Monday, December 29, 2008

Tales from Storage and Planet Ten

A Banzai Institute T-shirt.  Vintage original 1980's rarely worn.  Will Be Long Treasured.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ebay Selling tip #1

Suppose you have a program for a small high school production of "Guys and Dolls" from the 60's, and nobody bids on it on Ebay.  Here's a tip: check the ads in the back.  Maybe the back cover is for something someone collects...

You get my point.  This great ad with coupon for a "Big Barney" was listed on Ebay as such, and I bought it for ten bucks.  It came, of course, attached to the whole program.  Very clever listing!  the seller knew there were more Red Barn collectors than small high school Guys and Dolls program collectors.
Another Red Barn collectible that I actually passed on bidding on for the longest time were the giant stuffed dolls of the "Hungries" from the early 70's.  They are, to say the least, frightening.

And they're huge!  Look at how the stuffed (I say stuffed because he's definitely not "plush") Hamburger Hungry towers over the mug of the same character.  He's big enough to help me drive in the carpool lane here in California.  And the way his hamburger bun - shaped head translated into the odd mangy-dog looking fur...I wonder how many of these survive?   I mean, how many kids really wanted these back then?

Still, I can't wait to get the stuffed "Chicken Hungry," shaped like a giant furry drumstick with a face...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas from Max & Alex (Zach too).

I have "collected" a lot of different Christmas stuff - when they started doing great action figures based on the Rankin Bass specials, and the Peanuts Christmas Special, I got a lot of those.  I also like to collect different holiday songs - I've always liked different covers of songs I like, so I like to compare The Partridge Family's "Silent Night" to Bing Crosby's, for example.

One of the odder Christmas things I have - more so from an American perspective - is this Annual for the short-lived TV series "Mr. Merlin."  For one full season of 22 episodes starting in 1981, I loved this odd comedy about "Zach," a teenager working at "Max Merlin's" garage, who one day pulls a crowbar out of a block of cement and proves himself to be apprentice-worthy of the great wizard Merlin who, surprise surprise, Mr. Merlin really is.  Of course, being a teen in a 1980's comedy, Zach often used the magic he learned inappropriately, to pick up girls or make money - always with zany consequences.  (The show had enough of an impact on me that when I saw Barnard Hughes in Tron a couple years later, I kept thinking of him as Mr. Merlin.  Same when he showed up in Lost Boys even later).

I distinctly remember first seeing a promo for Mr. Merlin running on a monitor at the Channel 5 booth in the Horticulture Building at the New York State Fair in August, 1981.  (Their booth was right back by where they gave away the free baked potatoes, but I didn't like baked potatoes myself.  The State Fair was an amazing destination in the end of summer each year, and I was lucky to live pretty close).

British Annuals are a bit trickier to explain than 80s comedies, unless I have it right:  basically, they seem to be books printed about a popular show, sport, or comic strip or book that are published at the end of the year, pretty much as Christmas gifts.  Every one I've seen is filled with comics, games, and photos.  Doctor Who has an annual each year again these days, as do many popular brands.  It's interesting just to go to Amazon UK and search "annual" and see what turns up.

The Mr. Merlin annual includes some comics, some stories with oddly proportioned illustrations of the actors (see above) and lots of photos of the cast.  Lots.  I think there wasn't much to say about the little show.  there is a two page spread showing the recipes to make real magic potions from the middle ages, with ingredients including parts of lions and gorillas, with the caution "please don't try these at home."  Darn, I was just going to go for my mortar & pestle....  I found this Annual in a used book store here in Southern California and Had To Have It; I knew if I put it down I'd never see another copy.

