Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"...and you can be my cowgirl..."

I read once that a person's earliest memories are usually from about three years of age. I'm sure there are people who remember events from earlier in their life, but for me, events during my third year are the earliest I remember.

I was three-and-a-half when my brother Rob was born in October, 1950. I remember Dad taking me to a diner (yes, a real old-fashioned sidecar diner with barstools and greasy burgers) for dinner a couple of times because Mom was in the hospital. I remember standing outside the hospital, because children under 12 weren't allowed in except as patients, waving to her in a second floor window.

Grandpa and Grandma took us in Grandpa's 1947 Cadillac to pick up Mom and Rob. When we got home I wanted to hold him and Mom said no but Grandma overruled her and it was the first time in my life I saw my brother, who I also just saw a couple of weeks ago, over 58 years later, and the first time I ever held a baby.

There was an earlier incident that has stuck in my memory. A friend and I were in the next block over from the suburban Salt Lake City street where we lived. We were cutting through someone's property to get home, climbing through the slats of a white fence. A young girl, dressed from head-to-toe as a cowgirl from a Western movie, was sitting on the fence and asked us how old we were. I held up three fingers.

I remember thinking of her as some sort of vision and doggone it if seeing cowgirls haven't always given me sort of a buzz ever since.

The cowgirl in this picture is Yvonne DeCarlo, lifted from Starlet Showcase. Isn't she pretty in that outfit? Makes me wanna holler "Yeeeee-haw!" Yvonne later went on to another sort of outfit--the one that immortalized her to us Baby Boomers--as Lily Munster. But all thoughts of Lily were erased when I saw her perched on this white fence. The memory of that longago day in 1950 and "my" cowgirl, my earliest memory, came rushing back to me.

Here's a song that also helps explain it:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What happens in Westworld, stays in Westworld

I saw the movie Westworld on its first run, and thought I'd watch it again to see if it was anything like what I remembered. I'd forgotten a few details but as it turned out it had impressed me enough the first time that my memories were mostly intact.

The movie, whose advertising tagline is, "Where nothing can possibly go worng" (sic) is a great example of Murphy's Law: "If anything can possibly go wrong, it will." As much as human beings strive for zero defects, occasionally something will go horribly out of kilter.

In the case of Westworld, this is why Peter, played by Richard Benjamin, is in such a jam. A robot, programmed as a gunslinger, is stalking him. Robots in the resort are normally programmed to never harm humans (the Isaac Asimov "Three Laws of Robotics"), but something has gotten screwed up. Benjamin has already shot and "killed" the gunslinger twice, and now it's the robot's turn.

Besides that, the other underlying theme behind the movie is the pleasure principle. In a futuristic amusement park full of robots built to respond to human needs and worst tendencies, you can do what you want. At Westworld, as well as its sisters within the $1000-a-day Delos park, Romanworld and Medievalworld, people are allowed to interact sexually with the robots. Peter is able to have sex with a Western-style prostitute, and it's plain that women and men go to Romanworld to take part in the orgies (inferred, not shown). In the late 1960s and during the 1970s there was a sexual revolution which meant that people felt free to go nuts. It had a lot to do with the times, but nowadays Las Vegas is catering to that crowd with its slogan, "What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas." Uh huh. Go to Vegas, get a hooker or have an affair, take drugs...and when you go home it was all part of your Vegas vacation and you are absolved of any sins or wrongdoing. Whoever thought up that slogan should be given a prize of some sort of pointing out the obvious, that Vegas is a town where people are encouraged to do things they might not otherwise do.

Westworld, written and directed by the late Michael Crichton, was a huge success at the box office in 1973, and it could be this message of sin that struck the audience of the time. Maybe a lot of conservative people who saw it thought people out getting laid deserved what happened to them, so having the hedonistic pleasure-seekers pay for their sins with their lives was appealing.

The casting is strange in parts. I thought Yul Brynner was an odd choice to play the robot gunslinger, until I read the robot was modeled after Brynner's character in The Magnificent Seven, even to wearing the same clothes. Brynner was shorter than the other lead actors, and he had a protruding belly. Luckily he didn't have much to say, other than act like a robot. Brynner always struck me as a silent movie actor in a sound movie era. He didn't seem to have a natural stance, but appeared to be posing all the time, and no matter the part, like Ahnold Schwarzenegger, he had his accented voice (in Westworld his dialogue was so sparse, maybe less than a page worth, that he mostly lost his accent), with which he delivered his lines in a melodramatic style. Richard Benjamin and James Brolin, as the other leads, were very good.

