Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hi-Yo, Silver! Get me an Orange Julius!

Back before Tiffany and Debbie Gibson turned suburban shopping malls into concert venues that drew thousands of screamy, fainting fans, mall celebrity appearances were much more subdued, lower-key events.

Take Crossroads Mall in Saint Cloud, Minn. (Please.) At least two high-profile visitors appeared there in the ‘70s -- somewhere between the Shirt Shack and Sears -- and seeing them in the flesh had a much bigger impact on this 10-year-old kid than watching Justin Bieber wave, then get shuffled away by security ever could.

Spider-Man himself showed up one time, and I got to get my picture taken with him. Note the I’m-extremely-cool-because-I-know-a-superhero-and-I-can-call-him-any-time-the-Green-Goblin-shows-up-in-Saint-Cloud expression on my face.

But the best visit was Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger. This was during the period when he was legally banned from wearing the mask and blue suit, so he showed up with Foster Grant wrap-around sunglasses. But he was still the Lone Ranger to me.

Most kids were probably watching “3-2-1 Contact” after school, but I tuned into 25-year-old reruns. I’d rush home, eager to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear to immerse myself in the continuing adventures of The Lone Ranger, Tonto and Silver.

At the mall, I remember thinking even then that there should have been far more people waiting in line to meet this iconic actor.

Maybe more people would have shown up if he would have put on a jean jacket and fingerless gloves and sang a few tunes.

Got a celebrity-at-the-mall memory?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Adventure and Haunted House for Atari 2600

Oh, kids today, with their Grand Theft Auto and their Rock Band, will never understand how entertained we old fogeys of the 1970s and 1980s were by the simplest blending of pixels.

Exhibit A: Adventure for the Atari 2600.

The dragons! They look kind of like...seahorses as drawn by a kid with limited artistic talent.

The bat! Some serious design hours were not invested in him.

Hey, at least the key looked like a key.

But perhaps even more than Adventure I loved Haunted House! (Here are the rules, in case you need 'em.)

You are a pair of eyes and kind of resemble Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. You push the joystick button to light a match and try and assemble an urn. But if the monster enters the room you're in, your match is blown out! HORRORS!

GameSpy has a fun review. Great line: "Look out! It's a bat ... or possibly a boomerang. Or a croissant."

And if you've ever played the game, you'll want to click on the YouTube video below, because the sounds will take you back in time.



Monday, June 28, 2010

Classic Clip Monday: Convoy!

Breaker one-nine, you got your ears on? Kids had no idea what CB chatter meant, but it sure was fun to pretend, holding a Romper Stomper to your mouth like it was a microphone and blabbing about “putting the hammer down” and “bears in the air.”

We discovered the citizen’s-band phenomenon when C.W. McCall (who is NOT DEAD) recorded the 1976 hit “Convoy.” You didn’t have to drive a cab-over Pete with a reefer on to immediately fall in love with the romance of the 18-wheel lifestyle. “Convoy” told a classic tale of fighting authority, with the truckers crashing roadblocks and flaunting toll bridges.

Kids weren’t the only ones who loved it. Adults started buying CBs for their Dodge Darts at such a frantic pace, the FCC doubled the number of available channels. Of course, no one knew any real CB lingo outside of the song lyrics, so real truckers had to suffer through listening to kids, desk jockeys and housewives calling them “good buddy” until we grew sick of the craze and moved on to the next fad.

Today, the closest kids come to talking to truckers is when they pull an imaginary cord to try and get passing drivers to honk their horns. Still awesome? That’s a big 10-4.


I dare you not to smile while watching this trailer for the "Convoy" movie. By golly, it's clear here to Flagtown, come on.




Friday, June 25, 2010

Funky Food Friday: Who ate all the Frusen Glädjé ?

Heh, remember Frusen Glädjé ? It was truly an 1980s product, invented in 1980 with a fake Swedish name and some random accents, and sold to Kraft in 1985, where it disappeared into the void.

