1 ) Guys and Dolls Celebrate Two November Anniversaries
Guys and Dolls, considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, opened on Broadway 70 years ago this month. It was adapted from a pair of Damon Runyon short stories. The show has four main characters: Sky Masterson, Sarah Brown, Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide. The score was written by Frank Loesser and includes classic songs such as “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Luck Be A Lady.” The original production ran for 1,200 performances over three years, winning five Tony Awards including Best Musical. The film adaptation opened five years after the stage show in November 1955. Vivian Blaine as Adelaide was the only lead actor from the original Broadway cast to also star in the movie. The other leads were big-name stars: Jean Simmons as Sarah, Frank Sinatra as Nathan, and Marlon Brando as Sky. Stubby Kaye reprised his role as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and brought the proverbial house down with his version of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
2) Neil Young Turned 75 on November 12th
Canadian-born singer/songwriter Neil Young celebrated his 75th birthday last Thursday. Young’s prolific music career now spans nearly six decades. His first success came as a member of Buffalo Springfield, playing guitar on the folk band’s hit song “For What It’s Worth” in late 1966. After the break-up of Buffalo Springfield in 1968, Young went solo but quickly added three back-up musicians that called themselves Crazy Horse. He then briefly joined Crosby, Stills & Nash from 1969-1970, playing guitar on memorable songs such as “Woodstock,” “Teach Your Children” and “Ohio.” Young released the album Harvest in 1972 that included his only #1 hit “Heart of Gold.” The song featured Young’s iconic harmonica solos. Between 1969-2020, he released 42 studio albums and nine live albums. Young has been nominated for 26 Grammy Awards, winning three. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him twice: in 1995 as a solo artist and in 1997 as a member of Buffalo Springfield. OUTCUE: (sung) I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.
3) The Pet Rock Was a Cultural Phenomenon in Late 1975
Picture it. November 1975. Kids across the country are putting together their Christmas wish lists. And what’s at the top of those lists? Why a rock of course! Wait…what? Well not just any rock. THE Pet Rock, one of the most inexplicable yet lucrative novelty gift ideas in history. Inventor Gary Dahl came up with idea for an ultra-low maintenance pet after listening to friends grouse about their dogs and cats. He explained that a pet rock required no feeding, no walking, and would not ruin the furniture. Dahl drafted an owner’s manual that highlighted the rock’s ability to do tricks like ‘play dead.’ He also assured owners that the rock would not get sick, would be a lifelong companion, and would surely outlive its owner. Dahl purchased the rocks from a local sand and gravel company, which sourced them from Mexico. The clever packaging consisted of a cardboard box with breathing holes, and a bed of straw that the rock could comfortably lay on. Over just six months, Dahl sold 100,000 Pet Rocks a day at $3.95 each. He would become a millionaire by selling nearly 1.5 million altogether. The fad only lasted about six months however, and by February of 1976 they were discounted. OUTCUE: Power to the pebble!
4 ) Donny & Marie Osmond Variety Show Premieres on 11/16/75
She’s a little bit country, and he’s a little bit rock and roll! Donny & Marie, the TV show starring the brother-and-sister duo of Donny and Marie Osmond, premiered on ABC on November 16, 1975 – 45 years ago this week. At 18 and 16 years old respectively, Donny and Marie became the youngest entertainers to host their own variety show. Donny was already a pop music star singing with his brothers, while Marie had already scored a #1 Billboard country song with “Paper Roses.” Each episode consisted of an ice-skating number, comedy skits, and lots of singing. Each episode concluded with the pair singing their trademark closing number, “May Tomorrow Be a Perfect Day.” The show ran for four seasons and 78 episodes. Donny and Marie teamed up again in 1998 to co-host a talk show that ran for two seasons. They continue to perform live, most recently for a long-term residency at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.
DID YOU KNOW?
1) Casting for the movie version of Guys and Dolls was very competitive. The producers of the movie wanted Gene Kelly for the role of Sky but MGM refused to loan Kelly to Samuel Goldwyn. Marilyn Monroe wanted the role of Adelaide but director Joseph Mankiewicz did not want to work with her again after his experience with her on All About Eve.
2) Frank Sinatra loathed the non-singing Marlon Brando for getting the starring role, while Sinatra got a lesser part. His nickname for the sometimes barely coherent Brando was “Mumbles.”
3) Neil Young’s #1 hit Heart of Gold features back-up vocals by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.
4) There’s actually a National Pet Rock Day, celebrated annually on the first Sunday in September.
5) “The Brady Bunch Hour” variety show was a spin-off of sorts from Donny & Marie’s variety show. In 1976, ABC president Fred Silverman came up with the idea of reuniting the cast of The Brady Bunch on an episode of Donny & Marie. Four cast members – Florence Henderson, Maureen McCormick, Susan Olsen and Mike Lookinland – were booked and when the show aired on October 8, 1976 it was a ratings success. The pilot for the Brady Bunch Hour aired seven weeks later and guest-starred none other than Donny & Marie Osmond!
The Slinky turns 75 years old this month! The metal spring that can walk down stairs was invented in 1943 and was first demonstrated at Gimbel’s Department Store in Philadelphia in November of 1945. Each of the original Slinkys was 2.5″ tall when closed and included 98 coils of high-grade steel. Its instantly recognizable advertising jingle first aired in 1962 and became the longest-running jingle in advertising history. Other Slinky toys were introduced in the 1950s including the Slinky Crazy Eyes, a pair of glasses that uses Slinkys over the eyeholes attached to plastic eyeballs. But the most successful spin-off from the original has been the Slinky Dog, which debuted in 1952, and years later had a starring role in the 1995 Pixar film Toy Story. The Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000. All-time sales of Slinkys are now well over 300 million and show no signs of slowing down. For fun it’s a wonderful toy!
