Foxy Ladies #4: Linda Thorson

Imagine how Jenilee Harrison must have felt being the replacement for Suzanne Somers on Three’s Company. I’m sure it was a combination of joy and extreme pressure. It was a great honor, but these were some pretty big shoes to fill. The same can be said of Linda Thorson who replaced Diana Rigg (a replacement herself) on The Avengers in season 6. It would prove to be the show’s last season.

To be fair, the show was slipping and I’m not sure who could’ve replaced Rigg and saved it. Linda was roundly thrashed by the press as being a poor substitute – all looks and no brains, a damsel in distress rather than a strong heroine.

True, some of it was well-founded – Linda was very inexperienced as an actress and she got the part because she was the girlfriend of then-producer John Bryce. But I still say that Tara King (Thorson) was every bit as good a character as Emma Peel (Rigg). Perhaps, even better… yeah, you read it right. Take a look at some these facts before you…

1. The show failed because it became dependent on US audiences, and it was lined up against Laugh-In (a show which also killed Star Trek).

2. Season 6 was actually an IMPROVEMENT over the previous season. Few will argue that Peel’s last season was lame – it was becoming a spoof like Batman. In the last season, things started to get back to being serious.

3. The character of Tara King started to show some real promising signs towards the end of the season – she became more intelligent, less reliant on Steed, and more of a badass. Quite often, Tara could open up a can of whoop-ass that Emma Peel could have only dreamed of. Check out Tara beating the hell out of some bad guys in this YouTube clip:

4. The British reaction was unfavorable, but Thorson didn’t face the same sort of ridicule abroad. US audiences were somewhat ambivalent, and Thorson was much more popular in France than Rigg ever was.

It’s the ol’ Ted McGinley syndrome, where a last minute replacement gets the blame for the demise of an already floundering show. Before the show's cancellation, Linda Thorson was riding high – she was dating Frank Sinatra (who became her son’s godfather), and even had a musical career. (Listen to her single “Here I Am” which came out right around the time of her role on The Avengers).

Sadly, after the cancellation, Linda removed herself from the limelight and concentrated on venues with lower visibility. Perhaps today she views her stint on The Avengers as more of a curse than a blessing. It's always hard replacing someone that's so well loved.... just ask Sammy Hagar.


The Rise and Fall of the Sitcom

Take a walk with me through the rise and fall of the situation comedy. It’s a sad tale really – of humble beginnings with so much promise, only to be murdered in cold blood by a stand-up comic named Jerry. Gen Xers knew the sitcom when it was successful, vibrant, and full of potential; so, it with a heavy heart that we watched it expire, only to be replaced by the vile usurper, reality television.

Sitcom’s life began on the vaudeville stage, as small skits. These slowly developed into television shows like The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy – gag oriented, and really just extended vaudeville sketches. They developed a little, but you still didn’t have much in the way of meaty content. You certainly weren’t going to learn much from The Beverly Hillbillies or The Munsters, but they kept audiences laughing with a continuous stream of gags.

However, some of these shows decided to teach life lessons, and really give audiences something they could sink their teeth into. They started fairly lightweight with Leave It to Beaver and Bachelor Father, but these evolved into what would be the high water mark of sitcom’s lifespan – the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve seen an episode of One Day at a Time, M*A*S*H*, or The Facts of Life. You may have forgotten how hard hitting these shows were – controversial subjects were being dealt with, lessons were being learned. Good Times dealt with racism without compromise, Gimme a Break and Family Ties dealt with teen sex, Diff’rent Strokes dealt with child molestation and drug abuse, WKRP dealt with homophobia, etc., etc. Even shows like The Brady Bunch, Happy Days and Sanford & Son, had some lessons to be learned (most of the time). A show that always kept it light (like Three’s Company) was rare indeed.

Plus, these shows didn’t lose sight of keeping the laughs coming, and somehow were able to keep maintain the delicate balance…. until the mid-80’s. For some reason, these shows lost their teeth. Now you had shows like Charles in Charge, Growing Pains, Mad About You, and Full House which had neither the weighty content OR the unrelenting gags of 60’s sitcoms. What were you left with? Trite and boring nothingness – the perfect stage for Seinfeld to take over.

