Friday, January 23, 2015

Going Cocoa-NUTS at The Cocoanut Grove!!!

Among the many drills (fire, earthquake, etc.) we were expected to perform in junior high school, there was one that always confounded the cognitive skills of my pathetically-literal, pubescent brain - the intruder drill (fortunately, those were the days before such drills became a frightening and practical necessity).  The drill went like this, teachers would turn out the lights and lockdown their classrooms, huddling students in the corner furthest from the door upon hearing the voice of an authority issue a public address, announcing that "Dr. Thompson" was wanted in the "Technology Building."  Um... didn't anybody know that no member of the faculty answered to the last name Thompson, no such building existed on our campus, and that among their various and questionable credentials, no PhD had ever been bestowed upon a member of our school's teaching staff.  In hindsight it became clearer that that was the big idea (only the most well-informed intruder would know that we were still watching film reels on projectors housed in a closet at the back of the library lorded over by Mrs. Middleton).

With no criminal pedigree, an obviously simple mind, and only the best of intentions, it never occurred to me that one day I might be the reason for a "Paging Dr. Thompson" sort of emergency...but more on that later.  This is our story of going to The Cocoanut Grove.

The Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel - Los Angeles, CA

Opened in 1921, The Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel defined Hollywood glamour.  The decades-long epicenter of West Coast nightlife and two-time home of the Academy Award ceremonies, The Cocoanut Grove played host to anyone who was anyone in the heyday of Hollywood (see The Silver Screen Affair's post on The Cocoanut Grove here).  It is oft said that Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard went head-to-head in the weekly Charleston contests held on the famed dance floor.  Known not only for its flamboyant clientele, the club was equally recognized for its flamboyant decor.  Lavishly decorated in a fantasy pastiche of Moorish/Moroccan/Middle-Eastern themes, The Cocoanut Grove allowed guests to sup under life-size palm trees populated by the gleaming eyes of electrified monkeys.

A packed house!
Initially, The Cocoanut Grove was a small venue within the hotel.  Quickly gaining
popularity, the club was swiftly relocated to its permanent location in the hotel's grand ballroom.

Luminaries of the political variety also made The Ambassador Hotel a stop along the campaign route.  Well-known as the site of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 assassination, the Ambassador Hotel proved unable to outlive that legacy and the dramatic cultural shifts that marked the latter part of the 20th Century.  Officially closed in 1989, the Ambassador subsequently served as a location for filming and a relic of Holywood's golden age.  In 2005, to the dismay of preservationists, the property was sold to the Los Angeles Unified School District and slated as the location for the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.  Recognizing its significance to Hollywood and to US history, we decided that Emily's birthday was the ideal time for us to go back to school for a little education in old Hollywood.  Taking advantage of one of Los Angeles' altogether common sunny afternoons, the wacky tacky adventure team made our pilgrimage to The Cocoanut Grove.

Once looming large over Wilshire Boulevard, the former entrance to
the Ambassador is one of the last vestiges of the hotel's glory days.

A bit underwhelming, our self-guided tour yielded only a placard, some interesting tile work, a clock
integrated into the streamline facade, and the teachers' dining room (once the hotel coffee shop),

Having seen all that we thought we were going to see, we approached a pair of friendly maintenance men and asked them about if they knew anything about the hotel's history.  They shared what little information they had and even opened the door to the coral-colored coffee shop so we could get a better peek.  Explaining that we were hoping to see the more of The Cocoanut Grove, they directed us around the corner and up a flight of stairs; there we found the mecca of every classic-Hollywood nerd. 

Birthday wishes can come true!
Emily stands sentry at The Cocoanut Grove's iconic entrance.

Emily's birthday wish came even "truer" when Jesse tried one of the doors 
 and found it wonderfully ajar!  Never ones to shy away from the implied 
"Welcome in" of an unlocked door (of which I could find no information as to 
the identity of the more-human monkey face on the door), we humbly walked 
in the footsteps of our biggest cinematic idols.

