Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rite of Passage: Fast Times at Ridgemont High


Back in fifth grade (1983), I had a wealthy friend I'll call "Ed." Well, I just assumed he was wealthy. See, he had multiple video game systems (both an Atari 2600 AND a Colecovision!), multiple action-figure franchise playsets (both a Star Wars Dagobah Action Playset AND a Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull!), a waterbed, a swimming pool with hot-tub.... so, you tell me.

Do the math, people.

Further affirming his relative affluence was the strange little box that appeared one day atop his massive, wood-paneled television. A pay-TV box. Pandora's box. 
For illustrative purposes only. I can't remember what cable system Ed actually had. (image source)

Cable TV was a relatively new phenomenon in my Phoenix suburb. Who would pay for television when there were already a dozen channels you can watch for free over the air? 

Rich folks, that's who.

There was ON-TV, a scrambled signal broadcast over a UHF channel, which you could watch for free if you didn't mind that wide, vertical stripe wriggling down the middle of the picture like a stretch of bad road.  
Baseball, I think?

There were also these things called HBO and Showtime, cable channels that played movies, "uncut and unedited".  My parents explained this meant they left in all the cursing and nudity.

The bad parts. 

All the best movies (Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rescuers, etc.) didn't have any bad parts to cut, so I still didn't quite get the appeal of this whole pay-TV thing.

But it wasn't long before I began to appreciate the forbidden fruits of Ed's little set-top genie, the first being this crazy channel called MTV, where, as Ed explained, you "watch the radio"... against often provocative imagery.

This ain't your grandparents' television! Literally.

Videos by ZZ Top ("Gimme All Your Lovin'"), Duran Duran ("Girls On Film"), and even Elton John ("I'm Still Standing") demanded our absolute prurient attention when they popped out of the video jukebox, their suggestive images so fleeting that we couldn't quite absorb what we were seeing in real-time, their perceived explicitness magnified later in our imaginations.

One morning, my wealthy friend Ed arrived breathlessly at school in his tuxedo and top hat with exciting news: Fast Times At Ridgemont High, the Amy Heckerling-directed high-school sex comedy whose trailer had caught our eye the year prior, was going to be on cable that Saturday night. 



At this point I had never seen an unedited R-rated movie, the closest thing to a "teen sex comedy" I'd ever seen was, I guess, Grease (1978), (which doesn't count at all), and the only "full-frontal" scenes I could reference were shadowy glimpses of that unfortunate "Summer girl" from the opening scene of Jaws (1975).

A sleepover at Ed's was immediately scheduled.

Complications. The cable was only wired to the living room television set, and Ed's parents were planning to watch the film. With all the bad parts we were anticipating in Fast Times... there was no chance we would be allowed to view it with them (besides, that would be kind of... erm, awkward). 

Instead, we would have to watch surreptitiously from the neighboring rec-room, two rooms adjacent.
Simulated vantage point of the family television for our Fast Times at Ridgemont High viewing adventure (recreated using a frame from Strange Brew, 1983.)

We would have to be on high alert throughout the 93-minute run time. If Ed's parents caught us sneaking a peek, we'd be banished to his room for the night. This meant ducking out of view whenever Mom or Dad went to the adjoining kitchen for a snack.

And that's how I first saw Fast Times At Ridgemont High, squinting long distance from around a corner, over two shoulders and between two heads.  Achievement unlocked.

At fifth grade, my impressions of high-school were informed entirely by pop culture (My Bodyguard [1980], mostly.) Fast Times... would end up completely recalibrating those expectations, and it became my model for what high school would be like. 

Of course, reality would later shatter a lot of these expectations, but that was years away.

Some of the life-lessons learned by Fast Times...:

1. Sex is everywhere

The kids are thinking about, talking about it, doing it, talking about doing it, trying to do it, practicing it, and decorating their living spaces with it. Even the designated "nerd" character, Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) has sex thrown at him (in an awkward scene with Jennifer Jason Leigh's Stacy Hamilton). That teenagers are openly, unapologetically preoccupied with sex should perhaps be filed under "Well, Duh", but this was quite the revelation to fifth-grade me. 

2. Parents are nowhere

Ridgemont exists in an alternate reality where the only adults are teachers and fast-food restaurant managers. Parents are nowhere to be found, and seem to have very little involvement in their children's daily lives. Even in the few scenes where parents are present, they are usually off-screen. 

For example, Jeff Spicoli's (Sean Penn) tortured younger brother Curtis shouts for his off-screen Dad, who we never actually see. Stacy (Leigh) talks briefly with Mike Damone's (Robert Romanus) Mom on the phone, also never seen. The only parent with any screen-time is Stacy's mom, briefly appearing for a few seconds to obliviously tuck her fully dressed daughter in to bed, only for Stacy to immediately sneak out the window for a rendezvous with an older man (see lesson #1). 