This article (complete with buxom ice-cream princess) says "A Kraft spokeswoman states that Kraft sold its Frusen Glädjé license to the Unilever Corporation in 1993. A spokesman for the Unilever claims that Frusen Glädjé was not part of the deal. The brand has all essentially disappeared."


We remember it being pretty good, coming in simple domed white containers, and having annoying ads where people confessed their guilt (to priests, therapists) over eating all the Frusen Glädjé.



Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kinda young, kinda wow, Charlie, kinda free, kinda WOW, CHARLIE!


Spotted at the new Grocery Outlet in our neighborhood.


Do not tell me you can't hum this jingle. It is taking up valuable room in my brain that could have been used for math, or taxes, or investing. Instead I have "There's a fragrance that's here today, and they call it CHARLIE!"


And I always thought it was somehow related to Charlie's Angels. Or Charlie Tuna.

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em


So Gawker has a post saying candy cigarettes are banned as of today, but the original story it links to, on Consumerist, is gone, and someone in the Gawker comments says it's only candy-flavored REAL cigarettes. Which just sounds gross.


Which is it, Gawker? Smoke 'em if ya got 'em.


Safety first

Cool discussion of kid car seats in ye olden days on Metafilter.

My oldest brother was born in 1944 (!) and my mom insists she had some kind of weird prehistoric carseat even for him.

But by the 1970s we were all rolling around like pop cans in the Country Squire station wagon. And now of course you have to be in a booster seat until you're 25.

'80s mall queens duke it out

We quite possibly love this story more than is healthy: 80s pop queens Debbie Gibson AND Tiffany to star in "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid."

Will the sun still come out tomorrow for Annie?

The sun won't be coming out tomorrow for Annie -- at least not on the funny pages. For the first time in 86 years, the little red-headed orphan won't be hanging out on the comics pages next to Hagar the Horrible and Hi and Lois.

“Annie is not dying, she’s moving into new channels,” says her syndicator, who's aiming to launch the character into venues like graphic novels, games and in online and mobile projects.

Sure -- why not? Maybe it'd be OK to see the little moppet in an Annie-themed version of "Grand Theft Auto." For our money, though, nothing beats the 1982 big-screen flick, which mashed together all sorts of interesting folks, from Carol Burnett and future "Charles in Charge" charge April Lerman to "Gilmore Girls" grandpa Edward Herrmann and Geoffrey Holder, best known for his creepy 7-Up commericals: "Crisp and clean and no caffeine. Aaaa-ha-ha-haaaa!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Saved By The Bell's" oil-spill episode

Feeling down in the dumps over the unrelenting stream of oil blurping into the Gulf? "Saved By The Bell," take us away! The folks at Warming Glow have put together an awesome look at "SBTB's" 1991 oil-themed episode, complete with a YouTube video that mashes up scenes from the ep with clips from "There Will Be Blood."

If only BP executives-to-be would have paid attention to this episode, in which a dead oil-slathered duck named Becky inspires Zack, Screech, Mr. Belding and the gang to wax philosophical about oil spills.

Check out this prophetic quote from Jessie Spano: "Accidents happen a lot with oil companies, then they just slip out of being responsible for them."

Hmmm. Now that's one to grow on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vincent Price's shrunken apple head set


Here's one of those items I completely forgot until I saw the photo.

As if Vincent Price didn't scare us enough, what with his spooky movies, kidnapping the Brady boys on the Hawaii episode, and later voicing over about "the funk of forty thousand years" in the "Thriller" video, he also had this: Vincent Price's Shrunken Head Apple Sculpture.

At this time in our childhoods, we were pretty sure everything in the world existed somewhere -- we'd seen "In Search Of" and read the Time-Life books, after all. So who's to say there wasn't a jungle tribe somewhere out shrinking heads?

