Use Your Imagination

Featured

Crafty Childhood

Rainy day activities we used to call them. When there was nothing else to do kids had their favorite stock phrase, I’m bored! Then our parents would reply with their stock phrase, “use your imagination.”

We came up with games, fantastic worlds, and kept ourselves occupied for hours on end. All without the tech of today. It was never present. Our minds would become stronger in the process of inventing. You cannot miss things that were not invented yet.

Finding discarded refrigerator boxes was common during the 1970’s. We used them to build forts, roll down hills, and pretend just about anything our minds could invent!

A carboard box became a spaceship or a time machine. Adventures got played out complete with hand to hand melees to overcome villains. Then on our television sets came perhaps some of the most imaginative television programs on Saturday mornings to compliment our rainy day adventures.

There were 3 commercially supported networks, CBS, ABC, and NBC. New York City also had 3 locally based independent channels: WNEW–5, WOR–9, and WPIX–11.

These independent channels picked up the first ever re-runs in TV history. Network execs did not think people would watch repeats of old shows.

But to the children of that era every single re-run was a first time viewing. Every series from the 1950’s and 1960’s would get aired again. More on this topic in a future entry.

This week I want to talk about the programming of the 1970’s, my childhood. Saturday mornings became a special time of the week for millions of us.

Sid & Marty Krofft

Network TV in the 1970s programmed Saturday mornings just for kids. Cartoons, live-action space operas/adventures, and the brothers Krofft who had series on all 3 networks! At the top of their game there was a variety show based in Atlanta in 1978 called The Krofft Supershow. Hosted first by the Scottish hitmakers Bay City Rollers then the made up Captain Kool & The Kongs, featured 3 series: Dr. Shrinker, Wonderbug, and Magic Mongo.

When their first series originally aired on NBC in 1969 no one knew their everlasting impact. H.R. Pufnstuf was that first show. A fantasy adventure starring Jack Wild as Jimmy (Oscar Nominee for “Oliver!”), Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo, and Lennie Weinrib as H.R. Pufnstuf (he starred later as the Genie Mongo).

How the Krofft Brothers Named Pufnstuf

Of course the famous Mayor of Living island was named after Puff The Magic Dragon, a folk tune that at the time was a popular hit.

In their interview for TV Archive, Sid and Marty Krofft talked about the naming of their now iconic series. There are fun facts brought up as well.

My favorite fact was that The Beatles watched it every week. In England Pufnstuf was broadcast at 6 in the evening. Manager Brian Epstein asked for a 16mm copy of each week’s show!

At the end of every episode Pufnstuf and Jimmy tell viewers to keep those letters and postcards coming. Their fan mail was on average 10,000 letters per week!

Many college kids were watching the show. A lot of them thought the name Pufnstuf was drug related. Naturally the network’s standard and practices would have never allowed it.

A lad named Jimmy and his golden flute, Freddie, are lured away in Witchiepoo’s boat. The vessel attacks Jimmy sending him into the water. He finds himself washed ashore on the Oz-like Living Island. Its Mayor, the friendly dragon H.R . Pufnstuf, and his staff Cling and Clang rescue Jimmy. The rest of the series’ 16 episodes are Jimmy’s attempts to escape the island and various other adventures.

The Krofft shows featured musical numbers too. On Pufnstuf Jack Wild’s character Jimmy sang on several episodes. ‘Walking, Talking Boy’ and ‘Mechanical Boy’ are examples.

“The Magic Path” episode had the discovery of a special walkway that could lead Jimmy off the island! Then there was the scheme of using a box kite to fly him home.

Another big hit was “Sigmund and The Sea Monsters”. Star Johnny Whitaker sang the theme song, ‘You Gotta Have Friends’. He also sang on many episodes.

Sigmund was a misfit. Brothers Burp and Slurp were genuine monsters. Big Daddy and Big Mama were their parents, modeled after Hollywood gangsters of the 1930’s.

Johnny and Scott find Sigmund. They take him in to their clubhouse. Each episode has the boys protecting him from his awful family.

The popularity of these shows propelled stars Jack Wild and Johnny Whitaker to teen idol status. They performed beside the costumed Krofft characters at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A.

Krofft Series Roundup

  • H. R. Pufnstuf________________________16 Episodes (1969)
  • Land Of The Lost___________________43 Episodes (1974–76)
  • Sigmund and The Sea Monsters____29 Episodes (1973–74)
  • The Lost Saucer____________________16 Episodes (1975)
  • Lidsville____________________________17 Episodes (1971–72)
  • The Far Out Space Nuts_____________12 Episodes (1975)
  • The Bugaloos_______________________17 Episodes (1970–71)
  • Dr. Shrinker________________________16 Episodes (1976)
  • Electra Woman and Dyna Girl______16 Episodes (1976)
  • Wonderbug _______________________ 22 Episodes (1976–77)
  • Bigfoot and Wildboy________________20 Episodes (1977–79)
  • Uncle Croc’s Block___________________16 Episodes (1975)
  • Pryor’s Place_________________________13 Episodes (1984)
  • The Krofft Supershow________________16 Episodes (1976)

I watched all of these programs when they aired. The Krofft brothers had some star power too. “Lidsville” featured Butch Patrick of “Munsters” fame, he played Eddie! Charles Nelson Reilly also starred on the show as villain Hoodoo and with Phyllis Diller on “Croc’s Block.” “The Lost Saucer” starred Ruth Buzzie and Jim Nabors as androids named Fi and Fum. Richard Pryor starred on “Pryor’s Place”. Bob Denver of “Gilligan’s Island” starred in the “Far Out Space Nuts”. Martha Raye was Benita Bizzare on “The Bugaloos”.

The cost of producing so many live-action fantasy shows took its toll. Pufnstuf had 16 episodes that were reran throughout the 1970’s. To widen their audience, Sid and Marty Krofft produced a 98 minute feature film, Pufnstuf”, that featured Martha Raye as The Boss Witch and Cass Elliott as Witch Hazel and the original featured series cast.