Even when confronting serious matters like being fired from work, getting in a car accident, or having to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, the parents are never involved.

These teenagers were managing their personal lives completely without adult influence or supervision. 

3. Work is serious
"I will serve no fries before their time."

When we are introduced to Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) working at All American Burger, the first thing he does is dump a basket of fries into the garbage. He's decided they were sitting out too long and no longer acceptable to serve. No manager tells him to do this. He knows his job, takes pride in his work, and has made the assessment, entirely on his own.

This, to me, was remarkable. It's just a crappy fast-food job... and yet, he cares.

Later while training the new hire, Arnold (Scott Thomson), he asks about the secret sauce recipe at Arnold's former employer, Bronco Burger, because he's actually interested. "Ketchup and mayonnaise. Gotcha". I imagine he files that bit of captured industry intelligence away in some notebook.

This may just be a short-term, minimum wage fast-food job, but its HIS job, and he treats it with the seriousness of any other professional trying to build a career or master a craft.

Stacy (Leigh) and Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates) work at Perry's Pizza in the mall. Unlike Brad, they don't see their job as a career and are just hanging in there season to season, but they too take their job seriously and are never seen goofing around at work or acting unprofessionally.

Business, it seems, is serious business.  

4. Bullying is apparently no longer a big deal

My previous high-school pop-culture model being 1980's My Bodyguard, I was relieved to discover that bullying was so-o-o-o two years ago. The stoners and geeks and athletes and cheerleaders and skaters of Ridgemont all seemed to be co-existing without shoving heads in toilets or extorting each other's lunch money. 

There are a few brief shots of first-day-of-school hazing (one kid gets toilet-papered like a mummy) but it feels more like a good-natured rule-breaking prank than targeted cruelty. 

And finally...

5. Phoenix is one-up on Ridgemont!

We may not have a beach, but at least we have cable!

Well, the rich* among us do, anyway.

(*Ed, it turns out, was not actually wealthy, he just had a few different toys than I did.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Little Golden Books of Disneyland (1955-1971)

Let's us sample those delights too! 

Disneyland has been the subject of seven Little Golden Books: Little Man of Disneyland (1955), Donald Duck in Disneyland (1955 and 1960), Disneyland On the Air (1955), Jiminy Cricket Fire Fighter (1956), Mickey Mouse and the Missing Mouseketeers (1956), Donald Duck Lost and Found (1960), and Disneyland Parade With Donald Duck (1971).  There's a fair amount of artistic license in how the park geography and architecture is represented in these books, which makes the already charming illustrations even more interesting to Disneyland fans. (I'm only including pages depicting Disneyland, so if you want to see Mickey talking on his office phone, you'll just have to buy the books!)

Little Man of Disneyland (1955)
Reissued in 2015 under the Little Golden Book Classics line to coincide with Disneyland's 60th anniversary (making it the only book covered here that is still in print), Little Man... serves as a teaser-trailer of sorts for the still under-construction Park.

As Mickey and company scout the future park site in the same Anaheim orange groves famously walked by Walt in Disneyland promotional footage, they encounter Patrick Beggora, the "last Little Person left in Movieland".

Disney's live-action film Darby O'Gill and The Little People wouldn't premier until 1958, but Walt had expressed interest in leprechauns as possible subject matter as far back as 1946, and made several trips to Ireland during that film's pre-production.

I've seen illustrations of Disneyland, and concept art of Disneyland, but here's something unique: illustrations of concept art of Disneyland! The Jungle Cruise, Sleeping Beauty's Castle, a Main Street storefront and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride vehicle are visible, as well as a non-descript rollercoaster that doesn't correspond to any actual attraction.

An under-construction Sleeping Beauty's Castle surrounded by scaffolding, and that mysterious roller-coaster looming in the background behind a Main Street building.

Patrick Beggora's tiny tree house was recreated in Disneyland in 2015, to coincide with the book's reprinting.

Donald Duck in Disneyland (1955, 1960) 

 Donald Duck and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie visit Disneyland only to get separated for a few pages.

This depiction of the east side of Main Street, USA, seems to be a hodge-podge of various storefront styles without much regard for accuracy, save for the pointed roof and circle window of the "Photo Supplies" store, recognizable as the #106 Fine Tobacco Shop (currently the 20th Century Music Company.)

Next door is a building numbered "1873". Main Street stores do in fact have "street addresses", but with house numbers in the hundreds. You have to look in Frontierland for house numbers in the 1870s (the Golden Horseshoe Saloon is 1871).

