Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yet Another Proud Moment!

So yesterday I described how my Little Monster made me proud by recognizing the voice of Tom Servo (see previous blog). Well, she did it again this evening! You know the three-part episode arc of "The Brady Bunch" where they went to Hawaii and got into all kinds of trouble after Bobby finds the supposedly bad-luck tiki idol? Well, The Monster likes the show (poor thing) and loves the Hawaii episodes the best. And who doesn't? I mean, you have a mysterious tiki, Greg showing his mad surfing skills, a giant tarantula menacing Peter, Alice throwing her back out doing the hula, a great guest in the immortal Vincent Price and even a cameo by Don Ho!

Tiki Idol

So what was today's moment of Monster Dad pride? Well, we had hot dogs and baked beans for dinner tonight. I made some innocent reference to the baked beans, and The Monster--without missing a beat--said: "You saved my beans, boy"--which is a quote from Vincent Price in the Hawaii episodes of "The Brady Bunch"! A small moment, but a great one for me personally.

This is a scene from the episode in question (via YouTube). It doesn't have the exact quote, but he does mention his beloved beans.

Here's one more recent Vincent Price moment that relates to this. While The Monster doesn't really know who Vincent Price is, per se, she is gradually becoming more familiar with him. I showed her the old commercial for the 1970s game Stay Alive that features Vincent a couple days ago. I asked her where she knew "that guy" from, and she said "The Brady Bunch". Good job! Eventually I'll introduce her to more of Mr. Price's work, but for the moment I don't want to show her anything her little four-year-old psyche can't handle...

I'm indeed very proud of The Monster, but have to admit that I worry about her a bit too. We don't have cable, so most of her TV-based entertainment comes from her Monster Dad's collection of DVD materials of stuff that he loves (most of which comes from a different era). What's going to happen when she goes to school and everyone else is talking about Hanna Montana, Spongebob, and the latest hip stuff on The Disney Channel, Nick, and whatever else kids are watching these days? She'll be talking about Godzilla, Ultraman, The Love Boat and The Brady Bunch. Will her classmates think she's crazy? I hope not...

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Proud Moment for Monster Dad!

My Little Monster done me proud today and I had to share the news!

A couple months ago I watched the movie "Missile to the Moon" (1958) for the first time. It was just another in a looong line of old horror/Sci-Fi movies I'd never seen. I don't know if I'll ever be able to work my way through all the movies I want to see, but I'm pecking away at them one at a time. "Missile to the Moon" wasn't a great movie, but it was pretty fun. I watched it by myself but brought the Little Monster in for a few scenes that I knew she'd enjoy (namely the scene where the Moon rock monsters make their initial appearance and the scene where one of the earth people, named Gary, gets burned up by the sunlight on the Moon). She did like these scenes and, on sunny days for a couple weeks afterward, would yell "Gary, stay out of the sun!" to me while I pushed her and her sister around in their stroller on walks every time we'd head out of a shady area into a sunny area.

Here's Gary being chased by the rock monsters, about to go into the deadly sunlight!

Yesterday I got the Rifftrax version of "Missile to the Moon" from Netflix. Rifftrax is similar to the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. In fact the guys who do the riffing on the movies are former MST3k personalities. My daughter woke up from her nap in time to watch the best parts of the movie with me. I hadn't explained to her that this was Rifftrax's version of the movie and that it was their voices making the comments over the film. Suddenly she turned to me with a serious look and asked me "Daddy, is Tom Servo in this?" Well, the thing I haven't mentioned yet is that one of the members of Rifftrax is former MST3K member Kevin Murphy--who did the voice of robot Tom Servo on that show! The Little Monster recognized his voice and remembered the Tom Servo character--who happens to have the same voice as Kevin Murphy of course. I was extremely proud of her in that moment! To top it off, she then asked if we could watch "Eegah" (1962), a former favorite movie of hers. I introduced her to "Eegah" a couple years ago because it's the movie featured in my all-time favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (as well as simply being a great bad movie in general). She knew that we'd be watching the MST3k version of "Eegah" with Joel, Crow T. Robot and (of course) Tom Servo! How great is that I ask you?

Tom Servo

If you'd like to see a little of what this movie "Missile to the Moon" is all about, check out this clip from YouTube. We have not seen this colorized version, but it looks pretty cool (blue Moon-chicks and all). Keep an eye out at the end for Gary's demise. When The Monster first watched this scene and saw Gary turn into a skeleton she made the remark "Now they're gonna put him in a museum."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Boston Children's Museum - Then & Now

Recently we took our two Little Monsters to the Boston Children's Museum. The oldest had a great time, and the other was only about nine- or ten-months-old at the time so she was pretty much oblivious. But rather than delve into this recent trip itself I'd like to talk about a little mystery about the museum that had bothered me since our visit, but which has now been partially solved.

