Monday, June 30, 2008

Take a Sentimental Journey...in a WW2 Era Museum

If you ever find yourself vacationing on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and you're looking for something different to do, you may want to check out the Wright Museum in Wolfeboro, NH. It may just about be the only musuem in New England that focuses on what life was like on the American homefront during WWII. The museum houses dozens of military vehicles, and a "Time Tunnel" takes visitors through a year-by-year pop culture account of 1939 to 1945 with a look at everything from Life Magazine covers to everyday household items. Women's roles on both the homefront and in uniform are also explored.



There are also several exhibits that recreate scenes from the 1940s including the inside of a typical American family's kitchen, a soda shop, and a dentist's office. Their choice of using mannequins to illustrate each scene is a little creepy, though. The lady in the kitchen appears to be attempting to cut her bacon and eggs with an imaginary knife. Hmmm...do you think the dentist's office is for the mannequins who overindulge on sweet stuff in the soda shop? I think a better option would be to have a real, working soda counter with a jukebox at the end of the tour for museum visitors to get a taste - literally - of what it was like to visit one.



Nonetheless, it looks like a really cool musuem and I'm looking forward to checking it out hopefully this summer. You can look more about the musuem including hours and special events at the Wright Museum web site.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Timeless Classics...Or, the Ballad of Sir Swatch

Did you own a Swatch watch? I knew one girl at my school who was lucky enough to own 2 or 3. She'd wear them all together on one wrist (that was the fad) or secure one around her ponytail.

I had just one, and seeing Frankie Avalon's sweater made me nostalgic for my own Swatch. Here it is (or rather, a picture of one in perfect condition for sale on a site called Swatch and Beyond.) It's the Sir Swatch model from 1986 and a man's watch if I remember correctly (the ladies' models were too slender and small for my taste...this was the 80s, after all. The bigger and brighter the better!)



It's nice to see that he's appreciated quite nicely in value ($195.00!!!) but sadly, my own Sir Swatch has seen better days. I lifted him out of his plastic Swatch case last night and his plastic bands, which are still intact, have pretty much disintegrated and flaked away, and the tips broke off a long time ago. Alas, this was the caveat with Swatches...and if you had the scented band, like one of my friends in junior high did, the whole thing would pretty much rot away!

He also needs a new battery. In fact, I couldn't twist the cover off which makes me a bit concered about corrosion. However, I'm very determined to get Sir Swatch back up and running, which leads me back to Swatch and Beyond, a U.S.-based company that specializes in selling vintage Swatches. Their models take you right up through the present, but to me the name Swatch is always going to be synonymous with the 80s, the era where they really took off. I'm going to look into their bands (I'll probably opt for a longer-lasting leather one this time) and batteries. Stay tuned for more on the saga of Sir Swatch.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You Can't Stop the (Tiger) Beat!

Newsweek published a slideshow tribute to teen idols from the 50s through today. Some of these guys that us little girls swooned over are laughable. Did we really cry for some of these skinny little guys and put their pictures in our lockers? I can agree with Bobby Sherman, Rick Springfield, and Shaun Cassidy (for the record, Shaun was my first teen idol...or should I say kindergarden idol. His bro David did nothing for me.) But what's more surprising to me is who they did NOT include. Um, no Elvis, Bobby Darin, or Beatles? I demand a recount!

And Frankie Avalon, I have a Swatch watch from the 80s with your sweater's pattern on it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's a Buyer's Market Right Now

This modern house has been for sale in my town for quite a while now. In fact, when I go for a bike ride I usually coast past it and wipe my drool on the way by.



I finally looked it up on the Coldwell Banker site and discovered that it's on the market for the bargain basement price of $1,090,000. Just think, if I only had...oh, another $800,000 or so to put down on it, I'd have a mortgage payment of about $1,000 per month...my current limit!



The house was designed by architect Marcel Breuer, a Hungarian-born architect who studied Bauhaus design and worked with Walter Gropius. This home was built in 1957 and features "8 rooms, 4 bedrooms, 2 full baths, Dramatic LRm/Dining Rm w/ Stone Fireplace & Wall of Glass overlooking the gorgeous yard, State-of-the-Art Kitchen, Master Bdrm Suite w/ View of Koi Pond & So Much More!"



