memories of the ’70s – Alice

A successful film was transported to the small screen a few years later to bring the blue-collar world of Mel’s Diner to viewers with the show Alice.

Based on the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the tv series debuted two years after the movie on CBS in August 1976, starring Linda Lavin as the title character of a waitress working at Mel’s Diner in Phoenix.

Vic Tayback reprised his role as the diner’s owner, with Polly Holiday playing the smart-ass Florence Jean, Beth Howland as the neurotic Vera and Philip McKeon as Alice’s son Tommy. The tv show’s theme song “There’s a New Girl in Town” was performed by Lavin, who was an established Broadway performer.

Each episode was mainly set in the diner, with occasional scenes at Alice & Tommy’s small apartment, while a few regulars added to the mix, including Earl, Tommy’s basketball coach, Henry, a telephone repairman and several guests stars including George Burns, Robert Goulet and Desi Arnaz.

Each episode focused on the personalities of the characters, drawing viewers in with the antics, fights, commentary and occasional social commentary. Flo’s catchphrases “Kiss my grits!” and “When donkeys fly” became infamous phrases in pop culture. Despite many pot shots at Mel’s cooking, his famous chili were the focus of several episodes, including one where he was invited to The Dinah Shore Show.

Although the original film was focused on the survival of a single Mom, this show also added to the on-screen depiction of blue collar people, just trying to make an honest dollar.

I used to watch this show regularly, not because I was such a huge fan, but it seemed like real people to me as a young kid.

Like so many series, this tv series lasted longer than perhaps it should, with nine seasons. But the lasting impact of a group of waitresses and a cook was one that showed how real people really lived.

memories of the ’70s – Stretch Armstrong

For kids looking for ideas to put on their list for Santa Claus, in 1976 it was all about Stretch Armstrong.

Created by toy manufacturer Kenner, Stretch Armstrong was a blonde muscle man doll, which originally is 15 inches, but could  have his arms or legs stretch up to five feet.

So what it the secret of the stretch?

The doll is made from latex rubber, filled with a corn syrup gel to be able to stretch and then go back to its original size.

Stretch Armstrong was such a hit, there were over 60 versions made for the international market, including Germany, Australia, France and Italy. In Mexico, Stretch Armstrong became El Hombre Elastic while in Japan, he became Tsukuda Mr. X.

The success of the “stretch technology” led to the creation of  monsters, super stretch masks as well as Mego Elastic creatures.

But for those lucky kids of the mid-1970s, the toy was endless hours of fun, until Stretch got too stretched. And even then there was a way to fix him.

As a young child, I remember my neighbour getting Stretch Armstrong, who used to get pulled to his maximum every night as they watched television.

In this century, Stretch Armstrong made a resurgence and in this coming decade will soon become a movie star.

memories of the ’70s – Carrie

In the mid 1970s, scary twisted between the supernatural and highschool hijinx in the horror film Carrie.

Based on a bestselling novel by Stephen King published in 1974, the film was  directed by Brian De Palma, and was the first of King’s books to be transformed to the big screen.

Starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie, an outcast highschool girl who has the ability to use her mind to create paranormal events when she is stressed or angry, the movie centers on Carrie’s life as as a victim of so many people’s cruelty.

Mistreated and abused by her religious stepmother, played by Piper Laurie, Carrie is also routinely harassed and bullied by her fellow classmates. A couple of teachers try to protect and encourage her, as a fellow student Tommy, played by William Katt,  invites her to the prom.

Carrie starts to notice her powers come out when taunted – like she causes a harasser to fall off his bike and she shatters her bedroom mirror after another horrible fight with her Mother.

At the prom, surprisingly Carrie and her date Tommy are named prom king and queen – but a prank turns the sweet moment into horror, when a bucket of pig’s blood is doused all over the twosome, with the bucket knocking out Tommy.

Carrie’s paranormal powers arise, causing the gym to collapse and catch fire, as she escapes to go home. Her Mother, thinking she is possessed by the devil, fights with her in the house.

