Saturday, 8 April 2006

"I Think I Love You"

Tonight I am overly tired, having had to get up earlier than I usually would on a Saturday morning to attend a karate tournament. Being wearier than usual, I then don't feel like making a full fledged blog entry. Instead, I thought I would leave you with a song.

That song is "I Think I Love You," by The Partridge Family. The song went to number one on the Billboard singles chart in 1970. It has also been one of the show's most lasting contributions to pop culture. The song has appeared in various movies over the years, including My First Mister, Lake Placid, Choyonghan kajok, and Scream 2 (where it was performed by Less Than Jake). Besides the version performed by Less Than Jake, "I Think I Love You" has also been remade by Kaci and even Perry Como.

And while the song has gotten a lot of flack over the years, I must confess to having always liked "I Think I Love You." Most people have the impression that it's just a simple, happy, little, bubblegum love song. But while it's definitely a love song and definitely bubblegum, I don't think it can be described as either simple or even happy. Indeed, the central theme of the song is the fear that accompanys falling in love. The narrator refers to the words "I think I love you" as "...the words I dread." As to what the narrator is so afraid of, it's that he's "not sure of a love there is no cure for." Quite simply, he is worried that his love might not be returned and that his love might well never end. In other words, "I Think I Love You" is not a happy, little love song--it's a discourse on the fear of unrequited love. Regardless, here it is...

"I Think I Love You" by The Partridge Family

Friday, 7 April 2006

Addicted to Weather

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by meteorology. For those of you who don't know what meteorology is, it is the science dealing with the earth's atmosphere, in particular its weather. I suppose a lot of my fascination with weather comes from having grown up on a farm in Missouri. Moreso than any other business, farming is reliant on the weather. If there is too little rain in any given summer, the crops can fail. Too much and the same thing can happen. A particularly cold winter can have an adverse effect on livestock, particularly young ones. Of course, Missouri is a state known for its extreme weather conditions. We have particuarly hot, humid summers and the winters can be cold. Tornados and severe thunder storms are par for the course in this state. There is an old saying in Missouri, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain (although he also said it of New England), "If you don't like the weather in Missouri, just wait five minutes. It will change." Since the weather had a huge impact on my life as a child, I guess I have always been drawn to meteorology.

Of course, growing up as a child there were really not that many venues for weather forecasts. If one wanted to know what the weather may be, he or she only had a few choices. He or she could buy a copy of the local paper. He or she could tune into the newscasts on the local TV stations (here in Missouri, at noon, 6 PM and 10 PM). Or he or she could turn on the local radio station and wait for the forecasts in between songs. Things have changed a lot since then. Now one can get weather forecasts from a number of sources.

Chief among these is the Weather Channel. The Weather Channel is a cable channel devoted to just one thing: meteorology and meteorology related news. It was founded in 1982 and has since gone on to become one of the most popular cable channels around. One of the things I love the best about the Weather Channel is that one can get his or her local weather throughout the day. These local weather forecasts air during what they call "the Local on the 8s," so called because they air on the "8s" of the hour (i.e. 10:08, 10:18, 10:28, and so on). With the Weather Channel one doesn't have to wait for one's local forecast on his or her local TV stations or radio stations.

Of course, with the advent of the World Wide Web, one need no longer even wait for "the Local on the 8s." As would be expected, the Weather Channel has its own website. In the United States one need only type in his or her ZIP code to get access to weather forecasts throughout the day. Among other things, it has maps (just one sees on television), seasonal features, and even a weather glossary. Of course, the Weather Channel's web site is not the only weather related web site around. There is also AccuWeather and the National Weather Service's web site. Of course, one need not go to any of these web sites to keep up with the weather on one's computer. WeatherBug is a programme which delivers information about one's local weather straight to his or her computer.

Indeed, one can even get weather forecasts on his or her cell phone or other mobile devices now. WeatherBug, AccuWeather, and the Weather Channel all have mobile versions of their products. It has then been become possible for someone to check on the weather in his or her location literally anywhere. I must admit that I check AccuWeather on my computer regularly.

Access to weather forecasts have changed a lot from when I was a child. One no longer has to wait for the weather forecasts on his or her local TV and radio stations. And one can get weather forecasts in any number of ways--television, radio, the World Wide Web, and the cell phone. For someone addicted to meteorology as I am, things couldn't be better.

Thursday, 6 April 2006

Dan Curtis Passes On

Dan Curtis, one of the most successful television producers and directors of all time, died March 30, after having been diagnosed with a brain tumour several monthas ago, at the age of 78. He was perhaps best known as the creator of Dark Shadows. His wife, Norma Mae Klein, died just three weeks before he did.