It's been vacant for over a year now...won't someone out there make this lonely little house a home?



Taxes are only $8,767 a year!



Oh well...there's always Mega Millions. Actually, even if I did have that kind of money to throw around it's way too large for a single person like myself but it's a beauty.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Land That Made Me, Me

My friend sent me this poem and it seemed appropriate for the blog. There was no author attached to it, but it definitely sound like it was written by a baby boomer waxing nostalgic. Now before you read it...I wouldn't say that everything mentioned in it was necessarily a good thing to have in the world. Castro, freak shows, being considered middle aged when you turn 35...glad to see those get the old heave-ho. Also there were some misspelled names in this poem that I corrected before posting...imagine, I know how to spell these names better than someone who lived through the era!



The Land That Made Me, Me

Long ago and far away, in a land that time forgot,
Before the days of Dylan, or the dawn of Camelot.

There lived a race of innocents, and they were you and me,
And this created the Land That Made Me, Me

For Ike was in the White House in that land where we were born,
And navela were for oranges, and Peyton Place was porn.
We learned to gut a muffler, we washed our hair at dawn,
We spread our crinolines to dry in circles on the lawn.

We longed for love and romance, and waited for our 'Prince'
And Eddie Fisher married Liz, and no one's seen him since.
We danced to 'Little Darlin', and sang to 'Stagger Lee'
And cried for Buddy Holly in the Land that Made Me, Me.

Only girls wore earrings then, and 3 was one too many,
And only boys wore flat-top cuts, except for Jean McKinney.
And only in our wildest dreams did we expect to see,
A boy named George with lipstick, in the Land that made me, me.

We fell for Frankie Avalon, Annette was oh, so nice
And when they made a movie, they never made it twice
We didn't have a Star Trek Five, or Psycho Two and Three,
Or Rocky-Rambo Twenty in the Land that Made Me, Me

Miss Kitty had a heart of gold, and Chester had a limp,
And Reagan was a Democrat whose co-star was a chimp
We had a Mr. Wizard, but not a Mr. T,
And Oprah couldn't talk yet, in the Land that Made Me, Me.

We had our share of heroes, we never thought they'd go
At least not Bobby Darin, or Marilyn Monroe.
For youth was still eternal, and life was yet to be,
And Elvis was forever in the Land that Made Me, Me.

We'd never seen the rock band that was Grateful to be Dead,
And Airplanes weren't named Jefferson, And Zeppelins were not Led.
And Beatles lived in gardens then, and Monkees lived in trees,
Madonna was a virgin in the Land That Made Me, Me.

We'd never heard of Microwaves, Or Telephones in cars,
And babies might be bottle-fed, but they werent' grown in jars.
And pumping iron got wrinkles out, and 'gay' meant fancy-free
And dorms were never co-ed in the Land That Made Me, Me.

We haden't seen enough of jets to talk about the lag.
And microchips were what was left at the bottom of the bag
And Hardware was a box of nails, and bytes came from a flea,
And rocket ships were fiction in the Land That Made Me, Me.

Buicks came with portholes, and side shows came with freaks,
And bathing suits came big enough to cover both your cheeks.
And coke came just in bottles, and skirts below the knee,
And Castro came to power near the Land That Made Me, Me.

We had no Crest with Floride, we had no Hill Street Blues,
We had no patterned panty hose or Lipton Herbal Tea,
Or prime-time ads for condoms in the Land That Made Me, Me.

There were no golden arches, no Perrier to chill,
And fish were not called Wanda.
And Cats were not called Bill.

Middle-aged was 35 and old was forty-three
And ancient were our parents in the Land That Made Me, Me

But all things have a season, or so we've heard them say,
And now instead of Mabelline, we swear by Retin-A
They send us invitations to join AARP
We've come a long way, baby, from the Land That Made Me, Me.

