading, and contorting continued long after the holidays. Indeed, Stretch Monster was still taking a beating the following summer.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Stretch Monster was left in the car in the boiling heat of mid-day Miami. I'd heard freezing it could cause damage, but never heat, and so his gelatinous guts burst and oozed down the dashboard.

Apparently, I am not alone in my inability to maintain a Stretch Monster. Kenner made over 50,000 stretch toys and apparently there are less than 100 still in good condition! I've also come to learn that the gooey substance was simply corn syrup, and Kenner sold so many of these that they were the largest buyer of corn syrup from 1976-1979! (source)

Go here to see some really good pictures and an old commercial on my long lost toy.

A thanks to The Stretch Monster Archive where I found these cool pictures of the box.


Merry Christmas from Huggy Bear

Many of you may remember Antonio Fargas from his work in Foxy Brown (as Pam Grier's no-good brother) or the jittery superfly informant to Starsky and Hutch, Huggy Bear (played by Snoop Dogg in the film adaptation).

If you do remember him, then you can understand my surprise at finding he had released a Christmas record. The news that he'd made a record at all was shock enough, but a Christmas record?

After Starsky & Hutch ended in 1979, Fargas apparently dove at the first opportunity to get his recording career started and wound up with a record company in the Netherlands. Side A is a mediocre disco tune while side B is a funky tune about Christmas in the ghetto. (source: Christmas A Go-Go)

But it just wouldn't be right to mention Starsky & Hutch here at retrospace and let you leave without seeing this picture.

If I ever make a list of the top ambiguously gay duos, I'm putting Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky near the top. The number one position would probably go to Batman and his young wards. Wow!


Vintage Style #1

Can you guess which model has suddenly realized he's made a horrible mistake?

"Dear God, what have I done?" he thought as it dawned on him that posing in grape His 'n' Hers vests and slacks was a colossal error in judgment. Sadly, it was just a few seconds too late.

Imagine the pleasure of receiving a Mork watch for Christmas in 1979. Then imagine that pleasure slowly turning to grief as you read the words on the watch face. Mork said "Nanoo, nanoo" not "Na-no, na-no" dammit!

Considering the fact that they didn't even take the time to draw his fingers correctly, I guess it should be no surprise they didn't proofread their work either.

Ads #9: Your Own Little Detroit!

President Bush just bought you one of these... for $17.4 billion. Hope you like it.


Ads #8

Hey Timmy, your 44 inch Christmas stocking sure is impressive. But before you get all worked up about it, check what's inside: a single Santa boot, a hideous mask, and what looks to be a plastic green lobster. To add insult to injury, only an ounce more candy than the smaller size.... A hard lesson was learned that Christmas morn'.

Also from the same 1975 Sears Christmas catalog...

Let's play a game: Which of these CHILDREN'S hats does not belong?

I guess it just wasn't a big deal back in the day to get your little boy a Budweiser hat. Of course, the fine print says you can't buy it if you live in Alabama or Virginia (which is sort of ironic considering those are two states you'd think a Bud hat would be in great demand).


The Boob Tube #2: Isis

Isis first appeared on TV in 1975 as part of the Shazam/Isis Hour and garnered a pretty positive reaction from the Saturday morning elementary school crowd. It resulted in not only her own show, The Secrets of Isis, but also a comic book and animated series.

Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Isis. I recently rented the DVD and had a multitude of problems with the series. I'm not expecting it to be high quality entertainment. I fully realize it was meant for 1970's kids, and not meant for the eyes of a cynical adult in 2008. However, certain things on the show bothered me to no end. Let me walk you through some of my problems.

1. Andrea Thomas (played by JoAnna Cameron) discovers a mythical amulet which gives her the powers of Isis while on an archaeological dig in Egypt. An archaeological dig? She's a high school science teacher, not an Egyptologist! I can buy into the Indiana Jones scenario since he's a college professor. It's another thing entirely to have a high school teacher unearthing the secrets of ancient Egypt.

As if that weren't bad enough, Andrea is obviously a scientific genius rivalling the likes of Hawking and Einstein. In one episode she unveils her new invention to the high school principal... a force field generator!

2. Hey, where's Andrea? She's always gone when Isis is around! How peculiar...

How is it possible that Rick and Cindy cannot catch onto the fact that Andrea is actually Isis? They look EXACTLY alike and Andrea is always strangely missing when Isis comes around. I know this is just like the Clark Kent thing where a pair of glasses somehow completely conceals his identity, but for some reason this seemed even more extreme.

Notice a similarity? Same face, same hair, same voice, same height, they are never seen together. Hmmmm...

3. Rick Mason is a sexist asshole. He is constantly saying demeaning comments to Andrea, whom he obviously views as a fragile and weak sub-species.

Here's some incredibly awful dialogue from the last scene of the first episode. The scene: Isis, the chauvinist Rick and the young Cindy Lee have seen the criminals brought to justice, Isis disappears, and Rick and Cindy find Andrea mysteriously relaxing under a tree...

Cindy: You know something? How come you're never around when Isis is there?

Andrea: Beats me. Seems like you and Rick are always having all the fun.

Rick: It's probably just as well. There was a lot going on and the excitement might have gotten to you.

Andrea: You're right, Rick. At times like that, it's well that a woman isn't there to get in the way.

At this point, Andrea gives a knowing smile to the audience.

Gilligan: Excuse me while I go vomit.

[Related post: JoAnna Cameron's earlier work in the controversial Pretty Maids All in a Row]