Happy Birthday (to Me)!

On the occasion of my upcoming birthday (and the fact that I haven’t posted anything in months), I would like to present to you, in no particular order some of the most famous (real and imaginary) birthday parties ever.

“Happy Birthday, Mr. President”

Fifty-five years ago on May 19, 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to then-U. S. President John F. Kennedy at a celebration for his 45th birthday (his actual birthday was on May 29). Monroe’s sultry performance helped fuel an even now persistent (but unverified) rumor that she and JFK were having an affair.

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By Eureka Humboldt Standard – page 3 via Newspaperarchive.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57973181

The Birth of Hip Hop

August 11, 1973 is considered to be the “birthdate” of hip hop. On that date, Clive Campbell, better known now as DJ Kool Herc, was the DJ for his sister’s birthday party in the recreation room of a apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the west Bronx, NY. According to history.com, by that time, DJ Kool Herc had been working on refining his “break beat” style for a year. At that successful party, he used his most powerful sound system ever, before his largest crowd to that point. That party started a movement that resonates to this day.

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The original invitation to the legendary party. Source: the BBC. 

Paris Hilton’s 21st Birthday Party

Once upon a time (at the beginning of the 21st century), hotel heiress Paris Hilton was probably the world’s most famous young woman. In 2002, Hilton threw herself five birthday parties over three continents – in Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, London and Tokyo. It’s estimated that she spent $75,000 per guest. Although it would have been hard to believe back then, but now Paris Hilton spends her life out of the limelight. Hilton did speak up, approvingly, in a rare appearance regarding Kendall Jenner’s 21st birthday party — where Jenner (sister of Hilton’s still omnipresent BFF, Kim Kardashian) wore a dress that copied Hilton’s infamous chain mail dress that she wore during her birthday parties.

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Photo by Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock. Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/~/article-3900102/index.html#i-99c41c3841942714

A Hobbit Birthday Party

Hobbit Day, as devotees of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books call (and celebrate) it, is the occasion of Bilbo Baggins’ 111th (or “eleventy first“) birthday, and Frodo’s 33rd birthday. The Fellowship of the Ring opens with the birthday celebrations. In the book, the celebration included much food (three meals worth), a whole lot of drink (folks being carted away in wheelbarrows), and fireworks honoring the events of The Hobbit, courtesy of Gandalf. Instead of the birthday honorees getting presents, per Hobbit custom, the guests got presents.

[Spoiler alert] 

There was also a family supper (consisting of 144 people) at the end of the celebration days. At the end of the supper, Bilbo gave a speech, slipped on the One Ring, and vanished…

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Shot from The Fellowship of the Ring (movie). Source: Wedding Inspiration: Bilbo Baggins’ Birthday. From apracticalwedding.com

 

Pop Rocking Culture Goes to Comikaze 2015!

Blue Striker, Dad and I went to Stan Lee’s Comikaze 2015 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on November 1, 2015. For starters, this may be a landmark year for the five year old convention, because Stan Lee (who bought out the convention a couple of years ago) made an unofficial announcement on Friday that this may be the last Comikaze he attends. It would be strange not to see Stan Lee at Comikaze. However, he is in his nineties, and it is amazing that he maintains such a high profile.

We last attended Comikaze in 2012, and upon entering the Convention Center, it was obvious how much Comikaze has grown. For one, we had a hard time getting through the crowds in the vendor area. While this is generally a sign of success, it made things a bit overwhelming. Blue Striker also noted that it also made it difficult to determine who had stuff to give away. A suggestion to those responsible for the day-to-day logistics of the convention: Make sure attendees (including members of the press, like me) have easy access to the programs.

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There was a lot of neat cosplay at Comikaze. I noticed that there was a relatively small number of people dressed as “traditional” superheroes. That said, there continues to be a plethora of Harley Quinns, Jokers, Deadpools and Spiderhumans. There were also plenty of anime and video game characters (who Blue Striker had to point out to me), as well as TV and movie characters. For even a minor Doctor Who fan like me, it was neat to see people dressed up as Doctors Tom Baker, David Tennant and Matt Smith. There were more fezes there than at a Shriners convention!

