Friday, August 29, 2008
  Gahan Wilson's Diner (1992)

© Gahan Wilson

Gahan Wilson's Sunday Comics was his newspaper cartoon feature of the 1970s. Initially launched with unrelated cartoons, it soon grouped them thematically, as seen here with the books and libraries theme. The feature began March 3, 1974 and continued until 1977, syndicated by the Register & Tribune Syndicate. See Allan Holtz' Stripper's Guide for another Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics. Also check into The Gahan Wilson Virtual Museum.

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Monday, August 25, 2008
  The Small House Halfway Up In the Next Block
Paul Rhymer's Vic And Sade was broadcast on NBC from 1932 to 1944. It was an influence on Kurt Vonnegut, who called it "the Muzak of my life".

The town where Vic and Sade lived was based on Bloomington, Illinois, where Rhymer grew up. Click to enlarge this beautifully rendered aerial terrain map.

Control click heading above to hear episode from November 19, 1940 which involves Yamilton's Department Store seen at far right middle in the aerial view. Go to the Internet Archive for many more episodes.

At left on wagon is Mr. Gumpox, mentioned by Ray Bradbury in his introduction to The Small House Half-Way Up In the Next Block: Paul Rhymer's Vic and Sade (McGraw-Hill, 1972), in which Bradbury reflected on the mood of middle-class midwest America with its Sunday papers, tire swings and dime stores:
©Ray Bradbury
If this introduction were done out of mere Nostalgia, forget it. I would like to believe I am writing it for better reasons than that; solid and incontrovertible reasons having to do with human beings, a certain time and place, and that elusive thing called Creativity. 

Paul Rhymer, like his mysterious Mr. Gumpox and his horse, passed through the alleys of our lives a long time ago. Because he worked in a field that was mostly garbage we figured that he, like Mr. Gumpox, must be a garbageman. Often, no one bothered to look in his wagon to see what it was he was gathering from the backyards of our time and living in that strange year 1932 and on up into the Forties. 

In truth, Paul Rhymer was a junk collector, which is a far step up from garbage. He collected bits and pieces of mediocrity from all our commonplace occupations, all our inane conversations, all our bored afternoons and long evenings when all we could think of to do was trot down to the YMCA to watch the Fat Men Play Handball. 

In my time and my town, Waukegan, Illinois, not so very far away from where Paul Rhymer was born, it was going down to the train station to watch the newer and yet newer trains roar through without stopping. Or that miraculous day when the dirigibles Akron or Macon actually flew over our lake, signifying a future we could hardly comprehend. 

I was born in that little house half-way up in the next block. I am Rush Gook. My Mom and Dad were first relatives to Vic and Sade. I called my father Gov'. Which is neither here nor there, for I am writing this Introduction not because of saccharine sentiment but because of positive identification. Paul Rhymer got us dead-on in his sights but, good man that he was, didn't shoot us dead. Instead, he celebrated our incredible simplicities, our dull, long days that were made bearable through love. The things that my Mom and Dad and brother Skip threw away, he saved. String, old clocks fixed to the point of ruin, tire-swings out of trees. But, most of all, conversations more brilliant in their pointlessness, circling around nothing, than anything written since by Pinter or Beckett. 

In all this, of course, Paul Rhymer and his ouija-board were helped out by his wondrous alter-ego Uncle Fletcher. We all had an Uncle Fletcher or someone like him hidden away in the woodwork of our childhood, an aunt or grandpa, who spoke riddles and wisdom or sublime nonsense, sometimes all in one breath. And perhaps we love Uncle Fletcher above all the other live and kicking creatures in Vic and Sade, because he glided through life, only half-hearing, half-seeing what went on around him. Amazing man, one felt he could have gone through the San Francisco earthquake and emerged with a tale of someone in East Cairo, Ill., aged 97, married a woman 101, adopted a son aged 75, later died. How can you resist a man like that? Each of us envied his half-deafness, his ability to shape Reality to his dream. We all felt that when death finally tapped Uncle Fletcher, mortality would be confounded and put off, too. 

If I'm not careful, this Introduction will run three times longer than it should be. For suddenly, in writing it, my favorite moments come back as clear as bells ringing across a valley on a bright spring morn. I have known Bill Idelson, who enacted the role of Rush Gook, as a good warm friend for some ten years now. I never cease to love hearing him talk, for while our ages are close, his voice is still the bright young voice of Rush. 