Disney’s animated masterpiece Fantasia will celebrate the 80th anniversary of its release this Friday. It is a revolutionary film in many ways. Fantasia has no plot and almost no dialogue. It consists of eight segments set to pieces of classical music by composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. The Philadelphia Orchestra performed the music under the direction of Leopold Stokowski, the most famous conductor of his time. Fantasia was the first-ever commercial film shown in stereophonic sound. Mickey Mouse is the film’s most recognizable star, famously portraying The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Other well-known characters include Yen Sid, Hyacinth Hippo, and Chernabog, a massive nocturnal devil who holds power over all the creatures on Bald Mountain. Fantasia was not an immediate box-office hit, but with numerous re-releases over the decades it is now the 24th highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. The film is also considered a milestone in the creation of the modern “music video.” M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E
This Tuesday marks the 45th anniversary of the sinking of S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald during a hurricane-like storm on Lake Superior. All 29 crew members perished. For years, the Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest cargo ship in operation on the Great Lakes, carrying iron ore from Duluth to other Great Lakes ports. On the night of November 10, 1975, and without issuing a distress signal, the ship sank on the Canadian side of Lake Superior just 17 miles from Whitefish Bay, Ontario. The exact cause remains unknown to this day, but it’s likely the Edmund Fitzgerald was either swamped by 35-foot waves or suffered structural failure. Considered the worst maritime disaster in Great Lakes history, it inspired Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot to write the hit single “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as a tribute to those who lost their lives. The song spent two weeks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in November of 1976. The legend lives on of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Now let’s talk about November 5, 1955. Fans of “Back to the Future” know that it’s the date that Marty McFly goes back to in Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine. Here’s Brown’s explanation for choosing that date: “It was a red-letter date in the history of science. That was the day I invented time-travel. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation! A picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor!” Seems plausible. But why did screenwriter Bob Gale choose that date? Gale chose November because school dances were often held near the end of a semester. Gale picked a Saturday so that Marty could run into his parents…
…without waiting until they were out of school, and because it would be easier to hide the DeLorean at a construction site on a non-work day. Whoa, that’s heavy!
DID YOU KNOW?
1) U.S. soldiers used Slinkys as mobile radio antennas during the Vietnam War, and NASA has used them in zero-gravity physics experiments on the Space Shuttle.
2) Fantasia marked a major change in the way Mickey Mouse was drawn. Mickey got pupils instead of the black ovals that once stood for his eyes. His nose was shortened, and he got his now-signature white gloves for the first time.
3) Fantasia animators modeled the sorcerer Yen Sid after Walt Disney. Yen Sid is Disney spelled backward. Dracula actor Bela Lugosi was the inspiration for the demon Chernabog.
4) None of the bodies of the 29 crewmen lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald were ever recovered.
5) “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was Gordon Lightfoot’s second-biggest hit single after “Sundown.”
6) November 5th also plays a prominent role in the movie “V For Vendetta,” specifically the quote: “Remember, remember the fifth of November of gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gun powder treason should ever be forgot.” Passionate fans of both movies have engaged in an online rivalry of sorts, arguing over which November 5th is more significant.
A Halloween tradition that was launched in 1950 celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF began as a door-to-door donation campaign inspired by reports of children suffering in Europe as a result of World War II. On Halloween in 1950, five concerned Philadelphia kids went door-to-door to collect money for children overseas. The program quickly became an integral part of the childhood trick-or-treating experience. Kids received the now iconic small orange boxes from their schools, and along with their candy, they collected small change donations from the houses they visited. The annual fundraising has evolved over the years and now includes individual fundraising efforts on Crowdrise and more recently on Go Fund Me Charity. In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tradition has gone fully virtual with kids around the country taking part in Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF from the safety of their homes. Since 1950, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF supporters have collected over $180 million. Way to go, kids!
Most baby boomers remember getting or giving out candy apples while trick-or-treating. The fruit on a stick with the hard sugar coating was a popular gift to costumed kids for decades. However, scares about dangerous items found in the apples brought an unceremonious end to this tradition by the 1980s. Reports of pins, poison and razor blades found in candy apples caused enough hysteria to ensure that they would never again be a part of the haul for trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. Over time, parents insisted on individually wrapped, store-bought candies. Except that, of the 200 candy-tampering reports over the past 60 years, nearly all were hoaxes. In some instances, kids tampered with their own candy to get attention, or a friend or family member played a prank that went too far. In truth, not a single child was ever seriously injured or died because of a tainted golden delicious. It’s all an urban legend. How do you like them apples?
If you went trick or treating during the 1970s or attended a Halloween party, chances are you saw someone wearing a Richard Nixon mask. Or maybe you were wearing one yourself! The caricature of “Tricky Dick” was worn by protesters as early as his 1969 inauguration. But the popularity of the masks exploded once the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, and Nixon was impeached and forced to resign a year later. Thought to be a fad that would die down once Nixon left office, the masks remained popular at Halloween and adult masquerade parties. They also showed up all over pop culture, most famously in the 1991 film Point Break, where bank robbers wore masks of Nixon and three other Presidents. Nixon masks continued as the best-selling political mask into the early 2000s. And here’s food for thought: Since the Nixon era, the presidential candidate with the best-selling costume mask has always won the White House. I am not a crook!
