Friday, January 25, 2008

Obscure and lost L.A. history

ABOVE: The Haunted Castle at Beverly Park (now the Beverly Center)
BELOW: BP parking lot circa 1969-70

Lately, as I roam around the net in-between gigs waiting for the writer's to do their thing so I can finish mine...or to be more specific, I'm waitin' on liner notes from Pamela Des Barres for the The Sales Bros. album package I'm designing...and Al Jardine's Track info for his first solo album I'm doing...I've grown addicted to daily hang-outs in these blogs in particular:

Gorillas Don't Blog
Stuff From The Park
Outside The Berm
Vintage Disneyland Goodies
Knott's Berry Farm Museum

Why? Because they feature not only amazing old Disneyland stuff (from photos to souvenirs to employee handbooks) but they also serve as a time machine for places that we've lost forever here in Southern California; Marineland (below), Knott's (pre-snoopy) , P.O.P., etc...

BELOW: The late great Ralph Story did a couple of shows for KCET called "Things That Aren't Here Anymore" (can't find a link to I guess the show isn't around here anymore either!) But Ralph also did an incredible TV series from 1959-1970 called "Ralph Story's Los Angeles"

Yes, this is the man who invented Huell Howser.
The shows are over at the UCLA media department and can be viewed by the public there, but man I'd love to see these released on DVD. There's an entire episode done on the Hollywood Ranch Market that's mind-blowing...complete with 1967 Rodney Bingenheimer in a purple Nehru jacket buying a Diet-Rite soda at 3A.M. (those wierdos that come in after the rock clubs close, the check-out girl explains!)

I guess what's so hard of letting go of the past, is that being an L.A. native and an artist, I really miss the visual & creative vibe we used to have here before the city turned into what I can only describe as The Invasion of the Beige People!...I can't seem to put my finger on who is behind this movement, but they've re-painted over almost every architectural structure (that they haven't leveled) different shades of beige or brown..."tuscan" they call it, and now when you drive around the city on the main boulevards, the buildings actually feel like they're falling in on a claustrophobic forced perspective.

BELOW: Driving around Hancock Park last week I caught it happening in we see the innocent workers following orders from tuscan hour earlier, this was a perfectly groovy white Spanish-style home.
Stop the madness!
Listen, to each their own...but my own has a much wider color scheme! Our local retail shops aren't much better. Long gone are the bright colors and the red & white striped awnings that would pop out of those storefronts as a perfect foreground to the palm trees and blue skies. Also nearly extinct are those amazing and imaginative store & restaurant logos we used to see all around the city.

I gotta thank Dan Goodsell for the 60's Orange Julius logo, Dan's the king of original food packaging. It's a wierd sensation when you get home-sick while you're in your own city, and that's how I feel here lately.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mon Oncle

BELOW: It was a groove to find these clips from a 1969 "Playboy After Dark" appearance of my late great Uncle Milton...Milt Kamen. This is 1 of 2 parts available for viewing on YouTube.

Milton was my mother Dorothy's brother (one of 5 brothers and 2 sisters) They grew up pooor in Brooklyn and in fact, in an old Esquire magazine article written about the great comedian Harry Ritz, my uncle and Harry were talking about Milton Berle's legendary practice of stealing jokes to which my Uncle says "I was at a cocktail party last week and telling someone about my family, being raised in poverty etc...and I see Berle standing there listening to me...well, the following evening I go to another party and there I overhear Berle telling the same story word for word!...Berle didn't steal my jokes...he stole my whole life!"

BELOW: A couple of great shots courtesy of my pal and Game Show Book author Fred Wostbrock of Milt with guests from the old "Pantomime Quiz" TV show circa mid-fifties. We can see a twenty-something Carol Burnett in the mix, but I can't make out the rest of the folks. Post it in the comments if you know.
BELOW: another clip from 1976 when he was a panelist on "The Gong Show" although he doesn't say a word, it just feels good to see him if Jaye P. Morgan had been my Uncle we'd have something here.

He was also a talented and classically trained musician who played the French Horn (in Carnegie Hall at one time) and also hung out with some pretty heavy cats like Brando, Wally Cox, Lenny Bruce, Oscar Levant and Dizzy Gillespie (he can be seen doin' some "freeform dance expression" while Dizzy blows the horn on the 1959 debut of "Playboy After Dark"...then titled "Playboy's Penthouse") and was frequent guest on Merv Griffin's show. Merv loved Uncle Milton, and used to have him do his own wacky movie reviews. One I remember in particular was of the 1933 King Kong film: "Here he comes to the greatest city in the world, immediately picks up this gorgeous blonde broad, and what does he do? he takes her to the Empire State Building like any about no imagination!"

Milt was a clean comedian, but then I've had in the past, both George Carlin and Redd Foxx tell me stories about how much they loved and dug him. He did a play in Vegas with Redd that was written by our old next door neighbor Sam Bobrick called "Norman, Is That You?" Sam was also the "Mad Man" who was responsible for that Mad Magazine cardboard 45 record called "It's a Gas" remember that one?

He did one comedy album on Capitol Records in 1964 which can be downloaded here. Thanks to Kliph Nesteroff for this one -

The album was produced by Mel Brooks and the back liner notes are written by some other funny guy named Groucho.

Legend has it that Uncle Milton dug a kid he saw doing stand-up in the Catskills and brought him in to meet Sid Caesar to see if he could get him a job writing for the show "Fellas, this kid's a young Larry Gelbart!" to which a young Gelbart (in the room at the time) said "I thought I was a young Larry Gelbart?!" Well, they ended up hiring him. The kid's name was Woody Allen.

Man, I guess what was only gonna be a few sentences and a couple of clips of my Uncle is turning into an authorized biography here! There's plenty more showbiz stories there, not to mention his "friendship" with Shelly Winters (I told you not to mention it!) but maybe some other time. Thanks for your mouse.


Bummer to wake up and see that Maila Nurmi passed away on Thursday. I got to know Maila for a short time and had the honor of creating a poster for her to sign and sell (below) so she could eat and pay some bills.

Thanks to my friend Chuck Harter, I was also able to go to the original KABC studios in Los Feliz where the Vampira show was shot in 1954 and accompanied her and Chuck to an interview done for a Halloween segment which, due to the passing of Steve Allen was bumped off the evening broadcast.
see Vampira's Attic on YouTube for a bunch of cool videos.

Rest well Maila.