One night not so long ago, Rush, or Bill as I call him, said that one of his favorite old Vic and Sade shows was one where Rush and Vic sang some crazy song about flowers. I stunned Bill by immediately reciting: "Would that these pale hands chrysanthemums might gather,/Would that o'er green fields these tender feet might glide." Which are, of course, the first lines from that sappy song sung more than thirty years ago by father and son on the radio show. 

Now, before you accuse me of falling into the very sentiment and nostalgia I warned myself against at the start of this essay, let me make some strong points. 

Middle-class America, as it existed in the 1930s was dramatized lovingly and forever by Paul Rhymer. 

The reason for this book is twofold, as must be the reason for this Introduction. To say that middle-class America once was. But to say, just as strongly, middle-class America, with all its virtues, still is. 

We have gone through a rough time of wars and depressions and technologies, but the world of Vic and Sade has not vanished from the world. It has changed somewhat, yes, because of the impact of television, films, radio, the computer and the jet-stream plane. But a helluva lot of America still lives in small towns, and even those who have moved into the city have brought with them, genetically or otherwise, the temperament of Vic and Sade. 

The little people are still little and still making-do day by day in small ways anywhere and everywhere. You might not see them taking that fast four-hour-jet from L.A. to New York, but drive across the country, stop at any crossroads, idle through any town on a hot summer day, and there they are, in the breezeways, listening to baseball games, that lazy man's sport that takes forever to wind up and pitch, swatting away the flies, talking to the dogs, drinking the venerable Nehis or Orange Crushes, calling to one another across the eternal noons. Mr. Gumpox may be driving a truck these days, instead of philosophizing with his horse, but here he comes. The Thimble Club is still meeting. The Fat Men are still down at the Y swatting those handballs for the benefit of eight-year-old boys. The dime store is still a magical place for ten-year-olds to wander with free time. Alleys are still great places to find all the stuff that dumb older people are stupid enough to throw away; my own children teach me this. 

In fact, of course, you don't have to go to small towns to rediscover Vic and Sade's world. It's all over Los Angeles or San Francisco or even dire and dread New York. 

You want me to prove it? Easy as pie. 

Think of the last weekend you spent with your family and the one before that and the one before that. 

Let me describe my own, here in Los Angeles in the late spring of 1972. Big city stuff? Not on your nutmeg-scraper: 

Sunday morning. Everyone slept late. Got up. Went out and brought in the Sunday papers. Read the comics first. 
Just as we did in 1924 and 1929 and 1934 and 1940! 

Laid around the house; just as we did in 1926 and 1933 and 1941. 

Some of the kids went bicycling. Just as we did in 1922 and 1938 and 1947. 

Talked to the neighbors over the back fence, just as we did in 1930 and... 

Went to the beach for a swim, just as we used to do in 1934... 

Came home and read some more of the big Sunday paper. Remember 1936? 

Fried some hamburgers and hot dogs, 1923. 

Ate them. 1924. 

Took a nap. 1925. 

Went to a movie. 1926. 

Came home and listened to radio. 1927. Played some records. 1928. Went over to actually sit in neighbors' living room to talk and have one, just one, beer. 1929. 

I think I have ground the point into the dust. 

Everything has changed but nothing has changed. 

Our lives are full of Big Things. But more full of small ones. Our lives peak only on occasion. The rest of the time we are buttoning and unbuttoning and buttoning again, as my artist friend Streeter Blair once said. 

It is all the little things, the so-called junky things, that Paul Rhymer has an eye and an ear for. He traps them, keeps them like ants in a jar, and lets them out in the light later, glorified by his ability to pick just the right ants from the universal picnic. God A'Mercy, we all cry, never saw such ants before. But we have. We did see them. We were there. The picnic was ours. And it still is. 

All of which adds up to this. There is no cause for nostalgia save the good and life-enhancing nostalgia for the present. That can only be good. Glancing through this book, we can take a long and loving glance not at our Past, to hell with that, but at what goes on this very splendid moment at the heart of our families Here and Now. Paul Rhymer says, in the aggregate, finally, we are Good. Not always right, no, not always happy, no, but essentially Good. Which is a nice new-fashioned message to receive in a time when we have begun to doubt our senses, sanity and any possible sane future. 