This is the point where it must be stated that The Cocoanut Grove is not exactly The Cocoanut Grove.  Stipulated in the contract of the sale was the mandatory preservation of the Ambassador's landmark features, namely the Cocoanut Grove.  Shortly after renovations began, it was determined that the structure did not meet minimum earthquake safety standards.  Before much objection could be raised, ninety-percent or more of the original structure was razed.  The fact is that since 1921, the hotel and the nightclub had seen significant changes; but in LA we have to remind ourselves that there are principles still worth arguing.  Rebuilt in an approximation of The Cocoanut Grove's original style, the new structure retained just enough character to transport us to Hollywood, circa 1934.

As seen in the scrolled archways and fretwork pendants, minimal details of the original interior were honored.  

While The Cocoanut Grove is now a 582-seat theater, I could still
hear the champagne glasses clinking, the orchestra playing, and the
high-stakes deals being made.  Meanwhile, Emily was center stage
starring in her own production of Cocoanut Grove.

With the rest of us relegated to supporting players...
Cocoanut Grove (1938)

Here is where our adventure turned us from sentimental sightseers into "Dr. Thompson-level" intruders.  Lost in our Hollywood reverie, we were snapped back into reality by the echo of deadbolts being locked.  In no time flat we transformed from the elegant Fred MacMurray and Harriett Nelson (née Hilliard) into the Marx Brothers in our slapstick scramble for the doors - we were trapped!

We went from Cocoanut Grove to merely The Cocoanuts (1929)

Luckily, one set of doors had yet to be locked and we promptly made our escape.  Prematurely congratulating ourselves for a stealthy exit, we came face to face with our maintenance-minded benefactors of before.  This time, however, their faces bore none of the happy, helpful quality we had come to know.  As if their newly stern countenances weren't clear enough direction, we were curtly invited to remove ourselves from the premises before we were reported as trespassers.  Before we could protest, they were reaching for their walkie-talkies.  We would have said, "We've been kicked out of nicer places than this," but the fact is that we hadn't!  Our less-than-gracious dismissal notwithstanding, our Hollywood adventure left us feeling like honored guests at "Star Night at The Cocoanut Grove."

Have you ever been accused of a Dr. Thompson-style intrusion?  Have you ever peacefully trespassed for the sake of visiting an historic landmark?  Are you a Hollywood historian pining for the days of luxurious nightlife where orchestras played under the faux fronds of papier-mache palms repurposed from Valentino's The Sheik?  If you ever  find yourself driving down Wilshire and get a hankering for some history and a taste of the exotic, then stop in at Robert F. Kennedy Community Shools - just be sure to get a visitor pass at the office first.  Tell 'em Dr. Thompson sent you.

Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools 
(formerly Ambassador Hotel & The Cocoanut Grove)
701 S. Catalina St
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Happy 4th Blog-O-Versary!!!! Now What?

A card for every occasion

Well, it's wacky tacky's 4th Blog-O-Versary and 400th post - a fact that endlessly tickles the fancy of a certain someone with numerical OCD.  Surely, there are bloggers, columnists, sewing enthusiasts, adventurers, cooks, crafters, painters, and poets far more prolific than I but, at an average of 100 posts per year, I am actually feeling less lazy than I look.

I'm hoping my enthusiasm is contagious.

I've tried writing this post at least one hundred different ways and I'm still not sure what the outcome will be.  I hate to sound maudlin but after four solid years of blogging, I am coming to realize that my "unique voice" and passion for silly, old-timey stuff may not "B UNIQ."

First rule of B UNIQ Club: Don't talk about B UNIQ Club. 

Before I started wacky tacky, I had never felt the need to keep a personal account of my life (that documentary wouldn't even make it to the bottom of your Netflix queue).  Before I started wacky tacky, I didn't really understand what a blog was (a bit of a hiccup).  Before I started wacky tacky, I rarely used a computer outside of an office environment (luddite much?).  Before I started wacky tacky, I didn't know how beautifully female-dominated the medium tended to be (damn you, glass flooring!!!).  Before I started wacky tacky, I had dreams of connecting to a broad audience (are you there world, it's me, Mr. Tiny).  Before I started wacky tacky, I believed I could find some measure of success lending an authentic perspective of my favorite things (not like a show on the Food Network or a book deal or anything - no delusions of grandeur here).

