Friday, August 31, 2012

Photo Friday: Edition

Good morning!

I was going through my Doris and Ray pictures to bring you some more 1950's-1970's vacationing goodness, when an album otherwise filled with Polaroids from the seventies' produced the following four pictures, decidedly from an earlier era. All the way back to the Victorian era in the first case!! Since there are almost no pictures of Doris or Doris's family from before the 1940's, I'm pretty sure these are Ray's relatives from Minnesota (where he was born in the earlier part of the twentieth century...around 1919, I think?). None of these have captions, so you'll have to bear with me for some wild conjecturing! Let's take a look:

We LOVE posed Victorian photography studio pictures. Can you imagine a dapper little guy in a pince nez standing behind a huge box camera saying from under the cloth- "Now, you look at the book! And the other two of you look at her looking at the book! A little closer....PERFECT!" Additionally, first word that comes to mind with this picture? HATS! Wow, those are some hats. It's always interesting to me in turn of the century photographs to see how stark and simple some of the women's everyday ensembles are, but then they've capped off their look with a hat that looks like something that might take wing. In closeup:

I thought maybe the one in the middle is the mother? Or the eldest sibling? See the complicated taffeta ribbon typing on inset one and three, and the black plumage on inset two? Being slight-of-shoulder-and-chest even for the Valkyrie sized woman that I am, I don't think I could do these billowy shirtwaists, but the millinery has my full-attention.

A little later (twenty years or so?), these photos:

Grandpa on the left looks like just about any man of sixty plus years in the twenties and thirties-- between the glasses and the conservative hat, he actually looks a little like a shorter version of my grandma's Grandpa Hill (a telephone pole of a man in similar clothes, hat, and spectacles). See the chinked-log cabin to the left of frame? The tall trees? The main attraction of this photo, however, is Flapper Lou and Gamblin' Pete, the other 2/3rds of the composition. See Lou's cloche hat, gathered drop-waist dress, sheer hose, and black pumps? See Pete's VISOR HAT (how is this appropriate outside of the croupier profession?) and pin-striped pants? I would love to know the story behind these two characters.

This next picture I think is from the same time, but could be earlier. Standing in the shadows of a clapboard house, a woman in a loose white dress with short cropped hair, and a guy in 1900's boxer/Irish nationalist civilian clothes of turtleneck, pants, and a derby hat if ever there was one. People like to stand alone or far apart in lots of pictures from this era! I'm glad to see these two in a friendly embrace.

Last but not least: group shot!

I still don't know who any of these people are, though the awkward grouping is hilarious to me. Look at the one guy in the middle standing stock still in his almost invisible bow-tie! The shy, downturned face of Flapper Lou! Flapper Lou's more zaftig cousin, Flapper Sal, in a long string tie! No one looks prepared for this photo to be taken, with the exception of the David Lynch bow-tie guy. I do now want some white stockings and Mary Janes to wear with an everyday outfit, however.

What do you think about Ray's possible relatives? Do you have any weird, out of place antique photos in your family albums?

More vintage insanity next week-- as soon as I get out of work, I'm off to some East Nashville estate sales. Keep your fingers crossed for me. See you next week!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tony Curtis (1953-1957)

Good afternoon! I was swamped with tracking down missing books (where do all these books go?) in the reference department today, so it's taken me all this time to grab a spare moment to introduce, or reintroduce, you to a handsome leading man of the mid-century. But well worth the wait for the black-haired, blue-eyed, confident good looks of Mr. Tony Curtis! Here he is in a 1954 ad for Van Heusen shirts, looking every bit the movie star in Mamie pink and grey.

My most recent memory of Tony Curtis comes from reading his second autobiography-- there's Tony Curtis: The Autobiography (1993), followed, fifteen years later, by 2008's American Prince: A Memoir. As half of one of the most glamorous couples to come out of fifties' Hollywood, I was of course attracted immediately to see what the star of Sweet Smell of Success and Spartacus (ah, alliteration!) had to say about not only his work with some of the most famous actresses and actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, but about his wife, my top-five-girl-crush-of-all-time, Janet Leigh. She wrote her own memoir There Really Was a Hollywood (1984), which was well-written, kind, and interesting, so I thought the three books together would give me a pretty good idea of what it was like to be in the center of the media tornado that would have encircled their superstar marriage and subsequent married life.