Well, I've been loitering out here in the alley behind the Small House. I must finish and go to eat in that kitchen where peanut butter and plain bread and fresh cold milk are the food of the gods. 

Let me make my point a final time: 

Vic and Sade and Rush and Uncle Fletcher are not dead, nor gone, nor buried. 

They are here. They are us. 

We celebrate ourselves, as Walt Whitman almost said. 

Thus the title of this essay: Proust had the gift of recall for the Past. Paul Rhymer's talent was: Remembrance of Things Present. 

We travel way around the world, most of us, simply to find and see Green Peach, Wisconsin, clear. We travel in Time to imitate the words of the old Al Jolson song, arrive Back In Your Own Backyard. 

We can imagine that Rush Gook, grown up, did not necessarily stay on in that small town and join the kitchenware company like his Gov'. We can see him commute to the Big City. But now, late in time, an interesting thing is happening. We have noted, in a 40-year period, the pell-mell rush to Metropolis. Now we shall watch as the tide rolls back the other way. Rush Gook, finally, will retreat from jam-packed apartment high-rise Manhattan and water his roots again in Orchard Grove. He will have two children. Their names: Vic and Sade. They will grow up in that small town way out beyond the city, to which, of course, they will occasionally make visit in 1999. 

But on Sunday mornings they will sleep late. They will get sick on sour cherries picked too soon and too low from the ripening tree. They will jump hopscotch. Baseball radio will laze the peachfuzz in their corporate ears. And once a month or twice a week they may just actually walk-instead-of-ride down to the Butler House Hotel and sit in the view bay window and give grandiose, pontifical orders for simple foods. 

And the world will not End after all. 

So say I. 

So say the inhabitants of that Small House Half-Way Up in the Next Block. 

Believe us. 

Turn the page. 

Live in the Present. 

Ray Bradbury 
Six blocks away from Palms, California. 
May 20th, 1972

Hugh Chenoweth illustrated Paul Rhymer's 1939 Ruth and Roxy comic strip. Chenoweth, who did the Polly Pippin comic strip in the early 1940s, died in 1946 at the age of 42. The Vic and Sade comic strip ad above was drawn by Creig Flessel and John Streibel.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008
  "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
Control click heading for Janette Carter, "God's Gonna Trouble the Water."

Trouble the Water opens tomorrow.

Watch trailer below.

August 29, 2008 update from Michael Moore:


I'm am speechless after listening to Barack Obama's speech last night. So I'm sending you something I wrote to you two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It remains every bit as relevant today, on Katrina's 3rd anniversary, as when I wrote it on September 11, 2005. Please give it another look. Here it is in full:

A Letter to All Who Voted for George W. Bush... from Michael Moore

Dear Friends,

On this, the fourth anniversary of 9/11, I'm just curious, how does it feel?

How does it feel to know that, the man you re-elected to lead us AFTER we were attacked, went ahead and put a guy in charge of FEMA whose main qualification was that he ran horse shows?

That's right. Horse shows.

I really want to know -- and I ask you this in all sincerity and with all due respect -- how do you feel about the utter contempt Mr. Bush has shown for your safety? C'mon, give me just a moment of honesty. Don't start ranting on about how this disaster in New Orleans was the fault of one of the poorest cities in America. Put aside your hatred of Democrats and liberals and anyone with the last name of Clinton. Just look me in the eye and tell me our President did the right thing after 9/11 by naming a horse show runner as the top man to protect us in case of an emergency or catastrophe.

I want you to put aside your self-affixed label of Republican/conservative/born-again/capitalist/ditto-head/right-winger and just talk to me as an American, on the common ground we both call America.

Are we safer now than before 9/11? When you learn that, after the horse show runner, the #2 and #3 men in charge of emergency preparedness have... zero experience in emergency preparedness (!), do you think we are safer?

When you look at Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, a man with little experience in national security, do you feel secure?

When men who never served in the military, and have never seen young men die in battle, send our young people off to war, do you think they know how to conduct a war? Do they know what it means to have your legs blown off for a threat that was never there?

Do you really believe that turning over important government services to private corporations has resulted in better services for the people?

Why do you hate our federal government so much? You have voted for politicians for the past 25 years whose main goal has been to de-fund the federal government. Do you think that cutting federal programs like FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers has been good or bad for America? GOOD OR BAD?!

