Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Return of the Thin White Duck


Everybody seems to be doing a tribute to David Bowie, these days. People all over the world are jumping on the bandwagon claiming “they were Bowie’s biggest fan” and “I was into him when he was at his coolest” or “David Bowie passed the torch to me, Kanye West”. I'll admit, I came to the David Bowie party a little late as I discovered him on Saturday Night Live in 1979. He was impossibly skinny and came out dressed in a lady’s business suit and high heels! He was so completely weird in that appearance (and I was already into “Rocky Horror Picture Show”) so I embraced the entire spectacle right away. Bowi's current LP was the album, “Lodger”. The album was super New Wave and I loved it! I played it on my phonograph and tape-recorded my favorite songs; “DJ”, “Look Back In Anger” and “Boys Keep Swinging” so I could listen to them in my mom’s car. Then, I worked my way backwards through the Bowie catalog. A friend’s mother lent me “Diamond Dogs”, “ChangesOne” and “Low” and I discovered so many songs that became favorites. Then I bought “Aladdin Sane” at the used record shop and was entranced with that album. Once, I got a job painting a mural for a seafood restaurant.  The client wanted to see a maquette of what the mural was going to look like so I promised to have the small painting ready the following Saturday. I procrastinated until the last minute so, Friday night, I put on “Aladdin Sane” and played it over and over for about ten hours until I finished the maquette. To me that’s when I really fell in love with the music of David Bowie. That album is sheer perfection.

I wasn’t going to share this story until last Saturday when I found this weird toy: a little rubber Donald Duck with this crazy long orange rooted hair! His hair was styled into a 70’s mullet that looks very glam on the fashionable mallard.

We named him “Ziggy Starduck” and deduced that he was a sign from Major Tom himself to ‘let all the children boogie’.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Down at Palisades Park

My dad and mom divorced when I was five years old. My mom and I moved to California and my dad stayed behind in New Jersey. Every summer starting when I was seven, my mom would put me on a plane to spend the summers with my bachelor dad at work.
My dad and his brother owned a small used auto dealership where he would fix up used cars to sell. My dad would put me to work washing windows, filling the tires with air or vacuuming the interiors. 
One in a while, I could talk my dad into taking me to Palisades Amusement Park, a little amusement park set on a tiny island off of Fort Lee. Visitors took a short ferry ride across the Hudson River to the old-fashioned, carnival style park with what seemed like millions of bright colored lights.



My dad would indulge my need to go on every ride such as the Scrambler, the Cyclone and the Hammerhead. He would buy me cotton candy, Italian ice, giant Pixie Stix or maybe a fresh baked pretzel. We always had such a good time there because my dad really loved the place! He particularly enjoyed playing the skill games. He was especially good at the baseball throw. One of my favorite memories of Palisades Park was my dad blabbing with the booth attendant, handing him a dollar for three baseballs then landing all three in the milk jug. Dad asked me which prize I wanted and I said the giant troll. I'd never seen a giant troll like that before. It had long straggly hair, amber eyes and wore a caveman costume. I named him “Iggy”. I've saved that giant troll for all these years and Iggy holds a prized spot on my troll shelf.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Flintstone Birthday Party

Not sure exactly when my love of the Flintstones started but I remember it being one of my favorite shows as a little boy.  The Flintstones was so imaginative and clever. I loved the theme song, “Meet the Flintstones” and I knew all the words. The dinosaur-powered contraptions and household appliances they featured were so imaginative and wacky. The array of guest stars that appeared on the show; Ann-Margrock, Stony Curtis, Rock Pile, Cary Granite, Alfred Brickrock, etc, was dazzling.
So when May came around and my mother asked me what kind of a birthday party I wanted for my seventh birthday, I told her a Flintstones birthday party!


My mom bought a tablecloth, paper plates, napkins and cups with Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty and Dino at Thrifty’s Drug store and ordered the cake from the local Cuban bakery. All week long, I daydreamed about the terrific party we were going to have and when Saturday finally arrived, I was beside myself with excitement.


My mom and I went to pick up my cousins; Bruno and Mimi then went to pick up the cake. We got back with the cake and refreshments then put them in the fridge.  The birthday cake was awesome. It was rectangular with green frosting hills, light blue cave houses, plastic palm trees and those weird, speckled candy ‘rocks’ stuck all over it. Best of all was the little plastic Flintstone gang gathered around the bridge over the transparent blue icing ‘lake’ standing next to words, “Feliz Cumpleanos Oscarito”.


When more of the guests arrived, my mom took the cake out and set it in the middle of the party table in the kitchen. We followed her into the kitchen. Bruno and I stared at the fantastic cake for a long time then I told Bruno that the lake was made of real water. He said, “Nu-uhh” then I said, “Un-huh!” I dared Bruno to touch the lake, then climbed up on the chair and pretended to touch it. Bruno climbed up on the chair. He leaned over and balancing with the other hand, reached out to touch the lake. Just then, the leg of the fold out table snapped into place and his little hand sunk into the lake. He started to cry and I knew we were in big trouble! My mom ran into the kitchen to see what the commotion was about.  My mom squawked when she saw the cake, swatted both of us then threatened to call off the party and take Bruno home. She took Bruno to the sink and washed off his hands. She then said to me, “Me la vas a pagar! “(You're going to pay for this!) She went back to the cake, picked up the little bridge and plopped it over the hole in the cake.  She moved some of the candy rocks from around the sides to fill it in further and spread the icing around with a knife. She then said I was punished and couldn’t watch TV or the Flintstones for a week. Oh well, at least she didn't end the party!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Earthquake: An Event!

