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):

Thursday, May 30, 2013

For The Other Half Of The Sky

In the weeks following John Lennon's murder, Yoko Ono spent most of her time in seclusion at the Dakota, refusing all requests for interviews. Her first public statement of 1981 was in the form of an open letter, published as a full-page ad in major world newspapers on January 18th.

Two days after the letter was published, Yoko completed work on a video clip to accompany the song "Woman", which had been John's first posthumous release. The single came out in the US January 8th and peaked at #2 for three weeks in March and April. 

With MTV still months away from launching, there were few outlets on American TV for music videos. In this case, Yoko decided to give the ABC news magazine 20/20 an exclusive airing of the clip for "Woman". When ABC made the announcement on February 9th, they made it sound as if Yoko had given the tape directly to her good friend Barbara Walters (an angle Ms. Walters does little to dispel in her intro). More likely, 20/20 was chosen because of the Lennons' long-standing friendship with Geraldo Rivera, then a producer and senior correspondent on the show.

The segment aired on Thursday night, February 12th, and was duly taped at the start of A2, our first T-60 cassette. Recording at SLP speed meant the show would only take up the first 1/3 of the tape, and the first 45 minutes or so (with no Lennon content) were later erased by other material.

As for the "Woman" video itself, Yoko combined vintage stills with the last known footage of John (taken November 26th, 1980 in Central Park, not four days before his murder) and more recent film of herself alone in front of the Dakota. Interestingly, Yoko chose to include both of the chilling photos referred to in her open letter, going so far as to dissolve from the Imagine sleeve to the December 11th, 1980 New York Post cover image of John in the morgue.

Now, let's talk about those vintage ads! If I'm not mistaken, that's a young Elisabeth Shue playing gymnast Ginny Barr in the Chewels sugarless gum spot. I also dig the ABC announcer's declaration that "nothing will stop Jaws 2".

There's a cute blooper in the Channel 7 news teaser ("If this is on, let me know. It is?"). I don't remember ever eating at Carl's Jr. (I think we were too far north in California), but I do remember shopping at Alpha Beta ("tell a friend") from time to time. I seem to recall it was the only place to get the new Yellow Series of Topps Star Wars cards when they came out!

[Now that I think of it, that makes no sense. It must have been the Wonder Bread cards I was thinking of. And I'm sure they weren't exclusive to Alpha Beta, I probably just knew some kid whose mom bought bread there and made the connection.]

The low-key soft sell of the commercial for The Competition balances out the gritty one for Fort Apache, The Bronx nicely. And it doesn't look like Savin copiers ended up conquering the business world as they'd hoped.

Finally, I'm disappointed that the tape cuts off just as Ernie Anderson is midway through plugging Charo's appearance on "The Luuuuuuuuuuuve Boat".

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Feelin' Ducky

I celebrated my tenth birthday on January 30th, 1981. Two nights later, I recorded the third item on VHS tape A1, another edition of Disney's Wonderful World on NBC.

Donald Duck has always been my favorite Disney character, thanks to the brilliant stories written and drawn by Carl Barks which I had discovered in my father's comic collection. So it was no surprise that I wanted to preserve This Is Your Life, Donald Duck. The special had made its debut on ABC's Walt Disney Presents back on March 11th, 1960:

Ostensibly a parody of This Is Your Life, it was another excuse to string together unrelated Donald cartoons from the Disney archive. The first four of these ("Donald's Better Self", "Donald's Lucky Day", "Donald Gets Drafted", and "Sky Trooper") had all been released from 1938-1942, during the period when Barks worked in the animation department.

Very little of his influence is apparent in these shorts, the best of which is "Sky Trooper", pitting Private Donald against Pete, his platoon sergeant. Clarence Nash's nonchalant delivery of the line "I've waited all my life for this opportunity" as Donald boards the plane slays me. I also love "Feelin' Ducky", the catchy tune Donald sings in "Donald's Lucky Day".

The Donald shorts from the early 1950's ("Working For Peanuts", "Bee At The Beach", and "Donald's Diary") are drawn in a fussier style, lacking the charm of the earlier efforts; "Donald's Diary" is particularly stale, full of mother-in-law and anti-marriage jokes, with Daisy drawn as Doris Day for some reason.

"Working For Peanuts", co-starring Chip and Dale, was one of the first cartoons produced in 3-D, although it's not presented that way on TV. I remember seeing it in 3-D at Walt Disney World in 1993 as part of a pre-show. The "elephant shoots peanuts from her trunk" gags are dull in 2-D, but Donald gets another catchy song to squawk at Dolores (the pachyderm in question).