“Land of the Lost” ran the longest. Eventual re–boots were produced in the 1990’s and 2000’s and a really bad feature film Starring Will Ferrell.

In 1978, Sid and Marty Krofft opened an indoor amusement park that took up 5 floors of Atlanta’s Omni Center, now home to CNN. It featured a giant sized pinball machine that people could ride through on specially designed vehicles.

Visitors rode the escalators to the top floor that featured a carousel. Then working their way down through the other floors and attractions. Upon exiting there was the familiar Krofft TV Productions logo.

Despite the financial failure of the Atlanta park, the brothers designed Krofft show themed rides for Six Flags in Georgia and in other theme parks across the U.S.

Krofft Gallery: (L–R): The movie ‘Pufnstuf’ (1970), Atlanta based indoor Amusement Park, the book ‘Pufnstuf & Other Stuff’ by David Martindale, and the Krofft TV Production logo seen at the end of each series’ episode.

When ABC Premiered “Scooby Doo Where Are You! Saturday mornings for kids was born.

The Stone Age and Future Age Enable The Scooby Age!

“The Flintstones” appeared in primetime a decade before its debut followed by “Jonny Quest” by Hanna–Barbera in the 1960s. At the dawn of the seventies ABC put Scooby Doo on the air. A group of teenagers along with their pooch and hippie owner Shaggy took on investigations of mysterious happenings in spooky houses and other nefarious schemes.

The series was an instant smash. Unheard of in TV Land that a cartoon would become such a cultural touchstone that a repeated phrase at the end of each episode would ring down through the decades: ‘we would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!’.

The program portrayed teenagers as responsible, caring, and ultimately wiser than the adult villains they would apprehend each week. There were ghosts and ghouls aplenty. Shaggy was always scared to death but with the help of Scooby Doo would overcome his fears usually by accident to win the day. Fred, Velma, and Dafney were the trio of calm and cool. Many viewers later stated that Velma was Lesbian. The series had plenty of camp value in it.

As seen in the gallery below, Shaggy and Scooby were often the first to face each week’s featured ghoul. The ‘NEW’ Movies series brought a lot of guest stars to the show including Laurel & Hardy and Batman & Robin. Campy 1970s fun!

I woke up with my sibs every week to tune in for their latest adventure. You learned how to overcome adversity in a way. Scooby and Shaggy despite being scared out of their wits somehow rose to the challenge of catching crooks disguised as ghosts and monsters.

The show became the longest-running of that era. It spawned numerous spin-offs. ‘Scrappy-Doo’ also got his own series! As seen in the gallery below, Scooby’s offspring Scrappy proved so popular there was a spin-off.

I admit by the time I hit my pre-teens the magic of Scooby had waned. There were a lot of spin-offs too. I was hitting those pre–teen years when Saturday morning early wake-ups had lost their magic.

Today the streaming services like Amazon Prime premiered “Scoob!” a brand new animated movie. And of course there were the live action Scooby Doo movies. Puppy power indeed!

Public Television Introduced Sesame Street

PBS Introduces Zoom & The Electric Company

We’re Gonna Zooma Zooma Zooma Zoom! was sung by a group of children who were not professional performers. Each week they scripted the show! This included creating a made-up language called Ubby Dubby.

Skits were performed. Games were invented. And there was a Zoom Guest too. The Guest segment was a real kid who had a hobby/interest to share.

At the end of each show the kids invited the viewers to write in on a postcard to request a Zoom Card. On the front was a color photo of a Zoom kid and on the back was instructions on how to do a craft featured on the show at home.

I sent in for a card once. I got the instructions on how to make a calendar with drawers using matchsticks.

The Zoom kids would sing the address Boston, Mass 0-2-1-3-4….send it to ZOOM! at the end of the show.

Channel Thirteen (PBS) is the flagship station for Public Television in the U.S. Zoom and The Electric Company were produced following the enormous success of Sesame Street which premiered in 1969. Although these shows aired every weekday I always felt like they were part of my Saturday morning media diet.

“Hey you guys!” would be yelled loudly at the top of every episode of The Electric Company. This program taught reading comprehension to kids. Proper sentences, grammar, punctuation, and the rest would be featured in silly skits.

Fargo North was a detective character who used a decoder machine to put words in their proper order to form a sentence.

Rita Moreno (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony winning actress) was a featured player. Morgan Freeman played Easy Reader, a hip guy who read a lot.

There was animation too. The Adventures of Letter Man showed a superhero who had a letter on his chest he would use to spell the correct word to save someone from peril.

There was also a special appearance of a popular superhero—Spidey Adventure Stories! Spider-Man in live action!

Groovy Times

The 1970’s made for a great childhood. The influence of the previous hippie days showed up in the various series featured this week. Commercial TV began to exploit the popularity of rock music, had kids who were not always show-biz types, boys with Red hair became idols, and there was a sense of escape from adult authority.

The following years Cable TV replaced Saturday Morning TV with Nickelodeon, the first Network for Kids. And MTV became the channel for rock music.

As you can see from this blog entry I treasure the memories I have in front of our black and white TV during those groovy times. They had a big influence on me.

For the full 5 minute interview with Sid & Marty Krofft regarding the naming of their Pufnstuf series just click here: https://youtu.be/MPW-8Db0LFI

http://www.BillieHayes.com is the website of the actress famous for playing Witchiepoo, she raises money for her animal rescue charity! Check it out!

“See you next week!”

Thank you Dear Readers!

Locke and Key/ Review

Featured

Netflix may have found the perfect series for viewers who came to the streaming service when “Stranger Things” appeared for the first time.

After all stories involving misfit youths have become the building blocks of entire networks like the CW and Nickelodeon. This is how programming works. There has never been a larger audience for this kind of series.

Based upon a graphic novel by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez it took seven years to develop a live action series for Netflix.

The time and expense has payed off. I have watched “Riverdale” and “Stranger Things”. Both of those dramas are appealing. Lock & Key blows them both away in my humble view.