Merry Christmas folks.  (If you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a great day on December 25th of my calendar anyway, and enjoy any holidays you do observe).  If you'd like to see something a little more "Christmassy," I recommend taking a look at Jim Fanning's recent Tulgey Wood posts:  among some other great holiday things, he's posted a terrific rare Peanuts book called "Charlie Brown's Christmas Stocking" which I had never heard of.  Enjoy!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Skating in a Winter Wonderland

I believe I've mentioned before about my decision at one point to find focus in what I collect - basically, deciding I didn't have to buy everything I stumble across just because I think it's cool.  Seeing how many separate interests I have - just count the labels on this blog and know there are plenty more coming - you can understand why I want to keep an eye on branching out into new collections that, in the end, I maybe lose interest in quickly and abandon.  With Focus, I recognize that I buy pretty much every Carrols item I come across (within reason price-wise), but don't buy every Indiana Jones action figure - just the ones I like.

Sometimes, though, I come across something that is so cool and so cheap that I have to buy it, no matter wether or not it fits in any of my collections.  The photo above is one of those things.

With my recent, new-found interest in Restaurant Row and the Lobster Barrel in particular, I went one Sunday morning to the Melrose Trading Post - a swap meet at Fairfax high School in Los Angeles that is only a mile from Restaurant Row itself.  I thought it was a likely place to turn up some matchbooks or other memorabilia from the restaurants, but I came up with nothing of the sort.  

One dealer had boxes and boxes full of photos - thousands if not hundreds of thousands - all sizes, all ages, taken, apparently, all over the world.  It occurred to me there may be a photo of Alan Hale with a visitor to his restaurant in there, but one of the two guys who ran it assured me there wasn't.  (Apparently, he had looked at and memorized all the images?)  I wasn't quite willing to dig through the bins myself, but I did spot this image on top of a bunch priced at 2 dollars apiece.

I'm not a Howdy Doody fan - it's way before my time - but
 there's something perfect about this photo.  The famous Clarabelle the clown ice skating down the street, in a perfect pose.  An "Apothecary Shop" in the background.  I wonder  about the two circles on the building up top, and the third that's filled with something.  Is that building still there?  From the height of the hand in the foreground, I'd guess this may have been taken by a younger photographer - and I really like that there's a photographer in the shot itself, to the right.  An added observer in the image seems to make a photograph more interesting, as if it impresses on the observer a new point of view to consider.  I even like the way it's labelled, in blue ball point.  "Clarabelle at St. Paul Winter Carnival 1960."  Perfect, no doubts about this image.

I wonder how this ever found it's way to a folding table in a sunny southern California parking lot, almost 50 years later?

You can read about the Winter Carnival and its history here.  Interesting stuff - but I don't think I'll take up collecting that memorabilia.  If I ever get to know a Howdy doody collector, though, I already have a great Christmas present for them...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Generic, Yet Famous

As I said last week, I've become obsessed with the history of "Restaurant Row" in Los Angeles, and especially 826 La Cienega, home of the legendary "Skipper Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel."  (If you don't think it was legendary, check out the forward to Ben Stiller's "The Ecstacy and Agony," a book of Los Angeles photography, here.  The Lobster Barrel comes third in his list of childhood memories of California, after "Disneyland" and "sunshine."  Not bad).

I quickly turned up evidence of many, many other restaurants that had occupied that location at one time.  One of the first I turned up is this matchbook for "Famous Restaurant," serving Jewish Cuisine - probably the only restaurant I found in the history of the location that didn't serve shellfish.  It's also, I think, the only one with a "Bradshaw" prefix on the phone number, so that may help narrow down when it was there - looks like the fifties, probably.

By the way, the first time I wrote about the restaurant I got wrong what's actually in that location now.  It's really "The Spanish Kitchen," which I've now visited three times.  They have the best Steak fajitas I've ever had, and there are several features inside that just might date back to the "Lobster Barrel" days, like the wrought iron railings in the dining room.  (check out the gallery at the Spanish Kitchen site for a look inside).

More Lobster Barrel history coming at you soon!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Cheesecake Concordance

The Big Bang Theory just gets better and better.  I'm really enjoying this show.

