Thursday, October 21, 2021

A Brief History of Halloween Decorations

This year it is estimated that Americans will spend a record $10 billion on Halloween candy, decorations, and costumes. As hard as it might be to believe, this was not always the case. Not only is trick or treating a relatively recent development, but so too is decorating for Halloween. In fact, while trick or treating emerged in the late 1920s and the 1930s, decorating the outside of one's house for Halloween wouldn't really emerge until the late 20th Century.

Halloween was brought to the United States by Scottish immigrants in the 19th Century, and initially it was celebrated only in Scottish American and Irish American communities. By the late 1880s the celebration had started to spread beyond these communities. By the 1900s Halloween was being celebrated so widely across the United States that commercially produced Halloween decorations finally became available. At the time Halloween was a holiday primarily celebrated by adults, so the earliest Halloween decorations differed a bit from many of those available now. First, they were meant for indoor use only. Outdoor Halloween decorations had not yet been introduced. If for whatever reason one wanted to decorate the outdoors for Halloween, they would have likely used such home-made Halloween decorations as jack o'lanterns or scarecrows. Second, the earliest Halloween decorations were made of paper and were expected to be disposable. They were not necessarily meant to be used year after year.

Initially these paper Halloween decorations were largely manufactured in Germany, but American companies would get in on the action soon enough. Dennison Manufacturing Company was a manufacturer of paper products founded in 1844. It was in the 1900s that they began manufacturing paper Halloween decorations. In fact, their decorations would prove so popular that in 1909 they published their first Dennison's Bogie Book for Halloween. A new edition would be published in 1912. Except for years of World War I, Dennison's Bogie Book for Halloween would be published annually until 1934.

A Beistle joined skeleton
Dennison was by no means the only manufacturer of paper Halloween decorations in the United States. The Beistle  Company was founded in 1900. It was in 1920 that they first started making paper Halloween decorations. Their decorations proved so popular that by 1928 Beistle was even making games for Halloween. It was in the 1930s that the Beistle Company introduced one of their most popular items, a jointed skeleton. Over the years The Beistle Company made many of the Halloween decorations seen in classrooms across the United States. What is more, the Beistle Company still exists to this day and is still owned by the Beistle family. They are now the oldest continuing manufacturer or party goods and seasonal decorations in the United States.

It would the introduction of a new custom called trick or treating in the late Twenties that would largely change the character of Halloween in the United States. The first reference to trick or treating is in the November 4 1927 issue of the Herald (published in Lethbridge, Alberta) in the article "'Trick or Treat' is the Demand." Trick or treating appears to have spread from Canada to the western United States and then moved eastwards. By the late Thirties kids were trick or treating across the country.  Celebrated primarily by adults at the start of the 20th Century, trick or treating transformed Halloween into a holiday celebrated by children.

Decorating for Halloween began to take off several years after the end of World War II, largely due to a new technology. Blow molding is a process through which one can create hollow shapes made of plastic. The basic principles behind blow molding comes from glassblowing, a process which has existed for centuries.  It was in 1938 that Enoch Ferngren and William Kopitke created a blow molding machine, which they then sold to to Hartford Empire Company in 1938. Products manufactured using blow molding remained limited until various advances were made in the technology. Blow molding then finally began to take off in the Fifties.

A 1968 Empire Jack o'lantern bucket
with flashlight inside
It was the introduction of the pink flamingo in 1957 that spurred the popularity of blow mold decorations. Don Featherstone was hired by Union Products Inc. to create three-dimensional, blow mold decorations in the shape of animals. His second assignment was to create a blow mold flamingo. The pink flamingo proved extremely popular with families in the late Fifties and spurred the popularity of blow mold decorations in general. Seasonal blow mold decorations emerged in the wake of the pink flamingo, including Christmas decorations introduced in the late Fifties. Several companies took advantage of the blow mold craze sweeping the nation, including Empire Plastics Inc.,  Bernard Edward Co. (later called Beco), Poloron Products, Dapo, General Foam, and many others.

