The Spaghetti Harvest Video

It wouldn’t really be April Fools Day without the 1957 Spaghetti Harvest video.

I first saw this on American TV when I was around 12 years old (several years after it first aired!) and it really made me think about accuracy, authenticity and the media. Although I knew spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees and was watching this on a program that presented it as a hilarious hoax, I was surprised at how plausible the story seemed when you listen to that authoritative BBC voice, accompanied by scenes of spaghetti fluttering gently from the trees, and workers carefully picking it and draping it over their arms.

Clancy Hayes Campaign Song for Nixon/Lodge

You never know what you’ll find when you go searching around on YouTube. I have written here before about searching for the song Peoria. I was hoping to find a performance of the song by Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band that I remembered from my childhood, but instead I found a lively performance by the Duesseldorfer Banjo Club.

Last night I was searching again, this time looking for videos of Clancy Hayes, popular singer and banjo player who did the vocals for the Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band. What I found was a record I didn’t know existed, Hayes singing a song for Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge’s 1960 Presidential campaign.

It’s a catchy number, featuring lines like this:

They’ve proved they have the know-how
To guide our ship of state
Through fair and stormy weather
That’s for sure!

Not much video in this video — it’s just a still shot of the record. Great Tweed label, though!

Christmas Music and Memories

Good King WenceslasI’m working on my Christmas playlist, and I want to put in songs dedicated to family members no longer with us. For my mother, it’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” for my father, “Good King Wenceslaus,” for my brother Peter, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

But I am finding it more difficult to choose the right one for the living. For my sister, I think it would be “We Three Kings.” Not sure if she now considers it her favorite, but she certainly enjoyed dramatically singing the more depressing verses when we were young. For me, it’s definitely “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” but I’m not sure anyone knows that. For others in the family and some of my friends, I have some ideas, but I’m really not sure.

Does everyone have a favorite Christmas song? What’s yours, and why? Do you know the favorites of your parents and grandparents? We should record these things — I am currently working on family trees for both sides of my family, and I’d be much more interested in knowing the favorite Christmas songs of my grandparents, great grandparents, etc., than in finding their graves or figuring out if they were really born in 1896 or 1897.

Maybe people should put this in their wills — I hereby request that my heirs and their descendants play ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ once each year, and think of me.

For my mother, here’s her favorite, as sung by Judy Garland in the movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

On the Air

On the Air is a 1937 educational film about radio broadcasting from the Jam Handy Organization. It opens with a studio radio performance by celebrated violinist David Rubinoff and his orchestra, all dressed in formal attire, showing the musicians but also some of the production details — hand signals from the booth, and adjustments of various dials and knobs. And then we’re off on a technical explanation of sound waves, radio signals, amplification and transmission, showing how the sound from the studio is makes it way into the living rooms and automobiles of America.

This ten minute black-and-white film was made for the Chevrolet Division, General Motors Corporation, and is one of several Jam Handy productions from the Prelinger Archives available through the Internet Archive.

On the Air — Internet Archive

Caught Mapping

Caught Mapping — I’ve always loved maps, so I was happy to run across this short educational film from 1940 on the Internet Archive. It’s about how road maps were kept updated. Information was gathered by pairs of men driving around the country in specially-equipped cars, making measurements and taking notes. Back at the office, cartographers used the notes to update the maps by drawing on clear overlays placed over the previous edition of the map. The overlay was photographed with a huge camera onto a glass plate, which was used to create a printing plate to print the overlay onto the map. Quite an ingenious process, actually.

As the narrator says, “Yes, it’s swell teamwork on the part of everyone that gets speedy, accurate information for modern roadmaps!”

This film was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, known for its stylish and imaginative training and promotional films produced for the armed forces, the automotive industry and other industrial clients. Caught Mapping was sponsored by Chevrolet, and not surprisingly there are lots of great shots of modern, reliable automobiles handling all sorts of road conditions, and running smoothly enough to allow the passenger to be taking legible notes. There are also a few shots near the beginning of the motoring public consulting road maps. I particularly like the two young women wearing their glamorous hats, one of which looks like a big feather was shot straight through it.