If you've been reading here,  you know I went to a couple of the tapings back in the first season, after the Writer's Strike was over.  At sitcom tapings, the audience is usually wrangled by a stand-up comedian who keeps you entertained in the long breaks between shots, and makes sure everyone quiets down when cameras are rolling.  Most importantly, he keeps up the audiences enthusiasm as the night wears on, and you have to laugh at a joke the fourth time just as if it's the first time you heard it.

At Big Bang Theory, the warm-up guy was pretty good (I hate to say I don't recall his name, I'll add it if I find one of my programs).  He did the exact same corny jokes both times I went, but I expect they get few repeat visitors.  Anyways, both times he had scripts to hand out to some of the audience members who played along with him.  I wanted one, but I didn't volunteer to sing, or play a game, so no surprise I didn't get one.  

The second time I went, he also had color photos signed by the whole cast.  I wanted one.

While I didn't get one at the show, it did occur to me that someone who got one at one of the tapings might not want to keep it, and might put it on Ebay... and I saw this picture up for auction shortly thereafter.  Few bidders, it's mine.  This one was actually not signed at the show, but at the San Diego Comic Con.  It's identical to the ones I saw being handed out, though.

Not too long ago, I had the chance to visit one of the real-life locations often "seen" on the show:  The Cheesecake Factory in Pasadena, which I'd assume is the one where "Lonely little" Penny works.  I don't know why, but on the show this restaurant is always shown as being sort of plain, almost Denny's-like.  In real life, they're borderline Very Fancy Looking, with that "jeans and t-shirts are okay"  air that so many places in California pull off so well.  I haven't tried the burger there, but Sheldon recommends it.

(A note:  Jim Fanning and I tend to call her "lonely little" Penny because that's sort of how she was described in the program handed out at the show.  You can see that program over at Jim's excellent and personally inspirational blog here.   You can also read some more news on Big Bang at Jim's December 15th post here).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Top Ten Oddest Published Sheet Musics. Number 10:

Who'd have thunk it?  I wonder how many they sold?

This is one of the many collectibles I inherited when my friend Bruce passed away.  I helped the family liquidate many of his collectibles, but this one was one I couldn't let go myself.  It is off my "focus" - Letterman is not something I collect - but it scores high "keep me" points for sheer "odd" factor.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The World According To Dwight

I've been a fan of "The Office" since first seeing the UK version.  When I first heard there was going to be a U.S. version, I was certain it was as doomed as the ill-fated adaption of "Coupling" that had just recently premiered and died after only three episodes.  (Sadly, the third episode was the first one shown that was all new instead of adapted from a UK episode, and it was actually not bad - but it was far too late for the show.  It had gained an Ishtar/Heaven's Gate type reputation and there was no saving it.

The "American"  Office, luckily, proved to become as good and even better than the original - less dark, with more complex characters and relationships.  It's easy to like the show, but there really isn't much to collect.  NBC has some great merchandise, but the chart above of Dwight's plans to reorganize Dunder Mifflin Scranton under his command was handed out at the San Diego Comic Con this year.  Like so many of the episodes, there's more to it than there seems:  Dwight has added in his Cousin Mose, who we've seen on the show several times, but also
 several family members I don't think have been mentioned... Vater?  Mutter?  Are those Dwight's parents?  Also, note that Creed Bratton's name is in quotes, suggesting Dwight doubts that's his real name.  Given what we've seen of Creed's personal life, he's probably right, but it's ironic that this is the one character whose name comes fully from the actor  who plays him: Creed Bratton.
Another little item that has come my way is this Emmy-campaign button pushing Steve Carrell for best comedy performer.  NBC made many of these for their different shows this year.  (Sadly for Steve, Alec Baldwin's button for his performance on "30 Rock" had more sway with the Academy voting members).
Not exactly a collectible but a great "fan" experience for me, though, was visiting the location where the show is filmed.  Watching an episode where time is spent outside on the roof of Dunder Mifflin convinced me the building was somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.  (It's the one where Michael is threatening to jump.  If you freeze frame some of the views, you can see where little blotches of green where plopped over palm trees to make them look like proper Pennsylvania-type foliage).  A quick Google search revealed the address and I soon dropped by.

