Friday, August 22, 2014

Catch It!

By the spring of 1981, the four blank RCA tapes which came with our VCR were getting full. So we did the sensible thing and began recording over previously-viewed material we didn't feel the need to save.

On May 31st, Disney's Wonderful World aired a special compilation of baseball-related cartoon shorts. Baseball Fever had premiered on the October 14th, 1979 edition, but this rerun was fortuitously timed to coincide with my burgeoning interest in the game. Thanks to the hometown Oakland A's, who were off to an amazing start that year (20-3 at the start of May) under Billy Martin, I was wrapped up in the sport that season. 

So Baseball Fever was captured at the start of tape A1, erasing most of From All Of Us To All Of You. As I was watching and pausing during the commercial breaks, the final few minutes of the latter were spared.

A letter from my grandparents dated June 9th noted that I was now collecting baseball cards, as had my father when he was about the same age. For some reason, Fleer became my favorite cards to collect; I think it was their colorful design, although I also picked up plenty of Topps and the occasional Donruss.

As luck would have it, the MLB Players Association went on strike June 12th, canceling all games until August 9th, but my love for the game remained. There will be more Oakland A's content in upcoming posts.

As for Baseball Fever, it seems Disney had a hard time finding enough baseball-themed cartoons in their library to fill the show. It opens with the wonderful 1942 short How To Play Baseball, starring Goofy. Other obvious inclusions are the "Casey At The Bat" segment (from 1946's feature Make Mine Music) and its sequel, the 1954 short Casey Bats Again.

We also get Donald in a 1949 effort, Slide, Donald, Slide, which is not about baseball as such, but rather Don's attempt to listen to the World Series on his radio, foiled by a classical music-loving bee. And three more Goofy shorts are pure filler: 1949's Goofy Gymnastics and 1951's Tomorrow We Diet (because "athletes need to stay in shape"), and 1951's Lion Down, because… they had another 6 minutes to eat up. At least it contains a nice YA-HOO-HOO-HOO-EE!

Here is the original open (narrated by Gary Owens), the sole surviving commercial, and the closing credits, with the inescapable Casey Kasem touting CHiPs, The Missouri Breaks, and Little House On The Prairie:

I just realized Gary's intro about being a World Series watcher makes no sense in May, but would have been timely during the original October '79 broadcast. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Great Scott

On the afternoon of Monday, March 30th, 1981, I was on a class field trip to a local park. A group of students and a couple of teachers were seated in a circle on the grass when a long-haired and slightly dazed looking fellow approached. This was no unusual sight in Berkeley, but when he blurted out "They just shot the President!" and ran off, our teachers assured us not to listen to the lunatic.

When we got back to school and found out it was true, I think the rest of the day was spent discussing the situation and listening for news updates on the radio. I don't think they had the TV on (perhaps to spare us from a Jack Ruby-type situation), but that night my father recorded a movie on KBHK, channel 44, and sure enough, it's preceded by a news update on the shooting.

The anchor, Edwina Moore, later went on to have a minor acting career - I was surprised to see her in 1988's The Naked Gun as the usher who cues Enrico Palazzo's entrance.

The movie was Petulia, directed by Dick Lester (Beatles connection) and starring George C. Scott. Somewhere around this time (date unknown, but directly following Sleuth on tape A4), my father taped the 1971 film The Hospital, also starring George C. Scott. Although he was a Scott fan, his real interest in these films were the leading ladies - Julie Christie in Petulia and Diana Rigg in The Hospital, both favorites of his since the late 60's.

While he paused the commercial breaks on The Hospital, Petulia has all the original ads and news segments. Let's take a look at them, from tape A2 just after 20/20:

I had forgotten that the assassination attempt postponed that night's Oscar ceremony until the following evening. 

I also don't remember a few of the products here. Super Plenamins? I was thrilled to see the Oakland A's "Year of the Uniform" spot, as this was the season that made me a baseball fan, despite the mid-year strike, and the '81 A's still hold a special place in my heart (more on them in future posts). Also glad to see Round Table Pizza Cap Day, as I loved eating there (they showed cartoons!).