It was in the early to mid-Sixties that blow mold Halloween decorations emerged. Among the most popular were blow mold trick or treat buckets, but by the end of the decade there was a wide variety of blow mold Halloween decorations. Jack o' lanterns, haunted houses, ghosts, and other decorations were being manufactured by the late Sixties. The outdoor decorations (and even some indoor decorations) almost always included a light inside, so that they could be seen at night. Blow mold Halloween decorations remained popular through the Eighties, although gradually they would being to decline in popularity. That having been said, in the 2020s they seem to be making a comeback.

An inflatable jack o' lantern
It was the dawn of the 21st Century that saw the introduction of yet another sort of seasonal decoration. The novelty company Gemmy Industries had been founded in 1984. It was in August 2000 that they conceived a new sort of outdoor Christmas decoration. Their idea was an eight foot, inflatable Santa Claus. It was with this Santa Claus that Gemmy launched their Airblown Inflatables line in 2001. Their inflatable Santa Claus would be followed by other Christmas decorations, as well as Halloween decorations. Gemmy's Airblown Inflatables would prove to be popular in the 2000s, so that other companies followed them into the manufacture of inflatable decorations. A wide variety of Halloween decorations were and still are being produced. Inflatables of jack o'lanterns, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and other figures associated with Halloween have been made, as have inflatables associated with such licensed properties as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Disney, Scooby Doo, and others. While inflatables declined a bit in popularity in the Teens, they can still be seen around the country every year around Halloween.

Halloween decorations have evolved over the years. Paper decorations of the sort manufactured by Beistle have remained popular for indoor decorations over the years. Blow mold decorations became wildly popular from the Sixties to the Eighties and then declined in popularity, but appear to be making a comeback. Inflatables aren't as popular as they once were, but could one day make a comeback. One thing is for certain. People probably won't ever stop decorating for Halloween.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Late Great Betty Lynn

Of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show, perhaps no one was as beloved as Betty Lynn. For six years she played Barney Fife's one true love, Thelma Lou. In 1990 she started taking part in reunions of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show and various festivals devoted to the show around the country. She regularly attended Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, North Carolina. In 2007 she moved to Mount Airy, and she regularly met fans at The Andy Griffith Museum there. Of course, before she played Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show, Betty Lynn had a movie career during which she appeared opposite such big names as Bette Davis, Loretta Young, Maureen O'Hara, and Myrna Loy. She also made numerous guest appearances, particularly on television Westerns. Sadly, Betty Lynn died yesterday at the age of 95 after a brief illness.

Elizabeth Ann Theresa Lynn was born on August 29 1926 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her mother was a mezzo-soprano who had performed with the Chicago Opera. Her mother and father divorced while Betty Lynn was still young, and the father figure in her life was her grandfather, George Andrew Lynn. She was only five years old when her mother enrolled her in the Kansas City Observatory of Music. As a teenager she sang in supper clubs and on radio.

It was when she was 17 years old that USO scouts discovered her in Kansas City. It was then after she turned 18 that she began performing for USO Camp Shows in the United States. As part of the USO she was one of the first to visit newly released American prisoners of war in a Calcutta hospital. During  her USO career she travelled throughout China, Burma, and India.

After her service in the USO, Betty Lynn appeared on Broadway as Sylvie in the musical Oklahoma!. It was while she appearing the pre-Broadway try-outs for the musical Park Avenue that she was spotted by a 20th Century Fox talent scout. She made her film debut as Ginger in Sitting Pretty (1948). In the late Forties she appeared in such films as Apartment for Peggy (1948), June Bride (1948), Mother is a Freshman (1949), Father Was a Fullback (1949), and Cheaper By the Dozen (1950).

In the Fifties she made her television debut in a guest appearance on Schlitz Playhouse in 1951. She had a recurring role on The Egg and I in 1952. She was a regular on the sitcom Where's Raymond?, starring Ray Bolger. She made several guest appearances on Matinee Theatre. She also guest starred on the shows Revlon Mirror Theatre, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Studio 57, Fireside Theatre, Your Playtime, TV Reader's Digest, Cavalcade of America, Sally, The Gale Storm Show, M Squad, Lawman, Wagon Train, Bronco, Sugarfoot, Markham, Tales of Wells Fargo, Mike Hammer, and National Velvet. Betty Lynn appeared in the movies Payment on Demand (1951), Take Care of My Girl (1951), Many Rivers to Cross (1955), Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), Behind the High Wall (1956), Gun for a Coward (1956), The Hangman (1959), and The Louisiana Hussy (1959).

