Print postcard, linen texture.
Print postcard, linen texture.
John Peterson’s The Secret Hide-out was absolutely one of my favorite books growing up — and with good reason. As I’ve noted on this blog before, I and the other boys on my street placed paramount, enduring importance on whatever iteration of our “club” that we had going — whether we had a viking club, an explorer club, a “ninja clan,” or whatever. (Did other groups of boys act like this? I honestly wonder. The human instinct for affiliation ran pretty strong at an early age for me and my neighbors.)
Anyway, this book was a goldmine for a second grader with our particular brand of preadolescent tribalism. It was about a trio of boys who find a mysterious “club handbook” behind a stone at two of their number’s grandmother’s house. The handbook outlines club minutes, membership tests, and the location of the titular secret hideout — along with instructions on how to craft the masks, spears and shields — and with whistles made out of paper. (I swear to you that those whistles were easy to make and that they really worked quite well.)
Anyway, The Secret Hide-out was a 1960’s book that my brother would have brought home from school in the 1970’s — probably from one of those Scholastic Books fairs. It wound up in my hands by 1980 or so. I am by no means the only person who remembers this book; it was a favorite for a lot of people. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to it.
There’s even a sequel, as it turns out — Peterson wrote Enemies of the Secret Hide-out a year later. This time out, the Amazon description informs me, there is a rival club of boys who try to appropriate the clubhouse. (I know from boyhood experience that such conflicts were entirely common.) I might have to hunt that one down someday ona lark.
Does anyone else remember “The Odd Couple” (1970-1974) growing up? I was too young to remember its original run, but it played endlessly in reruns in the early 1980’s. For a lot of us, it was a show our parents watched. It was based on an eponymous 1965 Neil Simon play, and Tony Randall was absolutely a household name.
Hearing that theme song — and seeing those priceless shots of early-70’s New York in its opener — absolutely takes me back to my gradeschool years. I can practically smell dinner cooking in the kitchen.
Turns out it didn’t have a lot of cultural staying power — with my generation, at least. When was the last time you heard someone make a pop-culture reference to “The Odd Couple?” Yet people still fondly remember things like “The Partridge Family” (1970-1974), “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1973-1978) and “Voltron” (1983-1985).
No, I obviously don’t remember “The Lone Ranger” during its initial run between 1949 and 1957. (At least I hope that’s obvious — I’m a couple of full decades younger than that.) But I absolutely do remember this show’s reruns from when I was a baby … maybe around 1976, if I had to guess? I would have been about four years old. (I was five when my family moved out of that house in Queens, New York, to rural Long Island.)
I know that people who claim early childhood memories are often viewed with skepticism — I get it. (And I think many of us are more prone to confabulation than we’d like to admit.) But I’ve actually got a few memories from when I was a toddler — and this is one of them.
I can remember my Dad putting “The Lone Ranger” on in the tiny … den or living room or whatever, to the left of our house’s front door and hallway. You see the part in the intro below where the horse rears up at the .31 mark — and again at the 1:53 mark? That was a verrrrrry big deal to me as a tot.
Go ahead, tell me I’m nuts. I can take it. You and I live in an age in which conspiracy theories have gone completely mainstream. If I share something online that seems implausible to others, I figure I’m in a lot of company.
Anyway, I pretty much forgot about The Lone Ranger after that. There was a 1981 television movie, “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” that was remarkably well done — especially for a TV movie at the time. I remember being pretty impressed with that — its plot-driving scene where the good guys get fatally ambushed was unexpectedly dour.
But I never bothered with the infamous 2013 film. I occasionally enjoy movies that everybody else hates — something that earns me a lot of ribbing on Facebook — so maybe I should give it a shot. Hell, the trailer makes it look decent. And HBO’s “Westworld” has really whetted my appetite for westerns … which is weird, because “Westworld” is decidedly NOT a western — that’s sort of the point of its central plot device. But still.
Yep. As the meme below (from Geek Club) suggests, 70’s and 80’s kids were led to believe that quicksand would be a far greater threat than it actually was. The warnings I accepted as the direst were those from the swashbuckling jungle explorers that I admired.
See Issue #7 of “The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones” below, for example. (It happened to Indy at least twice in this comic series.) And Frank Buck found himself in a similar predicament in “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” which I’ve mentioned previously here at the blog.)
I even asked my Dad pretty earnestly once about how I should escape quicksand if I ever fell into it. (I fully planned on becoming an explorer when I grew up.) Believe it or not, the smart son-of-a-gun actually had a decent answer for me. I can only remember it vaguely, but I’m pretty sure you were supposed to tread water and try to float on the silty surface of it. You were NOT supposed to step down into the bog-like mud beneath your feet — it was the suction there that would do you in.
Resourceful man, my father.
Believe it or not, I had Lincoln Logs as a first grader in 1978 or so … they might have even come in a bucket like this one; I can’t quite remember. (I think there was a weird merchandising trend in the 1970’s in which toy sets and puzzles came packaged in tubes.)
The Lincoln Logs were made of wood! (God, the idea that I once owned wooden toys makes me feel as old as … Lincoln, I guess.) Here’s some weird trivia for you, if you remember these — they were invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, who was the son of famed architect Frank Loyd Wright.
I’d moved on to fancier things than Lincoln Logs fairly quickly — my parents had started me on Sears’ Brix Blox by 1980 or so. (They were basically budget Legos, but they suited me just fine.)
Lincoln Logs never really went away during my early childhood, though … they would turn up in bits and pieces for years at the bottom of my toybox, my closet, my box of army men, whatever. If you gave an absent-minded kid like me anything that included dozens of small parts, then they were destined to haunt the house in perpetuity. There was sort of a permanent intermittent presence of Tinker Toys at my house too — you could sort of think of those as Legos’ surreal, cubist, crazy cousin.