Read the comments on the link above -- every kid who was lucky enough to get one of these creepadelic things LOVED it to death. We hope not literally. We need more toys like this today, and fewer Bratz dolls.

Best comment: "My older brother pushed a hot shrunken head onto my forehead. To this day I have this little burn mark in the shape of a face. I grow my hair long in front to cover it. My older brother is a no good drunken bum these days, a total loser. I hate him for disfiguring my face. I hope he goes to hell. I live all alone and am single because nobody will date me anymore after they see the face. Please don't feel sorry for me. You have to play the hand you're dealt."

I searched YouTube for an old commercial for this toy but struck out. If anyone finds one, please post it in the comments! I can only imagine how Vincent and that creepy, creamy, honeyed, poisonous voice sold us this one.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Classic Clip Monday: The Amazing Spider-Man

You can keep your Sam Raimi-directed versions with their multi-billion-dollar box-office receipts. The "Spider-Man" that's burned into my brain is the decidedly lower-budget -- and far more terrible -- version that ran on CBS from 1977 to '79.

Up until the wall-crawler skittered onto the small screen, we nine-year-olds didn't have a whole lot of experience with live-action super heroes, and seeing Spidey as a flesh and blood fella was a singular thrill. Sure, we had an earlier taste of Spider-Man as a guy in a suit on "Spidey Super Stories" on "The Electric Company," but he lived in a comic book and only talked in word balloons. ("Spider-Man, where are you coming from? Spider-Man, nobody knows who you aaaaaaare.")

We tuned in to Shazam and Isis on Saturday mornings, Wonder Woman deflecting bullets with her magic bracelets and Batman delivering bon mots, but Spider-Man was the superhero that resonated most. He was young and he had problems -- just like us! OK, we didn't have to deal with a jerky J. Jonah Jameson yelling at us all the time or fight the Chinese mafia, but we did have math homework.

Here's a promo clip from the show, which starred Nicholas Hammond (also known as the oldest Von Trapp boy Friedrich in "The Sound of Music"). Ooh and aah as he gently tosses a web onto some villains, and it takes an hour to drift onto them! Marvel as Spidey's hands and feet lightly brush the side of the building as he's dragged by a cable!

Spider-Man may have been amazing, but the special effects? Not so much.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Funky Food Friday: Carnation Instant Breakfast

Oh, this commercial is so '80s it practically has a popped collar. Remember Carnation Instant Breakfast ("you're gonna love it in an instant!")? I thought they stopped making it, but it seems to be all over the Web still.

I have no idea why we thought drinking a glass of what was essentially chocolate milk was a good breakfast replacement, but we loved the stuff. It looks a lot like Slim-Fast in retrospect, although I never heard that it was exceptionally low-cal. Though I guess if you just had a glass of milk for a meal, it's lower-cal than eating, say, a Denny's Grand Slam. (No one says "low-cal" any more, do they? It's all about the low-fat and the HFCS-free.)

But you've gotta check out the ad. The '80s hair on the first chick! The chunky businessman who drinks it while ironing his pants! The last girl, who serves it to herself in a wine glass while putting on the most hideously 1980s patterned stockings!

I kinda wish I had a glass of it right now.



Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Joey Stivic doll

Who remembers the Joey Stivic doll?




Joey was, of course, Archie Bunker's grandson on "All in the Family," the only child of Mike "Meathead" (Rob Reiner) and Gloria (pre-"South Park" mockery Sally Struthers, who was quite the blonde babe for a while).

(Speaking of which, back in the 1970s, when we all had huge families, it was a little odd that both Archie and Edith and then Mike and Gloria after them only had one child. I never thought of that at the time though.)

Anyway, the Joey doll gained fame because he was supposedly the first anatomically correct baby boy doll, and this for some reason was a HUGE DEAL.