The film runs a little less than ten minutes and is an interesting and informative look at the ways street maps were maintained in the days before GIS, GPS, satellite imagery, Google Maps and Google Earth! I wonder if fifty years from now, people will be looking back at the primitive processes Google is using to gather the imagery for Streetview, which is not unlike the road warriors driving around to personally check every inch of road.


Caught Mapping — View the video on the Internet Archive site, with more information and different video formats to download.

Chicago, Chicago…

Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town
Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around
Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago
Chicago, the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down

I’m off to Chicago for the American Library Association conference tomorrow, and this song is stuck in my head. It plays there pretty much nonstop every time I’m there. My father used to play the Bob Scobey record of this all the time when I was a child, and the lyrics fascinated me. I had no clear idea of what a “toddlin'” town might be, but it sounded cool. I assumed that “Billy Sunday” was a mythical character, like Mother Nature and Father Time, and assumed that this line meant that Chicago didn’t observe the kind of Blue Laws we had in Massachusetts, and that people there went grocery shopping on the Sabbath. I wondered about State Street, that great street, and wondered exactly what they did there that they don’t do on Broadway, but thought perhaps it was better not to ask!

Here’s a wonderful version of the song, featuring Blossom Seeley (voice), Lil Hardin-Armstrong (voice and keyboard), Jack Teagarden (Trombone) and Jimmy Noone (clarinet.) The video quality is pretty bad, but that gives it a hazy, dreamlike quality that I think works well here.

RIP Gale Storm

Gale Storm, best-remembered from her 1950’s program “My Little Margie,” died on June 27 at the age of 87.

Born Josephine Cottle, her career began in 1940 when she won a national talent contest called Gateway to Hollywood. The official prize was a movie contract RKO contract under the name Gale Storm. She fell in love with contest’s male winner, Lee Bonnell, who she married in 1941.

In the 1940s, Gale Storm appeared in many B movies but her big break came in 1952, when “My Little Margie” premiered as a summer replacement for “I Love Lucy.” Both shows were set in Manhattan and revolved around madcap women and their crazy schemes which often involved dress-up and deception, always backfired and both amused and exasperated the men in their lives.
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1981 TV Report about Online Newspapers

I love this 1981 news segment about how some people were dialing in to CompuServe to read newspapers on their home computers. According to the report, it took two hours to download the paper at a cost of $5 per hour, and had everything the print edition had, with the (major) exception of pictures, ads and the comics.

They show a print ad about the new service, with the headline “Now, a world of information at your fingertips. Now.” The ad shows a computer with the full front page displayed on the monitor, presumably as a metaphor, and the report notes that “the electronic newspaper isn’t as spiffy-looking as the ads imply.”

Mr. Halloran, the home user interviewed in this piece, notes that he can go back in and copy articles to paper and save them, which he thinks is the “the future of the type of interrogation an individual will give to the newspapers.” An awkward way to put it, but he was talking about the power of search, and he was right.

This pieces is wonderfully nostalgic, for those of us of a certain age, showing the old home computer with the plain ASCII screen display, the acoustic coupler with the telephone handset jammed into it, and most importantly, the sense of excitement of the early adopters.

Back of the Mike

Back of the Mike (1938) shows a young boy listening to the latest episode in an adventure radio program. Old Pete Belden and his niece Betty are driving the Flying B payroll across the desert when they are attacked by bandits, complete with cowboy hats and bandanas!

At first we see the story as if it were a movie, and we see the scenes that the boy is seeing in his mind. Then the view switches, and we’re in the radio studio, where we see the actors reading from their scripts and the sound effects men producing the sounds of horse hooves, cars, doors, fire, gunshots and more. The film keeps switching, showing us the boy in his bedroom, the Western scenes in his head, and the smooth operation of the radio study producing this fantasy.

This film is a great look at how radio dramas were made. I’ve seen other behind-the-scenes looks at old time radio studios in action, but I thought this one was particularly effective, contrasting the drama produced by the imagination of the listener with what’s really happening in the studio.

Back of the Mike was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, a Detroit-based company run by Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy. Jam Handy produced hundreds of short educational and industrial films. This is one of many in the Prelinger Archives available through the Internet Archive site.

Back of the Mike (1938)

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