Actually. let me qualify my admission above. I might have scattered my small toys a lot as a little boy, but I pretty assiduously kept my G.I. Joes and their guns together. That was a serious matter. And I’d like to think I had a fairly good track record.
Photo credit: By Jesse Weinstein (JesseW) – Own work. (ID# 4b-2f), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=803043
This Throwback Thursday is really just for my fellow Mary Washington College grads — what you see below are issues of Aubade, the school’s annual literary magazine, for years 1991 through 1994. (They appear chronologically.) For some reason I thought I remembered that the magazine was published more than once a year, but apparently I was mistaken. (College was a very long time ago.)
I submitted a poem here only once when I was an undergraduate, and it was rejected (probably with good reason). It didn’t bother me for long. I’d like to think that I was a don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff kind of guy even back then.
Aubade was really a terrific lit mag. You can judge for yourself by leafing through these right here over at the Internet Archive. The site’s layout and format makes it quick and easy — and they’ve got issues of the magazine from as early as 1971. Wow.
“The Beastmaster” (1982) was THE movie that captured the imaginations of grade-school boys in the 1980’s. There were summer afternoons when this was the single biggest topic of conversation.
I almost wrote here that the movie was an obvious knockoff of the far-better-remembered “Conan the Barbarian;” that is how I’ve always remembered it. But the Internet informs me that they hit theaters only months apart. Wikipedia also informs me that “The Beastmaster” was actually a commercial failure, and that its two sequels and its television adaptation (all in the 1990’s) were aimed at a subsequent cult following spawned by the original movie’s appearance on 80’s TV. (I’m pretty sure that’s how my friends and I saw it.) What the hell was wrong with 1982 audiences, anyway? Was it something in the water? “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” were also flops that year — and those were some the best science fiction movies of all time. Talk about pearls before swine.
Anyway, please understand — “Conan the Barbarian” was inarguably the better film. No matter how much it polarized critics and audiences, that dour, violent, R-rated movie was intended as a serious adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s literary source material.
“The Beastmaster,” on the other hand, was campier stuff that was firmly aimed at kids. (I was surprised to learn that it had its own literary source material, but its B-movie wackiness only followed those books very loosely.) It had a PG rating and was jam-packed with garishly grotesque monsters that would thrill a fourth grade boy — the animalistic berzkers were what really got under my skin; my friends were more unnerved by the … bat-people. (There is a simple but quite effective 80’s-era practical effect that show how these baddies digest a victim alive. You kinda have to see the movie to know what I mean.) Hell, even the witches were a little creepy, and witches were not high on our list of things that were scary. I honestly think the film’s success owes a lot to its successful incorporation of horror movie elements designed to impress the younger set.
“The Beastmaster” starred Marc Singer, who went on to star in another 80’s phenomenon, television’s “V” series. (I might have loved “V” even more than “The Beastmaster.”) The movie also starred Tanya Roberts, who was another quite popular topic among gradeschool boys in the 80’s. John Amos starred in a supporting role, and he did a really good job of it. A lot of my older friends will remember him as the grouchy Dad in the “Good Times” (1974-1979); 80’s kids might point him out as the owner of “McDowell’s” in 1988’s “Coming to America.”
I really am curious to find out how well “The Beastmaster” has held up over time. I was surprised to discover that there is a great copy of it here on Youtube. (Thanks, VHS Drive-In.) You can bet that I’m watching it this weekend.
“Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell” (1978) was yet another made-for-television movie that rocked my world when I saw it in early grade school. But it didn’t age well — not even by a narrow margin. When I saw it on TV again a few years down the line, like maybe when I was in junior high, I realized it was … truly a third-rate horror movie. (It was every bit s campy as the trailer below suggests.)
It wasn’t all bad, I guess. It stars Richard Crenna. And whatever special effects they used to show the titular monster after its demonic transformation were surprisingly decent for a 70’s TV movie. (I actually wonder if they used the same rotoscope process that Ralph Bakshi used in the same year’s animated “The Lord of the Rings.”)
I remember Laser Tag as an exciting but fairly brief blip in 1980’s pop culture. A lot of the kids I knew got excited about these commercials, a lot of us asked earnestly for Laser Tag guns Christmas, and … none of us got them. (Our parents seemed unanimous that they were too expensive.)
Ah, well. The subsequent buzz around my neighborhood was that our parents were probably wise, anyway — we heard later that the guns hardly worked, making the product nowhere near as cool as the commercials depicted. (I am linking below to Kevin Noonan’s Youtube Channel, by the way.)
And then the fad faded — all the hubbub around Laser Tag (and Photon, its cheaper competitor) just kinda went away. It sort of makes sense. Paintball was alive and well as an edgier, more subversive, and more exciting sport; I can’t imagine how these gaudy electronic products could compete with that.
The Wikipedia entry for Laser Tag had a couple of surprises for me. For starters, the technology for the products’ infrared light guns and sensors was developed by the United States Army in the 1970’s — I guess it was an Ender’s Game-type scenario. And the first game system using the technology was South Bend’s Star Trek Electronic Phaser Guns in 1979. (Those toys were released in conjunction with the premiere of that year’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”)
Didn’t see that one coming. I’ll bet those toys fetch a nice price among collectors.
Anyway, there was another Laser Tag commercial that everybody talked about back in the day … it depicted American and Russian teams competing in a dystopian-future tournament, in which the Statue of Liberty was the trophy. It’s smile-inducing. I couldn’t find a really decent copy of it to link to here, but you can find it on Youtube.