Monday, March 31, 2014


The Hobbit............ an, uh, "unexpected journey"!!!

Oh, Kili and Fili!

Oh, Kili and Fili!

A person doesn't change just because you find out more.

- The Third Man (1949)

The first book illustration anyone ever saw of Gollum came in the 1977 Harry N. Abrams, Inc., edition of The Hobbit.

This work was released in tandem with the Rankin/Bass animated movie version of The Hobbit, which aired on November 27, 1977, on NBC. Lester Abrams was hired to do the character designs based on his covers for Children's Digest in 1974. Because his original depiction of Gollum was considered too innocent, Arthur Rankin told him to come up with a much more menacing figure.

As far as I can tell, this was the first published (e.g., book) depiction of Gollum. None of The Lord of the Rings editions, either separate volumes or slipcase editions, contained anything other than maps until the 1980s. Nor did any of the editions of The Hobbit. This was not only the first Tolkien publication to contain non-Tolkien art, but it was the first of the two novels to depict Gollum -- as well as a number of other characters.

One can easily see what Abrams did to make Gollum more terrifying.  The eyes are huge, with gigantic pupils.  There are fangs, the more is far more lizard-like, there are claws, and the creature looks toadish and unhuman.

The second published illustration of Gollum to see the light of day came in the "J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar 1975", printed by Ballantine Books. Although Allen & Unwin (Tolkien's British publishers) had issued calendars before, they all contained art by J.R.R. Tolkien. And Tolkien never drew Gollum.

The artist was Tim Kirk. While in high school in 1964, Kirk read Tolkien and was enthralled. A lifelong artist, Kirk received his BFA (emphasis in commercial art) in 1971 and his MFA (illustration) in 1973, both from Cal State-Long Beach. Was the MFA a foregone conclusion? Perhaps. Kirk won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist in 1970, 1972, and 1973, and would go on to win it again in 1974 and 1976. He and Ken Keller co-designed in 1976 the resin die use for the Hugo Award.

Kirk had spent years drawing characters and scene from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. In 1972, he exhibited 26 paintings based on The Lord of the Rings at Worldcon. Ian and Betty Ballantine, co-founders and publishers of Ballantine Books, purchased the entire collection. In 1975, 13 of these paintings were published as the "J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar 1975".

What's interesting about Kirk's Gollum is how humanoid he is. He lacks the saucer eyes and frog-like appearance which Tolkien described. Instead, he's more like a long-fingered, boney human being (easily double Bilbo's height!) with a sloped forehead and prognathic jaw.

Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien left no drawings of Gollum? It's true. Tolkien's publishers -- Allen & Unwin in the United Kingdom, and Houghton Mifflin in the United States -- published The Hobbit only with Tolkien's own hand-drawn artwork. Sometimes this was in color, and sometimes not.

The first anyone ever saw of Gollum was in Children's Digest, and American magazine that ran excerpts from famous books to get kids to read. The drawings appeared in February and March 1974.

Abrams was a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. He was a big fan of the British illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the "Golden Age" of British book illustration (which lasted from 1900 until World War I). Rackham's work combined the northern European "Nordic" with the Japanese woodblock tradition of the 1800s. He illustrated famous editions of Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Gulliver's Travels, Rip van Winkle, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Aesop's Fables, Mother Goose, A Christmas Carol, A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, and The Wind in the Willows.

The Hobbit was Abrams' first animated work. Abrams had graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design about 1970; he'd later teach there, and mentored many top comic book and children's book illustrators like Debra Valeri, Walter Simonson, Dave Lowe, David Wiesner, Trent Burleson, and Shelli Manuel. Abrams would go on to work on the Rankin/Bass version of The Lord of the Rings and the animated film The Last Unicorn and that's it. He is a well-known book illustrator.

Abrams' design for Gollum reflected Tolkien's text, in which he writes that Gollum has huge, saucer-like eyes and looks somewhat like a frog. Abrams kept the hobbitish body, but gave Gollum froggy legs and a distended, distorted face. Nonetheless, Gollum came off friendly and not very frightening.

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that James Calvin Adams built a stone barn in Sun River, Montana, in 1882 to house cattle and store meat, but the barn also hosted roller skating parties on its second floor for U.S. Army soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Shaw?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My number-one favorite comic book non-human: Cosmic Boy.

Cosmic Boy was from the planet Braal, where everyone has magnetic powers. Realizing the United Planets faced an increasing threat from super-villains, Rokk Krinn traveled to Earth and fell in with Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, and together they formed the Legion of Super-Heroes. Cosmic Boy was elected the very first Legion leader. His sometime girlfriend was a super-hero named Night Girl. She grew up on a planet of darkness, and had super-powers. But she lost them in light, meaning she was too vulnerable to join the Legion. Cosmic Boy took pity on her and dated her on and off.

Cosmic Boy's costume was originally bright pink (hmm!), with black insets on the torso, white trunks, and white boots. He had four metal circles on his chest, his emblem for magnetism.

You can read a lot more about Cosmic Boy, his costums, and the Legion behind this link...

