Friends, on this Retro Records offering we are going to be revisiting those two mascots used by the much missed Burger Chef restaurants, I am of course referring to Burger Chef and his teenage sidekick Jeff. In a previous Retro Records article I touched upon why I have such fond memories of the restaurant itself, it had a little to do with the fact they were offering 4 Star Wars posters back in ’78, to say nothing of their patented Fun Meal. I should add while the fast food restaurant closed its last location in 1996, it did beat McDonald’s Happy Meal to the punch by about seven years. With the Burger Chef Fun Meal you would receive some kind of small toy or collectible, in addition to your burger and even a dessert. I think those of us of a certain age will begrudgingly admit that McDonald’s really did one better with their Happy Meal, although having said that, I cannot ever recall them offering Flexi-disc records like Burger Chef did.
It wasn’t just because of Star Wars that I was so fond of Burger Chef, as I’ve mentioned before it had more than a little to do with the fact they had a cast of characters made up of monsters. There was Burgerilla the Ape, Count Fangburger, Wolfburger the Werewolf, Crankenburger, and of course Cackleburger the Witch. And while it is quite true that my Father could rarely afford to take us out to eat at Burger Chef, I think it ended up making those times we did visit all the more special.
The Flexi-discs that were offered by Burger Chef were 33 1/3 records, with a running time of under five minutes long, but they did allowe for Burger Chef and Jeff to interact with those monster inspired characters. You might be interested to know that Burger Chef was voiced by the late and great Paul Winchell. Whose voice I think you might recognize from the incredible amount of Saturday morning and children’s programming that he lent his voice to over the years. Just a few of his notable roles include voicing the likes of Gargamel in the Smurfs, Fleegle Beagle in The Banana Splits, as well as Dick Dastardly for many of the Hanna-Barbera produced animated series.
Friends, I was extremely lucky to have the chance to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando at a very early age. It was the Summer before I was to begin first grade and my Grandparents felt a trip to Walt Disney World was in order, taking a leisurely drive from our neck of the woods to Orlando, Florida. All in the comfort of a rather large RV, although we made plenty of stops to stretch our legs and visit one or two roadside attractions as well as a few beaches (Perhaps I might share the jellyfish or snake story one of these days). It was a magical trip to say the very least although it did confuse my Grandparents why I was absolutely terrified during the Snow White’s Adventures ride, covering my eyes with my hands and refusing to remove them until it was over. Having said that however I could not get enough of The Haunted Mansion, dragging them into the queue over and over again, cackling with joy as we rode our Doom Buggy through that delightful and welcome home for the 999 happy haunts that reside within.
And while I was able to experience the thrill of The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World two additional times in my life, I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting Disneyland in Anaheim, California. But thanks to the Disney Parks blog, it was revealed that when the theme park reopens at the end of April, the Disneyland Haunted Mansion is going to have a few new additions. From a portrait entitled “April to December” that will now proudly hang in the portrait hallway to additional monuments to beloved pets such as Old Flybait the frog (“He Croaked”) outside of the mansion.
In fact thanks to the Disney Parks YouTube channel you can get a brief look at what to expect when Disneyland reopens on April 30th. As a bonus it appears that the video is narrated by none other than Disney Imagineer Kim Irvine, who just so happens to be the daughter of Leota Toombs, the original Imagineer who provided the face of Madame Leota and the voice of the Ghostess in the final scene of The Haunted Mansion!
Friends, one of my most cherished childhood toys was the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer Theater, which I believe was released back in 1977. The handheld movie viewer which was originally released in ’73 was obviously easier to take to school or on car trips, but it was that 1977 Movie Viewer Theater though that captured my heart. Thanks to being able to not just watch the Super 8 mm shorts on the much larger screen of the viewer, but I could also flip a dial and cast the moving images on a nearby blank wall or sheet. I am extremely happy to say that not only is that beloved toy still in my collection but it is in working order, to say nothing of the fact that I now possess nearly a complete collection of those Fisher-Price film cartridges.
