Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli is in my DNA…

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Chef Boyardee is what being six years-old tastes like. Of all my senses the sheer power of the one-two punch of taste and smell as a means of time travel is unrivaled. Sure, the immediacy of sight, seeing imagery of our favorite toys, clothes, TV shows and movies is transportive, and audio, hearing favorite songs, dialogue from movies, or something as incidental as the specific ring my childhood telephone made is enveloping. As far as touch is concerned, for me this is the sense that is overshadowed the most by the others as it’s the one that is next to impossible to turn off and thus it just becomes a part of being. I’m hardly totally discounting it, I mean I have very distinct memories of what it felt like to play with Lego for instance, the sharp edges, the pain under my fingernails from hours of trying to pry apart two flat 1×2 pieces, or the way it felt to chew on one of the bulbous rubber Space set tires. But of all my senses the almost inseparable combination of taste and smell has the unique ability to overwhelm me, almost drowning me in a flood of memory, almost literally enabling me to travel back in time when I reconnect with certain stalwart flavors.

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This past December I decided to relocate, packing up all my collectible junk and moving from Atlanta to Baltimore. Though I’d hardly say that I’ve been homesick these past three months (I had no problem trading in the Falcons for the Ravens, peaches for crabs, or the really shitty traffic on I-85 for the really shitty traffic on I-95), I have been feeling the pull for homey comfort food. I’m sure part of this is dealing with my first real snowy winter in the last 25 years, as well as wanting to lean on some small part of my past, something that feels like it’s a part of my down to the level of my DNA. While doing some grocery shopping and browsing the aisles of my new local supermarkets I was on the hunt for something that would make me feel like a kid again, something easy, cheap, and undeniable; something that hasn’t changed over the last three decades. For me this pretty much meant picking up a can of Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli.

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Of all the branded food products I grew up with none had quite the impact on my life as Chef Boyardee, positive and negative. I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s not good food. Hell, even as a kid I know that, and now that I’m a “responsible” adult doing my best to watch what I cram in my body, these heavily processed cans of pasta are probably right under the 1lb block of Velvetta on the list of things that humans should never consume. Even though I know for a fact that my consumption of way too much Chef Boyardee as a kid let to my issues with weight as a kid, the nutritional value isn’t really what I’m getting at. Without these cans of faux Italian goodness I sometimes wonder if I’d be as comfortable in the kitchen as I am today.

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In the eighties I had two distinctly different experiences with Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli that changed my life for decades. I was six at the time of my first life changing event. My family lived in a quaint slice of suburbia in Tampa, Florida and my best friend was a kid from down the street named Anthony. I remember that his parents were a little on the eccentric side, in fact my dad always used to joke about the fact that Anthony’s father caught and caged a peacock he found on the golf course that butted up to the back of his property. They kept the bird in their garage and always had the door rolled up so they could display it to the neighborhood as a sort of status symbol. I actually thought it was pretty cool and totally identified with how his dad must have felt when he caught it. I myself spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid searching that golf course for wildlife and was always coming home with a mini travel cooler filled with creek shrimp, crawfish, turtles and frogs. At some point during that summer of ’83, Anthony, his little sister and I ventured out onto the green that was beside his house. There was a short bridge that connected a path leading around the green over a small creek that ran alongside it, and underneath where the earth had eroded away there was a decent amount of natural red clay soil exposed. We dug up a couple buckets full of clay with the idea of making some small pottery that we could sell to the neighborhood. We spent the afternoon shaping crude clay ashtrays and a couple sad little clay ducks before leaving them in his driveway to bake under the scorching Florida sun.

Anthony’s mom came out and saw us completely filthy; arms and clothes caked in orange clay mud, and immediately pulled us into the house to get washed up. I remember being very concerned about leaving my handiwork outside and unsupervised where anyone could swipe it and told her as much. Though I don’t remember her exact reaction, I’m pretty sure she had a laugh at that and she ended up buying my duck and ashtray for $15 to put my mind at ease. By the time we were mostly free of mud, and she’d sent the two kids to their rooms to change into fresh clothes it was starting to get dark out. I remember feeling a little strange in their house because I hadn’t really spent much time inside it before and it smelled completely different than my own home. Anthony’s parents didn’t smoke like mine did, and there was a very flowery scent that wafted up from the carpet from the powdered deodorizer I saw his mom using while I waited for Anthony to get done changing.

The family invited me to stay for dinner, so I called home and asked if I could stay out past the time when the street lights came on (the international sign for when to call it quits) to have dinner with Anthony’s family. I must have gotten the okay because the next thing I recall is sitting up on a stool at their kitchen counter with a view of Anthony’s mom breaking out a few cans of Chef Boyardee. I can still see the yellow cans when I close my eyes and remember being excited. Well, that was until I saw his mom bring out a frying pan and crack a couple of eggs into it. My mom was never one to cook breakfast for dinner, so I had no idea why she was frying up eggs when there was also some ravioli simmering on the stove next to it. What happened next changed the way I would view food for the next 30 years. Anthony’s mom dished out two bowls of ravioli for us and topped each one with a sunny side up fried egg. I can’t quite explain why, but the sight of Anthony breaking into the super runny yolk and mixing it with a heaping spoonful of Chef Boyardee made me so disgusted that I freaked out a little. It’s not that I had an issue with either the pasta or runny eggs, I loved both, but the combination of the two had me so nauseous that I had to abruptly excuse myself and I ended up running home, crying and feeling really weird and embarrassed.