Seinfeld was unashamedly about nothing. Unlike Designing Women, Kate & Alley, and The Golden Girls, it didn’t even keep up a pretense that it was about anything, or had any lesson to teach. Combined with rapid fire laughs, the formula worked like gangbusters. Other shows quickly followed its lead – Friends, Will & Grace, Ally McBeal. These were really about nothing – just people’s interactions and humorous dialogue.

Well, how long can this sort of thing be maintained? How long will audiences watch humorous banter about nothing? Seinfeld was wise to bail out before the formula passed its expiration date. Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock, The Office and The IT Crowd are all good shows, but they are simply the remnants of the Seinfeld boom- light on substance, heavy on gags. Unfortunately, they have not really been able to gain a strong foothold to develop, expand, spin-off, and affect popular culture significantly. Why? Because the throne is currently occupied by a maniacal cretin known as Reality Television.

It would seem that there was a natural progression from shows about nothing to reality television. You can see the fine line blurred between the two by watching The Office, which is both sitcom and reality show. In fact, most of today's sitcoms try to look a bit like a reality show – and reality doesn’t have a laugh track, so neither do present day sitcoms.

I wonder if the sitcom will ever make a comeback. Are we poised on the cusp of another wonderful decade of popular cutting edge sitcoms – or will the nation still be watching The Flavor of Love in twenty years? Sci-Fi themed shows have made a comeback (Lost, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, etc.), why not our old friend the situation comedy? It’s possible.

End Note (Update: 7/30/09):
Upon further reflection and discussion about this topic, it has occurred to me that there may be another cause for the downfall of the sitcom: the very thing I was praising - the weighty subject matter. In other words, folks got tired of that "very special episode" and just wanted a laugh. Perhaps, they collapsed under the weight of their own self importance... Seinfeld, 30 Rock, The Office, etc. are more akin to the early sitcoms like I Dream of Jeannie and The Beverly Hillbillies and actually SAVED sitcoms for a while!

Wow. Now I'm really confused.

Encounter with the Unknown (1973)

Encounter with the Unknown (1973) was the directorial debut of Harry Thomason, who would become the unofficial media advisor for Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. For both presidential terms, Harry Thomason was the man responsible for Clinton's damage control, and he testified in the Monica Lewinsky hearings. Thomason was also a main player in the Travelgate scandal.

But back in 1973, he was a nobody, and for some reason it strikes me as odd that President Clinton's best bud directed this dark and eerie little TV movie.

It was filmed in Arkansas (surprise) and narrated by Rod Serling. It consists of three separate stories - the first of which scared the crap out of me as a kid.

[spoiler alert] The story involves three guys who pull a prank on another young man (who appears to be slightly mentally challenged - although, it's not real clear). They tell him that there's a beautiful woman waiting for him at a certain address, which turns out to be totally bogus. So, the young man arrives at the made-up address only to be shot to death by the elderly woman who lives there.

The dead kid's mother happens to be a witch and puts a curse upon the three pranksters. This is the scene that gave me the creeps and haunted me for weeks afterward. The movie is so grainy, it's like a snuff film, and the woman is about as scary looking as they come. I wonder if anyone else out there was traumatized by this eerie flick by Clinton's bro.

The movie is available on Instant Viewing on Netflix, and also on YouTube here.


Vinyl Dynamite #13: Peppermint Trolley Company

The Peppermint Trolley Company were a little known California psychedelic band from the late sixties. They fit perfectly into the mold set by bands like The Strawberry Alarm Clock and other psychedelic bubblegum bands of the era. Unfortunately, the group never acheived any real chart success- "Bend Me, Shape Me" by the American Breed was the only chart topper produced by their record label, Acta.

"I've Got To Be Going" is the track I've ripped from the vinyl for you. If you dig this sort of thing, it's actually not too shabby. Most of the songs on the LP are typical psychedelic cheese - but there was definitely potential here. Had they released a few more albums, they might've turned into something.

"I've Got To Be Going"

Next is the video for "Trust" - another song on their one and only LP. Again, it's pretty good, but it lacks the contagious exuberance of songs like "Incense and Peppermint" and "Magical Mystery Tour".

