Archive for the ‘1960s’ category

Ten Halloween Costumes That Time Forgot

October 31, 2016

The sweaty, itchy masks. The teeny-tiny eye holes that were too far apart, too close together, or otherwise misaligned with your actual pupils. The flame-retarded, glow-in-the-dark pajama costumes with the flimsy tie-strings and the cheesy designs. The smart-aleck grown-ups who insisted you do a trick before handing over the treat.

Ah, the joys of Halloween! Remember returning home victorious, hoisting your bulging bag and dumping your stash of sweets on the table for the all-important inspection?  Immediately followed by three solid hours of glucose-induced gluttony. It was the emotional climax of the holiday.

But the process of choosing a Halloween costume came a close second. The annual pilgrimage  to the local five-and-dime store to pick out a costume required careful consideration. Would it be Batman? Space Ghost? GI Joe? Or, would we cave in when our mom suggested something hideously lame, like Casper the Friendly Ghost or Peter Rabbit?

The dilemma dominated lunch table conversation for weeks. Girls always seemed to have an easier time, because, let’s face it, their choices were limited: Cinderella, Snow White, or 37 variations of a witch (although the situation improved markedly with the arrival of Penelope Pitstop and Josie and the Pussycats.)

The three major costume companies, Ben Cooper, Collegeville and Halco, battled it out to snag the most popular licensed characters. Halco always seemed to draw the short straw for some reason, offering costumes that no self-respecting kid would be caught dead in, like Professor Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or the (uber politically incorrect) China Man. On the plus side, they did score the Lone Ranger and Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke.

Even with a solid stable of stars, predicting which costumes would strike gold was tough. Kids are a fickle lot. The popularity of any given TV character can disappear faster than a Snickers bar in the hands of a six year old. For every Captain America, there are countless Atom Ants, Fearless Flies and Milton the Monsters who enjoy a brief blip of fame and then flame out, never to be heard from again.

Which brings us to the 10 Halloween Costumes That Time Forgot. Originally launched with heady hype and high hopes for monster-size profits, these ill-fated costume characters quickly faded into oblivion, and now languish in their final resting place, in all their flame-retardant 100% rayon glory, on one of the spookier, dustier shelves in the Brand Museum:

redskull

1. The Red Skull

bugalu

2. Bugalu

funky-phantom

3. Funky Phantom

spooky

4. Spooky
fleabag

5. Fleabag

witchiepoo

6. Witchiepoo

gunk

7. Gone and Fred Gonk

shazzan

8. Shazzan

solar

9.Dr.  Solar
peter-puck

10. Peter Puck

 

Western Auto: Home of the Western Flyer

September 28, 2016

If Western Auto ever sold anything actually related to automobiles, those products evidently evaded my prepubescent gaze. My eyes remained firmly fixed on the gleaming rows of Western Flyer bicycles, tricycles, wagons, sleds, and every other conceivable mode of chain, pedal and muscle-fueled transportation.

Can you imagine an 11-year-old kid today begging their parents to take them to the auto parts store on Saturday afternoon?

During its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, Western Auto stores stocked an astounding array of toys. You can imagine the thought process of Western Auto senior management: people with cars need car parts. People with cars also have kids. Kids love toys. Kids accompany parent to car parts store. Kids hold parent hostage. Deliciously diabolical, and eminently effective.

Few Western Auto products ignited the imagination more than the Western Flyer bicycle. Produced by multiple manufacturers, the Western Flyer became an iconic brand instantly familiar to anybody who kicked a kickstand  in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Today they are prized by collectors. I saw one on ebay recently for an eye-popping $5,000. (Note: numerous replica versions were made by another company in the 1990s, so there are a lot of non-genuine Western Flyer bikes around today.)

Western Auto was founded as a mail-order business in 1909 by George Pepperdine (namesake of Pepperdine University.) The first store opened in 1921, and at its peak more than 5,200 stores branded Western Auto were in business across the U.S., including company stores and associate retailers (licensees.) In Texas alone, it was a standard fixture on every town square. Western Auto stores were especially charming because associates evidently had broad discretion to structure their store to suit their clientele. So unlike today’s cookie-cutter franchises, every store had its own unique product offerings, and every store looked different on the inside and the outside.

Western Auto, based in Kansas City,  was sold to Beneficial Insurance Company in 1961 and went through several owners, including Sears, who in 1998 sold the remaining Western Auto assets to Advance Auto Parts.

Various stores still call themselves Western Auto, although the company as an entity is long gone.

The original Western Auto lives on in the memories of those who remember this store with fondness and yearn for the days when all it took to make life perfect was a gleaming Western Flyer bicycle or Western Jet Wagon.

Feel free to share your Western Auto memories in the comments section. Here’s a nostalgic take  found on the blogosphere from the daughter of a former employee.

westernjet_edited-1

Me and my Western Flyer Wagon in 1966