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I’m not sure exactly what it was about that mix of food, carpet cleaner, and the strange (to me) odors in the house, but from that day forward it because nearly impossible for me to eat food prepared by anyone besides my parents or stuff I’d get out at fast food or restaurants. Whenever I attempted to eat outside my comfort zone I would have a physical reaction to the food, usually gaging or dry heaving. School lunches, eating at friend’s houses, visiting family, pot lucks at work, or dinner with the in-laws became my own private hell over the next three decades. I spent the first two years of middle school only eating Hostess Dunkin’ Sticks out of the vending machine instead of ever attempting getting a real plate of food. I’ve made so many excuses for why I wasn’t hungry or didn’t feel well as an excuse not to eat that people started to think I had serious health issues.

Over the past few years I’ve loosened up quite a bit, and I think I’ve finally managed to shake my food phobias. Though I’ve always been able to eat stuff that I’ve prepared myself (even weird stuff), the idea of mixing eggs and canned pasta has sort of haunted me. The other morning I was making breakfast for my girlfriend and she requested fried eggs sunny side up so she could dip some toast in them. I’d actually gotten up a bit earlier than her and wanting something comforting I already had a bowl of mini ravioli prepared for myself. While frying my girlfriend’s eggs I screwed up and broke the yolk on one, so I set it aside and made another. Not wanting to waste any food I unconsciously plopped the egg on top of my bowl of ravioli and proceeded to eat. It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized what I had done and the memories of that night in Anthony’s house came flooding back. Sometimes it’s strange the way we change as we age. I’m not sure what triggered inside that let the phobia subside, but I’m glad that I’m more or less free of the fear of eating.

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Getting back to the positive way the Chef has changed my life, I’d have to go back to sometime during the fall of 1985. I had just turned eight and was just starting the third grade. That was an interesting time for me because we’d just moved from Tampa to Orlando into another super quaint suburb of Florida and all of a sudden the scope of my world had grown exponentially. For the first time I was allowed to leave the neighborhood so that I could ride my bike the mile and change to my elementary school. I started earning an allowance and found myself “flush” with five bucks a week at a time when most of the stuff I wanted cost between $0.25 and $1.99. And it was around this time that my parents decided to trust me to use the stove top burners to “cook” my own lunches when I got home from school and on the weekends. Now I use the term cook lightly here because all I was really doing was heating up junk that I dumped out of a can into a saucepot (almost exclusively Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli), but this was an important step for me at an age when I was being seduced by the siren call of fast food. Granted, I was still eating a form of fast food, but it was a form that I had to “cook”. It took a modicum of effort and got me comfortable with using a stove and making stuff for myself.

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This is most likely what urged my mother to buy me a copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls that same year, which seriously upped my game in the kitchen (well, if making hot dog pizza and eggs baked in bologna cups game changers.) By the time I was in my late teens I was regularly cooking for myself at a time when none of my friends were willing to do much more than nuking their lukewarm chicken McNuggets in the microwave. It seems like such a trivial thing, but when I think back on it, having the freedom to cook my own mini raviolis was the catalyst that has led me to being as competent as I am in the kitchen today.

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In a lot of ways, for good or for ill, Chef Boyardee really is part of my DNA. When I’m in the mood for comfort, when I seriously want to time travel back to the eighties, all I have to do is crack open a can, heat it up and with the first spoonful I’m instantly 30 years younger in a way that watching cartoons, reading old kid’s books, or playing around with my vintage toys can never unlock.

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: The Boy Who Could Fly Edition!

It’s been a little while since I took the time to deconstruct an awesome 80s kid’s bedroom and I was recently in the mood to re-watch some Fred Savage movies so I thought it was high time that I take a closer look at Louis’ room from the 1986 flick, The Boy Who Could Fly!

Boy Who Could Fly PosterIt’s been forever since I saw this movie the last, in fact it was probably sometime in 1987 when it was playing non-stop on HBO.  This flick is sort of feels like a made-for-tv after school special, but it’s actually the big screen follow-up project for Nick Castle after his work on The Last Starfighter.  It’s one of those movies that most of my friends from high school and on never saw when they were young and thus they would never believe me when I described it.

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Though he only had a supporting role, this was the film that introduced me to Fred Savage and of all the neat 80s rooms I saw on screen as a kid, Louis’ was the one I coveted the most.  I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that both his character and I were slightly obsessed with G.I Joe toys as you’ll see in this break down.  So lets dig into the room and all of Louis’ stuff…

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1). G.I. Joe Sleeping Bag

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2). Alton Tobey Print of the Apollo 11 Astronauts

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3). Teddy Bear Lamp

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4). G.I. Joe HQ Command Center playset from 1982

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5). Sentinel Toy Robot by Kamco

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5a). Imperial Great White Shark and Frilled Dinosaur toys

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In the above screenshot we get the largest amount of non-G.I. Joe toys in Louis’ room.  There’s some more miscellaneous stuff on his desk in another shot, but there isn’t a good enough angle to really get a look at what’s there.  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the rad dirt bike wallpaper.  Pretty much everything from here on out is G.I. Joe stuff, like this better look at the stuff at his feet…

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6). G.I. Joe Slugger from 1984

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7). G.I. Joe Footloose Action Figure from 1985

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8). G.I. Joe Amphibious Personnel Carrier from 1983

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9). G.I. Joe Wild Bill figure from 1983 (Pilot of the Dragonfly helicopter)

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10). G.I. Joe Spirit action figure from 1984

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11). G.I. Joe Recondo figure from 1984

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12). G.I. Joe MOBAT (motorized battle tank) from 1982 *UPDATED* Road Power Commander’s Tank by Echo (Thanks tothe rad @Twitziller for the correction!)

