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‘Sports’ Category

  1. Pinball Art: 1961

    November 8, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The backglass art below is from pinball machines that began arriving in arcades, drugstores and bowling alleys in 1961. The three big pinball machine manufacturers at the time were Gottlieb, Williams, and Bally, all based in Chicago. The designers of these machines sought to incorporate a theme and unique rules of play that almost created a story when successfully integrated. It was up to the artists to illustrate that story as framing devices around the various bumpers, slots, and chutes of the playfield, as well as the backglass which not only served as a score card but also as the game’s initial enticement to those willing to sacrifice their loose change to engage with that “story”.

    The most prolific among the artists who illustrated backglass (the upright part that displays the score) and playfields (where the ball rolls) at the time were two Chicago artists Roy Parker (Egg Head, Flying Circus, Hi Dolly, Lancers) and George Molentin (Black Jack, Bo Bo, Darts, Highways, Hollywood, Music Man). Click images for a larger view.


  2. El Santo vs the Zombies

    August 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, under his silver-masked alias El Santo (The Saint), was and still is the most famous name in the world of Mexican wrestling known as Lucha Libre. Santo was more than a wrestler; he was a comic book hero, pop culture icon, and actor.

    Santo made his first appearance in comic books in 1952. The comic books proved so successful that film makers quickly approached Santo to appear in a movie serial called  The Man in the Silver Mask. Santo didn’t see much future in movies and declined. The role went to fellow luchador, El Medico Asesino, who wore a white mask very similar to Santo’s silver one. On black and white film, the masks were almost indistinguishable. The plot did, however, include a villain called “The Silver-Masked Man” which allowed the producers to keep the original title.

    In 1958, Santo was finally convinced to try his hand at acting by wrestler and actor Fernando Osés. Santo appeared in two films as the sidekick of the star, Osés, who played a hero called El Incognito. Santo’s name didn’t even appear in the opening credits until years later. The films (The Evil Brain and The Infernal Men)  did poorly at the box office and Santo didn’t return to films until 1961 when he was not only offered a starring role but was also to have his name in the film’s title.

    Santo vs The Zombies (1961) opens by quickly establishing that Santo is not only a world wrestling champion but also an unofficial crime fighter (much like Will Eisner’s Spirit) who is called in by the police chief whenever the police can’t get to the bottom of a case. This time a famous scientist has been kidnapped and is apparently being forced to create an army of radio controlled zombies. After three of these zombies attempt to rob a jewelry store, Santo is called in to investigate. Coincidently enough, the scientist’s daughter has also recruited the wrestler’s help in finding her father. After Santo prevents the abduction of some orphans (to be used as zombie experiments), the zombies’ hooded controller conspires to kill Santo during a scheduled wrestling match. Santo’s opponent in the ring has been turned into a zombie. Despite the zombie’s increased strength, Santo defeats it and the hooded villain uses his radio controls to make the zombie self-destruct. Santo searches the zombie-wrestler’s apartment and is jumped by two more zombies. The zombies almost succeed in (of all things) pulling off Santo’s mask but Santo recovers and drives them off. The hooded villain then sends his zombies to kidnap the scientist’s daughter.  Santo discovers the hooded villain’s secret lab and kills him and his henchman, whereupon all of the zombies (including the kidnapped scientist) begin to smoulder, spasm, fall down, and finally disintegrate.

    Although Santo was already 41 when he made Santo vs The Zombies, it was only the first of fifty films in which Santo would play a professional wrestler moonlighting as a superhero. The plots were very similar but his foes would change to whatever type of villain was fashionable at the time. When Hammer Studios had success with a Dracula movie, Santo would be fighting vampires (Santo vs. The Vampire Women). When 007, Our Man Flint, and Matt Helm were doing boffo box office,  Santo could be seen going up against secret agents and mad scientists (Santo in Operation 67). Science fiction was also within the scope of an El Santo movie with titles like Santo vs. the Martian Invasion and Santo vs. the Living Atom.

    At the age of 65, Santo retired from films the same year he retired from wrestling.  A year later on a Mexican TV show devoted to wrestling, Santo removed his mask in public for the first time. El Santo was no more and Rodolfo Guzmán died a year later. Tens of thousands of devoted fans made a pilgrimage to his funeral to bid a final goodbye to their saint.



  3. The Year Roller Derby Returned to TV

    August 1, 2011 by The Belated Nerd


    Roller derby was one of the first sports to appear regularly on network  TV starting with a 13 week run on CBS in 1948. Roller derby was a staple of network TV until 1951 when attempts to remove the theatrics from the “sport” generally resulted in a decline in public interest. During the rest of the ‘50s, roller derby was only to be found on a few local channels, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco. By 1958, the sole bastion of televised roller derby was independent Oakland TV station KTVU which broadcast roller derby matches kinescoped in a deserted garage.

    In 1960, KTVU switched to a videotape format for recording matches for broadcast. One of these tapes made its way to a Portland, Oregon TV station which aired it once. The owner of the roller derby league received over 300 letters from Oregonians pleading with him to bring roller derby to Portland. Two teams were promptly sent to put on a match in Portland which drew over 9,000 fans; well in excess of the few hundred showing up for matches at San Francisco’s Cow Palace.

    The league quickly began syndicating videotapes of games to other independent TV stations, and by 1961 over 40 stations carried roller derby.  The syndication format worked so well, that by the end of the year, a rival league, Roller Games was created in Los Angeles where new teams like the Los Angeles T-Birds and the New York Bombers sold out arenas like the Olympic Auditorium. It was in the Olympic’s broadcast booth that announcer Dick Lane would respond to every fall or crash with a whooping “”Whoaaaa, Nelly!!!”