Saturday, October 9, 2021

Halloween postcard: "be the head with me"

This is a colorful Raphael Tuck & Sons' "HALLOWE'EN" postcard. It appears to have been an intracity mailing in San Jose, from John & M.E.W. to Miss Carol [?] Hyde. The postcard was stamped, but there's no postmark. So it was either hand-delivered, or never delivered at all.

In the illustration on the front, there are two cheery-looking children with a basket full of apples. And then there's a boy with a knife who seems to have been sitting around and carving faces into pumpkins. He wants his friends to see the fine work he's done.

And then we have the message on the back of the card, which I believe was written by M.E.W. on behalf of John:
Please come to my party Friday afternoon from three to five-thirty and be the head with me.

No present, please M.E.W.
Am I reading that correctly? "Be the head with me"? There are no other cursive B's for comparison, so I can't be 100% sure. Any thoughts? And if it's "be the head with me," we shouldn't find that alarming, right? Right? 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Book cover with creepy keys:
"Never the Same Door"

  • Title: Never the Same Door
  • Author: John Rankine (1918-2013, a native of Wales)
  • Designer of creepy cover: Richard Weaver
  • About Richard Weaver: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states: "Almost nothing is known about this artist, who created numerous covers of sf books for the British publisher Dennis Dobson from 1965 to 1980 and apparently did no other genre work. His covers sometimes seem minimalist, products more of graphic design (such as collaged clip-art) than of studio art, though others are more conventionally pictorial."
  • So, where did Weaver get those keys? We'll never know.
  • Are they real keys, or is this some kind of photo manipulation? We'll never know.
  • Whose faces are those? We'll never know.
  • What if I search Google for skeleton keys with human faces? Very little that's relevant turns up. And, frankly, you should be glad about that.
  • Publisher: Dennis Dobson/Dobson Books/Dobson Science Fiction
  • About Dennis Dobson: Wikipedia has this curious tidbit: "Dobson died in 1978 aged 59, after suffering a brain haemorrhage on the train returning from the Frankfurt Book Fair. After his death the publishing company was wound down and his widow bought and restored Brancepeth Castle [in England]."
  • Wait. She bought a castle? Yes, and the Dobson family still owns it. And it gets better. Wikipedia adds that the widowed Margaret Dobson bought the castle specifically to store the stock of books from her late husband's publishing company. She restored the castle over many years and hosted craft fairs and Shakespearean performances there. But, to be clear, she first bought the castle in order to store books in it. That's a pantheon-level achievement right there. Also, consider this: If those skeleton keys with human faces exist, they might just be in that 12th century castle, which by the way is open to the public on certain days of the year.
  • Ok, phew. Let's get back to the book: OK.
  • Publication year: 1967
  • Pages: 173
  • Format: Hardcover 
  • Price: 18s
  • Dust jacket excerpt: A man does not step into the same river twice. He never goes through the same door. To Kurt Yardley, this is amply borne out by the train of circumstance which follows the forced landing of his freighter Charib on the bleakly inhospitable plains of an unlisted planet.
  • First sentence: Commander Kurt Yardley of the freighter M.M. Charib cleared an ivorine tablet and began again.
  • Last sentence: 'Check.'
  • Random sentence from the middle: 'O.K. Let them get well down into the valley and given them a high-power raspberry.'
  • Rating on Amazon: 5 stars out of 5, but with just one reviewer as of this date.
  • Rating on Goodreads: 3 stars out of 5, but with just one reviewer as of this date.
  • Does anyone have anything to say about this book? Apparently not. There are plenty of blogs that review piles of science-fiction books from the 20th century, but it doesn't seem that this one has made it onto anyone's "to do" list. If you're reading this and have thoughts on Never the Same Door, send them my way and I'll post them.
  • But what about those keys? We'll never know.

Mystery snapshot: A girl, a carriage and a carved pumpkin

Here's a fun relic. This old photograph, 4½ inches wide, shows a little girl (maybe around 3 years old?) with a baby carriage that has a friendly-looking jack-o'-lantern hanging from the side. Presumably, the girl's baby doll is inside the carriage. But we can't rule out muskrats. 

She's bundled up fairly well, so it's not hard to imagine it's late October somewhere in the northern United States. And, indeed, the stamp on the back of the photograph indicates that his was printed by McMillen Photo Finishers at the corner of Cummings Street and Gilmore Avenue in Winona, Minnesota.

Alas, there's no other information on the back, so this will likely remain a Halloween-themed mystery for eternity.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Nostalgia lane: "Lonesome Ghosts" on the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer

In the 1970s, we didn't have DVDs, smartphones or YouTube, so we couldn't satisfy our urge for any visual media on demand. Heck, that wasn't even an urge we knew it was possible to have. We watched ZOOM or Battle of the Planets at the appointed time it came on, or we missed it.

There was, however, one thing that gave us control over nearly every aspect of what we were viewing:

The Fisher-Price Movie Viewer.

I didn't have one, but I had multiple friends who did, so I was well-acquainted with its greatness. I was fascinated with it, which might have been an early hint of my later cinema fandom (ahem, nerdness).