Before the trip to Boston, the wife and I discussed our experiences with the museum from when we had visited it ourselves as kids. She remembered a room where kids would try on all kinds of clothes. I didn't recall this from my visit (probably around 1980 or so), but I remembered a computer room which had a bunch of "modern" computer terminals that would let you play neat-o electronic games and activities on them. The thing that drew my attention was a bank of switches and blinking lights along one wall. This unit had clear plastic strips over the switches so you could see them but not touch them--but the small hand of a ten-year-old could easily slip past the plastic. I was having a grand ol' time playing spaceman until I noticed that the kids at the computer terminals seemed to be getting very frustrated. Just as a museum employee started heading toward me I realized that this unit wasn't part of the exhibit and wasn't supposed to be touched. Apparently I was randomly resetting and otherwise messing up all the computer terminals. It must have been some sort of 1980s-era server unit of some sort. I left the vicinity before I could get yelled at. Why would you have a big, inviting wall-o-switches and blinking lights in a museum where you were encouraged to touch everything and then not expect kids to touch it? I didn't see any signs saying "Do Not Touch" or anything like that. Oh well.

Anyway, my other main memory from that day (not counting having orange soda come out of my nose when I laughed while eating lunch in the McDonald's restaurant in the museum) was a big exhibit of old cars and other transportation objects that we visited. The funny thing was that you were supposed to look at, but not touch, these exhibits. This seemed a bit strange when everything else was so hands on. It was like something from a completely different museum. I kind of thought that maybe my memory of this part of the day was faulty--but it seemed so clear. Similar to my favorite part of the Children's Museum (the forbidden switch panel), this exhibit had a section of a big jet airliner's control console. It was a big, tall section (taller than the ten-year-old me) of a bunch more switches--many with those cool red safety covers over them--that I had another grand ol' time playing with (though I'm not sure if I was supposed to be playing with those switches either).

Panel similar to the one I played with

Needless to say, when we went back to the museum with the kids after all these decades it had changed drastically. The giant Hood Milk bottle was still out front, but nothing inside rang any bells with me or my wife. Obviously a lot of things have changed in the world of children's museums since the early 1980s, and in a place where touching and interaction are encouraged the objects themselves can't possibly last for very long before they have to be replaced. I certainly understand why the computer room was gone. In an age where kids grow up with the internet from birth and having access to computers in their homes, at school and pretty much everywhere else they go, a room like that would be pretty boring and obsolete. Actually, a room like that would fit in rather nicely in a display of historical technologies in some kind of computer museum I think, but I digress...

Where was the dress-up area my wife remembered? Where were all the antique cars and stuff I remembered? Nothing in this children's museum felt familiar in any way to either of us. We just chalked it up to being former kids now nearing middle-age who are a bit out of touch with what goes on in today's children's museums.

Then a couple weeks ago I found myself in the Worcester Public Library doing a little research on some old local TV programming when a neat little coincidence happened. While looking through microfilm for the Boston Globe from 1979 I stumbled across something that solved the two biggest mysteries that were bothering me about the Children's Museum. The Sunday July 1, 1979 Globe TV Week section had a photo of Mary Richardson and Captain Kangaroo on the cover. What were they doing together? Why, they were hosting a show about the opening of the brand-new Boston Children's Museum in it's new home on the waterfront of course! Seems like the museum had moved from its former location and was set to open on that very day. It was quite the event, occurring a couple days before the Fourth of July and warranting two TV specials and quite a few pieces in the newspapers.

The articles on that day and the next described much of what was new and exciting in the museum. It featured an exhibit called "Grandparents' House", which had a "Grandfather's Basement" filled with tools and stuff for kids (obviously mainly meant for boys in that more innocent and less PC age) to play with. The "Grandmother's Attic" featured...all kinds of clothes that kids (obviously geared more toward girls) could try on! Hey, Mystery Number One solved!

But what about my kooky memory about the antique cars and stuff? Well, it turns out that wasn't in the Children's Museum, but... The same renovated building that housed the Children's Museum also happened to be the new home of the Boston Transportation Museum! Mystery Number Two solved!

I wonder how many thousands of kids went to both museums like I did and were confused and frustrated by the fact that, after playing with hands on exhibits and stuff all day, you suddenly found yourself in a place (in the same building) full of cool stuff that you couldn't touch. The Boston Globe write up on the opening of the museums actually brought up this confusing conflict of rules. Check out this excerpt from page 16 of the Monday July 2, 1979 issue of the Globe written by Terry Ann Knopf:

"But with two museums housed in the same building, comparisons are bound to be made. And, whereas the Children's Museum emphasizes participation, the Transportation Museum tends to be preachy. Significantly, one irate father kept ordering his son to read the signs around the cars. For all its thoroughness and attention to detail, the Transportation Museum is more of a throwback to the standard collector's museums and lacks the cleverness and imagination of its sister on the floors below.
Nor are matters helped by the fact that all of the displays but one are strictly hands off. After experiencing the Children's Museum, youngsters are bound feel frustrated, if not cheated, upon learning they cannot board a car or go up and down on an elegant Victorian elevator. Essentially, all they may do is look."