The original graphic novels on which the series is based.

You see “Riverdale” is a slick dark reboot of comic strip characters that remade the Archies into anti-hero teen delinquent outcasts. I found by its recent third season to get tired.

The show spent an entire season on a Dungeons & Dragons style role-playing game. Trying to match “Stranger Things” in the 1980’s nostalgia department with many helpings of beefcake, Archie turns boxer, and serves a stint in juvenile detention.

“Stranger Things” brought myself and many other viewers to Netflix for the first time. Upon its debut the 1980’s set supernatural serial cleverly became the best Stephen King series not actually made by Stephen King.

The Duffer brothers created a series they thought was going to be limited until it became a cultural phenom.

After producing 3 series I find the show repeating itself. The monster was super cool in series 1 but by a third helping it’s way less impressive.

I have not finished viewing Season 1 of Lock & Key. The Netflix service just announced a renewal for Season 2. After five episodes I am happy it will return.

I have always loved fantasy shows on TV. I will write about some of the programs my generation sat through in the pre-digital days like Sid & Marty Krofft’s trippy Pufnstuf or Filmation’s live action Shazam!

But I digress. Lock & Key gets everything right. Using the many tropes of gothic tales at its disposal plus the enduring value of good natured youth experiencing a truly dangerous world for the first time works because the cast is that good.

The basic story involves a family that is forced to uproot their lives in Seattle because their Dad is murdered in cold blood by a mysterious foe.

Moving back to their ancestral home in the small town of Matheson in Massachusetts exposes the Locke family to their father’s magical legacy.

Key House as it is known is a Victorian style manse that makes the Bates home in “Psycho” look like Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

The Key House is a classic goth manse. I think this was another tip of the hat to Stephen King. The King house in Bangor, Maine looks a lot like it. (no pun intended)

Kinsey Locke (Emilia Jones) is the middle child. Tyler Locke (Connor Jessup) is the eldest sib. Bode Locke is the youngest of the three. He is played by Jackson Robert Scott ( Georgie in the remake of Stephen King’s IT in 2017).

In the series premiere directed by Andy Muschietti ( Stephen King’s IT) Bode comes into contact with a spirit which at first glance appears to be dead. The well house is a separate structure on the grounds.

Bode hears a moaning whisper calling him. The ‘Well Lady’ is the pet name Bode assigns her in the beginning. Yes, this scene is similar to Stephen King’s IT, but it works so who cares!

Like all fantasy before it especially Harry Potter only kids have memories of the supernatural workings surrounding them. The adults cannot remember what has happened. This places a heavy burden on the kids.

Within the Key House there are hidden keys. Each has a specific magical property.

*****************Spoiler Alert. Read no further if you have not read the books. Or Watched the show!***

The ‘Well Lady’ will be revealed as Dodge (Laysla De Oliveira), a villain in the mold of Snow White’s Evil Queen.

As in all fairy tales she will trick innocent Bode into giving her the key that allows you to travel anywhere in the world. That is as long as you have been there already and use a door to transport yourself.

Kinsey Locke and Tyler Locke are the wonder twins of the series. Protective of each other their falling outs prove nearly fatal when their father’s killer is enabled by Dodge to transport himself to Key House.

Their Mom, Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) is grieving the loss of their Dad, Rendell Locke (Bill Heck. She has no idea what is happening to her kids until this awful encounter with her husband’s killer.

Kinsey and Tyler find out they can never separate. When Tyler tries to run away from the magic his sibs pay a high price.

Carlton Cuse ( TV’s “LOST”) is the showrunner and one of the creators of this series. He is expert on multiple storylines and paths crossing in past and present. He applies that skill here with the precision required to pull of both horror and camp.

In my view he put some of Lost’s best ideas back to work here. Including an episode in which Kinsey and her friends explore a sea cave to scout as a possible locale for their horror movie project, ‘The Splattering’.

The high tide almost traps them. The group winds up going for an unplanned swim to save themselves from drowning. A fate that the Locke’s Dad’s friends suffered years before their arrival in town.

In a similar format to another Netflix series, “Thirteen Reasons Why” in which each title sequence reveals whose tape will be featured, “Locke & Key” reveals a new key in its opening title.

Bode starts school a week after his older sibs. He explores the house first. The discovery of magical keys becomes a kid’s scavenger hunt (remember those from camp!).

Bode cannot resist finding out the function of each key upon discovery. His sibs only catch up later after the ‘Head’ key is found.

This allows the holder to unlock their heads. You can physically enter your own mind. Dark humor is unleashed in these scenes.

Bode is over excited by his mind in the form of an underground gaming arcade.

Kinsey’s mind is an ever expanding state of the art mall. The store marked ‘Dad Memories’ is a well organized candy vault.

Tyler refuses to go inside his own mind until he needs to impress a girl at school.

Anyway, you get the main idea. Finding magical instruments and learning how to use them is a special task for those inexperienced in reality.

The maze gets more cunning with each episode. Another key is found; the threat of Dodge ever present. She will seduce Tyler. He will escape just in time.

In playful moments Kinsey brings the magic to school against the sage advice of Tyler. She humiliate Eden Hawkins (Hallea Jones) , the school’s mean girl.

Bode finds a key that turns him into a ghost. He floats around like Casper.

Tyler gives in to the spell of the keys when he discovers he can add books worth of knowledge to his mind at tossing each volume through his portal when using the Head key.

The balance the show manages between dark and light is breath taking to watch. I just hope the energy of Season 2 matches this first one.

The series began streaming Season 1 back on February 7th.

A Quiet Place

Featured

I stay at home because the most effective method of staying healthy is to enjoy a quiet place.

Our studio apartment is too small for two people. The size allows for easy cleaning. You learn how to share space.

My husband is so dedicated to my happiness. I always feel lucky to be with him. We share in the tasks of keeping our household together.

I have access to music of all kinds, books of all subjects, and movies/series of all genres.