Dan Curtis was born Daniel Mayer Cerkoss in Bridgeport, Connecticut on August 28, 1928. Curtis read voraciously as a child, developing a taste for Gothic horror even then. He attended Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, graduating in 1950. Following graduation he sold syndicated programming for both NBC and MCA. In 1962 he created the show Challenge Golf. Airing on ABC, the series created a new demand for golf on televison and led CBS to buy a similar show, The CBS Match Play Golf Classic, from Curtis.

Curtis' greatest claim to fame would come in 1965 when he created the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. The series as originally concieved was simply a televsion version of the Gothic romances so popular at the time. It was not long, however, before Dark Shadows shifted more towards Gothic horror than Gothic romance. The introduction of the vampire Barnabas Collins (played by Jonathan Frid) to the series cemented Dark Shadows as the first Gothic horror soap opera. As a result, Dark Shadows became a cult series and one of the few (perhaps the only) soap opera to have a successful syndication run. It would also lead to a short lived prime time revivial in 1990.

Curtis would produce and direct two motion pictures based on the series (House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows). He also produced a number of Gothic horror TV movies from the late Sixties into the early Sixties, among them Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Turn of the Screw, Frankenstein, and Dracula. Among these films were two of the most successful telefilms of all time, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. The films centred on reporter Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin, who died earlier this year), who faced a vampire in the first film and an immortal murderer in the second. They would lead to the TV series Kolchak: the Night Stalker, in which Curtis was only a consultant.

Not all of Curtis's work was in the field of Gothic horror. He also produced the miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Of course, Curtis was not just a television producer. He also directed both feature films and television movies. He directed both Dark Shadows films, as well as the films Burnt Offerings and Dead of Night. The TV movies he directed included The Norliss Tapes, Melvin Purviss G-Man, and The Long Days of Summer. He worked into 2005 when he directed both Saving Milly and Our Fathers.

I don't think there can be any argument that Dan Curtis was not one of the greatest and most influential television producers and directors of all time. Indeed, he was one of the few true auteurs in television. Had his only achievement been Dark Shadows, Curtis would have earned his place in history. As it is, Curtis was involved in many more important projects, including the two Night Stalker movies and the miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. And while Curtis was best known for his works in the horror genre, he was obviously capable of handling other material and handling it well. The Winds of War and War and Rememberance was based on Herman Wouk's novels about the events leading up to World War II and the war itself. Saving Milly centred on a woman with Parkinson's disease, while Our Fathers focused on the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. Regardless of whatever material Curtis was dealing with, he always focused on the characters. In his works of Gothic horror, the terror emerged not from blood and gore, but from the characters themselves.

As a very young child I remember Dark Shadows was one of the most popular shows amongst us kids. All of us could not wait to get home from school to see the show. As a child it often scared me and I must admit that as an adult I have found it to be one of the creepiest things ever aired on television. And I have loved nearly all of the television movies Curtis produced in the Gothic horror genre. Indeed, his version of Dracula is one of the best adaptations of the novel ever filmed. Like many, I have an enduring love for the two Night Stalker movies. I cannot deny that Dan Curtis has had a huge impact on my life. In fact, it was probably because of Dark Shadows, and hence Dan Curtis, may well be what made me a fan of the horror genre. I was very sad to read of his death.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Gene Pitney R. I. P.

"Only love can break a heart, only love can mend it again."
(Hal David and Burt Bacharach, "Only Love Can Break a Heart," originally performed by Gene Pitney)

Today finds me in a rather poor mood. I don't really want to go into why, but I am not very happy. I can only hope things soon change for the better.

Anyway, singer/songwriter Gene Pitney died earlier today at the Hotel Cardiff in Wales at the age of 65 after one final performance. At the moment they do not know the cause of death, but it does not appear to have been anything suspicious. He was found fully clothed and lying down, as if he was going to take a nap.

Pitney was born in February 17, 1941 in Harford, Conneticut and grew up in Rockville. He broke into the music business as a songwriter. His first real success was "Rubber Ball," performed by Bobby Vee. He would go onto write "He's a Rebel" for The Crystals and "Hello, Mary Lou" for Ricky Nelson. Pitney eventually launched his own career as a music artist. His first major hit was "Love My Life Away." This was the first of a string of hits that Pitney had in the early Sixties. He performed two songs written for movies. "Town Without Pity" was the theme to the movie of the same name. It was nominated both for the Golden Globe for "Best Song in a Motion Picture" and the Academy Award for "Best Song." "The Man Who Shot Libery Valance," written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for the movie of the same name, was one of his top ten hits. Pitney's biggest hit was "Only Love Can Break a Heart," which went to #2 on the Billboard charts in 1962 (the #1 song at the time was one of his own compositions--"He's a Rebel" by The Crystals). The British Invasion would put an end to Pitney's string of hits, although he continued to find success in Europe and Britian.