As I understand it, Kenner actually beat Fisher-Price to the punch back in 1973 with the Cassette Movie Projector, although they didn’t stop there. Just two years later they would produce the Snoopy Drive-In Movie Theater as well as the handheld Snoopy Movie Viewer. While I believe that four Peanuts shorts were made for the Fisher-Price Viewer and Theater, Kenner would produce a total of 12 cartridges in their line.
Considering that I frequently discuss the local drive-in theater of my youth on the Saturday Frights podcast, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I was blown away when I received the Snoopy Drive-In Movie Theater as a kid. From the plastic Snoopy sitting in his car looking up at the ‘drive-in’ screen to the fact that Woodstock was running the concession stand, it just managed to always make me smile.
Interestingly enough, besides those 12 carts focusing on Peanuts characters, Kenner also ended up releasing six cartridges for The Six Million Dollar Man as well as film carts for the likes of Speed Buggy, Grape Ape, and Scooby-Doo among other Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
Sadly my Snoopy Drive-In Movie Theater is no longer functioning, and I assure you that my finger hovers over the ‘Buy It Now’ button when looking on eBay, but at least we can enjoy watching it in action thanks to this YouTube video!
Friends, until the release of Star Wars in 1982 to the home market on the likes of VHS, LaserDisc, Betamax, CED VideoDisc, and even the European based Video 2000 videocassette, the only way to enjoy the first entry in the original trilogy was to catch it in theaters in limited re-release engagements. As I understand it there were four times that the original Star Wars returned to theaters, with the first being in ’78 and then the following year, as well as in ’81 and then for the last time on August 13th of 1982.
But to the point of this article, the Star Wars fans who were lucky enough to have access to a Super 8 film projector in 1977 could enjoy selected scenes released by Ken Films to the home market. There were three versions of Super 8 reels offered to the public by Ken Films, black and white as well as silent, a color edition with no sound, or color with the addition of sound. The scenes offered on the Super 8 reels were of Luke Skywalker being told about his Father and the ways of the Force by Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine. Then followed by Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Luke, plus R2-D2 and C-3PO making their escape from the Death Star. Concluding with the thrilling TIE Fighter attack on the Millennium Falcon as they make good their escape to the rebel base on Yavin 4.
With the popularity of Star Wars it will probably not surprise you to learn that the Super 8 reels sold very, very well indeed. So much so that Ken Films produced two more reels of selected scenes afterwards that were twice the length of their initial offering, resulting in about half an hour of 1977’s Star Wars when all was said and done.
The reason for this article is that the other day before I went to work at the arcade, I received a message from Gary Burton, not only a fellow author on this site but the chief technician at the Arkadia Retrocade. Gary asked if I might be able to come in just a little earlier than normal because he had picked up something at an antique store that he felt I would get a kick out of. That turned out to be something of an understatement as he powered up his 1973 Kodak Moviedeck 435 film projector and showed me the 1977 black and white Star Wars reel he had picked up earlier in the week. While possessing no sound, the scenes did provide subtitles so that the viewers could make sense of the highly abridged story of the classic 1977 film.
In closing out this article, there was one other way to enjoy Star Wars at home back in ’77, and that was thanks to the excellent film cartridges and viewer released by Kenner. However if you would like to see the black and white Ken Films version of Star Wars for yourself, I found this copy that was uploaded on YouTube.
Friends, thanks to the weekday reruns of the classic Star Trek TV series, I was already a big fan of the crew of the the starship Enterprise when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released to theaters on December 8th of 1979. I have some fond memories of seeing the film at our local movie theater in my youth, for one thing I was allowed to buy a Captain Kirk pin – after I was informed the Scotty pins were all sold out.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry got the ball rolling on an attempt to bring the crew of the Enterprise to the big screen shortly after the NBC series was cancelled. It turns out by 1975 there were multiple tries to find the appropriate screenplay for the proposed film, although as 1977 rolled around the focus was shifted from a movie to a new television project. Which was just in time for the success of a little film called Star Wars as well as Close Encounters of the Third Kind to make it big at the box office. The amount of money those two films earned at the box office was more than enough to get Paramount Pictures thinking about a Star Trek film all over again.
The 1978 press conference announcement for Star Trek: The Motion Picture proposed the budget for the film would be 15 million dollars, but when all was said and done it has been reported to have cost 44 million. And while the film brought in 139 million dollars at the end of it’s box office run, which was less than the studio had anticipated, it at the very least gave them confidence in producing a second feature – at a reduced budget.