As I evolved from arguing with people not equipped with a similar skill set I do not attempt the feat. People with set opinions never change. This is a life killing attitude.

I listen. Being quiet does not mean your mind is off. You are inside mostly. You tend to judge those around you. Winding up with a hard to tolerate level of noise is the price you sometimes pay.

All of the pointless uninformed opinions swirl like an infinite mass of absurd jokes.

Social media became a tool for the haves to show up the have nots daily. Now travel is seen as a risk one should not take lightly.

Crises exposes those with defaults on idiocy. The noisy vane overachievers have the largest burden. They must produce at all costs.

Constant pressure to reach for the brass ring results in stresses that can be deadly. The very few who must ride a nearly deserted transit system are risking all so that we may have a chance at survival.

I am loving my quiet place. I had just begun to work again before the stay at home order arrived. After completing the 5 day assignment the world changed.

Hey, I gave it my best shot. Now, I will stay happy at home. Making my husband happy makes me happy.

I know I must return to work someday. After nearly 2 months the solution is not clear. I think there must be a reform of society.

A stronger safety net should be created by cutting the military budget in half; going after corporations who have not invested in our way life.

The cosmos laughs at those who plan. Chaos has always reigned. We were just too busy taking selfies.

Rich nations need to have rainy day funds. Poorer nations need our help. If they suffer their hardships will spread until more fortunate lands feel the pain.

My coping skills are being tested. Each day I start with music. I have finally been able to grow into a lover of Jazz, Classical, and Opera.

Yes, dear readers, you are correct, I am done with Rock/ Pop. These times have made me take a hard look at myself. I am much more fulfilled with more mature art forms.

The small select group of artists I kept around include The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Styx, Queen, The Eagles, Elton John, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Grateful Dead.

Bob Dylan has become my top favorite. His lyrics are peerless. All of these musicians are timeless in their messaging. We need to really listen closely.

Closing my decades long rock period does not mean I cannot appreciate the positive impact it’s lyrics/melodies have had on me. It just means I needed to make room for other music.

I have learned for myself that I change every ten years. Taste moves forward. Letting go of past distractions is quite liberating.

My afternoons are spent with a book. Currently I am finishing a Star Trek novel, “The Lost Years”, about the years following the end of the Enterprise’s five year mission.

I read non fiction too. A history of France and bio of President Grant are on my nightstand.

In the evenings my husband and I watch Jeopardy!, The Price Is Right, General Hospital and Friends and/or The Big Bang Theory. Movies on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Comedy specials on Netflix.

My husband cooks. I clean. We make a great team. Thankfully we have no kids. No pets. We have each other. In our quiet place.

I hope you are coping during this unprecedented pause in our go-go culture. Just remember that for most people around the world this struggle is a daily norm.

Thank you dear readers for stopping by Evan’s Gate. Please follow me if you like what I write about each week.

Stay safe. Keep informed. We shall be together again.

A United Front

Featured

The gate continues to connect our current crisis to ideas expressed in the popular culture.

Perhaps the one franchise that gives me comfort in these trying times is Star Trek.

The late creator of Star Trek Gene Roddenberry.

I started watching the original series when it was first syndicated in the early 1970’s.

At that time the show returned on Saturday mornings with animation. Series regulars also returned to voice their characters.

Today I often think of the original stories as a way into thinking about our present situation.

The starship Enterprise had over 400 passengers. The sick bay had 6 beds.

It was mentioned on many episodes how humanity overcame inequality, war, poverty, and illness.

The sick bay onboard the Enterprise.

As a nation we are still reaching for the stars. Before Covid-19 NASA was talking about Mars.

Around the world there are never ending wars, poverty, and sickness. How can we ever hope to reach distant galaxies when our own is in such disarray?

This is what makes the Star Trek Universe so appealing and comforting. It presents a future in which all of humanity are exploring deep space as a United group.

Any perceived threats are met on a United front as an assault against Earth.

The mythos of the series competed against the realities of the 1960’s. Vietnam, civil rights, and political corruption were raging.

By decade’s end NBC canceled Star Trek after 3 seasons and just 79 episodes.

Viewers campaigned to save the show. Known as Trekkies, fans were devoted enough to get the animated series and a convention at the Statler-Waldorf hotel in Manhattan.

It’s important to note that the term Trekkie became stigmatized by those who felt Star Trek was too altruistic for it’s own good. Most of the fans today use the term Trekker instead.

The franchise now stands at 7 TV series, 13 feature films, and the animated series. Over 700 hours of viewing available on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and CBS All Access.

Discovery and Picard are the current series. I have not seen them since I don’t subscribe to CBS All Access.

I am returning to the original series and all of its sequels and films.

Of all the episodes “The Naked Time” stands out for today. The crew becomes infected with a virus.

Most notably the ship’s helmsman Mr. Sulu runs amok with fever as a barechested swashbuckler.

Mr. Sulu crazy with fever is a fan favorite episode.

Every time the ship’s crew faced illness Dr.McCoy would complain that vaccines take time. His many retorts have become part of the long list of famous lines from the series.

By the end of an episode you knew an answer would be found. We cannot ever be so lucky in reality.

But, Star Trek makes you feel better about humanity’s prospects for survival.

The Vulcans are a race of half-human people ruled by logic. Mr. Spock represents them as chief Science Officer. His most famous line is “Live Long and Prosper”.

As a signifier of how positive the affect the series has had on its viewers 1 in 3 Americans are fans.

Around the world millions more are dedicated to its ideals of possibilities and respect for all cultures.

Left-Right: Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), and Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Deforest Kelly). Star Trek The Motion Picture (Paramount 1979)

The United front of science fiction must still be an aim for humanity. The United Federation of Planets may still be fiction but we at least have a United Nations in reality.

I am a Trekkie. After a long break from it I have come back to Star Trek. Now there are many episodes to explore and favorite films to enjoy all over again.

Future blogs of The Gate will discuss Star Trek’s philosophy as well.

