Monday, November 20, 2017

My First Starring Role? (Edited and Reprinted from 7/22/2009)

This is the book that introduced me to the fairy tale, if memory serves.
And the elf on the left is a maleI believe! (Note the subtle differences
in his eyes, lips, and "skirt.") Effeminate-looking cuss, isn't he?

I'm not going to relate the actual story of "The Elves and the Shoemaker." (If you're unfamiliar with the old Grimm Brothers fairy tale, and want to read it, here it is. It's shorter than almost everything I've ever written!) Instead, I'm going to tell you about my being in a play based on that story, a play in which I starred -- well, okay, co-starred -- in fourth (or maybe fifth) grade.

This was either my first or second real performance before an audience. This was long before any public speeches I've had to make. This was years before I ever sang lead for various rock'n'roll bands. This was before I'd ever appeared in any of my high school's annual "Dippy Day" skits on April first. This was four or five years before I ever appeared in any of my high school drama club productions, and four or five years before a play I was in at summer camp one year. This was before I ever sang a solo in my church choir. This was even before I ever performed in my grammar school glee club!

Members of my fourth-grade class -- there were two others in my grammar school, IIRC -- rehearsed it for a few weeks, and then performed the play for the two other fourth-grade classes. All of this occurred during school hours. But it was still a "performance," as it were, albeit a severely limited engagement.

And I was one of the elves.

* * * * *

A brief -- for me, anyway -- digression: I said that this was either my first or second time before an actual audience. The other occasion vying for the coveted role of "my first time" -- and get your mind out of the gutter! -- would have been the time I stood next to three other Cub Scouts from my "den" at our monthly "pack meeting" and read aloud from a comic book called The True Story of Smokey Bear.

This is the second printing of a comic which was reprinted in 1964
and 1969. Notice how the title kinda looks like a paste-over? It is!

The original 1960 edition was entitled The True Story of Smokey
the Bearwhich, technically, is the wrong name for the little critter!

Several
 people -- adults and children -- told me that during the section I read, everyone in the crowd paid very close attention to me, captivated by my voice! (And keep in mind, Cub Scouts were comprised of boys from eight to ten years old, a fidgety group under the best of circumstances!)

That was the night, moreso than the day I performed in "The Elves and the Shoemaker," upon which I truly became hooked on the whole "performance" thing.

* * * * *

So, why am I focusing instead on "The Elves and the Shoemaker?"

Actually, it's because I want to share with you how supportive my mother was of my schoolwork and extra-curricular activities.

There wasn't a heck of a lot of thought given to the play's costuming... at least, not until I went home and told my mother about my class' upcoming production.

This was hardly the first occasion I recall where she went "all out" for me -- I remember her scurrying about to whip up the proper traditional German boy's outfit for a song I had to sing, and the little touches she added to my costume when I had to play an old-time bartender at a Cub Scout function -- nor would it be the last.

In short order, she'd stripped the white cottony trim off of a Santa Claus hat, and removed the big white cottony ball from its end. She removed the collar from a red shirt I owned -- or more probably, just folded it inward to hide it, I don't recall which -- and replaced it with a green collar that looked sufficiently... elfinElfish? Whatever.

The masterstroke was what she did with the hat. She had me pull it down to cover my ears, after having sewn on two pink pieces of felt, cut to look like pointy elf ears. (If she'd been working on the original Star Trek, she could have saved Paramount's make-up department a fortune.)

Then, realizing that my costume was going to totally eclipse that of the other elf, played by a kid named Steve, she sewed together a matching green hat for him, and created a red collar as counterpoint to my green collar. (She didn't make a shirt for him. She just had me tell Steve to wear a crew-necked green shirt when he got dressed for school that day.)

The teacher took a photo of the play's cast, in costume. My copy disappeared years ago (damnit). In it, Steve adopted a flashy pose... feet splayed, hands on hips, big grin. I stood there like a serious little soldier. He was the "ham," while I almost looked like I wanted to be somewhere else.

Hm. I guess this was before the "Smokey Bear" incident.

I wrote this post in its original form eight years ago, because my mother (who passed away five months after this post's first appearance) was going through some severe health issues, and I wanted to "give credit where credit was/is due... even if it's more than forty years overdue."

A little sentimental for me, perhaps, but... there it is.

Thanks for your time.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Hard to Beliebe...