The Children's Museum has changed a LOT over the past thirty-plus years. The Transportation Museum is long gone and the Children's Museum has greatly expanded over time. Not only has all the "stuff" I saw long since been replaced, the layout of the whole museum is completely different. The same 1979 Boston Globe article referred to the "fabulous outdoor glass elevator which provides a stunning view of Boston". This elevator is still there, but it is now inside the building due to all the expansion.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time to pair the Transportation Museum with the Children's Museum in the same renovated building. The Transportation Museum probably figured they'd draw in many people who had just visited the Children's Museum--kind of piggy-backing on the drawing power of it. I certainly enjoyed seeing all the cool transportation-related exhibits there when we went way back then. But at some point it must have become obvious that a hands on museum and a static one weren't meant to share the same space. I wonder if the Transportation Museum decided to leave, or if it was forced out by the successful Children's Museum's expansions over the years. I guess that's another mystery for another time...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TV Guide Time Machine

...Not to be confused with the Hot Tub Time Machine!

I don't consider that new, glossy Hollywood-gossip and trash magazine to be TV Guide (despite the familiar logo). The old ones were the real TV Guides. This new "version" barely even has TV listings in it anymore. And they don't cover local programming at all--just what's on the major networks, cable channels, PBS...

A couple years ago I started looking at old TV Guides from the Boston/Worcester/Eastern New England regions. I wanted to see the listings for the local TV stations from back when I was a kid (roughly 1975-1985) and when WLVI TV56 played Creature Double Feature on Saturday afternoons. In fact, CDF was the main reason I wanted to check these old issues out. But then I discovered that the old TV Guides can act as a sort of time machine (at best) or at least a time capsule (at worst) for someone who watched a goodly amount of TV as a kid. Old TV Guides have now developed into a bit of an obsession for me.

I did spend a lot of time playing outside as a kid, and enjoyed a variety of other activities besides sitting in front of the tube. But I did enjoy sitting in front of the tube too! In the mid-80s I used to love racing home from school to watch the old 1960s "Spiderman" cartoon on channel 25. After that I'd watch Force Five and Star Blazers. That would give me enough animated excitement to last until the next day.

The weekend was the best time of the week for a kid of course--both TV-wise and otherwise. My absolute favorite part of the week was the moment I got home from school on Friday. It was the longest possible time until I had to go back to school. A perfect TV weekend would include watching the standard cartoons listed above after school on Friday afternoon, and then watching "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Dukes of Hazard" later on channel 7 (CBS).

Saturday would start with cartoons--at least until I got my paper route and never seemed to manage to get up early enough to do the route AND get home in time to watch cartoons. That was okay though, because at 1:00 in the afternoon channel 56 would roll out Creature Double Feature--a twosome of some of the scariest (to a little kid at least) and most exciting monster, horror and sci-fi movies that a geeky kid could ever ask for. After a Godzilla movie (or something similar) at 1:00 and another spookfest at 2:30, WLVI 56 would run it's 4 O'Clock movie. Sometimes this would be something cool like a Don Knotts comedy ("The Reluctant Astronaut", "The Shakiest Gun in the West", "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", "The Incredible Mr. Limpet...), but was more frequently a Doris Day comedy or an Annete Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach movie--not really my cup of tea. Things would perk up at 6:00 though when Channel 27 would air it's weekly Abbott & Costello movie. I'd always hope for one like "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein", "Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy" or "Abbott & Costello go to Mars", but pretty much any Abbott & Costello movie would suffice. Saturday night would close out with "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" on WCVB Channel 5 (ABC).

So, back to the TV Guides. I originally wanted to look through them to see the ads that WLVI sometimes put in for Creature Double Feature, but then I started seeing all the other great programming that was on TV--even in those dark days before cable and having hundreds of channels with nothing good to watch on them. I haven't even mentioned WSBK TV38 and all the monster movies that they'd play. Or the fact that channel 38 had Dana Hersey and The Movie Loft, and it was the channel that introduced me to "The Twilight Zone" on late nights in the mid-80s when I was supposed to be in bed!

Leafing through those old TV Guides isn't like entering a real time machine of course--it's not like you can check what's on and then flip on the TV, adjust the rabbit ears, and start watching those same old shows. But it's a pretty neat and nostalgic thing to do just the same. Now that almost EVERYTHING is available on DVD, one could conceivably re-create a day's programming from the TV Guide if one really wanted to I suppose.

I'm now doing a little collecting of TV Guides from certain specific periods of my youth (namely that same 1975-1985 range mentioned earlier). I'm hoping to scan some of the neat ads that appeared in them for movies and TV shows. Most likely I'll be writing some blogs that will be based on these listings in some way in the near future. Not sure exactly what the format will be, but Stay Tuned.

...Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!