Pictured at its original intended location in the center of Town Square is the bandstand. By opening day it had been relocated to the opposite end of Main Street, near Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was later moved to the Magnolia Park area between Adventureland and Frontierland before finally being donated to the City of Anaheim in 1962. 

You really did have to buy a ticket for the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad in 1955. It was a C-ticket attraction, costing 30 cents. The engine pictured appears to be the #1 C. K. Holliday (even though its misnumbered "21").

The yellow enclosed freight cars are the "Retlaw 1" combine cars. With their tiny windows and bus-style seating they didn't really lend themselves to looking at passing scenery, so were retired in 1974, having since turned up in the hands of various private collectors and at railroad museums.

A Jungle Cruise boat passes behind famous "Schweitzer Falls" for a close-up view of the back-side of water. For the first few years, skippers  treated the excursion like a serious nature tour rather than a series of gag setups. The shift to a more irreverent spiel began with the addition of Marc Davis' humorous Elephant Bathing Pool and African Veldt vignettes in the early 1960's.


Here we find the Mark Twain River Boat after apparently having made a big wet U-turn (it normally circles the Rivers of America  in a clockwise direction). The large white building is recognizable as the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, home of The Golden Horseshoe Revue (1955 to 1986.) The blue-roofed, house-like structure might be the Chicken Plantation Restaurant (1955-1962), based on its proximity to the dock (or it could just be a piece of generic scenery to fill out the scene).

The Stagecoach (1955-1959), along with the Conestoga Wagons, transported guests with real horses down a real dirt path to see fake cactus and fake rocks.  It was replaced by the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland and Pack Mules in 1959.

The charming and still operating Casey Jr. Circus Train. You won't see kids peeking over the top of the animal cage cars in real life, because they are actually fully enclosed.

These fancy red curtains look like they belong to the Lilly Belle parlor car and not the yellow "Retlaw 1" combine car Donald is riding.

Louie has flown his Peter Pan's Flight ride vehicle right out of the attraction and  is now hovering through the skies over Fantasyland while Capt. Hook threatens from below. With its endless ocean and rock cliff, it's not clear where this scene is supposed to be taking place.

Autopia's original cars with the fully-bumpered bodies, and no center guide rail (those wouldn't be installed until 1965). The 14 mph speed limit sign is more than double the cars' actual top speed.


Another look at the bandstand as Donald relaxes at the Main Street train station.

Tomorrowland famously got the short-end of the budget in the rush to meet opening day, and this illustration looks more like concept renderings than anything that was actually built.  The rocketship pictured resembles the one from Disney's Man In Space (1955) series, not the iconic TWA Moonliner that was actually erected at the site.

Disneyland experienced a major growth spurt in 1959 with the addition of the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Monorail and Submarine Voyage Thru Liquid Space (the Skyway buckets were added in '56.) A 1960 updated edition of Donald Duck In Disneyland swapped out a few spreads to highlight these newer attractions.

 


 Disneyland On The Air (1955)
Mickey and Donald make a red-carpet arrival to the Main Street Opera House for filming of a television special. That Man In Space version of the Tomorrowland rocket makes an appearance on the cover, as well as the Mark Twain River Boat and Disneyland Stagecoach.

The Opera House is the oldest building in Disneyland park, originally used as a workshop and lumber mill during construction and for several years after park opening, before opening to guests in 1961 for a temporary exhibit of props from the film Babes In Toyland. It then briefly served as the "Mickey Mouse Headquarters", before finally becoming the permanent home of Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln in 1965. 

Look at those dapper park guests. They are expecting to be in the audience of a live television broadcast, so that may explain why they are so sharp-dressed, but it really wasn't unusual to see guests dressed up for their day at the park back then.

This backlit panorama of the park is just a painted backdrop used for filming.



Jiminy Cricket Fire Fighter (1956)
By the mid-1950s, Jiminy Cricket had left his debut role as Pinocchio's conscious far behind and was firmly ensconced in his new position as master of ceremonies in several educational films for Disney, including the safety series I'm No Fool, the Encyclopedia and Nature of Things newsreel-style documentaries, and  health and wellness series, You And Your.

Jiminy Cricket, Fire Fighter finds our "chipper little fellow" working in the same vein, using the Disneyland #105 Fire Department on Main Street as a base of operations to teach lessons in fire safety.  Unfortunately most of the actual lessons are taught off-property (e.g. Mickey's fire-trap suburban home), but we at least get a look at the horse-drawn "Chemical Wagon" fire truck (still on exhibit today), Sleeping Beauty's Castle, and another concept-art version of Tomorrowland.

Mickey Mouse and the Missing Mouseketeers (1956)
Mickey, Goofy and Donald visit Disneyland to film a special episode of The Mickey Mouse Club, only to find the Mouseketeers have disappeared somewhere in the park.