 Like so many psychedelic bands of the 60's, the Peppermint Trolley Company was a distant memory by the early 70's. Who wanted to listen to cheesy guys with fuzz guitars and frilly sleeves singing about "popsicle mountains finger painted upon the mind" when there were real artists like James Taylor singing about real things. So, as quickly as they came, they were gone.... except for one little thing. Before their demise these guys did one thing that guaranteed them fame everlasting. Their records have been out of print for four decades and near impossible to find - yet most of you know one of their songs by heart - and I daresay have heard it hundreds of times.... prepare for your little world to be rocked... they sing the Brady Bunch theme song!!! After the first few seasons, the Brady kids sang the theme song and the band was cast to the four winds. Alas, The Peppermint Trolley Company were no more. This picture found here- a good place for Peppermint Trolley memorabilia.

Mini Skirt Monday #17: Anitra Ford

Anitra Ford began as a model during the sixties, but her heyday was definitely as a “Barker Beauty” on the Price Is Right from 1972-1976. During this time she appeared in numerous TV shows including Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, and Wonder Woman. She also had a small role in The Longest Yard, and was featured in numerous B movies of the period.

Anitra’s fame dried up by the end of the seventies. She moved on to real estate in Santa Barabara. She is also a published poet…. which seems only natural, because to kids of the 70’s, Anitra was poetry in motion.


Hey, Isn't That...?

Who’s that guy in the advertisement? He sure looks familiar... hey, wait a minute - isn't that Tom Berenger? I'll be damn. It sure is.

There’s a certain pleasure in spotting actors in places you don't expect to see them. If you've never shouted something like "GOOD LORD, THAT'S MAX GAIL FROM BARNEY MILLER!!!" during a movie, then you don't know what you're missing.

Well, it is my deep and abiding commitment as a blogger to spread all aspects of my unhealthy obsession with everything retro. I will continue to share interesting and unexpected actor sightings in ads, TV and movies in upcoming posts. Here's a few from some recent TV watching...

I just watched an episode of Adam-12 and spotted a young Jodie Foster. Not all that unusual really - she was in a ton of things as a kid. I just thought I'd share.

Jodie Foster
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Imagine my surprise when I spotted Mr. Drummond (Conrad Baine) in and episode of Dark Shadows. "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Barnabas?"

Dark Shadows
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There was a lot of cross pollination on sitcoms during the 1970's. It wasn't unusual to see an actor from one sitcom guest appearing on another (always resulting in riotous applause from the studio audience). Spotting Loni Anderson at the Regal Beagle on Three's Company was pretty cool. I'm not sure if this was before or during WKRP. Regardless, I was lapping it up and begging for more.


Retro Movie Review #6: The House on Sorority Row (1983)

Well, they've remade the 1983 cult favorite The House on Sorority Row, due out in September. Something tells me it will have more in common with The Hills than The Hills Have Eyes, if you know what I mean.

One of the things that makes THOSR so enjoyable is that it has a sense of humor, without taking it too far and becoming a slasher parody. It also doesn't forget to deliver the blood and scares that teenagers in the early 80's were expecting. It has the usual 80's slasher plot devices: a backstory at the beginning (a la Halloween), a bunch of girls and boys who get whacked one by one, a stereotypical final girl, a freakish killer lurking in the darkness, and an ambiguous ending. It follows the 80's slasher movie template pretty closely..... but it does it with flair!

One thing that will be lacking in the 2009 remake will be that early 80's charm: the clothing, the haircuts, and, most of all.... the music. The band in the following video clip is "4 Out of 5 Doctors", who play several songs throughout the film. When you watch this clip, be sure to pay attention to the part where the 3 girls are checking out a "cute" guy who winks at them - this may very well be cinema's finest moment.

This dude is sporting what was commonly referred to as the "butt cut". This scene is just priceless - I want to give this dude a star on the Retrospace Walk of Fame!

4 Out of 5 Doctors actually released a few albums, and were Billboard's "best new band" one month. In an interview with PM Magazine, the band stated their debut record took five years to craft - each day methodically perfecting the ultimate album. Hmmm.... not quite. They were also the house band in another horror flick, The Boogieman (1980).

I realize most Retrospace movie reviews are often more of a collection of things I find interesting and funny than an actual review. For a review done right, check out the one at Kindertrauma.


Whatever Happened To? #8: A Weemawee High School Reunion

Just watched a few episodes of Square Pegs and wondered what became of some of these actors. I thought I'd share...

Tracy Nelson (on left) is the child of actor/singer Ricky Nelson, and Mark Harmon is her uncle. In the first few episodes, Tracy had to wear a wig (shown above) because the show's creator, Anne Beatts, thought her hair was too short and boyish. Tracy went on to enjoy success playing a nun in the Father Dowling Mysteries with Tom Bosley. She is a cancer survivor and still pops up in TV shows and movies here and there (including an appearance on Seinfeld as George's girlfriend).

