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.

IMDB Laugh Busters

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

Gargamore ODette

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.

Captured Smurfs

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.

Spiderman

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.

Audience

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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…)

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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…

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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…

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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!

Peel Here #113: Finally, Rainbow Brite

4560287382_404990f06c_oAfter breaking out the TV Guides recently and writing about the 1986 Fall Preview issue it got me thinking about a handful of the other columns here at Branded that I haven’t touched in years.  There was a time when I was buying vintage stickers left and right to share here at the site, but I had sort of hit a wall about 6 years ago when the vintage sticker market began to boom and the prices on the secondary market were getting insane.  Things have cooled down a bit over the last couple of years as the cultural nostalgia has begun shifting its laser focus from the 80s on to the 90s, and the prices have started to fall a bit.  Granted, not enough that I can justify completely diving back into vintage sticker collecting, but enough that I occasionally pick up some new stuff from time to time.

One of the 80s era branding holes in my sticker collection that I’ve been meaning to fill for years is Rainbow Brite.  I remember watching the movie (RB and the Star Stealer) and loving it, but being a boy I never had any of the plush or PVC figures, so it’s one of the series that I’m mostly unfamiliar with.  With the recent news that there is a new cartoon launching, I thought it would be fun to share some of these vintage Hallmark sticker sheets I picked up awhile ago that were released back in 1983…

Rainbow Brite Stickers 3

Sort of like Strawberry Shortcake there seems to be a ton of color-themed characters in the series, and a good chunk of them are featured in these stickers sheets.  Above we get some examples of Canary Yellow, Patty O’Green, and Red Butler along with the fluffy white Sprite Twink.  Of course there’s also Rainbow Brite herself, and below we get to see her stallion Starlite…

Rainbow Brite Stickers 2

I thought it was cool to see this villain specific sheet as well featuring Murky (the evil Super Mario looking guy) and his bumbling fuzzball of a sidekick Lurky.  I love their sweet doom buggy/go-cart ride as well!

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Here are some more of the Sprites including Romeo (the red one), OJ (the orange one), Spark (the yellow one), Lucky (the green one), Champ (the blue one), and I believe IQ (the purple one)…

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I’m assuming these were released all throughout the year as I found some for Valentines day (below) and summer beach-y fun (above)….

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…as well as amusement park fun like this next sheet.

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And finally we have something that’s seasonally appropriate for today (being the beginning of December), a Christmas sheet!

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Now, I wonder if there were ever any puffy stickers?  Or fuzzy, faux-felt stickers for the Sprites?!?

The Essential TV Guide Fall Preview Issues of the 80s, Part 10: 1986!

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So last month during my blitzkrieg of Monster Squad shenanigans I had the opportunity to check out an (at the time) unreleased episode of Ken Reid’s awesome TV Guidance Counselor podcast where he sat down with special guest André Gower.  The episode is finally live and I highly suggest checking it out as it’s a great interview with Gower that sidesteps your typical questions as well as shedding some light on aspects of The Monster Squad that don’t get discussed a lot.  Ken has a real knack for conversational interviewing that keeps the banter interesting and strays from fanboy indulgences.  Listening to the episode got me in the mood to dig out my collection of 80s era TV Guides, so this past weekend I did just that and figured it’s been way too long (4 years!) since I took a look at a vintage Fall Preview issue here at Branded.  So I might as well pick up where I left off, which was the September 13-19 issue from 1986…

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1986 makes one of the first years where I actively started paying attention to prime-time TV, specifically first-run sitcoms.  I’d just turned 9 years-old and there were two new shows that debuted that felt like they were created especially for me (Perfect Strangers and ALF), so much so that for once I actually fought my father for control of the TV on certain nights…

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By this point I’d already become aware of Bronson Pinchot via Beverly Hills Cop and his role in After Hours (my mom used to expose me to some weird movies when I was a kid), and the bits and pieces I saw of him as Balki Bartokomous had 9 year-old me in tears.  This was the gateway drug that led to years of watching TGIF on ABC, way , way, way past when I was still enjoying it.  Regardless, to this day one of my immediate responses to good news is to initiate the Dance of Joy (usually with an imaginary partner that I “catch” at the end.)  As for ALF, that premise was just too insane not to watch.  I should also mention that I was still hip deep in my appreciation for pint-sized aliens (E.T. and Ewoks), and good ‘ol Gordon Shumway made that love a nice trifecta.

