Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Grasshopper - 1958

From The World Book Encyclopedia 1959 Annual:

ANTIGRAVITY BELT, a jet device that turns men into human grasshoppers, was unveiled by a New Jersey chemical company in 1958. It promises to be useful to soldiers, construction workers, policemen, and fire fighters. The 55-pound rocket belt, strapped around a man's waist, holds two small nitrogen gas tanks and jet nozzles. When the wearer pushes a button, gas escapes and thrusts him into the air.

Company testers, dressed as army infantrymen and wearing the belt, ran 35 mph without tiring, jumped Over 2o-foot trenches, and soared over cliffs and walls. The company said it planned smaller, lighter models, and expected to perfect a model simple and cheap enough for general troop use within two years. The belt, similar to that worn by the comic strip character Buck Rogers, was called "Buck Rogers," "The Grasshopper," and "Jump Belt."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Just Watched: Three Came Home

Upon rising each day and counting my blessings of family, health and home, I frequently also take a moment to give thanks for Turner Classic Movies. I have been a fan of vintage and classic films since my youth, but TCM almost daily exposes me to both high profile films I've long managed to miss and low profile gems I was never aware of.

Three Came Home would most certainly fit in the latter category though it was generally well received upon its release in 1950. It was based on the true story of American writer Agnes Newton Keith who, while living in Borneo during World War II, is captured by the invading Japanese and interned in a POW camp until the end of the war. Claudette Colbert portrayed Keith through her three and a half years of often harsh and brutal imprisonment.

Considering its postwar Hollywood pedigree, Three Came Home is often surprisingly forthright with its depiction of the conditions and treatment endured by Keith and her fellow prisoners. Beatings of women are frequently depicted and Colbert's character at one point survives an attempted rape by a guard, only to be later tortured for refusing to disavow the incident. She does find some degree of sympathy from the American-educated camp commander Lieutenant-Colonel Suga, who prior to the war was familiar with Keith's previously published book. Suga was played by Sessue Hayakawa, who would go on to be Oscar-nominated for a similar role in the 1957 film Bridge Over the River Kwai. Curiously, the film depicts the character of Suga somewhat sympathetically, portraying him as somewhat ignorant of the conditions around him. In reality, Tatsuji Suga, though documented by Keith and others as displaying a compassionate nature at times, oversaw prisoner camps notorious for torture, abuse and death. His legacy includes the infamous Sandakan Death Marches among other atrocities. He would likely have been executed for war crimes had he not commit suicide five days after his capture.

Agnes Newton Keith's book Three Came Home, from which the film was adapted, is no longer in print, but used copies are available through various online retailers. A 1947 Time Magazine review of the book observed:

Three Came Home doesn't try to tap tear ducts or beg reader sympathy. Mrs. Keith's story is full of suffering but singularly free of resentment. In a prefatory note that reads like a considered epilogue she rises above personal bitterness: "The Japanese in this book are as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true of the rest of us. We are not pleasant people here, for the story of war is always the story of hate; it makes no difference with whom one fights. The hate destroys you spiritually as the fighting destroys you bodily."

A profound observation on the part of Keith, that in many ways the movie adaptation manages to communicate.

Three Came Home is frequently shown on both Turner Classic Movies and the Fox Movie Channel.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Greetings From - Taylor Allderdice High School

Postcards are magical things. Small windows into the past. If you aren't careful, you can sometimes fall into them and have a hard time finding your way back.

It's been quite some time since my high school days, but this postcard extends even further back into the past, likely predating my graduation by three decades. In this particular rendering, Taylor Allderdice High School, located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, looks pretty much as it did when I attended classes there in the mid-1970s. A later expansion saw a building placed directly in front of the school's main entrance, greatly diminishing the building's grand and stately architectural aesthetics. The large smokestack that towers behind the building was appropriately enough the common location for between-class cigarette breaks.