Matt at X-E has a more sane view: "Thank God Archie Bunker -- obvious hero to young girls of the world -- was there to spray his venom in the general direction of a doll-making factory's naughty-lever. Come on...All In The Family toys? There had to be more sinister business strategies in place. Surely nobody at Ideal thought kids were gonna go for this. No, this was really for older folks who wanted something interesting to show their guests. "

I don't know anyone who had the Joey Stivic doll, and frankly, that is about the worst last name in sitcom history.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dragon Blaster Skeletor

Sometimes I see something on the Web and all I can think is, "Bless you, YouTube."

This 1980s ad for Dragon Blaster Skeletor cracks me the heck up. See, apparently Skeletor wears a dragon thing as a kind of ... backpack? And you can take its head off and fill it with water? And then turn it into a squirt gun? And squirt harmless WATER at your friends' Masters of the Universe action figures, and they have to pretend it's some kind of deadly acid, unless they have Roboto, the creepy robot figure, who is unharmed by water? (Really, wouldn't a robot be MORE harmed by water?)

The look on the one kid's face as his action figure is getting squirted is priceless. A young Ashton Kutcher practices his method acting?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kindertrauma!


We love the Kindertrauma blog. And are also quite disturbed by it. Kindertrauma delves into the recesses of your memory and reminsces about the things that terrified you as a child. Movies, TV, books, toys ... all the tiny terrors that you can't possibly understand at a young age.


When I was nine, we moved and I met the girl who lived down the street from us, and one day she and her family (older sister? I couldn't have been her mom...) took us to see 'The Deep" with Jacqueline Bisset. Which was rated R. Which there was no way my mom would have OK'd, had she known. Which includes a scene where creepy voodoo bad guys break into Bisset's hotel room and draw on her stomach with a CHICKEN FOOT DIPPED IN BLOOD.


Did I understand the rest of the plot? God, no. I don't even understand it reading the Wikipedia page I linked above. A sunken ship carrying morphine ampules? Wha? But I'll never forget that damn bloody chicken foot, which wasn't even considered important enough to mention by whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry.
Kindertrauma also has a "Name That Trauma!" regular feature for those traumas you don't remember the names of. Brilliant.


In the spirit of Kindertrauma, share your horrifying, childhood-destroying pop-culture memories. Come on, you're among friends.
By the way, the actress whose eye apparently gets split in this Kindertrauma entry (it was a dead cow's eye) later immolated herself in public. Shudder. And now we pay thousands of dollars to have our eyes split for laser surgery.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Classic Clip Monday: The New Scooby Doo Movies


Ever have one of those world-mixing dreams, where people you knew from grade school suddenly show up at your workplace and it just seems natural that everyone knows everyone else? Such was the world of “The New Scooby-Doo Movies,” which aired from 1972-1973, and eternally ever after in reruns. Each episode featured a truly bizarre real-life or fellow cartoon guest star who just happened to show up to help the gang pull the latest rubber mask off the latest criminal gardener. It was like the All-Star game of cartoons.

Guests who were already dead in real life? Laurel and Hardy. Guests who just wouldn’t go away? The Harlem Globetrotters showed up three times. Most awkward guests? Sonny and Cher were just as mean to each other in cartoon form as they were in real life. But perhaps no guest put up with more than Mama Cass Elliott, who was the target of fat jokes from Shaggy, and was drawn with a double chin and orange-and-magenta muu-muu. Zoinks!



Friday, June 11, 2010

Funky Food Friday: "I'm a Pepper" commercials

There are forgettable commercial jingles, and then there are those that force their way in to your brain and sign a 30-year lease. Few took up residence faster than “I’m a Pepper,” the catchy, repetitive and altogether maddening tune that ran in Dr Pepper commercials from 1977 to ‘85.

You're welcome.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sweep the leg, Johnny!


Set your DVRs! If you have the Encore network (and I have no idea if I do or do not), you can tune in to their "Karate Kid" marathon on Friday, the day the new movie comes out. They'll run the original film beginning at 5:50 pm Eastern, followed by all of the sequels.