It was in 1961, late in the first season of The Andy Griffith Show, that Betty Lynn first played Thelma Lou. Initially it was not planned for Thelma Lou to be Barney Fife's regular girlfriend, but the character proved popular. As a result Betty Lynn was brought back multiple times to play Thelma Lou until Barney and Thelma's romance was an established part of the show. At the same time that Betty Lynn was appearing as Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show, she was also appearing as Viola Slaughter on a series of episodes on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour devoted to Texas John Slaughter. In fact, at the time she was cast as Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show, she was under contract to Disney. Later in the decade Miss Lee, Bill David's secretary on Family Affair, and Janet Dawson, Steve Douglas's secretary on My Three Sons. She also guest starred on the shows The Farmer's Daughter, The Smothers Brother's Show, and The Mod Squad.

In the Seventies Betty Lynn guest starred on the TV shows The Smith Family, The Mod Squad, Little House on the Prairie, Police Story, Gibbsville, and Barnaby Jones. In the Eighties she reprised the role of Thelma Lou in the television movie Return to Mayberry, on which Barney and Thelma Lou finally got married. She played Sarah, Ben Matlock's secretary, on four episodes of the first season of Andy Griffith's TV series Matlock. She guest starred on the TV show Shades of LA.

It is likely that Betty Lynn will always be best remembered as Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. Thelma Lou was in many ways the perfect girlfriend for the sometimes fickle Barney Fife. She was intelligent, sweet, and patient, but willing to put her foot down where Barney was concerned when she needed to (which was fairly often, in all actuality). Betty Lynn did a wonderful job of bringing Thelma Lou to life. Of course, during her career Betty Lynn played many other roles. In the movie June Bride, she played Barbara "Boo" Brinker, the younger sister in love with her older sister's fiancé.In Mother Is a Freshman, she played the daughter of the mother of the title, who enrolls in college. Of course, Betty Lynn also played Viola Slaughter, the wife of Texas John Slaughter, on the Disney series.

Of course, in may ways it should be little wonder that Betty Lynn did so well at playing Thelma Lou, as in real life Betty Lynn was known for her sweetness and kindness. She loved her fans and they loved her back. She was known for remembering fans she had met and even their names years after she had met them. Fans who met her always remarked on her kindness, her generosity, and her positivity. Bette Davis, with whom she worked on June Bride and with whom she was close friends, once advised Betty Lynn to be more selfish if she wanted to be a star. Betty Lynn proved Bette Davis wrong. Betty Lynn never became more selfish, remaining the sweet, bright woman she always was, and still became a star.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Godspeed Disney Animator Ruthie Tompson

Ruthie Tompson, who worked for The Walt Disney Company from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to The Rescuers (1977), died on October 10 2021 at the age of 111.

Ruthie Tompson was born on July 22 1910 in Portland, Maine. She spent part of her childhood in Boston, Massachusetts. She was eight years old when her family moved to Oakland, California. Her parents divorced in 1924 and her mother remarried. The family then moved to Los Angeles, where one of their neighbours was Robert Disney, the uncle of Walt Disney. She then knew Walt and Roy Disney when she was a child and visited the offices of their animation studio many times.

When Ruthie Tompson was 18 she went to work at Dubrock's Riding Academy, where Walt and Roy Disney played polo. Walt Disney then offered her a job as an inker at his studio. She was later transferred to the Paint Department, She worked on Disney's groundbreaking feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Eventually she became the final checker at Disney, checking the animation cels before they were transferred to film. By 1948 she worked in Disney's camera department, and she was one of the first three women in the International Photographers Union, Local 659 of the IATSE. Eventually she became the supervisor of the screen planning department. In addition to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Ruthie Tompson also worked on Bambi (1942), Sleeping Beauty (1959), Mary Poppins (1964), The AristoCats (1970), Robin Hood (1973), and The Rescuers (1977). She worked for Disney for nearly forty years.