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As Pop Rocking Culture is also about the pop culture experience for kids, I did notice a few kids who seemed overwhelmed by all of the action. I am sure many of them were tired, hungry and even bored as well. It would be great that on Sunday, which is supposedly the traditional “kids’ day” at cons, there were a few more things geared towards the young set. On the plus side, there was a pretty neat panel called “Pop Culture Parenting with the Geeklings and Parental Units”. I got the chance to find out like-minded moms and dads, who had a few great ideas for bringing up the next generation of pop culture mavens. There is actually a group called Geeklings and Parental Units, who host meetups in the Los Angeles area.

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There were plenty of Baby Boomer and Gen X icons such as Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig of Star Trek: The Original Series fame, as well as Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox from CHiPs. It was also neat to see kid star Kel Mitchell, the one half of the Kenan and Kel team from Nickelodeon whom we don’t see every week on Saturday Night Live. I pointed out to Blue Striker that this guy is the same one who played the goofy kid with the braids in Good Burger. (Note: I mentioned Mystery Men to Blue first, but then I realized that he’s never seen it. Another thing to add to his pop culture “to do” list.)

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All in all, we had a good time at Comikaze 2015. We hope that wpress credentials in 2016. Blue Striker says that he will definitely dress in costume the next time around. As for me, I might as well.

Appreciation: Local TV Commercials I Have Known and Loved (Despite Themselves)

While watching the morning TV news yesterday, I thought of local TV commercials. They are getting to be a rare breed these days, given the rise of the Internet as a marketing medium, and the nationalization/globalization of TV watching (both on “regular” TV and online). I have lived in a number of large cities, each with its share of home-grown commercials. No slick productions or fancy computer graphics here — just sincere local businesses trying to get your money. Here are some of my favorite local TV commercials from years past, perfect for this Throwback Thursday.

As a kid growing up in Detroit, Maurice Lazar, owner of Belvedere Construction, was a fixture on the family TV set in his guise of “Mr. Belvedere”. This 1984 commercial is the oldest one I could find, but if you ask anyone who grew up in Detroit during the 1960s or 1970s, they know about these commercials. I’m sure there are some people who, although they can’t remember their own phone number, remember Mr. Belvedere’s – TYler 8-7100.

I hope you noted the near-Method delivery of Mr. Belvedere’s lines, as well as the au courant wood paneling in the background.

Later, when I lived in Chicago, TV was a refuge from the stresses of graduate studies. Chicago did not lack for uh, interesting local commercials. Here’s one from Moo and Oink, a meat market chain that featured the beloved mascots Moo the cow and Oink the pig.

Although the Moo and Oink stores are closed, Best Chicago Meat bought the trademarks, including the iconic pig and cow. Moo and Oink products are now on grocery shelves in areas surrounding Chicago. Don’t know if they’ll resurrect the commercials though…

Along the way, I lived in the Washington, DC area. At first, I couldn’t think of an old local commercial that played in DC. So I did a search for “old DC TV commercials” on YouTube. The first one that came up was for Mr. Ray’s Hair Weave! I definitely remember these commercials, and passing by the shop when driving home on Georgia Avenue. I didn’t see a line of people with hair problems outside, clamoring for Mr. Ray’s services, though…

Crazy Gideon was L.A.’s answer to the infamous New York City purveyor of cheap, crappy electronics, Crazy Eddie. But Gideon, who at times could be incomprehensible even to polyglot Angelenos, had a style all his own.

Recent gentrification of eastern downtown Los Angeles doomed Crazy Gideon’s, but the Yelp reviews of his store (and commercials) are still with us. These reviews are as bizarre as the commercials were!

What’s your favorite old or new local TV commercial?

Listen, on the radio — it’s Superman!

A little-publicized Thursday morning panel at the recent Comic-Con International: San Diego addressed the 75th anniversary of the debut of The Adventures of Superman radio serial. Despite being overlooked today, this radio show, which ran for more than 10 years and 2000 episodes, added important elements to the Superman mythos. Although he made his debut only two years earlier in Action Comics No. 1 (June 1938), Superman was already an established pop culture figure when the show began. According to How to Love Comics, the show ran from February 1940 to 1951, first on WOR and in syndication before being broadcast through the Mutual and later ABC radio networks. The television version of The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves, started in 1952, a year after the radio show ended.

