Warner Bros. Pictures.
I remember being fairly unimpressed with “Squirm” (1976) as a kid, but maybe that’s because I saw it on television in the 1980’s. (It might have been a bowdlerized version deemed safe for broadcast.) The movie was just a disposable, lower-budget 70’s monster flick with a what seemed like a hastily conceived plot device — some downed electrical lines had the unlikely effect of turning ordinary earthworms into wriggling man-eaters that attacked en masse.
“Squirm” evidently scared at least some people, though. A pal of mine on Facebook said it really got under her skin when she was a girl. She couldn’t eat spaghetti for weeks after seeing this movie.
Hey, if the film wasn’t exactly terrifying, you’ve got to admit that its plethora of international marketing posters was damned artistic. Check ’em out below. I believe they’re what today’s kids would describe as “metal AF.” That second one has some genuinely discomfiting Freudian undercurrents, but still.
This is just a smattering of the early “Godzilla” movies that thrilled me as a kid. They played on television in the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s. Hot damn, was I happy when these came on. It was the next best thing to a holiday.
The first trailer that you see (and the photo below) is for the original “Godzilla” in 1954. That scene where he tears through the high-tension powerlines made a big impression on me as a little boy. I never forgot it. I should point out that I (like most of the world) saw the Americanized version of the movie, which was heavily re-edited and released in 1956. (That is indeed Raymond Burr that you see in the trailer.)
“Godzilla vs. Megalon” (1976) is another that I remember well — probably because I saw it as an older child.
Am I crazy, or does the “Son of Godzilla” trailer from 1969 mention “Frankenstein” for some reason? Something got lost in translation.
Chuck Barris’ “The Gong Show” (1976-1980) was another show I remember vaguely (but quite fondly) from when I was in kindergarten or the first grade. (It aired its original run between 1976 and 1978, and then was syndicated the latter two years.) I still remember laughing uproariously at its weird acts, and it might have been one of those shows that ended just before my 8 PM bedtime.
The idea was this — a panel of three celebrity judges would view a handful of amateur talent acts, and would bang the titular gong if an act was so bad that they decided they couldn’t allow it to continue. (Along with legitimate talent, the program deliberately fielded acts that were weird or just plain bad.) What’s interesting is that this seems like a very tame precursor of contentious current reality shows like “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent,” which are still going strong since their advent in the early 21st Century. “The Gong Show” was a lot more laid back.
You think that 80’s kids are old? Well, I also have memories of the 1970’s; after all, they fully occupied the first seven years of my life.
And I remember “Donny and Marie” (1976-1979), which ran on ABC. It was a sanity-challenging, Kafkaesque combination of disco, country music, family entertainment, themed-comedy skits, sequined outfits and … ice-skating. Which made it either the height of 70’s cheese or the very nadir of Western civilization — you decide.
I’m embarrassed to admit here that I loved it, even if I was a tot at the time. (Hey, if you’re five or six years old, then the sight of Donny being a non-threatening goofball on stage was the very height of hilarity.) You can see what I mean in the second clip below, if you can stomach all four minutes of it.
What’s interesting about this show is that it was kind of a dinosaur in its time … variety shows had been on the decline for a while in the late 1970’s, and were already being supplanted by the situation comedies that would become the trademark of the 1980’s. Bizarrely, NBC tried to launch Marie in her own solo variety show during the 1980-81 television season, but it just didn’t catch on. It was cancelled after seven episodes.
What’s truly crazy is that Donny and Marie are still performing in Las Vegas. I kid you not. Google it. You can even see them tonight at The Flamingo. There’s at least a chance that they’re immortal vampires.
Postscript: I at first typed “Donny and Maurie” in that blog post headline, and I feel certain there’s a terrible joke hiding there somewhere about Donny hearing the results of paternity test on “Maury Povich.” That would make a great “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
Rest in Peace, Penny Marshall.
This is one of only a handful of TV shows that I can remember watching as a tot in the late 1970’s. “Laverne and Shirley” (1976-1983) was the kind of of thing I’d see in my older sisters’ room. My Dad and older brother watched war movies, westerns and monster movies, but my two sisters preferred considerably lighter fare. Two that they watched a lot at the time, if I recall, were this show and “Donnie & Marie” (1976-1979) — about the scariest thing you could find playing on their black-and-white TV was “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” (1977-1979). (One of my sisters had a crush on actor Shaun Cassidy; I think there was a poster of him in their room.)
I loved “Laverne and Shirley” when I was that young. Lenny and Squiggy were my favorite highlight of any episode, even if I was sometimes confused about whether they were meant to be “good guys” or “bad guys.” I was in kindergarten, and not altogether bright, and I thought that men who wore black leather jackets (Fonzie notwithstanding) were usually “bad guys.” I also remember thinking that hippies and motorcyclists were the same group of “bad guys” because they disobeyed God or something … my confusion at the time resulted from some vaguely moraled born-again Christian comic books I’d happened across somewhere.
I also remember recognizing “Laverne and Shirley” as being related to another show that a lot of kids back then loved — “Happy Days” (1974-1984), of which it was a spin-off. This might have been the first time in my life that I was aware of two live-action television properties occupying the same fictional universe; I’d already seen it happen in the movies with the various incarnations of “King Kong” and “Godzilla.”
Here’s what makes me feel old — for both “Laverne and Shirley” and “Happy Days,” I probably watched a lot of the episodes when they were first broadcast, and not just in re-runs (although “Happy Days” was also played in syndication endlessly throughout the 1980’s — it remained a fixture of daytime television).
And I only just realized writing this that Lenny was played by the priceless Michael McKean. As an adult, I know him primarily from his brilliant turns in “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984) and “The X-Files” (1998-2018). He’s 71 now. Wow.