Tag Archives: 1960s

And Now, Florida’s Own Cecil B. DeMille

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Love kitschy old drive-in movies? A new documentary, They Came from the Swamp, provides a glimpse into the ’60s-’70s exploitative cinema scene with a comprehensive look at the career of Florida-based filmmaker William Grefé. This two-DVD set was lovingly put together by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, the folks responsible for those enjoyable extras on Shout Factory’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 sets.

Like Ballyhoo’s feature-length doc on American International Pictures (included on last year’s MST3k XXXIV box set), It Came from the Swamp benefits from interviews from the actual participants (including Grefé himself, lucid and gentlemanly) and a host of actors, crew members, and knowledgeable film fans. This’ll be especially eye-opening for those who dug the MST3k skewering of Grefé’s The Wild Rebels (1967), the draggy biker flick about a hapless stock car driver (pop singer Steve Alaimo) who becomes an undercover hood in a motorcycle gang. This film delves deeply into the wild, off-the-cuff production on that flick – along with a dozen-odd others ranging from 1963’s stock racing opus The Checkered Flag up through 1977’s Deliverance knockoff Whiskey Mountain. While most of Grefé’s movies were blatant, cheap-o copies of other, more successful films, they had a certain goofy charm owing to actors’ apparent ease with Grefé (he used a regular cast from film to film, in addition to employing his entire family in various on- and offscreen duties), and the creative use of various central Florida locales. As hard as it is to believe that a non-Hollywood film colony could thrive on the drive-in circuit, Grefé and distributors Crown International carved out a way for it to pay off handsomely. Eventually, his films had enough pull to draw the attention of actual stars like Rita Hayworth (1970’s The Naked Zoo) and William Shatner (1974’s Impulse). Absurd and schlocky as the movies could be, it’s actually a lot of fun to hear Grefé and others’ reminiscences, along with the usual Ballyhoo boatload of campy, tightly edited clips. Grefé ultimately moved on from drive-in fare to a lucrative gig directing promotional films for Bacardi Rum, genuinely grateful for the opportunities he got. Thanks to this documentary, we’re grateful, too.

Produced in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, this “Extended Roadshow Version” edition of They Came from the Swamp supplants the documentary with a bunch of tasty bonus materials. Among them is the breezy half-hour documentary The Crown Jewels, which delves into the history of Crown International (surprisingly still in business to this day). Disc Two is highlighted by a complete Grefé feature film, 1977’s Whiskey Mountain, presented in widescreen for the first time. Shot in remote parts of North Carolina, this tense action flick stars ’70s stalwarts Christopher George and Linda Borgeson as a couple searching the backwoods for a valuable cache of Civil War-era firearms once belonging to the woman’s grandfather. Along with their friends Dan (Preston Pierce) and Diana (Roberta Collins), Bill and Jamie find resistance from a sadistic group of rednecks who mistakenly think the outsiders are after their marijuana crop! Did I mention that the Charlie Daniels Band did the soundtrack? Cheesy fun, I tell you, although the print is faded and in rough shape. Other extras include bonus short films (including a Bacardi promo starring Shatner), an intro from cult actor Bruce Campbell, still and trailer galleries, trailers and deleted scenes.

They Came from the Swamp can be purchased at Ballyhoo’s website for the not-bad price of $29.99. For cheesy movie buffs, it’s a gas, gas, gas.

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The Wild Rebels poster, 1967.

The Wild Rebels poster, 1967.

Stanley Japanese poster, 1972.

Stanley Japanese poster, 1972.

The Jaws of Death poster, 1976.

The Jaws of Death poster, 1976.

Look What I Found: Two from Helen Borten

Little Don Pedro (1965) and What Makes Day and Night (1961), illustrated by Helen Borten.

Little Don Pedro (1965) and What Makes Day and Night (1961), illustrated by Helen Borten.

In the annals of vintage kiddie books, the name of Helen Borten is a lesser-known yet beloved one. The Philadelphia-based artist remains well-regarded for the beautifully composed, deceptively simple visuals she made for a series of science-instructional books in the 1960s. Franklyn M. Branley’s What Makes Day and Night is a typically lovely example. While Branley’s text teaches children about the earth’s rotation around the sun in a fun, accessible way, Borten’s illustrations visualize the concepts perfectly. Working with a limited color palette of black, red, and yellow, Borten does fantastic things with composition and texture – parts of it are rendered in a primitive-modern lines, while others have a tactile, woodblock feel. It’s wonderful.

In addition to science books, Ms. Borten illustrated across a wide swath of subjects. I wasn’t aware of this, however, which made it a special delight when coming across the story of Little Don Pedro by Helen Holland Graham. This 1965 effort revolves around a timid Mexican boy who bravely faces off against an escaped bull in his tiny village. Four years on from What Makes Day and Night, we find Borten continuing the clever use of limited colors (here, green joins the solid red-yellow-black family), while the subject matter brings out a looser style. I love this stuff! In 1968, she authored and illustrated a lovely looking book on animals, The Jungle, which is on my to-get list.

As far as I can tell, Ms. Borten is still active. Although she apparently left illustration behind for a successful career change into producing radio documentaries, hopefully she has some awareness of how well-regarded her art continues to be.