At this point, I think that my reach may have exceeded my grasp (too broad in my topics, too silly, not silly enough, too much over-sharing, too impersonal).  I think that I operated in a bit of vacuum.  I think I was too far behind the technological curve.  It think that in many ways, it seems a vain conceit to continue pursuing an investment of so much time and energy that yields comparatively puny returns.  With interest (readership/comments/etc.) in wacky tacky at an all-time low, I sometimes feel like I've failed before I've even hit my stride.  I think I over-think things.

So on a celebratory, if self-pitying note, my question on this the fourth anniversary of wacky tacky's birth is, "Is it just me?"  The inspirations is there, but the motivation is questionable?  Are other writers experiencing the same thing?  Is blogging a fading form of communication?  I try to keep things "light, bright, and polite" here but having celebrated four fun years of adventuring, creating, reading incredible blogs, and making friends from around the world, I'm wondering if it is time to redouble my efforts and blog more frequently and more furiously or is it time to take a rest?  I think there is a natural beginning and a natural end to everything and I wonder if wacky tacky has reached its conclusion.  If I sound whiny, please remember...

"It's My Party (And I'll Cry if I Want to)" - Leslie Gore

Since starting wacky tacky, I have traveled more than I ever had before (Appalachia, the American Southwest, Europe, and Japan).  Since starting wacky tacky, I have grown in my sincere appreciation for all that is weird and wonderful in the world (writing things down sort of sharpens the images in my mind and deepens my gratitude).  Since starting wacky tacky, I have refined who I am and found out what is important to me (this blog very much included).  Since starting wacky tacky, I have broadened my perspective on what wacky tacky means (not relegated to any certain era/style/region/culture).  Since starting wacky tacky, I have allowed more people from wildly diverse backgrounds into my life (the blessed consequence of a decided introvert finally opening up).  Since starting wacky tacky, I have a record of all the things for which I must remember to be grateful (I have always had a bad memory and am way too quick to forget).

All things considered, the problem of waning interest in wacky tacky is such a small one.  Nevertheless, wacky tacky has become such a part of who I am that I can't help but reevaluate and consider the future as I roll over into my fifth year of over-sharing on the internet.  As a huge THANK YOU to all of the brilliant, generous, and talented folks who have read wacky tacky and celebrated with us, I share with you a short video of me performing my favorite trick in the world - rolling over!

Or, more specifically, rolling down a hill!

THANK YOU, you wacky tacky turkey necks; to you I owe a huge debt of gratitude!  Your questions, comments, and suggestions are much appreciated!


Mr. Tiny

Friday, January 16, 2015

Holy Rollin': Our Lady of the Bright Mount, Pope John Paul II Was Here

From the Acropolis of ancient Greece to Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, man's desire to connect with the Divine might be most beautifully expressed through architecture.  The act of creating a building in which to perform holy rites, a building in which to display religious relics, a building in which parishioners and nonbelievers alike can find beauty, really gets us feeling all "holy-rolly" from our heads down to our heels.

Our Lady of the Bright Mountain Parish - Los Angeles, CA

The simplicity of Our Lady of the Bright Mount's boxy, mid-Century exterior belies an interesting history.  Built in the front yard of what was once Fatty Arbuckle's West Adams estate, the church and its Edwardian-era grounds are now the home of the Los Angeles Polish Festival.   Every year, Southern California's Polish population flocks to get a taste of the homeland and an audience with His Holiness.

As Our Lady of the Bright Mount is a Polish parish, it is small wonder that Pope John Paul II is considered quite the celebrity.  His lifelike statue lovingly greets all visitors to the forecourt of the church.  His lofty positioning only meant that Cynthia had to give me a boost so I could kiss his ring.

Aside from the gaudy chandeliers and colorful iconography, the airy, light-filled sanctuary, with its angled
roof and beamed ceiling, could pass for the modernist stylings of many working architects of the 1950s-60s.
A fan of Eastern-European religious art (and gaudy chandeliers), I was in Holy-rollin' heaven!

