Monday, February 28, 2011

Windows to the Past: Teddy the Wrestling Bear

A carnival barker takes a moment to quench his thirst in this photograph from September of 1941.  A mere five cents granted admission to any number of wonders, including a 32 feet long, 618 lb. snake and the ever popular Teddy the Wrestling Bear.  This particular attraction was located on the midway of the Vermont State Fair in Rutland.  Photographer Jack Delano snapped the photo and it is part of the FSA-OWI collection at the Library of Congress.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The World's Safest Front Seat!

Last week we were introduced to mid-20th century industrialist Henry J. Kaiser by way of a World War II-era Warner Bros. cartoon.  Beyond his notoriety as a proficient and speedy ship builder, Kaiser also dabbled in automobile design and manufacturing in the postwar era, as demonstrated by this brochure found amidst other vintage car ephemera in Tony's Attic.  It appears that Tony attended a auto show sometime in 1951 and was potentially intrigued by the up and coming Kaiser models.

The highlight that year was "the first truly safety-engineered automobile--the Kaiser Manhattan--with the World's Safest Front Seat."  Kaiser himself is quoted as saying that, "the '52 Kaiser's new front seat protection represents the greatest safety-engineering advance in 30 years."

Kaiser stopped manufacturing passenger vehicles in 1955, and instead focused on utility vehicles such as the Jeep brand, which it had purchased in 1953.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Scientists of the World of Tomorrow

The Middleton Family has returned to Boom-Pop!  They were the wholly fictitious family created by Westinghouse Electric to promote its pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair.  The family's primary showcase was the fifty-five minute film The Middleton Family at the New York World's Fair, but their celluloid adventures were mirrored in a series of magazine advertisements published throughout the Fair's first season in 1939.  This particular ad was featured in the August 7, 1939 issue of Life magazine and chronicled young Bud Middleton as he visited the Junior Science Laboratories, one of the attractions inside the Westinghouse Electric Pavilion.

The text shown on the right side of the ad is as follows:
The Junior Science Laboratories at the Westinghouse Building leave a deep impression with the Middleton family — especially Bud, who has now decided to abandon his ambitions to lead a swing band in favor of an electrical engineering career. You, too, will enjoy seeing and talking with these scientists of the future. They are school children, 12 to 18 years old, whose projects in varied branches of science are carried on with the help of the American Institute of the City of New York. Don't miss this feature of the Westinghouse exhibit in the World of Tomorrow.

Yes, indeed! One visit to the Westinghouse exhibits and Bud quickly abandoned his dream of a career in music in favor of electrical engineering.  The corresponding scene from the film features actors Jimmy Lydon (Bud), Harry Shannon (Mr. Middleton) and Douglas Stark (Jim Treadway).  The Treadway character is not identified by name in the advertisement; in the film he is portrayed as a passionate advocate for free market capitalism and ultimately wins the affection of the beautiful Babs Middleton who was being lead astray by Nicholas Makaroff.  The Makaroff character is presented as an embittered and frustrated socialist who despises the Fair and everything it represents.

Explore the Boom-Pop! Archives:
You'll Remember the Westinghouse Building as Long as You Live

Monday, February 21, 2011

Windows to the Past: The Plaza Theatre

Boom Pop! is dedicated to the memory of my late father-in-law Anthony Mangano, and one of my missions here is to explore the many mementos and ephemera of 20th century popular culture that were found in Tony's attic shortly after his passing in early 2009.  Also relating to Tony is this wonderful Window to the Past that gives us a view of the Pittsburgh neighborhood where he grew up.

This photograph was snapped on August 1, 1937 and showcases the Plaza Theatre that was located on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh's "Little Italy," better known as Bloomfield.  The Plaza Theatre was located less than two blocks from Tony's home, and I have no doubt that he spent many Saturday afternoons there watching cartoons, serials and double features.  Tony would have been eight years old at the time of this photograph and I would love to think that he could be among the children pictured in the image.

