Prepared to watch the New Year's fireworks at Yucca Flats
Happy New Year's Eve my friends, aquaintences, and every body else! Tonight we're watusi-ing at a deadend little grotto I fell upon, Googie's. I suggest you should find time to drop in as well. We'll spin the vinyl on the TeslaTone Plasmatic Music Box featuring a red hot atomic-age selection, with aptly titled tags like 'Radioactive Mama', 'Love Goddess of Venus', 'Fallout Shelter', 'Knocked Out Joint on Mars' and 'Atomic Bomb Blues'. Swingin!
Stay tuned America!
This has been a bulletin from Atomic Living's Emergency Broadcast System for
Please tune in again - Same Atomic time - same Atomic channel!
Always got to love the overhanging living rooms on a drop-off, the wall-to-wall windows, the easy-going slopes roof lines, the winding flagstone leading you to the entrance. You know, nothing fancy, just all the modest necessities for mid-century living!
It's not very big. It's not fancy. It's not fashioned of blown glass. Nor is it considered to be of much value... except by me. I remember this ornament. It's been a part of every Christmas holiday. For a very long time. As long and as many as I can remember.
The little ornament hung on many real trees and artificial. It hung under the shade of natural green evergreen needles and silver. It was on the tree when carollers came knocking on our front door. And when my Uncle Richard, dressed-up as Santa, scared the daylights out of me so that I hid under the kitchen table and absolutely refused to come back out to claim my gift. In 1968, this little ornament was on the tree as our tiny black and white television transmitted images of astronauts on Christmas Day, orbiting around the moon for the history-making first time.
It was on the family's tree the Christmas I opened my best space toy ever - a Major Matt Mason astronaut action figure and his Star Seeker capsule. It witnessed my first Hot Wheels raceway set, and then a super-charged Sizzlers set. It was already getting old when I received a toy Batmobile all shiny new. And a Houdini magic set. A Cookie Monster hand puppet. And then all those Star Wars toys that came later.
This ornament saw our family temporarily shrink in size after my sister got married and moved out of town, and then grow again with three nieces and a nephew. And it was hanging there for Junior's very first Christmas too.
It hung there, a silent witness through Christmases of both good times and rough. In sickness and in health, 'til death took some away. And since this ornament originally belonged to my Mom, she's in affect still decorating our family Christmas tree.
I wasn't even Five years old. I remember looking at this ornament in wonder at it's simple molded plastic detail. It told a story. Joseph and Mary and the new-born Jesus in the manger. And how well I already knew that story. It's the story of what Christmas is all about.
Yep. She may have not known it, but my Mom sure got her 10 cents worth out of that one little plastic ornament ;)
Ohhhh.... really wish I had stumbled upon this one earlier. 'Tis a little too late in the season to be ordering one in time for a Merry Christmas now.
Gold Sputnik Christmas Tree Topper - BillyBobBossen "This is a fabulous piece that comes to us from the old Nordstrom display sale a few years back. The box these and the other colors came out of was labled al-tree topper-098. This is wild, and comes apart in pieces. It measures in at almost eight inches tall! We have four colors, and not many of each, there is aluminum red, aluminum green, aluminum silver, and aluminum gold."
Junior's home from school sick in bed today, so there's nothing more for me to do than play at a computer in the meantime. Which has one good result -- I can get caught-up on some blogging! Here at the Space Commander residence we're still fixated on creating our Atomic Christmas theme for 2011 and how to bring all that old goodness together with a touch of new. Be warned, today's post might get a bit ranty :)
My color-coordinated tree - aluminum and blue are the swanky colors for this Christmas!
The last time you saw this aluminum tree, it was freshly set-up out of the box. Even without decor these trees are striking. But now it's sprouted ornaments all over! Instead of throwing my usual varied rainbow of vintagey bulbs on the tree, this season it's all gone color-coordinated... more or less... in shades of blue, cobalt, aqua, teal.... whatever. It's all blue to me!
Unfortunately after I had made up my mind to do the coordinated ornaments thing, I was horrified to learn that we barely had a bulb left after sorting out all the non-blues from my accumulated stash. "No problem!" I thought, "I'll run to the store and buy some cheap, plain ornaments to fake out with the real eye-candy!" One by one I'd enter with high hopes and left with broken dreams each store on my shopping list. I had come up empty handed. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to sell me one single, plain lousy bulb that was even remotely blue!