The ceilings, the structure, the materials are all textbook Mid-Century Modern architecture.  It is the windows, however, that distinguish Our Lady of the Bright Mount as a wacky tacky landmark.  Echoing Eyvind Earle's art direction in Sleeping Beauty (1959), the stained glass artwork of this church masterfully straddles the aesthetic line between Medieval and mid-Century. 

 Like a large-scale illuminated manuscript, the expansive windows of Our Lady of Bright Mount
make up three of the church's four walls.  From indoors or out, the windows truly illuminate  heroes
of both The Bible and of Poland (see the Polish Coat of Arms below).

It was exciting to find the artist's signature in a pane of the window.
Ludwik Wiechecki, do you think he might be Polish???

A search returned very little about the artist except that he was part of the poster art
movement in Poland that existed during and survived both the Nazi occupation and
communism.  It appears he moved to America and accepted stained glass commissions
for the Paul L. Phillips Studio of Pasadena, CA before he died in 1988.

While she was clearly inspired by the images in the stained glass,
 I nevertheless asked Cynthia why she was praying.  After her "amen"
she simply told me, "Man, 'We got to pray just to make it today!'"

I was praying that I could take "Mother Mary of the Stony Grotto" home with me.
Raised outside of the Catholic tradition (rest assured, some of my best friends are Catholic),
I was surprised to fall so completely in love with the statue; it is the glorious, starry halo back-
lighting the bougainvillea that I really wanted.  Her ever-watchful eyes would have made
stealing her that much more difficult!

"Pray" - MC Hammer

Holman Methodist Church wacky tacky
The bonus of attending the Los Angeles Polish Festival at Our Lady of the Bright Mount Parish is that the church is immediate neighbors with the striking, stony, brutalist facade of Holman United Methodist Church - which makes it terribly convenient when one has to run next door to borrow a cup of holy water (for an exorcism or whatnot).  As if tmy hunchback wasn't enough incentive, that double-boomerang bell tower alone has Mr. Tiny ready to become a modernist Quasimodo!

I suppose it is impossible for me to convert to Polish, but maybe if I convert to Catholicism I'll be a little bit closer.  Does Our Lady of the Bright Mount Parish (not to mention its next door neighbor) have you seeking sanctuary?  Do you have any cool churches in your neighborhood?  Do you attend an architecturally-significant church (for more than just the free communion)?  

Our Lady of the Bright Mount Parish
3424 W Adams Blvd
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Silly Cinema: Lady on a Train (1945)

If The Parent Trap (1961) is my very favorite movie, then Lady on a Train (1945) is pulling into the station right behind it.  It is another film that I can watch time after time and find myself both comforted by the familiarity and still keenly invested in the story.

Lady on a Train (1945)
"Deanna...on a Man (Oh! Man) Hunt!"

At its heart, Lady on a Train is a screwball comedy that also happens to be a musical, murder-mystery, film-noir, fashion-show romance.  As with many of my favorite films, Lady on a Train has a little bit of everything and every little bit is done well!

Like all classic pieces of cinema, this film was adapted from
the finest literary sources.  Actually, Lady on a Train might
be the exception that proves the rule; it is probably the one
time when the movie is better than the book!

The movie stars Deanna Durbin as Nikki Collins, a daffy San Francisco socialite who is obsessed with pulp crime novels.  On her way to New York to visit relatives for the holidays, she witnesses a murder outside of her train window.  With no victim and little evidence, Nikki enlists the help of the police, an executive from her father's firm, her favorite novelist, and possibly the murderer himself to solve the crime.  Certainly, the story practically requires a winch to assist in all of the disbelief that viewers are expected to suspend; the magnetism of one of Hollywood's most underrated stars, however, is enough to carry the audience happily along to the very end.  Even if one is not sustained by the plot, the sets, the costumes, the music, and the cavalcade of character actors are more than enough keep any "Silly Cinema" fan entertained.