Yes, that's Justin Bieber, believe it or not, pictured at the top of my blog! (Well, that's him in 2011, anyway...)  Yep, I'm writing a post about him, the guy who told an interviewer that YouTube was "detrimental" to his career, when the word he was looking for was obviously "instrumental."

And you thought my Britney Spears post from 2014 was bad enough!

You're probably wondering what that thing is on Justin's left (our right). Is it the neck of an unstrung guitar, perhaps?

Uhhh, no. Actually, it's a toothbrush. A "singing toothbrush," no less.


I was in a local "dollar store" the other night, and saw a display of officially-licensed Justin Bieber toothbrushes manufactured in 2011!

These little items play segments of not one, but two different Bieber songs ("Somebody to Love" and "Love Me," if you really care)! The idea, see, is to push one of the appropriate buttons on the toothbrush handle, and the song segment will play for a full two minutes, the time recommended for you to properly brush your teeth!

The manufacturer, Brush Buddies -- who feature a lot of licensed items on their website, everything from Thomas the Tank Engine to Lady GaGa -- even includes a sheet of instructions for the damned thing!


And at the very bottom of that precious piece of paper is the following:


If you type that first URL, www.justinbiebertoothbrush.com, in the address bar of your browser, you'll be redirected and wind up on Amazon.com, where they're offering the toothbrush I paid $1.06 for, at $9.99 plus shipping! (Yes, fellow babies, I actually bought one, just so I could write a blog post about it. I spare no expense to give my readers the valuable information they need to get through their day.)

This is almost as tacky as the Easter basket I wrote about back in March of last year.

Oh, and about today's title, "Hard to Beliebe..."? You do know that dedicated Justin Bieber fans are known as "Beliebers," don't you?

Hey, it was eiber... I mean, either... that or my alternate title, "Leave It to Bieber."

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

John Hillerman, 1932-2017 R.I.P.

I must say, I absolutely love this photo of John Hillerman!

Emmy-winning actor John Hillerman, best known for playing Jonathan Quayle Higgins III on Magnum P.I. from 1980-1988, has died at the age of eighty-four, after being in declining health for the last few years.

I only saw two or three episodes of the popular show Hillerman is most associated with. I had first seen him in his recurring role as radio detective Simon Brimmer, in Ellery Queen (1975-1976). It wasn't until a couple of years later that I saw him as Howard Johnson in 1974's Blazing Saddles.

I also enjoyed Hillerman's role of John Elliot, Betty White's ex-husband on the short-lived (fourteen episdoes!) sitcom, The Betty White Show (1977-1978).

Hillerman appeared in several other movie and TV roles during a career of approximately forty years, of course, but I'm only mentioning a few for lack of time. (Besides, I've given you all a lot of lengthy posts lately!)

 With Jim Hutton in a scene from Ellery Queen.

Higgins on Magnum, P.I. was British, but Hillerman (pictured here
with "Magnum" himself, Tom Selleck) was born and raised in Texas!

Hillerman usually appeared with a mustache, but he's lacking one
here in an appearance on The New Adventures of Wonder Woman!

 For a time, Hillerman advertised Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts.

With co-star Betty White on her 1977-1978 sitcom.

 With David Huddleston and Cleavon Little in Mel Brooks' classic comedy, Blazing Saddles.

Hillerman sometime well after his 1999 retirement.

(I will probably have another "Comical Wednesday" post one week from today!)

Thanks for your time.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

I'm a Flasher!


After my last lonnnng post, I decided to take it easy on you. Here goes:

Seven years ago, I joined several other bloggers who wrote what they referred to as a "Flash 55," a complete story using only fifty-five words! I did this four times in 2010, and since the stories are so short, I'm going to reprint all of them here and now, but not in their original order... as if it matters.

The first one I ever did was called "A Very Personal Flash 55," and is what I described as "an autobiographical work of fiction."

* * * * *

The Silver Fox sat down to write Friday's "Flash 55" post, to prove that he could be that brief. He thought, If I can just set my mind to it...

Unfortunately, there was one major, unanticipated stumbling block. His story remained unwritten. He couldn't decide whether the word count should include... "Thanks for your time."

* * * * *

Here's one called "Chickening Out."

* * * * *




"Chicken again?" he said to his wife. "Almost every night, chicken! Fried... roasted... chicken salad sandwiches... chicken soup...! How about a nice steak, or some pork chops?"

"Excuse my interruption..." said his wife. "The economy's been picking up. Did you bother looking for a job today?"

"Uhhh, no..."

"So, you were saying...?"

"Pass the chicken."