In this picture, the Big 4 keep spirits up during the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. The Big 4 were the top Allied leaders who met to discuss peace terms they would impose on Imperial Germany after World War I. From left to right: David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Vittorio Orlando (Italy), Georges Clemenceau (France), and Woodrow Wilson.

This photo was taken during the period when Wilson still dominated the peace talks.

Wilson got horribly sick on April 3 with fever and encephalitis, and may well have had a minor stroke on April 28. Although he seemed to quickly recover, he suffered some memory loss, and began to exhibit personality changes typical of a stroke (such as a quick temper and immense stubbornness). Initially, Wilson dominated the Big Four. But after his April illness, leadership of the Allied group passed to Lloyd George, who quickly gave in to Clemenceau's demands for crushing war reparations, thus setting in motion the events that would lead to World War II...

"Every night when my husband goes out... the light goes down. And then... and then... and then I hear noises."

- GASLIGHT (1944)
Old Woman [bitterly]: Yes, that's Strelnikov. [spits]

Shit that is amazing hair!!!!!!!!!!!!! Goddamn. The guy's handsome enough, but that is stunningly creative.

I'm waaay over Taylor Lautner. He's an arrogant, body-fascist, closeted prick whose sense of self-importantce knows no boundaries.

So here's to making fun of him.

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that the Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery honors the 140 nurses who died in the Spanish-American War in 1898 -- nearly all of them female, nearly all of them from typhoid, and nearly all of them in the United States?
BWAH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Oops! Jenny McCarthy made a small error...

Turns out vaccines didn't cause her son's autism. Why? Because he's not actually autistic at all to start with. Turns out he had a rare neurological condition that medical science, a.k.a. the folks who brought you vaccinations, are now treating with great success. She's really sorry about hurting all of your kids by being an ignorant zealot.

Mr. Temple: Eight hundred guys washed out to sea...

Johnny Rocco: You're a liar! Nobody would live here after that!

Mr. Temple: A relief train was dispatched from Miami. The barometer was down to about 26 inches when that train pulled into Homestead. Engineer backed his string of empty coaches into the danger zone and the hurricane hit. Knocked those coaches right off the track. Two hundred miles an hour, that wind blew. A tidal wave 12 feet high went right across the Key. Whole towns were wiped out. Miles and miles of track were ripped up and washed away. Nothing was left. More than 500 bodies were recovered after the storm. And for months afterwards corpses were found in the mangrove swamps...

- Key Largo (1948)

I've been reading about Hollywood economics. One of the disasters? The Star Wars Holiday Special, a 1978 holiday one-off that aired on CBS.

It's Life Day (a Wookee holiday startingly similar to Christmas), and Chewbacca and Han Solo are headed to see Chewie's family. Star Destroyers chase them but they escape. Meanwhile, Malla watches a cooking show hosted by Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman). Malla contacts Luke Skywalker and R2-D2, but they don't know where Han and Chewie are. Malla contacts Saun Dann (Art Carney), a human trader, who says the boys are on their way. He drops off some Life Day gifts for everyone.

Chewie and Han land in an unpopulated northern area of the Wookee homeworld. Lumpy, hearing the ship roar overhead, opens the door to look out -- and two Stormtroopers and some officers forced their way in. Malla distracts them with a holographic music box (which plays a video by the band Jefferson Starship). While the Imperial troops search Lumpy's room, Lumpy watches a cartoon.

The cartoon -- which the audience sees as well -- shows Luke, Han, and Leia meeting with Boba Fett. (Note that this is two years before Empire, so this is the first time people see Boba Fett.) The cartoon shows the group landing on the water planet Panna, where Fett saves Luke from a monster. Luke and Han get sleeping sickness from a talisman, and Fett and Chewie go to Panna City to find the cure. Fet separates from Chewie, and contacts Darth Vader. As C-3PO cares for Han and Luke, R2-D2 intercepts the call between Vader and Fett. Fett and Chewie return with the cure, but Fett is exposed and escapes using his jet pack.

Lumpy decides to create a device that will fake a transmission from the Imperial base demanding the Stormtroopers return. He watches an instruction video hosted by a malfunctioning robot (Harvey Korman again).

Lumpy watches TV again, and sees an announcement putting Tatooine under martial law. Then there's a sequence of Ackmena (Bea Arthur), the owner of the Mos Eisley Cantina, running her saloon. She is approached by Krelman (Harvey Korman yet again), who is in love with her. The bar closes due to a curfew, and she sings the song "Good Night, But Not Goodbye" set to the "Cantina Band" theme. Lumpy successfully uses his device, but a lone Stormtrooper stays behind. He realizes the others were fooled, destroys the device, and chases Lumpy.

Han and Chewbacca arrive and Han kills the Stormtrooper. The family is seen holding candles and magically traveling though space toward a star. They walk into the light, and see the Tree of Life, where many Wookiees dressed in red robes are gathered. C-3PO, R2-D2, Luke, Leia, and Han appear on a stage. Leia talks about how important Life Day is. She then sings the Star Wars theme song, to the tune of the John Williams score. We're magically transported back to the Chewbacca household, where the family sits around a table eating.