With the nation's debt at an all-time high, do you think tax cuts for the rich are still a good idea? Will you give yours back so hundreds of thousands of homeless in New Orleans can have a home?

Do you believe in Jesus? Really? Didn't he say that we would be judged by how we treat the least among us? Hurricane Katrina came in and blew off the facade that we were a nation with liberty and justice for all. The wind howled and the water rose and what was revealed was that the poor in America shall be left to suffer and die while the President of the United States fiddles and tells them to eat cake.

That's not a joke. The day the hurricane hit and the levees broke, Mr. Bush, John McCain and their rich pals were stuffing themselves with cake. A full day after the levees broke (the same levees whose repair funding he had cut), Mr. Bush was playing a guitar some country singer gave him at some fundraiser with John McCain. All this while New Orleans sank under water.

It would take ANOTHER day before the President would do a "flyover" in his jumbo jet, peeking out the widow at the misery 2,500 feet below him as he flew back to his second home in DC. It would then be TWO MORE DAYS before a trickle of federal aid and troops would arrive. This was no seven minutes in a sitting trance while children read "My Pet Goat" to him. This was FOUR DAYS of doing nothing other than saying "Brownie (FEMA director Michael Brown), you're doing a heck of a job!"

My Republican friends, does it bother you that we are the laughing stock of the world?

And on this sacred day of remembrance, do you think we honor or shame those who died on 9/11/01? If we learned nothing and find ourselves today every bit as vulnerable and unprepared as we were on that bright sunny morning, then did the 3,000 die in vain?

Our vulnerability is not just about dealing with terrorists or natural disasters. We are vulnerable and unsafe because we allow one in eight Americans to live in horrible poverty. We accept an education system where one in six children never graduate and most of those who do can't string a coherent sentence together. The middle class can't pay the mortgage or the hospital bills and 45 million have no health coverage whatsoever.

Are we safe? Do you really feel safe? You can only move so far out and build so many gated communities before the fruit of what you've sown will be crashing through your walls and demanding retribution. Do you really want to wait until that happens? Or is it your hope that if they are left alone long enough to soil themselves and shoot themselves and drown in the filth that fills the street that maybe the problem will somehow go away?

I know you know better. You gave the country and the world a man who wasn't up for the job and all he does is hire people who aren't up for the job. You did this to us, to the world, to the people of New Orleans. Please fix it. Bush is yours. And you know, for our peace and safety and security, this has to be fixed. What do you propose?

I have an idea, and it isn't a horse show.


Michael Moore
(And my idea now, some three years later, is that they seek forgiveness and redemption by voting for Barack Obama -- or just stay home on November 4.)

P.S. An excellent film on Katrina, Trouble the Water, is currently playing around the country. Go see it!

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Monday, August 18, 2008
  Koons and Paschke
Self Portrait by Ed Paschke. The "acid-toned Kool Aid formalism" of Paschke was an influence on Jeff Koons.

Sarah Austin gives tour of Jeff Koons (July 6, 2008).

Jeff Koons gives tour of his studio:

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Friday, August 15, 2008
  O'Day in the Life
Click heading for NPR Fresh Air with Terry Gross interviewing Anita O'Day (November 29, 2006).

Opening today in New York and Los Angeles is the 92-minute documentary, Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, directed, photographed and edited by Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden. Cavolina is her former manager.

Anita O'Day (1919-2006) was born Anita Belle Colton and took her professional surname from the Pig Latin word for "dough," which she need to support her drug habit.  She said she could not read her autobiography, High Times Hard Times (1981), because it made her cry. Her appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, captured in Bert Stern's Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959), was one of the peak moments of the 1950s. She was not only a soloist, she blended in as an instrument with the musicians onstage. In the Newport clip below she sings "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Tea for Two." Does the musical quote in "Tea for Two" sound familiar? It's from the 1950s Marlboro commercials with the lyrics "You get a lot to like in a Marlboro: filter, flavor, flip-top box."

The jazz critic Martin Williams once told me that some scenes in Jazz on a Summer's Day were fake. Stern explained to Williams that he did not have enough shots of the Newport audience. Williams arrived at Stern's studio and joined an invited group sitting in folding chairs on artificial green turf. Stern then projected a rough cut, filmed everyone while they watched and later spliced that studio footage into his documentary.

However, nothing fake about the wondrous Anita O'Day, wide-brimming over as she channeled the harmonic reverberations of the universe. 

