January 27, 2011

Julie Newmar and the Swanky Apartment

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 -

January 24, 2011

The Derby Tradition is a Family Tradition

Brother's 1957 Pinewood Derby Car

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 Derby race in 1953 and 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 ;)

- - -

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.

January 17, 2011

Those Outer Space PJ's

A little late, but I knew there's was a shot our two of my beloved Outer Space Rocket pajama's... the best sleepwear a kid ever had! I was 5 years old in this shot and I've got my little junior tool kit (the kind that came with a rubber saw, a screw driver and a real hammer!) I also have it filled up with expended flash cubes that dad gave to me because I thought they were pretty cool at the time.

January 11, 2011

Acres of Vintage Space-Themed Fabric

Sometimes I wonder if the title of this blog is a bit of a misnomer. It's going to be another trip into the Space Age life as I give a little update on a few finds I've managed to snag over the past month.

Space-themed flannel fabric
These two panels of orbiting rockets and rocketting robots remind me so much of my beloved space jammies I had as a kid. I loved those things so much that I've made sure that Junior's grown through several pairs of his own space themed sleep wear.

Perhaps these can become pillows? Junior really needs to stop growing up so fast.

Space Curtains
Futuristic USAF jets flying in formation, over a background of stars, rockets and telescopes. Can you believe I won two paired sets of these vintage barkcloth space-themed curtains for just 99 cents? There's some slight fading in areas, but I cannot complain at a price like that. These are now up in Junior's room.

Space Age Blanket
The pattern on this huge home-made bedding covers the dawn of the space age, with images of Sputnik, a Redstone rocket, and a realistically rendered Mercury space capsule ascending off the launch tower (dating the design to around 1961). The colors are vivid and the blanket's never been used. This will look just right on Junior's bed along with the new/vintage curtains.

Oh, to be a kid again! With all these fun space graphics to dazzle the eye in Junior's bedroom, I think I just might have to be a little jealous.

January 9, 2011

Swanky Television Viewing for Today

Still on the prowl over the web today and made another hit that needs to be shared with all you MCM-conscious readers out there. It's Wilkerson Furniture located in Lake View Terrace, California, a contemporary maker of of fine furniture with a Danish Modern flavor. I especially like the M21 entertainment console designed to house today's flat screen TVs (and apparently hide all those accessories to boot). Its all encased by a vintage-styled hard wood cabinet, your choice of walnut or cherry. The site looks fairly new, so if you're interested in any of the products, you need to give them a ring. They ask for 12 weeks lead time and offer custom sizing.

What's in Your Backyard?

So the Jones' are at it again. So they think that the new swing set they had installed for little Timmy is the best in the whole neighborhood, eh? And now Jone's keeps rubbing it in how sorry your own Junior's tire-swing is. Well you'll show HIM who should do the bragging... Just wait until the delivery truck brings this to your front door!

It wasn't supposed to be an ongoing series, but I have an update to my posts last summer on the influence of Mid-Century design and fads on children's playground equipment. But this has to be added! The very retro-looking robot slide above was taken from an manufacturer's catalog dated to the 1970's, obviously still influenced by the space-madness of the 50's and 60's. If you Google "robot playground" it appears that there's still one or two surviving examples hopefully still out there intriguing young and old alike today. So sad that a bunch of busy-bodies had to tear down most all this wonderful equipment from our city parks and school playgrounds as being unsafe. Silly adults!

But on to the link that I've included! Along with Giganta there's a rocket slide, lunar lander and a very Trekkie looking starship jungle gym. Now I'm not exactly sure where these images were originally posted, but I've seen this catalog first at Retro Playground Equipment @ Plaid Stallions along with other swell examples of jungle gyms shaped like castles, tugboats and a few which, umm, may be hard to describe.

The Divine Caroline.com article has a large number of additional images: rocket slides, barrel runs... all kinds of goodies to get the inner-child all excited. So just follow the link if you're ready for more. But be warned - there's much packed on this site in 3-parts... 70's Playgrounds @ DivineCaroline.com

January 8, 2011

The Beautiful Blonde with a Beauty Mark: Anne Francis . . . in Memoriam

A long time heartthrob of mine is gone. Actress Anne Francis, forever iconized for her role as the unforgettable love interest in the 1950s science-fiction classic "Forbidden Planet" and in the 1960s for the sexy private eye in "Honey West" on TV, has died at age 80.