When the movie, “Earthquake” debuted in 1974, my best friend, Jimmy and I went crazy! We were already gigantic, ‘disaster’ movie fiends starting with “Airport” in 1970, “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972, and “The Towering Inferno” also in 1974. For a twelve-year old, seeing all of the wild special FX, thrilling stunts and special effects make-up was everything a kid could want in a movie. We saw the movie in “Sensurround” at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood for weeks! That year, we spent nearly the entire summer playing ‘disaster’ which consisted of throwing broken pieces of Styrofoam, crumpled paper, packing peanuts and empty cardboard boxes on one another from the balcony of Jimmy’s apartment and going to Universal Studios.

Early Saturday morning, I would hop on the “No.  4” RTD bus into Hollywood and meet Jimmy at Hollywood and Highland. We would then transfer onto the Cahuenga bus that would leave us right at the main entrance of Universal Studios. In those days, it was free to get into the upper lot (for shopping and picture taking) and only cost .50 to ride the “Glamour Tram” and tour the lower lot. The lower lot featured so many of the iconic homes on television and films; the Munsters house, the “Leave it to Beaver” residence, the Bates Motel and ‘Psycho’ house, the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys houses, Marcus Welby’s home. 

The Backlot was incredible because nearly all of the streets were still dressed in full “Earthquake” damage mode, which for us was a dream come true! Jimmy took tons of photos with his Kodak Instamatic of the rubble and debris on ‘New York’ streets and ‘Colonial’ square. We were in ‘disaster movie’ paradise! When we got back to the area called, “Props Plaza”, they had a set up with giant foam rocks and boulders for guests to toss around and take pictures among. In the Studio Store, they sold foam bricks with Universal Studios stamped on the side along with big chunks of foam concrete for $2.00 as mementos of your visit. Delighted to find such a score, we each bought a foam brick and a foam rock. By now it was 4:00 pm and Universal Studios was closing for the day. Jimmy and I got on the bus then rode home with our terrific souvenirs.


The next day, I called Jimmy to ask if I could come over and play. He said, “Sure” and I rode the bus to his house.  I brought my foam brick and my foam rock for extra realism to our adventure.  I got to Jimmy’s apartment, said ‘hi’ to his mom and went up to his room. Jimmy’s younger sister was jumping rope below on the patio.  Jimmy thought it would be funny to drop a box of trash on his sister below. We started to load up the cardboard boxes with ‘prop’ debris, walked onto the balcony and we were just about launch it over the side when we heard a low rumble, that got louder. Then, suddenly there was a violent shake that lasted for a few seconds. It was an actual tremor and wow, was it scary! I think that was the last time we played ‘disaster movie’ but we did go back to see “Earthquake” a bunch more times before the engagement ended for the summer.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Meeting Chuck Jones

In 1972, my mom read an ad in the newspaper looking for kids to be in movies, television, photos etc. I was a precocious ten years old so she took me to a talent agent located in the Sunset/Vine Tower in Hollywood. After discovering that I liked cartoons and loved to draw, the talent agent said, “You should know that the guy who draws Bugs Bunny is in this very building. You should go up and meet him.”

Mom and I went up to the twelfth floor and found the offices of Chuck Jones Productions.  We knocked on the door and went inside but because it was after 4:30 there was no secretary at the desk.  The office was a plain looking one with enormous windows and an incredible view of Hollywood. There were framed pictures of the Loony Tunes characters on the wood paneled walls, a pair of blue rectangular couches in the corner and one of those freaky wire sculptures on the wall beside us.  After a few minutes, a tall gentleman with a little beard, wearing a scarf and glasses came out of the back room. He said, “Hi there. We're closed.”
My mom explained that we had seen the agent downstairs; that I was a fan of the Bugs Bunny Show and how I just had to meet the man who drew Bugs Bunny.  He smiled and held out his hand, “Oh. In that case, I'm Chuck Jones. C'mon, I'll show you around.”

Mr. Jones led me into the room that he had come from where there were 4 large drawing tables and tons drawings pinned to the corkboard wall. There were stacks of books on the shelves, piles of animation paper, gray sculptures of various characters, a full ashtray and jars with pens and pencils. He pointed out the various drawings on the wall explaining that they were called ‘storyboards’, ‘backgrounds’ and ‘layout drawings’. Then, he told me that they were currently working on a feature called, “A Cricket in Times Square”. He asked me if I’d ever heard of the story. I said ‘no’ but that I knew Time Square was in New York. I noticed a picture of the Grinch on the wall and proudly told Mr. Jones that I'd seen that show on TV. We went into a smaller room that contained the animation camera. He showed me how the lights worked and how the camera could be automatically adjusted to zoom in and out. After touring me around the office, he said, “Well, what do you think?” I turned to him and asked, “Where are the machines that do the animation?” He laughed and laughed then held up his hands. “These are the machines that do the animation!”

