Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/30/09

Gargoyle, near Armitage & Kenmore.

Gargoyle, near Diversey & Halsted.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Angel and the King

"I know I'm getting old not because I feel old," one of my coworkers said yesterday, "but because the icons of my youth are dying."

He was speaking specifically about actress Farrah Fawcett, who passed away yesterday morning at the age of 62. Her death was hardly unexpected--she'd battled colorectal cancer for the past three years, and the tone of her friends and family in recent days suggested that they were steeling themselves to say goodbye.

I knew what he was saying. Just this week, Ed McMahon, sidekick to Johnny Carson when he hosted the Tonight Show (as he did throughout my entire childhood and well into my adulthood) passed away, as did local TV journalism legend John Callaway.

Farrah was a much larger cultural touchstone, though--not only because of her sudden superstardom as an original cast member of Charlie's Angels, but because of The Poster.

The electric smile. The endlessly curling blonde hair. The nipples hard enough to cut glass. If you were alive in the '70s--and most especially if you were a straight male alive during that decade--you either owned a copy of The Poster or openly envied anyone who did.

As I said, Farrah's premature passing was sad, but expected. The news that started snaking out around the end of the workday, however, was much more of a shock.

It started popping up on news sites under "breaking news" banners: Michael Jackson had been taken to the hospital. His condition was unknown. Maybe he'd had a heart attack. Maybe he wasn't breathing. Only TMZ was reporting he was dead.

On my way home, I stopped by a neighborhood liquor store to pick up a couple of 2-liter bottles of RC Cola for a workplace birthday celebration the following morning. They had a radio station on their PA system, and the radio station was playing "Thriller." That's when I knew that he was gone.

All the news channels provided continuous coverage throughout the night of the swelling crowds outside the hospital where Jackson had been taken, outside the house he'd been renting in Bel Air as he prepared for a 50-concert comeback, outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem. People who knew him and reporters who'd covered him over the years speculated about causes of death and contemplated his legacy, which is torn between the extremes of musical genius--Off the Wall and Thriller are undeniable all-time classic albums--and personal madness--allegations of child molestation (even though he was acquitted of charges in court, the stories never went away), rumors of bizarre behavior (sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, buying the Elephant Man's bones, etc.) and a clear, disturbing addiction to plastic surgery (publicly, he only admitted to one such surgery, even though his whole facial structure and skin tone changed and his nose deteriorated to the point that it looked like it had been designed by Lon Chaney).

At least one commentator noted that the balance was already shifting, that his music would be cherished long after the weird behavior faded into memory. That commentator had a point--when Elvis died in 1977 (locally, WGN broke into the Cubs telecast to report the news), media and social critics immediately began focusing more on his musical legacy than his love life, his drug use or his eating habits. They forgot the corpulent weirdo in the white jumpsuit, stumbling around stage in Vegas. They embraced the handsome young man with the angelic voice and swiveling hips.

So it will be with Michael Jackson, and even with Farrah--her rambling talk-show appearances and bizarre reality show will be set aside, and we'll all remember the smiling young woman in the red one-piece. And pop culture will soldier on.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/26/09

Good to know, I guess.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stand Your Action Figure on His Head Day

Actually, this was several days ago, when a bored coworker went around to various desks in the office and stood as many action figures as possible on their respective heads. (I will take the large number of toys in the office as a tribute to my ability to influence--corrupt, even--those around me.)

Thus, we had various characters in several yoga-like poses, including:
The movie version of The Spirit (the movie might have sucked--Frank Miller just doesn't know when to stop his characters from talking, or to give them anything interesting to say--but the action figure is pretty cool).
The Terminator atop my neighbor's cabinet.
Even Bigfoot!

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/25/09

Weeds growing out of brick.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

RIP: John Callaway

This past Halloween, one of our local Public Television stations, WTTW, was to run an interview with Rich Koz, better known to local TV viewers as Svengoolie. (Yes, we have more than one PBS station. We're Chicago. That's how we roll.) In the course of the interview, Koz was asked detailod questions about his lengthy career; at one point, the interviewer even tossed one of Svengoolie's signature rubber chickens at Koz.

