Wednesday, October 27, 2010


All these new facebook friends from my high school days in Seguin, Texas dredge up a lot of old great memories. So I decided to take a drive to Lake McQueeney, where I lived from 5th grade through high school, and check out my old haunts. As I'm driving, I'm listening to my Billy Joel "Glass Houses" CD.
This was THE album (or cassette tape at the time) for me my last couple of years there. I was not a music guy in school, wasn't really up on the latest rock, pop, whatever. I was a film and TV geek (when geeks were not fashionable but were outcasts and estranged) so my musical memories veered more toward the soundtrack varieties.

I practically memorized the lp's and cassette soundtracks from Altman's "Popeye" (Harry Nillson), "Somewhere In Time", "Grease", the rousing John Williams scores from "1941". With SNL and Animal House being THE huge thing, Bill Murray's "Meatballs" soundtrack (with "Makin' It") and of course ALL albums by "The Blues Brothers" were devoured. And the comedy of Steve Martin.

I was always ashamed to admit my love of the "Xanadu" soundtrack (ELO) with its disco awfulness until I recently found out a Broadway musical is on the boards based on it. Was I ahead of my time seeing as how all these are now fondly remembered as unsung classics? Yea, sure, maybe.

But NO music from the time rocked as much as "Rocky Horror Picture Show". I see a lot about it this Halloween season with the "Glee" takeoff and all. Rocky was around for five or so years before I saw it. It was in '80 I think. But the midnight screenings were still pretty fresh. One of my friends had a dad who had a vhs copy of it. I didn't hang around to watch it because I had no idea what it was. Then one night I was invited by the drama gang to go to San Antonio on a "field trip" to a midnight screening a la "Fame". At the classic, now demolished, Central Park Fox. How my parents let me go to this day I will not know. We get in somebody's car...a Pinto or a Mazda of some sort, I can't remember...and head to the big city of SA.

The Fox theater was a classic seventies theater with the two screens and the long middle aisle cutting through the audience. This was perfect for the performance I was about to see. The audience was actually dressed as these strange characters, parading down the aisle, and singing the songs WITH THE FILM, in the area in front of the screen. WTF? I remember feeling very estranged that evening...out of place. I had no idea what the plot was of what I was watching. I just remember the images and the feeling and the music within those theater walls lined with small stones.

But that was the first time I ever did anything where I felt like I was part of an "in" thing. So of course I bought the soundtrack. And listened to it, over and over. So much so that today, I can still remember the words to the songs even though I can't remember what I ate yesterday. And as I plop that CD in, driving to my past today, I sang loud and ROCKED! Anyone who knows me knows I don't do that often. And I proclaim it to be GREAT rock n roll and I verify that with my friends who know music much better than I.

I went to a few more "event screenings" in college, but probably never attended more than five in my life. But it stayed with me.

Today, there is something quaint and innocent about that transvestite and all his cannibalistic tendencies. At least there were no emo vampire teens.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ode to The Flintstones

At midnight tonight, “The Flintstones” will turn fifty years old. September 30, 1960. The program premiered on ABC on the prime-time schedule and lasted six seasons. It was the first animated sitcom. It was the first original prime-time cartoon. History was made….thirty years before Homer Simpson came along.

I’ve had a love affair with this cartoon since I was in tiger-skin diapers. I couldn’t tell you why. That’s the beauty of it. I can’t tell you the famous quotes from whichever episode in whatever season. I couldn’t tell you which artist had Fred with a protruding bottom lip versus a overlapping lip. I couldn’t tell you which comedy writer developed the famed “Yabba Dabba Doo”. I’m not a “Flintstones” trivia expert at all. But that show informed so much of my life

I guess it was the beautifully simplistic line renderings of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The bright inks and colors. The jazzy Hoyt Curtin background music. The brilliant sound effects and transition cues. Or the laughtrack. I loved that friggin’ laughtrack.