Westworld panders to a fantasy people have, that you can have sex without any kind of commitment (after all, they're only robots), and/or that you can kill without fear of punishment (after all, again only robots). If someone were to actually provide such a service there would be a lot of horny wannabe serial killers out there breaking down the gates to get in. The other message is that if you play you pay, sometimes with your life.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"I didn't recognize you."

Listening to all the news about Michael Jackson's death reminded me that somewhere in my (shudder) basement was an old Michael Jackson doll. Luckily, it wasn't buried under mountains of clutter, and I found it quickly.

I estimate it is from 1983 or '84, when Michael Jackson still looked African-American. It's missing the glove. Sally remembers our son playing with it and like a lot of things, it got misplaced. David is forgiven; he was about nine-years-old at the time and kids lose things.

I notice that Michael's fly is open. Tsk tsk.

I read this morning that Michael Jackson CDs are racing off shelves. It's amazing to me how someone can be looked down on when they're alive and idolized when they're dead. Since his death Michael Jackson has taken over the evening news spots, with constant regurgitations of what is known, and endless speculations on what caused his death.

Last night Keith Olbermann had an eye-opening interview with Jackson's friend, Deepak Chopra, who told that at some time in the past Jackson had asked him to write him a prescription for painkillers, Demerol or OxyContin. According to some sources Jackson had been injected with Demerol within an hour of his death. Even though we're waiting for the tox report, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he died from an overdose. It's true that special people have enablers who make it easy to get anything they want. Elvis had a doctor writing his Rx's; John Belushi had people shoving drugs at him, and according to reports Jackson may have had a live-in doctor getting him drugs.

The other thing that is coming out is how much in debt Jackson was, and how much his estate will make from his death. As they said about Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and others who died prematurely, dying is a great career move.

Jackson was bizarre, and some of the pictures I've seen of him lately make his face look like a kabuki mask, but 50 is far from old, and there will always be those videos that show him at various stages of his life, from childhood on, which will solidify his image in the public mind.

Here's a story I heard:

As a young man Michael Jackson thought he'd die by 40, but he actually died at 21. He went to heaven. He met God and said, "I have a good career going! Why did I die! It wasn't my time!"

God looked in his big book and said, "You're right, Michael. There's been a mistake. You're supposed to have many more years, and die a very old man. I'm sending you back."

When Michael was revived and returned to the world of the living he thought, "Gee, if I'm not going to die when I'm 40 I'd better make the most of it."

That's when the plastic surgery started, one procedure after another, until he didn't look anything like he did at age 21. So after he died at age 50 he went back to heaven and stormed into God's presence. "You lied to me! You told me I'd die an old man. I died too early!"

God looked him up and down for several minutes, then said, "Michael Jackson. I didn't recognize you."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What, me worry? Alfred E. Neuman and Mad

In 1956 artist Norman Mingo, recently retired at age 60, answered an ad for an illustrator. It was for Mad Magazine, which wanted to go with painted covers showing some sophistication. They also wanted to spotlight their mascot, Alfred E. Neuman. There's a story behind that.

Alfred E. Neuman had been pictured, in one form or another, since the 19th Century on calendars, in ads for painless dentistry, as someone lacking in iodine, etc. Mad creator, Harvey Kurtzman, used him on the magazine, but called him Melvin Cowsnowski. When the name Alfred E. Neuman was settled on history was made. To go along with the name, Kurtzman's successor on Mad, Albert B. Feldstein, wanted a three dimensional look to Alfred, and Mingo supplied it.

For years you could send Mad 25¢ and get a lithograph like this, with Mingo's name removed.

When Mad used Mingo's Alfred as an advertising icon or on products his name was erased. That's probably so he couldn't sue them and say it was "his" kid they were using.

Mad publisher, William M. Gaines, who died in 1992, was an old-fashioned publisher who owned all the artwork, and used it over and over again. Here's a painting by artist Jack Rickard, showing Alfred morphing into Gaines.