The horror film, which cost $1.8 million to make was a huge success at the box office for De Palma and United Artists, grossing $33.8 million. One of the few horror films to recognized by the Academy Awards, Spacek and Laurie were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress and the film was nominated and awarded accolades from festivals and award committees.

I remember going to a friend’s Halloween party and seeing this film, which scared me – especially since I was in highschool. Although all of us kept saying it could never happen, we wondered if there was a girl among us at school who could become Carrie.

In 1976, Carrie White showed us how a shy girl could take down an entire community with her mind – and a bucket of pig’s blood has become infamous in horror history.

memories of the ’70s – Blondie

Little did two people who wanted to capture the essence of punk in their new band realize that they’d become icons of the decade with the formation of the band Blondie.

Created by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Blondie was formed after the duo met while both members of The Stilettos. Wanting to take their music in a punk and new wave direction, the two initially formed Angel and the Snakes in late 1974 and the next year renamed the band Blondie.

Considered part of the underground music scene in New York City, Blondie’s first self-titled album was released in 1976.

Performing regularly at NYC mainstays Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, the band’s following was with New Yorkers and foreigners – European and Australian music charts loved their sound.

In 1977, Blondie toured Australia, and got a top 10 single with the song “X-Offender”. With the release of their next album on Chrysalis Records Plastic Letters, the band solidified its fan based in the UK with touring and the lead single “Denis” which hit top 10, the first time an American punk/new wave band had broken big  in the British market.

In 1978, Blondie released their third album, Parallel Lines, which was their breakout album. With top 10 singles in the UK with “Picture This” and “Hanging on the Telephone” , American listeners were captured by the third single “Heart of Glass” and the follow-up “One Way or Another”.

Parallel Lines, with its numerous singles and constant radio airplay, pushed Blondie into the spotlight on the both sides of ocean. Lead singer Deborah Harry epitomized the cool chic of the punk scene – and became a favourite of magazine covers as well as part of the Andy Warhol scene in New York City.

In June 1979 Deborah Harry was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the cover of Rolling Stone, while that Fall the fourth album was released Eat to the Beat. Scoring top 10 singles in Europe with “Atomic” and “Dreaming”, the band kept pursuing the US audience, but kept their sound their own.

I remember seeing early posters of the band and thinking how cool Harry was – a tough girl among the boys, but still feminine. I so wanted to have her style.

The end of the decade led the band to do a single with producer Giorgio Moroder for the soundtrack of the film American Gigolo – “Call Me”, which became their next major hit and propelled sales of the soundtrack around the world.

For the 1970s, Blondie epitomized the change in the music industry and the street style that was going mainstream – in the best way possible.

memories of the ’70s – Montreal Summer Olympics

For the Great White North, the middle of the 1970s was a time to celebrate – the first time Canada was the host country for the Olympics in the city of Montreal.

With 92 nations participating, the Summer Olympic Games opened on July 17th, with the ceremonies including Queen Elizabeth II, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Parti Quebecois premier Robert Bourassa.

It was the first Olympics to introduce three women’s sports – handball, basketball and rowing as well as being the Olympics where Taiwan withdrew after the Canadian government informed them they could not compete under the name Republic of China. A group of 28 African nations led by the Congo protested the presence of the New Zealand rugby team as they had played in South Africa, then still under its apartheid law.

But for the spectators, there were many precedents set – the United States mens’ swimming team won all but one medal, while the East German womens’ swimming team won all but two gold medals.

The United States boxing team, comprised of Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Leo Randolph and Howard Davis Jr. all won gold medals – one of the best teams of the modern day Olympics.

For gymnastics, the spotlight was focued on Romanian competitor Nadia Comenici scored the first ever Olympic perfect 10 – a record seven times as well as three gold medals, including the All-Around gold medal for womens gymnastics.

Meanwhile US decathlete Bruce Jenner, scored the highest points ever, 8634 points, a world record and won the gold medal for the decathlon. The Soviet Union and East Germany dominated the medal count, while Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Papua New Guinea and the Cayman Islands debuted for their first teams in Montreal.