Source: Fishink – Helen Borten A Creative And Illustrative Genius. (July 5, 2012)

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Simplicity

Last weekend, while cleaning out excess stuff in our garage, I came across this forgotten little acrylic-on-board study I once did back in the ’90s. Although the piece is somewhat derivative of Anthony Russo‘s art, it still appeals to what I’m continuing to strive for in art, and in life: simplicity. When doing art, the temptation is to keep adding on and adding on, when the most effective art (to me) continue to be the pieces that communicate an idea in just a few brush strokes or pen marks. Unfortunately, that concept is easier to think about than to actually do… but I keep trying.

That whole idea of whittling down a drawing to its essence also came to mind when I was perusing the illustrations for a piece of vintage paper ephemera that C. recently acquired. The imagery below comes from a booklet published by the Melamine Council to promote the proper use of plastic dinnerware. It might have been a lost cause in the ’50s and ’60s, trying to make these common household items look elegant and sophisticated, but in the context of this brochure it actually works – beautifully. The uncredited artist (or artists) did a masterful job of paring down the ideas of stylish living, feminine beauty, and cleanliness into simple – yet never simplistic – illustration.

Having Wonderful Time

Vintage postcard of Fantasyland in Disneyland, circa 1960.

Today I’m looking at artifacts from The Happiest Place On Earth™. As my first trip there in seven years plus six months approaches, I’m pretty excited. Last month, we went to a local paper memorabilia collectors’ show – and in anticipation, I scoured the dealers’ supply of vintage Disneyland postcards for stuff to add to my collection. Mostly I just look for interesting images of bygone attractions, meaning basically not-so-rare items like the Fantasyland one pictured above. There were several I wanted, but I ultimately ended up with the ones pictured here for under $20 – including the rarity seen at the end of this entry.

Chorus girls high kickin’ it at the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Most Disneyland postcards have some sense of the bustling activity of tourists at the park, but I kinda like how this one captures a laid-back dress rehearsal (or maybe it’s just a poorly attended performance). For this next trip, I’m planning to check out places like the G.H.R. that I wouldn’t normally seek out. Since this is one of the few spots in the park basically unchanged since the ’50s, I’m looking forward to checking it out (really, this postcard might look exactly the same photographed today in the same spot).

And now, a view that the Disney Co. suits have casually ruined! The two Mary Blair tile murals in Tomorrowland were among my favorite things in Disneyland as a child – riding the Peoplemover, craning to see all the details and colors in the tiles. Good times. I think Walt Disney understood that things like this, although they didn’t have a “spacey” feel that totally adhered to the tomorrow theme, accurately captured the optimism of the future. As for what they have there now, I don’t particularly care.

The entrance of Adventureland, captured at or around the time Disneyland first opened in 1955. The early D-land card have that sparse look, along with shoddier printing that accentuated the pink/magenta side of the color spectrum. This one was a little more pricey, but I’m so happy I bought it to go along with the early view of the Main Street horse-drawn carriage already in the postcard collection. At first I thought they changed this entrance somehow since then, but I think it’s the mature tropical foliage that has subsequently grown around the structure that makes it different looking.

A lot of Disneyland postcards have a standardized layout on the reverse side, but sometimes one finds a neat graphic like the Tinkerbell below, which was on the Fantasyland card at the top of this entry. What a cute way to say “wish you were here.”

Cock A Doodle Doo!

John Alcorn “Birds & Beasts” illustration, 1966.

Browsing my contacts’ uploads at Pinterest, I was taken by some sweet, eye-catching art from illustrator John Alcorn. The imagery came from a 1966 book, The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs (which I tracked down – thank you, eBay). As someone who loves art inspired by that funky, stylish Push Pin Studios aesthetic, this volume was a winner. The 192-page book is a simple concept, presenting sheet music for classic kiddie singalongs such as “There Was An Old Lady” and “Did You Ever See A Lassie?” The retro display fonts and Alcorn’s inventive artwork complement the songs in a cute, very ’60s-patchwork kinda way.

Alcorn’s folksy, whimsical art made him a very active man in the ’60s and ’70s – his art graces the fabulous packaging for Eve cigarettes, for one. The Fireside project must have been a huge endeavor for him; just about every page is packed with drawings printed in hot pink, mustard gold and burnt orange. The sampling of pages pictured here nicely represent the book’s art, and yet I might break out the scanner and put some more on my flickr account. There’s a veritable bushel-full of wild, fun, inspirational imagery in here, which makes me happy I bought it.

The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs.

“Mules”

“The Animal Song”

“Good Morning and Good Night”

“All Through The Night”

“Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!”

“The World Turned Upside Down”

Learning About Art & Design, 1960 Style

Another swellerific Flickr set – filler cartoons from the index and dictionary of the Famous Artists course, 1960 edition. This particular copy I came across had the student’s name embossed on the cover… which kinda makes me wonder if Alita Knowlton got a chuckle or two from these little gags.

While the book doesn’t credit the artist who did these cartoons, they’re pretty wonderful. I scanned all 30 or so of them for the Flickr set; some highlights are below.