This is a scan of the original art for Mingo's original cover, Mad #30, which first featured Alfred, done during the time of the 1956 Presidential election. It sold at auction last year for $230,000, which is probably more than Mingo earned his entire career painting Alfred.

This is a scan of issue #32, with a clever use of Alfred. It was one of the first issues of Mad I saw, and I remember it vividly. I'd never seen anything like it.

Gaines was sued a couple of times by people claiming they had the copyright to the kid, but every time they produced what they claimed as their picture of the kid, the Mad research people turned up an even earlier version.

So while the kid wasn't copyright and Mad could adopt him as a mascot, don't use Alfred as Mad uses Alfred, because now he's copyright. Mad's lawyers stamp out anyone trying to use the Mad version of the kid, although you'd be safe using the antique images, like I'm showing here.

Mingo did many covers when he was in his seventies, and his Mad work, produced during the time the magazine reached a circulation of millions, got him more recognition than his years as an advertising artist. I guess it was a good thing he answered that classified ad in 1956!

Mingo died in 1980.

Lately Mad is using the Obama image effectively; this cover by Mark Fredrickson cleverly morphs Alfred's face onto Obama's. The poster on the bottom is a satire on the famous Obama poster.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yet more hubba-hubba!

A month ago I opined as to how I never hear the term hubba-hubba anymore by guys describing girls. Why is that? Hubba-hubba! is a great expression, but just not used, probably because of sexual harassment. I don't hear any wolf whistles, either.

I have some more hubba-hubba postings here, and here. Remember to click on the pictures to make them big.

Hubba-hubba to a girl who is out of this world...

Hubba-hubba to perfect Pam Grier...

Hubba-hubba to stripper Theresa White, who dived into bed with Olympian Michael Phelps and told the world about it...

Hubba-hubba to our pilgrim foremothers, without whom there would be no forefathers...

Hubba-hubba to schoolgirls who are naughty and need a spanking...

Hubba-hubba to the girls in their hats and dresses...

Hubba-hubba to bad girls behind bars...

Hubba-hubba to the classic Sophia...

Hubba-hubba to Amy Adams in her snappy hat, and taking her own classic turn as Rita Hayworth...

Hubba-hubba to the feline female...

...and finally, hubba-hubba to Ms. Goodwench.

I'm sure I'll have more of these in the future. I never run out of hubba-hubba! girls.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dear Dad...

Dear Dad,

I'm sorry I'm a day late. I didn't get this message to you on Father's Day, but then I really don't know where to send it. By putting it in cyberspace maybe by chance you'll see it.

Saturday night Robert and I were talking about you. It's very interesting that your two sons remember you as being two different people. Each has a different perception of you and your relationship to us. He pointed out some things I hadn't thought about in many years, your laugh, your sense of humor, how you seemed to attract "characters," as you called them.

This morning I went through some old pictures and you might be interested in looking at them.

Here's one from your high school days. You look very mature for a teenager.

This next picture of you in your Stetson is from 1966. You were so proud of both that hat and your Buick Riviera. The Riviera is now considered a classic American car, but today a car like that would be too much of a gas guzzler. Gasoline is almost $3.00 a gallon, but if you find that unbelievable, last summer it went over $4.00 a gallon. A dollar is worth a lot less than when you died, more like a dime was 40 years ago.

Here's a picture that's kind of telling, I think. According to the date on the back it was taken July 29, 1967, just four months before you died. You look like you don't feel very well. On the back you've written, "a tired executive," and you do look tired. I remember your insomnia and unfortunately I also know about sleepless nights.

Here's an update. When I last saw you I was 19 years old, on my way to Germany with the U.S. Army. I'll be 62 in a few weeks. I'm retired from my three decades long career with the school district, and I've applied for Social Security. Rob works for an architectural firm as an artist. He uses a computer. Just like I'm typing this on. When you died computers were the size of a room. Now we have computers that fit on a desktop, or that fit in your lap. My wife, Sally, just bought one the size of a book that has more power than those early gigantic models. Science marches on.