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Thursday, August 14, 2008
  Michael Dooley on Will Elder

Michael Dooley (The Education of a Comics Artist, Teaching Motion Design) just did an excellent essay on Elder for AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). Click here to read the entire article.

Elder Statesman of Comics

by Michael Dooley                     (August 12, 2008)

One could do worse than having a comic strip about a bubble-headed blonde that ran in the back pages of Playboy as one’s most well known accomplishment. But if your name was Will Elder, who died May 14 at age 86, you could do a whole lot better. And indeed, although his earlier works are lesser known, they have a much more respectable, and respectful, following.

More than the general public, designers are likely to be familiar with Elder’s brilliant disassembling of the mass media and pop culture in general, starting with Mad in its nascent phase as a 10-cent comic book. Countless comics artists—from Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch and Rick Griffin to Art Spiegelman, Dan Clowes and Chris Ware—have been profoundly affected by his comics, to say nothing of his numerous art department heirs at Mad, the magazine, over the past 50 years.

And his impact doesn’t stop with cartoonists. He’s influenced directors from the Zucker Brothers and Terry Gilliam to Louis Malle, and his anarchic, anything goes sensibility can also be felt in Firesign Theatre records and The Simpsons TV show.

Click here to continue...

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008
  The Rhythmic Bestiality of Frank Frazetta
Control click heading to hear Buck Rogers radio program.
©Frank Frazetta

Ranking the Frank Frazetta illustration on Weird Science-Fantasy #29 as “the most outstanding cover ever put on a comic book,” Russ Cochran, in 1972, wrote, “It epitomizes science fiction and adventure, good over evil, light over darkness—modern man battling his bestiality. It is powerful in concept, in design and in execution. The figures are very finely drawn and inked, but there is much more to the illustration than that. Look at the positions and suggested movements in the arms, legs, clubs; even every muscle is contributing to the overall rhythm of the illustration. To me, the rhythm and design (always a characteristic of Frazetta’s work) are even more powerful than the beautifully drawn figures.”

In addition to this cover and Frazetta’s unsigned contributions (inking and occasional complete panels) to Al Williamson pages, the slim output of Frazetta artwork for EC Comics consists of only one other cover—Weird Fantasy #21, with Williamson—plus a handful of stories. Later, during the 1960s, he joined the list of Mad contributors with such pages as the Blechh Shampoo ad (Mad #90) and “Early One Morning in the Jungle” (Mad #106).

Considering that Frazetta drew for more than half a dozen different comic book publishers during the early 1950s, why so little for EC? He visited the EC offices in late 1951, but then also immediately began his 1952-53 syndicated Johnny Comet (later Ace McCoy) strip. When that vanished from newspapers he penciled a small batch of Flash Gordon dailies (February 1953) before beginning his lengthy tenure on Al Capp’s Li’l Abner

Former Mad editor Nick Meglin once recalled, “Frank had already started working with Capp, so he didn’t figure prominently in the fading EC scene, allowing them first print rights on a Famous Funnies cover of Buck Rogers which Fritz doctored up for Gaines and was allowed to keep the artwork after printing—the first and only time I know of that Gaines printed something he didn’t actually own. But Frank wanted to cover used, not sold, and that was that.”

A curious karma hung over Bill Gaines’ purchase of this illustration since it had been rejected by Famous Funnies—and Famous Funnies was the comic book displayed on newsstands in 1934 by his father, Max Charles Gaines, thereby launching the comic book industry. “That’s the only piece of art I used in my life that I didn’t buy outright,” Gaines told interviewer Rich Hauser in 1969. “As I recall, I was paying 60 bucks for a cover in those days. I think I offered him 40 bucks for the rights or 60 bucks for the cover outright, and Frank, well, he was never one for the buck. He’d rather have the art. He kept it, and I think I paid $40 or $50. Beautiful work”

A 1954 twilight in Boston. Another day’s session on Li’l Abner came to a close, and the studio drawing tables were vacated. Everyone was gone except for Frazetta, who stayed late that night to do the ninth in his series of Buck Rogers covers for Famous Funnies (#209-216). Surrounded by Moonbeam McSwine, Tiny Yokum, Nightmare Alice and the other Dogpatch denizens, Frazetta completed the picture in one sitting.