So now we face a brave new world in slightly larger jeans.
And wonder why they use small print in all the magazines
And we tell our children's children of the way it used to be
Long ago and far away in the Land That Made Me. Me

Thursday, June 19, 2008

You Spin Me Right Round: It's the Hula Hoop's 50th Anniversary!

Photo courtesy Associated Press. Knerr and Melin show off their most famous creation.



Not long ago I was actually thinking that I wanted to get a hula hoop. You see, I tried one that was lying around at my brother's house a couple of years ago and man, did it ever work the abs and back! I'm surprised that more fitness magazines don't promote this retro toy as a great addition to any workout regimen. Fifty years ago, when kids weren't sitting on their squishy behinds and burning their brains and eyeballs out on video games, the hula hoop kept them active and was the hottest toy and fad around.

You might be surprised to know that the hula hoop technically wasn't invented here in the U.S. It was actually spotted on Australian schoolyards by entrepreneurs Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin (who formed the Wham-O! toy company and also gave us the Frisbee.) They sought a trademark for the plastic cylinder swiveling around kids' hips and in 1958, a new toy was born.



In just one year over 100 million Hula Hoops sold in the U.S. for $1.98 each. Even Alvin the Chipmunk wanted one. Like all fads, though, those numbers eventually declined and the company went on to make several iconic toys including the Slip 'n Slide. But it still manufactures hula hoops, it's crowning glory.

By the way, there is a place in Nashville, TN that offers hula hoop fitness classes. Check out the site Hooprama.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Last Dance

I think I could spend hours watching dance sequences from classic Hollywood movies. Tinsletown lost another famous dancer yesterday when Cyd Charisse passed away at the age of 86. Just do a search for her name on YouTube and knock yourself out, if her legs and routines don't do it for you first. She certainly held her own with the best male dancers in Hollywood including Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in several classic MGM musicals. And she was gorgeous, too. Really makes me sick to think of the talentless dingalings we glorify today.

According to her offical site, Charisse danced in 22 movies between 1943 and 1966. Here's one that ABC featured at the end of their broadcast last night.

RIP, Cyd Charisse!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Were You Tufty Enough?

I seem to remember, at some point in elementary school, watching a series of short films starring a squirrel that demonstrated road safety, but I could not remember his name. I thought it was cool that the animals spoke like the people on Masterpiece Theater. I was suddenly reminded while watching a news story about the history of the squirrel population in the UK...and there he was, Tufty the Safety Squirrel!

Tufty Fluffytail was created in 1953 and the mascot for The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. He and his friends introduced clear and simple safety messages to children. I love squirrels, but doesn't it seem ironic to pick one as a road safety expert? When did you ever see one look both ways before crossing the street? The only squirrels I've seen on roads are sadly, victims of squirrel suicide which is what they excel at. Nonetheless, in 1973 a series of videos were made featuring Tufty and his pals and shown for many years. Their primative stop-motion animation is a bit herky jerky, but had a charm all their own. At the end of my post I've included one from YouTube.

Now kids, what can we all learn from watching this video? Well first, that Tufty is the only squirrel I've ever come across that loves ice cream. Do you think he asks for extra nuts on his cone? And second, that cheeky little bugger Willie Weasel is a troublemaker! What else would we expect from a weasel? By the way, this isn't the first time Willie got run over by a car in a Tufty video. There's another one on YouTube where you can also hear the thunk. Ouch. Poor Willie! Miracle he hasn't become roadkill. I want to know who's driving the car that hit poor Willie...Henry "Hotshot" Hedgehog? I think I smell a lawsuit coming on. And maybe Willie's mummy isn't available to walk with him to the ice cream van. Maybe she's a single mother weasel who has to work because her husband left her...that weasel!

Remember, kids, always take your mummy with you when you want to go to the ice cream van! Tufty has his own website, if you're interested in checking out more about his history in British pop culture.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Pictures copyright J.J. Hat Company Inc.