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13). G.I. Joe Thunder action figure (driver for the Slugger) from 1984

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One of the things I noticed while re-watching this flick is that Savage’s character Louis has a ton of multiple figures and vehicles.  For instance in the shot above you can clearly see three Thunder and two Footloose action figures.  Later there are multiple Barbecue figures and Cobra F.A.N.G. helicopters.  Bottom line, his mother loved him.  Also, the super cool Rob Lammle (SpaceMonkeyX) pointed out that there is a Doc figure I neglected to mention in the shot above, Thanks Rob!  Upon further inspection I also noticed a Cobra Eels figure on the back of the tank too, and @twitziller pointed out that there’s a Firefly figure on top of the APC.

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14). G.I. Joe Cobra Rattler from 1984

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15). Gumby and Pokey bend-em figures

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16). G.I. Joe Dragonfly helicopter from 1983

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17). G.I. Joe Skystriker from 1983

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18). G.I. Joe Cobra F.A.N.G. from 1983

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19). Customized Tonka Sidewinder Cycle from 1984

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I think it’s interesting that the set designers/prop masters chose to repaint and augment a Tonka Sidewinder big wheel to look like it was army themed instead of just buying an actual G.I. Joe branded cycle.  They were both available at the same time.  Either way, because of the new paint job Louis’ cycle had it took me forever to identify it…

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20). G.I. Joe Torch action figure from 1985

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21). G.I. Joe Alpine action figure from 1985

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22). G.I. Joe Mutt action figure from 1984

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23). G.I. Joe RAM motorcycle from 1982

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There’s definitely a story point about it in the actual movie, but can I just say how adorable it is that Louis buried his “fallen soldiers” in actual graves in his back yard? As I mentioned, this is brought up in the flick when he freaks out one stormy night and goes out back digging through the mud looking for some of them as you can see below.  Maybe this is why his mother always bought him so many doubles…

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24). G.I. Joe Barbecue action figure from 1985

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25). G.I. Joe Snow Job action figure from 1983

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That about does it for Louis’ room and toys.  I wanted to take a second and give a huge shout out to the amazing 3D-Joes site where I sourced the images for all of these toys.  They are doing an amazing job of showcasing the classic Real American Hero toy line with scans, photos, and 3D turnarounds that you need to see to believe.  They also have a bunch of prints for sale including some really great ones that cobble together all the carded G.I. Joe action figures from 1982-1989.  I have both of these and they are hanging proudly in Branded in the 80s HQ!

If you enjoyed this breakdown, here are a bunch of other Awesome 80s Bedrooms I’ve deconstructed…

Sean’s Room and The Monster Squad Clubhouse!

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliott’s room from E.T. Part 1 Elliott’s room Part 2

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

Sarah’s room from Labyrinth

Investigating the Young Sherlock Holmes novelization…

4461391534_02cce86892_oThis past month it was my turn to pick the movie up for discussion on the Cult Film Club podcast (the show I co-host with my buds Paxton Holley and Jaime Hood), and since we’re in the dead of winter and I just moved up to Maryland and am experiencing boatloads of snow firsthand I wanted to choose something that was sufficiently wintery. I landed on the 1986 flick Young Sherlock Holmes which fit the bill weather-wise and also is a hugely nostalgic classic to me which is a lot like curling up in a blanket with a warm bowl of soup. I had a lot of fun chatting about the film on the show and digging through my Starlog archives to find a couple of vintage articles on the film that I shared over at the CFC website. This reminded me that I have one other Young Sherlock Holmes collectible, the novelization by Alan Arnold.

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I’ve been meaning to crack the cover on this book for a while since it felt a bit heftier than your typical movie novelization which usually means that there are a few deleted or alternate scenes included. So this past weekend I finally curled up in bed and read the book cover to cover. First and foremost, much like the movie itself, the novelization is a love letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in both style and tone. The whole Young Sherlock Holmes project was an interesting exercise in that everyone involved, from the actors and set designers to the writers and director, took pains to create a piece of fiction that felt like it was ripped straight out of the Holmes cannon. There are a lot of subtle details in the story that point to classic aspects of the character (both Doyle’s version as well as the many film and television adaptations that preceded this new story), none of which I feel beat the viewer over the head or effect the plot.

So the first thing you notice about the novelization is that it’s narrated in the voice of John Watson; just as all but four of the original Holmes stories were. The movie is also framed with an older Watson’s narration, but it’s used sparingly, mostly during scene transitions and never framing scenes where the main characters aren’t present. The book on the other hand is completely in the voice of Watson which can be a bit old when you consider that there are a handful of scenes where neither Watson, Holmes nor any living witnesses were present to see the events firsthand (such as the case of Bently Bobster’s unfortunate freak-out and eventual suicide that opens the story.) So it leaves the reader to assume that those segments are reconstructed or “fabricated” to fill in the blanks for the sake of the narrative.

That small gripe aside, Watson’s narration in the novelization is so rich with detail and anecdotal asides that it becomes a wholly different experience than a simple adaptation of the Chris Columbus script. In fact, the book is so densely packed that if one was compelled to research every anecdote Arnold mentions in the narration it might take you a couple years to finish the book. All in all, the majority of the differences between the novel and the film lay in these random observations and intensified descriptions of the locales and character backgrounds. Again, going back to the Bobster sequence there is a lot more detail into that character’s background, how he became so well off and a rather lengthy bit about his love of fine dining (and why he ultimately chose the restaurant where the film opens and he suffers from his first trippy hallucination where his pheasant dinner comes alive and attacks him.)

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But there are some fun little deleted bits, stuff that feels very much in line with showcasing Holmes as a junior detective in training. We get a bit of this in the final film with stuff like the ongoing bear riddle between Holmes and Watson and the missing fencing trophy challenge between Holmes and Dudley, but there were more little brain teasers peppered in. For instance, when Watson and Holmes are in Chemistry class and Elizabeth taps on the schoolroom window and hands Sherlock a note. In the film we see her hand the note to Holmes and we watch as he reads it, but the contents of the note aren’t revealed. In the novelization (and I’m assuming the script as well) we find out that the note is actually a puzzle that reveals a meeting place for Sherlock to find Elizabeth later. It reads:

“Two brains merge into one,
Where the leaves of knowledge are stored
Near the men of dancing words
When the clock becomes a perfect L.”