The 1930s and 1940s were prime years for radio programming. Radio audiences were familiar with daring heroes such as The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, and The Green Hornet. But there was no one on radio quite like Superman. The producers of the radio show had to meet the challenges of a character who resided in the public’s imagination as a visual character. As a result, the radio show featured plenty of sound effects — whooshing noises for the flying sequences, as well as explosions, fighting, and other action scenes. Echo effects mimicked large caverns, empty rooms and long-distance telephone calls.

The Superman radio show also introduced many of the now-familiar tropes of the character. Listeners of this show were the first to hear the famous phrases “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” “Up, up and away!” and “Faster than a speeding bullet…!” This show also gave us the long-running supporting characters of Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Inspector Henderson. In 1945 came two firsts: Superman’s exposure to Kryptonite and his first official team-up with Batman.

People more familiar with recent portrayals of “mild mannered” Clark Kent may be a bit surprised by Clayton “Bud” Collyer’s portrayal of Superman’s alter ego. As in the early Superman comics (later mimicked by Peter Parker’s exploitation of his Spiderman identity), Superman’s feats were a way for Clark Kent to get a big news scoop for the Daily Planet. Although Collyer raised his voice an octave to distinguish Clark’s voice from Superman’s, his version of Clark Kent was as much an active participant in the story (at times aggressively so) as Superman. An interesting fact about Collyer’s portrayal of Superman was that for the first six years of the show, his identity as the voice of Superman was a secret.

The radio show had its share of controversy. Lily Kaufman, writing earlier this year for Time magazine’s blog, noted that the February 26, 1940 issue of Time stated that “Superman or no superman, he has to watch his step on the radio. Mothers’ clubs have their eyes on him, the Child Study Association of America feels that his occasional rocket & space ship jaunts are a bit too improbable. “  Despite these concerns, The Adventures of Superman had an effect beyond radio and the comics that inspired the show. According to Durnmoosemovies, the most famous episode arc of the radio show, ”Clan of the Fiery Cross”, was suggested by activist Stetson Kennedy, known for his investigation of the Ku Klux Klan. In “Clan of the Fiery Cross”, Superman takes on the Klan, revealing many of the real-life organization’s rituals and code words. It is believed that this episode arc made a negative impact on the Klan’s recruitment and membership.

Episodes of The Adventures of Superman are available through the Internet Archive. Listening to these shows will take you back to the time of your grandparents or great-grandparents, when the whole superhero genre, as well as electronic media, were in their early days. Frankly, they’re just fun to listen to!

Photo: Husband, wife and two children, seated in a living room, listening to a radio, 1957. Warren K. Leffler. Courtesy, Library of Congress.

Lynda Carter Addresses “Wonder Woman ’77” and Her Music Career on The Today Show

Sorry that I haven’t posted for a while.  Just wanted to share of this interview of Lynda Carter by those two tipsy chicks Hoda and Kathie Lee on the 34th, er, 4th hour of NBC’s The Today Show.  She talks about “Wonder Woman ’77” and her music career.  She also demonstrates the fact that she hasn’t lassoed anyone in decades!

http://www.today.com/video/lynda-carter-still-has-her-wonder-woman-costume-429106755517

Opossum Carols, or Walt Kelly’s Xmas Postludicrosity

More Christmas reflections. I played the video for Bill and Blue Striker…their reaction? “What the heck is this?!” If you don’t get it, you’re too young!

Humor in America

As the first snows of December drift across my South St Louis windows, and the last shards of Thanksgiving turkey find their way into the requisite casseroles, cold cuts, and cauldrons of stock, I find myself harkening back to early Advent Sundays of yore.

My childhood, like so many others, was loaded with the humor of the holidays, but one of my family’s favorite traditions always tended in a more marsupial direction. So if you’ie got some time between mixing tubs of “Tom and Jerry” and trimming the tree, I’d like to share one of many meaningful excursions through the absurd quadrants of kiddie Christmas culture.

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As I boy growing up in Detroit in the 1970s, I loved watching my mother collapse the last of her gargantuan Thanksgiving feast into a few impossibly crammed Tupperware containers and stuff the serving platters, gravy boats, and silver-plate cutlery away for their long…

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