Not sure where I was, but not only did I not see the first film, I had no idea there were multiple sequels. Apparently the fourth one, "The Next Karate Kid," with future paralyzed boxer Hilary Swank as the latest kid. A girl! Horrors!

Man, I bet Pat Morita bought a few houses with those paychecks. Now all four films are for sale for $30.

Anyway, all the hype of the old films is to further promote the new film, opening Friday, and featuring Jaden "Hi, I'm Will Smith's kid" Smith in the Ralph Macchio role, and Jackie Chan (!) as the new Mr. Miyagi character.

I'm trying to remember, but I do not think that we had even really heard of karate or martial arts before the first film. Now, everyone's little kid is a black belt.



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kaboom!


We talked about sugary cereals last week, and reader Brian mentioned Kaboom. Wow, I really remember this cereal. I think it was one of the less-sugary sugary cereals out there, and it certainly didn't have the cool characters the others did--it had a kind of pathetic clown on the box. I loved it anyway.


According to Wikipedia, "Quentin Tarantino's 2003 movie Kill Bill Vol. 1 included a scene in which character Vernita Green uses a gun hidden in a box of Kaboom cereal in an attempt to kill The Bride." Heh, I kind of remember that.
But Kaboom cereal wasn't the only thing out there with that name. Kaboom was also a cool Activition video game for the Atari 2600. A little mad bomber guy in prison stripes dropped bombs on you and you used the paddle controller to try and catch them.
There is an awesome and much-improved version of the game online here. Our charming but sad 2600 version had nothing on this.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

And if you can find them...


So were you a fan of "The A-Team"?


I'll confess, it seemed like a boy show to me as a kid, so I never watched it in the 1980s. But like everyone else in the world, I was unable to ignore Mr. T. His Mohawk, his gold chains, his giant muscles, his "I pity da fool" catchphrase. He was one of those stars who soared well above their show in fame.


According to Wikipedia, he started wearing all the gold when he was a nightclub bouncer, as he would don the chains and necklaces club patrons left behind, thinking if they came back, they'd recognize and claim their jewelry.


If you were a fan of the old-school A-Team, you should know that the complete series is now on DVD, and it comes in a Mr. T driven van box!
And of course, you know that the movie comes out this week. One of my freelance writers did a piece about the actors trying to fill the Fab Four's shoes. The guy playing B.A. Baracus (Mr. T's part) is not actually an actor, but a former UFC fighter. (And the name "B.A. Baracus" always reminds me of the super-sweet JCB Song, which you should listen to over and over again if you haven't already!)
These seriously have to be among the best opening credits of the 1980s.


Monday, June 7, 2010

I Would Die 4 U


Happy birthday Prince! The Purple One turns 52.
I think my favorite Prince song remains "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," with "Starfish and Coffee" and "Take Me With You" right up there too.

Turtle Party Wagon

Heroes on the half shell...in a van?

The Force rocks

Darth Vader gets a stylophone.

Classic Clip Monday: WKRP

I was playing with my two-month-old the other day, and out of nowhere I started singing “Red Wigglers” to her, the jingle from a client advertising on “WKRP in Cincinnati.” “Red Wigglers, the Cadillac of worms…” Talk about an earworm. (Check it out: Zazzle.com is selling a Red Wigglers T-shirt.)

That got me thinking: Sweet Chai-Chai Rodrigwez, “WKRP in Cincinnati” was an awesome show. I haven’t watched it for years now – and a quick TiVo search tells me that the only way to check it out these days is online (Hulu.com has the first season.). No matter -- I’ve still got a highlight reel playing in my head:

• Les Nessman reporting on the infamous WKRP-organized Thanksgiving Day promotion, where they dropped turkeys from a helicopter. “As God as my witness,” Mr. Carlson says at the end. “I thought turkeys could fly.” Oh, the humanity.

