The furnace rumbled on, and I thought - is it broken? What’s this? Why? Checked the thermostat; it was set at 66, and the temps had dipped below the target. Three weeks ago an indoor temp of 66 would have seemed chilly; now it’s fine. It’s remarkable how fast everything, and I mean everything changes: the snow is mostly gone, for example - a week ago the entire hill was sheer white, and now it’s a lovely . . . okay, brown, and it’ll be hours of miserable work to get it back to life, but . . . no, now it just looks like work.
But! No ice on the sidewalk, a few stubborn filthy gritty floes and dirty glaciers on the boulevards. Cars can park against the curb again, and so the streets aren’t impossibly narrow. The enormous dog that sits on the yard behind an invisible fence is back out, unnerving passersby who do not know he will stop at the sidewalk. Birch can take him or leave him alone, and it’s mutual - they bark and sniff but get immediately bored with each other, like two long-time co-workers sharing an elevator and just looking straight ahead without small talk. Without the sniffing part, of course.
Office life is so much better without the sniffing part. I’m sure there’s a sci-fi story in there somewhere. Which reminds me: I was listening to a 1960 radio play of the sci-fi variety; it wasn’t one of the big sci-fi shows, but ran on “Suspense” when that show was all over the road. (It tended to chase genres in strange streaks.) The play was titled “Report from a Dead Planet,” and concerned a rocket-ship crew making first contact with another word. Captain, the radar is reporting the Van Allen Belts are unmogrified! Not too techy.
It had a twist ending. You tell me what it was. It’s not hard. It was the twist ending of every other radio sci-fi first-contact story. You had to be an idiot not to see it coming. Captain, where should we set down? On that island there, it seems close to water so we can get samples. Captain, look - a large green field on the island, with straight edges! It can’t be natural. Perhaps there are people here - perhaps it’s a religious space. Set course for it, then. Captain, the island is scoured with criss-crossing lines - they appear too regular to be natural!
And so on. You’re screaming at the radio: IT’S CENTRAL FRICKIN’ PARK I GET IT.
Amazon has some eps of “The Naked City” on. When I was a kid these ran in syndication, and the very name gave me a weird feeling. Really? Everyone in the city is Naked? The very word NAKED had an unsettling effect. Like “Nude” when applied to nylons.
It’s as close to verite as TV got, I think; it had the realism of Dragnet, with the on-location feel of the social-justice movies of the era. Dingy, careworn, down-on-its-luck, smoggy, tired New York. I’m surprised no one came up with Naked Asphalt or Nude Jungle. Same thing as West Side Story - by the 50s the old tenements were miserable ovens. The small stores were run by old bent men with Eastern European accents whose wives were stout but good-hearted, and prone to crying.
Saw the first ep, which is notable for inadvertent documentary: the action takes place at the Coliseum, an ugly hulking structure on Columbus Circle. It’s gone now, replaced by the twin towers of the Time-Warner AOL building.
I read the other day that they’re leaving that building for the Hudson Yards. The NYT had an interesting attack on the Hudson Yards complex - aloof from the city, 1% residences, a home for elite, and so on. It did seem able to muster any animus towards the buildings themselves, which are dismaying. That would seem to be the primary sin.
The author compared the complex to Rockefeller Center, and on Twitter I saw architects and urbanists complaining about that - not fair, the writer would have bitched about Rockefeller Center then as well. Perhaps; irrelevant. What matters is the essential worth of the Rockefeller Design vs. Hudson Yards. Changing tastes and styles can’t waive away the difference between a consistent design that crafted a new urban ethos and vernacular and a collection of solipsistic slabs. Rockefeller Center is a lesson no one seems able to learn.
Anyway. The plot of the first ep concerns two small-time crooks who hold up a store; the hotheaded Riff plugs a cop, and his associate, a nervous Puerto Rican kid we’ve seen in deplorable and sympathetic circumstances - crappy overcrowded apartment, well-meaning parents, loving siblings. Even thought he makes the wrong choices and he’s up to this thing to the hairline of his absurd pompadour, the story is on his side, and gives him a chance for redemption. The Riff dude is just feral snarling id, and the story’s intended us to condemn him and hope the Puerto Rican kid catches a break.
If you were to ask someone who had no experience at all with the actual culture of the 50s whether they thought the TV show would show the Latino immigrant kid as the villain and the white kid as sympathetic, what do you think they’d say?
I’d push all my chips on “assumes the TV of the day was racist and xenophobic.”