It’s visceral. I spent twenty years actually living my life, dating women, acting, making money in sales…you know, normal stuff….and now, three years shy from the big fifty…with no wife, kids, career or political affiliation…I find myself constantly ruminating on the past….the sitcoms, the cartoons, the cheesy films. With the advent of social networking tools, we become self-absorbed, inward-looking freaks of human nature. I’m not gonna write about “The Flintstones”….on their big day…I’m gonna write about ME! Or not.

Somewhere seeing “The Flintstones” and other Hanna-Barbera creations on television appealed to me when I was a kid. HB also created Yogi Bear, The Jetsons (the second prime-time family), Top Cat and Jonny Quest..all for TV. They pioneered the “limited animation” concept…a cost-saving way to animate for the quantitative demands of television. Jay Ward (“Bullwinkle”) was successful at this at the same time, writing great scripts animated by Gamma Studios in Mexico.

But HB was the shizit (or something like that, as the kids say)…It was Hollywood…the jazzy music, the great character voices…and since I had no brothers or sisters (cue the violin music), my best friends were these characters…or rather the PRESENTATION of these characters….as I said, I couldn’t tell you a plot or anything from a Snagglepuss or Touche Turtle cartoon…it’s just about the FEEL…of it.

Of course, I got older and graduated to Saturday morning cartoons, with the breakfast cereal and Hot Wheels ads….waking up at six in the morning, sitting through the farm report…to watch the 7:00 rerun of whatever pablum the huckster’s were selling us. But at that time it involved….Scooby Doo, Wacky Races, Speed Buggy, Hong Kong Phooey, Roman Holidays, and the ORIGINAL Sealab 2020. Looking at those masterpieces now, I see them for what they were….poorly animated, unoriginally conceived babysitters.

But it was innocent…no judgment, no critique…it was what it was, to quote some of my more “centered” friends.

Oh, yeah…”The Flintstones”….I found out that Alan Reed…who did Fred’s voice was actually an ad specialty salesman like my dad…and me. Weird.

And I have almost all “Flintstone” comic books….nearly all the Gold Key and Dells…all the Marvels….I didn’t collect all the Charltons…I remember being PISSED OFF that they inked Fred’s tie black instead of the blue as it was in the cartoon. And then I was so disappointed when I realized that in the later Gold Key issues, Fred’s tie was black as well. This is what happens when you are a kid who was a nerd before the term even became “hip” (as it became thanks to a sitcom about the fifties….I haven’t figured that one out yet either.)

I digress. The world is nuts. It was nuts in the sixties and the seventies. But it’s a different kind of nuts now. It’s technology information overload anything goes sarah palin kind of nuts. And the comfort I find… these simple colors…these clean line drawings…that laugh track…those boings, bwaps, and Curtinized theramined noises from heaven….take me away from the Calgon of Current Catastrophes.

My dad was an artist…drew cowboys and characters for advertising….I don’t think he admired me much for “copying” the Hanna-Barbera characters…but I was known in high school for zapping a Fred Flintstone out on pen and paper in milliseconds. I still can. Means nothing. But I can.

So, I want to thank Fred and Barney and Wilma and Betty and Dino and Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm for giving me, not only a false sense of security about the “real” world….prehistoric times bode well in the current but not the future….oh, but hey are the future…what? Snap! ( As the kids say.)

I don’t know what it is....but all these HB characters represent some kind of simplicity, some kind of animated logic….a sense of place in a world losing its place….There is a whole generation raised on South Park and Family Guy…and I don’t get it…not because I’m a prude…but because it’s cruel, mean-spirited, and ugly….I go to indie films for that….cartoons…I’ll stick with Fred.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pufnstuf at North Star Mall

North Star Mall is turning 50 years old this month. There is a celebration going on with a time capsule being opened. I put together some memories and photos for an Express-News submission.

For some reason, what always sticks in my mind is the red tile on the floor It was brick or saltillo, I can't remember. And the popcorn smell in the Walgreens. The high ceiling in the main "drag" by Luby's (still there)

And field trips to see movies at the General Cinema Theater: "Scrooge" with Albert Finney and "Oliver." I saw the feature "Pufnstuf" based on the cult Saturday Morning series. Many years later, I remember going to see "The Jerk" or "Black Hole" (not sure which) and being turned away due to the theater filling up and having to endure "Scavenger Hunt" in twin theater.