• Venus Flytrap teaching a gang-banger about to drop out of school the parts of an atom. The kid explains to Venus that his teachers are letting him slide through school, citing Music Appreciation class. “They play music, and I say, ‘I appreciate that.’”

• Anything Herb does. Or wears.

All of the characters paid off, even Andy Travis, who I always thought was the weakest link. A few years ago, I interviewed Loni Anderson, who played Jennifer Marlowe, the receptionist – and smartest person on the radio station’s payroll. I thought it was interesting that she made a decision about her character early on – and it became a big part of the show.

Before she accepted the job, Anderson took a gutsy stand, insisting that the character be fleshed out as more than the stereotypical “blonde receptionist.” “It was a tough conversation because I thought I lost the part,” she said. “I thought when I said that that they’d say, ‘Thank you for coming in, and hopefully we’ll consider you for something else next time.’ But he went with it.”

To me, that sums up the appeal of the show. It didn’t pander with easy jokes. It was smart, populated with far-more-than-sitcom-deep characters – and damn funny.

Here's the clip of Venus explaining protons, neutrons and electrons. What’s your favorite WKRP memory?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Funky Food Friday: Short-lived cereals

I've written about short-lived cereals before (Urkel-Os!), but The Metal Misfit has a ton of archived posts about flash-in-the-pan breakfast cereals. He calls it Cereals from Beyond.




Totally worth scrolling through, and I've pulled out a few treasures:





--Dinky Donuts: TOTALLY illustrated by that guy who drew Bummers in Dynamite Magazine.
--Croonchy Stars: Whaaaa? The Swedish Chef had a cereal?

--Kaboom: With the rainbow clown. Kinda the generic sugary cereal of sugary cereals. The clown had no cartoon or other tie-in that I could see, so naturally he wasn't quite going to rise as high as Mr T cereal or C-3POs.

--Morning Funnies cereal: Apparently the point was that they put comic strips on the box. Big whoop.

--Cracker Jack had a cereal?

--Vanilly Crunch might be the only one of these cereals that I would regularly buy if it still existed.

--Circus Fun=Kaboom rip-off.

--Fruit Islands=Fruity Pebbles rip-off.

--Waffelos. Man, I can still remember how artificially maple these tasted.

--Breakfast with Barbie. Holy. Crap.




Fruity Yummy Mummy (and Fruit Brute) were the two monster cereals that never made it. And the mummy is so obnoxious in this ad you can see why. He should have been distinguished and with a clipped Egyptian accent, not sound like a small-time mobster from New Jersey.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yesterday came suddenly

Kids today don't recognize Beatles lyrics, and some Baby Boomers are freaking the heck out about it.

Although I do think everyone should have a sense of history and what came before, I also feel like prior generations can't expect what they held dear to be treated the same way by a group that didn't live through that era.


Everything passes away, that's the whole reason for our book, and I find it fascinating to watch it go, and to learn from the lessons it teaches as it does.


(By the way, did you know the widely striped crosswalk, as shown in the Abbey Road pic, is called a "zebra crossing"? I had no idea. That's got to be the most famous one in the world, no? I imitated that famed walk on that very same crosswalk with three friends on a trip to London in 1999, as so many have done before and since. Only according to the Wikipedia entry on Abbey Road, the crosswalk was slightly moved in the 1970s, so we weren't in the exact footsteps of the Fab Four after all.)

Nothing gold can stay

Someone on Twitter pointed out that starting with 2008, a Golden Girl has died every year. Estelle Getty in 2008, Bea Arthur in 2009, and now Rue McClanahan in 2010.



Hang in there, Betty White!


By the way, I figured "Rue" had to be short for something, so I checked Wikipedia. Well...yes. Her real first name is " Eddi-Rue." Not what I was expecting.

Bicentennial forever!