The interviewer was John Callaway.

Callaway was a local broadcast journalism legend who, for 15 years, hosted WTTW's weeknight public affairs program, Chicago Tonight, which features interviews, stories and commentary on local and national news, sports, entertainment and history.

When Callaway retired from the program in 1999, he didn't fully "retire"--he continued to host Chicago Stories, a documentary series covering major events and places in the city's history such as the Eastland disaster, in which an excursion ship capsized in the Chicago river, killing hundreds, or Riverview, the North Side amusement park that entertained children of all ages until its closing at the end of the 1967 season (it was demolished the following year).

Callaway also continued conducting interviews for Chicago Tonight, including many for The Friday Night Show, a half-hour segment within the weekly Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review in which Callaway spoke with newsmakers of all kinds: Politicians, actors, athletes, writers and fellow journalists.

The interview with Rich Koz didn't air as scheduled on Halloween--it would up being broadcast weeks later--because Studs Terkel, the legendary Chicago author, had died that day, and WTTW reran Callaway's last interview with Terkel instead.

Now Callaway, unquestionably the most thorough, insightful and intelligent interviewer I've ever seen, has himself died of an apparent heart attack while shopping in Racine, WI. He was 72.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/24/09

Bank door, 35th St.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/22/09

Rust on the CTA Brown Line at the Addison stop.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/19/09

Decoration on building, Western Ave. & 24th St.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sven Addendum

Yesterday at work, I put in overtime (for the second day in a row) and developed a massive headache toeing the border of a migraine (also for the second day in a row). And by the time I left work? It was raining. Sideways.

By the time I got back to La Casa del Terror, I was soaking wet--yes, I had an umbrella, but it had little effect on the driving rain--and Charlie Watts, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr were all pounding the same steady beat in my aching skull. (Bonzo Bonham may have been in there as well, for all I know.) In short, I was pretty miserable and wanted little more than a bite to eat and a few minutes of productive peace while looking through old videotapes in order to figure out just what the hell I have.

I'd taped a lot of movies off of Turner Classic Movies, especially silent movies (which, thank goodness, they show fairly often), and many of the older tapes included episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Lost World (mmm, Jennifer O'Dell). Some of the programs were taped for one-time viewing and then forgotten about (like when Oprah ripped James Frey a new one for making up large parts of his "memoir"), while other programs were taped for historical purposes (like the last episode of Bozo's Circus, the longest running show in the history of children's television).

On the last tape I checked, though, I found something that I not only do not remember taping, but that I was thrilled to have at all: The very first "Svengoolie" show on WCIU. The movie that day, January 7, 1995, was C.H.U.D., a low-grade horror flick about cannibal mutations living under the streets of New York. Rich Koz started the show by popping open the coffin, explaining that he used to be known as "Son of Svengoolie" (but now was all grown up) and being buffeted with rubber chickens after making an awful joke (nothing new there).

These first couple of minutes are noticeable different from the way the show looks today. The set decoration was minimal--not that it's a Cecil B. DeMille production now, but at least the set has actual wall, instead of black curtains behind the coffin taking the place of walls. Also, the studio assistants on that first broadcast actually ran out of rubber chickens to toss, something that would never happen today (because one of the show's sponsors provides the chickens, there is a much larger supply than when Koz was buying them himself).

There was also another hidden treasure on this tape: A couple of minutes of footage of Koz's very first appearance on WCIU a week earlier, when the station switched from ethnic and business programming to more standard entertainment programming. The station formally switched over as 1994 became 1995, but it ran a brief "preview" of upcoming programming (mostly sitcom reruns, plus the aforementioned Svengoolie) hosted by Koz in full Sven costume; the videotape captures those first moments of Koz introducing an episode of Leave It to Beaver.

the videotape in question is not in the best of shape--it is, after all, nearly 15 years old. Also, my videotaping skills weren't quite as sharp then as they are today--the end credits of the Svengoolie episode were clipped off by whatever I taped after that. But the next opportunity I get, I will have a friend burn the contents of that tape onto a DVD. It's local TV history. It should be preserved.