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After Holmes explains that the note means for him to meet her for a study session (brains merging) in the library (leaves of knowledge = books) poetry sections (dancing words) at 3:00pm (hands of the clock forming an “L”), he then proceeds to take a vial of chemicals that Watson was working with, adds some more stuff to the mixture and creates a dazzling fireworks display in the classroom to liven it up (if you remember from the film that professor is rather dull and sort of senile.) Again, nothing essential or earth shattering, just little bits that make the story way richer and fun to read. In fact, there’s another throwaway line in this segment that I found pretty awesome. So after Holmes lights up the chemistry class he and Watson make their way to the Library to meet up with Elizabeth. But Watson notes that they make a quick stop to pick up a newspaper and a bottle of cough syrup (which Holmes takes a large swig of) at the apothecary. For those versed in the lore of Holmes you’ll note that the character was an addict, and the fact that Arnold has him as a young lad starting down that road already drinking cough syrup is sort of fascinating. I highly doubt it that this made it into Columbus’ script, though now that I think about it there was that weird sexual moment in the Goonies novelization where Andy has an orgasm at an odd time. I attributed that bit of insanity to the author of that book, James Kahn, but maybe I’m not giving Chris Columbus’ scripts enough credit in the weird adult content department. Guess I need to track down copies of both of the scripts (Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes) and find out for sure. To round out these small differences in the novelization, in the scene where Holmes meets up with Elizabeth he starts to explain why he was late and she stops him and then using the skills Holmes evidently already taught her she proceeds to retrace his exact steps much in the same manner that Holmes first guessed Watson’s name and attributes when they first met. Arnold and Columbus were definitely building up Elizabeth as Holmes’ equal which makes his admiration for her and the effect of her ultimate fate that much more poignant.

As far as other differences that I found interesting, there was one that I was surprised did not make the translations from script/film to novelization. This one is a rather larger spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the film, read at your own risk. In a very cool example of an after credits stinger scene, at the end of the film we see that the main villain of the story, Professor Rathe, didn’t perish in the icy river after the duel with Holmes. He made it out somehow and after a long carriage ride through the snowy woods he happens upon a rustic inn and rents a room. As he signs in on the ledger he uses a new name, Moriarty.

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This whole segment is not included in the novelization which makes me wonder if the idea to include this was made during filming. Maybe the director, Barry Levinson, or the producer, Steven Spielberg, was really happy with how the filming was going and they decided to create the stinger to point to a potential sequel (something that would unfortunately never come to pass.)

All in all Alan Arnold’s adaptation of Young Sherlock Holmes is another shining example of how cool these 80s era film novelizations can be. For folks who love movies to death and who cherish finding all sorts of little obscure odds and ends that enrich the experience of watching their favorite flicks, novelizations are a freaking goldmine.

Filling a gap in my pop culture past…

There are a million reasons why I’m thankful for being brought into this world in the late seventies, but the one that I’ve been focusing on lately is that I feel a very deep appreciation for my luck in experiencing what the world has been like before and after the internet. I do my best to not take the wonderland of the World Wide Web for granted, and I consistently marvel at the level of access we have to information, even if it seems banal and trivial on the surface. With the tools, databases and connections at hand we can use these resources to practically break through the implausibility of a concept like time travel and experience things that should be long gone and forgotten. I spend the majority of my time here at Branded writing and talking about all the stuff from my childhood that I hold dear in particular my personal experiences with the shows, movies, books, toys and pop culture ephemera that I grew up loving. Today I want to talk about something I completely missed out on, something that I only discovered after starting this site almost a decade ago, the Saturday morning entertainment showcase specials that were broadcast by the major TV stations back in the 80s.

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Growing up I never really had a say in what the family would watch on TV. I know, everyone is crying me a river, right? Honestly, it’s not a complaint; I had food, shelter, and more than my fair share of toys and entertainment, but when it came to TV there were only a few windows when I had access to controlling the dial (and much later the remote), especially as soon as my father would come home from work. As soon as he got in the door he immediately changed the station from the afternoon cartoons I might be watching on the UHF channels to whatever station would have local news. So if that meant suffering through syndicated reruns of Alice or the Jefferson’s for the billionth time so that the channel would be tuned in to the news as soon as it started, that’s what we watched. Then it was the local news, then national news, then Entertainment Tonight, and finally onto whatever stuff caught my dad’s interest for the rest of the evening. My TV time was mostly regulated to 30 minutes in the morning before school (where I caught old Our Gang and Three Stooges shorts or the odd episode of Woody Woodpecker or Chilly Willy), an hour after school (where I caught most of my syndicated cartoons like He-Man, G.I. Joe, Bravestarr and the Silverhawks), and a couple hours on Saturday morning for cartoons. Because of this I never tended to flip through the actual programming portion (the B&W newsprint part) of our copies of the TV Guide and therefore I never stumbled across any of the advertisements for the one-off showcase specials that aired during the kickoff of the new network lineup in fall.

So at 8:30pm on Saturday the 8th of September in 1984 I had no idea that there was a 30-minute special called Laugh Busters airing on NBC. In fact I didn’t even learn that it existed until about five years ago when I broke down the 1984 Fall Preview issue of the TV Guide here at Branded. At the time it was a bit of a curiosity that I wished I could explore further but there was nothing online about it except for a glorified placeholder entry on IMDB.