Look at any old photo featuring men that was taken before the 1950s and you'll almost always see them wearing hats. It's always been a bit sad to me that traditional men's hats as a wardrobe staple have been replaced by the cheap (and cheap looking) baseball cap. But today's CBS Sunday Morning Show gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, hats for men might be making a quiet comeback. They dedicated one of its segments to the history of the hat (for men) and visited a popular NYC hat shop. Once a mandatory fashion accessory for any man (could you imagine a Humphrey Bogart or Spencer Tracey movie without them?), hats slowly faded into obscurity during the 50s and the rebellious 60s. Since they're no longer the norm today, they've become a way for a man to stand out and make a fashion statement. Many male celebrities have been sighted wearing hats for the past few years.

Being a hat woman myself, I could spend hours in J.J. Hat Center in NYC. Founded in 1911, J.J. Hat Center is one of the oldest hat shops for men (and some ladies) in the city. They sell a variety of classic styles from biltmores to fedoras to caps (not baseball caps) with many of them manufactured in Canada and Italy. The prices range from $50 on up (some styles cost upwards of $250.) I believe they were the shop featured in the CBS Sunday Morning segment (unfortunately, CBS' website has video segments from selected stories, and the hat one is not one of them.)

Here's one that I really like called the Drifter. It's a water repellent pigskin suede hat that sells for $75.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Retro Wallet Designs

Looking for something a little different to carry your cash and credit cards in? A company called jDUCT makes wallets manufactured from...yes, you guessed it - duct tape. And I have to say, they've done a pretty remarkable job, especially considering several of them come in retro designs. Check out the cassette tape, turntable, and unicorn:







And there's lots more where these came from, including Pac-Man and Wonder Woman. The company says each wallet is carefully sewn to eliminate the sticky "glue" being exposed. The wallets are $20 each and can be purchased through the jDUCT site or Etsy.com.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

She's Not Your Friend's Strawberry Shortcake Anymore

That little dessert and gingham loving doll that was so popular during the 80s has received a makeover. Yes, Strawberry Shortcake's manufacturer, American Greetings Properties, felt that her old look wouldn't fly with today's Internet and technology fluent generation of girls. Because childhood obesity is running rampant, she and her friends are also now more into fruit instead of dessrts.



While I'm normally a fan of retro, I must confess that I do like Miss Shortcake's new look, even if she does look a bit like Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." Those bloomers and Jane Austinesque bonnet had to go. In a way, her look is still retro: she has long, straight hair and a newsboy cap, like a 60s go-go girl.

This isn't the first time toy manufacturers have tried to update a character's look to keep up with changing times. However, the results are sometimes less than favorable. In 2005, Warner Brothers pimped the Bugs Bunny characters into the "Loonies", futuristic-looking versions of their older counterparts. Parents hated them. In the 1990s, Mattel tried to upgrade Barbie's boyfriend by introducting "Magic Earring Ken", who wore a leather vest and had highlights in his hair. Consumers thought he looked more like a fellow who'd date one of the Village People, rather than Barbie.

American Greetings is also planning on upgrading another toy line, its Care Bears, for next year. Word is they'll be less pudgy. Who knows, if you have any of the old versions of these toys in your closet or basement, I'd hold onto them...might be worth something after the modern metamorphoses are on the shelves.

What do you think? Should retro toys be updated to keep up with today's trends, or should toy manufacturers keep the retro look?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Go Retro Video of the Day: Les Paul and Mary Ford

Happy birthday, Les Paul! The inventor of the electric guitar and multi-track recording (two innovations that revolutionized rock and roll and the way music was recorded) turns 93 years young today. Paul is still worshipped by famous musicians the world over. Here's a 1950s clip of Les Paul and his adorable then-wife Mary Ford performing the lovely "How High the Moon" on a TV show. He's got a superb way with that instrument. That's Alistair Cooke, of Masterpiece Theater fame, interviewing them. Paul is still playing the guitar at a NYC club every Sunday night.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Not Just for College Dorms Anymore

I had no idea until recently (in other words, today) that Urban Outfitters was selling home furnishes online, or that they had expanded their home collection beyond futons and marijuana cookbooks. What a delight for a retro junkie like me to go on their site and see everything from rugs to bedboards to sofas, virtually all in retro designs, for reasonable prices. Some of the items are only available online. Looks like UO is competing in the same market as IKEA and Crate&Barrel.