The Movie Viewer, which was introduced in 1973 and required no batteries, just a light source, allowed the viewer to control the speed of the film. You could crank it up to Keystone Cops (or Benny Hill) levels. Or you could slow it down and literally watch it frame by frame, to see how the filmmakers or animators did their job. And you could watch it backwards, too. All of these features allowed for Antonioni's Blowup or Stone's JFK levels of examination (without the need to solve a murder). It was YouTube long before YouTube.

For me, and appropriately for its discussion during Mild Fear 2021, one cartridge stood above the rest: Walt Disney's Lonesome Ghosts. The original cartoon is eight minutes long and was released in late 1937. It's an abridged version that appears on the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer cartridge. And it's basically Ghostbusters, a half-century before the Ivan Reitman comedy. Three "ghost exterminators" (Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck) are called out to investigate a haunted house. Hijinx ensue, because the ghosts mostly have the upper hand over the bumbling investigators.

I spent ridiculous amounts of time watching this short. Going back and forth over its animation frames to see how it was lovingly drawn and how the jokes were put together. I'm not otherwise a huge Disney fan, as television made me more of a Looney Tunes/Hanna-Barbera kid, but this was one product of the House of Mouse that I adored, thanks to Fisher-Price.

And I'm surely not the only one. While there were dozens of Movie Viewer cartridges, I think Lonesome Ghosts hits that nostalgia sweet spot for a lot of us in Generation X. In an in-depth 2016 post on Cinema 4: Cel Bloc, Rik Tod Johnson writes: "A bond was formed between myself and Lonesome Ghosts since childhood because of that machine, that in many ways goes beyond most other Disney cartoons. ...  Lonesome Ghosts is a prime example of just how luxurious Disney could get in even a short release. That haunted house really does feel well lived in and used, and feels like spooks really did show up and scare away the owners badly enough that they would have left most of their belongings behind."

If you subscribe to Disney+, you can watch the original Lonesome Ghosts in its entirety as a Halloween month treat. And, if not, maybe you have a Fisher-Price Movie Viewer and 1970s cartridge sitting around in the basement or attic. Just watch out for ghosts when you go looking for it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Syd Hoff's "The Witch, the Cat, and the Baseball Bat"

Here's a children's book that was published in 1968 by Syd Hoff (1912-2004), the author/illustrator of Danny and the Dinosaur and its sequels. Spoiler alert: This isn't a Glinda-esque good witch. Here's how the book opens:
"Once there was a witch who didn't like baseball simply because if there's one thing a witch doesn't like it's a game that gives people pleasure."
Of course, not all witches hate baseball. And it would be wrong to say that witches are against the idea of people being happy. Maybe this witch was a mid-century fan of the Chicago Cubs or Washington Senators and had her heart broken so many times that she became embittered against the whole idea of baseball. 

Anyway, the book is about a plot by the witch to ruin everyone's fun with baseball. Specifically, she thinks home runs spark the most joy in the game, and she weaves a spell to do away with them. But she is foiled at the end, of course. She ends up choking momentarily on a hot dog and the last line is: "And she never had anything to do with baseball again." Bummer.

The players in the book all look like New York Yankees. Hoff grew up in the Bronx, so I reckon that's no surprise. 

There aren't many mentions of this book online, and only a few lackluster reviews on Goodreads. Did it leave a lasting impression with anyone? Well, I nosed around and found a 2019 post on the blog CJ & Ink. CJ asks the question: "Did you have a favorite book, story, or movie that you loved as a kid?"

A commenter named Lady Caer Morganna replied: "My favorite book as a kid? Well, I guess I would have to say that would have been The Witch, the Cat and the Baseball Bat by Syd Hoff."

And who is Lady Caer Morganna? She describes herself as "a Solitary Eclectic Wiccan Priestess who leans toward the Celtic Wiccan tradition" and is from Reading, Pennsylvania. Her blog is The Wiccan Life. And that's just perfect. Also, maybe the Philadelphia Phillies should consult with her this offseason.

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

Monday, October 4, 2021

Vintage classroom poster that sparks mild fear

In early September, I wrote about the 1944 book "Decorations for the Schoolroom," which gives teachers ideas for posters to put on their classroom walls and art projects for students. There are a few pages devoted to Halloween season, with witches on brooms, cats, bats and owls. Standard Halloween fare.

And then there's page shown above. It's a poster that informs schoolchildren that they should neither run nor perform strange dance moves in front of trucks that are barreling down the road. Because this could lead to death and subsequently turning into a ghost. So, yeah, it's a warning. Or an instructional sheet for Casper-wannabes. Either way, it would be a disturbing thing for child to see on the walls of their cheery classroom. I guess it's a progenitor of the "scare 'em into behaving" public service posters and educational films that especially thrived from the 1960s through 1980s. 

Meanwhile, there's another unintentionally terrifying page in "Decorations for the Schoolroom" that's perfect for Mild Fear. Take a look at June! Don't go near the standpipe, kiddos!