It’s my favorite time of year! The time leading up to the Christmas holiday is full of Christmas movies and TV episodes in my house, and MeTV is making that a little easier this year with their A Very Merry MeTV starting this Sunday. For the next seven weeks, MeTV is presenting three hours of Christmas themed episodes every Sunday afternoon. Check out the schedule below to find when your old forgotten favorite will be on.
Sunday, November 12
The Facts of Life “The Christmas Show” 2PM | 1C
The Facts of Life “Christmas in the Big House” 2:30PM | 1:30C
Mama’s Family “Santa Mama” 3PM | 2C
Mama’s Family “Mama Gets Goosed” 3:30PM | 2:30C
The Lucy Show “Together for Christmas” 4PM | 3C
The Lucy Show “Lucy the Choirmaster” 4:30PM | 3:30C
Sunday, November 19
The Facts of Life “Christmas Baby” 2PM | 1C
The Facts of Life “Pre-Christmas Card” 2:30PM | 1:30C
Saved by the Bell “A Thanksgiving Story” 3PM | 2C
Mama’s Family “An Ill Wind” 3:30PM | 2:30C
Happy Days “The First Thanksgiving” 4PM | 3C
Cheers “Ill-Gotten Gaines” 4:30PM | 3:30C
“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collectors’ item in its own way-not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, and suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”
Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had a cult following like few shows this side of Star Trek, and ever since the program’s cancellation in 1964, the die-hards had been begging for new episodes. They wouldn’t get them during Serling’s lifetime, but the king of eerie TV satisfied the masses with an all-new anthology series in 1970. He called it Night Gallery, and while it wasn’t exactly the same thing as The Twilight Zone-in fact, it was considerably more horror-tinged-it proved that there were plenty of chilling stories left to tell.
A made-for-TV Night Gallery movie in 1969 introduced the format: Serling once more served as host, introducing each segment of the show by walking the guests at home through a gallery of creepy paintings. Each had a story to tell, and everyone was either darkly comic or just darkly dark. Like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery rose and fell on those individual stories, and there were a number of highlights. Among them:
“Eyes” – Directed by a young Steven Spielberg and starring Joan Crawford, this segment from the pilot movie has Crawford as a blind woman desperate to buy or steal a working pair of eyes.
“Pickman’s Model” – In late 19th century Boston, a woman becomes intrigued by a strange painter and his horrible works.
“A Fear of Spiders” – A callous food writer turns to one of the recipients of his callousness when he finds a terrifying spider in his sink.
“The Return of the Sorcerer” – Vincent Price plays a sorcerer looking to unravel the secrets of an Arabic manuscript, hoping to find clues about his brother’s mysterious death.
“Rare Objects” – A gangster with a price on his head thinks he’s willing to pay anything for safety, but then, he doesn’t know what “anything” might entail.
As an anthology, Night Gallery had a cast that changed with every segment, and again like The Twilight Zone, the players included several famous faces: Crawford, Price, Leslie Nielsen, Diane Keaton, Edward G. Robinson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ozzie Nelson, Sally Field and many more. Initially, the series was part of NBC’s Four in One anthology hodgepodge, but by the fall of 1971, Night Gallery went solo.
The show’s popularity ebbed after the 1971-72 season – partly due to a shortening from one hour to a half-hour, partly due to conflicts between Serling and the producers and network – and after one more season of original episodes, the Night Gallery was closed. It may never have gained the same cult status as its Rod Serling predecessor, but Night Gallery lives on today, still chilling after all these years.
So there’s no gray-haired psychic in your town? And you can’t sneak another call into the astrology hotline without your mom noticing the long distance charges? If you need some answers in your life, and answers more specific than the good old Magic 8 Ball can provide, the Ouija Board might be your next stop. Not only, for example, can the Ouija tell you if you should go ahead and color your hair, it can tell you what color you should choose. Fortune telling was never this specific! There is much debate as to what moves the pointer around on the board-is it the players themselves or the busybody spirit world? And if you think the 8 Ball has its fair share of literal-minded, no-fan-of-anything-you-can’t-reach-out-and-grab opponents, you should get a load of the apprehension and controversy that the Ouija inspires. All of it would make William Fuld, the board’s quirkily entrepreneurial patriarch, very, very proud.