I've pulled a few of my favorites: the Pod chair (which also comes in lime green, white, or black), the Lulu chair, and the Hearts and Flowers rug, which has a very late 60s print:







By the way, they're still selling marijuana cookbooks, for those who want not just a retro look but a retro feel as well in their home.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Noose is Tightening Around the Necktie















I read a disturbing little tidbit of news this morning: the Men's Dress Furnishings Association, a trade group that represents American tie makers, is expected to cease operations tomorrow. It has been around for 60 years and at one time boasted 120 members in the 1980s. That number has declined to just 25.

So what, you may ask? Well, the demise of this group means that the men's necktie may very well be on its way out, facing the same fate as public telephone booths. Men, it seems, aren't wearing ties very much these days...or at least not as often as they used to. During the 90s many companies introduced "casual Fridays" and the dressing down trend has pushed its way into Monday through Thursday workday culture as well. In fact, I can't think of a single man in my own company who regularly sports a necktie, except for our CEO (who wears them for media appearances) and our salesmen, when one of them is meeting with an agency for an in-person pitch or to give a presentation at a conference.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although it would make me sad if men stopped wearing them altogether, especially for special occasions. There's nothing sexier than a guy in a well-fitting suit and necktie. The necktie has gone through many changes to keep up with fashion trends through the years, from short and wide to long and skinny. And what will we get dads for Father's Day now?

To all you guys out there, keep it retro: please don't ditch your ties and let this fashion piece die! (I would suggest losing your goatees instead.)

P.S. The Wall Street Journal has included an interesting timeline of the necktie from its early conception to modern day and famous figures associated with ties. You can check that out here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Go Retro's Retro Hottie of the Month: Harrison Ford!

Picture copyright Lucasfilms.



The year is 1983, I am in the 6th grade, and it's the last day of school before Christmas vacation. We're sitting in Mr. Rapasardi's classroom, a TV and VCR at the front of the room, expecting to be shown the same old Christmas special a la Rudolph or Charlie Brown. Mr. Rapasardi puts a tape in and much to our surprise, it's a movie...as evident by the Paramount Pictures logo at the start of the tape. For the next two hours my classmates and I are enraptured by an action adventure movie (the likes of which many of us haven't seen before) filled with rolling giant boulders, exotic locations, chase sequences, snakes, Nazis with melting faces, and a man...a very hunky, grown-up, handsome man wearing a fedora and leather jacket and brandishing a whip. He knows how to whip it...whip it good.

OK, so maybe that was a bit too melodramatic but ladies and gentlemen, that was my first introduction to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones, and it didn't take long for me to fall for Harrison Ford. I saw the latest Indiana Jones movie over the weekend...Indy may have a significant amount of grey beneath the familiar fedora, but he's still the man for the role, and the movie is entertaining, even if it is lacking just a touch of the magic I experienced in Mr. Rapasardi's classroom 25 years ago. That's why he's this month's retro hottie of the month.

P.S. And could we ever forget Han Solo, or his role in Witness?

Ohhhhh nooooo, Mr. Bill is Back!

It seems you can't keep a good clay man down. Mastercard is resurrecting the 1970s Playdoh figure Mr. Bill from NBC's Saturday Night Life for a new MasterCard debit television commercial, set to begin airing on Monday.



The spot is the latest in MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign, and features Mr. Bill enduring one of his typical, pain-ridden bad days. He gets hot coffee spilled on him, a briefcase opened up in his face, and catapults through the air, landing on a bus windshield. It's nothing compared to the shorts we saw on SNL in the 70s and 80s - where Mr. Bill endured endless amputations, stompings, and other methods of claymation torture...but yet you just can't kill him off.

MasterCard is hoping the spots hit at the hearts and funny bones of Baby Boomers who grew up watching Mr. Bill on SNL. He's actually had quite a career in commercials since leaving SNL.

Click here to read more and scroll down to watch the clever ad before it hits the airwaves next week.