Well, to be fair WalMart had an assortment, but these looked just a bit too post-millenial 2011-ish for my tree. And Menards had a few medium blue ornaments with some dopey graphics that nobody wanted. So naturally I grabbed 'em up to fill out the back of my tree.
But I refuse to compromise any further! Being a somewhat stubborn man who has now become so set in my vision of ideal atomic Christmas tree goodness, I'm now beginning to play around with the idea of using spray paint on some discolored bulbs I had no use for. Hmmmm... that is, if I can only find the right shade of blue paint. Sounds like a plan! :P
Okay, I've done finished my wordy bit now. It's time for the fun part: Space Commander's Show and Tell!
One of the contemporary copies of the classic Atomic Ball Clock hangs over the kitchen entryway
One of Grandma's holiday craft magazines
For the holidays I hauled my Uncle's cedar chest in place of the coffee table to show the family's old nativity. The figures are over 50 years old, they're banged-up, glued and worn (probably due to a very young space commander-in-training) but each and every Christmas they have never failed to take their places.
Always hassling with your greeting cards blown over with each blast of Winter's breath from an open door? Why not try hanging them up instead
My brother rescued this Nativity-themed music box from the trash collection and passed it on to me. It pays to have family with connections!
For some reason Junior thinks we don't have enough stockings hung... just in case Santa is feeling very generous to him this year (yeah, well don't get your hopes up boy!)
Just because it's non-blue doesn't mean it's verboten! I set these ornaments out in a large wooden bowl which Dear Mom had often used for the same purpose.
From the local greeting card and gift shop... the Abominable Snowman living in MCM style on the slopes! Contemporary artist Shag (a.k.a. Josh Agle) never fails to recreate the humorous atomic graphic work of the past without sneering at it. He makes kitschy icons classy. His worlds are always populated by hip, swanky dudes and dudettes living the idyllic lifestyle.
The shop I recently stopped in carried a large number of Christmas-themed cards with the Shag illustrations... I like this piece the best (though all are worthy of admiration, I promise). And look at the Christmas tree ornament shapes of the ski-lift in the picture window!
While the kidlettes are shooosting down the snow-covered slopes of Suburbia (more specifically, my front yard) I went on a hunt ( more specifically a used book hunt at the Yellowed Pages Used Books store).
I love reading vintage paperbacks, especially the old science fiction of the 50's and 60's. And today I hit paydirt! Rocketship Galileo (originally published 1947) by Robert Heinlein is a classic. Likewise Fredric Brown'sMartians, Go Home (1955). Murray Lienster is another top author of the period, I found his Space Platform (1953) in near-pristine condition. And there's one of the prized anthologies edited by Martin Greenberg (the co-founder of Gnome Press, which was always on the cutting-edge of the s.f. genre of the day). This one's titled Men Against the Stars(1950).
Oooh, which one to dig into first??
Another thing.... Who says you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover? Being unmistakably a product of their time mid-century book cover illustrations, especially for the science fiction, suspense, mystery (you know... the "manly-man" type of reading?), were almost never failing at being intriguing, inventive or creatively abstract and modern. And, of course, always eye-catching!
Look what I found at a local retailer this year. Three contemporary yet authentic glass ornaments with a FAB retro space-age theme, ready to hang on the aluminum Christmas tree. These are full size ornaments, not plastic knockoffs. I almost fainted with holiday joy when I spotted these! Somebody pinch me ;)
Recently while looking through boxes and boxes of family treasures, I found these two contact prints among my Dad's photography. Now that we've just had our first real snowstorm of the season, its as fitting a time as any to share them here.
It'd be interesting to go back and photograph the same locations today... if I only knew where exactly in town they were taken from! I can however photograph the weekend's first snow as it settles on our beloved ranch house which we call home.
It's the return of Grandma's Regal Sapphire aluminum tree, with the tinsel mechanically attached for that perfect hi-tech look!
Ahhh, all those Christmas seasons that I remember helping Grandma set-up and decorate this very tree. And what a spectacle it was, displayed in the corner of the living room near the kitchen entryway. The color wheel light endlessly casting reflections of red, blue and green, dance on the silvery needles. Soon it would be sheltering a colorful horde of presents, professionally wrapped ones by the retailers too!
When the first aluminum trees burst upon the scene in the 1950's, many people scoffed at the idea, and only treated as a fad by others. But not my Grandma. Unlike the nay-sayers and scoffers who never understood, Grandma "got it." And fortunately for later-comers like me, she still got it well into the 1970's so that I too could honestly claim that I had "gotten it" as well.