Miss Tompson also did some work outside Disney. She was a checker on five shorts from the 1960 television revival of Popeye the Sailor. After retiring from Disney she worked as a scene planner on Metamorphoses (1978) and as an ink and paint supervisor on Lord of the Rings (1978).

Ruthie Tompson was the oldest member of Women in Animation, the non-profit group dedicated to  female animators. In 2000 she was named a Disney Legend. In 2017 she was honoured with an Academy Award for her contributions to the animation industry.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The 70th Anniversary of I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy was not the first situation comedy. The format had originated on radio in the 1920s. It was not even the first television sitcom. That was Mary Kay and Johnny, which debuted in 1947. I Love Lucy was not the first filmed sitcom to be shot using a multiple-camera setup. Other sitcoms had used it earlier, including Amos 'n' Andy. That having been said, I Love Lucy is possibly the most influential situation comedy of all time. It was American television's first megahit in the genre. It was the first sitcom to be filmed in front of a live television audience with a multiple-camera setup, a format still in use to this day. It was also the first American television show to feature a multiethnic marriage and one of the earliest to have a character's pregnancy written into the show. I Love Lucy continues to be popular, and it remains in syndication to this day, as well as widely available on streaming services. I Love Lucy debuted seventy years ago today, on October 15 1951.

The origins of I Love Lucy can be traced back to the radio show My Favorite Husband, on which Lucille Ball starred. On the show Lucille Ball played Liz Cooper, a housewife known for her wild schemes. Her husband was banker George Cooper, played by Richard Denning. At the time that My Favorite Husband debuted in 1948, Lucille Ball was already a popular movie actress with a career stretching back to the Thirties.

My Favorite Husband proved to be a hit, so that by 1950 CBS wanted to bring the show to television. While CBS wanted Richard Denning to play her husband on the television version of My Favorite Husband, Lucille Ball insisted that her husband on the television version be played by her real-life husband Desi Arnaz. CBS did not believe that the audience would believe in a multiethnic marriage. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's response was to create a vaudeville act to prove CBS wrong. The vaudeville act was written by Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr., who had written My Favorite Husband along with Jess Oppenheimer. A company, Desilu Productions, was formed to produce the vaudeville act and subsequent television show. It was the success of the vaudeville act that convinced CBS executive Harry Ackerman that a show starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz could be successful. It probably helped  good deal that Lucille Ball's idea for a new show had generated interest at CBS's archrival NBC. With the prospect of losing Miss Ball to NBC, Harry Ackerman eventually gave into Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's wishes. The result was I Love Lucy.

For those unfamiliar with I Love Lucy, the show centred on housewife Lucy Ricardo and her husband, upcoming Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo. The two lived in an apartment in New York City, which they rented from their neighbours Ethel and Fred Mertz. Many of the show's plots rotated around Lucy's efforts to break into show business, often as part of Ricky's act. Lucy and Ethel often concocted various schemes together.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were not the only people to work on I Love Lucy with roots in Hollywood. William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz, had steady work as a character actor in movies, including his famous appearance in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). The show's cinematographer Karl Freund had begun working in film in Europe and later migrated to the United States. Dracula (1931), The Good Earth (1937), for which he won an Oscar, and Key Largo (1948) the films he had shot. He also directed movies, including the classics The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935).

Even the original opening had been created by well-known talents with roots in Hollywood. The show's animated opening featured Lucy and Ricky as stick figures. It was created by legendary animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Because the two men were still under contract to MGM, they refused any on-screen credit. An argument can be made that the animated opening of I Love Lucy was one of the many ways in which the show was influential. Several sitcoms in the Fifties and Sixties would have animated openings, including Date with the Angels, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Pete and Gladys, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and others. Sadly, the original animated opening of I Love Lucy would be replaced by the more familiar "heart on satin" credits for the repeats of the show aired on CBS from 1959 to 1967 and subsequently in syndication. The originated animated openings would not be seen again until 2001, when for the show's 50th anniversary TV Land had the animated opening restored (although in such a way as to edit out original sponsor Philip Morris).