Please keep in mind this statement at the end of the first Star Trek feature film in 1979—The Human Adventure is Just Beginning…

Superman is 80

The summer of 1939 was a milestone in American entertainment.

The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind premiered in movie theaters.

Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics.

In the first story told by creators Joe Schuster & Jerry Siegel our hero could not fly! He could jump a building in a single bound and lift cars over his head.

Over the next 7 decades there would be many creative teams assigned to Superman. In recent times DC comics restarted their comics at issue #1. So many changes over time. I will relate what Superman meant to me as a kid and now.

Television, Movies, Comic Books, and collectibles are the focus of this entry. Just some memories of how this character impacted my life.

In my early childhood television showed reruns of series broadcast in the 1950s and 1960s. There were sitcoms like “I Love Lucy”, “Father Knows Best”, “Dennis The Menace”, and “Bewitched”, sci-fi like “Star Trek” and “Lost In Space”, and then there was a comic book based series—-“The Adventures of Superman”.

I remember watching this series in black and white. George Reeves played Clark Kent/Superman and Noel Neill played Lois Lane. The opening titles were great. A voice over coupled with images described his powers as “faster than a speeding bullet, strength like a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it’s a bird, no..it’s a plane..no..it’s Superman!

Super TV

Watching all episodes of the series made me want to read the comic magazines from DC. The impact this made on me as a child was greater than the mark made when Jor-El, Son of Krypton, crash lands on the Kent farm in Smallville.

Described as mild mannered Clark Kent, he would report for the Daily Planet newspaper. His change into Superman was Clark dashing into a storage room at the newspaper or using a phone booth. He would loosen his tie and remove his eye glasses to cue the audience.

The narrative importance was lost on me back then but today has great meaning. The creators were Jewish kids from Ohio who used the ultimate immigrant story, Jesus or Moses, as their source material.

Like Moses placed in a basket, the baby Jor-El is placed in a space capsule. He is launched into space to escape the destruction of the planet by their sun. The baby lands on earth. Raised on a farm by the Kents, his secret is kept by them.

When Clark matures he is sent to the big city to begin a mission to “fight for truth, justice, and the American way” as Superman. The costume is made by his surrogate mother. The ‘S’ on the Chevron is a Kryptonian letter meaning hope. The comic books were crucial in discovering all of the details in this narrative.

You can see why these ideas would sail over the head of a child. The adventure was good enough for my imagination. The effects of flying were all done by green screen on TV. Superman flew at steep angles due to this limitation in effects. The sound mix was cool. Right before he flew Superman would take a few running steps then a sound effect would cue us sitting at home. It sounded like a lid being released from a power vacuum.

Super Animation

Through animation Superman became the hero you saw in print.

The Max Fleischer series was captivating. In the 1970s the Saturday morning series, “Superfriends” added Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman to the mix. As a kid I loved the cartoon, but later appreciated the animated series to be quite superior in quality.

Super Movies

In 1978 Warner Brothers brought Superman to the silver screen. Christopher Reeve, a mild mannered star of stage, became a movie star. Margot Kidder was Lois Lane. Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor. Ned Beatty as Otis, the dimwitted sidekick. Jackie Cooper as Perry White, Editor of the Daily Planet. And perhaps the greatest feat of casting at the time—Marlon Brando as Superman’s father.

The movie featured a score by John Williams (Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Indiana Jones, and many more classics) that was groundbreaking. His “Superman March” would stay as the theme of the series to come. There were 3 sequel episodes.

In the debut feature the arch villain Lex Luthor plans to blow up the San Andreas fault in Southern California to trigger a devastating earthquake. Lois meets Clark. Lois interviews Superman. The Fortress of Solitude is introduced.

Superman II brought back the entire principal cast. It focused on the three Kryptonian villains sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone at the start of the previous film.

Superman saves the Earth from a hydrogen bomb at the Eiffel Tower. He hurls the device into deep space. The ripples of the shock wave caused by detonation shatter the Phantom Zone barrier. Ursa, Non, and General Zod are set free with the same powers as Superman.

Terence Stamp (Billy Budd, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) is imprinted in my memory forever as Zod. Commanding all of humanity to “kneel before Zod” as he takes control of Washington, DC is quite a scene.

Despite Superman III being quite comic with Richard Pryor the story lacks in compelling elements. And Superman IV—The Quest For Peace is just dull. The franchise went dormant after this series. The next feature, “Superman Returns” featured newcomer, Brandon Routh. Then more recently, Henry Cavill starred in “Man Of Steel”.

There were crossover features like “Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” that failed to catch the public imagination. The future of this character is more certain in the weeklies published. The movies are demanding. In my opinion, the impression made by Christopher Reeve was indelible.

The late Christopher Reeve is my Superman.

In my young adulthood the man of steel returned to the small screen. ABC TV ran “Lois & Clark” Starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Comic book artist John Byrne’s modern retelling of Superman’s origin where Clark is the dominant personality was the series’ inspiration.

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 12: LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – Pilot – 9/12/93, The “Superman” story, focusing primarily on the relationship between Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent and his alter ego Superman/The Man of Steel (Dean Cain), and his fellow reporter Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher), continued in this 1993-97 ABC series. In the two-part pilot, the reporters worked on a story about the space program being hijacked., (Photo by Bob D’Amico/ABC via Getty Images)

John Shea played Lex Luthor as a business tycoon with unethical methods. Lane Smith was Editor Perry White. The role of Jimmy Olsen changed hands from Michael Landes to Justin Whalin after season one. The show would run from September 1993 thru June 1997.

Super Culture

Since his first appearance on a comic book page 80 years ago Superman has become an iconic presence. Thousands of books, magazines, toys, games, trading cards, playing cards, clothing, and any matter of object imprinted with his image/logo are now a billion dollar industry.

Mego toys produced Superman action figures. Ben Cooper provided Halloween costumes. Our imaginations took care of the rest.

