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July, 2011

  1. A Boy’s Best Friend is his Robot

    July 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I’ve only cried at the movies three times in my life. The first time was at the end of a Japanese film called Voyage Into Space when Johnny Socko’s giant robot sacrifices himself to save the world (“Come back, Giant Robot! Come back”). The next time was at the end of a Bruce Dern movie called Silent Running when the last surviving robot drone, Dewey, is left to tend Earth’s last  forest (in space!) while Joan Baez sings over the closing titles. And most recently, near the end of the animated feature, Iron Giant.  I can suck it up and keep my cheeks dry during any screening of Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows but if Yeller was a stop-motion flying robot, or if  Old Dan and Little Ann were played by double-amputees in drone costumes, I’d be blubbering like an idiot.

    Maybe it was because I didn’t have a dog when I was a boy. But I did have toys. And, oh, what wonderful toys we children of the Sixties had.

    Robot Commando, made by Ideal, hit toystore shelves in 1961. It could move forward, turn right or left, shoot marbles from his swinging arms and a rocket from his hinged head…using voice commands! How cool is that for something made for children fifty years ago!


    The Great Garloo by Marx also came out in 1961. I’m not sure if it was technically a robot theme-wise but the fact that you could make it do your bidding gave it a robot vibe. The interesting thing about the commercial is the schizophrenic attempt to convince boys that Garloo is a violent city-wrecking monster and then go on to reassure parents that Garloo is no more than a benign servant.

    Here are examples of some other toy robots from 1961. Make sure you turn up your speakers!:





  2. Atlantis, The Lost George Pal Film

    July 20, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Not so much lost, but rather, ignored and hidden away like that shirt with a goofy collar that you are too ashamed to keep in the same drawer with your “good” clothes. That’s what Atlantis, the Lost Continent is to George Pal fans. Those fans had every reason to expect Atlantis to be the best science fiction film of 1961; the latest film from the director/producer who gave us Destination Moon (Oscar: Special Effects 1950), When Worlds Collide (Oscar: Special Effects 1951), The War of the Worlds (Oscar: Best Special Effects 1953), and just months earlier, The Time Machine (Oscar: Best Special Effects 1960)

    Not only wasn’t Atlantis the best science fiction film of 1961, it was barely even science fiction. It has more in common with the sword & sandal genre of film than science fiction. No surprise since much of the film is comprised of footage left over from Quo Vadis and three other MGM Roman epics.

    The hero of the story is a Greek fisherman named Demetrios (Anthony Hall) who rescues an Atlantian princess (Joyce Taylor) from a sinking ship.  Demetrios agrees to take the princess to Atlantis, far beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Upon returning her to the technologically advanced kingdom, Demetrios’ reward is enslavement and being forced to fight a giant ogre in a pool of fire and water. Demetrios is also treated to “The House of Fear” where he and other slaves are to be transformed into beast men (basically the reverse of The House of Pain in HG Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau). Meanwhile, Atlantian politics are a mess. The king is being set up by an ambitious usurper and an evil astrologer (Frank DeKova – the Chief from F Troop) who want to use Atlantis’ powerful crystal ray weapon to conquer the world. Only the intervention of Demetrios and a high priest (Edward Platt – The Chief from Get Smart) can stop them. The world is saved, but Atlantis is ultimately obliterated by an out-of-control crystal ray cannon.

    Yeah, it’s about as bad as it sounds. Not only was footage intended for other films used in Atlantis, The Lost Continent, much of the soundtrack score was lifted from The Time Machine. Even leftover make-up from The Time Machine was used (the same blue make-up was used for Morlocks and Poseidon alike). Easily identifiable props from other films were also used. The large statue in the temple is from the biblical epic, The Prodigal (1955), and several scientific devises in the high priest’s chambers were previously seen in Forbidden Planet (1956)

    Perhaps the best comment on this “Frankenstein of a movie” (I don’t mean that in a good way) was made by a viewer on a preview questionnaire that asked which scene he liked best. His answer: “The scene where Robert Taylor saved Deborah Kerr from the fire.” He thought he’d just seen a screening of Quo Vadis.


  3. Love on the Racks

    July 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Spin a comic book rack in July, 1961 and there would be a one in four chance that when it stopped you would be face to face with the tearful, hopeful or tragic cover of a romance comic.  It could be Brides in Love #25, Secret Hearts #72, First Kiss #21, or  Just Married #20.

    No fewer than twenty romance comics were being published each month during the early sixties despite the second coming into dominance of the superhero (the very genre whose near demise after World War II led to the rise of romance comics). Titles like My Romantic Adventures, Sweetheart Diary, Young Love, and I Love You  were only a dime away from providing 30 pages of entertainment to legions of young girls and women, not to mention the occasional curious male.

    Young RomanceLove Romances, Teen-Age Confidential Confessions, Teen-Age Love, Teen-Age Romance

    The roll call is a long one, so I’m going to limit myself to discussing the five books published that month by the “National Romance Group”, otherwise known as DC when they were publishing books with Superman or the Flash on the covers.


    Secret Hearts was arguably DCs most consistently high quality love book, especially when it came to the art, which benefited from the talents of legends like Gene Colan and John Romita. The hallmark of any Secret Hearts cover was the thought-balloon. The heroine always had some secret that she could share with no one but the reader. July ‘61’s issue #72 was no exception:

    A frightened young blonde is shown dancing with a handsome man in white. “Thanks for the dance, Kris” he says, “I’ll give you back to your date.” As Kris’s cruel and sour looking date stands in the background, Kris is thinking, “N-No…Please…Don’t!” An incongruous blurb appears over this menacing scene that certainly must pertain to a different story: “He was so gay and carefree that he didn’t see I had fallen in love – and that I wanted him to HOLD ME FOREVER!”