In mid-nineteenth century New York, communing with the “other side” was all the rage. Spiritualist churches were popping up everywhere, and the city’s chic hostesses clamored for authentic mediums to attend their gatherings, so that chatty members of the spirit world could speak through them. As an alternative to all that zany vocalizing, there was “spirit writing,” wherein the medium would establish contact with a spirit, grab a pencil, and let the spirit do the rest. A doohickey called the “planchette” was invented for such parlor sessions-a small, heart-shaped plank (planchette means ”little plank” in French) with a pencil at the heart’s apex. The downside to spirit writing was that the mediums, or ahem, their spirit-communicators, didn’t always have the most legible penmanship, and message transmission tended to be a bore-and nobody wants that at a seance party.
“Talking boards,” the brainchild of three Americans named E.C. Reiche, Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard, came next. This rectangular wooden slab provided a flat surface for the wooden-pegged planchette to glide over, featuring the alphabet, numbers one through ten, and words “yes” and “no.” According to some, Kennard called the board “Ouija” after an Egyptian word for good luck, and even better yet (at least better for Ouija’s sometimes purposely murky history), Kennard claimed the board itself suggested the word. In 1892, Kennard’s ex-foreman, William Fuld, took the company over, named it the Ouija Novelty Company, and began producing the board in high volume numbers.
Fuld, no marketing dimwit himself, concocted his own version of the Ouija’s genesis: claiming he invented the whole enchilada himself, and that the word Ouija was actually an amalgam of the French “oui” and the German “ja”-possibly just a way to force people to pronounce it correctly. Fuld didn’t own the market on talking boards (there was Milton Bradley’s Genii, for instance), but he certainly cornered it. In 1927, Fuld fell from a factory roof in his native Baltimore-some say suicide, some accident. Fuld’s children took over after that, and then in 1966, Parker Brothers bought the company.
Today, the board is made of folding cardboard instead of wood, and the planchette glides on velvet tabs instead of wooden pegs, but other than that, it looks nearly the same as it did over one hundred years ago. The alphabet spans the board in two crescent rows, the numbers are below that, and in the corners are the words “yes” and “no,” and at the bottom, “good bye.” All this handy data faces the player who sits at the base of the board, so if reading upside down doesn’t come easy, savvy players sometimes recruit a note-taker to jot down the letters, which can then be deciphered later.
The unspoken rules that go along with this game are legion. Never play it alone. Never play angry. Never, especially in the case of permanent hair color choices, let the Ouija be the final authority. Play at night, because according to Ouija aficionados, there is less traffic in the psychic atmosphere. Decide on one person who will ask all the questions, because there is less confusion to any, um, spirits who are out there, navigating said psychic traffic. Candlelight is recommended (the spirit world having always been a big advocate of energy conservation), and two players are best. The board is best placed atop the two players’ knees, but a table is okay if the candlelight is making a jittery player’s knees knock. Warm the planchette, or pointer, up by moving it around in circles, but then stop moving it altogether. Check for white around the fingertips, which indicate someone is pressing down, and then ask a clearly stated question. Hopefully, if the atmosphere is favorable and the traffic is light, the spirits will take over.
Or will they? Some believe the board is just a reflection of the players’ inner psyches no spirits at all, just us good old fashioned, earthbound folks who guide the pointer unconsciously. Fair enough, but let’s face it, sometimes the pointing isn’t always unconscious. Those same rascals who occasionally “borrow” from the bank in Monopoly when no one is looking are also known to form words on the Ouija Board deliberately. And then, of course, we feign great surprise (with a sly mental nod to their junior high drama class teachers) as that magic planchette spells out exactly what we want to hear.
