Tag Archives: 1970s

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.

Funky ’70s Kid Books, Back in Print

Whenever a vintage kid book is brought back into print, my mouth breaks into a grin. Anyone who has ever set foot in a thrift store or library knows that kid books in particular tend to get battered, folded, spindled, mutilated and affixed with random PB&J sandwich stains over time. With especially rare child-oriented books, the chance of finding a still-pristine copy of an obscure treasure becomes almost nil. That’s why it’s heartening to see Princeton Architectural Press bring back two ’70s kiddie books done by a pair of design/illustration legends, Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, reproduced as they were when originally printed. Both The Brownstone (1973) and The Pancake King (1971) deliver ’70s-funky yet timeless messages for kids and adults in colorful, large-format editions.

A gentle “be kind to those different from you” theme runs through The Brownstone, which follows a family of bears as they attempt to hibernate in their big city apartment. The Bears merely want to settle in for the winter, only they’re interrupted by a piano-playing cat, dancing kangaroos, a timid mouse family, and a gourmet pig family. Mr. Bear calls on the landlord, Mr. Owl, to help them out of their predicament, resulting in a game of musical chairs where the tenants all change places. It ends harmoniously, of course. Paula Scher was a young designer at CBS Records when she wrote this book, enlisting the help of cartoonist Stan Mack (of Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies). Mack’s pen-and-ink illustrations are lively and detailed. I also enjoyed the way Scher laid the book out (I’m assuming she designed as well as wrote) with spreads that show a cross-section of the brownstone on the right, while other spreads have chaotic vignettes from the story on the left-facing page. Kids will love studying the characters’ expressions and seeing how they react to being moved from floor to floor in the building. It’s a fun story with a solid, subtle message.

Illustrator Seymour Chwast was already well-established with the legendary Push Pin Studios when he decided to lend his art to a whimsical Phyllis La Farge story about a boy who loves making delicious pancakes. The Pancake King also has a timely message which will resonate with today’s kids about the satisfaction of loving what you do, regardless of what will come of it. The story follows a boy named Henry Edgewood, who attracts attention from his family and neighbors for his great homemade pancakes. Henry’s notoriety also draws in a shady businessman, Arthur J. Jinker, who makes Henry famous by taking him on a glitzy pancake-selling tour. Henry soon realizes that making pancakes for fame and riches isn’t fulfilling, however, so he returns to being a happy, humble Pancake King for his parents and his faithful dog, Ezra. Chwast’s funky, organic style of art is all over this book, printed in a color-drenched wide format. To adults, Chwast’s art has a vaguely nostalgic look reminiscent of Sesame Street and The Electric Company, although kids will find appeal in his curvy, colorful style as well. As a bonus, the book contains a recipe for Henry’s pancakes – yum!

The Brownstone and The Pancake King are available at Princeton Architectural Press or Amazon.com.

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A ’70s Disney Fan’s Scrapbook

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I was delighted to receive an unusual gift over the holidays – a perfectly preserved scrapbook kept by a Disney fan in the 1970s. Christopher got this in an online auction, explaining that he originally intended to take some of the rarer paper ephemera out of the book and ditch the rest. We both ended up thankful that it was kept intact.

From what I can tell, this scrapbook was kept by a young kid, probably about my age (b. 1968), who likely lived on the East coast of the U.S. The earliest dated item is a small Disneyland pamphlet guide from 1975, while the last items are news stories promoting Disney’s first PG-rated feature, The Black Hole, from December 1979. This kid saved everything – souvenirs from Disneyland and Walt Disney World, toy packaging, wrapping paper, mail-in items promoting Disney collectibles, TV Guide ads for Disney movie broadcasts, even an example of the little blue Mickey Mouse price tag familiar to many a Disney park visitor of the time.

Apparently the most loved Disney thing to this particular fan was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Live On Stage, a limited engagement musical which premiered at Radio City Music Hall on October 18, 1979. Strangely, the scrapbook has nothing at all related to The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon, two favorites of mine from that era (1977).

They saved the groovy outside packaging on this SCRAP BOOK.

They saved the groovy outside packaging on this SCRAP BOOK.

Helpful into on '70s Walt Disney World.