Today the Tree made of aluminum tinsel is enjoying renewed acceptance, not so much as a kitschy fad but more and more as trendy stylin'. In fact the trend has been gaining enough momentum that retails have taken notice and have been offering brand new renditions of the metallic icon in a whole host of color variations. What was old is new again!
So here's to you, Grandma and your forward-thinkingness... and thank you for all those memories you made that still keep me going forward today!
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you "Ricky Rivets" the robot. This Halloween my very own Junior is modelling a very vintage trick-or-treating costume, which I happened to win off of eBay earlier this year. And its a perfect fit! "Ricky" is a Collegeville Costume product which from the styling looks typically early 1950's. Junior also models to suit as an optional space ranger uniform. The red "Rocket Patrol Space Police" cap with rotating propellor (for providing maximum thrust during police hover craft chases) is another vintage find. It came from a local antique shop, still with it's original price tag of only 15 cents attached.
I could be slightly biased, but doesn't the little man look all spiffy in his improvised uniform? Enough to make any space commanding Pop proud!
(My apologies for this post coming to you a tad bit late for the holiday.... but better late than never)
If you'll please pardon me for not staying longer, but I have a date with the very bewitching Miss Veronica Lake... or at least I can dream of it while watching her starring role in 1942's fantasy comedy flick "I Married a Witch", directed by René Clair, with Fredric March, and Robert Benchley.
While shivering away in the very damp central States, waiting to resume the never-ending task of painting the home, I've been once again browsing through eBay for wonderful MCM treasures yet to discover. You probably know how dangerous that can always be. There are a few things that caught my eye, all hopelessly beyond my wildest dreams of aquisition...
Bar Cabinet By Gio Ponti Italy 1950. 4 pieces, beautiful and rare. Marble top. Rosewood Bar and Back Bar set. Brass legs. Display vitrine in the back bar cabinet. $4500.00 or best offer offered by: Nappi Antiques
I was rummaging through LIFE.com (because I like rummaging through the virtual world about as much as I do in real life) and spied Julie Newmar's photo shoot showcasing a particular play she was appearing in back in the late 50's.
Now, when you usually think of Miss Newmar, you immediately associate her with Catwoman from the 1960's TV series. But indeed she was very busy slinky sedctress before then. So, let's get back to my point here... In 1958 she did this photo shoot/story in LIFE magazine after being cast for the Broadway play The Marriage-Go-Round.
Aside from Miss Newmar, the imagery we see is of the set from this Broadway production. We only get a glimpse of this backdrop, but sometimes that's all one needs for some inspiration. It's very 50's, with just enough Modern thrown in; there's those tall champagne-pink bookcases with matching sofa, all loaded with volumes and volumes, a touch of African art here and there, the sculpted glass brandy bottles and I love the built-in radio.
Now why can't my pad look like this? Because I'm not that suave, swanky and sophisticated, that's why!
Anyway, enjoy Julie and the setting, you can read the rest of the story by clicking on any of the photos -
As some of you may know by now, Junior is active in the Scouts. Really active...
So far we've (because the dad's are supposed to be partners with their boys) been to weekend camp outs with several thousand other scouts, a couple parties, and a banquet with entertainment performed with Junior's help. He's helped clean a lake, studied science, nature, geology, history and how to properly respect the Flag. For a month he had to follow an excercise routine and show steady improvement. He can now read a map. Recently he's taken classes in First Aid and knows how to treat everything from snakebite to shock to performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking victim. I've been lucky not to have any of these performed on me yet!
This past weekend Junior participated in an annual event which has become a tradition with young American boys since the mid 1950's. It's his Scout Pack's Pinewood Derby. It's not his first derby – he's got two church-sponsored events under his belt – but this is his first time to have the grand experience where it all began, with the Scouts.
Page 59 in the October 1954 issue of Boys Life magazine, featuring the story of the first pinewood derby race
The first pinewood derby was the idea of Don Murphy, a Cub master in Manhattan Beach, California, back in 1953. His young son who was a cub scout who wanted in the worst way to try soapbox car racing which was a popular hobby with older boys at the time. Soapbox involved building a homemade car to compete in a sponsored race downhill. Since Don's son was a bit too young for soapbox, the Cub master came up with the idea of building miniature cars for all his scouts to race. He had his scouts and their fathers together shape cars from wood. Some fathers built a 31-foot race ramp with two lanes and a battery-run finish line made from doorbells and rigged with red and white lights to identify the winner.