Parker Brothers likes to avoid negative Ouija connotations, but when dealing with a supposed conduit for incorporeal intelligences, there’s a certain degree of creepiness can’t be helped. The board was supposedly banned in Britain during the 70’s, and there are plenty of parents and religious groups today who’d just as soon their kids just play checkers. Of course, all the mystique just sells more boards and makes impromptu Ouija sessions feel nicely forbidden and scandalous-a feeling you just can’t get from checkers.
Long before the phrase “virtual reality” was coined, wax museum caretaker Walter accidentally brought replicas of Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man to life with his “crime computer.” The trio of leading men from horror’s golden age joined Walter to form the Monster Squad, dedicating themselves to a new after-life of fighting crime.
This show’s tongue-in-cheek attitude was reminiscent of the 60’s Batman series, but The Monster Squad didn’t reach the airwaves until the 1976-77 season, which was heavily laden with live-action series. Like many of its contemporaries, The Monster Squad featured a hip vehicle—in this case the squad’s van—and high-tech gadgets like the team’s belt communicators.
Character actor Vito Scotti played one of the villainous foes our heroes faced, a mad scientist dressed as a man on one side of his body and a woman on the other. Walter was played by Fred Grandy, who went on to TV fame as Gopher on The Love Boat. After ten years on that show, Grandy spent eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Alas, The Monster Squad was not as long-lived, returning to the grave after only one season.
It was woefully short-lived, but this horror/sci-fi series has become one of the most beloved series of its kind over time. First introduced in a 1972 made-for-television film called The Night Stalker, Darren McGavin starred as Carl Kolchak, a crusty old reporter for the Independent News Service in Chicago. The film, which had Kolchak investigating a vampire in Las Vegas, became the highest-rated television film of its time, and its sequel, The Night Strangler, found similar success. ABC subsequently ordered a series, which began its run in September of 1974.
McGavin continued to play the role of Kolchak in the new series, squaring off against a new otherworldly menace. Kolchak cut an intriguing and distinct figure, dressed in a light-blue seersucker suit and a straw hat. His personality was gruff and sarcastic and always put him at odds with authority figures. Vincenzo was his editor, who was driven to the point of ulcers by Kolchak’s penchant for bizarre stories. Emily Cowles was a fellow writer at INS who was friendly with Kolchak and also happened to be the only person he trusted.
The plotlines followed a consistent pattern: Kolchak would stumble across a series of grisly and mysterious killings and realize that something non-human played a role in the murders. Inevitably, the local authorities would want to keep them quiet, and Vincenzo would not believe Kolchak’s theory. Kolchak would risk life and limb to get to the bottom of the story and fight off the villainous menace in the process. Of course, the evidence would always slip through his fingers and thus cause others to not believe his story.
During the series’ run, Kolchak faced off with everything from vampires and werewolves to aliens and androids. The biggest favorite among fans of the show was “Horror In The Heights,” in which Kolchak stumbled across a demon while investigating a story about a rash of deaths among the elderly. He quickly discovered the culprit was a Hindu demon called the rakshasa that tricks its victim by taking on the appearance of the person he/she trusts most before killing them.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker only lasted one season, ending its run in August of 1975. However, it has become a huge cult favorite amongst fans of horror and science fiction. Many people even consider it to be a blueprint for the later and more successful The X-Files, which shared much with Kolchak in terms of style and substance. Even Chris Carter, the creator of that show, has acknowledged the important influence this show had on his work. In the wake of The X-Files’s success, all of the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episodes have been released on video, including the two made-for-television films. As a long as there are viewers who like a good scare, Kolchak: The Night Stalker will always be in demand.
There have been plenty of toys that allowed to children to put their natural creative energies to work. Legos, Erector sets, and countless other similar items let kids build elaborate kingdoms and complex machines to satisfy the need to create. Sea Monkeys took this process one step further and allowed more enterprising youngsters to actually create life. With the help of elaborate ads that seemed to appear in every comic book released during the late 1960’s and 1970’s, the scientific marvels known as Sea Monkeys became one of the most popular toys of all time.