Both Curtis books do a bang up job of providing information on his poignant background as a Jewish kid born Bernie Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925 to Hungarian immigrants, and some interesting insights into his working relationships with Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, and Jack Lemmon. With regard to Janet Leigh, the first book was cordial...the second was weirdly frank and retroactively uncomplimentary towards his first wife, all the while touting affairs with various Hollywood leading ladies', from Yvonne de Carlo in his first movie role in Criss Cross, to Marilyn Monroe during the making of Billy Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot. Less openly obnoxious than the male posturing that went on in Songs My Mother Taught Me (to this day I don't forgive him for spending a two pages on a Hollywood romp with a prostitute, and LESS THAN ONE SENTENCE on the making of one of my favorite of his fifties' movies, Desirée), but still a mixed bag from a very complicated person. His promoting the book in this hat also didn't help his case for me.

However! Flipping through Google Books entries on his early and classic days of stardom made me forget his mean-spirited memoir meanderings and re-appreciate the DROP DEAD GORGEOUSNESS of his middle to late twenties'. I also think it's hilarious he did so many commercial-tie-ins in his early stardom days. Take a look!

This 1955 clipping from Life was in an article exploring the new craze for ruffled shirts (meaning Danny Zuko's pink ruffled number in Grease is not necessarily a 70's-only-phenomenon in an otherwise 50's movie!). The first, full page picture of the article shows a banker in a white ruffled, polka dotted shirt with matching string tie and velvet jacket...the ensemble really does look straight out of the a riverboat gambler's wardrobe circa 1855. Curtis fairs a little better in this shot, as he's handsome, and I love that this shirt is also pink. Dude wore a lot of pink in the early fifties'! He was a trailblazer.

I was surprised to find this 1954 clipping from Billboard talk about a possible jazz record Curtis had been in talks to record. He was "the singer of songs" in Spartacus, and also did one musical in 1955 (check out this great montage of the On the Town-esque servicemen movie...his stage presence/likeability is really suited for musical comedy, but his voice isn't really anything to write home about), but the record with the Page Cavanaugh trio never came to fruition. Too bad, right? It might have been something! It couldn't have possibly been worse than any singing recordings the esteemed Clint Eastwood has made in his career. And I still love him.

Here's the really kookala part of my diggings though... this is from 1953, when he was still trying to establish himself around the Universal lot:

It's like, "TONY CURTIS! JACKET MODEL!" The jacket isn't too bad, but the expression...well, you make your own conclusions.  

These clips are from Jet magazine in 1955 and 1952, respectively. How cool is it to see Curtis hanging out with Joe Louis and Scatman Crothers (a fabulous old character actor, and Mr. Halloran from The Shining)?!

Here, a bit of cheesecake from a Camels ad in 1953. I love how it's like "People thought I smoked Camels, so then I started to! They are so cool!" Also LOOK. HOW BRIEF. THOSE SWIMMING TRUNKS ARE. Early publicity on future stars knows no decency.

I mercilessly cropped Rock Hudson and Robert Wagner out of this Life magazine item from 1954, but I only miss Rock Hudson (also, you can see the full photo here). What a cute idea to have them hanging off the ladder! Also, while I don't know how tall his circus strong man grandfather really was, there is no living WAY that Tony Curtis is taller than 5'9''. Just sayin.

What do you think? Any fifties' Hollywood hunk or starlet crushes that you're willing to divulge? Isn't Tony Curtis a cutie? Do you remember any movies that stand out in your mind as giving you a positive or negative impression of him? Are there any movie memoirs penned by the subjects themselves that made you either like the personality more or less as a result of having read it? Do tell!

