Category Archives: memory lane

Where I Get Some of My Ideas From

I write about a world that never was, inspired by a world that used to be.

This is footage from Roy Chapman Andrews’ Gobi Desert expeditions in the 1920s, for the American Museum of Natural History. This is Mongolia as it was then, but isn’t anymore.

God has wired into some of us a longing for places we cannot reach, either because they exist no more or because they never did exist. A fantasy writer taps into that. We know the past was real, because we used to live in it: but was it really? Things change. Sometimes they change too much. Places I used to know very well are so gone, so wiped out without a trace, that they might as well have been in Mongolia in 1926: or tucked away in Lintum Forest. Pick one.

Did I dream these places? Were they ever really real? Because I can’t find them anymore.

Oh, but God can. He most certainly can.

Memory Lane: The Addams Family

This show came out in 1964, when I was in eighth grade, and it was a huge hit. I remember when our U.S. History teacher, rhapsodizing over John Adams and his descendants, sighed, “Ah, yes, the distinguished Adams family!” And the whole class laughed uproariously, prompting Mr. U____ to remark, “Your minds are in the gutter!”

But it wasn’t such a bad gutter. In addition to having a terribly funny format, hilarious scripts, a terrific cast, and great guest stars like Richard Deacon and Don Rickles, The Addams Family had something good going for it. All the weirdness aside, the members of this family really loved each other! I think they were the happiest and most harmonious family on TV. And that’s worth watching. Oh, very much so!

Uncle Fester, played by Jackie Coogan–watch him steal this scene from co-stars John Astin and Carolyn Jones: still crazy, and still funny, after all these years.

It reminds me of my own family, back when I was five or six years old. Only without the eccentricities.

Memory Lane: Toys You Had to Have

Image result for images of melvin the moon man

Before there were video games, there was Melvin the Moon Man.

Remco came out with this game in 1959, and to my 10-year-old mind, the commercials were devastatingly compelling. Had to have it! Had to! Look, ma, it’s got Tumblebum dice!

So we finally got it.

Y’know, there wasn’t much to that game. The big selling point was the dice inside this plastic hourglass thing that you spun, instead of rolling the dice on the game  board. And you moved these little flat plastic spacemen around, according to the roll of the dice, and collected Moon Bucks. It looked like such a blast on TV, but in real life, it didn’t even challenge my kid sister’s sense of strategy; and she was only four years old.

That may be because there was no strategy involved in it. You just went where the dice told you to go. No choices to make, no decisions. No thought at all.

I wonder why it hasn’t made a comeback.

Memory Lane: The Singing Flea Cartoon

Actually, this cartoon is older than I am; but I remember it well. It has that catchy little tune you only have to hear once–and of course the whole goofy spirit of the thing. Well, they didn’t call ’em Loony Tunes for nothing.

Note the flea’s Meat Ration book. What do you think Democrats would give to bring that back again? We don’t call them loony for nothing, either.

Memory Lane: Monopoly Plus

Image result for images of monopoly board

When I was 12 years old or so, a Monopoly craze swept my neighborhood, and us kids played it every chance we got.

We soon learned that, with four or five people playing, it wasn’t always possible to acquire a Monopoly. Then, unless a big trade came through, a game could take all day without anybody winning. So we devised ways to jazz up the game–but without breaking the written rules.

First we adopted the “Free Parking Bonanza,” a well-known folk rule. Fines and taxes levied by Chance or Community Chest (“Pay School Tax of $150”–aagh!) were paid to the middle of the board, where they piled up until some lucky player landed on “Free Parking” and won all the money in the pile. This could sometimes stave off bankruptcy, or even lead to a losing player’s comeback.

But we didn’t stop there. Our most radical innovation was the “Free Ride.” As in, “If you trade me or sell me New York Avenue, to complete my monopoly, I’ll throw in a free ride for you, the first two times you land on it.” Not strictly forbidden by the rules, this often blew a game wide open. On a rainy day in summer vacation, our innovations sometimes let us play two or three games instead of just one.

Don’t sell Monopoly short: it can help teach a child how to handle money and other resources, like time. You don’t always have much choice as to where to build, but you nearly always can choose when to build. Timing your investments just right is frequently the key to victory. Timing them unwisely leads to disaster. And then there’s the choice between slowly developing a monopoly that costs a lot, but will pay a big return if someone lands on it, or quickly developing a lot of cheap properties in hopes of building up an early lead. Hint: the purple and light blue properties at the bottom of the board, plus all four railroads–I’ll take it any time. And don’t be too quick to sell a Free Ride to a player who’s already in the lead!

There’s a lot of thinking involved in Monopoly. May its popularity never fade away.