    Girl’s Love Stories was DC’s “career girl” title. Every issue had at least one story about a young woman (often a model or actress) facing the dilemma of having to choose between her career and her man. The stories with a “happy” ending inevitably are resolved by the heroine choosing to quit her job and settle down. Another theme, (on display in issue #80) is a woman jumping through hoops to win a man’s love only to find his heart belongs to another:

    A freshly crowned beauty queen is confronted by a woman shielding the man whose love the “queen” sought to win. “There’s one man your looks won’t get you – and that’s Jeff!” And the accompanying story blub: “I thought when I was chosen queen I would be closer to winning Jeff. But my crowning was only, AN INVITATION TO TEARS!”

    Falling in Love was a strange one. The editor was apparently obsessed with hospitals and all things medical. You might think that the heroines were always nurses but as often as not they were crippled, disfigured, blind or terminal patients.  Alas, the cover of the issue on our spinner rack (#44)  depicts a tearful nurse saying goodbye to a patient she has secretly fallen in love with:

    Before the recuperated and handsome patient leaves the hospital with his lovely blond wife, he says to his crestfallen nurse: “Goodbye, Bernice and thank you for being so sweet – even if it was in the call of duty.” And Bernice is thinking, “N-No, it wasn’t duty – I love you!”

    Girls’ Romances was basically a clone of Girl’s Love Stories but filled, it would appear, with stories rejected by her sister magazine. As if to give credence to its second-best reputation, the issue on our rack (#77) has a cover depicting one of the most clichéd themes in romantic comicdom:

    Our heroine tearfully watches as her true love marries another woman: “It should have been me! It COULD have been me!” At least she is sitting in the pews and not standing beside the bride as a bridesmaid.

    Heart Throbs was one of the Quality comics that survived the acquisition by DC in 1957. Although the title stayed the same, the style shifted toward themes that would appeal to a younger reader; first loves, dating, and teenage jealousy. Jealousy is, indeed, the cover theme on display on our July ’61 spinner rack. Issue #72:

    “Don’t think your cheap trick will work, Peggy! He’ll find out soon enough you’re not his type!”  You have to wonder what sort of cheap trick Peggy is up to. Does it have anything to do with the perfect balance she displays sitting on fence posts?

    Update: For more (much, much more!) about romance comic books in the ’60s and 70′s check out Sequential Crush.

  4. Wouldn’t they have called them Winstones?

    July 18, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Long before they were pitching children’s vitamins and breakfast cereal, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble were hawking cigarettes for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. In 1961, the primary sponsor of ABCs hot new primetime animated sit-com, The Flintstones, was RJR’s Winston line of coffin nails.

    The storyline for the first few commercials revolved around Fred and Barney stealing time away from work or household chores to sneak a smoke.

    FRED: “They (Wilma and Betty) sure work hard.”

    BARNEY: “Yeah, I hate to watch them work so hard.”

    FRED: “Um, let’s go around back where we can’t see them.”

    …and out come the Winstons and a glowing testimonial about “the filter cigarette that delivers flavor twenty times a pack!”  and the tagline for all of the commercials: “Winston tastes good like a good cigarette should!”


  5. What Ever Happened to Sylvia Dees?

    July 17, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    They call it cosplay now days. A portmanteau of the words costume and play, cosplay was coined in the 1980s to describe the act of dressing up as a character or even an idea plucked from a favorite fantasy novel, motion picture, TV show or comic book. You will find these cosplayers standing in line at the openings of films and at any number of Science Fiction and comic book conventions. Just do a Twitter search for #cosplay during the San Diego ComicCon this weekend and you will be treated to thousands of pictures uploaded from the phones of attendees. About 2/3 of these will be of women dressed as Slave Girl Princess Leia from The Return of the Jedi.

    So, you might ask,  why would the Belated Nerd, consistently a full half-decade behind the times, be writing about cosplay of all things? …No, you wouldn’t ask that. You know damn well I’m going to dig up a whole bunch of 50-year-old Polaroids of fans doing the exact same thing in the early ’60s.

     The best I can figure, masquerade balls were a common event at Science Fiction conventions in the ’50s but for some odd reason it doesn’t appear that any of these highly imaginative people thought to dress up as anybody more otherworldly than Henry VIII or Friar Tuck. The idea to dress up as aliens and other characters from Science Fiction and Fantasy seems to have finally hit its stride in 1960 at the WorldCon in Pitsburgh (Pittcon). Proto-Trekie Bjo Trimble came as a unicorn. Fanzine editor Earl Kemp came as an alien-come-to-Earth to steal all of our gold lame. There was a Giant Eye Ball Warrior, a Tusked Boar in PJsCaptain and Mary Marvel, and…a Space Princess. A Space Princess to make Debbie Reynolds’ teenage daughter look like…well, a Tusked Boar in PJs.

    Pitconn 1960

    The Space Princess returned in 1961(Seacon) as a sword-toting pixie and again as a more modestly dressed space princess (below)  in 1964 (Pacificon II). Her name was Sylvia Dees and she was the bride of SF writer Ted White. Ted White is seen with another woman described as his wife at conventions in the late ’60s. I don’t know if Sylvia Dees participated in any other Worldcon masquerades, but if she did, I’d love to see the Polaroids.

    Pacificon II 1964