Super Books. The panels in a comic book provide more detail than any screenplay. I did not consider the artists when I was a kid. That is a focus you do not get until you are much older.

Curt Swan drew Superman in the 1970s. This portrait of the character became the standard for modern renderings of Superman. The Mego figure was based on this look. The costume in the first 4 films were also this design.

These stories were tales of adventure no movie could ever match. The Fortress of Solitude was my favorite. Although the rendering on film was quite beautiful I prefer the detail of the page.

Thanks for Reading!

Batman Turns 80

May 1939 was the debut of The Batman in National Comics.

Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced the world to their crimefighter 80 years ago. This blog entry are just my thoughts about the character. Caped Crusader, Dark Knight, or World’s Greatest Detective are all fitting monikers used over the years.

38 years on there would be the television debut of the Batman character in a primetime series that would air twice a week. Several episodes would be two parts long featuring a cliff-hanger ending in part 1 and concluded the next night. ABC aired the show for 3 seasons. This was my first memory of Batman. My generation saw the reruns on New York’s local stations WPIX 11 and WNEW 5 during the 1970s.

After school the reruns of Batman were always fun to watch despite not seeing the program in color as intended until the 1980s! We had a black and white set even after the networks were broadcasting in color. As a kid I did not care because the show was great. Several of the episodes were based directly on Batman comics published during the 1940s–1950s.

  • The episodes “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Smack in the Middle” were adaptations of “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler” from Batman #171 (May 1965), written by Gardner Fox; in it, the Riddler, jealous of the attention Batman is giving the Mole Hill Mob, arranges a trap so Batman will apprehend the gang and give the Riddler the Caped Crusader’s undivided attention.
  • Many events of the episodes “The Joker Is Wild” and “Batman Is Riled” are based on the silver age comic book story “The Joker’s Utility Belt” from Batman #73 (October 1952) by David Vern Reed.
  • The episodes “Instant Freeze” and “Rats Like Cheese” were inspired by “The Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero” from Batman #121 (February 1959) by Dave Wood and Sheldon Moldoff.

The series was so popular that a movie was produced for theatrical release. This would air during Superhero Week on ABC-TV’s 4:30 movie in New York. I watched it many times in my childhood.

Adam West’s Batman was funny, living pop art, and corny. For a kid it was perfect. I think the 1966 series is the most enjoyable of all the screen incarnations of the character.

The fight scenes between Batman & Robin and their nemesis plus henchmen were filmed at an oblique angle (aka Dutch) to literally show they were crooked! The animated comic balloons appeared on screen to spell out the sounds like in the comic books—Biff!, Pow!, and Splat!

The Greenway Productions team captured what comic books look like on the page. Never taking itself too seriously was the key to unlocking the imagination of its viewers. A line-up of movie stars all played the villains that to this day are hard to match. The later features on film in the 1990s attempted to place big stars as Batman and as various villains to mixed results.

On the small & big screen.
Top Row: Adam West, Michael Keaton and Christian Bale as Batman.
Bottom Row: Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Oscar Winner, the late Heath Ledger.

When the dynamic duo climbed up building walls there would be a cameo by a star or a fictional character looking out their window. They would have some chit chat that was quite funny. On YouTube their listed as “Window Cameos”.

You never knew who might open their window during a bat climb. Dick Clark meets the dynamic duo!
Edward G. Robinson makes a cameo!

Nelson Riddle provided a jazzy music score to accompany the action in Batman. Unfortunately the attempt to spin-off a Batgirl series failed.

However Green Hornet and Kato did get a full season of episodes. And the only characters billed as guest heroes! Yvonne Craig as Batgirl was the first time on television that a female superhero was featured in an ongoing role. Today, “Supergirl” is a prime-time series.

Created by William Dozier who was also the show’s narrator, Batman aired on ABC at 7:30pm between 1966—1969.
Van Williams as Green Hornet & Bruce Lee as Kato. It ran 1 season; 1966-1967.

I always thought that Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation had the best rogues gallery. The Joker (Cesar Romero) , The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) were the tops for me.

Many of the villains were taken directly from Batman comic books. There were also original characters featured since many celebrities of that time wanted to appear on the show. Milton Berle (TV’s first star) as Louie The Lilac, Carolyn Jones as Marsha Queen of Diamonds, and Victor Buono as King Tut are just a few of the many colorful villains added to the rogues gallery of Gotham.

37 villains appeared on the show. Click here for a full list: https://batman.fandom.com/wiki/Villains_of_Batman_%281960s_series%29

In 2016, television critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz ranked Batman as the 82nd greatest American television show of all time.
Mr. Sepinwall is my hiusband’s cousin and the best TV critic in the USA

Because of the series I then followed animated series that featured Batman. Bob Kane created the animated series “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” as a comedic series based upon his Batman characters.

The catmobile would roar out of a cave with Courageous Cat pointing his sky writing gun at the sky to reveal the opening title.

Superfriends was a weekly show featured on Saturday mornings in the 1970s. I also began reading the comics. Reading the Batman comics from the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970s I saw the evolution of the characters.

Frank Gorshin (Left) and John Astin (Right) as Riddler on “Batman” (1966)
Cory Michael Smith as Riddler with
Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin on “Gotham” (2019)

I found out the series’ first season made most of the episode titles rhyme, “Hi Diddle Riddle, Smack In The Middle” was the premiere. It was a 2 parter that featured Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.

Later, in the 1990s, Warners produced Batman The Animated Series featuring the voice of Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as The Joker. This show captured the noir look of the 1940s Batman.

Batman: The Animated Series is an American animated television series based on the DC Comics superhero Batman. Developed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski and produced by Warner Bros. Animation, it originally aired on Fox Kids from September 5, 1992, to September 15, 1995, with a total of 85 episodes.  For the final fifteen episodes, the series was given the on-screen title The Adventures of Batman & Robin, which was also used for reruns of earlier episodes. The series became the first in the continuity of the shared DC animated universe; spawning further animated TV series, feature films, comic books and video games with most of the same creative talent.