I always liked Gene Pitney. "Hello, Mary Lou" has always been my favourite Ricky Nelson song, while I have always loved "He's a Rebel." I cannot say that I liked every single song he performed as a singer, although I have always enjoyed both "Town Without Pity" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." I do have to say he had a very unique vocal style--melodramatic and pained. It is sad to think that he is gone.

Sunday, 2 April 2006

Kellogg's 100th Anniversary

The Kellogg Company, arguably the best known maker of ready to eat cereals, has its orgins in Battle Creek, Michigan at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a hospital and health spa for the rich and famous ran by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. His brother William Keith ("W. K.") Kellogg a ready made, breakfast food that would not only be nutritious, but would taste good as well. In 1894 that W. K. Kellogg developed a baked wheat flake, the first modern ready to eat cereal. With his brother, John Harvey, he formed the Sanitas Food Company in 1898. The brothers eventually came to disagree and as a result W. K. left to form his own company. The Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company (later renamed the Kellogg Company) was founded by him on February 19, 1906. Their premiere product, of course, was Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Of course, this year the company turned 100 years old.

W. K. Kellogg literally revolutionised the way Americans ate breakfast. At the time the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company was founded, the typical breakfast might consist of eggs, bacon, porridge, and various other foods, most all of which had to be cooked. The introduction of Corn Flakes made eating breakfast much simpler--all one needed is a box of the breakfast cereal and milk. Indeed, ready to eat cereals were such a success that several companies entered the field: Post (which was actually founded before the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, in 1897), Ralston-Purina, Quaker Oasts, and General Mills (actually a latecomer to the field, not making their first ready to eat cereal until 1924).

As a result of the demand for ready to eat cereals, the Kellogg Company would expand beyond Corn Flakes. In the twenties they introduced both Pep (now defunct, it is perhaps best known for the premiums it offered, such as pinback buttons of comic strip characters and model planes) and perennial favourite Rice Krispies. In 1942 the company introduced Raisin Bran. The Fifties saw the comapny introduce both Sugar Frosted Flakes, Sugar Pops, and Special K. The Sixties also saw Kelloggs establish many of its better known products: Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, and Pop Tarts. The company has continued to expand throughout its history, not just introducing new cereals and other foods, but either founding or simply buying many subsidiaries.

Of course, often times the characters Kellogg's created to promote its cereals are as famous as the cereals themselves. In 1933 they introduced three elves named Snap, Crackle, and Pop to promote Rice Krispies. They would become the first cereal characters to be animated for a commercial (a 1939 movie short) and are the oldest cereal characters still around. Equally as successful as Snap, Crackle, and Pop is the spokesman for Frosted Flakes. In 1952 Kelloggs held a poll to see which of four characters would promote their new cereal, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. People could vote for Elmo the Elephant, Katy the Kangaroo, Newt the Gnu, and Tony the Tiger. Tony won and has promoted Frosted Flakes ever since. The success of Tony the Tiger would result in a proliferation of cereal characters in the Sixties, from Kellogg's own Tucan Sam to Quaker Oats' Cap'n Crunch.

While Kellogg's played a central role in the use of cartoon characters to promote cereals, they also pioneered the use of premiums and giveaways to encourage people to buy their cereals. In 1909 they offered what may well have been the first cereal premium, the Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Booklet, available for two box tops from any of their cereals. Pep was perhaps more famous for its giveaways than anything else. In the Forties pinback buttons featuring cartoon characters (Dick Tracy, Superman, and so on) were included in each box of Pep. Another popular giveaway associated with Pep were model planes. Pep would eventually be discontinued, although many of its premiums and giveaways are still collectibles.

Beyond manufacturing ready to eat breakfast cereals and creating characters to promote them, the Kellogg Company has had an even more direct impact on pop culture by sponsoring various radio and TV shows. Kellogg's Pep had a long association with Superman. The cereal sponsored the radio show The Adventures of Superman from the Thirties to the Fifites. When the TV show, The Adventures of Superman debuted in the Fifties, the sponsor remained Kellogg's Pep. Other Fifties TV shows were also sponsored by Kellogg, among them Howdy Doody, Art Linkletter's House Party, and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. The Sixties saw Kellogg as the company which sponsored some of the most successful sitcoms of all time: The Beverly Hillbillies, My Favourite Martian, Batman, and The Monkees among them. The Monkees even sang the Kellogg's jingle in the Kellogg's billboard on the show!

The Kellogg Company has been around for over 100 years now. Long before radio and television it had started to infiltrate American pop culture. Many of the characters created to promote its cereals, such as Snap, Crackle, and Pop and Tony the Tiger, are more recognisable than many politicians, sports figures, and even movie stars. The premiums and giveaways associated with its cereals are now collectables. Even its commercials are well remembered by many. Given the fact that America's appetite for ready to eat cereals has yet to decline, I think it is safe that the Kellogg Company could well be around for another 100 years.