Tim Burton is bringing back “The Addams Family” in a live-action TV series reboot. The creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky clan is set to return with Burton as both director and executive producer. The new series is currently being shopped to networks and streaming services. While not confirmed, sources say that this reboot would be set in present times and be from the perspective of Wednesday Addams and what the world would look like to her in 2020. “The Addams Family,” based on a Charles Addams cartoon, debuted as a TV series in 1964. It later inspired a 1991 mega-hit film adaptation and a 1993 sequel, as well as multiple animated series and a Broadway musical. Burton is best known for directing films such as “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman,” and “Ed Wood.” Among the early fan favorites to play Gomez are Johnny Depp, Oscar Isaac and Rami Malek. Wish-list Morticias include Christina Ricci, Charlize Theron and Angelina Jolie.
DID YOU KNOW?
1) A donation to UNICEF of just 25 cents provides clean water to 10 kids for a day, 28 cents can immunize a child against measles, and $17 can immunize one child for life against the six leading child-killing diseases: measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and tuberculosis.
2) The candy apple was created by accident. In 1908, a candy maker in Newark, New Jersey wanted to expand sales of his red cinnamon candy during the Christmas season and used an apple on a stick as a way to display the brightly colored candy in the shop window. It didn’t take long for the new treat to take off and soon he was selling thousands of them each year.
3) The final nail in the coffin for the candy apple as a gift to trick-or-treaters was likely the infamous cyanide-laced Tylenol poisonings that killed seven people in the Chicago area in 1982.
4) There’s a solid comedic gag in the film Airplane II: The Sequel involving the Nixon mask. The scene begins with a flight attendant announcing: “In case some of you are wondering, we’re traveling one half the speed of light. Some of you might experience a temporary metabolic change, but there’s nothing to worry about.” The next shot shows all the passengers in the cabin wearing Nixon masks. Quite the metabolic change!
5) Because The Munsters debuted around the same time The Addams Family did, the public quickly got burned out on monster sitcoms — at least, that’s what the networks believed. Both shows got the axe at the end of their second seasons.
6) Anthony Hopkins turned down the role of Fester in the 1991 movie The Addams Family, opting instead to play Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Christopher Lloyd went on to win the role of Fester, while Hopkins went on to win the Best Actor Oscar.
It’s never too late to honor a native son. Last Tuesday, the Town of Vernon, Connecticut dedicated a new park in honor of singer Gene Pitney, 14 years after his death. Pitney was born in Hartford and raised in the Rockville section of Vernon, earning him the nickname “The Rockville Rocket.” He had 16 Top 40 singles, including “It Hurts to Be in Love”, “Town Without Pity,” “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” He also wrote for other artists, including “Hello Mary Lou” for Rick Nelson and “He’s a Rebel” for the Crystals. Pitney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. He was touring in Cardiff, Wales when he died of a heart attack on April 5, 2006 at the age of 66. Gene Pitney Memorial Park now stands as a beautiful three-acre green space on what had been a blighted industrial site. Way to go, hometown hero!
Henry Winkler, the actor who portrayed the most iconic TV character of the 1970s, will celebrate his 75th birthday this coming Friday. Winkler played Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli for 11 seasons from 1974-1984 on the smash ABC series “Happy Days.” Initially a minor character, he was a hugely popular breakout star and was almost immediately made a series regular. The ever-cool Fonzie popularized the catchphrases “Sit on it,” “(H)eyyyy!” and “Whoa!” In fact, he was so cool that he could make the jukebox at Arnold’s start working just by pounding on it with his fist or get the attention of girls just by snapping his fingers. The role earned Winkler three Emmy nominations and two Golden Globes. In a career that now spans more than five decades, he has nearly 130 movie and TV credits combined. In 2018 he won his first Emmy for the role of acting teacher Gene Cousineau on the HBO series “Barry.” Happy Birthday Fonz!
Yes, it’s the “neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon,” and it was introduced 55 years ago in 1965 by the Campbell Soup Company under the Franco-American brand. Campbell’s knew that moms were starting to work outside the home, and it was a hassle to make a full meal every night. A marketing team came up with the idea for a can of spaghetti that could be heated up quickly, providing a hot dinner in a snap. SpaghettiOs were introduced nationally with the TV ad jingle “Uh-Oh! SpaghettiOs” sung by Jimmie Rodgers. Later variations have included meatballs, hot dog slices, raviolis and extra calcium. Essentially nostalgia in a can, Campbell’s sells hundreds of millions of cans of SpaghettiOs a year. In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Campbell’s has cranked up its production of SpaghettiOs to meet the demand for pre-made food. During the first part of the year their sales numbers increased 59 percent over 2019. Um, um good!
And speaking of COVID-19, drive-in movies have experienced a re-birth as people seek safe activities during the pandemic. At the height of their popularity in the 1950s and ’60s there were about 4,000 drive-ins in the U.S. Today there are only 305 drive-ins nationwide. And it’s not just movies people are coming to sit in their cars to watch. In 2020, drive-ins have been the site of events such as weddings, concerts, church services, comedy shows and graduations. Among the newest trends during this year’s resurgence are pop-up drive-ins in the parking lots of large retail chains such as Walmart. Many annual film festivals have made the switch from indoor theaters to drive-ins. Here in Massachusetts, the Kowloon Restaurant in Saugus successfully launched drive-in movies with car hop service in its parking lot this summer. Even the Oscars are now on board, deeming films that premiere at drive-ins to be eligible for Academy Award nominations.
DID YOU KNOW?
1) As popular as Gene Pitney was in America, he was even more beloved in the United Kingdom. He had 16 top 40 hits in the U.S., including four in the top ten. In the U.K., he had 22 top 40 hits, and 11 singles in the top ten.
2) Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees was a finalist for the role of Fonzie but at 6’0″ was ultimately considered too tall. Winkler stood at only 5’6″.
3) Henry Winkler and Tom Bosley, who played patriarch Howard Cunningham, were the only two actors to appear in all 255 episodes of Happy Days.