Were you aware though that the premiere for Star Trek: The Motion Picture was held at the MacArthur Theater in Washington, D.C.? On the evening of December 6th of ’79, the theater that originally opened it’s doors to the public on December 25th of 1946, hosted the cast and crew of the film. And thanks to this video being uploaded on YouTube you can travel back to that night and enjoy interviews with the likes of Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and more.
Friends, “Southern Nights” is an absolutely wonderful and joyous song made popular by Glen Campbell back in ’77 from his album of the same name. You might be familiar with it as Director James Gunn picked it to be featured in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as well as on the soundtrack. Gunn used the classic tune to great effect in the scene involving the nefarious Ravagers trying to sneak up on Rocket Raccoon, who obviously laid a few traps for the unwary group of scoundrels. Because he is Rocket, right?
You might be interested to know however that the late and great Glen Campbell was not the artist who originally wrote and recorded “Southern Nights”. That honor belongs to Allen Toussaint, the singer, songwriter, and record producer who came up with such songs as “I Like It Like That”, “Working in the Coal Mine”, and of course “Southern Nights” – which was recorded and released in 1975 from the album of the same name. As Toussaint, who sadly passed away in 2015, was legendary for his New Orleans style of rhythm and blues – the song is a more soothing version compared to Campbell’s rather spirited take. Both versions are fantastic but Toussaint’s original song just makes me relax and smile after a long day at work.
As I understand it from doing a little research, both Toussaint and Campbell were quite fond of each other’s version of “Southern Nights”. As a matter of fact it’s been said that Glen Campbell claimed when listening to the ’75 tune it reminded him of his youth, growing up on a farm near Pike County, Arkansas. Campbell recorded his version of the tune on October 2nd of 1976, with some minor alterations to the lyrics, before releasing it as a single on January 17th of 1977. One of the changes included a guitar lick that was suggested by Campbell’s friend Jerry Reed, as is mentioned in the video below, a segment from 1982’s Jerry Reed and Special Friends.
In closing out this article, Campbell’s version of the song managed to snag the number one spot in January of ’77 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, and hold onto it for two weeks. In addition to reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart in April as well as staying in the number one spot for four consecutive weeks on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart!
The Fantastic Journey was a delightfully trippy sci-fi series that aired on NBC in 1977, following a mismatched group of travelers: a fresh-out-of-med-school doctor (Carl Franklin), an inquisitive kid (Ike Eisenmann), a pacifist from the future (Jared Martin), a “rebel scientist from the sixties” (Roddy McDowall), and the daughter of “an Atlantean father and an extraterrestrial mother” (Katie Saylor) as they – along with a cat from the future! – journey between “zones of time” on an isolated island in the Bermuda Triangle that may (or may not) be Atlantis. It lasted only ten episodes, failing to find either a consistent storyline or an audience over a six-month period, and was sporadically scheduled by NBC. It’s fondly remembered by fans of cult genre TV, but that’s about it.
For years, The Fantastic Journey was not available in any commercially available form. A rerun on cable in the early 2000s was digitized by someone – probably from VHS – and, provided one knew which rocks to look underneath, it could be found, though the picture quality was at times most charitably described as “lamentable”.
It’s therefore something of a shock that the series was given an official DVD release – in Australia, of all places – in 2020. ViaVision’s officially licensed three-disc set can be acquired on Amazon, and if your only prior knowledge of the show comes by way of those old video files of questionable origin, prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise.
Not to make a joke out of it, but compared to the previously available means of viewing the show, the sound and picture quality are fantastic. There are a few brief instances where it’s easy to see that the original film masters of the episodes could probably use a little TLC, but those instances are few and far between. The picture is sharp, the sound is clear, and it’s a vast improvement over any means of viewing the show since its original broadcast run in the ’70s.