There were a couple short-lived Mickey Mouse Club oriented attractions in 1956: a live circus show that lasted less than a year, and the Mickey Mouse Club Theater, a movie house located in Fantasyland that featured both a 30-minute program of animated shorts and air-conditioning. Neither attractions are mentioned in this book.

Finally an accurate rendering of Tomorrowland's landmark centerpiece. The TWA Moonliner stood in front of the Rocket To the Moon attraction, until it was removed for the 1967 Tomorrowland remodel. The pond bordering the Autopia track hosted the short-lived and problematic Phantom Boats attraction. It closed permanently in 1956.  

You call this a "dark" ride? What may appear to be a view over Tom Sawyer Island is actually supposed to be the Indian Village as seen from inside Peter Pan's Flight ride.

Mickey and a camera crew in the back of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Mickey is riding what looks like a Main Street Surrey carriage (discontinued in 1971) through Sleeping Beauty's Castle. The Moonliner is visible in the distance. 

In these Little Golden Books, the animated characters aren't mere ride scenery but are actually supposed to be living in the park. Here, the seven dwarves are caught napping on the job inside their diamond mine while the Wicked Witch hands out poison apples.


Mickey and Minnie, armed with a sword and shield purchased at the Main Street Magic Shop, rescue a pair of Mouseketeers, who don't appear to represent any specific kids from the cast (the names on their jerseys are illegible).

Mickey and Minnie astride a horse on King Arthur's Carrousel, which originally came in a variety of colors (they were all painted white in a 1975 refurbishment.)

Donald Duck Lost and Found (1960)
I'm not sure why Donald gets sole billing in this Disneyland outing that finds Mickey and what's-his-name exploring Tom Sawyer Island.


Tom Sawyer Island, along with the motorized rafts that ferry people across the Rivers of America, opened to the public May '56. The island itself was there from opening day, but as merely scenery with no guest access. Disney lore credits Walt himself with designing the island playground, with its labyrinthine caves, climbing rocks and rope bridges.

For the first few months after opening, guests could actually borrow a fishin' pole and catch live fish from Catfish Cove, a stocked pond located just off the dock. Since most Disneyland visitors don't bring ice-filled coolers with them to the park, the caught fish frequently ended up tossed in the garbage (or worse, left behind on a ride vehicle.)

Donald and Mickey ponder the echoing voices from Injun Joe's Cave, named for the villainous character from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. The cave was rebranded "Smuggler's Cove" when the island underwent a Pirates Of the Caribbean-themed makeover in 2007.

The Old Mill and Tom & Huck's Treehouse, which guests could actually climb into for an elevated view of the island. Decades later it was shuttered, surviving today as a piece of scenery.

The Suspension Bridge, Pontoon Bridge, and towering Castle Rock, at the foot of which are Teeter-Totter Rock and Merry-Go-Round Rock, playground equipment disguised as natural formations. Both became casualties of increased safety concerns sometime in the early 2000s.

Fort Wilderness was an opening feature of the island and was quite an attraction itself, boasting mounted cannon and rifles, Davy Crockett figures in wax-museum style exhibits, a canteen to buy snacks, and a "secret escape tunnel" in case the walls are breached. In the early 2000s the Fort had to be torn down due to wood rot, and completely rebuilt, but this time as a storage and backstage area for employees and equipment.

Goofy and Mickey examine a huge map. Much smaller brochure-style maps of the island have been available to park guests through the decades, including a version updated in 2007 to highlight changes made for the "Pirates' Lair" makeover. At the upper right we find Indian Territory and, inaccessible on foot but visible from the water, Burning Settler's Cabin. 

Disneyland Parade with Donald Duck (1971)
This is the most recently published book (only half a century old!) and the least interesting as far as seeing renderings of the park, as it's mostly Disney characters preparing for the big parade in a vague "backstage" area.

Once again, Donald and nephews visit Disneyland. On the horizon, between the castle and Matterhorn mountain, we can see the top of Fort Wilderness, the Skyway buckets, and the thatched roof of the Enchanted Tiki Room. The pirate ship is Captain Hook's Galley (formerly the Chicken of the Sea), a ship-shaped snack bar that stood in a Peter Pan themed lagoon in Fantasyland until a 1982 remodel of the area.

Alice, the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit stand below the over-sized leaves of their dark-ride attraction.  Minnie, Pluto and Goofy prepare for the parade. Goofy has driven a broken down jalopy in parades as far back as 1965. 

Donald purchases some balloons near the Castle, and later, on Main Street. Check out the groovy "Minnie"-skirt on that park guest! Donald gets carried away in his balloon buying binge, providing us another look at Captain Hook's Galley ship.

Finally the parade is ready to roll as our tour of Disneyland via Little Golden Books comes to a close.