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Well, a few years went by and Laugh Busters slipped to the back of my mind as one of those oddities, a hole in my childhood experience that I wished I could fill but knew I’d probably never get a chance to see as something like that would never merit a DVD release (way too many licenses and clearances would be needed.) But, as I stated above, the internet and all its connections are pretty damn miraculous and my buddy Tim over at Flashlights Are Something to Eat had his own Laugh Busters journey going on. Unlike me, Tim had actually seen the original broadcast as a kid and even had the presence of mind to tape the audio on a blank cassette! He did a short synopsis/write-up on his site but was still yearning to re-watch the full special, so he kept up his search and a couple of years later he finally found one of his childhood holy grails, an old VHS copy that had been ripped to DVD. Tim, being the super awesome guy that he is, offered to let me borrow his copy and finally, 30 years after it originally aired, I was able to experience a small part of 1984 that I thought was lost to time. As a bonus the copy of the special was complete with the commercials that originally aired with it, so this was as close to time travel that the internet has made possible.

Laugh Busters

As I mentioned above, Laugh Busters was a Saturday Morning showcase special which was designed to sell the kids of America on NBC’s new line-up of shows, particularly because half of the schedule was brand new for 1984. Here’s a copy of the SMC comic book ad for NBC from which introduced 4 new shows including Kidd Video, Pink Panther and Sons, the Snorks and the live action sitcom Going Bananas starring JR the orangutan as Roxanna Banana a simian zapped by a U.F.O. and given super powers.

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The basic premise of Laugh Busters revolves around the making of the NBC Special starring all of the new cartoon characters as well as the Smurfs, Spider-Man, Mr. T, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and the cast of Going Bananas. The director in charge, D.W. (played by Sandy Helberg), has his plans put in peril by Gargamore O’Dette, a super evil wizard (also portrayed by Helberg) bent on the end of laughter and the ultimate destruction of NBC. Why you ask? Because he’s allergic to laughter of course!  Here’s some audio from that opening segment

Director DW and Assistant

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Right off the bat after hitting play I was taken aback as there was a scene during the opening credits that featured a team up between an animated Mr. T and Alvin, Simon and Theodore. At first I thought this was a weird composting of elements from the two Ruby Spears cartoons, but upon digging a bit I found out that Mr. T was featured in the first segment in the premier episode of the 80s Chipmunks series (both shows debuted together the year prior in 1983.) There’s also a great song in the middle of the episode.  Somehow I’ve managed to miss out on this epic bit of pop culture fun for the last 31 years.

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After the detour of watching the first episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks I dove back into the Laugh Busters special. To execute his nefarious plan Gargamore kidnaps the Smurfs off screen and recruits two live action henchmen (played by James “Uncle Phil” Avery and Bill Saluga reprising their roles of the Grit Brothers Hank and Hubert from Going Bananas) to stop the rest of the characters from making it onto the special.

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Grit Brothers

Of course Thom Bray (Boz and his rad orange robot Roboz from Riptide) show up at the studio for the Special and they end up helping to track down the missing stars and cartoon characters starting with Spider-Man.

Thom Bray

Dan Gilvezan, voice of Spider-Man from the cartoon, redubs animation segments from the show to talk about being excited for the new season as well as taking a trip across country to appear on the new NBC special. He then proceeds to web-swing from NYC all the way to Burbank (seriously) set to the sweet dulcet melody of the city-name-dropping portion of the Huey Lewis song Heart of Rock and Roll.

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Of course he encounters the infamous Grit Brothers near the city of One Horse USA, swinging into and getting trapped on a gigantic piece of ACME Fly Paper (in a live action segment that looks like it was straight out of an episode of the Electric Company)! Boz uses Roboz to call a honkytonk out there to enlist the help of Danny Cooksey (from Diff’rent Strokes and later Salute Your Shorts) to help. After performing his best Waylon Jennings imitation of the Ed Bruce song “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (where the keen observer will notices the entire Kidd Video and Going Bananas cast in attendance as well as Alfonzo Ribero), Danny takes Boz’s call and agrees to help, though he needs a ride to go help Spider-Man since he’s just a kid and all.

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Boz then enlists the help of KITT from Knightrider to drive Danny out to rescue Spider-Man. What I love about this segment (aside from seeing a pint-sized Danny Cooksey behind the wheel of K.I.T.T.) is that this is the only onscreen pairing of Spider-Man and K.I.T.T. (I have a soft spot in my heart of Knightrider crossovers.) I also love that William Daniel voiced K.I.T.T. in this special uncredited…

Cooksey KITT Spiderman

With Spider-Man rescued, the Grit brothers turn their attention that that new up and coming rock ‘n roll band Kidd Video, and they literally roll a rock at the gang’s, knocking them and the Kiddmobile right out of the flipside back into the real world. Since their ship is messed up they decide to practice their new hit song (Video to Radio) out on a bridge near the wreckage.

Kidd Video

The special then cuts to Roxanna Banana listening to Kid Video on the radio and a reworking of the opening segment of the Going Bananas series then plays out. This bleeds back into the GB cast in their jalopy bus running into Kidd Video still playing out on the bridge and they decide to pick them up and head out to Burbank together.

Going Bananas

Things get a little weird when the special moves on to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Again, like with Spider-Man, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. reprises the role of Alvin to voice new material over clips from one of the cartoon episodes to tie it into the plot of this new story. The Grit brothers have boarded a train carrying the Chipmunks and Dave to Burbank, and the plan is to steal their train tickets so they’ll get kicked off, which they do. But when the Chipmunks get thrown off the train the special switches from animation to live action with three very bulky and ridiculously large chipmunk outfits. They’re rescued by Boz who sends the Riptide Helicopter (the Screaming Mimi) to pick them up.