4) Before settling on a simple circle for SpaghettiOs, the marketing team at Campbell’s considered other shapes, including cowboys, Native Americans, astronauts, stars, and sports-themed shapes.
5) Every state has at least one drive-in except Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana and North Dakota.
6) There are only four permanently operating drive-ins remaining in Massachusetts, in Leicester, Mendon, Northfield and Wellfleet.
Long-time TV game show host Tom Kennedy died on October 7th at the age of 93. Born in Kentucky as James Edward Narz, he went on to host 16 different game shows between 1958-1989. Kennedy kicked off his career as host of ABC’s Dr. I.Q., considered the first interactive game show with viewers calling in over the telephone from home. His first big hit was You Don’t Say! which aired on NBC from 1963 to 1969. The man known for his tinted glasses, shaggy sideburns and tan suits really hit his stride in the 70s and 80s, hosting classics such as Split Second, Password Plus, Body Language, and a syndicated nighttime version of The Price Is Right. But Kennedy is likely best known for hosting Name That Tune from 1974-1981. On that show, contestants guessed song titles based on snippets played by a live band or by a pianist hitting a handful of notes. Rest in Peace, Mr. Emcee.
The movie “All About Eve” premiered 70 years ago on October 13, 1950. The film is a biting satire of American show business, brilliantly written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. The two female leads deliver powerhouse performances: Bette Davis as Margo Channing, an ageing Broadway star; and Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington, an ambitious young fan who maneuvers herself into Channing’s life, ultimately threatening her career and personal relationships. All About Eve received 14 Academy Award nominations and won six, including Best Picture. The 14 nominations were a record at the time, later equaled by Titanic and La La Land. It’s also the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations. Considered one of the greatest films of all time, All About Eve was one of the first 50 films selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and it ranked 28th on AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 best American films. Fasten your seatbelts…it’s going to be a bumpy night!
The classic children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was first published 70 years ago on October 16, 1950. It is part of Lewis’ seven-book Chronicles of Narnia series. Narnia is a land of talking animals and mythical creatures that is ruled by the evil White Witch. The other main characters in the book include the four Pevensie children: Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter. It is Lucy who first visits Narnia via the magic of a wardrobe in the spare room of an old English country house. The lion in the title refers to Aslan, the rightful King of Narnia who sacrifices himself to save Edmund but is ultimately resurrected. The book ranks 7th on the list of all-time best-sellers with 85 million copies sold. That places it ahead of all but the first book in the Harry Potter series. The 2005 film adaptation made over $700 million at the box office. For Narnia, and for Aslan!
The first Magic 8 Balls were sold 70 years ago this month. Incredibly, the toy that generations of children would use for fortune-telling or seeking advice was originally marketed as a paperweight. The Magic 8-Ball is a hollow plastic sphere that resembles a black-and-white 8-ball. Inside the ball is a 20-sided white plastic die floating in blue alcohol. Each of the die’s faces displays a different statement: 10 positive, five negative, and five indifferent. Among these are “without a doubt,” “signs point to yes,” “ask again later,” “better not tell you now,” “don’t count on it,” and “my sources say no.” The user asks a yes or no question to the ball and then turns it over to reveal an answer. Mattel now owns the Magic 8 Ball and reports sales of one million units each year. In 2011, Time Magazine named the Magic 8 Ball as one of the 100 Greatest Toys of All Time.
DID YOU KNOW?
1) Tom Kennedy’s older brother was Jack Narz, also a prominent game show host of the 60s and 70s, who emceed two of my favorites: Now You See It and Concentration.
2) Kennedy and Narz’ brother-in-law was the legendary Bill Cullen, who hosted 23 shows and is still considered as the Dean of Game Show Hosts.
3) All About Eve was one of Marilyn Monroe’s first film roles. She was so nervous on set that she needed 11 takes to get through one scene. When it was finally done, Bette Davis snapped at her, whereupon Monroe exited the set and vomited.
4) All About Eve was adapted into the Broadway musical Applause, which won Tony Awards in 1970 for Best Musical and Lead Actress in a Musical, Lauren Bacall. When Bacall left the role of Margo, she was replaced by Anne Baxter, who played Eve in the movie.
5) C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were members of the same writers’ group. While Lewis worked on Narnia and Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings, they met every Monday morning to talk about writing. Others started to join them, the group swelled to 19 men, and they became known collectively as The Inklings.
6) The Magic 8 Ball has made appearances on both the small screen and the big screen for decades, in TV shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Simpsons, and Friends, and in films such as Toy Story, Shazam!, and The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
Guitar great Eddie Van Halen died last Tuesday at the age of 65. Van Halen had been battling many health problems in recent years, including tongue and throat cancer. His self-named rock group Van Halen was founded in 1972 and went on to sell more than 56 million albums in the U.S. alone. The band’s first Top 40 hit was 1979’s “Dance the Night Away.” Their mega-hit album “1984” featured a string of hit songs beginning with their only #1 hit “Jump.” Eddie Van Halen also created the final arrangement of, and played guitar on, Michael Jackson’s 1983 blockbuster hit “Beat It.” In 1980, he married actress Valerie Bertinelli, who starred in the 1970s sitcom “One Day at a Time.” They had one son named Wolfgang. They divorced in 2005 but remained close friends. Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Rest in Peace, Guitar God.
Legendary actress Angela Lansbury turns 95 this Friday! Her prolific career has produced five Tony Awards and six Golden Globes. Lansbury has also been nominated for three Oscars and 18 Emmys. Her first two film roles – in 1944’s Gaslight and 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray – resulted in Oscar nominations. Her third nominated performance – in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate – is widely viewed as one of the best portrayals of a villain in movie history. Lansbury’s stage career includes Tony wins in Mame, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd. She is most beloved for her 1984-1996 run as Jessica Fletcher on the TV series Murder, She Wrote. Younger audiences delighted in her role as Mrs. Potts in the 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast. And just two years ago, she appeared in Mary Poppins Returns as The Balloon Lady, singing the beginning refrains of the movie’s climactic number “Nowhere to Go But Up.” Happy Birthday, Mrs. Fletcher!