My father also had the Dell comics tie-in to This Is Your Life, Donald Duck, although it contained original stories unrelated to the shorts in the TV special (and no contributions from Carl Barks):

This Is Your Life, Donald Duck was repeated in 1968, 1977, and 1980. During one of the latter two airings, the final scene was partially re-animated to include a brief shot of Elliott, the title character in Disney's 1977 film Pete's Dragon. Here's a latter-day airing of the show on YouTube which mostly matches what's on my tape:


The above is missing a brief chunk of "Bee At The Beach" and all of the segment featuring "Mickey's Amateurs", so I've included the latter in my condensed edit of the February 2, 1981 airing. What remains are all the commercial breaks, giving us further glimpses at NBC's 1981 schedule courtesy of Casey Kasem. Is Buck insane?

Other ads tout the new Bic Roller pen, Orbit sugar-free gum, Come 'N' Get It dog food (beef... cheese... liver... chicken...), Slenderalls, the new McChicken sandwich, High Point decaffeinated coffee, and Cheer (featuring Arrow garments in it's [sic] ads).

Monday, May 13, 2013


There must not have been much of interest on TV in the three weeks following Birth Of The Beatles. The next item on tape A3 was recorded January 25, 1981, when ABC's Sunday Night Movie was 1974's Murder On The Orient Express.

I'm sure my mom was responsible for this one, and I don't recall ever watching it. With Albert Finney as Poirot and names like Bacall, Gielgud, Bergman, Redgrave, and Connery as the suspects, it looks like something I would enjoy, even though I know the ending. However, it didn't hold my interest at age 9, and by 1983 I had erased the first hour of it with From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making Of A Saga.

Here are the announcements over the closing credits, which give a flavor of the period. The US hostages had been released from Iran January 20th, just as Ronald Reagan was being inaugurated, and Superbowl XV had aired earlier that day on NBC. Local interest was high, with the Oakland Raiders winning, which meant that QB Jim Plunkett presumably got to appear alongside Joan Lunden the following morning:


A few days later (the 27th or 28th based on the news headline), another movie was apparently recorded on A3. All that survives is this snippet, which indicates that the film in question was 1944's On Approval, with the immortal Googie Withers. I can't imagine who would have wanted to tape this, but it would be gone two weeks later when a much better movie came on TV, with only the preceding ephemera surviving.

This 60-second remnant came to fascinate me over the years. First of all, it's from the rarely-viewed (in our household) independent channel 26, KTSF. It had been on the air less than five years at that point, and at nights became a pay-TV movie channel, Super Time (soon changed to Star TV).

The ad seen on my tape touts the channel's February lineup of films such as All That Jazz, Being There, and The Electric Horseman. If you didn't purchase the de-scrambler box (and we didn't), all you would see on the channel at night was a fuzzy black-and-white picture, with a looped audio message telling you how to subscribe.

It's also interesting to me that the news anchor, Rose Shirinian, still works at KTSF, which now caters to the Bay Area's large Asian-American population. But the thing that freaked me out the most was the first 20 seconds of this clip. What is that awful-looking pale brown mud spewing and dripping through those industrial machines? Why does it need a sophisticated bank of lights to monitor it? And more importantly, what movie or TV show would have such disgusting images over the credits?

Now that I can Google the names of the directors, I see it's a travelogue filler, possibly Germany - Wunderbar! or Switzerland - A Peak Experience!, and that they are showing us the precision needed to manufacture Bavarian chocolate or something:


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Choochy Face

As 1980 gave way to a new year, television continued to cash in on pay tribute to John Lennon and the Beatles. On January 2, 1981, ABC's Friday Night Movie was Birth Of The Beatles.

This docudrama had been produced by Dick Clark and directed by Richard Marquand back in 1979, when it first aired on US network television November 23rd. A longer version, with saltier dialogue and some nudity, was released to cinemas in Europe during autumn of 1980. IMDb has a comprehensive list of the differences between the two cuts.

Of course, it was the US edit that got aired in 1981 and recorded on the start of a fresh blank tape on our RCA VDT 625 (my father has confirmed the model number, and found the manual to scan in for a future post!).