See you guys tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pepto Bismol (1945-1948)

Good morning!

I'm always on the hunt for vintage advertisements of note for you guys, and what should I dig up yesterday evening but these practically framable photographs and illustrations from Pepto Bismol campaigns in the mid to late forties'. Now, usually, the idea of Pepto Bismol wouldn't come immediately to mind when I think "cute vintage ads", but look at these, for cryin' out loud! The red, white, and black color scheme, the photographs paired with drawn backdrops and weird laments/boasts of either dyspeptic discomfort or braggartly claims as to the iron-lined nature of one's stomach (the latter category always ends up in the former category by the end of the first sentence!). Take a look at this Colonel Mustard type, obviously dining out at a dinner and drinks type establishment:

What is he shoveling out of that silver tureen? It looks like General Tso's chicken to me, but this seems unlikely in the mid forties' for businessman dining choices.  Look at his tiny claret wine glass! I like the icy look of the ostrich, like "Oh, do you really now...". The ad reads, "Too much to eat and drink...hastily gulped meals...can make even an 'ostrich stomach' feel sour, sickish, and upset." The ads seem to run in three general categories: men overestimating the tensile strength of their stomach linings, children eating too much, too fast, and party people waking up the next morning with both mental and physical symptoms of regret.

The typography on this one is a winner. Imagine a mashup of Jake and the Fat Man and Nick and Nora Charles. Or don't! That actually might be a little too scary to imagine. Neither of the men fare very well by the pen of the ad copy man: "jittery, twittery thin man" and "roly poly fat man" each suffer their own indignancies due to indigestion-- one eats too fast and one eats too much. Luckily, both can find relief from the familiar pink bottle. Pepto Bismol was invented in 1901, and first marketed under that name in 1919. The FAQ sheet on the Pepto Bismol website (um, who "frequently asks questions" about PB? What all do you need to know?) mentions that no one knows why the formula is tinted pink, but that the original doctor who invented the substance used this color, so "why mess with a good thing". Gives you a lot of faith in the time and research that went into answering the other questions, right? I hate to peak early, but this next one may be my favorite.

Johnny Anybody was just trying to do the right thing and get the project done under the wire by staying late at work...when he stopped into a greasy spoon on his way home and indulged in a particularly pungent, self congratulatory dish of liver and onions, he was pinshed by A HUGE HUMAN HAND GRABBING HIM IN HIS BED WHILE HE SLUMBERED THAT NIGHT! Look at his Dracula hand raised in self-defense. "Why is there a disembodied hand squishing my insides in my sleep! Why!"


Once again, the distinguished gray haired man of the first panel has insulted a member of the animal kingdom. Was it fair to call that poor turkey "a gobbler"? Was it right? You know he paid for it later.

Here's the first of the late night revelers. I love the miserable hint of wistfulness in the text!

I wonder if Elmer (below) and the first guy were at the same party! Or were they each the star of their own get togethers. If I was making a tv commercial of these ads, I would cast John Garfield as the first guy and Robert Mongomery as Elmer. They're dead ringers!

Worse than waking up with a hangover and no Pepto Bismol? Waking up with a hangover, no Pepto Bismol, two other dudes, and each of you is dressed for Continental Congress 1776. "Last night", in the world of Pepto Bismol ads, is always faraway and much better than this morning! The founding fathers below probably drank too many tankards of ale at the tavern, and are now sleeping it off on a hay bale in Connecticut.

Last but not least, the children! Think of the children! Why are they being punished so for eating too much blueberry pie or PBJ sandwiches? The humanity!

This little girl's face was one of the first things that convinced me to do a post on this subject in the first place. Look at how sour her expression is! It seems wrong for a little girl in her cutest organdy dress to be held accountable for all the cakes and cookies you can eat in a picnic setting.

Contemporary Huck Finn didn't fare much better:

Corn! How could corn hurt you like this, son? What has corn done to you?! Now meatloaf, gravy, rich cakes, cookies...I understand how these can get to you. But Huck, you love corn! Why! What a backstabber of a vegetable!