It's fun to see some TV clichés were alive and well, such as "Now how much would you pay?" in the LustreWare ad, and stupid characters falling for the "Do you still use Good Seasons?" "Not anymore!" "Whaaaaat?" "We use new, improved Good Seasons!" trope. In general, there's not much that is dated about these commercials, apart from JJ "Dynomite" Walker declaring "I got this heavy date with this chick on Saturday night", but even that was a few years old by 1981.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Send More Chuck Berry

The third-season episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Steve Martin on April 22nd, 1978 may have been the best in the show's history. It's chock full of classic sketches and quotable lines:

"Oh, did I assassinate your penguin?"
"Hosed? Count me in!"
"Say, who's the barber here?"
 "I'm really worried about Dialing For Toast... not!"

And, of course, "Send More Chuck Berry".

Not only were most of the sketches home runs, but there were four outstanding musical numbers: two from the Blues Brothers, "Dancing In The Dark" with Steve and Gilda Radner gliding and tripping around studio 8H, and the world premiere of "King Tut".

Hell, even the Thursday night promo for the show was funny:


Martin later said of the episode, "It was like the peak of Saturday Night. It was the peak of me." The show was aired March 28th, 1981 as part of the month-long classic reruns, and naturally we set the VHS to record it, on tape A1.

I probably watched this show more than anything else in our VHS collection, and have most of it memorized. In viewing the DVD release a few years back, the only difference I noticed from the off-air tape is in the nerds science fair sketch. 

You'll notice in the clipping above that Bill Murray's character is named "Todd DeLamuca". His original name was Todd LaBounta, also the name of a high school classmate of Al Franken and/or Tom Davis. When the real-life LaBounta threatened a lawsuit, the name was changed in subsequent appearances. For this rerun, NBC merely silenced a portion of the audio, so it comes out as "Todd... Bounta".

Here are the original ads from the 1981 airing:


Many of these commercials are the same as in the Richard Pryor SNL from two weeks prior, or at least from the same sponsors (a new Brooke/Calvin Klein spot, Magic Johnson for 7UP this time). The enigmatic Olympia Beer ad features some unseen Artesians. I also love the Atari 2600 Space Invaders ad, and the Chuck Norris double feature ("Chuck Norris faces the ninja!"). Note that the awful-looking Jerry Lewis flick Hardly Working has the tagline "He's the original jerk!" Pandering to Steve Martin's audience?

The audio anomalies towards the end are not NBC's fault, but me trying out the "Audio Dub" feature on our VCR by overlaying sound from other channels at a later date. Luckily I stopped messing around in time to preserve the final commercial. My father loved those chimps listening to K-101 FM so much he gave this ad its own entry in our VHS catalog!


Monday, July 15, 2013

Color Me Quencher

The Saturday Night Live rerun for March 21st, 1981 was of fairly recent vintage: hosted by Margot Kidder, it had aired live March 17th, 1979. Along with a funny sketch about Superman and Lois Lane hosting a party, and a hilarious Point-Counterpoint about Lee Marvin's divorce trial, it contained the all-time classic Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute.

Unfortunately, we didn't tape the show, because airing on Channel 5 at the same time was a late movie, the 1972 mystery-thriller Sleuth. Starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, it was probably recorded at my mother's behest, and although I know it has a fantastic reputation (8.1/10 on IMDb and 96% "fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes), I've never sat down and watched it, partly because I know how it turns out.

It is on YouTube in two parts if you feel like watching it. But what we're here for are the commercials from the 1981 broadcast! This was captured on tape A4, directly after the Richard Pryor SNL. Here are the ad breaks from the first half:

The Cuisinart spot ("tell her she's the best by giving her the best food processor") isn't the height of enlightened feminism, and I'd forgotten about Celeste's "Abbondanza Pizza For One". Before it got into the Monopoly business, McDonald's had a $10 million Build A Big Mac giveaway. And our family did most of its grocery shopping at Lucky (the rest was at Safeway), but we didn't listen to KYUU or KSFX radio much.

There's some unexpected Beatle content in there too, as Evening Magazine took a look at the psychedelic Beatle Bentley. John Lennon's custom-painted Rolls-Royce is far more famous, but unsurprisingly, there's a whole website dedicated to the Bentley. I'm sure if I had seen this ad at the time, we would have recorded the Evening Magazine segment.

On to the ads from the second half of the film:

There sure were a lot of obscure vitamins for sale in 1981 (Plus 74A and Allbee C-800), and neither Fish Ahoy cat food nor Chardón jeans are still around. Jack In The Box was "blowing up its clowns" in an attempt to project a more upscale image, I suppose.