Fifty-five Cub Scouts participated in that first Pinewood Derbyrace in 1953and the event was a hit – not only with the young scouts, but their dads too (imagine that!).
This is an example of a Soapbox Derby racer which inspired the Scouts Pinewood Derby racers. Soapbox competitions were very popular in the 1950's, the one shown above was built by a cousin.
Like wildfire it grew and thanks to publicity provided by Boys Life magazine, spread to packs all over the country. Within a year the pinewood derby was adopted for use in all Cub Scout packs. By 1955 an official supplier was found to make ready-to-build kits containing nails, wheels and a block of white pine to carve anyway the young builder could imagine. From the start, Don intended the derby cars to be done as a father/son project, too. It grew, the annual races went from being a side event to becoming their own premier event. And generally the rules for the competition have stayed the same as Don Murphy had first laid them down.
Brother (playing the jug) and his Scout Den, circa 1957
All this means that when my own brother was a Cub Scout in 1957, the derby was still a fairly new deal, he was lucky to participate in the big event. Dad had helped him shape the body by taking it to work with him and using the electric equipment of the sign shop... Good ol' Dad! How did he do? He walked away with the bragging rights to First Place in "Best of Show." The trophy was simply a typewritten "plaque glued to a wooden base painted silver, but it was still a big deal to win it!
Junior's modern derby car kit
From what I've been able to piece together, the derby car kits themselves perhaps changed the most over the years. First the original wood block was changed to a length of 7" even. Some sources say around 1973 the block swapped its height for width, resting the wider dimension flat so as to resemble modern racer designs more closely. In 1977, the wooden struts were moved to the axle position used today, and then removed completely in 1980, leaving a solid pine block. The big notch cut out of the block for the "cockpit" would also eliminated. The wheels also changed from skinny wheels to a wider tread around this time.
And what does all that mean? It means when I was a Webelos scout in the 70's, that my derby car was a bit of the old mixed with the new. When Dad asked how I wanted to design it I said I wanted it to look just like my big brother's car from 17 years earlier... I had a big case of envy for that thing. So we shaped it together in Dad's workroom on a sanding wheel. It was one of my first experiences working with dad using big power tools. When all was done, I had my dream car. And when comparing cars at the next den meeting I was also the only scout in my den with a 50's style racer! But it looked good in it's shiny blue paint and a racing stripe down the center made of metallic tape. I even accessorized it with a pair of exhaust pipes taken off a toy car. It left some of the other kids filled with the envy bug because when we next met up the night of the race, they'd tricked-out their own racers too!
On derby night the whole Pack met, all the Cub and Webelos scouts in our neighborhood, which maybe amounted to no more than a dozen or so kids all together. Our pack was small! I was feeling very proud and optimistic, that is until much to my horror, the cool exhaust detailing on my derby car had to be snapped off because they extended out too far for the race track. So much for showing-off the best-looking car! By the way, our raceway was very, very simple compared to Don Murphy's back in '53. The track ramp was fashioned from a couple of plywood planks sloping straight out for about 16 feet. And there were no electric lights to at the bottom to indicate the first car to reach the finish, it was all eyeballed by volunteers. And I'm still grumbling because I'd swear that my racer beat that other kid's to the finish line first! Oh well.... it was sudden death elimination in those days. My derby days were over before they barely got started... the story of my life!
Now fast forward to the present. 53 years after the very first pinewood derby began by a Cub leader, Don Murphy. By now more than 90 million Pinewood Derby car kits have been sold since. And the event has long become synonymous with the Scouts. Saturday afternoon Junior finally got his opportunity to compete with almost 40 fellow racers (at the very same church activity center where, some umpteen years ago, I was doing the same thing with my scout pack in fact). He proudly showed off his racer, the one that both his dad (me!) and uncle helped him build. For today's meet, a computer was used to automatically keep tabs on each racers time. The brand new derby track was around 40 feet long, a perfectly smooth aluminum construction officially sanctioned by the Scouts... and with electric sensor beams at the finish line. Each and every racer got to complete in at least 4 heats, once in each of the four lanes, so as to be as perfectly accurate and fair as possible. It's all about the kids having fun.
Junior had a blast.
Junior's Big Day at the Pinewood Derby
By the way, those TWO trophies that Junior brought home at the end of the day? They definitely were not fashioned out of a couple of small wooden blocks painted silver ;)
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Are you interested in more? For more on the beginnings of the very first derby, Pinewood Derby History is a great place to start.
Pinewood Derby Times has a nice timeline explaining the changes made to the derby car kit since the Fifties.