The Chewbacca family.

The robotic cooking show!

How to build a communicator that fakes Imperial transmissions.

"Maud" takes a break from being liberal to run a saloon.

Saun Dan, the human trader, helps out in various ways.

Toon time!

Krelman the alien has a drink through his head.

More toons.

Sing a song of Star Wars...

Poor Carrie Fisher misses the high note during the song, and her voice cracks.

A model trolley car from the National Christmas Tree in 2013.

It's nice to see that they named it "Navy Yard" in honor of those killed this year. Trivia: This is not like any trolley car which ever ran in D.C., historically.

Here's a model train station and passenger from the 2013 National Christmas Tree.

I'm not sure how to judge the quality of the train, buildings, people, and other things depicted at the National Christmas Tree each year. This is an outdoor train, so things have to hold up under the most extreme weather conditions. Not to mention the things people throw at the trains (like coins).

Every so often, however, if you look closely, you find a gem.

Here's another of the many, many model trains running at the National Christmas Tree in 2013.

I'm partial to this train, as BNSF runs in my home state of Montana. The color scheme on the locomotive is fairly accurate.

The model train celebrated transporation, EMS personnel, and the military in 2013. There was an intermodel train yard, and an empty intermodel train. There was a military base and fire station circled by a fake "U.S. Marine Corps" locomotive and overflown by two U.S. Air Force cargo planes

There was also a children's village featuring Thomas the Tank Engine and friend, and another small town featuring energy production, gas stations, oil wells, and power generation.

By my count, eight trains ran around the tree.

Mark Salling famously wore Star Wars underwear in an episode of Glee.

"I'm sure this isn't my underwear..."

I've been reading a lot about cinema economics lately. Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film is a good one, but it mostly focuses on economics from the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s. It only looks at a few independent films, and is seriously out of date. Edward Jay Epstein published The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood in 2005, and issued a sloppily revised edition (it basically included a few of his Slate columns at the end) and republished it as The Hollywood Economist 2.0: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies. There really isn't good Hollywood economics reporting, as most insiders refuse to talk and those who do have left the industry (often a couple years ago).

But nearly all of the published sources talk about how George Lucas revolutionized Hollywood economics in 1977.

Lucas is famous for making far more money from licensing revenues than he ever has from his films. Even before Star Wars was released in 1977, he had licensed his characters to Burger King for cups, to Mattel for action figures, to Sears for bedsheets and t-shirts, and more!

One of the more egregious licensing agreements was with Fruit of the Loom, which makes Underoos-brand underwear for children.

Frankly, who wants to have Luke Skywalker jammed onto the front of their crotch??


I'll reconsider that opinion now..........................


These ain't your daddy's Underoos!

King Kong vs. Godzilla is a 1962 film by Toho Studios. Willis O'Brien (animator of the first Kong film) had dreamed up a sequel in which Kong fights a gigantic Frankenstein's monster in San Francisco. (Ugh.) Unable to get financing, and rightly so, O'Brien wrongly concluded that Universal Studios owned the Frankenstein's monster copyright (it was in the public domain). So the film was taken to Toho. Toho replaced the "modern prometheus" with King Kong -- the rights to which RKO (then a nearly-dead studio) gladly licensed).

Almost all the action is done with men in suits. It is the most financially successful Godzilla movie of all time (adjusting for inflation).
"The Little Merman". Yeah, that's what the title of that Disney movie should have been. A hot undersea guy with great tail.

Monkeyin' around...

I want to give this cup to a short guy with a big dick.

Because I judge a guy based on neither.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hard to believe, but in the early 1970s super-heroes DID NOT rule the movie theater box office. Instead, they were relegated to ultra-cheap Saturday morning live-action TV shows.

Such was "Shazam!", a live action series starring (initially) Jackson Bostwick as Captain Marvel, the hunky Michael Gray as Billy Batson, and Les Tremayne as Billy's mentor -- a man named, yes, "Mentor". Bostwick was fired shows into the second season for not showing up for the day's shoot. He'd injured himself the day before and was seeking medical treatment. The producers fired him on the spot and replaced with him John Davey, a man 15 years older with a big beer-belly. Because there was no time to execute a costume redesign, Davey was jammed into Bostwick's spandex uniform -- creating an extremely inappropriate bulge "down there".

Each 30-minute segment was a cheap morality tale -- anti-semitism is bad, stealing is wrong, you should help old people, don't cheat in school. Looking back, it's pretty appalling. But it's still better than the "buy this toy" attitude of modern cartoons.

Bostwick sued the producers after being fired. He won, and received a whole year's pay for their idiocy.

They drove a Winnebago, like a couple of old folks.

* * * * * * * * *

Oh, Michael! That hair! Those dark good looks!

Billy usually went for moral help from the Greco-Roman gods and Bible heroes who give Captain Marvel his powers: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. These were painted figures. Only their mouths moved. It was cheap then, and it's still cheap.