I have another Christmas special ready to go, but it’s too long and has too many pictures, so it’ll have to wait until tomorrow. It’s quite the artifact - an intersection of the waning culture and the new Hip, Vibrant, With-It culture that was seeping into everything. It’s mesmerizing and horrible. 1968 may have been the worst year between WW2 and 2001. Judging from this short 48-minute account of attitudes, styles, musical selections, design, clothing, and general tone, you might think that the culture was utterly exhausted, so incapable of doing anything but beaming treacle into the slack faces of middle-aged men and women pasted to their La-Z-Boys, huddling indoor against the winter wind and the shrieks of the dying society, that there was no way back.
We survived. Things got better.
That’s tomorrow. Until then you can guess which show it is.
I did watch a “Hazel” Christmas show, but there’s not much to recommend it. Shirley Booth calls her employer “Mr. B” a lot. Never gets old! The kid is smart-alecky and Hazel knows it all except that she really doesn’t, and in the end everyone gets what they want for Christmas, which is rather sad because Hazel’s gift is obviously heirloom quality, and she died barren.
The show’s setting was a staple of the Christmas sit-com genre: the Department Store. Now and then you realize how large these institutions once loomed in the popular mind, and how their role has diminished. The basics: the snooty floorwalker, always portrayed as harried, supercilious, fawning toadies to the grand dames who sailed in like battleships draped in fox pelts, snippy to the help, and deferential to the customer until the requests started to become somewhat troublesome. Brows were mopped. Huffs were given wide public airing.
The king of the genre, of course, was that Yeeesssss? guy. That’s all you need say:
Frank Nelson. Parodied:
The most famous deployment of Eee-yessss was probably on the Jack Benny shows. They went way back, which makes this all the more touching, in a way.
By the way: doesn't everything just look like crap there? It's not the age of the thing. It's the lighting. The cheapness.
Anyway. The Department Store was the essential component of every sitcom Downtown, and it had a name. An individual family name with an apostrophe S. It was always a multi-story structure, because there had to be an elevator operator who would call out the goods located on this particular floor as the doors opened - and, in some cases, as he drew back the cage. I have a recollection of elevator cage doors, and if you’re thinking “weren’t they terribly unsafe? Why, one could stick a hand through them, and get it caught. It would be ripped right off.” That’s true. So people didn’t do it. You really knew you were in an elevator in those things; you saw the floors pass right before your eyes.
Modern elevators are like transporter booths.
Fargo had two department stores: Herbst and DeLendrecie’s. Both moved to the suburban mall, where both perished. I still like department stores. There’s nothing like them; they have their own distinct cultures and styles, and a downtown with a department store is a going concern. Otherwise it’s an office park. But the department stores today don’t have the two essential details I recall: the aroma of the shopper’s grill downstairs, where housewives would pause and have a Tab and some cottage cheese on a wedge of iceberg lettuce, and the bong! of the signals that imparted strange messages to the people who knew the code.
Some holiday products, starting with something that always horrifies modern people: the cigarette carton gift-pack.
I don't believe that "National Joy Smoke" was official, or carried the force of law. It does sound rather . . . mandatory, though. You there! Citizen! I do not detect the presence of joy, yet you are smoking? Is it Prince Albert? Nein? YOUR PAPERS PLEASE
This isn't entirely creepy:
If they had faces we would never eat them.
Stokley brand. In 1933, Wikipedia tells us - yes, gather round, chilluns, it’s time for another heartwarming recitation of dry corporate mergers - that Stokely originated as a canned tomato company based in Tennessee. They bought Van Camp’s in 1933, and after four decades of providing the world with tomatoes (technically, they’re tomatoes) and pork-and-bean glop, the Stokely-Van Camp firm produced something that had neither. Yes, these tomatoes are the parents of this.
The remnants of the brand are now owned by Seneca Foods, but they don’t seem to be doing much with it.
It's a Krene plastic product! National Carbon Company - a name that would be regarded with horror today, but spoke then of sturdy industrial power - made batteries, mostly, but I guess they came up with some sort of plastic that could be used in everything from sheets to drapes to clothes. For example:
This was in an ad for aprons and shower curtains. Marvel, Mrs. Homemaker - that durable, attractive sheet you use in the bathroom was used for gunpowder sacks and head-wound masks!
From 1937, a look at a florist's shop:
Take a look at the sign:
Mercury means FTD - and that means Florists Transworld Delivery today. Then it meant something else. Telegraph. The Mercury logo was adopted in 1914, four years after the company was founded. Here's a fact that caught my eye:
FTD processes orders through the Mercury Network, its international telecommunications service.
Hmm. Business history is replete with these things - SAABRE, the Avis system, Holidex. Lots of investment in specialized technology that got destroyed by the internet. I mean, why would you need such a thing now?
This got me thinking about a company that bet the farm on some in-house computerized project, and produced one of those legendary tales of corporate bloat, hubris and institutional fiefdoms. Everyone had a stake, everyone was convinced they had to add something, the project took forever, had to be rewritten when the exec in charge was canned or left shrieking with misery, and eventually produced something underwhelming no one liked and few ever used.
Wish I could remember the company's name; it's a great story. It's not Greyhound. But googling around did produce this: a bus station that's now a plastic surgery clinic.