The only way this movie could've been better was if we were able to see it
in the Streamline Moderne opulence of Broadway's Loew's Criterion theater!

From train compartment to elegant hotel suite, from industrial silo to luxury penthouse apartment, the sets in Lady on a Train are all fantastic and fully-realized.  They are but the stuff of community theater productions when compared to the brilliant, three-ring setting of the movie's biggest action, the Circus Club.

I'm not sure when things changed (or if there were ever such grand, themed night clubs outside of a Hollywood film), but how badly do I want to go to a circus-themed nightclub where the doorman is a giant, the emcee is a ringmaster, the foyer is a circus train carrying an animal band, the chorus line is Josie and the Pussycats, the waiters are dressed like Pagliacci, and all of the entertainment is performed under the acrobats' safety net?

I believe that Lady on a Train is Durbin's first film in which she appeared as blonde.  Growing up recognizing her as my grandfather's favorite chubby-cheeked brunette, it was a little jarring when I first saw Durbin in Lady on a Train.  After countless viewings, I'll willingly put her up against any "Hollywood blonde."  In fact, blonde is the perfect color for Durbin as idealized, post-War, noir-ish fashion plate.  Strangely enough, the film credits no one for the amazing costume designs.  It is particularly odd as Lady on a Train features a film-within-a-film moment when the main characters disrupt a theater full of movie-goers watching a film reel about forthcoming fashions (that incidentally features marionettes wearing miniature versions of the couture ensembles - wacky tacky gold).

Again, it is shocking that no credit can be assigned to a costume designer*.  Durbin's character has no less than one dozen distinct costume changes (plus a few variations), in a story that is set over the course of only a few days.  The costumes range from sight-gag rain slicker with Pippy-Longstocking braids to a bustled formal with peek-a-boo cut out at the back.  I call this movie part fashion show because within one scene, Durbin's character undergoes three dramatic costume transformations, all with equally dramatic and significantly-different hairstyles.  It is difficult to choose a favorite when the looks include a studded, cowhide jacket, a two-toned, hooded suit trimmed in fringe, an asymmetrical, cropped tweed jacket with one fur lapel, and an unbelievable chiffon-and-midnight-lace evening gown.

It was difficult but I managed to do it; my favorite ensemble in the film (and maybe in movie history) is this simple black suit.  The signature 1940s silhouette is achieved by a straight skirt and a jacket with a nipped waist and broad shoulders; the plume-covered hat with matching muff and the double-donut hair transform an otherwise elegant suit into something truly over-the-top and inspiring.

While the film is not a musical per se, there are a few beautifully integrated musical numbers that use Durbin's incredible voice to full advantage.  In spite of the fact that Durbin gained fame as the operatic counterpoint to Judy Garland's colloquial singing style, I much prefer when she lends her voice to more popular songs of the day, including a sultry rendition of "Gimme a Little Kiss."

"Gimme a Little Kiss" - Deanna Durbin from Lady on a Train

"Silent Night" - Deanna Durbin from Lady on a Train

"Night and Day" - Deanna Durbin from Lady on a Train

As if Deanna's charms aren't enough, Lady on a Train also boasts a roster that includes Ralph Bellamy, Dan Duryea, and David Bruce.  Yes, the stars shine in Lady on a Train but it is the supporting cast that truly brings the film to life.  As per usual, my favorite performances are delivered by the character actors.

William Frawley, Elizabeth Patterson, Allen Jenkins, and Edward Everett Horton are but four stand-outs amongst the film's unbelievable cast of supporting players.  These four are special because, whether series regular or guest star, each one of these character actors went on to appear on I Love Lucy.

Beyond the sets, the costumes, the music, and the cast, the most interesting part of Lady on a Train may very well be the marketing campaign.  The full-color movie poster at the beginning of this post makes it look like Nikki Collins (Durbin) is madcap man-trap who gets her fella by the point of a pistol and a goofy grin.  The below poster looks very much like an edge-of-your-seat noir thriller.  Much like the film itself, the ads for Lady on a Train are suffering from an altogether-entertaining identity crisis.

"A song on her lips - MURDER on her mind!"