At this point in my Beatle fanhood, I hadn't read much in the way of biographies, mostly just discographies such as All Together Now and Illustrated Record. I did have Nicholas Schaffner's excellent Beatles Forever, but that focuses mainly on the years following their 1964 US breakthrough. A more thorough account of their early years would follow in Philip Norman's Shout!, published later in 1981, but at the time, it was Birth Of The Beatles that brought the Hamburg years to life for me.

Birth Of The Beatles covers roughly the period from Stu Sutcliffe joining the Quarrymen in 1960 through the release of "Love Me Do" in 1962. Pete Best acted as a script consultant, and while every detail is not exact and events are often compressed, omitted, or embellished for narrative purposes, the film does a fine job of evoking the era. Even now, when I picture the Larry Parnes audition or the Litherland Town Hall gig in my head, my brain borrows visuals from the movie.

The casting is decent, with Brian Jameson capturing Brian Epstein's soft-spoken mix of rage and vulnerability, and a pre-Chariots Of Fire Nigel Havers as a strangely humourless George Martin. Stephen MacKenna is appropriately charismatic as John Lennon, but it's quite distracting to have a 34-year-old actor playing 20-year-old Lennon. The music by soundalike band Rain is also very good, with only a couple of song choices (such as "Don't Bother Me", written in 1963, being played in Hamburg) jarring.

This movie was the first time I can recall hearing the expression "choochy face". I can't find any instances of the Beatles using that phrase, although Paul did throw it into a rendition of "Baby Face" in 1975. However, I must have heard it in the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which contains the Sherman Brothers song "Chu Chi Face", sung by none other than Anna Quayle (Millie in A Hard Day's Night)!

Here are the closing credits of ABC's January 2, 1981 telecast of Birth Of The Beatles, from tape A3 in my library (what happened to A2, you ask? We obviously weren't labeling them in order). It includes plugs for the short-lived series Breaking Away and the "nine resident zanies" on Fridays, ABC's answer to SNL.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gurning With Lennon

Television played an important role in my life during the period following December 8th, 1980. That evening, I was watching a rerun of Kojak with my father when the program was interrupted with a still photo of John Lennon. "Hooray!", I shouted, not comprehending what it meant, while my father shushed me.

I don't recall whether we switched to any other channels that night for further updates, but I remember calling my Beatle buddy at the time, Oliver, to tell him. His father answered and said he had gone to bed already. Rather than wake him up with the horrible news, I let him sleep and we commiserated the following morning at school. 

I remember watching the Today show the next morning while getting ready for school, and still not quite believing it was all true. Most of the next week was spent listening to Beatles and Lennon music and tributes on the radio. On Sunday afternoon, December 14th, I was at my friend Jenny's house and we watched the 10 minutes of silence in Central Park together live on her TV:

The TV tributes continued throughout the month, and one of the first was a half-hour special hosted by Casey Kasem. He hosted the syndicated countdown series America's Top Ten, and the show's production team hastily assembled "A Tribute To John Lennon 1940-1980" in time to air December 15th in New York:

I'm not sure when it aired in the Bay Area, but my father recorded it as item #2 on our first VHS tape, and I watched it sometime during Christmas week. The show is less a tribute than a cursory overview of his career, with a heavy focus on the Beatle years.

On the plus side, film archivist and major Beatle fan Ron Furmanek supplied the clips, so there was plenty of then-rare footage, albeit in short bursts. Promos for "We Can Work It Out", "Help!", "Rain", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Revolution", and "Give Peace A Chance" were used, along with various newsreels, TV performances, and a bit of "This Boy" from the Washington DC kinescope.

Of the people interviewed, two were fellow announcers with minimal ties to Lennon (Bob Eubanks had at least promoted their Hollywood Bowl show when he worked alongside Kasem at KRLA). Walter Shenson shares an amusing anecdote, and Elliot Mintz makes a creepy cameo.

It's Kasem who fares the worst, reading a script full of cliches from page one ("Webster defines genius as..." Really, Case? That's your opening line?) to the final account of John's murder ("He fired. Strawberry Fields are not forever.").

I do love the moment ten minutes in when Casey starts reciting the lyrics to "Hello Goodbye". "You say yes, I say no, you say stop, I say go. Oh, no." It reminds me of Dana Carvey on SNL promoting Casey Kasem Sings The Beatles.

This show is unavailable on YouTube, so here is my copy, direct from tape A1 in my library:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

40 Pounds of Joy

A bit of Googling led me to this great YouTube video of someone showing off their $5 swap meet find:

They have the VDT-600 model, which actually may be the one we owned. I remember using those little levers to set the clock, and he's right - it was an idiot-proof process to replace a blinking 12:00 with the correct time.