One of the most popular and influential comic strips in history made its debut 70 years ago this month. Peanuts – written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz – first appeared in seven newspapers on October 2, 1950. The debut strip introduced the characters of Charlie Brown, Shermy and Patty. Snoopy first appeared two days later. During the 1950s alone, Schulz introduced six more characters, including Schroeder, Lucy, Linus and Sally. Over nearly 50 years, Schulz wrote nearly 18,000 strips. The final Peanuts strip ran on February 13, 2000, one day after Schulz’ death. By that time, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries. It was translated into 21 languages. It continues today in reruns. Peanuts became a merchandising empire, spawning toys, wildly popular television specials, and a hit Broadway musical. All told, Peanuts earned Schulz more than $1 billion during his lifetime. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown!
The Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, was launched 50 years ago on October 5, 1970. PBS took over the functions of National Education Television, which was founded in 1952 to distribute educational programs to local TV stations. Though billed by some as the “fourth network” in 1970, PBS is technically not a network like today’s five major commercial broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and The CW. It serves as a program distributor that provides television content and related services to its member stations. Today, PBS maintains the largest network of affiliated stations with 354 covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. possessions. PBS is funded by a combination of member station dues, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, pledge drives, and donations from both private foundations and individual citizens. Its shows have shaped generations of kids who grew up with programs such as Sesame Street, the Electric Company, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
DID YOU KNOW?
1) Though now regarded as one of the all-time best guitarists, Eddie Van Halen actually began on the drums.
2) Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli’s son Wolfgang joined the band in 2006 as the band’s bassist. He was only 16 when he started touring with the band.
3) Angela Lansbury had a long-lasting friendship with fellow actress Bea Arthur. The two co-starred in the production of Mame, which resulted in both Lansbury and Arthur winning Tony Awards for their respective performances.
4) The original name for the Peanuts comic strip was Li’l Folks, but a manager at United Features Syndicate noted the popularity of the children’s program Howdy Doody and its “Peanut Gallery” of children. The title of Peanuts was forced upon Schulz, much to his consternation.
5) Snoopy has five siblings. Spike was the first Snoopy brother, introduced in 1975 and named after Charles Schulz’s childhood pup. Snoopy’s other siblings include Marbles, Olaf, Andy, and his only sister, Belle.
6) WGBH-TV in Boston has been one of the most successful program developers among PBS affiliates, producing such shows as American Experience, Antiques Roadshow, This Old House, The French Chef, Frontline, Masterpiece, NOVA, and of course the kids’ show ZOOM.
Dame Julie Andrews celebrated her 85th birthday last Thursday. The beloved singer and actress from Surrey, England amassed a prolific number of movie, television and Broadway credits from the 1950s through the 1990s. Andrews won an Oscar for her 1964 feature film debut in “Mary Poppins.” The following year she turned in another iconic performance as Maria Von Trapp in the blockbuster movie musical “The Sound of Music.” In 1997, while starring in the Broadway adaptation of her hit movie “Victor/Victoria,” she underwent surgery to remove nodules from her vocal cords. Unfortunately, the surgery was botched, and her singing voice was irreparably damaged. Still, Andrews returned to the Disney fold shortly thereafter, and gained a new generation of fans after starring in 2001’s “The Princess Diaries.” She was due to be honored this year with the prestigious AFI Life Achievement Award, but the April gala was postponed due to the pandemic. Happy birthday, Dame Julie!
Australian-born singer Helen Reddy died last Tuesday at the age of 78. She’d been suffering from both Addison’s Disease and dementia. Her 1972 #1 hit song “I Am Woman” became the feminist anthem of the decade and propelled her to international pop-music stardom. Reddy had two more songs — “Delta Dawn” and “Angie Baby” — go to No. 1. Three others, including “You and Me Against the World” made the Top 10. Like other 1970s celebrities, Reddy branched out into television and movies. On TV, she hosted “The Helen Reddy Show,” an eight-episode summer replacement series on NBC in 1973. A year later, she made her big-screen debut in “Airport 1975” as a guitar-playing nun who comforts a sick little girl (Linda Blair). Reddy followed that with a memorable starring turn in 1977’s “Pete’s Dragon” as a skeptical New England lighthouse keeper who doubts an orphaned boy’s stories about his animated fire-breathing pet. Rest in peace, Helen Reddy.
The cult classic movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was released 45 years ago on September 25, 1975. It’s the campy story of strait-laced couple Brad and Janet, and their accidental stay at the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania. Initially it bombed at the box office and was quickly shelved. But due to the marketing savvy of a young executive at 20th Century Fox, “Rocky Horror” was revitalized after a midnight screening at the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village. Soon, midnight screenings were springing up around the country. Devoted fans sat in the first row of the balcony, where they’d scream for their favorite characters and adlib jokes that would be repeated at future screenings. A new trend followed where a shadow cast began performing the story beneath the screen. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is considered to be the longest-running release in film history. Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!
Americans seem to be listening to more vinyl records amid the pandemic. Vinyl sales have been growing for 14 straight years, and in the first half of 2020, vinyl outsold CDs for the first time since the 1980s. It was back in 1988 that CDs officially surpassed vinyl records in popularity. Fast-forward 30 years to 2018 when Sony Music announced that it would be producing vinyl records in-house for the first time since ceasing production in 1989. Now, over the first six months of this year, LP and EP sales totaled $232.1 million, nearly double the $129.9 million raked in from CD sales. Five of the 10 best-selling vinyl albums, like Queen’s Greatest Hits and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, were originally released decades ago. But other best sellers are from contemporary artists like Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga and Harry Styles. And get this: the cost of a brand-new vinyl record on average is between $30-40!