It's also personal history: that program was recorded while I was still living in the small second-floor apartment in my parents' house. It was recorded while Dad was still alive. That makes the tape more special than it would have already been.

And? I found the tape on the anniversary of both Rich Koz's Sven premiere and Dad's passing.

Roid Rage

I really hate agreeing with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on anything--he's an obnoxious loudmouth who often speaks well before he thinks about what he's saying--but I couldn't help but be struck by his comments on the news, as reported by The New York Times, that former Cubs/sox star (and former Guillen teammate) Sammy Sosa was one of the 104 Major League Baseball players to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs during supposedly anonymous testing in 2003; Alex Rodriguez also tested positive at that time and has had to attempt to explain and apologize for it since the information was revealed earlier this year.

This is what Guillen had to say in today's Chicago Tribune:

We need to get it over with. Get those names out there. Whoever is guilty is guilty, whoever is not is not. Let baseball deal with it once and then move on. Every month we seem to talk about somebody and it's not a good thing. It's not healthy for the game.

Much as I hate to admit it, he's right.

Having a name come out once every several months is indeed bad for the health of baseball, which will have a cloud of suspicion hanging over each and every player--a few of whom are guilty, but most of whom are exactly what they appear to be: extraordinarily, naturally talented athletes. Until we know the names of the guilty, everyone is guilty by association. No, that's not fair, but it's how it is. It would be refreshing to see both the Players' Union and commissioner Bud Selig for once do what's best for the sport and its fans. Come clean. Yank the Band-Aid off. Let the healing begin.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/17/09

Wolves at the door, 35th and Halsted.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


June 16 is, as it happens, a a sad personal anniversary: 14 years ago on this date, my dad passed away while recovering from triple bypass surgery. He was just 60 years old.

Most years, I keep to myself on this day except, perhaps for a brief phone call to or from Mom--it may have been 14 years, but that doesn't mean she misses her husband, her life partner, any less.

This year, though, I'm reminded that June 16 is not just a sad personal anniversary. It's also a very happy anniversary for many other people: Today marks 30 years since Rich Koz first hit the airwaves as the Son of Svengoolie.

For those of you who aren't steeped in Chicago entertainment lore, a brief history lesson: In 1970, local radio/TV personality Jerry G. Bishop began hosting a Saturday night horror movie show called Screaming Yellow Theater as a hippy vampire character named Svengoolie; he had long green hair, wore sunglasses and a red sweatshirt, and bookended the movie segments with goofy skits and occasional celebrity appearances (like comedians Mort Sahl or Pat Paulson). Bishop played this role at WFLD-TV until 1973, when Kaiser Broadcasting bought the station from Field Communications and ended much of WFLD's local programming, including the much, beloved BJ and Dirty Dragon Show and the equally adored Svengoolie. Kaiser replaced the original Sven with another horror host they already had under contract, The Ghoul, who was popular in Cleveland and Detroit. I remember tuning in to catch Sven on Saturday night, as usual, finding instead this brash, obnoxious loudmouth who, as I remember, was dressed like a gangster (because he doing a show in Chicago, ho ho!) and dissed his predecessor. It was the first time I'd watched The Ghoul--and, also, the last. (I wasn't alone--The Ghoul only lasted a few months in Chicago, while his career continued elsewhere.)

Flash forward a few years. Kaiser gave up its ownership of WFLD, with Field taking over again. They wanted a horror host again, and the young man they chose, Rich Koz, had been an assistant to/collaborator with the original Sven, Jerry G. Bishop. Koz's look was different--more like a mortician than a hippy--but the humor and sense of fun were pretty much the same. Koz played the Son of Svengoolie from 1979 until 1986--more than doubling Bishop's original run--and won a few local Emmys along the way before Fox bought WFLD and brought down the axe again.

But, proving that you just can't keep a good ghoul down, Sven rose from the dead yet again in 1995, when WCIU, which had been a Spanish-language/business ticker station for years, switched back to English-language programming and plugged Koz back into a Saturday afternoon slot, this time performing sans the "Son of" in his name; now, he was "just" Svengoolie.