I remember one time going to see Anissa Walker ("Buffy") from "Family Affair." The crowds were so unruly and large for this doomed young starlet, that she had to be carried around on someone's shoulders.

The following pictures, taken by family friend Jimmy Kafka, detail an event I attended which featured HR Pufnstuf and many Krofft characters along with the iconic SA fixture Captain Gus. This must have been at least 1971 or so as "Lidsville" wasn't released until that fall.

The Rockstar arrives sans Witchiepoo - HR Pufnstuf:

The Krofft brothers denied it, but here is Pufnstuf tripping:

I just asked Pufnstuf if I was on acid at the time:

A couple of characters from another Krofft show: "Lidsville":

Trying to swing with a star:

The North Star Mall "Mascot" was hot.

No event would be complete without Captain Gus. He hosted the local Channel Five kids show which featured Popeye cartoons and Little Rascal shorts, "Ahoy Mateys".

Captain Gus. All these kids had been on his show at one time or another.

The politically incorrect "Frito Bandito" was replaced by this character-WC Fritos, a child-hating drunk.

I couldn't wait to get some Pufnstuf:

Puf was checking out the North Star - didn't even notice me there. Damned stoned dragons.

Future Tea Party members await their LSD-inspired puppet icons:

Coming of age- Not only did I have to deal with the North Star-let, but Pebbles was growing up as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Colossal Mess of Roman Proportions

Forty years later, I finally have the answer. The fact that this is a topic that has remained on the fringes of my consciousness for so long speaks volumes about my neurosis. But thanks to the World Wide Web (as it's called), someone finally addressed this issue.

In 1969, I purchased this one-shot Gold Key comic:

I noticed in the publisher information that it was created by "Total Television" which were the cartoon producers behind "Underdog", "Tennessee Tuxedo", and "Go Go Gophers". They were animated by Gamma Studios, a cartoon factory in Mexico that was contracted to make cartoons for General Mills cereal ads. And this place also animated the Jay Ward cartoons: "Bullwinkle and Rocky" and "George of the Jungle". Many people are confused by this, thinking that these were all made by the same creative teams. They just looked alike.

Anyway, I never saw an animated version of this. Or even heard or read of one.

So two years later, on Saturday morning on NBC, we have "The Roman Holidays", a Hanna-Barbera sitcom with similar characters (and even a lion). I bought the first issue of that comic book.

But thanks to Scott Shaw's blog, based on information from Mark Arnold's book, we have an answer. I am grateful, that I am not the only uber-geek over forty who obsessed over this.

So buy Mark's book. Support my fellow cartoon geeks.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Powder Puff Comedies

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Chevy Chase in his finest comic performance:

The "drug of choice" in the early 80's, at least for comic fodder, was the white stuff. It was almost an obsession with filmmakers leading up to the penultimate "Scarface". But in today's politically correct world, wacky comedies can only rely on masturbation and murder. Does that mean today's comedy writer's get inspired by....well, self-gratification and homicide? Oh-well. Here are three examples I remember vividly from that era.

"National Lampoon's Heavy Metal" with a voice cast from SCTV including Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis and John Candy:

"Jekyll and Hyde...Together Again" starring Mark Blankfield, written and directed by Jerry Belsen, who wrote for Dick Van Dyke and Odd Couple:

"Modern Problems" with Chevy Chase and Nell Carter:

And here I thought The Great White Way referred to Broadway.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Most of you know about the conspiracy/controversey regarding the Addams Family/Munsters scheduling. Both premiered in fall of 1964 and ran two seasons on different networks (ABC and CBS respectively). The Addams, however, had a long history. The macabre family was started as a single panel comic strip in the New Yorker by Charles Addams many years before. The Munsters, a throwback to the Hammer Monster films, was a relatively new creation.