Chuck asked me who my favorite character was and I said, Pepe Le Pew. He sat down, picked up a black pencil and quickly sketched out a full standing figure of PePe Le Pew holding a rose. He inscribed it, “To Oscar, Mon Ami from Pepe Le Pew + Chuck Jones, 1972”. He handed me a baggie containing a plastic Dakin figurine of Bugs Bunny, thanked my mother and I for visiting then showed us out.  One of my favorite and most cherished childhood experiences!

                                   Photos of the Chuck Jones Studio courtesy of Alan Light




Friday, March 27, 2015

Batman & Robin in Hollywood

My cousin, Bruno and I loved to watch the TV show, “Batman” when we were kids. We would tuck a pillowcase into the back collar of our t-shirts for capes and run around the block pretending to be Batman and Robin. I usually got to play Batman because I was older (and taller). My mom knew how much I loved the show so she bought the Ideal Batman cowl for my birthday.

My mom and I lived on the top floor of a three-story apartment building at the corner of Hollywood and Garfield Place while Bruno and his family lived across the parking lot in the first house in a row of five bungalows. One day, Bruno and I were playing “Batman” all over the parking lot when we wandered inside the lobby of my apartment building.  My mom, my aunts, uncles and the rest of our family were at Bruno’s place.
We ran around the lobby, up and down the stairs, slid down the banister and tumbled down the carpeted stairs. We ran all the way up the stairs to the third floor when I noticed the roof access door. I thought would be ‘fun’ idea to go on the roof so we could get a ‘bats’ eye’ view of the city. We pushed the door and set a brick in the door jam to hold it open.  We walked around on the roof for a few minutes enjoying the spectacular view. We sat on the edge of the roof. I suddenly got the idea that it would be neat to swing over from the edge of the roof into the open third floor window.  We’d seen Batman and Robin performing this stunt regularly on the show so I thought we could do it, too. I explained the directions very well to Bruno, handed him the Batman cowl and suggested that he be the first one to try.

Bruno was brave so he put on the helmet and he draped his little leg over the side.  I started to give him a boost up the wall when we heard the familiar voice of our Uncle Calvo screaming from across the parking lot.
“Hey! Don't you two dare move! I’m coming up there right now!“ Uncle Calvo was 6 feet tall and very intimidating!  He was the disciplinarian at the family functions. Bruno almost fell off the roof at this point from terror.
Our uncle ran up the stairs and found us on the roof. He grabbed us by the ears then shouting all the way, dragged us back to Bruno’s house for a spanking. I remember the thud of the plastic Batman cowl hitting the tar paper roof.
Personally, I still think the stunt would have worked. After all, we saw it on TV!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Happy Birthday Barbie!

A friend took me to a party at the soon to be my good friend, Kari’s house for a “Barbie Birthday Party” many years ago.  Kari’s house was incredible! She had tons of various toys and dolls on display, glittery pink floors and the entire house were all decorated in Barbie art. Tacky pink Barbie banners stretched across the ceiling, pink lights and gold spray painted dolls hung on the branches of the ficus tree that grew from outside through the crack in the living room window! 

So many colorful people in wild costumes and hats from every decade of the Barbie doll! Spiked pink punch with fruit slices, bowls of pink gumdrops and plates of pink cookies with sprinkles. Kari was dressed as the Twiggy doll in a human-sized version of the Mattel Twiggy doll’s original outfit. She had various performance artists doing erotic performances featuring Barbie as their perverse theme. Plus, the best part was that Kari had set up assorted Barbie craft projects to do in every room. In one room there was piles of doll clothes, shoes, heads, bodies, arms, scraps of fabric, X-acto knives, hot glue, colored foil, glitter, paint, scissors and markers on a circular table so guest could create their own expression featuring the iconic doll. I sat down beside a guy named Bichon who looked like a kooky beatnik. We started to chat, hit it off and became collaborators on a Barbie project. I stripped off the paint from a doll’s face with acetone. I taped off her head, exposing her hair then spray-painted her hair black. Bichon started to make a wedding dress from a few paper doilies.  When the paint on the hair dried, I pulled the tape off and repainted the make-up on her face. I found a tiny bridal bouquet, added a black veil, a ribbon and colored the flowers to look weathered.  Bichon had finished the elaborate wedding dress and it was spectacular! The dress had a long train in the back, scraps of old lace with plastic spiders on the peplum, bows and puffed sleeves with tiny Tic Tac breath mints glued to them. Kari gave prizes for the favorite art creation so after the voting by the crowd; Bichon and I won the contest!


 

The Bride of Frankenstein Barbie was our lovely creation that night.


Bichon and I became great friends after that. Hope you making some fantastic Barbie art in heaven, Bichon.