Chipmunks

As the special moves into its second half the pace starts to pick up dramatically and the amount of original non-clip material is reduced. The last longish bit involves Mr. T and his gymnasts stopping at a meet they were invited to only to realize that it was a trap and they have a run in with the Grit brothers. Luckily they foil the Grit Bros. plan to steal their bus in a weird mix of live action and animation.  Though you hear his voice, you only ever see Mr. T’s real life arm (well, it was supposed to be Mr. T, but I’m sure it was just a stand-in double…)

MR T

Next up is the Pink Panther and Sons segment where Pinky and Panky, the sons of the Pink Panther are taking a bike ride through a city. The grit brothers show up and decide to paint a fake tunnel opening on a huge rock in the hopes that they will ride smack dab into it. The animation switches over to live action as a person in a huge Panky costume rides a bike straight through the painting much like in a cartoon. It’s just assumed that the false tunnel has become a wormhole to Burbank.

Pink Panther

In the second to last segment the Grit brothers are sitting in a raft and have a plan to obliterate the Snorks. They explain that everything in the Snorks underwater kingdom is run on steam and so they take control of one of NASA’s inter-continental ballistic missiles with a remote control and crash it into the sea sealing off an underwater volcano that is the source of the Snork’s steam production. This then switches over to animation where there is a clip of the Snorks removing said missile from the volcano and foiling the Grit Brother’s plan.

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In the last segment Papa Smurf, the only Smurf not captured by Gargamore, figures out that O’Dette is trying not to laugh. So he develops a potion which he slips to Gargamore that makes him evaporate. Yes, Papa Smurf apparently kills Gargamore!

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This leads to an all-out dance celebration with all of the live action characters, cartoons and the guest stars (minus Panky and Thom Bray), rocking out to a spoof of the Ghostbusters theme by Ray Parker Jr.

Dance Party

I’ll be the first to admit that this Laugh Busters showcase special was super hokey and kind of hard to watch in spots, but I’m glad I finally caught up with one of these because it was great to see the mash-up of properties and characters. I know I would have loved it had I seen it back in 1984. It’s kind of a shame that it’s mostly lost to time, so as a small little capper to this experience I took the time to submit a bunch of information about the special to the pathetic IMDB listing. It’s slowly updating, but at least there’s now a synopsis, more crew and some trivia added. Hopefully they’ll add the rest of the cast that I submitted soon and this won’t be a completely lost bit of 80s fun.

And before I close this out, here’s a list of the original commercials that aired during the special…

Commercial Break

1). Fun with McNuggets: This is a fun early McNuggets commercial that still featured some of the older McDonaldland characters like the Professor and Captain Crook…

Fun With McNuggets

2). Raisin Bran BMX: This commercial is like a mash-up of the movie Rad and a kid crazy for his two scoops of raisins.  So crazy in fact that he decides to ditch halfway through the race to go eat more raisins…

Raisin Bran BMX

3). Wrangler Clothes (Live It to the Limit with Wrangler): This is the first time I’ve seen a Wrangler ad that was aimed at a young teen audience.  I’ve always associated these jeans with like older guys who work on farms or construction, so it was weird seeing the brand try and take a more Jordache spin.  Also, the commercial is an excuse to strip out of the clothes, a weird choice if you ask me…

Wrangler

4). Wendy’s Where’s the Beef?: The classic 80s Where’s the Beef commercial, ‘Nuff Said.

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5). Sneak Week with Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Highway to Heaven: Always fun seeing the 1st season promo material for Punky Brewster and the most adorable Brandon with an afro…

sneak week

6). Pop Tarts: Color coordinate your Pop Tarts kids.  Also, I forgot how much I missed seeing the bit where the knife is spread over the fruit filling that spells out fruit…

Pop Tarts

7). Chef Boyardee: This commercial wins the award for worst mom ever.  The little girls wants a cookie, but the mom thinking that’s unhealthy (why do you have them in the kitchen then?) stops her and gives her a full can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs instead.  Because that’s SOOOOO MUCH BETTER.  Sigh…

Chef Boyardee

Commercial Break 2

Peel Here #115: Gizmo Caca….so Toilet Paper…

4560287382_404990f06c_oI often describe the 80s as the pinnacle of pop culture brand merchandising; a time when no promotional idea was off the table no matter how weird or nonsensical.  Case in point, in the summer of 1984 Warner Bros., in conjunction with Amblin Entertainment, released Joe Dante’s Christmas horror masterpiece Gremlins in theaters.  The merchandising push for the film was huge with a plethora of products and tie-ins like lunchboxes, toys, bed sheets, cereal, pajamas, and even candy bars.  By far the weirdest promotion was a series of mini sticker sheet pack-ins with Scott Toilet Paper!

Scott Toilet Paper Gremlins Stickers 1984 1

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is pretty damn awesome and I wish toilet paper companies still had these sorts of neat promo items.  I mean we all have to buy it, so it might as well come with free stickers for the new Nick TMNT cartoon or Guardians of the Galaxy flick right?!  But who exactly was this promotion aimed at?  I mean kids aren’t making the TP purchasing decisions in the household and if I had to guess, anyone old enough to be buying their own TP in 1984 was probably not the target audience for this flick.