But the various 1953-54 editorial crusades, accusing comic books of excessive violence, had already brought repercussions. The editor who deemed the Buck Rogers combat-with-clubs as too violent for Famous Funnies was Stephen A. Douglas (1907-67), a pioneer editor in the field. Between 1934 and 1956 Douglas edited Famous Funnies and several dozen other Eastern Color titles, while also scripting for such characters as Rainbow Boy, Man O’ Metal and Music Master. Had Douglas chosen to go with Frazetta’s drawing, it would have turned up on Famous Funnies #217. Other Famous Funnies Publications with Frazetta covers and stories were Buster Crabbe, Personal Love, Movie Love and Heroic Comics.

When Gaines decided to put this art on Weird Science-Fantasy #29, he requested two minor changes, and these were done by Frazetta with small paste-over patches on the illustration, adding hair to the foreground figure and deleting Buck’s helmet. Frazetta also prepared a silverprint colorguide, but coloring by Marie Severin was used instead.

When the original art was returned later to Frazetta, he removed the paste-over. In EC Portfolio Two (1972), Russ Cochran published (in two different Frazetta colored versions) the Buck Rogers art as first conceived by Frazetta.

This article originally appeared in Weird Science-Fantasy, Vol. 1, published by Russ Cochran in (1982), and it is reprinted here with minor changes. ©2008 Bhob Stewart

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Saturday, August 09, 2008
  Penningtons from Heaven
This is The Enigmatic Harbour (1985) by Bruce Pennington. Every time it rains, it rains Penningtons from Heaven. Click here for moreControl click heading at top for 55-minute WNYC: New Sounds: Philip Glass of music not commercially available. For more Glass, go to Orange Mountain.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008
  Charles Van Doren and the Rip in the Fabric of Reality

Charles Van Doren, Jack Barry and Herb Stempel on Twenty-One. Assistants on the show were the identical twins Arlene and Ardell Terry. Page from Humbug by Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman.

Charles Van Doren finally surfaced at last with his side of the quiz show scandals in an engaging essay, “All the Answers” (
The New Yorker, July 28). That long-awaited memoir prompts me to dust off the 23-year-old article you see below.

In 1985 I began writing a letter to Paul Williams'
Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter, but as I typed on the IBM Selectric, the letter expanded and began to seem more like an article. With that in mind, I gave it a title and submitted it as an article. I sent the only copy to Paul, who never published it. However, instead of returning the only copy to me, he sent it to the reader whose comment about the 1968 movie Project X ("sure sounds like Time Out of Joint") had prompted my article (dated May 5, 1985). Years passed, and I thought of it as a lost article. Then miraculously, it appeared on the Internet during the 1990s, and I grabbed it. Here it is (with some alterations)…

Several films have “fake construct” plots similar to Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, and some may have been directly inspired by Dick’s novel.

In William Castle’s Project X (1968) agent Hagen Arnold (Christopher George), in the year 2118, has a message that Sino-Asia will wipe out the West in 14 days, but details of the weaponry are not available when Arnold returns to the USA with his memory erased. A scientific team, under the direction of Dr. Crowther (Henry Jones), in hopes of getting the weapon information, constructs a fake 1960s environment and makes Arnold believe he is living in that period. To keep Arnold in the construct area, he is given the false knowledge that he is a bank robber, hiding out with other gang members at an isolated farmhouse. In reality, the other members of the gang are Crowther and his team.

Karen Summers (Greta Baldwin) unexpectedly turns up in the construct area, creating rips in the fake reality fabric, and another agent, Gregory Gallea (Monte Markham), also returns from Sino-Asia. Crowther turns his attentions to Gallea as a possible solution to the mystery weapon, but Gallea is destroyed by a mass of subconscious "brain energy." Although the Sinoese plan never works, it is revealed that the secret weapon is Hagen Arnold himself. He is a carrier of plague germs.

The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film entry failed to point out that Project X is of interest to animation buffs because the animated Hanna-Barbera sequence was designed by comics illustrator Alex Toth who worked on much of the Hanna-Barbera output between 1964 and 1968 (Johnny Quest, Space Ghost, Herculoids). The screenplay for Project X was by Edmund Morris, who earlier did the screenplay adaptation of Nelson Algren's A Walk On The Wild Side (1962).

Project X was adapted from two novels by British sf/thriller/fantasy/horror writer Leslie P. Davies - Psychogeist (1966) and The Artificial Man (1965), with the latter providing the main Dickian-like plotline of the film, the secret agent in a fake construct environment.