We all got a little weird in 1976, and Mimi Smartypants remembers:

"One of my first memories that involved events outside of my own family was the great civic convulsion of 1976, when many neighborhoods painted their fire hydrants to look like short, squat, Founding Fathers. (Why? I do not know. I think America went a little crazy around the bicentennial.)"

Whatever happened to the rest of the "Diff'rent Strokes" cast?, part two

Yesterday we talked about the core "Diff'rent Strokes" cast, and today we're taking a look at a few of the actors who played secondary characters on the show. Sorry, we weren't able to track down The Gooch.

Dixie Carter’s Maggie married Mr. Drummond in 1984, and brought along her son, red-headed moppet Sam (Danny Cooksey, who went on to appear in "Terminator 2" -- seriously) – “Diff’rent Strokes’” Cousin Oliver. She was replaced the next year by former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley. Carter passed away in April. Cooksey appeared in an indie film that’s currently in post-production, "DaZe: Vol. Too (sic) - NonSeNse." The movie also stars the late Andrew Koenig (“Boner” on “Growing Pains”), whose disappearance sparked a worldwide media frenzy in February.

And how about Arnold’s pal Dudley, Shavar Ross? He’s acted sporadically over the years, most recently as a preacher on Comedy Central’s “Chocolate News” in 2008.

Who were your all-time favorite and least-favorite "Diff'rent Strokes" characters?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Whatever happened to the rest of the "Diff'rent Strokes" cast?, part one

Gary Coleman’s death last week got us thinking about the rest of the cast of “Diff’rent Strokes.” We all know the two highest-profile tales: Dana Plato was arrested for robbing a video store, then died in 1999 at age 34 of a prescription drug overdose. Todd Bridges rode a roller coaster of drug abuse and trouble with the law, but then got sober and wrote a book called “Killing Willis.” (He also beat Vanilla Ice in a celebrity boxing match, which wins him several points in our book.)

But what about the rest of the “Diff’rent Strokes” cast? Here’s a quick rundown: Conrad Bain is now 87 and retired; one of his final acting gigs was reprising the role of Mr. Drummond on a 1996 episode of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Charlotte Rae found even bigger fame when she moved over to “The Facts of Life,” of course. She’s still acting, and guest-starred in a recurring role on “ER.” After Mrs. Garrett moved to Eastland, housekeeper Adelaide took over; spunky actress Nedra Volz passed away in 2003. Pearl, played by Mary Jo Catlett, took care of the Drummond kids next; Catlett went on to entertain a whole new generation of TV viewers as the voice of Mrs. Poppy Puff on “SpongeBob,” and showed up in a brief role on “Glee” just a few weeks ago.

Tomorrow: Some more "Diff'rent Strokes" cast, including Dudley!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Gary Coleman

The news about Gary Coleman is still lingering with me – I think it’s because not only was he an iconic part of TV and pop culture during my formative years, but he was my age. You seem to always give yourself a quick mortality check when somebody you know dies, especially someone with the same number of candles on the cake. And it did feel like I knew Coleman, at least a little. Not personally, of course, but he was a huge star on late-‘70s TV, and it seemed like he was everywhere on the dial – “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Good Times,” “Buck Rogers,” “Silver Spoons,” “Simon and Simon,” “Facts of Life.”

He was a little like – and hopefully this isn’t too degrading – a mascot of sorts for growing up in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I rooted for him when he was going through his voluminous troubles – with his money, his parents, his relationships, his health. It always felt like Coleman had a sense of humor about his fame and the troubles that came with it. And sure, I laughed at the jokes in Broadway’s “Avenue Q,” when “Gary Coleman” managed an apartment building in the crummiest part of town, and everybody in the cast agreed that his life sucked the most out of all of theirs, including the puppets’.

But there’s a reason a Google search of the guy pops up 18 million hits. Tons of people liked his work, and felt like maybe he’d be able to find a way out from under the child-star cloud that hung over his head all these years.

Even though he was small in stature, the pop-culture legacy that he left behind is pretty big.