This next postcard displays part of the route I took when traveling from the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lincoln Place to Taylor Allderdice. The Homestead High Level Bridge crossed the Monongahela River, connecting Squirrel Hill to the steel town of Homestead.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Photo Retro! - Playground Apocalypse

Space age playground equipment was quite the rage during the 1960s and 1970s. Slides and climbing gyms themed as retro-style rockets were especially popular and red always seemed to be the dominant color of such structures. Safety concerns ultimately grounded much of the era's imaginative designs and equipment. This particular playground rocket is located within an abandoned radar base far off the beaten path in rural North Carolina.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Travels with Dennis: Hawaii

Among my lost childhood treasures that I have spent my recent adult years attempting to retrieve are Dennis the Menace comic books. Non-superhero comics have in the last few decades diminished to the point of near extinction, and while Dennis the Menace still enjoys a successful career on newspaper funny pages around the world, his four color adventures exist now mainly as collectibles and, at least for me, very happy memories.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Dennis the Menace became quite the world traveler. His journeys around the globe were chronicled in a series of giant 25¢ comic books that proved so popular, many were reprinted multiple times over the next two decades. One of the best and most significant of these comics was Dennis the Menace in Hawaii, originally published during the summer of 1958.

The romance of Hawaii had become a staple of post-war American popular culture, and with statehood looming, Dennis-creator Hank Ketcham decided to send his pint-sized headliner across the Pacific. Ketcham visited the islands in 1956, and the following year sent writer Fred Toole and artist Al Wiseman on a research junket with the aim of producing a giant 100-page comic book featuring Dennis and his parents on a Hawaiian vacation. Toole and Wiseman had been producing the Dennis the Menace comic books since 1953. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, in an article entitled "Dennis the Menace to Try Isle Imping," revealed that Ketcham surprised the pair with round trip tickets. It went on to report that both men and their respective wives were staying at the Hawaiian Village resort, just one of many island locations that would ultimately appear in their finished story.

In an era when comic book talent was rarely given any visible credit, Toole and Wiseman were featured in photographs on the book's inside front cover and a message from the publisher stated, "This book is the result of a special trip to the Hawaiian Islands by artist Al Wiseman and writer Fred Toole. Their on-the-spot sketches, photos and notes enabled them to draw and write this book as could only be done by people who had actually visited the islands."

Wiseman has long been held in high regard by comics aficionados and his work on the Dennis the Menace books is especially well respected. His talent can be seen throughout the Hawaii comic in his spartan but still very effective renderings of the sights of the islands. His art displays a remarkable attention to detail; in one instance he reproduces the menu from the famed Queen's Surf Luau.

Perhaps most memorable about the book is the sequence in which Dennis and his parents visit Peal Harbor. In an unusual move for a comic book, Toole and Wiseman related the events of December 7, 1941 via printed text and an accompanying detailed map-illustration. The sequence ends with a surprisingly emotional moment at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.

Dennis the Menace in Hawaii was reprinted a number of times subsequent to its initial publication. An abridged edition was released in 1969.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Welcome to Boom Pop!

"Do you like anything other than Disney?"

Why yes, as a matter of fact I do . . .

Welcome to Boom Pop! It is quite likely you have arrived here by way of 2719 Hyperion, the address that has been my primary online residence for close to two years. My passion for Disney history and entertainment has been showcased there these many months, but 2719 Hyperion has also in many ways created the perception that my interests are exclusive to the likes of Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney World. In reality, my baby boomer roots have long inspired an interest in 20th century popular culture that extends well beyond the creations of the Walt Disney Company.

The most important rule I established for 2719 Hyperion was to keep it true to its subject--Disney entertainment. Other Disney online journalists and bloggers often extend beyond these boundaries. (A popular and established Disney blog recently published a review of Hellboy II for example.) I must admit, I too have felt similarly inclined at times to take 2719 outside of its original symbolic Hyperion Avenue thematic address. Wouldn't it be cool to do a Freeze Frame! featuring a Looney Tunes cartoon? Discuss World's Fair attractions unrelated to Walt Disney? Celebrate my love for classic Hollywood motion pictures? But such considerations always ended up bumping into that pesky Addressing the Many Worlds of Disney Entertainment mission statement that I attached to my online identity.

Of course, the solution was relatively simple. Thus, Boom Pop! was born.

Boom Pop! will be in fact very similar to 2719 Hyperion in format and design. It's a comfortable fit for me and I'm a firm believer in the Keep It Simple, Stupid philosophy. Many 2719 Hyperion staples will be reinvented here--Snapshot!, Freeze Frame! and What a Character! just to name a few.

As the content for Boom Pop! emerges over the next few weeks, please let me know what you think, either via the comments sections or by direct email. Your feedback is always welcome and very much appreciated.