Memory Lane: Castro Convertibles

When I was a little boy, there was this little tiny girl on TV who busily converted a sofa into a bed: the famous Castro Convertible commercials.

The woman in this video was that little girl, Bernadette Castro, whose father invented that famous piece of furniture. I wish the video had the old Castro jingle: “Who was the first to conquer space? Castro Convertibles!” The best I could do was this much newer ad which shows the antique commercial in the inset.

We had a convertible sofa in our house, but never converted it into a bed. I was always tempted to try–I mean, if a little girl could do it, I could do it, too. But I never dared to do it, for fear I wouldn’t be able to put it back together again.

Let me see if I can find that jingle for you.

Ah, here it is–complete with Dan Ingram’s radio sales pitch.

Memory Lane: The Lennon Sisters Sing ‘Paper of Pins’

This video, vintage 1956, has the Lennon Sisters, on The Lawrence Welk Show, singing a dear old folk song, A Paper of Pins–one of the first songs I ever heard on a record: one of those little red records they used to have for kids.

Grandma never missed Lawrence Welk, and the Lennon Sisters were her favorite. This video brings back fond memories of staying overnight with Grandma and Grandpa and my aunts, and wondering why they chose to watch this stuff.

Now that I’m as old as my grandparents were then (if not older–but to a little boy, everybody over 40 is downright ancient), and part of my job is to keep track of things like claiming that drinking milk makes you a Nazi, jawohl, I don’t wonder about it anymore. Jump on my bike and pedal down Memory Lane for all I’m worth. Stop in and see the Lennon Sisters. And maybe even sack out on a Castro Convertible–remember those?

15 Minutes of Cinematic Twaddle

Image result for images of malice aforethought with ben miller

Did you ever decide to watch a movie because it stars an actor whose work you’ve really liked, so far? We fell into that trap the other night–Malice Aforethought, supposedly an English murder mystery. The bait was Ben Miller, a very funny comedian who’s also a pretty good actor.

You would be justified in walking a mile out of your way, in snow or rain, to avoid seeing this movie.

In fairness, we could only endure about 15 minutes of it, stubbing it out when a certain seduction scene turned out to be so ham-fisted, so inane, so jejune, as to start me whistling Lillibulero. It was that or throw something.

Once again, it set me to thinking… Here is a movie made by professionals, costing heap big sums of money. They hired real actors, real writers, a real director, and a real crew. Every day they had the opportunity to view the rushes and see how it was shaping up so far. And yet the result managed to be both fatuous and offensive.

How does a movie this bad even get made? Obviously it was going to be one ludicrous sex scene after another, with somewhere a murder mystery thrown in, if they ever got around to it. Why didn’t Miller’s agent read the script and threaten to shoot him if he agreed to appear in this clunker? Somebody should’ve been shot for this.

If people who actually make movies for a living can produce a mess like this, what does it suggest about any idea to grow the government and give spectacular new powers to equally inept and foolish individuals?

You can always turn off a rotten movie. It isn’t so easy to get rid of rotten public policy.

Bonus Video: Clint Eastwood Sings

Before he was a movie star, Clint Eastwood co-starred in Rawhide, a classic TV Western, vintage 1960 and thereabouts. The song he sings here, Beyond the Sun Over the Mountain, was auxiliary theme music for the show–and I always thought it was a mighty fine song. I only just found out it was composed by Russell Garcia, whose music soundtrack for The Time Machine (1960) is some of the most haunting movie music ever written.

You might want to try this one as a lullaby. I’ll bet it’ll work.

P.S.–The two guys assisting Eastwood in the scene were among the best character actors ever–Buddy Ebsen (Beverly Hillbillies) and Paul Brinegar. Now that was television!

Farewell, Imagination Theater

When a good thing comes to an end, there seldom seems anything on hand to take its place.

This weekend was the final broadcast of Jim French’s Imagination Theater, home of America’s finest original radio drama. It couldn’t be helped. Jim French, who wrote hundreds of the scripts, acted and directed in them, and ran the business aspect of the enterprise as well, had been in radio since World War II, in Seattle radio since 1959, and put in the last 21 years on Jim French Productions–and he just can’t carry it any farther. He married his wife, Pat, in 1950, and she was his partner in every sense of the word–writing, acting, and directing. Pat died last month. It tears my heart to think of it.

Patty and I have been listening to Imagination Theater every Saturday night since sometime in the 1990s, and we will very keenly feel its loss. These shows were wholesome as well as entertaining. We bought a lot of their discs. We chatted with them on their blog. We’ve got T-shirts.

I have included a recent sample of their work, if you’d like to listen to it.

Jim, old man, I’m sure we aren’t alone in missing you and your work. It meant a lot to us. Go with God, my friend. Go with God.

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