Speaking of Sally, we've been married almost 41 years. I have one son, David, who was born in 1977. He married a Vietnamese girl in 2003. Yep, when you left us we were having a war with her countrymen, but that's been over for a long time. They in turn have two girls, oldest one 4 1/2, youngest just turning 3. They live in Pennsylvania. David took his family and moved across country for more opportunities. As a grandfather you can be proud of David, you can be proud of me for being his dad and having him turn out so well, and you can also be proud of Sally and me for being grandparents of such smart and attractive children.

Rob is currently single but has Mariana, who is from South America. She is a very charming and attractive person.

Dad, you might not remember this, but the last letter I got from you was about the heart attack you had at Thanksgiving, 1966. You said in that letter you had given up cigarette smoking, but you died very soon after that, on December 3, 1966. It wasn't your fault. In your generation smoking wasn't considered the health hazard it is today.

Dad, here's what you missed since you died: You missed the moon landing in July, 1969, you missed Dick Nixon's resignation from the presidency in 1974; you missed seeing the first black person elected to president in 2008.

You missed more wars...sadly, that's something we always have in abundance.

I can't even begin to tell you about cable and satellite television, cellular phones and the Internet. You just have to see them to understand, but there has been an information explosion undreamed of in the 1960s by even the most far-thinking futurist. No one foresaw attacks on our shores from terrorists in the 21st Century, and they didn't see that we'd be in a situation similar to the Great Depression by 2008, either, but we were attacked by terrorists in 2001, and we are currently in that precarious financial situation. I hope we learned some lessons from your era about getting ourselves out of our predicament.

Hey, Dad, hope I'm not being boring. I have thought about you a lot over the years. You've been dead since December, 1967, but I can still hear your voice in my head, I can still smell your aftershave. I saved the biggest news for us for last, and that was that Mom died a year ago May. She had been in a nursing home for four years. Unlike the moment you died, both Rob and I were at her side when she went. You'd be proud of Rob. He visited her every day.

I'm hoping that you, your sisters, Phyllis and Camille, your brothers-in-law Dan and Tom, your mother, Mary, your father, Dr. Parley, and our mother all get together for a family reunion in the great beyond.

Nowadays people say you and Mom are considered to be part of the Greatest Generation, those who went through World War II and the Great Depression and went on to build the world your children grew up in. Every day over 1,000 of your generation die. You just left us a lot sooner than most, but it doesn't mean you don't qualify for Greatest Generation status, because you do.

So, I hope you had a happy Father's Day. I spent mine thinking about you.

Love, your son.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

iPhone, 1954 versions

I read the news today, oh boy. The latest iPhone is out.

I'll be glad to not get an iPhone. I still have my old cellphone, so old I taped the back on when it broke after being dropped. It's so old there's no fancy stuff, no camera, no anything but a telephone.

President Obama and his Blackberry notwithstanding, how did we ever get along without cellphones? We didn't think about it, was how! I remember moving into my house in 1975 and having a party line, with the explanation from the phone company: "We don't have enough lines in your area." So I put up with a rude woman who was apparently on the phone 23 1/2 hours a day. Every time I'd pick up the phone to make a call she'd be there, yakking away. I called the phone company, demanded a private line and had it the same day. So much for not enough lines. I don't think anyone born after the 1970s would even know what a party line was and they'd be amazed to hear how they worked...or in my case, didn't work.

I found these two ads from 1954, where the seeds of private phones were born. I'll bet the Space Phones, for $1.00, probably didn't work the way they promised in the ad. I have no idea how they worked, since the ad says "no electric wires, no batteries." The ad says they vibrate, so maybe they have dual uses besides being a walkie-talkie.

The Zimphone seems a bit more what we're used to from the pre-cell days. It has a traditional looking handset, it has wire connecting two phones. It has only 50' of wire included, which isn't much, but with additional wire you can talk up to a mile!

Don't you wish you could send the coupons and get both of these phones? In 2009 $$$ they are a true bargain if they do what they say they do. No cellphone bills, that's for sure.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Awkward family pictures

I realized looking at these incredible pictures that my family has never had an official portrait taken. That's because we know we'd end up looking like these people.

You can find more at http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com

You know Bob?

Bob who?

Bob up and kiss my ass! (Really old joke.)

Mom, this is what Sis and me think of you letting Dad wear those shorts.

This is the branch of the family tree we don't claim.

Your new neighbors, the Mullets.

Space is not the only place this family is lost.

Dad went to the Playboy Club and all we got were these lousy bunny ears.