I'd forgotten about the outer rings on the channel tuners that you had to click to receive the various VHF and UHF bands. And there was something very satisfying about inserting a tape and pressing it down with a clunk.

Here is how RCA sold a slightly different model, the 400, complete with a warning about copyright infringement:

And here is a great ad which sweetens the pot by throwing in four blank tapes, a $100 value! Yes, blank VHS tapes cost over $20 apiece in 1980. I think we must have gotten a similar deal, as the first four tapes in our library were identical to those in the commercial, three T-120s and one T-60 (with blue lettering):

Christmas Surprise

Let's rewind to the beginning and watch the 3-digit counter spool down to 000.

It's December, 1980 in Oakland, California. I am a nine-year-old Beatlemaniac who's just had to come to terms with the murder of John Lennon. On my Christmas wish list alongside the usual Kenner Star Wars toys are Shaved Fish and Double Fantasy.

What I don't expect to see under the tree is one of the technical wonders of the age: a brand new RCA Selectavision VCR!

I can't find much about this model online; it was the VDT-625 model, which debuted in 1979 and retailed for around $1300 by the end of 1980. Built to last, this sturdy top-loading machine was our main VCR until the summer of 1987, and then served as a backup for copying tapes. It played tapes for close to 20 years, only losing its ability to record in EP mode.

It came with a chunky remote control attached by a thick wire, which would let you play, pause, and watch in slow-mo. You could program up to 14 channels which were tuned by small knobs inside the fold-down front panel. These corresponded with the 14 buttons on the front right of the console. On the right side, a small tray slid out where you placed transparent green numbers for each station, which would be lit from below when slid back beneath the channel selector buttons. Our main channels would have been 2 (independent KTVU), 4 (NBC affiliate KRON), 5 (CBS affiliate KPIX), 7 (ABC affiliate KGO), 9 (PBS station KQED), and 44 (independent KBHK).

Another cool feature was the audio dub button; which would let you overdub new audio to a video being played back, either from the internal tuner, or (and this was the fun part) from an external microphone plugged in to the front of the unit. In future posts, you'll see how my friends and I took advantage of this feature.

I'm not sure where or when my father purchased the VCR (I bet he still has the receipt), but he kept it hidden in his upstairs bedroom for a couple of weeks until the 25th. During that time, he tested it out with the first recording, on December 14th, 1980. Only the final 11 minutes survived, as the tape was rewound and erased with another show before long:

NBC was in the last year of its contract to air the iconic Sunday night anthology series, Disney's Wonderful World (formerly Walt Disney's Wonderful World Of Color). That night's episode had its origins in the ABC run of Walt Disney Presents. Originally aired December 19, 1958, the Christmas special From All Of Us To All Of You ended up being rebroadcast eight times, of which this was the last network airing.

The content of the special was updated to reflect the latest Disney product; for example, this one has a clip from the 1970 film The Aristocats, which was about to be re-released in theaters on December 19, 1980. In comparing this version to one on YouTube (presumably from the DVD of The Aristocats), I noticed a few racially-insensitive lines of the song "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat" were edited from the broadcast. However, some questionable dialogue remains ("Oh, boy ferras, ret's rock the joint!").

This is followed by Jiminy Cricket's rendition of "When You Wish Upon A Star", from the original 1958 special, with various characters gathering around enraptured (Donald looks bored out of his skull) to listen. The show concludes with footage from an earlier Disneyland special, with a choir singing something ("Silent Night" is dubbed in) in front of the Main Street station, followed by announcer Gary Owens wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Then we get to the good stuff - original ads for Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion, GE's incredible Brew Starter (Janet is MAKING COFFEE!), and a bizarrely-animated holiday ad for Levi's. NBC announcer Casey Kasem touts some cartoon Christmas specials starring the Berenstain Bears and Little Rascals, while the Osmonds team up with Greg Evigan's chest hair and Doug Henning's mustache. And who could forget Peggy Fleming and Tony Randall's ice dancing special!

The credits for Disney's Wonderful World retain the 1979 copyright (the same show had aired December 23, 1979), and after an ad for The Aristocats, Casey is back to tell us about NBC's Wednesday night lineup: Real People, Diff'rent Strokes, and Facts Of Life. I watched all of those shows regularly, not that I'm proud of it.

Incidentally, From All Of Us To All Of You went on to become a holiday tradition in several Scandinavian countries, and still pulls in record viewing numbers in Sweden.