Friday, September 11, 2009

Korla Pandit (1921-98) and Iron Eyes Cody (1904-99)

Two of my childhood heroes on television during my childhood weren't who they said they were. Only after their deaths did the truth come out.

You probably remember Korla Pandit who was a mainstay at KTLA in Los Angeles from the station's beginnings in 1947 through the early 1960s. Korla was the fantastic organist who never spoke put played such great ethnic music. He wore a turban with a jewel and a stylish dress suit. The programs were 45 minutes long with no talking and no commercials. Even though the program lasted less than an hour, you wished it would go on much longer. Korla was born in New Delhi, India, to a Brahman priest and a French opera singer, who learned to play the organ as a child in France and England.

After his death, his website told the truth about Korla Pandit: He was born John Roland Redd in St. Louis , Missouri. His father, John S. Redd, was a Baptist minister. And they were black!

He began working in radio as a musician in 1938 in Des Moines, Iowa. A few years after this he moved to Los Angeles where his sister, Frances Redd, was working in a radio drama called the Midnight Shadow. John had been working as a musician under the name Juan Rolando. He married a fellow show business worker, Beryl DeBeeson, but because she was white, they married in Tijuana, as interracial marriages were illegal in California for many years after this. His wife came up with a new character, using one of the characters of his sister's radio series, Prince Alihabad. John's new name was Korla Pandit. Through their research they found it was a legitimate sounding name and Beryl would also be playing a role in this game and the Korla Pandit name change was made legal.

Iron Eyes Cody was famous around the world. If he was in a movie or a TV show, we knew it was authentic because he was a real Indian. We knew him to be of the Cherokee and Cree tribes and grew up in a Sioux reservation. We figured that's why the costume he wore had so many different patterns in it.

My ex-wife and I loved reading his autobiography, Iron Eyes Cody: My Life as a Hollywood Indian. He wrote about his work in Hollywood beginning in 1927 and service with the U.S. Military Academy, teaching about the history of the U.S. Army and the Indians in the Western United States. He was our hero!

Then he died. About a year after his death the story broke out that he was really the child of Italian immigrants who grew up in the town of Gueydan, Lousisiana, where his parents owned a mom and pop grocery store. We were sorely disappointed. Iron Eyes was no more an Indian than the local actors who were hired for spaghetti westerns made in Italy and Spain. His real name was Espera Oscar DeCorti.

An Indian and an Indian.. neither of whom really was...

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Blast to the Past on the Internet...

Some things never get removed from the Internet. I hope you can get a chance to do some reminiscing with these sites. It's a great way to kill time at the computer and visit your past.

You can find old TV shows, games, and commercial campaigns.

Click on the following links:

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Toys I Played With as a Child

DAISY RICOCHET RIFLE - - It was just like a real gun. Except it didn't have bullets. It even smelled like one. A friend's father (who was also a Cub Scout leader), was a detective with the Colton Police Department. He put my hands through the parafin test after I fired my rifle. Do you know, it showed that I actually fired a weapon? Wow. It really was like real.

MATCHBOX TOYS - - These were made in England by a company called Lesney Products. Supposedly, all these cars were made on HO scale, although the Ford police cruiser was much larger than the Greyhound Scenicruiser.

The wheels on Matchbox cars were uneven. Then Mattel came out with Hot Wheels in 1968. Those things would roll! So, eventually, Matchbox introduced Superfast wheels, which were almost faster than Hot Wheels.

The Lesney Company tried to make its total subsistence on Matchbox Toys and continually kept sliding down. Soon, their factories in England were shut down and they began making the cars in Asia.

Tyco Toys bought the line in 1992. Tyco also fell on hard times and was acquired by Hot Wheels producer, Mattel Toys in 1997.

G.I. JOE - - Yes, it was a doll for boys. At least my sister thought so. It gave her a chance for me, a boy to play with her dolls and get away with it. I said it was OK, so long as my G.I. Joe could have wars with her Barbie and Tammy dolls (Tammy was a Barbie wannabe made by the Ideal Toy Company).

The Louis Marx Toy Company began putting out its own cheap G.I. Joe wannabes. There was Stonewall Smith and the Montgomery Ward exclusive, Buddy Charlie.

Parents liked Stony Smith. His uniform was molded onto him so there weren't any clothes to buy for him. He came with all the equipment needed, including a mess kit (with tiny knife, fork, and spoon that would get lost the first time you took it outside!) He also had a poncho that could double as a pup tent... only I didn't have much luck with that. If your parents had a little more money, he even came with a Jeep, but Stony had a little bit of trouble driving it (his legs didn't move!)

Buddy Charlie: I learned later in life, as a soldier, that this was an oxymoron (like jumbo shrimp and pretty ugly). Buddy is a pal, right? Well, to a soldier, Charlie is what they call the enemy. So who was this guy?

As for G.I. Joe, the Hasbro Company got everything right, except what to call a member of the Air Force. They called him the Action Pilot. Not everyone in the Air Force can fly a plane. And there are pilots in all five branches of the armed forces, including the Army. The term for a member of the Air Force is airman, which can refer to a male or a female.