Interestingly, the outside of the soundstage where they shoot serves as the outside of the Dunder Mifflin branch, and you can drive right up and take a look at the place, and stand where Jan threw her car keys to Oscar, and see where Michael ran across the street to the train tracks.  There are usually a couple of show cars parked in the lot, and you can see Michael Scott & Bob Vance's (Vance Refrigeration) parking spaces.
If you get the chance to go by there yourself, please don't bother the studio.  They seem to be very tolerant of polite, quiet visitors who stay on public property.  I arrived once while they were actually filming outside in the parking lot - Toby's going away party from the end of last season.  While the production assistant was very polite and just asked us to pull over in a spot where our car wouldn't be filmed, I left pretty quickly.  I hate to be a bother/concern to people who are working.  

Please note: I've violated Dwight's intellectual property rights by sharing his chart here - he holds them for the next 1,000 years.  If you see him, don't tell him where you saw this copy, okay?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

World Famous Restaurant Row

Way back on September 18th I proclaimed I was "not much of a matchbook collector."  Now, three months later, I have about six hundred of them.  It all started because of that one matchbook I found for Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel.  It proudly proclaimed it was "on Restaurant Row" in Los Angeles.  It seems like, back in the 50's and 60's especially, the stretch of La Cienega Boulevard roughly between Santa Monica Blvd. and Wilshire Blvd hosted a world-famous collection of eateries as intriguing as "The Lobster Barrel" and more.  

Today, there's still a sign there that 
labels it "Restaurant Row," but there's not much sense of it as a collective destination that it once was.  To top it off, the history of the area seems to be virtually forgotten and uncelebrated.  Virtually, but not entirely.  

So, for the last few months, I've become a "Restaurant Row" collector - searching out information on what once was there and what still is.  To my surprise, I quickly found out a great deal of history for Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel at 826 La Cienega.

One of my first finds was this matchbook (an Ebay purchase) that seems to predate Hale's invovement in the place.  Since he was so involved in promoting the place, it seems pretty clear this matchbook with no mention of the Skipper/host came from a time before the Barrel enjoyed a celebrity endorsement.

Even a look at the sign out front gives the impression the "Skipper Alan Hale" topper was added after the place had been in business awhile.  This image is reconstructed from a tilt shot in this interesting YouTube video  that features an interview with Hale inside the Lobster Barrel itself!  
It's very interesting to piece together, like a puzzle, the history of "Restaurant Row" and, more specifically, the Lobster Barrel.  Sure, I could probably go down to City Hall or the Library and find out every business that ever opened on La Cienega, but where's the fun in that?  Well, maybe I could go look through old microfilms of newspapers and find ads from when they were open, like this:

So Charo was singing next door at Casa Cugat?  I wonder if I can get in touch with her and find out what the glory days of Restaurant Row were like...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Courtesy of Sam Francisco

Quite unconsciously, over the years, I've collected a bunch of fake newspapers.  Often when a new movie or TV show came out, a mock paper set in the world of the film is distributed to comic book shops and such as a cheap way to promote the film.

One of the more unusual ones I have is the Alien National Inquirer, which promoted the science fiction film Alien Nation (1988).  Set in the slightly futuristic world of 1994, it supposed a huge  space ship crashed in the Nevada Desert, instantly giving Los Angeles a new lower class of society, the "Newcomers."  Very quickly, the wonder of first contact was supplanted by concerns the aliens were after our jobs and muddying our culture.  Hmm.

While the feature film with James Caan and Mandy Patinkin as buddy human and newcomer cops is a decent "B" sci fi film, it was really the TV series spin off - an early FOX show - that brought the concept to new levels and had the time to explore the concept.  Still, this newspaper is a rare artifact of what happens when human and slag... excuse me, newcomer - cultures collide.
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