That’s not to say that most people weren’t - I’ve no idea. If I had to guess I’d say most people were indifferent to the subject, inasmuch as someone in Fargo gave little thought to racial dynamics in New York, but probably fell in with their own kind subconsciously when the matter came up. The issue wasn’t relevant to their lives. But it was relevant to the writers of TV shows, from Serling to Stirling - Silliphant, that is; he wrote the Naked City ep. They pushed their opinions through the mass media. The grittier the show, the more bleeding-heart the script.
I have no greater point, except that this was a good thing in conception, often pedantic in execution, and I think the liberalism of early TV would surprise a lot of people who never gave the matter much thought but tend to assume the worst about cultural aspects with which they're not familiar.
ANYWAY the shots of the interior of the Coliseum are pure 50s, and it seems a stubbornly unlovable building, and a black hole for the area. There are shots taken in another bygone building:
A reminder that Penn Station, towards the end, looked gloomy and old.
More inadvertent documentary? Sure. Guy walks into a bar.
It's not a set. We'd seen him walk in:
Typical crap New York. I'm sorry, I meant real and gritty and authentic. Rewind a bit for context:
The street sign says BOWERY, but it's driving me crazy because the street running left to right is the one with the Bowery sign. But if that's the Empire State Building in the distance, with the Cooper Union building closer, it makes no sense.
You know why it doesn't make sense? Because I read the sign wrong. I went back and took another look.
I'd only captured the BOWERY sign, which indicated the neighborhood, not the street. Then it was east to find it today.
There. I can sleep now.
The country was in the early stages of the Recession of 37-38, and if there’s anything that sucks utterly, it’s a recession within a Depression. Wikipedia:
“Unemployment jumped from 14.3% in May 1937 to 19.0% in June 1938. Manufacturing output fell by 37% from the 1937 peak and was back to 1934 levels. Producers reduced their expenditures on durable goods, and inventories declined, but personal income was only 15% lower than it had been at the peak in 1937.”
Not the best time to roll out this baby, perhaps.
It cost $250. The average income was about 1,700; the average mortgage was around $26 per month. So this radio was 10X your mortgage payment. An online inflation calculator says $250 then would be $4300 now.
But someone bought them. Heck, a 19% unemployment rate means 81% of the people have jobs, and that sounds pretty good! (I know, I know. This whole thing is making some people’s heads hurt.)
Let’s see what you got for your money.
The Armchair control was extra. Cost about $15. No small thing, that - sci-tech in your home.
Sonic Arc Magic Voice was early technobabble / PR, but RCA did have proprietary tech. I defer to all radio geeks who might know exactly what made their sound different and / or better.
With war on the way, you’ll want to keep up with the latest dispatches!
The radio also had MAGIC BRAIN:
Inside RCA Victor all-wave sets is an uncanny governing unit - ... Human in its thinking, we compare it to the human brain. You choose the broadcast - from no matter where in the whole world. Then, watchman-like, it keeps out undesired radio signals. It concentrates on that one and makes it four times stronger. Each tone has higher-fidelity ... in a quality of reception heretofore unequalled.
You can find videos of the radio on YouTube, restored to full glory. Or so I assume. I'm pretty sure that if I found one, it would be . . . a video of a radio.
The Sampler box design changed little over the years. I remember my father bringing those home for Christmas.
I wasn’t alone, it seems:
The well-known Whitman's Sampler was devised in 1912 and became popular over time. In World War II, servicemen and women who got a Whitman's Sampler from family and friends spread the word about it once they returned home. Over the decades, it reached a level in American pop culture in that it was mentioned in many TV shows, movies, and the like. One notable example is in the first episode of Season 5 of the Sopranos, Two Tonys that aired March 7, 2004, Tony Soprano says to mob boss Johnny Sack, "What do you want, an apology? A fuckin' Whitman's Sampler?”
Having seen that episode lately, I can testify to that last point. No citation needed.
What better food for a recession within a depression than cream within cream?
The reds of the Heinz Tomato soup ads is the most amazing red I’ve ever seen.
The contrast between the modern, ahistorical shapes of the new technology and the economic doldrums is one of the most intriguing aspects of the era, if you ask me.
Here are all these amazing ideas! We don’t have enough money to build a lot of them, alas. Cars, houses, planes, zeppelins, skyscrapers - sure would be great if we could make more, so more would be around longer. But nope.
Noodle (with Chicken) soup: at some point they’d realize it was better to switch some words around.
MacMurray made 5 movies in 1937.
In those days they probably did sell them along with hot dogs.
Radios were expensive, but red hots and smokes - a man with a dime was all set.
That'll do. Double ration of Briggs today, because I screwed up the update redirects last week. Unless you figured it out and explored for yourself, in which case a single ration awaits. See you around.