The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972), also with an amnesiac agent, was adapted from Davies' The Alien (1968), and his first novel, The Paper Dolls (1964), became a 1968 made-for-tv movie with the same title. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia notes that The Artificial Man and Davies' Man Out Of Nowhere (aka Who Is Lewis Pinder?) are "both possible delusional-frame tales."

Project X gets favorable coverage in John Stanley's Creature Feature Movie Guide and the British Film Institute's Monthly Film Bulletin, but Robin Cross in The Big Book of B Movies (St. Martin's, 1981) comments that Hagen Arnold's "need to lie low allows Castle the maximum use of the cheapest possible location, although it puts some strain on the creaking plot. The scientist guardians, moving around uneasily in their 1960s clothes, have received only the sketchiest of briefings: the female member has no idea what you do with a potato. Nevertheless, our hero, who just happens to be an expert on the history of the 1960s, remains too befuddled to penetrate the transparent deception." An excellent still from Project X, apparently from the hallucinatory sequence, can be seen in The Big Book Of B Movies.

George Seaton's 36 Hours (1964), in which James Garner comes out of a coma in a fake Allied hospital set up by the Nazis, is based on Roald Dahl's "Beware of the Dog," plus a story by Carl K. Hittleman and Luis H. Vance. Another related story, possibly one PKD could have read, is "4th Degree," illustrated by Jack Kamen and written by Otto Binder for EC's Weird Science-Fantasy (January- February 1955) and obviously influenced heavily by George Orwell: Val Draper, in the repressive world of 2039, finds forbidden "books... among the ruins" and then travels back to 1954 to spread a warning about the dictatorship of the future, holding a press conference in his 1954 hospital room. However, it's a fake; everyone around him is involved in the deception. Draper is convicted of treason and shot.

Based on internal evidence, the fakery on the 1950s rigged television quiz shows was Philip K. Dick’s springboard to plot Time Out of Joint, and references to such are buried throughout the novel. In chapter two, when Vic calls Ragle Gumm "the Charles Van Doren of the newspaper contests," Ragle responds, "I consider that a compliment."

Dick wrote Time Out of Joint in the winter of 1957-58, sent it to Lippincott (April 1958), where it was purchased July 1958 and published in the spring of 1959. Like Ragle, the quiz show contestants who won week after week were celebrities, and the most famous was Van Doren, who appeared on NBC's Twenty-One beginning November 1956, replacing contestant Herb Stempel. The show was promoted that week by NBC with spots asking, "Will Herb Stempel crack the $100,000 mark?" Ragle's contest asked, "Where will the Little Green Man be next?"

Van Doren appeared on the front cover of the February 11, 1957 issue of Time, and he remained on Twenty-One until March. Although the quiz show scandals did not take off until charges by Stempel were published August 28, 1958, there were hints throughout 1957, beginning with a January Variety story about Dale Logue's suit against The Big Surprise and her claim that it was not "a true test of skill."

After Time asked, "Are the quiz shows rigged?" (4/22/57), Look (8/20/57) asked, "Are the TV Quiz Shows Fixed?" and then answered, "It may be more accurate to say that they are controlled or partially controlled." The New York Times (12/57) stated, "Despite diligent research, nobody has yet turned up evidence that the fix is in on any of the big money quizzes."

Then, on 8/16/58 there was the mysterious cancellation of Dotto by CBS, followed by Stempel's 8/28/58 charges (which suddenly brought Van Doren under suspicion), a denial on Twenty-One (9/8/58) by the show's host and co-producer Jack Barry, a grand jury investigation of the quiz shows (beginning 9/17/58), a press conference (9/27/58) by contestant Richard Snodgrass who stated he had been supplied with answers on Twenty-One, a statement (10/10/58) by Van Doren that he "had not been given questions or answers," and the cancellation (10/17/58) of Twenty-One. On 1/20/59 Jack Barry and his co-producer Dan Enright refused to testify before the grand jury. These were the events prior to the publication of Time Out of Joint. There were other behind-the-scenes events, but the sequence above is what surfaced in the media.