DID YOU KNOW?
1) Julie Andrews is a best-selling author, including over 30 children’s books written with her daughter Emma.
2) After filming the 1962 special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall together, Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett became best friends and remain so to this day.
3) In the 1974 Helen Reddy hit “You and Me Against the World,” the child’s voice saying “Tell me again Mommy” at the beginning of the song and “I love you Mommy” at the end of the song was Reddy’s 11 year-old daughter Traci.
4) Midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Boston ran at the Exeter Street Theater in the Back Bay until 1984, moved to the AMC Loews in Harvard Square in 1984 and remained there until 2012, and have been playing at the AMC Loews Boston Common (pre-pandemic) since 2012.
5) An acting company called The Full Body Cast has been doing a shadow performance of the movie below the screen since 1984 at both AMC Loews locations.
6) Although new vinyl records are somewhat pricey at between $30-40, a new high-quality record player or turntable can be had for under $100.
1) TV: The “Partridge Family” Debuts on ABC
The Partridge Family debuted on ABC on September 25, 1970. It joined the network’s Friday night lineup at 8:30 p.m., after The Brady Bunch and Nanny and the Professor and before That Girl. The show told the tale of a widowed mother who joins up with her five kids to form a band and embark on a music career. It was inspired by, and loosely based on, The Cowsills. Shirley Jones, having turned down the role of Carol on the aforementioned Brady Bunch, played matriarch Shirley Partridge. Her real-life stepson David Cassidy played oldest child and lead singer Keith Partridge. Cassidy’s popularity as a teen idol was literally off the charts. And speaking of charts, the Partridge Family produced seven Top 40 hits, including the #1 blockbuster I Think I Love You in 1970. The series was canceled in 1974 after four seasons.
2) TOYS: Parker Brothers’ Sells Millions of New Nerf Balls
The Nerf ball is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The 4-inch polyurethane foam ball was developed by Twister inventor Reyn Guyer. It was introduced in 1970 by Parker Brothers as the world’s first indoor ball, and by year’s end, millions had been sold. An early slogan was: “Throw it indoors; you can’t damage lamps or break windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people.” The name NERF actually comes from drag racing. In the late ‘60s, foam-covered nerf bars were placed on truck bumpers that pushed racers to the starting line. An early TV commercial featured Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith of the Monkees playing with the balls on a living room soundstage. The commercial ends as Nesmith gets bombarded with dozens of balls then quips “A-Nerf’s A-Nerf.” The product line quickly expanded and included the best-selling Nerf footballs and Nerf blasters. Current owner Hasbro acquired the Nerf line in 1991.
3) BOOKS: “Love Story” by Erich Segal Becomes Top-Selling Book of 1970
Fifty years ago, author Erich Segal created a cultural phenomenon. His book, Love Story, was released on Valentine’s Day in 1970. It was a novelized version of a screenplay that Segal had written for Paramount Pictures. Love Story became the top-selling work of fiction for all of 1970, appearing for 41 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, including 34 weeks in the top spot. Love Story is the tale of two college students, Ollie and Jenny, whose love enables them to overcome the adversities they encounter in life. The most famous quote from the book was probably “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” said to Ollie by Jenny, then repeated by Ollie to his father after Jenny’s death. The film adaptation was released on December 16, 1970 starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. It too was a cultural phenomenon and a major commercial success.
4) RE-BOOTS: Jay Leno Set to Host “You Bet Your Life” Re-Boot in 2021
Jay Leno, who hosted The Tonight Show from 1992 – 2014, is set to host a nationally syndicated revival of the classic game show You Bet Your Life. It will debut on Fox stations in late 2021. The new version will couple two strangers together for the opportunity to win prize money by correctly answering questions in pre-determined categories. The original “You Bet Your Life,” hosted by Groucho Marx, aired throughout the 1950s and into the early ’60s. The show’s best-remembered remark occurred as Groucho was interviewing Charlotte Story, who had given birth to 20 children. When Marx asked why she had chosen to raise such a large family, Mrs. Story replied, “I love my husband”; to which Marx responded, “I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.” The remark was judged too risqué to be aired and was edited out before broadcast.
DID YOU KNOW?
1. As a 9-year-old in 1971, I wrote to the producers of The Partridge Family multiple times BEGGING them to cast ME in the role of Chris, after the original actor Jeremy Gelbwaks was fired!
2. The Monkees’ Nerf commercial was a joint promotion with Kool-Aid. By the time it was filmed, Peter Tork had already left the band and did not appear in it.
3. The lead characters in Love Story were at least partially based on the lives of Al and Tipper Gore.
80 YEARS AGO: Two music industry icons were born
Frankie Avalon, known for singing the hit song “Venus” and for starring in the popular Beach Party film series with Annette Funicello celebrated his 80th birthday on Friday. Avalon is considered one of the first manufactured teen idols. “Venus” became his first No. 1 single in 1959, and he released six more Top 40 records in that year alone. By late 1962, the singer’s four-year domination of the music charts was coming to an end, but his career wasn’t. He teamed up with Funicello and reinvented himself as a clean-cut, pretty-boy surfer in the wildly successful Beach Party surfer film series. The series began with 1963’s Beach Party, starring Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone, in addition to Avalon and Funicello. A symbol of his era, Avalon went on to appear in the 1950s-themed musical Grease in 1978, playing The Teen Angel and singing the memorable “Beauty School Drop-out” in the film. “Kids know me from their Grease DVD, so they instantly respond,” he would later say. “You can hear a pin drop when I do my old songs.” Happy Birthday Teen Angel!