The menu system is no-frills, keeping it simple while also echoing the colorfully trippy packaging. Sadly, there are no commentaries or any kind of bonus material, but as obscure as the show is, we’re lucky to have a release at all. Given that McDowall and Martin have both left us, along with key behind-the-scenes players such as story editor D.C. Fontana, a lot of the story of the making of this show is gone forever. Additionally, Carl Franklin has moved on to an A-list film directing career, and Katie Saylor reportedly ducked out of the Hollywood spotlight (leading to persistent rumors that she, too, had died)…it would seem unlikely that very many of the show’s participants rank this show highly on their career highlights. (Don’t worry, I hear there’s a pretty good article about the show on Pop Culture Retrorama.)
Speaking of the packaging, it raised a comparison that raised my eyebrows. The back cover blurb claims that The Fantastic Journey created its own subgenre that would later be revisited by the likes of Quantum Leap and Sliders. I’m not sure that’s a claim that holds a lot of water, since the role of time travel or interdimensional/alternate-reality travel is made much clearer in those shows’ premises. And in any case, “our heroes show up at random in the middle of events that are already in progress” was hardly invented by The Fantastic Journey; that in media res format of filmed fiction had been a mainstay of TV since the days of Have Gun, Will Travel and The Fugitive. The Fantastic Journey simply puts a very disco-era paranormal spin on it, bell bottom pants and all.
The Fantastic Journey has completed its own journey and we can once again watch the episodes in reasonably good condition and marvel at what could have been with less random network scheduling and a clearer idea from the outset as to what the show would be about. Huge thanks to ViaVision for bothering to put the show on DVD for those of us who have sat through several of our own “zones of time” waiting for this. If ViaVision’s looking for any other cult classic recommendations, the criminally overlooked ’80s CBS series Otherworld is still waiting for an official release, along with quite a few others…
Friends, yesterday the internet itself threatened to split asunder from the amount of news about the upcoming television series and films revealed in The Walt Disney Co. 2020 Investor Day live stream. I should know because it seemed like every couple of minutes last night there was a brand new announcement – from an FX Alien TV series to the esteemed Patty Jenkins (Monster, Wonder Woman) helming the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron film. We were also gifted with our first looks at Loki as well as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier television series – along with the news of a Fantastic Four film by Jon Watts (Clown, Spider-Man: Far From Home). And that is just a few of the projects that were announced during The Walt Disney Co. 2020 Investor Day event.
It took every ounce of willpower to not just lock myself in the office and start flinging out articles all evening – it might also had something to do with the fact I’m old now and tire easily. Instead I thought I would focus on just one of the new TV shows that I am most looking forward to – that is the Marvel Studios What If…? animated series. Set to release in the Summer of 2021, it will allow us to be guided by Uatu (Jeffrey Wright) through a multiverse where events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe took a different direction – say like during World War II with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) becoming Captain Britain, aided by Steve Rogers in some familiar armor.
I have a long history with the What If…? comic book series by Marvel Comics – my first issue was picked up at a local grocery store – a story entitled What If Steve Rogers Had Refused To Give Up Being Captain America that was originally published in September of 1989. The answer for most of the What If…? books published from 1989 until 1998 – the second What if? series in fact – generally had a very, very dark outcome for the featured character in question. In case you are curious as to how that first issue I picked up ended – Steve Rogers is assassinated, shot in the back of the head, on live television during a rally in his support.
However, during this time there was a little five and dime store that was literally down the street from my home – so I could walk down to it almost every day and for a single dollar I could buy ten comic books. A lot of that collection of back issues included the original 1977 – 1984 run of What If…? – which is how I learned that if Conan the Barbarian was stranded in the 20th Century he would end up dressing like a pimp and get in a brawl with Captain America.
Judging by that first look video for the Disney+ What If…? TV series – during the ten episode run – we are going to be seeing T’Challa become Star-Lord and a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a possible visit to the Marvel Zombies reality, as well as Dr. Strange facing off against a dark version of himself, to point out a few of the alternate realities that will be featured.
Besides the distinct animation style for the upcoming series, which I am quite enamored with, the really amazing part is the amount of voice talent they have secured for the show. Although you might consider it something of a spoiler – if you take just a moment and look at the IMDb page listing of actors – you have Dominic Cooper, Karen Gillan, Michael Douglas, Jeff Goldblum, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and so many more. While I will point out that the likes of Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Brie Larson, and Benedict Cumberbatch are not listed on the page… I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that they are lending their voices to the characters they played in the Marvel films.