After six years of being rerun, Hanna-Barbera animated the Addams Family (based on their original comic look) for an episode of Scooby Doo Movies in 1972 which led to their own cartoon series the following year on NBC. And there was a barely remembered reunion special with most of the original cast on NBC in 1976. After that, more animated versions appeared and two financially successful feature films were produced. As for The Munsters, the original run was followed by a feature film, "Munsters Go Home". The only animated version was called "The Mini-Munsters" produced by Fred Calvert for a one time special run on the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie in 1972.

But there has been massive confusion regarding the proliferation of monster "families" during the sixties in cartoonland. For instance, Hanna-Barbera had "The Gruesomes" (almost a cross between the Addams and Munsters) featured in a Snooper and Blabber cartoon.
They would later be prehistorisized and become regulars in episodes of "The Flintstones".

Also, Hanna-Barbera created "Mr. and Mrs. J. Evil Scientist". This more sophisticated gruesome family appeared in a "Snagglepuss" episode. Although they never had their own cartoon series, they were featured in their own four issue Gold Key Comic in the sixties.

Strangely, around this same time (1964...also then the Munsters and Addams started TV sitcoms) Gold Key created their own monster family "The Little Monsters" which ran succesfully through the seventies. This was never animated.

Similar looks and styles abounded on Saturday morning: Hal Seeger's "Milton the Monster", "Frankenstien Jr."(Hanna-Barbera), the Gruesome Twosome on "Wacky Races" (also Hanna-Barbera), and, of course, Sabrina's friends "The Groovy Goolies" (Filmation).

And also, in 1967, Rankin-Bass created a feature film using their puppet-style animation (see "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" for "The Mad Monster Party". They animated a sequel to this, also for the Saturday Superstar Movie' the same year as "The Mini-Munsters".

Confused yet?

Friday, March 26, 2010

January 12, 1971

January 12, 1971. The following words appeared on a television screen:
"The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show -- in a mature fashion -- just how absurd they are”.

“All in the Family” premiered. At the time, it was shocking, controversial, considered subversive by some….brilliant by others. If you don’t know what this series is, look it up.

I remember watching it weekly a couple of years later. Mostly, I caught the daily reruns CBS “stripped” after the game shows during the summer.

In a nutshell, Archie was a bigoted, profane conservative. Mike, his son-in-law was a long-haired, liberal academic. Their arguments were well-written, timely, and very very funny. I have written ad nauseum about how our current “culture wars” simply regurgitate Archie and Mike. I’m not going to wax politic about that particular dynamic here. I want to talk about comedy and satire.

Norman Lear’s series, which included “Maude”, “One Day at a Time”, “Good Times”, “The Jeffersons”, “Sanford and Son”, and
“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” were different than previous sitcoms. They were videotaped and looked very much like stage plays. The live audience was very present. You not only heard laughter but gasps and groans. They were not always funny, sometimes they were mini-dramas (and not very good ones at that).

But the comedy, the satire. Lear has been labeled a liberal. He is. He founded People for the American Way, a First Amendment-protecting organization. He owns the Constitution, literally. He also served in World War II, flying 52 combat missions and being awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters. He comes from a generation where liberal/conservative labels didn’t define someone to the point of derision or ridicule. He paid his debt to his country. His point of view was reflected in his works.

Archie Bunker (although based on a British character) was inspired by Lear’s own father. Maude Findlay, Archie’s sister-in-law, a liberal whose politics outmatched Archie’s in terms of self-immolation, was inspired by Lear’s wife. The art is personal.