And yesterday was composer and songwriter Paul Williams’ 80th birthday too! Williams remains one of America’s best recognized all-purpose celebrities of the 1970s. In addition to his music career, he also acted in movies and television, and was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. But it was his music career that proved to be the most enduring, earning him an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe. Born in Omaha, Williams suffered from a medical condition that stunted his growth, and at one point he considered a career as a jockey. He relocated to Southern California in the mid-1960s but found little success as an actor and vocalist. Once he landed a job as a staff songwriter at A&M Records, his career finally started to click. He co-wrote the tune to a bank commercial that enjoyed an impressive second life when the Carpenters cut “We’ve Only Just Begun” and it became a massive chart success. In 1976, he took home an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy for writing Evergreen, the love theme from A Star is Born. Happy Paul!
70 YEARS AGO: The comic strip Beetle Bailey debuted
The comic strip Beetle Bailey recently celebrated its the 70th anniversary in the funny pages. Beetle Bailey debuted inauspiciously in 12 newspapers on September 4, 1950. After six months, it had signed on only 25 clients. The title character began as a college student, but the comic strip soon adopted its military theme when Beetle enlisted in the Army during the Korean War. Seventy years translates into more than 25,000 strips. Most of those were published under the supervision of creator Mort Walker until his death in January 2018. The business has stayed in the family, and now his sons Greg, Brian and Neal Walker are behind each day’s strip. The cast has largely stayed the same. Sergeant Snorkel, his dog Otto, Private “Killer” Diller, General Halftrack and secretary Miss Buxley have been around for almost the entire run of the strip. Camp Swampy may have modernized a bit over the years but the version in today’s strip would be instantly recognizable to fans of Beetle’s early days. At the peak of the newspaper business, “Beetle Bailey” appeared in nearly 1,800 newspapers worldwide. Happy Anniversary Beetle!
The original “The Little Shop of Horrors” movie that started a decades-long phenomenon, premiered on September 14, 1960. The man who produced and directed Little Shop was the legendary Roger Corman, the king of low-budget B movies. Little Shop came about when Corman realized he would have a few days left before the sets for his previous film, A Bucket of Blood, were to be torn down. Originally titled The Passionate People Eater, the movie’s cast rehearsed for three weeks before filming began. Principal photography took just two days and one night. It was shot on a budget of $28,000. The film is a farce about an inadequate florist’s assistant who cultivates a plant that feeds on human blood. It stars Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, and Dick Miller. It also featured a 23-year old Jack Nicholson, playing Wilbur Force, a masochistic patient at a dentist’s office. The film was the basis for the 1982 Off-Broadway musical, Little Shop of Horrors, which was notably made into a 1986 feature film then enjoyed a 2003 Broadway revival and a 2019 Off-Broadway revival. Feed me Seymour!
50 YEARS AGO: The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired its first episode
The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered on September 19, 1970. Over the course of seven seasons, it became one of the most influential sitcoms in history. The show centered around Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore), a single career woman in her thirties who works as the associate news producer at WJM-TV. This premise broke new ground by featuring an unmarried, professional woman as the central character and by shifting the setting from the home to the workplace. The show raised the standards for comedy writing, acting, directing, and producing, garnering a record 29 Emmys. The show met with such success in large part due to a talented and diverse cast. Moore portrayed Mary as lovable, seemingly perfect, somewhat insecure but increasingly assertive. She was the center of the show, but her world would have been a much less interesting place without the supporting characters: Ed Asner as Lou Grant; Gavin McLeod as Murray Slaughter; Ted Knight as Ted Baxter; Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern; Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom; Georgia Engel as Georgette Baxter; and Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens. Happy Anniversary Mary!
DID YOU KNOW? Good Times is getting an animated re-boot
And finally, speaking of classic 1970s sitcoms, Netflix has given a series order to an animated version of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcom Good Times. The project will be co-produced by the 98-year old Lear along with Seth MacFarlane and NBA star Steph Curry. Based on his iconic ’70s series, Good Times is Lear’s first animated series. It comes on the heels of a recent animated episode of One Day at a Time, Pop TV’s reboot of another Lear classic. Good Times was TV’s first African American two-parent family sitcom. It was a spinoff of Lear’s Maude, which itself was a spin-off of All in the Family. The series aired from 1974-1979. It centered on Florida and James Evans and their three children who lived in a public housing project in inner-city Chicago. The cast was led by John Amos, Esther Rolle and Jimmie Walker. Said Curry: “Good Times strives to remind us that with the love of our family we can overcome any obstacle. We think, now more than ever, the world needs to see a show with hope and positivity.” A premiere date for the new series has yet to be announced.
Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison turned 75 on August 31st, and the Emerald Isle rolled out a big birthday party in the form of an online special, featuring 75 Irish artists and celebrities – including the country’s President – sharing prerecorded tribute performances. Rave On, Van Morrison! launched with a performance of Morrison’s 1983 song Rave On, John Donne by Irish President Michael D. Higgins, with an assist from Riverdance creator Bill Whelan. Other performers included Bob Geldof and Hozier. Morrison is a member of both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1993, Robbie Robertson, a former member of The Band, said of Morrison, “In the tradition of the great Irish poets and the great soul singers, he is the Caruso of rock and roll.” Meanwhile, Morrison has been catching shade from fans and fellow musicians lately after referring to COVID 19 physical distancing measures as “pseudo-science,” and advocating for an immediate return to full capacity live concerts. The Northern Ireland native’s website additionally stated, “Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and myself appear to be the only people in the music business trying to get it back up and running again.”