You can click on any of the thumbnails below to see the whole ad. Some of the copy is pretty cute, so give it a go if you have a minute:

Which ad do you like the best? Have any hangover or overindulgence stories where Pepto Bismol or aspirin or Dr. Enuf saved your life? I was a devotee of BC Powders in my college years-- they probably stripped my liver to the base coat, but I still swear by 'em!

Have a great Wednesday, I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Weekend Finds

Good morning! As promised, I made a point of rolling out of bed early this morning to take some photos of my "kills" this past weekend. And what finds, what finds, what finds! Take a look at this motley crew, for example:

The Lucy figure on the right I picked up at Rare Bird Antique mall after a particularly fruitless run at estate sales weekend before last, but I thought she looked so pretty side by side with these tiki mugs that I had to take her picture. The mugs were at the second phase sale that Eartha and Rae also went to (missed 'em by *that* much!), and I couldn't believe they were still there an hour into the sale. Collectible tiki mugs are a rare breed indeed in the wild!

There's actually a whole website, Oooga Mooga, a sister site to my beloved Critiki, which tracks prices and collections of Tiki mugs by Westwood and other midcentury manufacturers. I'm one of the club now! These are the only four variations in the set, but I have another two of third one from the left, and the green guy and the brown one on the left also have twins. You should have seen Sus and I walking around the sale with our hands completely full of china, yet still trying to look at things. You put something down at a sale, and it's likely to get snatched! I don't even trust leaving things at the "sold" table because fellow pickers can be sneaky about (supposedly) not realizing stuff is already spoken for.

On Saturday morning, my dad was out of commission as my usual estate sale companion, but I screwed my courage up to the sticking point and drove out to the flea market at the Tennessee Fairgrounds for the first time in, oh, ten years. ALONE! It was brave moment for this compulsively chatty collectibles consumer. I was worried there wouldn't be "enough old stuff" to whet my buying, wrong?! While there were  barrels of detergent at bargain basement prices and knock off purses and all the sorts of things that usually come to mind in flea marketing, there was a TON of junk-booths and stalls. And most were set up in groups, so you could meander a whole livestock shed full of antiques. I spent three whole hours walking around, looking at stuff, trying to decide how to initiate the bargaining process and what my be-the-buyer game plan was.

It was a sticky position because while I'm more than comfortable dickering at yard sales and estate sales (within reason, and never rudely), flea market bargaining is different. For one, NONE of the prices are really firm, so you feel like you're "expected" to try and get them to go lower on the marked price, but then you also don't want to insult them by naming a number that waaaaay under the marked price (and, in most cases, probably waaaaay closer to the actual value of the objet de kitsch than the stated price). But then when they quote you a dollar less than the price when asked "Would you take any less for this Twiggy Wig Carrier?", you can't help but get a little discouraged. One guy, when I asked the price of a  large shoebox full of WWII love letters (!!!!!!!!), maybe two hundred of them, said he couldn't take less than a thousand dollars. A THOUSAND DOLLARS?! He must've been high. I understand auctioning something like that on ebay and finding a collector who wants them bad enough to sink a grand into that piece of history, but what about the mildly sunburned gal with a financial pain threshold of about $100? In another stall, a lace evening dress from the fifties' was "extremely rare" and "$300". I was so disappointed in getting wacky price quotes that I almost didn't ask about the dresses in the pictures above and below. When I grouped the floral thirties dress and the yellow, Joan Crawford-y dress together with beady eyes and muttered "How much would you want for two of these?", I almost flipped my lid when the lady in a sun visor, whose booth was mostly angel figurines and ammo boxes, said seven dollars apiece. THAT'S NINETY NINE CENTS CHEAPER THAN GOODWILL. You coulda knocked me over with a feather. GOD BLESS YOU, SUN VISOR LADY.