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This was also the year that I was introduced to the wonder that is Ernie Reyes Jr when I fell in love with a little show called Sidekicks!  What’s kind of weird for me is that at the time I had no idea who Gil Gerard was even though I was a huge fan of Buck Rogers.  Maybe I was too mesmerized by the tiny martial arts master to even pay much attention to the rest of the show…

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There were  a handful of other shows that I remembered watching at the time, stuff like Head of the Class, Valerie, Sledge Hammer, The Wizard, and even L.A. Law, but the other main show that really hit my radar that year was Starman (starring Robert Hays from the Airplane movies.)  I was a huge fan of the movie and followed along right into the series.  It was probably my first real bout of appointment television where I was really sucked into the story from week to week, and would freak out a little if I missed an episode…

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In the slew of new series that were released this year there were a couple that I missed at the time and never stumbled upon until I flipped through this issue.  Stuff like You Again?, the John Stamos/Jack Klugman series that is a weird mash-up between The Odd Couple and Silver Spoons.  Obviously the show didn’t make it as it would only be the next year before Stamos would finally hit it big in a little show called Full House.

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There was also a series that I’m super curious about called Together We Stand with Ke Huy Quan (Data from the Goonies), Dee Wallace (speaking of E.T.), and Elliott Gould.  It looks like a 80s modern take on the Brady Bunch, just with 100% more multi-ethnic adoption instead of merging two families.  I’m similarly curious about the dramatic series called Heart of the City which starred a young Christina Applegate and one of my favorite obscure child actors Johnathon Ward (first season of Charles in Charge and White Water Summer.)  Looks fun…

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There’s also Our House, though I both never watched it and never really cared to track it down, as well as a few other shows that I have zero interest in (like Easy Street with Jack Elam and Loni Anderson or My Sister Sam with Pam Dauber and David Naughton…)

1986 was not only a good year for sitcoms, but it was a great year for Saturday morning cartoons and shows seeing the debut of some of my favorite series like Galaxy High, Teen Wolf, and Pee Wee’s Playhouse!

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This issue also features some fun interior ads for new and returning shows…

Not to mention the debut of the insanity that is Zoobilee Zoo!

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Last, but not least I’m going to leave you with this advertisement for the ABC Afterschool Special, A Desperate Exit starring Malcom-Jamal Warner and Rob Stone (of Mr. Belvedere) which you can watch on youtube!

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Back to the Future: The Other Marty McFly Theorem

November 10th, 1990, a red-letter date in my personal fandom of the Back to the Future franchise. Yes!  Of course!  November 10th, 1990!  That was the day I discovered my first time travel loophole in the Back to the Future movie trilogy continuity.  I remember it vividly.  I was sitting on the edge of my toilet reading a copy of Starlog, there was an entry in the letters column complaining about BTTF 3, I freaked out as my dad came into the bathroom, yelled at him to knock first, and when I went back to flipping through the magazine I had a revelation!  A vision!  A picture in my head!  A picture of two DeLoreans existing in 1885 simultaneously!  This is what makes time travel movies implausible: loopholes!  In all seriousness, the events described previously actually happened, I was in the bathroom reading the letters column in an issue of Starlog when I had a moment of clarity and realized that there are actually two DeLoreans in BTTF 3 at a point in the story when they desperately need another time machine.  Stop me if you’ve heard this.  So at the end of BTTF 2 Doc and the time machine get struck y lightning and sent back to 1885.  Doc hides the DeLorean in a cave for Marty to find while he’s stuck in 1955 (he gets that nifty telegram delivered moments after Doc is whisked away to alert him of this.)  So Marty find the 1950′s Doc, they uncover the DeLorean and fix it up (because of the years worth of dry rot to the tires, etc.)  Marty then takes this one back to 1885.  So here’s the thing.  The one that doc hid in the cave?  It’s obviously still there (it would have to be for Marty to find it in 1955.)  Thus two DeLoreans and no need to make some time traveling train.  My 13 year-old mind was blown.