Anyway, there were four different mini sheets of two stickers available featuring Gizmo, Stripe, and Billy…

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As a last thought on this promotion, considering that the toilet paper in the scan above has designs on it, how cool would it have been if the designs were of Gizmo and Stripe?!  Gizmo caca, or Gizmo meet caca… ;)

Since it’s been awhile since I’ve been posting Peel Here columns regularly and Gremlins stickers in general, here are a couple of other sticker sheets I’ve added to my collection in the last few years.  These were released by Hallmark back in 1984…

Hallmark Gremlins Stickers 1984

I love the slightly cartoon-y illustrations in the above sheet, though I think Stripe is way too chipper.  And is he playing with the same little clown dolls that Rickey was playing with in Better Off Dead on Christmas morning?  Weird…

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This next sheet is all about Gizmo cuteness.  It’s kind of hilarious how cute these sticker sheets skewed considering how demented the film actually is…

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Voltron Assembler < Voltron Giant Commander

It was nearly impossible to be a kid growing up in the 80s suffering through the onslaught of product merchandising and not have a moment of pure greed and weakness where you simply just “had to have” some ridiculously expensive and outlandish toy.  Whether it was the elusive Transformers Devastator gift set, the shimmering She-Ra Crystal Castle, or the juggernaut that was the G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier.  You begged, pleaded, bargained, and schemed in order to score that thing you just couldn’t bear to live without regardless if your parents could afford it, or in the case of the Flagg, if there was even room to house it!  Whether or not you managed to secure your grail, I have to assume that there was an epic battle of wills with the parental units when attempting to acquire it, and years later the scars of that battle are probably still healing.

For me, that battle was fought in the attempt to get my grubby little hands on what I considered the most epic toy of all time (or at least the years between 1982-1988), the Voltron Giant Commander!  Released in 1984, it was almost 24 inches tall, had nine brilliant points of articulation, came with his patented flaming sword, and best of all, it was freaking motorized!

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That 2lb hunk of beautiful plastic was what I considered the pinnacle of toy technology as a kid and I coveted it something fierce.  What’s weird is that even though I watched the Voltron cartoon from time to time I was never really a huge fan of the show.  But the design of the Lion Voltron completely knocked my socks off and it was one of the sets of toys that my parents never saw fit to pick up for my birthdays or Christmas.  That just added fuel to the fire of my lust after I saw the commercial for the Giant Commander on TV, most likely in the middle of watching Saturday morning cartoons.  I used to lay in our den and daydream about how much more awesome my life would be if I had a two-foot tall Voltron at my beck and call.  Sure, it wasn’t strictly a remote control toy as the control box was connected by a three foot length of wire, but that almost made it even cooler in my mind as if that wire were a leash, and the Voltron was my motorized pet!

I seem to remember pleading my case to my parents for at least two solid years straight at every chance I got, much like Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB Gun shenanigans from A Christmas Story.  Needless to say, unlike Ralphie, I never got my wish, and even though as a kid there was always a hole in my heart for that toy, I did eventually get over it.  And bless his heart, there was one time when my Dad attempted to “get my that damn toy” I was always harping about, but in pure parent fashion he sort of completely missed the mark.  My father was a fiend for visiting our local flea market where I grew up.  It was (and still is) called Flea World and was located out on 17-92 just outside of the Orlando area.  It boasted a hundred stalls located inside an air-conditioned space (which was actually 3-4 trailer units, like schools use, jury-rigged together), and he loved seeking out deals on off-brand golf equipment and getting burgers from the food court.  Well one day he came home from Flea World and told me he got me that Voltron I wanted.  To his credit, he did but A Voltron…

Voltron Assembler

Five inches tall and made of cheap, hollow plastic, this Voltron Assembler was not at all what I had in mind when he said I could go grab it out of the car.  As a kid it sort of felt like my dad was messing with me on purpose, but he was very earnest and proud that he managed to find that “damn toy robot”.  I never let him know I was disappointed, doubly so when one of the arm and leg connector knobs each broke off after only ten minutes of play (which I masterfully hid by inconspicuously Super Gluing it back together, as well as gluing my fingers together in the process.)

Looking back, I’m actually glad I never managed to win my parents over because I’m sure the Giant Commander was a let-down.  A couple years later then ended up getting me that monstrosity that was the U.S.S. Flagg (for the record I never asked for it) and it was such a waste of their money.  Sometimes those huge, expensive toy holy grails are just not what they’re cracked up to be…

Voltron Assembler 2

Peel Here #114: Gordy Scratch ‘n Sniff stickers!

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As I get older I often wonder how much the elementary school experience has changed for kids over the last 30 years.  I mean there are some obvious advancements in technology with tablets and smartphones in the home that have kids pseudo-computing and interfacing with software at a much younger age, but the basic curriculum and environment has to be pretty much the same right?  I mean for pre-K to 1st grade there has to be a lot of glitter, paste, construction paper, safety scissors, crayons, and macaroni art right?  Then you move on to that sweet D’Nealian newsprint writing paper with the blue and red guidelines right?

HandwritingPaper

I guess what I’m getting at is that I wonder if kids still get cool stickers on their graded homework and tests if they did a good job?  This was such a staple of my youth that I can’t imagine a world where this no longer applies.  One of the reasons that I was wondering is that it occurred to me the other day that I don’t think there are any companies making scratch and sniff stickers anymore.  Granted, I’m not trolling the school supply warehouses, but S’nS stickers aren’t being stocked in Hallmark stores or at places like Target or Walmart as far as I can tell.  So it’s kind of sad to think that kids may not be getting their papers back with a sticker that smells like gasoline or peanuts…

Well, anyway, I’ve written about scratch and sniff stickers at length before, mainly focusing on my personal favorite brand of stickers from my youth, Trend.  Back when I was first working on my Peel Here column I did a four part series on my collection of Trend stickers (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4), and I pretty much hit on my favorite stickers and scents (man oh man do I love the smell of a gasoline scratch and sniff sticker.)  I also did a column on my collection of CTP scratch and sniff stickers which I don’t remember quite as well from childhood, but I know they were pretty damn popular (along with Mello Smello and the originator, 3M.)  For years I assumed that those were the big brands in sniff stickers, but after doing some digging recently I found another company that was producing sniff stickers in abundance in the 80s called Gordy.  They did a large series of Big League Chew, Bubble Yum, and Tootsie Roll-branded sniff sticker sets, but the stickers that really grabbed my attention recently are their in-house sniff stickers in the more standard 50-cent-piece size…

Gordy-1

These stickers came in sets of thirty six Smelly Packs, with two sheets of eighteen stickers, each sheet featuring three scents for a total of six scents per pack.  This was a lot different than the rest of the companies making scratch and sniff stickers which tended to keep the stickers limited to one scent per pack.  So these Gordy sets were really geared towards the sticker collector to maximize their collection.