Lear’s early sitcom work was extremely well-written, funny, and character-driven. It was topical and dealt with the issues of the day. Later, it became rather stagy and pedantic. But look:

1971: “All in the Family”: Racist Anglo blue-collar man shares house with Liberal “hippie” son-in-law and progressive daughter. They both fall on their face sometimes, mostly Archie though.
1972: “Sanford and Son”: Racist African American runs a junk yard with his son in Watts, as in riots Watts. He falls on his face sometimes with his son saving his ass.
1972: “Maude”: Politically correct liberal woman deals with being a feminist in a world not ready for her. And sometimes falls on her face with her family saving her ass.
1974: “Good Times”: An African-American family deals with the trials and tribulations of living in the projects. Striving and struggling for the American dream. Nobody falls on their face here because hypocrisy isn’t an issue.
1975: “The Jeffersons”: An African -American family has made it and moves to a high-rise in Manhattan. The patriarch, an elitist racist, often falls on his face, saved by his wife.
1976: “One Day at a Time”” A newly-divorced young woman with two daughters tries to make it on her own in a world of changing sexual politics. The only one falling on his face is the nosy, lecherous super.
1976: “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”: A middle-American housewife has the longest nervous breakdown in TV history.

So, you see this isn’t “Beverly Hillbillies”, “Andy of Mayberry”, “Bewitched” or “Leave it to Beaver”. While the concurrent stable of Mary Tyler Moore-produced sitcoms were intelligent and slick, they rarely ventured into controversy. Garry Marshall’s sitcoms wallowed in nostalgia. Others of the era were awash in titillation, innuendo, and insults. “Barney Miller” stood on it’s own as an understated comic masterpiece. “MASH” was irreverent and subversive, eventually leading to preachy literate boredom (and, the highest rated finale of all time, go figure).

You could not put these shows on now. Oh, sure, we live in the most permissive TV environment blah blah blah. No, we don’t.

Lear, an avowed liberal, created shows that were SATIRE. “All in the Family” was the perfect example. He made fun of ALL types of characters. Like real-life, everyone had flaws. No one was a saint. No one was pure evil. It was a reflection of society. It mirrored the dichotomous nature of humanity. He didn’t just trash conservatives. He trashed liberals. He trashed minorities. He trashed them all lovingly. What does this mean? It means he loves people, regardless of who they are. That’s why he’s a great American. I remember seeing an interview with a WW 2 veteran who said that the famous “Vietnam” episode of AITF aided and abetted the enemy during the final years of that war. No. He humanized the conflict that Americans were experiencing during one of the most horrific times in our history.

And you see, the thing is….this is where nothing has changed. When anyone tries to examine the human condition….from a political satire standpoint…it is considered seditious. Why? Unless an observor follows a “formula” of red or blue, they are fringe.

So where are we now? What is shocking and subversive (in the good sense of course). Oh, “South Park”, torture porn, something on HBO or Showtime because it allows profanity and nudity. Bullshit. This is shock. How far can we go? No redeeming message comes out of this. No enlightenment. But, you say, it’s “entertainment”. Fine, and I feel sorry for you. But don’t fool yourselves into thinking it is daring, thought-provoking, or groundbreaking. It’s just childish and prurient. “All in the Family” could not get greenlit today. It has no nudity, graphic sex, f-bombs, torture, gore, rape, bodily fluids, racial insults, humiliation, pornography, or disembowelments. Wake up, America. These “daring” elements are corporate-borne profit-makers. It takes no intelligence or thoughtfulness to write this tripe.

Norman Lear was a pioneer. And he blazed a trail that would soon be covered up and forgotten for the sake of profit and sensationalism.

Yeah, he was a consultant on South Park for a while. I guess he understood that those guys were satirists in their own way. At least they make fun of EVERYONE, even if it’s done in a juvenile way. And Sarah Silverman, as funny as she is claims it’s ok to make fun of EVERYONE EXCEPT WOMEN. Well, that’s fine…but if you make fun of disabled and mentally retarded people, all religions, all ethnicities…..and give exception to any one group, you are not a satirist but a self-indulgent comic.

And, yeah, as Lear’s shows grew older they became more silly (see “The Jeffersons”) ar more soapy (see “One Day at a Time”) or ruined by showcasing one badly-drawn character (see “Good Times”) or more star-driven (see “Archie Bunker’s Place”).

But he did something no one has done since. He examined the American condition without prejudice, without cruelty, with humor, with pathos, with talented acting and writing, with thoughtfulness, with fairness, with bravery. Sounds like the American ideal to me. Thank God he owns the Constitution.