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Over the years I’ve realized that this isn’t a huge revelation, if only because I’ve become more jaded as I age and would be the first person to point out that with all the twists and turns of the 2nd and third BTTF films there were bound to be plot-holes.  Time Travel is a fickle story element that is nearly impossible to “get right”.  Hell, just consider the two DeLoreans.  Just using the basic logic of time travel, though the two can co-exist in the same time, there are special rules for say using parts of one to fix the other.  If you took a part off the one Doc hid in the cave to fix the one Marty brought back, it wouldn’t work.  As soon as you removed the part, it wouldn’t be there in 1955 for Marty to find intact right?  But, the opposite isn’t true.  Take a part off of the version Marty brought back to fix the one Doc hid and you don’t get into this displacement effect.  Maybe this is why it’s not brought up in the film, maybe Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale realized this and decided to sidestep trying to explain it (the franchise was pretty confusing at it was at this point.)

All of this aside, I’ve always considered the first film in the franchise to be pretty tight and free of these pesky time travel loopholes.  In fact, after a hundred nerdy conversations with friends and family I was pretty certain that there was nothing new to ever discover in that first film.  Well, that was until I poked my nose in another issue of Starlog a few weeks ago and found an article discussing the two variations of Marty McFly in the first movie.  Though this revelation wasn’t reached on my own, thus sidestepping that Doc Brown toilet bonk Eureka moment, it still blew my mind none-the-less.  The article was titled “The Other Marty McFly”, was written by Bruce Gordon, and appeared in issue 108 from July of 1986…

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The gist of the article is that there are two Marty McFlys (which they label as one and two, but I’d rather call them Marty Alpha and Marty Beta), the main one that the movie follows back to 1955 and beyond (Alpha), and a slightly more mysterious second one that is seen towards the end of the film repeating the events from the beginning as Marty Alpha returns to 1985 a few minutes early in the hopes of saving Doc Brown from the Libyans (Beta.)  But aren’t these just the same Marty at two places?  Well yes.  And no.  Consider the ultimate end of the film after Marty finds out that Doc did indeed read the warning letter he gave him back in 1955.  Doc survives thanks to a handy bullet proof vest and Marty goes home.  But is it the same home?  Obviously not!  The McFly family that Marty Alpha grew up with are for all intents and purposes kinda losers…

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His mom has a drinking problem, his dad is a beaten down pushover, his brother is a foul-mouthed slacker who works at Burger King, and his sister, well his sister hates taking messages for Marty.  But in the 1985 that Marty Alpha returns to his family is completely different…

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His dad is a wealthy published writer, his mom is fit as a fiddle, his brother always wears a suit to the office and his sister, well, his sister has slightly better hair, less frumpy clothes, and doesn’t seem to mind taking messages quite as much.  Not only is his family more well off, but Marty is too.  His room might be identical, but this Marty has that sweet black 4×4 he always dreamed about!

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The point here is that the Marty that grew up in this environment, with more successful siblings and parents, with a totally different world view, is in fact a different Marty that we get to know throughout the film.  Thus, Marty Beta.

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(for the sake of ease I thought it would be fun to have Marty Beta represented by the Eric Stoltz version of the character…)

The two are similar, but not the same.  They had vastly different experiences growing up and thus, who knows what happens when Marty Beta gets that DeLorean up to 88mph and blacks back to the past.  Similarly, the Doc Brown that Marty Alpha encounters in 1955 and then eventually goes on to become the slightly different Doc Brown in 1985, the one that is prepared for the Libyans with a bullet-proof vest and got a chance to “know” Marty before he was even born, would he have informed Marty Beta about the adventure he was going to go on that fateful night?  This is getting a little convoluted, but it’s just the beginning!