I Love Lucy proved to be a huge hit for CBS. In its first season it ranked no. 3 in the Nielsen ratings for the year. By its second season it was the number one show on television. When it ended is turn after six seasons, it was still the number one show on television, one of the few shows (along with The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld) to end its show as such.

As mentioned earlier, when Lucille Ball was pregnant with Desi Arnaz Jr., the pregnancy was written into the shows. This was not the first instance in which a pregnancy had been written into a show, as it had been written into the plot of Mary Kay and Johnny, the first American television sitcom, several years earlier. CBS was nervous about using the word "pregnant," so the word "expecting" was used instead. The episode in which Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky, "Lucy Goes to the Hospital," proved to be the highest rated episode of a show aired up to that time.

Aside from the birth of Little Ricky, I Love Lucy would change in other ways over the years. Ricky Ricardo began the show as the bandleader at the Tropicana club. Over time he bought the club and renamed it the Club Babalu. For the second half of the show's sixth and final season, the Ricardos, as well as the Mertzes, moved from New York City to the suburb of Westport, Connecticut.

After six seasons, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had tired of producing a weekly television series. As mentioned above, the show was still the number one show when it left the air. It is for that reason that CBS began reran I Love Lucy from 1959 to 1967. The show itself continued after a fashion as a series of hour-long specials titled  The Ford Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show in its first season and subsequently  Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Presents The Lucille Ball–Desi Arnaz Show (so named because it aired in the timeslot of Desilu's anthology series, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse). A total of 13 hour-long specials aired from 1957 to 1960. Sadly, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's marriage had been crumbling for some time, and tension between the two rose over time. It was for this reason, as much of anything, that the hour-long specials came to an end.

Of course, this was hardly the end of I Love Lucy. CBS would rerun the show in the daytime starting in 1959 and would continue to do so until 1967. It would then enter syndication where it has remained ever since. The show can be seen on multiple streaming services.

It is perhaps impossible to entirely assess how great the influence of I Love Lucy has been on American television. While it was not the first show to be shot using a multiple-camera setup, the fact that it did so may well have popularized that particular method of shooting television shows. It was the first sitcom to be shot in front of a live audience, something else that has persisted through the years. I Love Lucy certainly popularized the genre of the sitcom. It was the first megahit in the genre and its success would lead to the success of other shows in the genre.

An argument can also be made that it was I Love Lucy that led to CBS dominating Monday nights for literally years. With I Love Lucy on Monday night, CBS was able to build a powerhouse lineup around the show. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, and December Bride all ranked in the upper reaches of the Nielsen ratings. Even after I Love Lucy had ended, CBS would continue to dominate Monday night with such shows as The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Lucy Show, Family Affair, and others. In fact, CBS would dominate Monday nights well into the Seventies.

Of course, what might possibly be the biggest impact that I Love Lucy had on American television could be the fact that Desilu Productions had been created to produce it. Desilu would become one of the most successful television production companies in the history of American television producing such classics as Our Miss Brooks, December Bride, The Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Mannix.

I Love Lucy also led to lasting success for Lucille Ball. While Lucille Ball never ranked among the upper echelon of movies stars, she was a popular actress in the Thirties and Forties. That having been said, it was I Love Lucy that turned Lucille Ball into a superstar. Following I Love Lucy, she would have two more successful sitcoms: The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy.

On its seventieth anniversary I Love Lucy is still as popular as ever. It still airs on syndication and can be found on a number of streaming outlets. A colourized version of the show's Christmas episode ("The I Love Lucy Christmas Show") that has been rerun in recent years by CBS consistently receives high ratings. I Love Lucy was one of the most popular shows of the 1950s. It remains one of the most popular shows of all time.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Godspeed David DePatie

David DePatie, the last producer at the Warner Brothers Cartoons and the co-founder of DePatie-Freleng Enterprises with Friz Freleng, died on September 23 2021 at the age of 91.