* * * * *

"The only thing that cannot successfully be put off until a later time is procrastination." -- David M. Lynch (and he -- okay, I -- oughtta know!)

In that spirit, I wrote another Flash 55, called "A Sucky Habit." It deals with a procrastinator named "Steven."

* * * * *


Lighting his cigarette, Steven thought, "What idiot first thought of inhaling the smoke of burning tobacco leaves?"

He debated "Googling" the answer, but... Steven tended to procrastinate.

He wondered if that unfortunate tendency would give him a chance to Google the subject, especially considering his recent talk with his doctor...

After Steven's last chest x-ray.

* * * * *

In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I leisurely puffed on a Pall Mall while I wrote the above. That was seven years ago. I quit smoking after my heart attack back in 2013,. The fourth anniversary of that heart attack is approaching. It's November 13th.

* * * * *

The very last Flash 55 I have for you is my personal favorite, entitled "Norman's Perfect Murder Scheme."

* * * * *

Norman wanted to kill Burt!

Burt had countless friends. (Potential witnesses!)

Burt inhabited an island cottage on a small lake.

Late tonight, Norman insured (via binoculars) that Burt had no guests. Norman grinned, knife at his side, and dove into the lake. (No boat rental, no evidence!)

Only then, Norman remembered that he couldn't swim...

* * * * *

Well, that's it!

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Crime, Crime, Crime... See What's Become of Me* ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post


(*And you get extra points if you know what line of what song inspired my title!)

Comic books have long had their detractors, and I could devote several posts to just one of them, Dr. Fredric Wertham. The basic theory behind his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, was that comic books caused juvenile delinquency, criminal activity, and other sorts of psychologically deviant behavior. Among other things, he claimed that the lifestyle of Batman and Robin represented “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together” (and of course, at that time in history, homosexuality was still thought of as a mental disorder), although Wertham never actually claimed that the characters were meant by their creators to be gay.

A couple of pages from Seduction of the Innocent.

Wertham went about "proving" that comics were responsible for twisting the minds of children by finding adult criminals and mentally or emotionally warped individuals who had read comics in their youth. He also pointed out that when raiding the home of a murderer, bank robber, or other lawbreaker, the police would often find comic books in the home. To Wertham, examples such as this were proof of his theories. Of course, comic books at that time were immensely popular, and thus were likely to be in a lot of homes. For that matter, he could have just as easily claimed that the Bible was a cause of juvenile delinquency, because so many homes have them, too.

He was great at providing dubious points to convince his readers that he knew what he was talking about.

At the time of his book's release, comic books had several popular genres, as opposed to now, when so damned many comics showcase superheroes. There were a plethora of romance comics, war comics, crime-related comics, so-called "funny animal" comics (the kind featuring anthropomorphic characters like Donald Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, etc.), Western titles, horror comics, movie and television adaptations (no DVDs or even videotapes for home viewing back then), and superheroes, among other types of stories.

Today I'm going to give the briefest of descriptions of "crime comics." By Wertham's definition, a "crime comic" was anything which described a criminal act. So that would include titles like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, or a series like Classics Illustrated, as well as... well... almost anything! If someone wrote and drew a book illustrating nursery rhymes like "Tom, Tom, the piper's son, stole a pig and away did run," that would be a crime comic!

The actual crime comic titles, the "true crime" genre (although these comics certainly included a lot of stories were were not true), started in 1942 with a title called Crime Does Not Pay. The title was a huge success, which naturally means that in fairly short order, there were scores of imitators.

The crime comics were ostensibly in support of law and order, and various titles featured cover blurbs like "crime can't win," "crime never pays," and the like, but such platitudes were usually overshadowed by the fact that words like "crime," "criminals," "guilty," "lawless," etc. were usually the largest words on any given cover.

In fact, if you scroll down quickly and take a gander at the random covers I've chosen below, you'll see just what I mean.


In hopes of drawing a slightly older audience, comics often featured
women clad in lingerie or skimpy swimsuits, or falling from a great height
with their skirts flying upwards, or bathing in a bathtub or lake (with
strategically-placed visual obstructions of the "naughty bits"
adolescent boys really wanted to see, of course), and so on.












The crime comics were often bloody and gruesome, and although the standards of the times prohibited anything truly pornographic -- especially in what was considered primarily a "children's medium" -- the stories occasionally showed or at least suggested sexual elements, drug addiction, rapes, and the like... or displayed the scantily-clad beauties mentioned above in the caption to the cover of Famous Crimes. True, despite the stories' tendency to be violent, the creators did show a little restraint now and then... but not often.