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From the research I’ve done and the stickers I’ve been able to acquire I think there were about 72 different stickers in this series (I’ve only been able to get my hands on 57 of them though…

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Though Trend stickers will always have a special place in my heart because that’s the brand and imagery I have the most intense nostalgia for, I think these Gordy stickers are quickly becoming my favorites.  First off the artwork on the stickers is amazing and way more in the realm of cartoonist’s rendering from the Sunday comics than just the straight up doodle-style of Trend…

Gordy Scratch and Sniff 19

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…but there was also a whole heck of a lot more interesting, horrid and weird scents!  Where as Trend had a few “bad” smelling stickers, Gordy is packed full of examples like Barn Yard, Booze, Sewer, Dead Fish, Garbage, and Bad Breath!

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These smelly stickers are the equivalent of what Bernie Bott’s every flavor jelly beans are for kids today.  I’m surprised there wasn’t a vomit sticker, though granted, there are still 15 stickers I haven’t accounted for…

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Getting back to the cartoonist style of the illustrations, so many of these drawings remind me very much of the work of Evan Dorkin in his Dork series of comic books.  I mean, just look at these Raspberries below!

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That isn’t to say that there weren’t a ton of “good” scents too.  I also love that the drawings aren’t gender specific for the most part.  These more “girly” scents below feature some fun artwork that I think boys or girls growing up in the 80s would have dug…

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I also think the sets that were released are interesting.  All of these scans are fresh off the exact sheets they were originally sold in, so in some cases the trios make sense (like Perfume, Rose and Lilac), bu then you also have sets that are kind of insane combinations (like Raspberry, Blueberry and Tuna Fish?!?)  Then there are some that were just way ahead of their time like this combination of pastries, pies, cakes, and bacon.  Yeah, Gordy knew bacon was going to invade this market in the coming years…

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I like the tone of the humor in some of these stickers as well, like the fact that the Lemon sticker had a joke about getting a shitty car…

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…or that coconut is another term for crazy.

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And finally, a sticker that I’ve shared before when the super rad Belle Dee sent me scans of her childhood sticker collection a few years ago.  Probably the sexiest, most inappropriate for kids sticker that I’ve ever laid eyes on.  Behold, the majesty of the Gordy Banana sticker, which is just, well, bananas!

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Riding the Radical Yuletide!

This past week I shared a scan of an old Town & Country Surf and Skate corporate Christmas card that was illustrated by the awesome Steve Nazar back in 1988.  Well, Steve saw my post (over on my Instagram account) and in response he posted another couple from that same series of cards!  I’ve been looking for these two for awhile!

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Too freaking cool. I love the one Tiki guy taking aim at Santa with a freaking bazooka!

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I love this second one too.  Santa rocking out with the T&C gang is so much fun, and this just feels sooo late 80s.  Caveman pounding on the drums with a hammer is great.  Also, he included the rad pink Kool Kat character (on piano) that you tend not to see a lot in his non-T-shirt art!

There’s at least one more in this T&C Christmas card series, so here’s hoping that one get’s unearthed before the month is over!  Again, head on over to Mr. Nazar’s instagram account and check out his supremely radical artwork!

Wax Paper Pop Art #35: No-stal-stal-N-N-N-Nolstalgia

4563734703_e2e99528d2_oSince it’s sort of been a week or two of a bit more old school Branded-style pieces I figured I’d cap it off with a piece of Wax Paper Pop Art that I’ve been meaning to post for ages.  Of all the semi-definitive pop culture icons that could be used to encapsulate the80s (Pee Wee Herman, The Smurfs, the California Raisins), none feel as ahead of their time and yet so completely rooted in that decade as Max Headroom.  Genius advertising mascot, social commentator, star of a wickedly weird, under-appreciated TV series, and a CGI character created with almost wholly practical effects.  An truly ironic icon…

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I talked about this 1986 Topps sticker card set a few years ago.  I still need to track down a set of the foil stickers though…

A Very T&C Christmas!

It seems like the older I get the more my collecting urges tend to focus on some weirder things.  For instance, you can file this under obscure ephemera, but one of my favorite 80s era treasures in my collection is this lone Christmas card released back in the winter of 1988 by T&C (Town & Country Surf & Skate company.)

TandC Christmas Steve Nazar 1988

I’ve mentioned before that I practically lived in T&C shirts as a boy growing up in central Florida between 1980-1989.  I was such a huge fan of the design of the characters Thrilla Gorilla, Joe Cool, the Caveman, the little Tiki guys, Cool Cat, and the weirdo, green 3-eyed alien with the huge head.  So back in ’88 my head nearly exploded when I received an NES and the T&C Surf and Skate game cartridge for Christmas.  Even though that game was stupidly impossible to play I loved it and would stick it in before school each morning in an attempt to master the ability to surf for more than four straight seconds, or to ollie without stumbling over cracked pavement.

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that I would finally learn that Steve Nazar was the artist responsible for bringing these rad characters to life, and only in the past year did I stumble upon the above piece of amazing holiday-themed artwork.  If I had found this card back in the 80s it would have unlocked the mystery of the artist as this one is attributed with his signature right under the worktable where the Caveman is assembling skateboards.

If you’re a fan of Nazar’s work for T&C and want to check out what he’s up to these days, head on over to his Instagram profile and check out the fun pieces he’s been sharing recently.  And tell him Branded sent ya!