David DePatie was born on December 24 1929 in Los Angeles. His father was Edmond L. DePatie, who would later become vice president and general manager of Warner Bros. Burbank studio. David DePatie followed his father's footsteps in becoming a Warner Bros. employee. It was in 1961 that he became production executive at Warner Bros. Cartoons. In addition to the theatrical shorts Warner Bros. was still producing, Mr. DePatie also oversaw the production of the long running Bugs Bunny Show, as well as the live-action pilot Philbert (starring William Schallert).

It was in 1963 that the Warner Bros. animation division was closed down. It was then that David DePatie formed Depatie-Freleng Enterprises with animator Friz Freleng. Among the company's earliest works were commercials starring Charlie the Tuna for StarKist. Blake Edwards approached the fledgeling animation studio about creating the title sequence for his 1964 movie The Pink Panther. The titles for The Pink Panther were so successful that United Artists then had Depatie-Freleng Enterprises produce a theatrical short featuring the pink panther from the movie's titles. "The Pink Phink" proved successful and won an Academy Award. It would lead to 123 more animated shorts starring The Pink Panther.

Depatie-Freleng Enterprises also produced other series of animated shorts, including "The Inspector," "The Ant and the Aardvark," "The Texas Toads," and others. From 1964 to 1966 Warner Bros. outsourced the production of theatrical shorts to Depatie-Freleng Enterprises. They also created the title sequences of several classic television shows, including I Dream of Jeannie and The Wild Wild West, as well as such movies as The Great Race (1965) and How to Murder Your Wife (1965). In 1966 Depatie-Freleng Enterprises began producing television cartoons for Saturday morning, the first of which was The Super 6. Over the years they produced such animated television series as The Pink Panther Show, Return to the Planet of the Apes, and Baggy Pants and the Nitwits. They also produced television specials, the best known of which were a series of Dr. Seuss inspired specials, beginning with The Cat in the Hat in 1971.

In 1981 David DePatie and Friz Freleng sold DePatie-Freleng Enterprises to Marvel Comics, where it was renamed Marvel Productions. Friz Freleng returned to Warner Bros. (who had reopened their animation division), while David DePatie became the head of Marvel Productions. He remained with Marvel Productions until 1984. He served as producer on the Hanna-Barbera animated series Pink Panther and Sons before retiring.

As a producer David DePatie was responsible for a good deal of classic animation, from the "Pink Panther" theatrical shorts to the title sequences of movies and TV shows to several television specials. At Warner Bros. he oversaw the creation of The Bugs Bunny Show and the production of the last theatrical sorts the studio would make for years. He may well have been one of the last great animation producers following the Golden Age of Animation.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

TCM's Podcast The Plot Thickens, Season 3: Lucy

Lucille Ball never ranked among the top movie stars of the Thirties and Forties, but she was a popular star and played the lead in many movies nonetheless. She guest starred on various radio shows and she was the star of the popular radio sitcom My Favorite Husband. It would be television that would propel her to superstardom, and I Love Lucy remains one of the most popular television shows of s all time. The first episode of the third season of Turner Classic Movies' award winning podcast The Plot Thickens debuted today. This season the podcast looks at the life and career of Lucille Ball.

The third season of The Plot Thickens will feature newly discovered audio from Lucille Ball. It will also include more than 40 new interviews. This season will span Lucille Ball's life from her childhood to her modelling career to her success on television and as the first female head of a Hollywood studio (Desilu). In the course of the podcast, Ben Mankiewicz talks to many who knew Lucille Ball.

The Plot Thickens is available on the TCM website, Spotify, YouTube, IHeart Radio, and other places where podcasts are available.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Four Ways Twitter Can Be Improved

It was in 2019 that Twitter rolled out a new redesign. At the time Twitter claimed the redesign is "...a refreshed and updated website that is faster, easier to navigate and more personalized." They also claimed that "Easy Access to Your Favourite Features." To say Twitter users disagreed would be an understatement. Most of them seemed to detest the new design. In the little over two years since the redesign was introduced things have calmed down, but I think one will still find many Twitter users who hate the 2019 design. I know I am one of them. While there have been a few improvements to the redesign since its introduction, I think Twitter could make even more improvements that would make new users more likely to stick around and would please long time users like myself.

