Thursday, March 25, 2010

"It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black": R.I.P. Robert Culp

The keg pump is at half mast for the passing of veteran actor Robert Culp. A lot of people from my generation remember him as FBI Agent Bill Maxwell from The Greatest American Hero. I have to confess that I've never seen the show (At the time I was still taking superheroes too seriously.) but in more recent years I've become a fan of his earlier performances as "Kelly Robinson" on the groundbreaking 60's espionage series I Spy. (This post's title comes from one of his character's lines.)

Coming out during the post James Bond secret agent craze, I Spy was unique in many ways. As Culp's partner "Alexander Scott", Bill Cosby was the first African American to have a lead role in a television series. Also, while most TV shows depicted foreign countries by shooting on stages or around L.A., I Spy actually did location shoots in it's exotic locales. Finally, while similar secret agent shows were long on gadgets and camp, I Spy was fairly down to earth and gritty with it's humor deriving from the comedic chemistry between Culp and Cosby. Culp brought a breezy offhand charm to his portrayal of a spy posing as a tennis bum that seems way ahead of it's time. (It's also worth noting that Culp himself wrote several episodes, including the first.)

I should note that the full series can be watched online in it's entirety here. Goodbye Robert Culp and thanks for all the (As his character would put it) "Wonderfullness".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More vintage advertising fun

I'm back with some more old school Madison Ave fun!

"I was curious" eh? I'd say these strapping young fellows are curious about more than beer! (I like to imagine that Salvatore Romano from Sterling Cooper worked on this one...)

Ladies, make sure your husbands are adequately thirst quenched with frozen lemonade lest they go on a crazy shooting spree to try and extract sweet, sweet bug nectar.

"Why, we've been waiting for a 17th century pelican with booze all our lives!"

Yes friends, throw out those fatty old grapefruits and embrace the slim-tastic wonder that is pure cane sugar.

So the next time a social conservative gets yakkin' about how things were so much more wholesome back in the day, you can remind them that in 1950 LIFE magazine ran ads selling cameras with the promise of recording accidental titty displays.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When Tony was Grrrrreat...

Google Books is a controversial service to be sure, but one of it's cool features is that you can do text searches of old out of print magazines and pull up scans of the actual pages. For fans of vintage illustration and advertising this is PRIMO. Look for me to be utilizing this a lot in the future.

I thought I'd start out with some swell mid 50's ads featuring famed sugar cereal huckster Tony The Tiger. These days Tony looks about as bland as every other cereal mascot who's gone through airbrushy lame-ification, but this was not always so. Tony's original jazzier appearance was created by children's book illustrators Martin and Alice Provinsen. In focus group testing Tony beat out other potential Frosted Flakes spokesanimals Katy the Kangaroo, Zeke the Zebra, Elmo the Elephant and Newt the Gnu. (Zeke, Elmo and Newt seem to have vanished, but you an see Katy here.)

A few years back animator Nate Pacheo unsuccessfully lobbied the Leo Burnett Agency (Which has handled the Tony account since it's inception.) to go back to the original design in honor of Tony's 50th anniversary. Unfortunately they didn't bite, but you can see some of the cool concept art people contributed

Not to keep plugging Google products, but with this post I've started using the Blogger Images hosting feature. All the images below are clickable to see larger.

While pitching kid's cereal to the opera crowd, Tony asserts that he's all heterosexual.

Man, here's one you wouldn't see today.

In this one Tony appears to be lobbying for Kid n' Play's gig.

Nothing tops off a bowl of cereal like cigar ash...

I Cry Like A Baby: R.I.P. Alex Chilton

I was honestly all ready with a brand new cheery post involving cereal when I heard of the untimely passing of legendary musician Alex Chilton. You may or may not be familiar with his name, but even if you've never heard any of his music, I guarantee you've listened to artists who were greatly influenced by him.

Commercially Chilton peaked early. He enjoyed chart success as the 16 year old lead singer of The Box Tops with such hits as "Soul Deep", "I Cry like A Baby" and their Billboard chart topper "The Letter". (which would later become Joe Cocker's first U.S. top ten hit.)

I always thought it was weird how Chilton's voice seemed deeper and huskier as a teen than as an adult.

The cornerstone in Chilton's legacy was his next group, (The sadly ironically named) Big Star. Big Star specialized in jangly achingly beautiful power pop, and could count R.E.M., The Bangles, The Replacements, Wilco, The Gin Blossoms and far too many other artists to name as diehard fans. Probably most people are familiar with Cheap Trick's cover of their song "In the Street", which was the theme song for "That 70's Show".

I'd rate among their greatest accomplishments the song "September Gurls" which features Chilton's achingly earnest voice and lovely chiming guitar work.

After Big Star failed to find commercial success Chilton drifted off to CBGB and connected with the punk scene, then moved on to more jazz based material. He never quite matched his earlier successes, but lived to see an enduring legacy of fans. (Even though Chilton tended not to place much value on himself.)

I first became aware of him after he inspired one of my favorite bands to record one of their catchiest songs about him.

Yesterday, just days before a scheduled appearance by the reunited Big Star at the South By Southwest music festival Chilton was hospitalized complaining of health problems and died of a suspected heart attack at age 59. He will be missed.

Tomorrow: Funner post!