Claudette Wells (on right) has become quite successful in the area of voice-over work (Shrek, Barnyard, etc.). But what I found most interesting from the DVD commentary was that Tracy Nelson and Claudette Wells are best friends to this day, and have been since the show aired. How nice.

Merritt Butrick (on left) went on to play Captain Kirk's son in Star Trek II and III. Sadly, as his career continued to climb, Butrick contracted the AIDS virus and died in 1989.

John Femia (on right) was a bit more difficult to track down. Apparently, his showbiz career fizzled right after Square Pegs, and he tried some small budget theater (see an old cast photo for the play Let's Kill Ginny Greg here). Now, it seems he is trying to make it as a stand up comedian- according to his myspace page, this is the year he hopes to finally make it. Good luck, John.

Sarah Jessica Parker (on left), as we all know, went on to bigger and better things (my favorite being Tim Burton's Ed Wood... but that's just me).

Amy Linker (on right), a graduate of Beverly Hills High School, dropped out of sight not long after Square Pegs was cancelled. She currently is a second grade teacher. Here's what she looks like now. To me, she looks better.

And as a final note, I'll just add that this show was of particular interest for me because my father went to school with Anne Beatts in New York. Beatts has said she used her own high school experiences as inspiration for writing and creating the show.... I wonder which Square Peg character was modeled after dear ol' dad?


Cinema #2: When Movies Were Gratuitous

I recently watched a documentary on the film Deep Throat and was thoroughly blown away by the long lines outside the theaters in the 70's to see a porn film. Reporters were interviewing various celebs who were at the LA premier, and among them was Mr. Ed McMahon! Can you even conceive of this sort of thing happening today? People must have been pretty accepting of nudity in movies.

Then, last week my wife and I watched a truly awful film called Hot Dog… the Movie (1984). There’s a scene where a couple check into a hotel room, and the desk attendant is completely butt naked for no particular reason (she had just gotten out of a hot tub, and evidently didn’t want to trouble herself by wrapping up in a towel). The very definition of gratuitous nudity.


Sex Sells #7

The guy who thought of the "Take Your Top Off" slogan was probably real proud of himself. Of course, he owes a debt of gratitude to the grandaddy of all automobile advertising innuendo - the infamous Plymouth Star Chief "Spread Your Legs" campaign...

And who could forget this successful slogan from 1975?

The original ad read "Gimme Some Trim, Dammit! I Gots To Have Me Some Mother F***ing Trim!" but was shortened. Marketing experts wisely determined that a more abbreviated catch phrase was more direct and easily remembered.

(The top ad is from a 1979 issue of Orange Coast magazine. The bottom two are by yours truly.)

Mini Skirt Monday #16: Melody Makers

Diana Ross & The Supremes

I cannot tell a lie - I like doing these Mini Skirt Monday posts because they are so damn easy. Yet, they get some of the most traffic - go figure. Anyway, here's some musicians who donned the mini skirt back in the day.

Diana Ross & The Supremes
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Happy 30th anniversary!!
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Kate Pierson & Cindy Wilson (B52's)
They practiced in a bloodletting room of an abandoned mortuary? Wow. Learn something new every day.

The Flirtations


Vinyl Dynamite #12: Sunshine

Sunshine Soundtrack

What a depressing movie! The tagline reads: "Sunshine is based on a true story of what it is to be young, and a mother, and in love, and dying." If you plan on renting it at the local video store, be sure to buy a bottle of Scotch on the way home - you'll need something to dull the pain.
Take a listen to the introduction from the soundtrack. Beware, you're about to have your good mood torn asunder.

The TV movie was broadcast in 1973 and was a huge success. The movie utilized several John Denver tunes, and featured Christina Raines (the star of the awesome 70's horror film The Sentinel), Cliff DeYoung, and Meg Foster (she was Evil-Lyn in the Masters of the Universe movie). The film was based on an actual case history of a cancer victim, taken from a tape-recorded diary. The story takes place with the woman living in the wilderness with her boyfriend, who is a struggling musician, and her baby daughter.

Unbelievably, the movie was made into a regular series in '75 - there was no laugh track (thank God), but it wasn't the sort of thing that made for good ratings. Folks just didn't want to see a woman dying of cancer every week, and it was cancelled after only 13 episodes. Oddly enough, there was a Sunshine Christmas Special in 1977.