What is your favorite movie?  Have you ever seen Lady on a Train?  Have you watched any of our other "Silly Cinema" recommendations?  If you are a fan of film-noir, romance, mystery, drama, comedy, thriller, musicals (that just about covers all the bases), or simply "Silly Cinema," then I suggest booking first class accommodations with Lady on a Train.  If Walter Winchell says, "It's big-time," then you know it's good!


Mr. Tiny

*Thanks to the superior cyber-sleuthing skills of our pal, Lauren, at Wearing History Clothing/Patterns/Blog, we learned that the designer of Ms. Durbin's screen wardrobe was the inimitable Howard Greer, known for costuming other well-known screwball-comedies including Bringing Up Baby and My Favorite Wife.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Signs of the Times: Mexicali Mexican Food

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you are probably aware of my abiding affinity for the desert...and also dessert (lots and lots of dessert, just to be clear).  There are few things as inspiring to my heart and as rejuvenating to my soul as a long drive through the sweeping, Joshua Tree-studded sand-scapes afforded by the desert...but also cookies and cake (do not forget the snacks).

Perhaps, I love the desert because the suburbs of Southern California seem to bleed together, offering very little visual relief from the great expanses of passionless stucco homes and shopping centers.  Perhaps, I love the desert because the air is clear and I can listen to the sound of silence.  Perhaps, and most probably, I love the desert because of the cacti.  I'll never forget my first long-distance drive through the American Southwest, feeling like the many arms of the great saguaros were waving to me as we zoomed down the lonely highway in our overstuffed minivan.  The cactus is such a symbol of the desert's solitude that even when it is transplanted smack dab into the middle of a city, I am sustained by a sense of peace...peace and the possibility that Mexicali Mexican Food's sign also means that desserts are available (preferably churros). 
Mexicali Mexican Food - Bakersfield, CA

Fans of vintage signage, including myself, often get hung up on the epic wonders of neon signs.  It is easy to eschew signs less ornate, less fantastic, less prone to the comforting hum and glow of neon.  Mexicali's sign, however, offers definitive proof that "fluorescent" need not be considered a dirty word where signs are concerned.  Signs, more "light-box" in nature, are worthy of our esteem, particularly when they are as dynamic to the landscape as this captivating cactus - by day and by night.

Should there be any purists present, be of good cheer; one needn't look too
far to find the glimmer of neon on the grounds of Mexicali Mexican Food.

Mexicali Mexican Food's sign might be shaped like a giant cactus, but it is definitely the heirloom rose in the well-tended garden that we call "Signs of the Times."

"Mexicali Rose" - Gene Autry 

Mexicali Mexican Food Restaurant
631 18th St
Bakersfield, CA


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Crazy Crafty: The Manic Monster Mash

At wacky tacky headquarters, wintertime means more than just decking the halls, one-horse-open-sleigh rides, and slurred verses of "Auld Lang Syne."  Granted, we are fairly traditional when it comes to celebrating the season's major holidays but for us, winter also means that it's "open season" for birthdays.  Clustered tightly around the holiday festivities, the many family birthdays only compound the manic level of expectation and obligation already on high alert.  It's intense.  

Running low on energy, inspiration, and funds, I was about to resort to everyone's personal favorite, the homemade coupon book.  It seemed an ingenious idea because, while I am loathe to wash a car or issue a foot rub, those ephemeral little slips of construction paper bound into a booklet by craft yarn are so easily misplaced and therefore, rarely cashed in.  Furthermore, the fine print that I always include on the back of said coupons legally exonerates me from actually having to perform any literal acts of service.  My scheme was BRILLIANT!!!  The more I thought of it, the more I realized that I had plenty of resources with which to make a few heirloom-worthy gifts that would seem at least slightly more inspired than a few lousy coupons with looming expiration dates...or maybe I just ran out of construction paper.

With a far-out family, I knew I could get away with some far-out gifts.
Fully aware that Halloween was long behind us, I decided that the mash-up of the
birthday and Christmas seasons was the perfect inspiration for a MONSTER MASH! 