Robin Hood and his Merrie Women.

There's Daddy...Mummy...little Cleopatra, and the Tut Tut twins.

You'll find out, kid. Your dad's an ass.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The sickest joke

Kanin Cartoon © 2009 The New Yorker

Click on pictures to see them full-size.

Nowadays the line, as in "that's over the line," has moved. It's moved quite a ways as far as I can see. Morbidity affects television, which wasn't true in the past. Even in a crime story we didn't have to look at graphic autopsies or murder victims with slashed throats or exploded heads. There was a line of propriety and now television, following the lead of movies, has rolled over that line and obliterated it.

That's the way I felt when I looked at the above cartoon in the June 8-June15 double issue of The New Yorker. I'm no stranger to cartoons using horror or morbidity as a subject. Gahan Wilson and before him, Chas Addams, were geniuses with the themes. I just don't remember ever seeing a cartoon from either of them where the cartoon concerned a person getting murdered and the killer complaining that the murder weapon was insufficient.

Here are some examples of "behind the line," in my opinion. Cartoons that, despite the subject matter, don't step over the line. Here are couple of cartoons, the first by Chas Addams and the second by Gahan Wilson, with the theme of suicide.

In the Addams cartoon the brightness of the Boy Scout walking in on his suicidal dad is so ludicrous it quickly defuses the horribleness of the situation. If Addams had shown the father hanging that would have been over the line.

In the Wilson cartoon the nurse is chiding the patient with "no fair" in turning off his own machine, as if she's so officious she considers it her job alone.

In the other cartoons a wife cheerily invites her husband into her booby-trapped room, and torturers yuk it up over a comedic torture victim.

You'd call those cartoons incongruities, I suppose. Whatever, they give the reader an immediate reaction of horror, mitigated by a laugh. They are ridiculous situations as the cartoonists present them, yet the same situations would be horrible in real life.

In the current Kanin cartoon the situation is horrible, but as far over that line as it is, I've got to admit the caption is pretty funny...in a mordant and morbid way, that is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Two mad geniuses

The June 8 & 15 double issue of The New Yorker devotes several pages to the important new book by R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis. Crumb has been important to me since the 1960s when I first saw his artwork, and I've followed his career ever since.

Click on the pictures to make them bigger.
Crumb drew Genesis in a cottage in the south of France, where he now lives with his wife and family. He decided to forego his usual satiric style and do the book straight. There is a warning that adult supervision should be used for children who read it. Based on the nudity alone in the New Yorker preview I'd say it's appropriate. Or is it? Why not let kids see an uncensored version of the Bible. Kids are shown publumized versions of the Bible, which has a tendency to reduce critical thinking.

Crumb grew up Catholic, but drifted away. He studied various versions of the Bible. His drawings are powerful, like all of his work, whether humorous (his early specialty) or illustrative, like this work. If I have a criticism it's that he portrays God as an old man with long hair and long white beard. This is a cliché, like the images of Jesus I frequently complain about, which take Christ out of the Middle East and portray him as a Northern European.

That's a small quibble, though, because it's what people expect when they see images of God. Crumb will be taking enough heat for his particular way of looking at the Bible. You start talking religion, you make enemies, and he'll have a few of them spitting brimstone while they stone him in absentia. Unreligious as I am I'll be looking for a copy of The Book of Genesis for myself.

One of Crumb's heroes--maybe his biggest hero--is Mad creator Harvey Kurtzman. Yesterday I got The Art of Harvey Kurtzman, the Mad Genius of Comics, from my brother.

Kurtzman is one of my heroes, too. Along with other comedic geniuses like TV's Sid Caesar, radio and recording artists Stan Freberg and Bob and Ray, Kurtzman set the tone in the early 1950s for what became the comedy of the last half of the Twentieth Century and into the Twenty-First. Kurtzman was himself an artist, but employed other artists who carried out his visions. Despite being over 55 years old now, the early Mad, which was a 10¢ comic book until 1955, was extremely popular and influenced many young people who went on to become the comedians of the 1960s and 1970s. Mad readers created Saturday Night Live and the shows we consider to be the standards of comedy now. After 1955 Kurtzman left Mad and went on to other endeavors, but he kept his high standards all the rest of his life.