Koz has gone on pretty much as before--his makeup is less elaborate, and he makes more of an effort to provide tidbits of information on the films he shows (from classics like Frankenstein and Night of the Living Dead to disasters like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Robot Monster), but the goofy comedy and song parodies are still part of the festivities. He's on every Saturday night (with reruns Sunday morning on WCIU's sister Station, WWME), cracking wise with his jokes, cracking windows and eardrums with his singing voice and cracking up his viewers. And we wouldn't have him any other way.

My dad wasn't a horror-film fan--he much preferred John Wayne westerns while Mom loved Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan. But both parents encouraged a love of movies in general and didn't stand in the way of spending Saturday nights watching a guy dressed up as a vampire telling groaners to hundreds of thousands of people sitting in the dark, laughing along with him.

Congratulations, Mr. Koz. And Happy Anniversary, Svengoolie!

(P.S.--Sven's 30th Anniversary show airs this Saturday, June 20, featuring the Bert I. Gordon "classic," Attack of the Puppet People. Tune in, won't you? I know I will, if only via the "magic" of videotape.)

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/16/09

Leather Mardi Gras mask hanging on the living room wall of the original La Casa del Terror.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/15/09

Marble marker at the site of the original Comiskey Park (demolished 1991), now a parking lot across the street from its replacement, 35th and Shields.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/13/09

Hand prints in concrete, Ravenswood Ave. & Sunnyside Ave.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday is Bring Your Patriotic Action Figures to Work Day

Sunday is Flag Day, and I can think of no better way of celebrating the anniversary of the official adoption of the Stars & Stripes by the Continental Congress in 1777 than by displaying action figures of the original patriotic super heroes: The Shield and Captain America.

The Shield first appeared in the first issue of Pep Comics, which had a cover date of January 1940 and no doubt appeared on newsstands before then, meaning that the super-strong, super-smart G-man was punching out Nazi-like bad guys about two years before America entered World War II. He continued his adventures throughout the war before eventually yielding not to a masked criminal or world-dominating fiend, but to a redheaded teenager and his pals. Archie Andrews, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, who had grown wildly popular during the war years, eventually subplanted all of the company's masked avengers--even the company name was changed from MLJ to Archie.

To The Shield's right is, by far, the best-known patriotic hero of all time: Captain America, who also appeared in print--with a March 1941 cover date--well before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year. Cap, however, didn't bother with beating up villains from made-up countries; he's shown on the cover of Captain America Comics #1 socking none other than Adolf Hitler squarely in the jaw. Captain America and his teenage sidekick, Bucky, continued to fight the good fight until 1949, when another then-popular trend--horror comics--put an end to their exploits...for a little while, anyway, until super heroes came back into fashion.

There have been many action figures of Captain America over the years--some great, others awful, most reasonably bland (like the Toy Biz figure from 1990 seen in the photo above). The Shield, however, has only had one action figure, made by Remco in 1984 during one of the character's infrequent revivals. Today, however, they stand proudly next to one another, celebrating the colorful piece of cloth that has waved from flagpoles all over the world for more than two centuries-- and the people, the spirit that cloth represents.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/12/09

One of the exit doors of the former Louis Theater (also known as the Lux and the Pickford), 35th St. and Michigan Ave. The building has also functioned as a car wash and retail; it is currently vacant.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/10/09

Chicago Harbor lighthouse--built in 1893 for the Columbian Exposition, moved to its current location in 1919.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/9/09

The Ramova Theater, opened 1929, closed mid-1980s, now sitting empty; Halsted St. and 35th St.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/7/09

Sign painted on apartment building advertising the Chicago Daily News, which went under in 1978; 24th St. & Western Ave.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/6/09

If this couch is a-rockin', don't bother knockin'.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/5/09

Face on apartment building, Cermak Rd. and Hoyne Ave.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/4/09

Rear view of the Dexter Building, designed by Adler & Sullivan; destroyed by fire 10/06.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/2/09

Ice advertisement, Western Ave. & Monroe Street, Chicago.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/1/09

Rusted lock on chain-link fence, Horner Park.