When G.I. Joe was introduced, they had the Action Soldier, the Action Sailor, and the Action Pilot. The Marine Corps complained that they weren't represented. Hasbro responded by stating the Action Soldier could be a member of the Marine Corps, as they're all soldiers. The Marine Corps retorted that marines aren't soldiers (ask your friendly neighborhood marine if he's a soldier or not!) Checking their dictionary, the folks at Hasbro realized that a soldier is, specifically, a member of the Army. So they soon had the Action Marine.

Clothes were then added. New uniforms, including Army and Marine Dress Blues. They cost almost as much as a Robert Hall suit! (Sometimes more!) My sister tried to have her Ken doll wear my G.I. Joe's uniforms but they just didn't fit.

CRASHMOBILE - - It's nice to have a toy that will break on purpose. I had the big Crashmobile and the Crashmobile Jr. The big one had a Model T type crank you'd wind up and then it would crash into something and break. Lots and lots of fun. The little one had to be pulled backwards and the same thing would happen. Boy, it sure didn't take much to excite us when we were young. If we had today's video games then, we probably couldn't stand all the excitement. I might not even be here today!

EMINEE GOLDEN TUBA - - This was actually a very popular toy for almost twenty years! It was a tiny sousaphone that sounded just like all the other toy wind instruments that the Eminee Toy Company made. These included a trumpet, a clarinet, a trombone, a saxophone, and possibly many others. Remember the Eminee Polychord Organ? It was almost the same thing, except that you didn't have to blow it. It made its own air.

You can blame the lack of funding for the lack of interest in a musical education... I don't... I blame it on the demise of the Eminee Toy Company!

TONKA TOYS - - They were rugged. They lasted forever.

One birthday present I received when I was three was a Structo Farms semi-tractor and trailer (Structo was one of Tonka's competitors) complete with lead farm animals (they didn't know better then!) The cab was plastic and was soon destroyed in a few days. I can remember my mother saying that "I should have gotten him a Tonka Toy!"

Here's what Tonka Toys are like today. (Notice the company is in Fontana.)

THINGMAKER - - It was an oven for baking Creepy Crawlers and Creeple Peeple. You had to have lots of Plastigoop to create lots of toys. The problem was, when the fad died out (but we still enjoyed making these things), you couldn't get anymore of the Plastigoop. We'd hunt down the close out stores and everyone else was buying the stuff out... sigh!

Who said the fad was over, anyway?

TOOTSIE TOYS - - These were extremely inexpensive. They were great if all you wanted to do was play with cars (and detail wasn't too important.)

They're probably one of the oldest toys on this list and they still make them today. The advertisement posted here is from the late 1930s. So all those styles are contemporary for the time!

Wouldn't I like any or all of those!

LEGOS - - I have a secret. Don't tell anyone, but if you were to give me a box of Lego bricks now, I'd probably be playing with them for the next three or four hours!

When my older daughter was celebrating her first Christmas, we gave her some Duplos (large sized Legos for toddlers). So did all our friends and relatives. We had thousands. On that Christmas night, after she went to sleep, my wife and I built houses and cars, almost until dawn. I'd probably do it again, if I had the chance!

MINI-LINDY - - These were a cross between Matchbox cars and model kits. The Lindberg Line was a company that made model kits. Mostly World War II military airplanes. The box states you could "BUILD 'N COLLECT" them. Actually, they were also quite durable and you could play with them just like any other toy car this size. My favorite was the mail truck. It looked like the one pictured here except that mine was yellow.

GARTON TRACTOR - - I got this when I was three or four. I never got tired of it but I did outgrow it. It was probably the only toy I had that I did outgrow.

It had plastic make believe spark plug cables that got lost as soon as I got it. That didn't matter. It also had a hitch I could use to pull the neighbors' Radio Flyer wagons Remember the little red wagons? My brother would later have one of those and I could pull him with my tractor.

My tractor was also one of the few toys I played with that, except for the spark plug cable, never broke down. It was so wonderful. What a toy!

CASPER GE-TAR (by Mattel) - - As a musician, I never learned to play any stringed stummed instrument, such as the guitar or ukulele. That's a fact that really embarrasses me today. ( have three music degrees, Bill?)

My parents gave me several gifts when I was four years old when I had to go to the hospital to get a growth surgically removed from the front of my neck. (It was found to be benign, but it could have choked me to death!)

The Ge-Tar was like a ukulele which had a hand crank music box (in the picture, Casper is the one the boy is playing). I didn't much care for the strumming but I liked the music box. But I did get bored with the song it played. I discovered that if I turned the crank backwards it played an even better song. I never stopped playing it. I loved it. I'm sure the nurses loved it, too.

SNAP TRAIN - - This was a wooden toy train which was connected with the help of clothing snaps. My parents gave this to me when I had to go to the hospital for the removal of that growth on my neck at the age of four.

Now that I'm older I realize now why I have trouble sleeping at night. Having this train in my bed gave me a nonsleeping activity. That's not very healthy. I've been known to use my laptop computer, do my income taxes, and even eat meals in bed. I know it's bad. And now I can remember where I picked up these bad habits.

The Snap Train was made by a company in Los Angeles called Jack Built. Whatever became of it?

SOUP SPOON - - Best tool for digging holes, making lakes, castles, and houses, and filling your Mighty Tonka Dump Truck with dirt. Just remember, kids: Always ask your mother before you take anything out of the cutlery drawer when you want to play with it outside!