The photograph is from the Historic Pittsburgh Images Collection and had the following annotation:
The Plaza Theater at 4765 Liberty Avenue, showing children waiting to attend a performance. Movie posters flank the ticket booth with their notices of films featuring "Charlie Chan at the Olympics," "Emperor's Candlesticks" with Luise Ranier and William Powell and Hal Roach's "Nobody's Baby". The theater, built circa 1905, features a Mansard roof, terra cotta tile, and tin ceilings inside.
Here is an earlier view if the Plaza Theatre, predating Tony's birth by twelve years. The photo was taken on October 29, 1917.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Henry J. Kaiser - Out to Launch

You can learn a lot from cartoons.

Case in point: the 1944 Warner Bros. cartoon The Weakly Reporter.  This particular Merrie Melody was a send-up of life on the home front during World War II, and featured numerous situations and references that are near indecipherable to many modern viewers.  One must literally reach to the bookshelf or search engine to even be able to understand the meaning and context of many of the short's gags.

The closing sequence of the cartoon pokes fun at the very rapid production of warships at American shipyards at the height of the war.  The closing shot of the film zooms in on a small shack in a shipyard.  A sign on the door says "HENRY J. KAISER - PRIVATE."  A smaller sign, hanging from a nail, proclaims, "BACK IN 2 MINUTES - OUT TO LAUNCH."  So of course it begs the question, who is, or was, Henry J. Kaiser?

Kaiser was a very well know American industrialist throughout much of the mid-20th century.  Prior to World War II, his construction firm worked on such high profile projects as the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam.  He began building ships just prior to the war.  He became famous in the field for being a master of mass production.  According to Wikipedia:
He became most famous for the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, California during World War II, adopting production techniques that generated cargo ships on the average of one every 45 days. These ships became known as Liberty ships. He became world renowned when his teams built a ship in 4 days. The keel for the 10,500 ton Robert E. Peary was laid on Sunday, November 8, 1942, and the ship was launched in California from the Richmond Shipyard #2 on Thursday, November 12, four days and 15½ hours later. The previous record had been 10 days for the Liberty ship Joseph M. Teal.
His most famous and lasting legacy is likely Kaiser Permanente, considered to be the first health maintenance organization.  Kaiser passed away in 1967.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life with Archie at the New York World's Fair

The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair was indeed a popular destination, so much so that it even captured the imaginations of cartoon and comic book creators of that time period.   In an earlier post here at Boom-Pop! we showcased the adventures of the Flintstones at the Fair, both in four color format and also on their television program.  Another popular contingent of comics characters visited the Fair as well; Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead made their way to Flushing Meadows in Life with Archie #31, published in the fall of 1964, just as the fair was winding down its first six-month season.

In "Rough, Tough--But Fair Enough," Archie and the gang win a trip to the Fair when Archie is chosen as "the symbol of American youth" in a contest sponsored by the First National Bank of Riverdale.  Veteran Archie artist Bob White then quickly transports the group to the Fair by way of a spectacular splash page that highlights the Swiss Sky Ride with numerous fair landmarks in the background.

White faithfully recreated the Fair in clean crisp renderings, minimizing details yet capturing the architectural flair of its many buildings and attractions.  The story prominently features the AMF Monorail across a number of panels.  But the centerpiece of the adventure is a crazy, pratfall-filled chase involving the Fair's unique cabs or "Escorters" as they were more popularly known.  It's up to Archie and Reggie to save the day when the girls are abducted by a speed-crazed Escorter driver.

Released simultaneously with Life with Archie #31 was issue #9 of She's Josie, another Archie Comics publication, which was also set at the Fair.  Josie and her friends (in their pre-Pussycats days) set out to win a trip to Flushing Meadows by collecting cereal box tops.  When their efforts fall through, wealthy Alexander Cabot finances their trip.  Artist Dan DeCarlo prominently featured numerous landmarks across the story, among them the U.S. Royal Tire ferris wheel and Sinclair's Dinoland.  DeCarlo also made use of the Escorters as well.  Both White and DeCarlo acknowledged the crossover nature of the two stories; Josie and Alex can be seen riding the Monorail in the Life with Archie story, while Archie makes a quick one-panel cameo in She's Josie.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Floating Airports - 1952

From the December 1952 issue of Mechanix Illustrated:
The main structure resembles an elongated aircraft carrier with an open flight deck above and an enclosed hangar deck below. In the ends of the latter are repair and storage space for planes. Each two-plane compartment is separated from the next by an elevator shaft. Workshops and-service facilities are spotted in projecting arrowhead islands along the entire length of the hangar deck.