Ranch Dressing

Image copyright Atomic Ranch, 2008.



When I first saw the title of this magazine, it reminded me of an early scene in the new Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull movie where a key character (not saying who, but guess) survives a nuclear explosion. But according to the magazine's media kit, Atomic Ranch "celebrates midcentury houses—from 1940s ranch tracts to 1960s architect-designed modernist homes. With an emphasis on affordable solutions and homeowner renovations, our quarterly magazine shows you how to make your house cool, both inside and out." In other words, it showcases my favorite kind of architecture. Mid-century modern houses were once the common face of 1950s' American living; now they're considered historical structures worthy of preservation.

The magazine looks as cool as the houses it covers, and is available at Barnes&Noble and other general bookstores nationwide. A single issue sells for $6.95; a yearly subscription (which comes out 4 times a year) is $19.95 in the U.S. The site also has a few excerpts of articles of the current issue available in PDF format.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Rest in Peace Bo Diddley, Yves Saint Lauren, and Pringles Can Inventor!

So many recent deaths and not enough time to post about them all! Three pop culture legends recently passed away...musical pioneer Bo Diddley (at the age of 79), fashion designer Yves Saint Lauren (71) and the man who invented the Pringles can, Fredric J. Baur (89.) Baur's legacy is the most interesting in that he actually requested to be cremated and...yes, kids...buried in a Pringles can. (Gives new meaning to the old expression "It died in the can", huh?) Actually, some of his remains also went into an urn.

Here's a really cool dress that Lauren designed in the early 60s, the Mondrian dress:



Rest in peace, Bo, Yves, and the original Mr. Pringle!

Jimmy Takes a Vacation...You Have All the Fun!

When the language and content of modern TV shows and movies get you down and make you feel dirty (and not in a titilating way), nothing is more cleansing to the psyche than watching a good old fashioned movie from the 50s or 60s. I have my list of favorites, and my most recent addition is the 1962 comedy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, starring my favorite classic (and in my opinion, cutest) everyman actor, James Stewart. I requested the movie through my library (the only place, it seems, to get a hold of old movies these days) and liked it so much I watched it twice. There's no f-word, no nudity, and no potty jokes - just good, clean (if a bit slapstick) fun, much of it at the expense of hapless Roger Hobbs, who just wants to spend a quiet vacation with his wife. Those plans are blown up when she insists on inviting their grown children to join them in a rented house on the California coast. There are bratty grandchildren, a cantakerous water pump, and boorish houseguests to contend with but as you can imagine (this is the early 60s, after all), all turns out well at the end.

The beautiful Maureen O'Hara co-stars as Hobbs' wife, Peggy. Teen idol Fabian shows up for about 10 minutes of screen time, performing a rather forgettable song called Cream Puff (yes, folks, this was the pre-Beatles period) with Mr. Hobbs' self-conscious, braces wearing teenage daughter Katie, played by Laurie Peters. And there's a comical sequence when the Hobbs take Katie to a teenage dance at a yacht club and dad resorts to luring suitable dance partners with the help of some $5 bills. But the funniest scene is when John McGiver, playing the stuffy, would-be boss of Hobbs' unemployed son-in-law, attempts to teach Hobbs how to walk properly while on an early morning bird watching expedition.

One little trivia tidbit I learned while looking up the movie on the Internet Movie Database: Herb Alpert, the leader of the jolly 60s brass group The Tijuana Brass, has an uncredited part as a trumpet player in the dance band at the yacht club.

Take a vacation with Mr. Hobbs. You won't be sorry!

Cutie Patootie Retro Clothing

I just discovered a new site to add to the ever-growing list of retro clothing sellers: RetroCuties.com. The site specializes in retro and vintage style clothing for women and features rockabilly and social occasion dresses with 50s flair for prices comparable to StopStaring.com. Oh, but I think I like the oxford and Mary Jane shoes the best. Ranging in price from $31.99 to $37.99, it's a safe best these aren't made of leather - or feet friendly for a long day - but at least they're a good price for adding that finishing retro touch to your outfit.

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