Here is only one scene that illustrates the intensity of  the "kiddie comics" that were on sale at everybody's local newsstands.


(And I really should mention that as bad as the crime comics could be, the horror comics could be even worse! Tales of dismemberments, stabbings, beheadings, and other kinds of mayhem filled the shelves.

Again, to digress just a moment from my dissertation on crime comics, here's the end of a particularly disgusting horror story called "Foul Play," originally published in The Haunt of Fear #19 in 1953. EC Comics, the publisher of this one, usually turned out a classier product, but in this one, they really went over the line.


Well... So much for the "restraint" I mentioned earlier!)

Such was the state of the comic books of the 1950s. Well, many of them, I should say. Parents and authority figures loved having a scapegoat like this to rant and rave against. The outrage resulted in a congressional hearing at one point.

Eventually, several publishers banded together and formed an entity called the Comics Code Authority. Rules were drawn up that prohibited titles containing the words "terror" and "horror." The word "crime" could no longer appear so much larger than any other words. (The word "crime" even as part of a title was discouraged anyway, as were stories which showed lawmen dying on the job.) Stories about vampires, werewolves, zombies, cannibals and the like were prohibited. Nothing sexual could be implied. Criminals always had to be unsuccessful in the end and must always be punished. Women had to be modestly dressed -- absolutely no nudity, of course -- and couldn't be drawn in a way that exaggerated their anatomies (No more of what Dr. Wertham called "headlight comics," where breasts were large and prominent, generally straining against a woman's outfit.). And that's only the tip of the iceberg. The complete list of do's and don'ts can be found here.


Many of the comic publishers went out of business in no time. Most of the remaining comic companies complied with the code. There were notable exceptions. EC Comics cancelled its horror and science fiction comics, but took its humorous comic book title, MAD, and turned that into a hugely successful magazine (making it outside the reach of the CCA) which continues today. Dell, which published mainly movie and TV adaptations, and titles starring cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, and Andy Panda, had such a wholesome image that they didn't feel the need to submit their books to an outside agency like the CCA. Gilberton, which published Classics Illustrated, felt the same as Dell.

Several of the titles that remained were toned down quite a bit. Occasionally, stories would be reprinted by their publishers, and several of those stories were forced to make alterations that were often ludicrous.

Note that on the following illustration of a post-code Crime Does Not Pay cover, every word of "Does Not Pay" is larger than "Crime!"


And here are the covers of two different issues of Phantom Lady, one published before the code (and pictured in my Seduction of the Innocent pages shown above), and one published after! Note the change in outfit and bust size.



When I started reading comics a few years later, the Comics Code Authority was still very much in effect. That made for some interesting stories.

For example, when Marvel Comics introduced the Scorpion in The Amazing Spider-Man #20 (1965), the tail of his costume had a blunt end, making it somewhat of a club as opposed to a stinger like a real scorpion has. Even at the tender age of eight I thought that was odd. And I assume that the interference of the CCA caused that difference.




Much later, as time passed and the Comics Code Authority became less powerful, the Scorpion got the tail he should have had all along!


And here's an interesting issue of Tales of Suspense, which was the title that introduced Iron Man. In this 1963 issue, Iron Man fights one of the most idiotically-named villains in the Marvel Universe, Mister Doll. His claim to fame was this... well... doll that he carried around, similar to a voodoo doll. (But I don't think they were allowed to even refer to voodoo!) Mister Doll would quickly rearrange the doll's features to look like his intended victim, and then whatever happened to the doll would happen to the victim, too. Simply squeezing the doll would cause intense pain.


Mister Doll's super-villain suit wasn't too impressive, either!


Anyway... Really? Mister Doll? Is that the best name Stan Lee could come up with?

Well, apparently not.

The artwork for original, unpublished cover to Tales of Suspense #48 still exists, and shows that the stupidly-named Mister Doll was initially going to be called Mister Pain.


Who's the culprit here? I say that the Comics Code Authority thought that "Mister Pain" was too potentially scary for the kiddies, and Marvel came up with "Mister Doll" at the very last minute. I mean, if they hadn't been fighting a deadline, would they have used such a ridiculous name?

I'll be honest with you, fellow babies. This was supposed to be one of my infrequent short posts, but I oh-so-characteristically got carried away. My congratulations to anyone who made it this far, and my apologies to anyone who didn't!

Thanks for your time.

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