 These two cameras are different, you see. One was made in Germany by the Voss company in the 1950's, and the other was made by Fisher Price in the mid sixties'. The Diax camera I picked up at a yard sale on the way back from the flea market, on the way to an estate sale that was pretty terribly underwhelming...I almost didn't ask for price because it was about to rain and I wanted to get back to the car and I'd PROMISED myself not to buy any more cameras, as the shelf on which my sixty-something examples strong collection is housed is AT. CAPACITY. However! I decided based on how heavy it was I should probably grab it if it was less than $10, and indeed, the woman holding the sale only wanted $5 for it. I just looked it up on ebay to give you an idea of where it was from, who made it, etc, AND IT'S A FREAKING FOUR HUNDRED DOLLAR CAMERA. Camera nuts, will you look at these listings and see if I'm hallucinating from lack of sleep? I would have thought it would have to have been used by Fritz Lang or something to be worth more than fifty. But again, shows what I know. The Fisher Price camera comes with little ViewMaster style plastic reels that show storybook scenes. At the time, I thought at $8, it was the better of the two deals. Diax, you're growing on me, you swank and expensive thing you! It also came with a light meter that I was too lazy to take a picture of, but which I will be revisiting as soon as I get home.

 This Porky the Pig doll is from 1963, and boasts a cap, gloves, vest, coat, and bowtie...but no pants! I couldn't find any examples of it online to see if he originally came with them, but here's more for my vintage children's toy trunk. The little men on the pedestal are those kind that go limp and the joints when you press the bottom part, but the cool thing is, being boxers, they just look like they're punching each other out. We love it!

Do you ever start looking for something or get an idea of something you would want and it just comes to you? Here's a whole picture full of examples of that phenomenon in my case. You've got an ID bracelet (blank! Just waiting to have my name engraved on it!), a good luck charm bracelet from the fifties', three scottie dog pins, and a spider pin. The ID bracelet and the pups were fifty cents each, the spider pin three dollars, and the charm bracelet a whopping $8. I had been looking for EACH OF THESE THINGS when I found them this last Saturday! It was like kismet. The funniest thing about the charm bracelet to me is the devil horns and the mustard seed in a little capsule. Could you die?

Last but not least, last night Bab and I discovered a drinking game on Huffington Post that is, truly, the funniest thing ever. I drew two mustaches on a piece of paper, cut each out, and taped them to about where you would figure a person's face would be during a close up. Object? Drink every time they line up. For teetotalers, it's also totally acceptable to score points, drink club soda...because nothing should keep you from the hilarity that is rooting for the little paper mustaches to line up with the tv person's's just priceless. Check out these stills from Project Runway:

Gunnar, you scamp!

Melissa is shocked to be part of these depraved goings-on
Fun, right? I am mostly running on V8 juice and willpower right now, but it was totally worth it. I don't even like mustaches, and it's seriously the funniest thing. Maybe I could branch out into hats, or Steven Tyler lips. The sky is the limit!

Did you find anything neat this weekend? How have you faired in flea markets past-- any tips for the novice on-the-spot haggler? Do you know what a Diax camera is actually worth? Let's talk!

Have a good Tuesday, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Elsie the Borden Cow (1948-1955)

Good morning!

What a lot of great finds I made this weekend! Unfortunately, I was way too wiped out to photograph any of them last night, so you're going to have to wait until tomorrow for a recap of the "weekend that was". In the meantime, do you remember Elsie, the Borden Cow? If so, prepare for a trip down memory lane; if not, check out my new bovine role model:

In 1936, Elsie became the "spokescow" for Borden Dairies, appearing in magazines and newspapers as a bright-eyed, anthropomorphic Jersey cow who represented an equal mix of Loretta Young and Betty Crocker (as much as a cartoon cow could, obviously). Need helpful hints? Ask Elsie! A real-life cow was selected in 1940 to represent Borden at the World's Fair in New York...the World's Fair is about as big time as you can get! To this day, Elsie remains one of the most recognizable brand mascots of the twentieth century.