There was this strange melancholic 5-6 year period wedged between the two exhuberant periods of psychedelia and disco, where singer songwriters like James Taylor and groups like Bread topped the charts. It shouldn't surprise us, then, that Sunshine fit like a glove to television audiences in 1973.


Ads #19: Troubling Pancake Advert

I apologize if this is offensive to anyone - it certainly was to me. However, this ad from a 1942 Women's Day magazine is so shocking I simply had to share. I'm not even referring to the Jemima character - I'm talking about the speech bubble near the bottom:

"That's the way to handle those Japs! Just give 'em a quick stir and pop 'em on the griddle!"

WTF? Can you imagine this sort of thing being published today? I'm not even sure what he means - I'm guessing he's not talking about cannibalism. Perhaps "pop 'em on the griddle" means "shoot them in face"? I'm confused.

BTW: I am a bit curious who illustrated this advertisement- the style seems very familiar. Chick Young maybe?


Retrospace's Top 10 Sexiest Cartoon Ladies

Okay, I admit it. Choosing the hottest cartoon ladies was not exactly an intellectual endeavor; but then nothing on Retrospace ever is. And, ladies, before you click away from this page, know one thing - there is not a man on this planet who has not either discussed this subject or contemplated it privately. Okay, maybe there's some poor sap working in a rice paddy somewhere in Laos that hasn't.... but other than him - everyone's thought about it.

So, let's get on with it. Who are the sexiest cartoon ladies? Well, if you scout around the internet you'll find that Jessica Rabbit and Betty Boop pretty much own this distinction everywhere you look. Not surprisingly, my list is a lot different than most. It is what it is - what can I say?

10. Tarra (Herculoids)
The voice of Tarra was done by Virginia Gregg, best known for her voice acting in the role of Norman Bates' mother in the movie Psycho.

9. Alexandra Cabot (Josie and the Pussycats)
I wonder about some of these animated shows for kids back in the 1970's. It seems like they were almost designed to titilate young boys. Josie and the Pussycats was notorious for doing this. I mean, my Lord, look at the picture above - this is what kids in the 70's were staring at every Saturday morning. Is it any wonder we're STILL talking about this stuff thirty years later?

8. Ann-Magrock (The Flintstones)
While the rest of the world debates about whether it's Betty or Wilma, I choose neither. I'll take the Stone Age Ann-Margret.

7. Jeannie (Jeannie)
The voice of Jeannie, Julie McWhirter, is the wife of disk jockey Rick Dees.

6. Taffy (Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels)
The blonde member of a trio of crimefighting "Angels", Taffy was an obvious take-off of Farrah Fawcett's character on "Charlie's Angels" - although, a lot more ditzy.

5. Red (Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood)
The sizzling hot Red was drawn to resemble Betty Grable.

4. Jane Jetson (The Jetsons)
The voice of Jane Jetson, Penny Singleton, was a well known actress who played the role of Blondie in the numerous movies based on the Chic Young comic Blondie.

3. Rosemary (Hong Kong Phooey)
This leggy lady was the telephone operator at the police station... and a stone cold fox. Rosemary was voiced by Kathy Gori, a disc jocky for KMPC (a Korean radio station in Los Angeles).

2. Princess Daphne (Dragon's Lair laserdisc video game)
"Dragon's Lair is this summer's hottest new toy: the first arcade game in the United States with a movie-quality image to go along with the action."-- Newsweek (August 8, 1983)

1. Daphne Blake (Scooby-Doo)
It simply doesn't get any better than this, folks. Can you imagine the level of sexual tension inside that Mystery Machine? I'll bet Fred, Shaggy AND Velma were continually fighting off lustful thoughts. Yes, you read it right the first time - I said Velma. She swung that way.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Francesca from the Rankin Bass movie, Mad Monster Party. She's animated, but not a cartoon. So, poor Francesca was disqualified on a technicality.

2. Witch Hazel ("Broomstick Bunny" - a 1954 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Short)
Normally an old hag, at the end of the short Hazel turns into a smoking hot babe. The magic mirror on the wall is so overcome with lust, he comes out of the mirror growling "ROWR, ROWR" and chases here down. Unfortunately, she's in it so briefly, I didn't feel right putting her in the top ten.