Bruce Gordon goes on to point out something about the opening of the BTTF film that I had never noticed before.  Though we plainly get a chance to see that there are two Martys at the end of the film, what if I said for a split second there are also two at the beginning?!  That’s right, there’s a hidden Marty during the original sequence at Twin Pines mall that can be seen in silhouette for a split second of screen time.  That’s right, go grab your DVDs or cue up this clip on youtube. Now, pause the footage right as the Libyans corner Doc, right before Doc throws his gun away.

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You see that lit storefront between Doc and his big white van?  Pay attention to that little lit area and Marty Beta runs across that area…

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Now in the interest of complete transparency I will be the first to admit that what we’re seeing is way more likely a mistake, a crew member scuttling across set in front of shooting by accident perhaps.  But just for a second, imagine that that IS another Marty.  Think about that placement for a second.  You see how the Libyan’s VW Microbus is on the left and Doc is on the right?  Now consider that when Marty Alpha comes back to 1985 at the end of the film and he runs up to the (now) Lone Pine Mall and he stops at the sign, spatially, where is he in reference to the Libyans and Doc?  That’s right!  In that same area!

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But why would Marty Beta be skulking around in the background at the beginning of the film?  Well, it gets back to the differences between the two of them, and the differences in the two Doc Browns.  In Marty Beta’s world, the Doc that he hung out with knew he was going to eventually build a time machine, knew it would be made out of a Delorean, knew that he was going to get shot and that Marty was going to travel back in time, etc., etc.  That Doc knew that when Marty came back he altered the timeline by changing the outcome of his parents meeting and falling in love.  That Doc knew things he possibly didn’t want to know.  So maybe that Doc decided to read the letter that Marty left him, and then was extra prepared for that fateful night.

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What if that Doc had a plan to set the timeline straight by tweaking the events just a bit, by say pre-loading the DeLorean with the extra plutonium he had on hand, knowing Marty would take it back to 1955.  Maybe he even gave Marty instructions to come right back without messing with the time line at all (as Bruce Gordon suggests in the Starlog article.)  That way everything would right itself to the true (Alpha) timeline.  If you remember, during the original mall sequence he has a realization to grab the extra plutonium right before the Libyans show up.  It was all in a yellow containment suitcase right beside the truck…

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Well guess what is no longer on the ground beside the truck during the end sequence of the film?  That’s right!  The plutonium isn’t there!

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Now I know what you’re potentially thinking, it just wasn’t in the shot by accident (the set dresser forgot to put it out, it was moved, etc.)  Again, you’re probably right.  But consider the fact that there are a lot of subtle details strewn throughout the film that illustrate that there are two different versions of Hill Valley in 1985.  There’s the obvious differences in Biff and Marty’s family, but there’s also some changes to the backgrounds in the sets!  The most glaring is the differences in the Twin Pines Mall (which becomes the Lone Pone Mall), but also the change in the clock tower.  At the beginning of the film when Marty is with Jennifer and the woman comes up declaring that they have to save the clock tower you can clearly see that the only thing wrong with the clock tower is the fact that it stopped working because of the bolt of lightning that struck it in 1955…

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But during the events of the night when 1955-era Doc Brown is trying to get Marty back home he totally destroys a chunk of the ledge underneath the clock while attempting to connect the wires needed to harness the lightning…

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Right as Marty returns to 1985 the first thing we see is that same clock tower, only now a chunk of the ledge is missing (there’s a modern helicopter in the below screen shot so you know it’s ’85)…

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If Zemeckis and crew went so far as to include details like this, is it possible that he also intentionally removed the plutonium at the end, and possibly had a Marty Beta running across the background of the opening mall scene to illustrate the dual Marty time loops that are in the story?  Who knows for sure, but damn if it isn’t fun to think about!  If nothing else, Bruce Gordon’s article in issue 108 of Starlog afforded me the rare opportunity to find a new experience in a film that I thought held no more surprises for me, and that is pretty freaking awesome. I never considered Marty Beta and what his life was like, how different it most likely was…

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