Throwback Thursday: “The Gong Show” (1976-1980)!

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.

 

 

Throwback Thursday: “Donny & Marie” (1976-1979)!

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.

 

Throwback Thursday: “Laverne and Shirley” (1976-1983)

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.

 

 

Throwback Thursday: “Gre-Gory, Big Bad Vampire Bat” (circa 1980)!

This probably seems like it should be a Throwback Thursday post around Halloween, but “Gre-Gory the Bat” was actually a cherished Christmas present I received in the early 1980’s.  I’m not completely certain about when the toy was released; its current eBay sellers keep listing it as a 1979 toy, but nostalgia sites claim it was released by Mattel in 1980.  (Astonishingly, the eBay folks are hawking ol’ Gre-Gory for between $150 to $600.)

A few toy collectors recall this toy with derision, but … hot damn, did I love Gre-Gory when I was a young kid.  It was a good-sized toy, at eight inches tall and a foot wide, made of heavy, durable rubber, and it made me feel like I had my own pet monster in my closet.  Those circular claws were supposed to enable you to perch Gre-Gory from a pen or pencil, though it weighed too much for that.  Best of all was its built-in special effect, which, to my delight, inspired genuine revulsion in adults — by depressing a button in the back, you could manually pump its syrupy, visible “blood” through that transparent chest cavity that you see below.  (There are a few videos on Youtube that show how weird and gross this was; I found it quite entertaining as boy.)

Fun times.

 

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Throwback Thursday: 80’s Toys!!

I happened across this video last night from Youtube user RAVN52AOL, and just had to share it.  It’s six minutes long, and it’ll really take you back when your old favorite toy comes up in the montage.  I think it’s the Duran Duran song that really ties the whole thing together.  [UPDATE: I have just been indignantly informed by another 80’s kid that the song is by Simple Minds — not Duran Duran!!  Apologies!!]

Tonka Trucks — I haven’t heard those mentioned in a long time (although, admittedly, they were around for a looooong time before the 1980’s).  My best friend next door had a fleet of the big metal things; they were always scattered around the bulky square sandbox that his Dad built for him in his backyard.  That kid loved his Tonka trucks.

 

Throwback Thursday: “Movie Monsters From Outer Space,” 1983

This was another book during my grade-school days that really fed my excitement about monsters — Jerry A. Young’s 1983 children’s book, “Movie Monsters From Outer Space.”  (Why does the author’s name sound so much like a pseudonym to me?)

I’m sure it’s obscure by now.  If memory serves, this was another title I ordered from those classroom bulletins put out by Scholastic Book Clubs.  (I was in the third grade, I think.)  It gave kids a brief, fun run-down of a bunch of space-based baddies — those are the Cylons from the original “Battlestar Galactica” (1978) on the cover.

It featured a bunch of older B-movies too.  I remember really wanting to see “Forbidden Planet” (1956) after seeing a picture of its monster there.

I also seem to remember reading about Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” (1979), although I suppose that I could be recalling another book.  (It would be odd if Scott’s masterpiece were described here, because it was … kinda not for kids.)

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Movie Monsters,” by Alan Ormsby (1975)

Alan Ormsby’s “Movie Monsters” was a 1970’s children’s book that wound up in my young hands by the start of the 1980’s.  I suspect that my older brother must have ordered it at school from Scholastic Books (remember them and their in-school sales bulletins?)  So by the time it filtered down to me, it already had the “big kid” book mystique in addition to featuring monsters — I was pretty enamored with it even before I sat down and read it through.

And it was a gem.  God, I loved this book.  (And I wish I’d happened across this on the Internet before Halloween, which was less than a month ago.)

There was a nice rundown of each the major Universal Studios monsters, in language that was easily comprehensible to a young kid.  And that was the first time I’d gotten a complete and detailed picture of the movies.  (They were well before my parents’ time.  And even today, I’m surprised to realize I can’t remember seeing any of Universal’s Gothic monster classics on television.  I’m really only getting started on them now, in my 40’s.)

There was a section of the book devoted to how a kid could create monster makeup out of common household substances, like … vegetable oil?  Baking soda?  Flour?  I forget.  [Update: it was corn starch!  No wonder my costumer friend laughed at me when I told her about this book and told her it suggested corn syrup.]  There might have been food coloring involved too; I really can’t remember.

And there was another section devoted to monster-themed magic tricks, as well as the script for a play that you could put on in the backyard.  Damn, this book stimulated my imagination.  I remember reading about Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney, Jr. and wanting to be them.

Other 70’s and 80’s kids remember this book too.  “Mr. Karswell” at the “and everything else too” blog has uploaded a bunch of pages from it; you can find them right here.  And there’s another neat rundown by George McGowan over here at “Collecting Classic Monsters.”

There’s actually another book like this that I’d love to run down and post about — “Movie Monsters From Outer Space.”  That one, I think, was published in the early 80’s, but that generic title makes it a bit hard to hunt down via Google.  If anybody out there has any links or more info about it, I’d be grateful if you sent it my way.

 

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The End