During the 80 years of Batman comic books different creative teams were entrusted with the growing legacy of Batman. When it began there was no Robin. The Batmobile looked different than it does now. Renderings of villains changed as well from era to era. Gadgets were added like the Bat-arang, Bat-rope, and everything else that you can think that fits his crimefighting techniques.

In the printed issues of DC comics Batman was known as The World’s Greatest Detective. Take that Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple! Then I discovered how much better the actual stories could be when produced in serial form week after week. In fact, Batman was the only prime-time show to air twice a week in its first 2 seasons other than the Soap Opera, “Peyton Place”.

The Bat-Copter, Bat-Boat, and Bat-Cycle were added over time. The series featured them when the series’ ratings began to fall in Season 3.

My first encounters with Batman on the page was in the 1970s. Neal Adams was drawing him. I was shocked how dark the stories were compared with the bright TV show. I think there are many interpretations I like but my first sight of it was that splendid TV series. The serialized format of the show evoked the movie serial of Batman appearing in theaters in the 1940s.

Just look for the word Omnibus in the title to find a collection of a specific artist.

Grant Morrison was the most recent series I read in the last few years. I loved this updated version. There was even a run of comics called “Batman Incorporated” in which every nation got their own Batman to fight crime.

Issue #1 of Batman Incorporated.

Over the last 80 years Batman has refelected our deepest fears of a world too chaotic to tame. Every generation has their Batman. For me it is the late Adam West. Then screen actor Michael Keaton starred in the feature film directed by Tim Burton in 1989. Following a sequel, “Batman Returns”, Val Kilmer (“Batman Forever”), George Clooney (“Batman & Robin”), Christian Bale (“Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, and “The Dark Knight Rises”), and Ben Affleck (“Batman vs Superman”, “Justice League”) have played Batman in the movies.

Despite initial worry from fans, Michael Keaton was fine as Batman.
In 23 years time the Batcave went from technicolor to dark.
A Dark Knight of the media age emerged on screen.

********************************
Warner Bros featured the music of Prince, their biggest music star at the time, in the film.
Despite negative critical reaction, the film was a blockbuster.

The look Warner Bros. created with Tim Burton’s dark vision of the world of Batman stood in deep contrast with the TV series. This more serious treatment would be favored in the 1990s and 2000s.

Imagination is a powerful tool that develops in childhood. I had Batman toys in the 1970s. Played out adventures with friends in the park. The reason it’s important to read at least some of the stories on the page is simply because there are thousands to choose from each decade. You can see what each passing era was like for the characters and each creative team that was used to animate the adventures.

Every time Batman celebrates a milestone anniversary the comic book shops have compilations of the best Batman stories from each decade. There have been numerous comic book series devoted to the characters featured in Batman stories. Even Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler and surrogate father had his own series of comics.

The Batman character has appeared in TV, radio and movie serials, feature films, video games and animation. When he debuted in 1939 all of the new forms he would take only happened because audiences have been attracted to the stories. The people that got Batman on the air in 1966 were fans of the character.

Where does he get those wonderful toys?” is a line from the movie “Batman” in 1989, spoken by The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson. This line is probably the most memorable in the script. It evokes the countless number of toys based on the characters in Batman produced over 8 decades. There are Billions of dollars worth of toys every year dedicated to this enduring legend.

Since the 1940s Batman action figures have been produced. Above is pictured an 8 figure tribute.

The past 5 years, “Gotham” has aired on Fox as the latest TV version of Batman. For the first time the Batman character is not shown until the final episode which just aired a few weeks ago.

Focusing on the anarchy of a city wracked by serial crime and a crimefighter named James Gordon. The origins of the classic villains are depicted. Penguin, Riddler, and Selena Kyle (Catwoman) are present during the entire series. The origins of The Joker, Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, and Bane are depicted.

The noir series was so dark I had to watch with the lights off to see it! There was a viewer discretion bumper at the beginning of every episode. The stylized violence was still the most graphic I have ever seen on a network show. The times did indeed change a lot.

Gotham is an American crime drama television series developed by Bruno Heller and based on characters published by DC Comics and appearing in the Batman franchise, primarily those of James Gordon and Bruce WayneDanny Cannon directed the pilot, and he is an executive producer along with Heller. The series stars Ben McKenzie as the young James Gordon. It premiered on Fox on September 22, 2014 and concluded on April 25, 2019.

No matter how the fortunes have changed for this enduring character in recent times there will most certainly be many more adventures written and performed in the next 80 years.

Warner Bros. announced a new feature film, “The Batman”, to premiere in 2021. Robert Pattinson (Twilight) will become the youngest actor to play the Dark Knight.

72 Years of The Batman. (Above) Every Bat symbol drawn to represent the enduring legacy of The World’s Greatest Detective

Zappa The…

strange or extraordinary character ODDFANTASTIC

synonyms for weird

Synonyms: Adjective

bizarrebizarrocrankycrazycuriouseccentricerraticfar-outfunkyfunnykinky, kooky (also kookie), oddoff-kilter,  offbeat, , outlandish, outrĂ©peculiarquaintqueerqueerishquirkyremarkablescrewyspaced-outstrangewacky , way-outweirdowild.

The above comes from the Merriam—Webster dictionary definition of Weird. For myself this was the word that always popped into my head when I thought about Frank Zappa. Not surprising that a single word could then be translated in many colorful ways. Much like the sonic experiments Mr. Zappa created, his listeners would receive a bounty that would never get exhausted.

This entry is happening now because on Friday May 31, 2019 for the first time on vinyl since 1976 comes a re-issue of “Zappa In New York” on 3 Lps. Recorded during a 4 show stint at The Palladium in New York City. Originally a double LP, the third record is a bonus!

Before I delve into my thoughts about the work, how did it come to be?

In 1964 Frank Zappa took over leadership of the American band The Soul Giants. He renamed the band The Mothers, referring to the jazz compliment of mother for a great musician. However, their record company, Verve Records , objected to the insinuation (i.e., “motherfuckers”) and by necessity Zappa had to change the name, creating (and defining) The Mothers Of Invention.