British actress Diana Rigg, whose decades-long acting career spanned the 1960s spy series “The Avengers,” classical theater and “Game of Thrones,” died on September 10th at the age of 82. Her daughter Rachael Stirling said her mother died peacefully in her sleep after she was diagnosed with cancer in March. Rigg won an Emmy award in 1997 for her performance as Mrs. Danvers in “Rebecca” and a Tony award for playing the title character in “Medea.” More recently, Rigg found fame with a new generation of fans as Lady Olenna Tyrell in “Game of Thrones.” But her most definitive role was as secret agent Emma Peel in “The Avengers,” in the classic series that was later adapted into the 1998 movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman. Rigg was twice Emmy-nominated for her 1965-68 stint playing the catsuit-wearing, kickass spy opposite Patrick Macnee’s bowler-hatted and besuited agent John Steed. Rigg was also a Bond girl in 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Daniel Craig, among others, called Rigg’s Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo one of the best Bond girls of all time” who happened to be the only woman to actually marry Bond. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1994. Rest in Peace Dame Diana Rigg.
Trini Lopez, a singer and guitarist who gained fame for his versions of “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree.” in the 1960s has passed away. He was 83. Lopez died from complications of COVID-19 at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California. Lopez also crossed over into acting, appearing in the World War II drama “The Dirty Dozen,” the comedy “The Phynx” and credits on television’s “Adam-12.” He also designed guitars that became a favorite of Dave Grohl and other rock stars. Mentored by Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, Lopez became an international star while performing in English and Spanish. Unlike Mexican American singers such as Ritchie Valens, Lopez rejected advice to change his name and openly embraced his Mexican American heritage despite warnings it would hurt his career. Lopez moved to Southern California and got a regular gig at P.J.’s Night Club in West Hollywood. Sinatra saw him perform and offered him a contract with his new record label, Reprise, where Lopez got his first major hit with “If I Had A Hammer.” It went to No. 1 in nearly 40 countries. They became friends and were spotted together regularly in social circles in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, California. Rest in Peace Trini Lopez.
“Five Easy Pieces,” the movie that established Jack Nicholson as the foremost actor of his generation, premiered on September 12, 1970 and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor/Nicholson and Best Supporting Actress/Karen Black. And while the movie and Nicholson lost out to Patton and George C. Scott, respectively, it did earn the Best Picture Award from the New York Film Critics Circle. “Five Easy Pieces” is considered a must-see picture for students of the New American Cinema and fans of Nicholson, who plays Bobby Dupea, an upper-middle class dropout, who now works as an oil rigger in the California fields. Bobby lives with his girlfriend-waitress Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black) in a dreary apartment in a drab working-class milieu. The title of the movie refers to a book of piano exercises that Bobby owned as a child. A famous scene from the film takes place in a roadside restaurant where Bobby tries to get a waitress to bring him a side order of toast with his breakfast. The waitress refuses, stating that toast is not offered as a side item, despite the diner’s offering a chicken salad sandwich on toast. Ultimately, Bobby orders both his breakfast and the chicken salad sandwich on toast, telling the waitress to bring the sandwich to him without mayonnaise, butter, or lettuce, and to “hold the chicken.” “Five Easy Pieces” earned $18.1 million at the box office and was named as the Best Film of 1970 by Roger Ebert.
Animation writer and executive Joe Ruby, who created cartoon series including “Scooby-Doo” along with his partner Ken Spears, died of natural causes on August 28th. He was 87. At Hanna-Barbera, Ruby and Spears created series including “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?,” “Dynomutt” and “Jabberjaw.” Warner Bros. Animation president Sam Register said in a statement, “Joe Ruby made Saturday mornings special for so many children, including myself. Scooby-Doo has been a beloved companion on screens for more than 50 years, leaving an enduring legacy that has inspired and entertained generations.” “Scooby-Doo” launched on CBS in 1969 after going through a number of versions. It was launched as a gentler series partly in response to complaints about violence in cartoons such as “Space Ghost.” Together with character designer Iwao Takamoto, Ruby and Spears tried a number of titles and approaches, such as making the characters part of a rock band, before settling on the now-classic combo of Freddie, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and a Great Dane named Scooby-Doo. Ruby and Spears wrote the first five episodes, supervising and story editing the rest of the first season. The original series ran until 1976 and spawned numerous series reboots and theatrical films. Ruby went on to serve as executive producer on animated versions of live-action shows and movies including “Punky Brewster,” the “Rambo” series and “Police Academy: The Animated Series.” Rest in Peace Joe Ruby.
Comedian Billy Eichner is set to play TV icon Paul Lynde in the upcoming film “Man in the Box.” Eichner and producer Tom McNulty are developing the biopic based on the life of Lynde. After his breakout turn in Bye Bye Birdie, Lynde became a big TV star with his guest turns as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, and in his role on the long running game show Hollywood Squares. While Lynde was never publicly “out,” he never lied about his sexuality either, as most famous gay actors of that era did. Eichner is best known for hosting Billy On The Street and voicing Timon in The Lion King. He is also set to play Matt Drudge in the upcoming American Crime Story. In a recent interview, Eichner said: “There’s some overlap, between Paul and I, in that we both had our breakthrough in the industry, as performers, presenting a rather larger than life, flamboyant, gay persona on screen. Even though I was always very out, Paul was never technically out. But he was as out as you could be, at that time, in that he was clearly leaning into a flamboyant persona.” Lynde’s lasting legacy decades later is probably his center square residency on Hollywood Squares from 1968 to 1981, where he delivered zingers filled with sexual innuendos and references to his homosexuality. He died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 55. “Man in the Box” is expected to premiere sometime in 2021.
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