Return the Menu to the Top of the Web Version of Twitter

For most of its history, the menu for the web version was at the top. This made perfect sense, as it was easily accessible. Both the mobile version of Twitter and the Twitter mobile app have a menu at the bottom. Again, it is easily accessibly. For some reason known only to its designers, the current web version of Twitter has the menu on a left-hand sidebar. Worse yet, it is more difficult to reach some of Twitter's features on this left-hand sidebar than it was the old top menu. For instance, to reach Moments one has to click on More at the bottom of the sidebar. Now I never have used Moments, but I do know of people who did. It seems to me, then, that Twitter should not only return the Menu to the top, but return it to the way it was before the redesign. It would be much easier to use and much more accessible.

Give Users the Ability to Disable the Algorithm Sorted Feed in Settings

In 2016 Twitter introduced an algorithm sorted feed that it then called "Best Tweets." At the time one could simply disable it by going into settings. As a result, many, perhaps most, Twitter users went about their business reading tweets in reverse chronological order as always. Unfortunately with the 2019 redesign the algorithm sorted feed was renamed "Home" and one had to click stars in the upper right hand corner to switch to "Latest Tweets (the original feed in reverse chronological order). This would prove to be an annoyance, as when returning to Twitter one might find their Twitter feed switched to the algorithm sorted feed (which Twitter calls "Home") and would have to switch it back again. That problem has since been fixed, but if one logs out of Twitter or clears one's cookies in their browser, they will find themselves on the algorithm sorted feed again.

Given many, perhaps most, Twitter users prefer the Latest Tweets feed, it seems to me it would be a good idea for Twitter to give users a way to disable the algorithm sorted feed in settings like we used to have. The plain truth is that when I visit Twitter I do not want to see tweets that some algorithm has determined I am interested in. I want to see the most recent tweets. This is particularly important when live tweeting movies or TV shows. Indeed, if Twitter had been sorted by algorithm from the beginning, I have to think the phenomenon of live tweeting would never have arisen. Of course, another solution would be for Twitter to do away with the algorithm sorted feed entirely. I doubt very many would miss it.

Do Away with "What's Happening"

It was not long after the 2019 redesign was introduced that the Trends sidebar with the What's Happening sidebar. The What's Happening sidebar usually contains news stories and a few trending topics. Quite frankly, I want the Trends sidebar back. As far as I am concerned, What's Happening is useless. Most of the news stories I see on What's Happening I have absolutely no interest in. I would much rather see what is trending on Twitter the way I used to. What I then propose is that Twitter either do away with the What's Happening sidebar entirely or, at least, give users the choice of replacing it with the old Trends sidebar. Either way, I know I would be much happier.

Twitter Should Giver Users a Means of Hiding "Topics to Follow"

The ability to follow specific topics on Twitter is another thing that was introduced not long after the 2019 redesign. Essentially, when one follows a Topic, tweets relevant to that Topic will show up in one's feed. Of course, for this to happen one must be using the algorithm sorted feed (the one Twitter insists on calling "Home") rather than the Latest Tweets feed. For those of us who always use the Latest Tweets feed, then, Topics are meaningless. Unfortunately, when viewing one's own profile or someone else's profile, a block of "Topics to Follow" will show up in the middle of the feed. I find this annoying as I have absolutely no interest in following Topics on Twitter. Given I use the Latest Tweets feed exclusively, it would be useless for me to follow any Topics at all. Twitter should then give users a means of hiding Topics to Follow and never seeing them again.

Twitter is my second favourite social media service after the late, lamented Google+. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy it as much as I did before the 2019 redesign and it is precisely because they moved the menu, replaced the Trends sidebar with "What's Happening," and insist on forcing Topics on me. To be honest, I think Twitter would be better off ditching the 2019 redesign entirely and returning to the old design. I know I wouldn't alone in being happy about that.