Although as host country, Canada didn’t win a gold medal, and the out of control costs of the Olympics have left a negative view with many locals, the 1976 Summer Olympics is still remembered fondly because of the athletes – Jenner, Spinks, Leonard, Comaneci.

memories of the ’70s – Laverne & Shirley

For the 1970s, two funny single girls, just trying to make a living, were one of the popular sitcoms of the decade – Laverne &  Shirley.

Created by Garry Marshall, Lowell Ganz and Mark Rothman, Laverne & Shirley was a spin-off from the successful series Happy Days, starring Penny Marshall as Laverne and Cindy Williams as Shirley.

Set in the early 1960s, the show debuted in 1976 on ABC and featured characters from Happy Days as guest stars.

Set in Milwaukee, Laverne de Fazio lives with her best friend Shirley Feeney, working as bottlecappers at the local Shotz Brewery. The two  girls deal with their work life, as well as their odd fellow employees and neighbours, Lenny Kosnowski (Michael McKean) and Andrew “Squiggy” Squigman (David Lander) who they communicate with through the building’s old dumbwaiter.

The girls deal with single girl issues – living together, dating, and trying to survive on their meagre salaries. Shirley has an on again off again boyfriend Carmine, known as The Big Ragu (played by Eddie Mekka), a former boxer now dance instructor hoping for his big break one day on Broadway. Laverne’s father Frank (played by Phil Foster), is a single Dad who runs the Pizza Bowl, one of their local hangouts.

Laverne is more fearless and aggressive, sporting a bold L on all her clothing and fond of Pepsi and milk when she needs some fortification, while Shirley is more conservative and demure, keeping her Boo Boo Kitty close by when needed. The two were a popular duo – gaining top ratings, even beating out Happy Days for viewers.

With the early success, the two stars recorded an album called Laverne & Shirley Sing, including a few original songs and several 1950s and 1960s standards. The theme song of the series, Making our dreams come true, sung by Cyndi Grecco, became a top 30 hit on the Billboard charts.

I watched this show for its slapstick humour and silliness, not always getting the more serious themes that were incorporated into the half hour. I liked how each character had its odd quirks, which although seem wierd, its more like real life.

The girls eventually would be in the Army (with Vicki Lawrence playing their sergeant) and move to Los Angeles after losing their jobs in Milwaukee due to automation. But for the 1970s, the halcyon days of the late 1950s and early 1960s were happily showcased in Laverne & Shirley as the idyllic time in American history.

memories of the ’70s – Logan’s Run

In the early 1970s, science fiction fans were welcomed into the 23rd century with the story that wanted to make sure no one lived past the age of 30: Logan’s Run.

Based on a novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Logan’s Run was published in 1967 and in 1975, director Michael Anderson bought the option to bring it to the screen.

Starring Michael York and Richard Jordan, the film is based on a utopian society where a computer is the ruler. When the citizens, who live a lavish lifestyle reach 30, they are told they must ride the Carousel and then will be Renewed (but in reality they are vaporized).

Every citizen wears a Lifeclock crystal in the palm of their hand, showing the time until its their Last Day. The Sandmen (police) keep track of the citizens to make sure no one breaks the rules before their ride on the Carousel.

Michael York and Richard Jordan play Sandmen, Logan 5 and Francis 7. They realize the computer is trying to destroy them and become runners in order to live. Farrah Fawcett also is in the cast as a comely Holly who also wants to live, while Jenny Agutter plays Logan’s love Jessica.

Made for US$9 million and filmed mainly in Dallas, this film was deemed silly, irreverent and terrible, but was nominated for three Academy Awards (winning an Oscar for Special Achievement for Special Effects) and made an easy $25 million at the box office in 1976, with fans loving every minute of the futuristic thriller.

As a result of the popularity of the film, in 1977 a  television series was developed starring Gregory Harrison and Heather Menzies, but it only aired for one season on CBS before being cancelled.

I remember first seeing the tv series as a young child, but I didn’t quite get it and was confused by the storylines. By the time I saw the film as a teenager, the change in special effects made it look so dated and odd, yet it had a charm about it as the SF storyline still held up.

An iconic 1970s science fiction film, Logan’s Run set the standard for the latest in techno effects, and made science fiction a frontrunner of movie themes of this decade.