Sea Monkeys are not actually monkeys, but they do come from the sea and are real living things (contrary to popular belief and urban legend). To be specific, they are “Artemia Salina,” or “brine shrimp” in layman’s terms. They were thought of as mere fish food for many years until Harold von Braunhut, a man who is famous among toy enthusiasts for inventing X-Ray Spex, discovered these marvels of the sea. He saw their potential as a pet and developed a simple, three-step kit that allowed aspiring young marine biologists to raise their own brine shrimp in a container of water.
Honey Toy Industries obtained the rights to Von Braunhut’s kit and began marketing it in 1960 as Instant Life. When it didn’t become an immediate hit, Von Braunhut came up with the brainstorm of advertising the kit in comic books. Von Braunhut also noticed that the little brine shrimp resembled monkeys when they grew to adulthood, so he added the phrase “Sea Monkeys” to the packaging of Instant Life. As a result, sales for the newly-named Sea Monkeys began to skyrocket, and Sea Monkeys ads became an ubiquitous presence in the ad pages of comic books everywhere.
By the 1970’s, Instant Life was one of the coolest toys a kid could own. As a result of its success, Honey Toy Industries changed its name to the more official-sounding Transcience Corporation. Also, Instant Life became known simply as Sea Monkeys, since the fanciful depictions of Sea Monkey families used in the ads had become the crucial selling point. Indeed, comic book-reading kids everywhere fantasized about raising their own kingdoms of these strange humanoid-looking creatures.
Sea Monkeys gained additional hipness when they were packaged with special containers called Ocean Zoos. These mini-aquariums have since become the definitive home for Sea Monkeys. Sea Monkeys gained another home when the Deluxe Sea-Monkey Speedway was introduced in 1974. This device, which took advantage of the fact that Sea Monkeys swim against the current, included “tracks” so the Sea Monkey owner could raise champion Sea Monkeys. Another success, the Speedway led to follow-ups like Sea-Monkey Cycle Race, Sea-Monkey Ski Trails, and Sea-Monkey Fox Hunt. There was also the Incredible Sea-Bubble, a mini-aquarium on a chain that could be worn as a necklace.
The Sea Monkeys phenomenon had become an institution by the end of the 1970’s. Its success also inspired a follow-up pet from Transcience Corporation known as the Crazy Crab. They were actually hermit crabs, a land-dwelling scavenger species. Like the Sea Monkeys, they became a hit and inspired a craze. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Sea Monkeys moved on to new distributors like Larami and Basic Fun with middling degrees of success. They were no longer as hip as they were during their 1970’s heyday, but the novelty of Sea Monkeys remained strong enough to keep them selling on name-value alone.
In the mid-1990’s, Sea Monkeys made a triumphant comeback when they began being distributed by ExploraToys. Now that the toy was old enough to be retro-hip, both kids and the adults who grew up with the Sea Monkey phenomenon were buying Sea Monkeys. They have also transcended their comic-book ad origins to be sold in national toy-store chains. And as long as toy fanatics want to take their love of creating things to the next level, Sea Monkeys will allow them to “create life.”
Starting in the 1970’s, people began to cast a suspicious eye on the safety standards used in making toys. Parents and lawmakers began voicing their concerns and this led to new legal standards for what could and could not be sold to children at the toy store. Toys have become much safer over the years as a result of this, but a hazardous toy slips through the cracks every now and then and makes it to the market. One of the most notorious examples in recent memory is the case of Lawn Darts. These outdoor leisure items enjoyed a lengthy period of popularity, but quickly got yanked from the marketplace when its potential for danger became too obvious.
Lawn Darts began to appear in sporting goods and toy stores in the 1960’s and were made by various manufacturers (Sears Department Stores had their own Sears Lawn Darts, and so on). Also sold under the name “Jarts”, these items were 12 inches long, with a heavy tip made of metal on one end and decorative plastic fins at the other end. The metal tips were blunt so they wouldn’t cut the hands of the person tossing them, but remained pointy and heavy enough to stick in the ground they were thrown at.