Helpful info on ’70s Walt Disney World.

River Country closed? Waaah.

River Country closed? Waaah.

The magical little blue price tag.

The magical little blue price tag.

WDW shopping bag, newspaper ad for Sleeping Beauty re-release, cut up LP cover.

WDW shopping bag, newspaper ad for Sleeping Beauty re-release, cut up LP cover.

The Winnie the Pooh Sunday comic strip never ran in MY paper.

The Winnie the Pooh Sunday comic strip never ran in MY paper.

Brochures from Disneyland and Anaheim hotels.

Brochures from Disneyland and Anaheim hotels.

Snow White lives again, according to the NY papers.

Snow White lives again, according to the NY papers.

Wrapping paper for every mood.

Wrapping paper for every mood.

Dumbo Pop varieties and hard candy wrappers.

Dumbo Pop varieties and hard candy wrappers.

Does Richard Schickel still think it "simply blows one away!"?

Does Richard Schickel still think it “simply blows one away!”?

Inspiration: Atari Game Packaging, 1977-1982

Atari advertisement, Games magazine, 1982.

Atari advertisement, Games magazine, 1982.

Atari_SpaceInvadersWhen I was a kid, the Atari 2600 home video game ruled our household. Back then, we just called it “Atari” and all our peers knew what it meant. The primitive graphics may look laughable now, but the very concept of playing video games on your television set kept us enthralled for hours on end. While games like Adventure and Pitfall made excellent use of the small-sized memory and rudimentary 8-bit graphics the unit offered, for me Atari’s attraction went beyond the games and into the cartridge packaging. Yes, I’m talking about those rainbow-colored boxes that got tossed soon after the games were purchased. Unexpectedly, these candy-hued pieces of folded paperboard had a profound influence on me wanting to become a designer. Only recently, I’ve found out that I wasn’t alone!

The marketing folks at Atari were canny. Knowing that they couldn’t rely solely on boxy pixels to sell these games, they decided to entice buyers with boxes sporting a consistent framework design that showcased some of the most evocative illustration of that period. I loved the colors, the funky, curvy font, the tantalizing number that indicated how many games were on the cartridge (112 Space Invaders games – drool!). Mostly what captured my imagination was that artwork, done in styles ranging from cartoony to impressionist. Even when looking at those über-’70s illustrations from today’s perspective, one can tell it was a rare marriage of an open-minded company seeking wild, beautiful images and artists rising to the challenge to meet it. In pieces like Steve Hendricks’ rendering of the game “Defender” from the p.o.v. of people fleeing a city under attack by alien aircraft, you can see they went with an “out of the box” approach and ran with it. The format made even the dullest of games (Pac Man, anyone?) look alluring.

When the home video gaming boom went bust in 1982-83, the golden age of Atari’s box designs followed the same route. The need to compete for home gamers’ ever-dwindling dollars prompted Atari to change its packaging to an impersonal red-and-silver motif which made the games look like bland “home office” software. A bad move, although the writing was on the wall at that point. From then on, old-style Atari became the stuff of geek-nostalgia and in-jokes like the Venture Bros. DVD package shown below.

In researching this post, I’ve actually found out that a coffee table book of this imagery is currently in the works. While The Art of Atari: From Pixels to Paintbrush was slated for publication in 2014, hopefully its delay is due to creator Tim Lapetino ensuring that the final volume is as perfect as the subject demands.

Adventure cartridge box, illustration by Susan Jaekel, 1979.

Adventure cartridge box, illustration by Susan Jaekel, 1979.

The nine games initially offered at the Atari 2600 launch, 1977.

The nine games initially offered at the Atari 2600 launch, 1977.

Atari Defender package artwork by Steve Hendricks, c. 1981.

Atari Defender package artwork by Steve Hendricks, c. 1981.

Dodge 'Em box detail, 1980.

Dodge ‘Em box detail, 1980.

Atari Video Computer System catalog, 1981.

Atari Video Computer System catalog, 1981.

Swordquest: Fireworld Atari box with redesigned format, 1982.

Swordquest: FireWorld Atari box with redesigned format, 1983.

The Venture Bros. 3rd season DVD package, 2010.

