Saturday, June 28, 2014

Brady Bunch Fashion Spread - Marcia's Fair Opponent

We're on a 70s-era roll around here. I'm going to keep it going with a Brady Bunch episode that's always haunted me. I don't sit around thinking about the Brady Bunch too often, but back in my youth, I was fairly obsessed with the show. There's something about coming from a small family (me, with one brother) that attracts kids to larger families. And the Brady Bunch was such a large and cheerful group.

They looked somewhat groovy and very Southern California cool, if polyester and garish colors can be cool (they were for a moment there), but their demeanor was Gee Whiz! It's all going to be OK within the next 20 minutes! What a comforting feeling that is during childhood. And I will say this, no matter how cornball or dopey the plotlines could get, the Bradys had charm in abundance. And chemistry. They seemed to genuinely get along, at least for the most part.

This episode from the third season, My Fair Opponent, is a Marcia story. Out of all the Bradys, Marcia and Greg were the ones I least related to. They were way older than me (I was around Susan Olsen's [Cindy's] age during the show's run), and way too confident for my anxiety-ridden liking. Marcia in particular was the height of perfection of 70s teen girlhood in Any-Suburb, USA. She had that California girlish demeanor down cold. She was the kind of girl who might say hi to me in the hallways of high school, but only if no one else was walking in her sight-line, and she had witnesses, so if I said "hi," she would be forced to acknowledge me. But only then.

No, I don't think about the Bradys much at all.

Mrs. Brady says c'mon in to the 70s—the Dacron's fine!

We begin this episode with an unusual establishing shot of the Brady house—from the left. An almost sinister quality to this angle, with the ominously dark foreground foliage.

Anyway, Marcia is angry. Really angry. How angry? This angry:

Don't make Marcia mad

Some popular girls at school have nominated Molly Weber as Fillmore Junior High's banquet night hostess. And Molly's a total loser, so they think it's funny. Since Marcia usually focuses on all things Marcia—which includes clothes, boys she likes, and school activities—to see her this riled up over social injustice is kind of a character-changing moment.

She decides to give Molly a makeover, My Fair Lady style, but in a kind, sensitive fashion, not just bulldoze over her, like some kind of mini-skirted Henry Higgins. Sounds good. As Molly enters the Brady compound, we see Marcia has her work cut out for her.

Molly is not only clinically shy, but clumsy and obviously parented by repressed people, living in a time wrinkle from the early 50s. She serves not only as Marcia's project, but to highlight how groovy the Brady-girl style is, at least in comparison. Molly can't understand why she was nominated as banquet hostess and even good-natured Peter Brady judges her a "wipeout" (although, not to her face, which isn't very realistic for middle-schoolers—in my experience). The Brady-girl bedroom decor is a blend of little-girlishness with Go Ask Alice.

Marcia offers to work on Molly's demeanor to win the coveted title of banquet hostess. Thereby follows the "improvement montage," which entails Molly balancing a book on her head for a stately walk, learning to greet people with "poise and dignity," hemming her horrible dress to mini-skirt height, and submitting to Marcia's painful hair-styling techniques.

And just like that—POW-Zing! Molly's a knockout in a granny-square crochet vest.

The Brady boys are impressed. Greg says he's going to "wipe her back in," which is some kind of dialogue writing, Bernie Kahn, author of this episode. Meanwhile, Bobby's about to pop a gasket.

Molly does an aggressive meet-&-greet with Mike Brady, which really wasn't in Marcia's lesson plan. This is our first indication (or just bad blocking by director Peter Baldwin) that something isn't quite right with this new Molly.

The allure of high-waisted pants, amiright?

So it turns out Marcia's an alternate nominee for banquet hostess and is called upon to fulfill her duties. After much tribulation, she decides to drop out of the race so Molly can win, even though being banquet hostess is "a great honor." She talks it over with Carol and I just included this shot to highlight their matching fabric patterns on the ugliest couch in the Western Hemisphere, to show they are simpatico, even if their formal living room needs work.