One thing you don't see much of anymore is an advertiser running two different spots for the same product over the course of a show - in this case, a sad sack in search of Miracle Whip and Donny and Marie going Hawaiian. Finally, that's quite a week Gary Collins has ahead on Hour Magazine, covering incest, the dangers of tampons, Loni Anderson, Jerry Lewis, and aquatic tots!

Fortunately, we did record the following week's SNL rerun, because it may be the best episode in the show's history... I'll have a lot to say about that next time.

Friday, July 5, 2013

DEAD Honky!

Being 10 years old in early 1981, I hadn't seen many episodes of Saturday Night Live from the "classic" era. I was a fan of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, I knew about Mr. Bill, and had a copy of Steve Martin's A Wild And Crazy Guy LP. But 11:30 to 1AM was way past my bedtime, even on a weekend.

Getting a VCR should have changed all that; unfortunately, the 1980-81 season of SNL has gone down in history as one of the worst. Not being a particular fan of Ann Risley or Gilbert Gottfried, I didn't try to stay up or ask my parents to tape any episodes that season. On the February 21st, 1981 episode, Charles Rocket dropped an f-bomb during the goodnights and sealed his fate on the show, as well as that of producer Jean Doumanian, who had taken over from Lorne Michaels the previous October.

One more live episode was aired under Doumanian's tenure, with host Bill Murray on March 7th - don't know why we didn't tape that one. She was fired two days later, during production for the next week's scheduled show, to be hosted by Robert Guillaume of Benson:

If you don't remember seeing this episode, that's because it never aired. Once Dick Ebersol took over as producer on March 10th, he shut down SNL for a few weeks to take stock of the cast and writing staff and make a few changes. Guillaume would be asked back to host in 1983; Ian Dury wasn't so lucky.

To fill the timeslot, Ebersol ordered up reruns of four classic SNL editions from the Lorne Michaels era, the first of which would be Richard Pryor's one and only hosting stint from season 1:

This was a great choice to lead off the month of repeats and remind viewers what SNL had once been capable of. It originally aired December 13, 1975 as the 7th live show in the series, and was rerun April 10, 1976 and January 8, 1977, so it hadn't been seen for a while. It originally aired with a five-second delay due to Pryor's propensity for cursing. The worst thing he ended up saying was "ass" twice during his monologues, and these were reportedly bleeped for the 1975 west coast feed (they are intact in the 1981 rerun).

Thanks to those hilarious monologues, sketches such as Exorcist II, and the first appearance of John Belushi's Samurai character, the episode has attained legendary status. I certainly watched it dozens of times and showed it to all my friends over the next decade or so. Truthfully, it contains a lot of filler (such as a tedious parable delivered by Pryor's ex-wife), and several segments that don't hold up, like the Muppets and Franken/Davis's Pong routine.

None of that matters, though, because it includes this sketch.

When season 1 of SNL was released on DVD, all the bumpers leading into and out of commercial breaks were removed. Not a big loss in most cases, but for this episode, photos of Pryor's family were used in place of the usual "host looking wistful on the streets of NYC" shots.

So without further ado, from the start of VHS tape A4, here are all the commercial breaks (thank goodness we set the timer rather than staying up and hitting pause) and bumpers from the March 14, 1981 broadcast:

There's almost too much 1981 goodness to take in here: an R-rated Mac Davis movie! Brenda Vaccaro for Playtex! David Naughton and Mickey Rooney's epic song-and-dance to "Be A Pepper"! Tickle deodorant for ladies! There's nothing like something with milk! Jesse jeans (they oughtta be outlawed)! Brooke Shields and her Calvins! The Wienerschnitzel Patty MMMMelt! Two ads for the cheesy-looking horror film The Fun House! And best of all, a smug George Brett getting served by a kid who's feeling 7-Up! Those were the days...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Oil Can What?

My mother's favorite movie (as of 1981, and I doubt it's changed since then) is The Wizard Of Oz. I'm sure she grew up watching its annual network telecast during the 1960's, and the tradition carried on through my youth in the 70's.

The film made its TV debut on CBS November 3rd, 1956, and was an annual staple on that network every winter from 1959 through 1967 (apart from 1963, possibly due to the Kennedy assassination wreaking havoc with the schedules). From 1968-1975, The Wizard Of Oz aired around Easter on NBC before returning to CBS from 1976-1998. Wikipedia has a very detailed page about the film's TV history.