The islands also contain sub-surface engine rooms in which powerful diesels are mounted to drive water propellers. These operate automatically to keep the airstrip headed into the wind and are governed by a master wind-vane -on the forward deck. The incoming plane touches down just inside the after end of the flight deck and is halted by arrestor gear at the first island. A deck handling tractor then couples to the nose-wheel gear and tows the plane to the "down" elevator. Painted tracks on this portion of the deck help keep it in alignment.

Descending to the hangar deck, the plane is towed off the elevator and forward into the "depot", area. Here, completely under cover, the passengers deplane or emplane and the ship is serviced. It is then towed forward to the "up" elevator and ascends to the flight deck again. The tractor then tows it clear of the elevator and the plane's undercarriage is engaged to the catapult traveler. A variation of the new British steam catapult accelerates slowly and smoothly and whips the plane into the air for the next leg of its flight.

Adjoining the depot area in a large central island are the passenger accommodations. If the traveler wishes to go directly ashore, he is directed to a door on his right. This leads through a thwartship passage to the taxi waiting room, customs shed, etc. Fast water taxis are tied up to - an open boat landing. In another section, helicopter taxis load in a pair of elevator shafts and are then whisked to the flight deck above to take off for various points in the city. Should the traveler find it necessary to wait for another plane, he turns to his left. Here he finds a spacious and comfortable lounge, flanked by an information booth, airline offices, newsstands, etc.

A city like New York could anchor a whole string of these airports in nearby Long Island Sound, the Lower Bay or even in the Hudson River where landing approaches and take-offs could be made over uninhabited stretches of water. Accessibility would be at least as good as that of the present airports and with helicopter taxi service, it. -would be better. Most of the other great centers of our country are similarly situated. Why don't we build floating airports to make air travel safer and save our cities?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Greetings From Griffith Observatory

One of southern California's most famous landmarks, Griffith Observatory has served the exploration of science since opening in 1935.  Frequently a backdrop or set piece for filmmakers, it has appeared in numerous movies and television programs over the past seven decades.  Among its more notable appearances: Rebel Without a Cause, The Rocketeer, The Terminator, Rocky Jones Space Ranger and the 1950s era Adventures of Superman.

The postcard caption:
The splendid view of the Griffith Observatory with its shining copper dome arouses much interest to the residents and tourists in Southern California.  The museum and lectures give the layman an insight into the celestial mysteries and some of the "whys" of nature.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Animated Architecture: The Fun Pad

It was a retro-future spin (pun intended) on a traditional amusement pier and was inspired in just about everything but name.  The Fun Pad just seemed too generic for a Jetsons-era entertainment complex.  It was one of the destinations of Judy Jetson and Jet Screamer in The Jetsons episode, "A Date with Jet Screamer."

An amusement park is a near perfect subject for a space age-Googie makeover.  Rollercoasters, ferris wheels, and spinning rides are easily adapted to "space age designs that depict motion," one of the fundamental components of Googie design as cited in Wikipedia.  Hanna Barbera background artists Art Lozzi, Bob Abrams and Lee Branscome effectively brought those concepts to a successful realization.  I especially like the the very practical lower level parking decks.

The Fun Pad had a real life counterpart of sorts.  Astro Land, located on New York's famed Coney Island, was advertised as the nation's first "space age" amusement park when it opened in 1962.  The Jetsons, coincidentally, debuted on television that very same year.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Mystery of the Missing Space Station

My Mom still pleads ignorance on this particular subject.

At some undetermined point in my youth, likely prior to my tenth birthday, my Major Matt Mason Space Station vanished.  I'm sure I didn't notice it immediately.  I was the type of kid that cycled through my toys.  I would focus on Johnny West for a couple of weeks at a time, dust off the Strange Change Machine about once a month, go on a board game kick for a few days, not to mention heading down the street and working my way through my best friend's inventory as needed.  So the date and time of this crime will forever remain a mystery.