BUT THEN Jan excitedly reports to Marcia the news that there's a new guest of honor for banquet night—Colonel Dick Whitfield, THE ASTRONAUT! Marcia is all, "You mean it's not going to be the principal?" A principal being honored by a middle-school banquet hostess isn't weird at all. That's generally how it was done in the 70s.

Anyway, I always thought Eve Plumb was an attractive girl, but someone in wardrobe must have hated her because, yellow and taupe? This is not a flattering combination in any era. Or maybe Marcia was always supposed to the "the together one" with Jan the wanna-be, trailing behind. Doesn't Marcia look smart in her acrylic ensemble? It isn't fair! - as Jan often said.

Though it's a great sacrifice, Marcia tells Molly she's dropping out, Molly gets all this attitude, first making Marcia acknowledge her smart ensemble, with a twirl no less.

And then smugly claiming it would have been a close race. When Marcia says waddaya mean, a close race? Molly basically calls her a chicken for dropping out of the running. When Marcia points out that Molly had a little help getting this far in the eighth-grade society pages, Molly counters with, "It doesn't make any difference how I got there. The point is that I've ARRIVED." She then flounces away after some mythical popular off-screen girl, calling out, "Hey Sally, wait up!"

Smug Molly

This is the part of the story that freaked me out as a child. Why was Molly being such a stone cold beotch, I wondered (or words to that effect). Why wasn't she grateful to Marcia for all her help? Marcia made her! Out of the goodness of her heart, as narcissistic as it was. What about sisterhood-is-beautiful? Underneath Molly's introverted, awkward exterior lurked the heart of a jerkwad. This scared me. Maybe lots of people were secretly jerkwads. How could I tell? What if I helped someone out, someone meek and vulnerable, and they turned on me, like Molly did to Marcia? I didn't have a lot of defenses prepared for this potential (and extremely unrealistic) scenario.

Greg explains it all, telling Jan, "That's a female for you—can't trust them as far as you can throw them. And they have the brains of a goony bird!" Jan's all agreeing with him (because it's low-self-esteem-Jan), but then realizes, "Hey, I'm one of them." But Greg makes exceptions for sisters. Again—great writing, Bernie Kahn. Way to go. Life lessons here.

So Marcia's pride kicks in (as always) and she decides to give Molly THE RUN OF HER LIFE. Because after all, it's a great honor, and also: guest of honor, Dick Whitfield, THE ASTRONAUT.

Mike and Carol are chillin' in their uncomfortable and ugly family room when Marcia asks for formal dance lessons. I think Carol would have made a great eighteenth-century lady—she sings, she dances, she does needlepoint and makes lunches with Alice—she has all the skills. And look at her lounge in that jumpsuit—pretty terrific.

RIP, Robert Reed and Ann B. Davis. This was a charming dance lesson for everyone involved.

The race is on. It's down to the final speeches. Since she helped Molly write her speech, Marcia has to make do with a not-so-strong second attempt. It's a close race all right. It comes down to the speeches.

Smug Molly, AGAIN

As we fade back to the Brady household, Marcia is super-dubious about her bitter defeat. Molly gives no acknowledgement of Marcia's speech-writing help. Marcia now knows what it feels like to be a ghost-writer. She's even turning into a ghost—see below. And once again, my younger self was appalled. There's no justice!

But as is the case, especially concerning Marcia, everything works out in the end. Molly explains to the principal about Marcia helping her and she and Dick Whitfield visit the Brady household to personally deliver the good news: Marcia and Molly will be BANQUET CO-HOSTESSES. Marcia is in a tizzy because after all, he is AN ASTRONAUT. And who wouldn't want to co-hostess with a backstabbing manipulator who probably has a borderline personality disorder? Fun!