So in closing out this article, will we be lucky enough to get a second season of What If…? – I suppose only Uatu the Watcher knows that answer, right?
Friends, it is with a very heavy heart that we pass along the sad news that David Prowse, the actor who played the physical role of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy passed away yesterday at the age of 85. While of course it was James Earl Jones who provided the commanding and memorable voice for the Dark Lord of the Sith, it was three-time-winner of the British heavyweight weightlifting champion turned actor who was in the iconic suit. Which included dueling with Sir Alec Guinness in 1977’s Star Wars – although in The Empire Strikes Back as well as Return of the Jedi he was replaced by sword master Bob Anderson (Barry Lyndon, Highlander). David Prowse earned his first screen role however in 1957 in the long-running TV series entitled The Edge of Night. Although he would find steady work in television and film starting in 1967 in the spy spoof Casino Royale – very LOOSELY based on the 1953 book debut of James Bond by Ian Fleming – where he portrayed Frankenstein’s Creation.
A fitting role it would seem as he would also play the creation of Dr. Frankenstein in Hammer’s The Horror of Frankenstein three years later – during which time he made appearances in the likes of The Beverly Hillbillies, The Saint, and The Ace of Wands. While Prowse wasn’t able to work with the legendary Peter Cushing in the 1970 Hammer Frankenstein film – after appearing in A Clockwork Orange, Doctor Who, as well as The Tomorrow People – he got his chance with 1974’s Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Reuniting three years later on the set of Star Wars: A New Hope – where Cushing portrayed Grand Moff Tarkin.
Interestingly enough one of the roles that the late and great David Prowse was most proud of was as “The Green Cross Man” – the superhero created to inform British children of road safety. A role in a series of public service announcements that would help earn Prowse the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire back in 2000. Although as you will hear for yourself in this 1980 interview on the Saturday Night at the Mill talk show – the role of Darth Vader almost cost him his job as The Green Cross Man. You will notice that during the interview music begins to play while Prowse is speaking – this is because the The Musicians Union was on strike at the time and was attempting to ‘disrupt’ the BBC program.
David Prowse not only acted as the personal trainer to the equally late and great Christopher Reeve for 1978’s Superman: The Movie but he would appear in the Darth Vader suit once again for the 1996 release of Star Wars: The Interactive Video Board Game. A VHS board game title that not only also featured the voice work of James Earl Jones but the return of cinematographer Gilbert Taylor – on an original set from Star Wars a mere 20 years later after the first film.
It feels as if we have written far, far too many of these Rest in Peace articles in 2020 – although it must be done to honor the memory of so many of our favorite actors, directors, and video game legends. So, thank you David Prowse for all of your work over the years, we will dim the lights in the auditorium in your honor.
Former Kids of a Certain Age will have no problem remembering the haunting 1977 TV series Children Of The Stones, a single-season paranormal epic whose theme song alone was enough to scare the faint-of-heart away from their TV screens. And even though it was made in the UK, American kids got their own dose of the show via Nickelodeon’s “The Third Eye” programming block in the early 1980s. In fact, we’ve even profiled the show on Pop Culture Retrorama before.
And now, just in time for Halloween, it’s back – but in a decidedly more modern form.
BBC Radio 4 has revived Children Of The Stones as a brand new radio drama formatted as a podcast with each episode lasting anywhere from ten to twenty minutes. The basic story outline – newcomers to the quaint town of Milbury find that there’s something sinister with the townsfolks’ constant pursuit of happiness – remains the same. The characters and details, however, have gotten a modern makeover. The story now centers on young Mia Brake (Matthew in the original TV series), a wanna-be paranormal podcaster who decides that the mystery of Milbury could make her show a breakout hit. She doesn’t find out until too late that investigating that mystery could make her a threat to somebody’s plans…
The complete story – told in seven 25-minute episodes in the original TV incarnation of the tale – now takes up 10 episodes in this new audio iteration, and all ten are free to listen on Radio 4’s website (at least while supplies last). If you’re looking for a good scare between your ears, this latest generation of Children Of The Stones is a treat.