Again, the item in question, as pictured here--the Major Matt Mason Space Station.  Yes indeed, the holy grail of the Major Matt Mason toys.  This was the top of the line.  Your Mom or Dad didn't let you casually toss this one into the shopping cart in say, May or September.  A toy of this caliber, this level of cost, this degree of complexity, required a prerequisite special occasion.  Either your birthday or Christmas.  I landed mine on the latter.  And bear in mind, this wasn't just any Christmas present, this was the main event.  The Major Matt Mason Space Station was, allegorically speaking, my official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.  Collector Keith Meyer christened his Major Matt Mason website The Space Station and noted on its history page, "The Space Station was perhaps the most impressive toy of the entire collection. It stood just over two feet tall, with towering girders and impressive 'Solar Shields". Many a youngster fell asleep in a darkened room, lit only by the purple glow of the Station beacon."

Major Matt Mason was introduced to the world in 1966, and proved popular until Mattel retired the line in the mid-1970s.  His tenure in the toy chest coincided with much of NASA's peak years, epitomized by the first lunar landing in 1969.  It was quite likely that there was a MMM toy nearby in my bedroom when my Dad woke me up to watch Neil Armstrong take those famous first steps.

The standard MMM figures were notorious for their lack of durability.  Made of rubber, their internal wire skeletons were prone to breaking at the joints, leaving Matt and his crew with sadly dangling arms and legs.  Your average young MMM enthusiast typically had a box full of "crippled" astronauts and a disgruntled parent tired of driving to K-Mart to purchase replacements.  I have often wondered if this in fact was the potential motive behind the aforementioned Space Station crime.

I owned numerous other Major Matt Mason toys and accessories.  The Space Crawler was the one that received the most playtime.  Of the other crew members, I did possess multiple Sgt. Storms, but regrettably, astronauts Doug Davis and Jeff Long never made it into my collection.  The oversize Captain Lazer arrived on another Christmas morning accompanied by the Firebolt Space Cannon Super Action Set.

The mystery of the missing Space Station remains unresolved to this day.  It was last seen near the laundry area in the basement of my childhood home.  My mother, the prime suspect in the case, has never wavered through four decades of questioning.  Her typical response:  "I have no idea what you're talking about.  You expect me to remember a stupid toy from forty years ago?  You're crazy, you know that?"

Sure Mom, sure.  It's a wonder you can sleep at night.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Windows to the Past: Leslie Brooks at the Hollywood Canteen

Columbia Studios starlet and pin-up girl Leslie Brooks gets help from a serviceman outside the soon-to-open Hollywood Canteen in this photograph from fall of 1942.  The gentleman is Yeoman Seymour Rice of the Coast Guard.

The Hollywood Canteen was located on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.  It operated during the war years from 1942 to 1945 and featured free food and entertainment for servicemen and servicewomen.  The Canteen was the brainchild of stars Bette Davis and John Garfield, and they enlisted the entire entertainment industry to donate labor, materials and services to construct and operate the venue.  By the time it closed on Thanksgiving Day 1945, it had served nearly three million military personnel.  In 1944, Warner Brothers released the film Hollywood Canteen which drew inspiration from the actual nightclub.

Brooks was twenty years old when she signed with Columbia Pictures in 1942.  Her career in Hollywood lasted less than a decade.  She played secondary roles for Columbia before being leaving the studio in 1948.  Her personal life at the time was marred by a troubled marriage to ex-marine and struggling actor Donald Anthony Shay that ended in a divorce and a bitter custody fight over their daughter Leslie Victoria.  She would go on to marry land developer Russ Vincent in 1950 and effectively retire from show business.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fresh Up!

Two words that were associated with 7-Up adverting campaigns for nearly a decade.  It was certainly an odd slogan, though I suppose derivative of the word refreshing that was of course used frequently in soft drink ad copy.  The slogan ultimately gave birth to a cartoon mascot named Fresh Up Freddie, a hyperactive bird created by Walt Disney's little known commercials production unit.  For more information on Freddie, check out this recent post on our companion site, 2719 Hyperion.