I have a theory that Florence Henderson might have, perhaps inadvertently—she is very charming after all—caught the eye of the wardrobe mistress's significant other at one point. This may have caused some dissension. What is the basis of this theory? Her wardrobe, of course. Meanwhile, Robert Reed is completely stylin' in his pink turtleneck. Did you catch Susan Olsen's post on her TV Dad? It's very touching and appropriate for Pride Weekend. Susan Olsen rules.

And so we bid farewell to the 70s. That strange decade with its blend of uptight morality, loose social mores, man-made fabrics, and questionable decor schemes. Until we reminisce again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Behold — Wacky Packages from the near-distant past (1974 or thereabouts)

This tiny shoebox from my Mom's closet (technically my brother's former closet, now the parental gym room), has been such a wealth of memories this week. First we explored toys of 1974 through a Kenner rebate booklet. Then we delighted in the sights and sounds of the original Battlestar Galactica, via a couple of absurd trading cards.

And now, the pièce de résistance—my brother's Wacky Pack collection. I had a collection too but it might have been incorporated herein, or perhaps it's in ANOTHER shoebox in my former closet (we can hope). I just remember having more than what I've posted here (mostly from Series 9, it would appear). Also, with one exception, I left out dated humor, which would mostly entail the making fun of the homeless, once known as "bums" and "hobos." (See sample below: Uncle Bum's convicted rice is prefered (sic) by panhandlers, freeloaders and hobos in jails. Net Sentence: 30 Days)

Not much commentary. What could I add? Wacky Packs were an obsession for us. And I thank my Mom for hanging onto these collectible stickers for FORTY YEARS now. We can't seem to throw these out, however dopey they are. As I read through these once more, I kept thinking, these are so dumb, so, so dumb. And yet by the seventh card, I was giggling. By the tenth, I was laughing out loud. Pure and simple, satirical consumer products, drawn by future underground legends including Art Spiegelman, Kim Deitch, Bill Griffiths and Drew Friedman, were tonic to me.

The 70s were not an easy decade for avoiding consumerism. Some families fled to the wilderness, but there was no escape. We were a generation saturated by advertising and now we're drowning in it. And if marketing geniuses have their way, we can only drown further. Drown and drown again!

We might as well poke fun at it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1978 - Android Sisters Musical Moment

I found a couple of classic Battlestar Galactica trading cards in a shoe box in my Mom's closet this week. This would be the 1978 Star-Wars-ripoff TV show that my brother watched religiously. If you told me back then that this would be remade into a prestigious cable show with a cult following all these years later, I definitely would have scoffed at you. SCOFFED, I say!

Because, geez, take a look at the original (if you haven't already in your youth). First a card:

Look at the circuitry, the digital readouts, a heart-rate monitor(?), the WIRES. So many wires. This is to be our space-opera future? Even for the late 1970s, in a dystopian future with cobbled-together technology remnants among a rebel fleet, this is a disappointing and very low-budget vision. The back explains it all:

OK, let's ponder this as a creative entity: Scientist Winkler. That's the best the writers could do. It demonstrates a real lack of imagination to name your archetype scientist-guy as Scientist Winkler. How'd you like to type that out (probably on a typewriter, no doubt) over and over again during his story arcs...

Scientist Winkler replaces a battery pack. 

Scientist Winkler readies an explanation as to why Docking Bay 27 is on the fritz. 

Scientist Winkler takes it on the chin. 

I'm tired of it already. And what is a daggit? I can't remember because I'm old and this series is all a blur to me, but fur, wiring, metal and love, gives us clue. Let's take a look at Muffit the daggit.


Muffit outtake. Muffit was played by a chimpanzee named Evie. Which is so wrong.

This series layered on the cheese, hardcore, as evidenced by the following seemingly endless clip of a major space battle. With plenty of pshew! pshew! laser shots, glowing engine exhaust, and fireballs—none of which would occur in the vacuum of oxygen-less space, this is the stuff of beige-clad, blown-dry, chrome-robot-with-floating-red-eyes, 1970s dreams.