Our first chance to tape it was February 27th, 1981, and of course we had VHS tape A1 ready to roll.

All I can find on YouTube relating to this broadcast is a commercial which aired two nights previously, just prior to the Grammy Awards (which must have bummed out all the Enos fans):

Unfortunately, we used the remote to pause during commercial breaks, but the ads preceding the film did survive. So here is the end of a California Federal Savings spot with Bob Hope, followed by ads for the Stanley garage door opener and GE Spacemaker microwave oven, and the start of a Hubba Bubba commercial touting their new fruit flavor. To this day, all I can think of when I hear "Hubba Bubba" is the original "There's gonna be a gumfight" ad.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Otis! My Man!

Rewinding a couple of years to December of 1978: I'm seven years old and looking forward to seeing the latest blockbuster movie, Superman. I've read all my father's back issues of Superman, Action, and Adventure comics so I'm a fan of the Man of Steel. My father takes me to the big theater in San Francisco on opening night. The lines snake around the block, and much to my disappointment, tickets are sold out for the next showing.

Rather than wait in line for a screening that might be past my bedtime, my father decides to cheer me up by taking me to a comedy instead. We drive to a second-run theater which is showing the R-rated Animal House, one of the year's biggest hits since its July premiere. Going in, I remember only being vaguely aware of who John Belushi was (I hadn't yet started staying up to watch SNL), and I'm not sure if my dad was aware how much "inappropriate" content he was exposing me to at a young age.

All I know is that I loved it enough to recommend it to my best buddy Gil, and we roped his father into taking us again. He had been tipped off as to the nude scenes, and made us turn our heads and face the projection booth when the first one came on-screen. Once he saw how harmless it was, he let us face forward for the rest of the film.

Watching SNL reruns over the next year and a half made me a bigger Belushi fan, capped off by a summer 1980 viewing (with Gil and his mom) of The Blues Brothers, still my favorite movie of all time. So it was inevitable that when Animal House made its network television debut on NBC February 15th, 1981, we had the VCR ready to roll:

Of course, much of the salty language in Animal House was unsuitable for network television, but luckily director John Landis had thought ahead. He shot alternate takes of several scenes, substituting in cleaner dialogue for the words that would have required cutting (or bleeping).

This makes the film run much smoother than most R-rated films seen in prime time. Only a couple of scenes were excised entirely (Boon and Otter talking in Delta House near the start, and the visit to Professor Jennings's pad to smoke joints), and of course any nudity was trimmed away. In shots where the characters' mouths were far away or not visible, simple ADR was used to replace cursing.

That leaves about six minutes of specially-shot footage, which aren't found on the DVD (I'm not sure if they're used in current airings on cable TV). Fans of the movie will spot the differences right away, but here's a quick summary:

- Dean Wormer's "grab the bull by the balls" and "sneaky little shit" in the first clip become "grab the bull by the horns" and "sneaky little jerk"
- John Belushi's hilarious escalating trilogy of "Holy Shit!"s become "Oh my God!', "I don't believe it!", and "Yaaaaargh!"
- The topless pillow fight is replaced by a take where the sorority sisters all keep their bras on
- Boon's "Those assholes must have stolen the wrong exam" and Wormer's "like shit through a goose" are altered to "those jerks" and "so fast, your head'll spin"
- The start of Otter's grocery conversation with Mrs. Wormer about the size of his cucumber has been shortened and replaced with a different take
- Wormer's phone conversation with the mayor originally included 5 or 6 extra swear words ("balls" become "ears")
- In my memory, the trial scene had "cough cough" dubbed over the Deltas' interjections of "blow job" and "eat me", but re-listening, they're still surprisingly audible. Boon does tell those "jerks" to shut up rather than those "assholes" in this version
- The scene at Katy's house originally ended with a pantsless Donald Sutherland reaching for something in the cupboard, revealing his bare bottom. In this take, he's fully clothed
- Belushi shot more alternate lines to replace "join the fuckin' Peace Corps" and "lyin' around shit" 
- Wormer originally asks Marmalard "what the fuck's going on down there?"
- Mrs. Wormer's final line is changed from "You can take your thumb out of my ass anytime now, Carmine" to "You can let go of me anytime now, Carmine"

Here are the alternate scenes, from the end of tape A3, plus Casey Kasem yet again delivering NBC promos over the credits (sorry I didn't tape the tantalizing special that followed, The Women Who Rate a 10):