Surely PKD must have been fascinated with this manipulated reality. In Reflections In A Bloodshot Eye (1975) Robert Metz quotes an unnamed "quiz-show entrepreneur... who never went into the business of producing big-money shows": "Anybody who knew anything about this business had to understand that you couldn't maintain that kind of hyperbolic drama with real people without fixing the shows... It became unbelievable that a person who had no money at all would risk, say, $8000. To build the suspense, you had to screw around with reality... The money for the producers came from success, the successful attempts to fake reality: building tension artificially, taking advantage of the public's willingness to believe it's all real, suggesting that a penniless old shoemaker would risk all that money."

When Stuart Lowery, in chapter three of Time Out of Joint, arrives at Ragle's house to discuss Ragle's contest entries ("I know it's just an oversight on your part..."). the scene is remarkably similar to the manner in which quiz show contestants were prompted in advance. Some contestants were visited in their homes by producers and asked questions, but they were not always told that these same questions would later be asked when the show went on the air. On other cases, such as Xavier Cugat's appearances as an art expert on The $64,000 Question, questions would be drawn from a background file on the contestant and written to fit what was known about the contestant's scope of knowledge. Other contestants knew they were participating in fraud, and while one or two later revealed they came close to exposing the fraud on the air during live shows, no one ever did.

One contestant, Arthur Cohn who appeared on The $64,000 Challenge (3/23/58), did write a letter exposing the show, mimeographed it and mailed it to 25 of his friends. But most were like Ragle Gumm; "This was the secret compact between himself and the contest people... No one else, to his knowledge, had this privilege. It was for the one simple purpose of keeping him in the contest... it was his secret and the contest people's secret. And neither of them had any motive to air it publicly."

Sponsored by Revlon, The $64,000 Question began 6/8/55. Revlon's sales soared. At the Subcommittee hearings investigating quiz shows, Revlon vice-president of advertising George Abrams gave a sworn statement: "The primary purpose of the meeting was to keep the ratings high, or raise them, and so, consistent with this purpose, a great deal of time was devoted to discussing the destiny of a contestant... " And Ragle, unaware of how he is being manipulated, "had become valuable from the standpoint of publicity. Why the public would want the same person to win over and over again he did not know. Obviously, if he won he won over the other contenders. But that was the manner of the public mind. They recognized his name. As it was explained to him, the theory went that the public liked to see a name they could identify. They resisted change."

Like Van Doren, a photo of Ragle is on the front cover of Time. When Ragle looks for patterns and contradictions (chapter five) in the magazines found in the ruins, he breaks the information into categories: "He had set up 12 categories: politics, economics, movies, art, crime, fashions, science, etc." Contestants on The $64,000 Question chose a category from 12 categories posted on a checkerboard design. Curiously, this was one of the few obvious "reality leaks" on the show revealing something fishy: A viewer, carefully studying the checkerboard weekly during the brief moments it was seen, could soon deduce that the categories were changed depending on the knowledge areas of new contestants; in effect, this made the "choosing" of a category so transparent it became a meaningless act.

In chapter two, when Bill Black and Ragle examine the Gazette with its "line of photos of men and women" who were contest winners, the description matches the visual layouts of quiz show winners seen in 1956-57 magazines and newspapers. Although PKD never mentions the quiz shows in Time Out of Joint, one passage in chapter two almost heads in that direction: "Costs ran higher - he had figured one day - than the famous Old Gold contest of the mid-thirties or the perennial 'I use Oxydol soap because in 25 words or less' contests. But evidently it built circulation, in these times when the average man read comic books and watched..." Watched what? Well, back then, everyone was watching the quiz shows. So, after the ellipsis, PKD veered in another direction: "I'm getting like Bill Black, Ragle thought. Knocking TV. It's a national pastime in itself." He took a detour to avoid getting too close to his springboard source, the television quiz shows.

©2008 Bhob Stewart

For more PKD links, visit Willis Howard's Palm Tree Garden.

The category board of The $64,000 Question can be seen in the album cover for Columbia's $64,000 Jazz LP, but even this is a fake. A close inspection of the record jacket reveals the word "jazz" was not on the category board but was pasted into a blank square by the production artist of the album cover. The album featured Pete Rugolo's "The Shrike." Click heading at top to hear the beginning of this Rugolo track (but it will not start automatically). The tune was composed by José Ferrer who won a Tony for The Shrike on Broadway and then directed and starred in the 1955 film adaptation.

Joy Page and José Ferrer in The Shrike (1955). Joy Page died three months ago on April 18. Her son is the documentary filmmaker Gregory Orr.

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