Borden added Elsie's equally anthropomorphic family in 1948, which grew to include husband Elmer (who you might recognize from his own spokescow work as the face of Elmer's Glue [!!!!!!!]), daughter Beulah, and son Beauregard. The Cows live in a terrifically tops house, straight out of midcentury Better Homes and Gardens, and face some of the same daily dilemmas housewives reading the magazines in which these ads appeared in the late forties' and early fifites' themselves would have faced. Each ad begins with an interest-piquing question, posed by Elsie herself while deep in the midst of some household "pickle":

I eventually got over the "weirdness" of cow-humans cavorting around on two legs in  a normal sized, human house (which, honestly, is a little hard to wrap your head around in the first place) and embraced the Cow family wholeheartedly. Especially Beauregard Cow, a scamp of a calf if ever there was one. In the tableau above, Elmer is all in an uproar about his shaving razors being moved to the top shelf of the cabinet in his (well appointed! Look at that shaving mirror and blue tile!) bathroom. Elsie replies that she has moved the razors so that Beauregard will not practice shaving again (cows...shaving...just think about it, as they are pretty much covered in hair anyway...but willful suspension of disbelief, right?).

The following conversation ensues:

Things to think about: 
  1. Why don't we use phrases like "Who in blazes" and "I'll tan that kid's hide" in general conversation anymore? 
  2. Is it really very sensitive to intimate that you're going to tan the hide of a baby cow?
  3. Don't you love how much reading midcentury ads involved? Can you imagine trying to bank on a 21st century consumer getting through paragraphs of exposition and dialogue to learn the true message of your advertisement?
  4. I love Elsie almost as much as Elsie loves Borden Dairy Products, such as instant coffee and cottage cheese. The jingle is doing its trick!
Look at the rest of the Cow house in this next illustration. I WANT TO LIVE IN THIS COW HOUSE.
How about how everyone in this picture is wearing some kind of clothing, with the exception of Elmer? As Beulah stacks pennies to roll up for the bank (do you remember doing this in the pre-CoinStar days? The convenience of dumping a ziplock bag full of change in an automated machine versus all that counting and recounting really appeals to me, and the heck with the convenience fee), Elmer reacts poorly to the very idea that (cow) women are more parsimonious than (cow) men, Elsie calmly shells shell beans, and Beauregard? Well, you look and tell me what Beauregard is up to:

Atta (cow) boy! Atta boy, little Beauregard. As the rest of the family is distracted with money matters, Beauregard checks out what he would look like with a totally green grille, courtesy of the bean shells. Stay gold. See more of the Cows' enviable late forties' kitchen in the next two ads:

Stop the presses! There seems to be a discrepancy here! Sometime, in Beauregard's infancy, they must have switched the paint scheme in the kitchen from this very late thirties/early forties' black and white and cerulean paint scheme to the late forties'/early fifties' garden green. The linoleum in the above picture has a green checkerboard pattern, and below a blue all-over scheme is clearly displayed. Well, owing to my love of the pig-elephant-child-doll in the chair, I will excuse the lack of continuity. That little pig elephant is like "Don't mind me!", as the little cow baby cowers at his cow dad's possible rage. It's not like bulls get that mad or anything. To wit, with regard to that-- why are the two members of his family wearing red? You can bet Elmer is seeing red, haha...oh...I just crack me up. Too bad about the jam, Cow Family. Elmer rages, Elsie laughs it away with some more commercial spiels about different Borden products, and everything ends up ok.

Some tiny little illustrations from the in-text part of the ads...ah, the joy of being a Borden Cow!

Do you remember Elsie and her family from the advertisements for Borden's? I think we had a plastic creamer in my house growing up that had her head as the spout, but it could have been another glamorous cow for all I know. Which one of these little advertisements do you like best? Did you have a favorite brand ambassador animal when you were a kid? Tell, tell!

Here are some links to more on Elsie (know your cow!). Weekend Haul tomorrow! Til then!

Elsie's Story from the Cremora website
A fifties' commercial featuring Elsie and her family
The real Elsie at the 1939-1940 World's Fair
Elsie memorabilia on Ebay


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