Made from the furry, green remnants of a long ago project, the first
monster I made was the Color-Wheel Christmas Birthday Monster!!!

Can you tell which one is the monster and which one is the birthday boy?
Happy, if slightly confused by the gift, he knows that it is as the button says,
"I Am Loved."

The next monster in our manic monster mash was loosely based on an illustration created by the recipient.  While less detailed, I think the three-dimensional monster captures the googly-eyed essence of both the art and the artist.

Would you believe that I also had remnant pieces of a fuzzy,
black faux-fur in my monster mountain of a fabric stash?
Like the first monster, the details of the mouth are achieved through layered
pieces of vinyl and the eyes are stacked buttons.  I must say, I thought it was
pretty clever to use buttons of different diameter to enhance the wonky eyes!

Call him ugly if you dare, but with an I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I
sensibility, his button reads, "So's your old man!"

The final monster in our series may look sweet and innocent but don't be charmed by those long, beguiling eyelashes.  They belong to nature's reject, one of the most repulsive freaks of the modern sideshow, none other than... 

Yo-Yo the Frog-Face Boy!!!

Scary, right?
Yo-Yo is made up of forty yo-yos created from fabric scraps with an
overstuffed head balanced lazily on top.  The embroidered nostrils gurgle
as his soulless, buggy, black eyes scan the crowd for his next victim.
The foul pink tongue is permanently poised to lash out and snatch your face!!!

Okay,'s just a cute frog.  But I made it and wanted to include it in this post.

In the end, I realized that I can simply never be sure if store-bought gifts would have been more well-received.  Either way, I tend to think that hand-crafted gifts are the least on my pocketbook!

"The Monster Mash" - Bobby "Boris" Pickett & The Cryptkickers

Did you make any gifts this holiday/birthday season?  Do you prefer homemade gifts or store-bought?
Now that I've exhausted my frightful, gift-giving creativity, don't be surprised by an even scarier gift season next year; it's back to COUPON BOOKS!!!  Muah, ha, ha!!!


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, January 4, 2015

wacky tacky Icons: Pat McGee "The Blonde Skateboarding Goddess"

Nearly two decades ago, my grandfather* became something of a media darling.  At more than 70 years old, and after fourteen attempts, he was the most "age-advanced" man ever to pass the California State Bar Exam.  Much lauded by his family and his community, he became the oldest, newest practitioner of law in our Golden State.  As if our adulation wasn't enough, he was extremely gratified by the coverage he received on the Today Show, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and within the venerable pages of People Magazine.  Somehow, he even parlayed his story into a winning appearance on Wheel of Fortune!  Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Grandpa was able to really stretch his proverbial "fifteen minutes of fame."

Over the years, Andy Warhol's words, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes," have adopted a rather negative connotation.  Beyond Warhol's jaded view of our celebrity-driven culture, the contemporary subtextual implication is that any and all seekers-of-fame are inherently unworthy of our attention.  As fame is famously fleeting, it is my opinion that those who come by it honestly, deserve their fifteen golden minutes - or more - in the sun.  1965, in fact, was a particularly golden year for one sunny little honey from San Diego.

Pat McGee "The Blonde Skateboarding Goddess" on the iconic, May 14, 1965 cover of LIFE Magazine

Like a real-life Gidget, Pat McGee, was one of the original 1950s-era surfer girls braving the waves amidst a sea of boys.  As surf culture evolved to include "the craze and the menace of skateboards," McGee was immediately onboard as an early adopter.  She was not only the first female skater to be sponsored (Hobie), but also the first national women's skateboarding champion.

I wonder if McGee felt like a groundbreaker or if she was just having fun.
Any way you slice it, she did both...with killer hair!!!

McGee demonstrates her skill on a board manufactured by the Vita-Pakt Citrus 
Company of Covina, CA - no shoes required.  It appears that the patch on her 
sweater, worn for the Life Magazine story, features the Vita-Pakt logo as well.