The beautiful blonde with a prominent beauty mark, Anne appeared opposite such stars as Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, Robert Taylor and Glenn Ford in some of the most popular films of the 1950s.

in "Forbidden Planet"

"Forbidden Planet" was a science-fiction retelling of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." The 1956 film had Commander Leslie Nielsen and his crew land on a planet soley occupied by hermit scientist Walter Pidgeon, his daughter (Francis) and their helper, Robby the Robot.

as "Honey West" with her pet ocelot

In "Honey West," airing from 1965 to 1966, Anne was a private detective played as a female James Bond, who happened to keep a pet ocelot, bested her worst enemies with her martial arts and just as cool with a gun. It was one of the first TV series to star a woman in an action series. She won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy award for her role in "Honey West."

from "So Young So Bad "

Among Miss Francis's other films:
  • "Blackboard Jungle," the landmark 1955 film about an idealistic teacher (Ford) in a violent city school, Francis played his pregnant wife who is targeted for harassment by one of his students.
  • "Bad Day at Black Rock" with Tracy and Robert Ryan
  • "Rogue Cop" with Robert Taylor
  • "The Rack" with Paul Newman
  • "A Lion Is in the Streets" with James Cagney
  • "Hook, Line and Sinker" with Jerry Lewis
the young starlett with Jeffrey Hunter in "Dream Boat"

with Tom Ewell and her dog Smidgeon, going over the script for "The Great American Pastime"

In television, Anne appearing in dozens of series:

  • "Mission Impossible"
  • "The Virginian"
  • "My Three Sons"
  • "Ironside"
  • "Gunsmoke"
  • "The Twilight Zone"
  • "Charlie's Angels"
  • "The Golden Girls"
  • "Home Improvement"
  • "Nash Bridges"
with dark hair as Jess Belle

Born September 16, 1930 in Ossining, New York as Ann Marvak, she grew up performing for radio and television and on the Broadway stage. Anne relocated to Hollywood when she landed a movie contract at MGM (and later went to 20th Century-Fox) acting opposite the biggest male stars of the day.

According to sources, Anne had married twice and is survived by a daughter and grandchild. This last Sunday she succumbed after a long battle with lung and pancreatic cancer, in Santa Barbara at age 80.

Anne's website: http://www.annefrancis.net

January 3, 2011

Guard your Frigidaires People, it's Mr. Potato Head from Outer Space!

50's Pressman SPACE FACES Playset
Create your own vegetable space people.

Tele Radar Helmet Disc - check...
Sonic Resonator Headpiece - check...
Super Sight Eyes - check...
Fission Control Nosepiece - check...

Sound Stabilizer Earpieces - check...
Anti-Gravity Feet - cheeeck!

I've seen this Pressman set before, offered for quite a bit lower (and lost my a bid on it too - boo!). Toys like this make me feel like I missed out on something special by not growing up in the Fifties. I love the whimsical slant that seemed to permeate so many of the space toys dreamed-up during the pre-dawn of the Space Age. It's a shame much of that had to disappear. Thanks to Sputnik, Americans seemed to have lost any sense of humor when the reality dawned upon them that they were suddenly behind in the great Race for Space.

But seventy-five dollars for the opening bid??? *Gasp* I'll have to let this guilty pleasure pass, this time. Let some one else with much deeper pockets have the fun of creating their very own veggie army of spacemen, and I shall keep typing up posts about those who do.

January 1, 2011

Welcome to the Jet Age

It's been a day for surfing the web and stumbling upon all kinds of goodies. And I wanted to share some highlights with you.

The Atomium
Views from all around the mega molecular model at Pictures Newsletter.

Check out the Webcam Atomium too.

TWA Terminal - JFK Airport
A little bit of Populuxe Space-Age feel good heaven to be seen in this wonderful little stock photographer's site: RonSaari.com

The Unisphere
A set originally uploaded to Fotki by Peirce Behrendt.

Atomic Dining for Space-Age Lovers, and a Resolution?

Well another new year is born and another one bites the dust. It's a time when people often clean out the old to make a fresh start or make new year's resolutions. First of all I'm going to do a slight clean up to my blog by removing the playlist that's been floating at the bottom of the page for far too long - especially since it's been bogging-down the vintage Etch-a-Sketch computer that I use whenever I attempt to load the darned thing :)

The playlist will be kept archived here in this post since there may be someone out there who may still have some fun from it.

Get a   playlist! Standalone player Get   Ringtones

Next I need to make a New Year's resolution... hmmmm, that's quite a bit harder. Maybe I should resolve to put away all the Christmas decor before the end of January this year? Nope, that is a challenge for me, but not challenging enough!

The past is history and one should look ahead. It's time for a change. I'm bored of looking at these same four walls. I need something new, something exciting and different. Maybe Mid Century Mod has had it's day, it's dated and out of place today. Should I give this up, sell it all off and start decorating in vintage 70's decor with macrame owls hanging from the wall and some groovy lava lamps? Just as dated. A little Shabby Chic? Not in this man cave. Maybe we could go for a home make-over in all new post-millennial, like in the photo above? Let me think about that one for awhile. In the meantime I'll ask you this:
Do any of you make a resolution for the new year? And if so, just what is it that you're making a pinky-swear to do?
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