But I came here today to share something genuinely special: The Android Sisters. I do vaguely remember these talented ladies of the futuristic nightclub circuit, and I think you can see why.


Good question

So anyway, I hope this video never gets pulled. It's that good. The future of live entertainment, today.

And in case you want a closer listen to the Android Sisters' hit, It's Love, Love, Love, the Internet provides. Warning: something in the production of this—probably too much flanger—actually made me nauseous. But don't let that stop you.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Kenner Toys from a 1976 cash-rebate booklet found in Mom's closet

Look, I want to provide you with rich content, but I also want to take a nap. Let's kind of combine both goals with an added dash of nostalgia as we LOOK BACK IN TIME...




(this is my echo effect)

TO 1976!
(I'll turn off the echo now)

That's right: bicentennial fever was sweeping the nation. But what was the youth of America dreaming about as far as toy acquisition? For aren't toy companies the manufacturers of youthful dreams? I don't know the answer to that. I'm asking you.

Let's take a look-see into a WINDOW OF THE PAST. Through this toy rebate book I discovered in a shoebox full of Wacky Pack stickers (that's for another post) in my Mom's closet.

Here's the cover of the booklet, so you can enjoy the groovy font and action-packed illustrations of Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner as Bionic Man and Woman (big-ticket toy items before the advent of Kenner's soon-to-be-released Star Wars toy-line juggernaut).

It's important to note that New Baby Alive was "now more beautiful, softer 'n cuddlier. With lovable new face and outfit." Her old face must have tanked, I guess.

Page 2! Dusty and Skye ride horses and hang out in the Bubblin' Bath & Shower, with Skye holding that bath soap just so for doll-sized modesty. They make a very nice couple, I think you'll agree.

The Snoopy Drive-in Theater is the cutest toy of all time as far as I'm concerned. It has the trifecta of design adorableness featuring: Snoopy (and Woodstock!), drive-in theater reference with snack-shack, and hand-cranked film cartridges, with slow- and fast-mo, and reverse capabilities. You are the film mogul with your own personal theater experience!

This is for all you hipsters. I can't believe Urban Outfitters hasn't issued a remake of the Swinger 2-speed Electronic Phonograph (the close relative of Close 'n Play Phonograph).

Oop, I may have spoken too soon.

Hugo Man of a Thousand Faces puppet can be funny, scary or wild by just changing disguises. I'm going to go with SCARY.

Bionic Woman and Man geodesic domes for sale! Steve Austin's is a Mision Control Center where action begins! With communications console and secret escape hatch. His cohort, Jamie Summers's dome is a...contemporary home with fireplace, vinyl floor and furniture. Plus evening outfit.

Hmmm. OK, what else you got, Kenner? Steve has a Bionic Transport & Repair Station for repairing rockets and Steve's bionic components! Jamie gets a...Bionic Beauty Salon with working computer, dryer, brush and comb.

Thank God toy companies don't resort to this blatant kind of sexist marketing anymore! We've evolved a lot, haven't we?

Steve's arch-enemy Maskatron reminds me of T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Can a toy be that influential?  I don't know. I'm asking you.

TTP and SSP stunt-cycle motorcross smash-up derby sets teach kids that plowing into banks (and bank robbers) and brick walls with a guitar slung across your shoulder is the alternative adult lifestyle we can fantasize about! And in some cases, actually grow up to do. But I wouldn't recommend that.

Take a look at the lovely 70s-edition of Easy-bake Oven. So deluxe, it took two light bulbs to cook your tiny cakes and pies. With a refreshing lack of pink and purple as an oven finish.

Here we see the two sides of human nature as represented in one marketing layout. Our capacity for fun and domesticity with the Treetots Amusement Park and Tree House is flanked by the sadistic abuse of power over Stetch Armstrong and the exploding targets in the Aerial Aces Target Game.

As it ever was, so shall it be. That much I know.