The Venture Bros. 3rd season DVD package, 2010.

Overspray: L.A. Looks Like You

The 2008 coffee table book Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of L.A. Airbrush Art came to my attention while seeking artwork for my Don’t Make Me Over mix. The book delves head-first into a scene that was a red hot confluence of L.A. style and rock ‘n roll-fueled merchandising, as practiced by four of its biggest proponents. Oddly, however, this labor-intensive art style hasn’t enjoyed a resurgence in the same way that other art and design movements of the period have had.

That’s too bad – at the very least, this stuff is very evocative of the ’70s. I can definitely remember digging it as a teen, even though the part I latched onto came at the very tail end of this movement. My first alluring peek was (don’t laugh) in the overstuffed musical classic Xanadu – recall how the Michael Beck character worked as an artist reproducing album covers at billboard size? The brief scene at his workplace showed all these covers done up in that plastic pop-art style, and to me it seemed like the coolest job ever. I later found more art in that style within the pages of a book called Fame 2, which had me hooked. Up to the late ’80s, I’d still see examples of that hyper-slick artwork within the pages of Rolling Stone, or plastered on the free wall calendars they’d hand out at Tower Records every December.

The artists profiled in Overspray – Dave Willardson, Charles White III, Peter Lloyd, and Peter Palombi – all indulged in that style. As the book plainly demonstrates, however, each one put his own stamp on his work. Willardson’s was the most retro-slick and technically accomplished of all (and my favorite), responsible for iconic pieces such as the Rolling Stone cover that literally interpreted Steely Dan’s name and American Graffitti‘s cheerful carhop. White’s stuff was a lot more funky and hallucinatory, where photo-realistic scenes bump up against Maxfield Parrish-inspired fantasy-scapes. Lloyd brought on the weird with his imaginative, spacey LP covers and kinky illustrations for magazines like Oui. Palombi’s nostalgic, irony-drenched scenes astonished with their playfulness and expertly rendered surfaces. Along with absorbing interviews with all four men, the book reprints big and colorful representative samplings of their work. It also has a rather self-indulgent introductory essay, printed in a hard-to-read peach script font, that sets the scene in a smug way (you can easily skip that part and get the jist in the interviews). In the end, I ended up envying these guys for being in there at such a fantastic, creative time, and also admiring the painstaking technique and work ethic required to master the airbrush.

P.S. I still want that Xanadu guy’s job.

Another nifty thing about Overspray is the dust jacket with different designs printed on both sides which enables the book to have four unique covers, one for each artist profiled. The book can be ordered at Amazon.com here.

Dave Willardson LP art for the Spinners, 1978.

Charles White III illustration for National Lampoon, 1972.

Dave Willardson art for American Graffitti soundtrack LP, 1973.

Charles White II art for the Rolling Stones (1973); Star Wars (1977).

Peter Lloyd illustration for Oui magazine, 1975.

Peter Palombi magazine cover illustration, 1975.

Field Trip to Hades

Recently, our local library held a huge sale of cast-off books, movies and music which filled a space formerly occupied by a Mervyn’s department store. Considering its size, the sale was a bit of a bust – but I did find a few goodies. An oversized booklet published in the ’70s by the U.S. Department of Transportation, geared toward elementary school teachers, was one. Un Viaje al Aeropuerto/A Trip to the Airport jumped out at me because of the strange cover art – psychedelically colored kids gazing at an airplane set against an oppressive, cloudy sky.

Un Viaje al Aeropuerto follows a boy named Carlos as he and his class take a field trip to the airport. About two-thirds of the book consists of wide-format illustrations with simple descriptions in Spanish and English, somewhat clumsily done to fill up the space allotted. The uncredited artwork honestly isn’t very good (much of it looks traced from photos) – but I love the way the artist went nuts with the zip-a-tone patterns and liberally applied spot color in hot red. It’s a trip, man, in ways the artist probably never intended.

The images link to larger-sized versions posted on my flickr account. Dig.

Sears catalog models, welcome aboard.

Aircraft parts never looked so groovy.

Strike a pose on the moving sidewalk.

Gettin’ crazy with the zip-a-tone.