Necessity is the mother of invention” is an English-language proverb. It means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need.

Mr. Zappa’s need drove him to create music that would provide new pathways for musicians and listeners.

As a music lover I am relieved that my appreciation of his work comes after my obsessions with mainstream groups. Music is exploratory by nature. As a listener I need to be challenged. Following the former years of passive media consumption I want to be more actively engaged. Music does this for me. But like many of my fellow countrymen I listened to what was put before me, not what I actually made an effort to get. In an age where over produced pop is drowning us in simplicity I need complexity.

Now, in this age of information, the legacy of his vast body of work can be understood as a rigorous expression of subjects Mr. Zappa cared deeply about. Nothing to do with easy access or top 40 popularity. This music is label free. Fusion is the word used to describe what is the core of his output. He puts styles together to form a new sound.

Remaining outside the mainstream culture of mass consumer popularity Mr. Zappa is being reached for the first time by people like myself who remained in a fractured mindset. Applying self-made restrictions on what to hear or think about prevented finding this revolutionary sound.

Tellingly, Mr. Zappa spoke openly about the damaging effects of television that enable a crippling passivity. People become narrow and confused, bogged down in just one form of expression. Taught to consume without much thought. Creativity becomes necessity in such a culture. In his lifetime he released 60 albums of original work. The Zappa Family Trust, since his death in 1993, has put out 62 more works.

For a complete list of the 112 studio albums and 40 tribute albums use this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Zappa_discography

Even back in the late 1960s the idea of free thought was constrained by profit. His albums beginning with the debut, “Freak Out!”, sought to obliterate this filter. Without a filter he put out a record titled, “We’re Only In It For The Money”, with cover art that mocked the lionized “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The rock era is filled to overflowing with artists that sought nothing more than commercial acceptance. Nothing wrong with it. There is more to art than just profit.

I admit that my first impression of him was typical of a kid too young to understand anything more than top 40 drivel. Here was a guy with looks I found peculiar playing music that had sounds I could not readily decipher or pigeonhole. My prejudices were taught. Today there are more people with Zappa’s looks of otherness. I think this is encouraging. He brought humor into forms considered serious like jazz and blues.

Way-out experiments are not the commercial fruit bearing endeavors record companies want from their talent. Frank Zappa did it because there was within him a strong need to invent sounds that could not exist otherwise. He sought out musicians that could play this no boundaries music.

On YouTube there are several hours worth of interviews from different countries and years. His opinions were direct, smart, and well thought out. Knowing full well that America’s self-deception was the thing hurting the nation from era to era, Zappa spoke about our deep backwardness regarding sexuality and free expression.

“The American dream is to always be young, always be rich, and always be cute”— Frank Zappa

Sexuality was the pressing issue. He felt strongly that sex is as natural a function as going to the bathroom. In American culture many are taught to repress sexual expression. Look at what the result of this has been. Zappa did not believe in pornography or dirty words. Filters like religion and television have done damage in dictating that there is something wrong with sex. Notice how absent most expressions of sexuality are from our media. He recognized most license holders in television are right-wing.

I admire his tenacity when expressing these things. I agree with a lot of it. To fix the economy he stated that churches should be taxed. Then legalize prostitution and drugs. Both should be highly taxed and regulated. Make sure our politicians get what they need, especially sex.

Everyone in the country would have better jobs because America would be manufacturing goods. The economy would then be quite strong. And stop overfunding the military. I think this is why so many wanted him to run for President during the 1980s. Boldly put, do you really want sexually repressed people in places of power?

Speaking of power nobody was more aware of television’s deliberate consumer mission: to sell products. His 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live was my first exposure to his music and personality. “Dancin’ Fool” was the catchy number I remember most. Re-watching it I discovered how relevant the other two pieces were in presenting his ideas. Click here to see it: https://youtu.be/PGWE7t3qO1I

Actually, after seeing it again now as an adult I think of Frank Zappa on the simple level of a George Carlin type with musical talent. Intellectual, probing, and skeptical of what we as a society think culture should be.

Mr. Zappa was a champion of First Amendment rights. In the 1980s when the Parent’s Music Resource Center, a group made up of politician’s wifes including Tipper Gore tried to censor rock music, Mr. Zappa testified before Congress. He defended the rights of all. He knew an attack on any form of music was an attack on him as well.

I think he would find the current state of things typical. We are still fighting over race, sexuality, gender, censorship, and inequality. The continuing legalization of marijuana would be progress, slow, but a forward step he might have been happy to see. Just imagine the Zappa response to ‘reality’ TV and ‘social’ media that do the opposite of what they pretend to be. Zappa was quite real and social. A real mother.

Searing instrumentals.
“Hot Rats” is a must listen. The second solo album.
Don Van Viliet (Captain Beefheart) featured on the only vocal track, “Willie The Pimp”.
The 112th release in the ever expanding Zappa Catalog.

Details of the 40th Anniversary release of Zappa In New York set (seen above) are here:

https://www.zappa.com/news/frank-zappas-beloved-live-double-album-zappa-new-york-celebrated-suite-40th-anniversary

In April a new concert experience played 9 sold out dates in America. A hologram of Frank Zappa performs alongside 6 musicians. The European dates are coming up.

According to Mr. Zappa’s family he hoped there would be a hologram tour after his life.

Getting back to how I started this entry. Can we define Zappa? I think we cannot. Fluidity is the main thing in art. Zappa the musician. That’s enough for me.

I have started listening from the beginning with the first 4 albums by The Mothers Of Invention. The first two solo albums were added too.

There may be more entries about Frank Zappa in the future. Although I still need to write about the albums and artists that were at the core of my love of music, the boundaries are ever expanding. The gate is always open.

June is Pride Month.

Coming Up: Stonewall At 50.

Thakn you for reading and following Evan’s Gate!