Described in 1965 by Life as "the most exhilarating and dangerous joyriding device this side of the hotrod," the skateboard now seems like such an innocuous, if still exhilarating, part of American life.  However, there was a time, as evidenced by a 1965 episode of What's My Line?, when the concept of a professional skateboarder was an entirely foreign one.

Pat McGee "Demonstrates Skateboards" on What's My Line? (May 16, 1965)

I get a particular kick out of it when eloquence personified, Arlene Francis, zeroed in on McGee's "line" by asking, "Is this this new board, skating board?"  Having grown up in the epicenter of skateboarding, it is hard to imagine a time when skateboards were such a novelty that the most sophisticated and worldly panel in show business would ask such sophomoric questions.  Never advancing beyond the kneel-on-the-nose technique myself, I am certainly the exception to Southern California's mandatory skateboarding rule.  Perhaps instead of watching both of my brothers skate, I should have studied with Mike Douglas under the tutelage of Ms. McGee. 

Pat McGee on The Mike Douglas Show (1965)

Groundbreaking not only in terms of bringing a dynamic female presence into male-dominated sports, McGee was also a forerunner in sponsorships and endorsements.  She easily translated her innate athleticism and all-American appeal into commercial success!

A television commercial for Bell Telephone Corp. (1965)

A real fixture in the Southern California beach life, McGee was a natural as a player in the films reflecting the teenage scene.  Although she has but one credit on her IMDb page (It's A Bikini World), we just happened to be watching another production by TransAmerican Films (American International's "frenemy" in films about California culture) and caught a glimpse of who we think to be an uncredited McGee getting groovy in a wild fringe dress.

Lil' Pat McGee (?) wiggling to "The Wigglers" in Beach Ball (1965)

After the raising a daughter and exploring life's many opportunities, McGee (now going by Patti McGee) rediscovered her love for skateboarding.  A skateboarding proponent both personally and professionally, McGee is universally recognized as one of the sport's most influential pioneers. In 2010, McGee was recognized as such when she was the first female ever inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.  We're just sorry that it took so long to induct her into the wacky tacky hall of fame.  Although, the honor is equal, I'm sure.

Pat McGee could not be any cooler, or more worthy of Hall of Fame status,
as the cover girl on the fourth issue of Skateboarder Magazine (1965).

As I've grown from boy to man (and my head has consequently gotten further from the ground), I've become increasingly fearful of falling, further minimizing my chances of becoming a skateboarder, professional or otherwise.  Nevertheless, I can easily recognize the contributions to American culture and the advancement of women in sports made by Patti McGee.

If the options are "skate or die," I'm afraid for my future!!!
You can call me Fatty McGee.

(This ripping video was directed, produced, and edited by my
awesome brother who encourages and enables my crackpot behavior) 

So, do you skate?  Man or woman, amateur or professional, if you're a skater you owe quite a debt of gratitude to the "Original Betty."


Mr. Tiny

*About halfway through penning this post, I was informed that my grandfather had passed away at 92 years of age on January 1.  Born in 1922, I am sure he had little notion of ever seeing the year 2015, which he did, if only for a few hours.  Certainly grief is natural, but it is difficult to be too bereft when considering the decided richness of his extremely full life.  His army service (he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel) and civilian careers took him from Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma to Panama, Hawaii, Brazil, and across the United States.  He was the father to eight children, grandfather to more than thirty grandchildren, and great-grandfather to plenty more.  The deal he made with my uncle for them both to see law school through to its natural conclusion resulted in two attorneys in the family (a career for my uncle, a point of pride for my grandfather).  What inspires me most about his life is the 70-year marriage he shared with my grandmother!  SEVENTY YEARS!!!  While he and I shared little in terms of passions or points of view, I admired his joy for life, his love for my grandmother, and his penchant for storytelling.  I give him a lot of credit for eventually settling his family in the part of the country that allowed my parents to find each other.  Because of him, ground zero for surf/skate/kustom culture (intrinsic to the wacky tacky way of life) is the place that I call home.  To him, I dedicate this post about chasing California dreams.  Happy Trails, Grandpa, 'til we meet again!

Benjamin Roll
August 19. 1922 - January 1, 2015