Category Archives: Uncategorized

Wonder Wizard Television Sports Games Console (1976)

Like everyone else, we’re still under pandemic alert here, but the majority of places have reopened, and that means thrift stores. Oh I’ve been making up for lost time with a vengeance alright – albeit with a face mask on and an antisocial social distancing attitude at the ready. (It’d be nice to think that everybody realizes we’re all in this together, but considering I’ve encountered more than one person who just doesn’t seem to “get” it, well, it kinda astounds me. I mean, is it really that important to you to stand only a foot away and incessantly babble about inconsequential nonsense to a perfect stranger? We’re not friends, I don’t know you, lea’ me alone. Though truthfully, I’d feel the same way even if there wasn’t a rampant virus afoot. Oh, do I sound cranky? GOOD.)

Anyway, I’ve brought home a buncha good stuff since being back in action; lotsa new additions to my music library, some great old mugs/glassware for that particular collection, a multitude of miscellaneous items that pique my interest; plenty o’ stuff I’m happy with. BUT, as far as things that I can really get fired up enough to write about here, frankly, not as much as I’d like. Seriously; I came close with a big ol’ bag of early-to-mid-80s erasers that held several cool objet d’art within, but after some preliminary writing, I decided there probably still wasn’t enough to hold the attention of all four of my regular readers. (Though, fun fact, most of that introductory paragraph was ripped from that otherwise-cancelled article.)

I don’t know if the drought has passed, but if nothing else, I was recently given a brief respite as far as blog-worthy material goes, and it’s our subject today. (“Gee, no kidding!”)

Behold! It’s the incredible Wonder Wizard “Television Sports Games” console, released by General Home Products in (according to this site) June of 1976 – a whopping 44 years ago this month! What constitutes “Television Sports Games,” you ask? It’s, uh, Pong. Or rather, “tennis” because non-name brands. But really, it’s Pong. Well, that and some other games that go by the names of other sports but are really just slightly-modified Pongs.

Yup, this Wonder Wizard (model number 7702) is one of many, many “Pong clones” that made up the first generation of home video games. No joke; there were a ton of these that eventually saturated the market before developers figured out swappable game cartridges just might lead to a longer lifespan of console sales. (“Yeah, sure, uh huh!”)

(Because I know someone will jump all over me if I don’t specifically point this out, the well-known famous Pong wasn’t really the first Pong, either; there was a ping pong game for the first-ever-console, the Magnavox Odyssey, that Pong was “inspired” by. Nevertheless, it was Pong that really gave a jump start to the video game industry. Also, I’ve now grown tired of typing the word “Pong.”)

I hope you’ll agree that the 1970s aesthetics of the Wonder Wizard are just fantastic. As you can see, woodgrain was the order of the day, and as such, the console evokes its era in a way that practically reaches out and paints a leisure suit on you.

Hopefully this side-view pic above gives you an idea of general size of the system. Unlike many of these clones that could be on the small/cheap/etc. side, there’s some real bulk to the Wonder Wizard. Not that it’s heavy; it’s not. But size-wise, it’s decent. Hey, more real estate, more woodgrain! And like said woodgrain, the general design of the shell is very 1970s, and thus very cool. It’s hard to imagine this coming from any other decade!

So, just where did I find the wonderful Wonder Wizard 7702, you ask? Frankly, I’m hesitant to give up the location because the last thing I need is more competition, but rest assured, it was a thrift store I hit up frequently. And trust me, the Wonder Wizard really pushed the limits of the term “thrift.” That word implies something budget-conscious, and while Wonder Wizard wasn’t (alliteration) prohibitively expensive, it came a little too close for my comfort. I mean, it wasn’t like it was the equivalent of a PS4, and indeed, it cost less than the average brand new PS4 game. Still, for someone who balks at dropping more than $10 per thrift visit, the price tag wasn’t ideal, especially since I had no sure way of knowing if it worked. (More on that issue in a bit.)

As I approached the electronics section in which Wonder Wizard was residing and it became increasingly obvious that whatever I was looking at was an uber-old console, my first thoughts were of the aforementioned Magnavox Odyssey. Had I been thinking clearly I’d have recalled that the original Odyssey featured wired controllers, but obviously all questions were dispelled once I actually picked the thing up and saw the name.

Though, while I didn’t know it at the time, I actually was in the Odyssey wheelhouse. See if you can follow this, because it can be a little confusing: the original Magnavox Odyssey came out in 1972 and used “game cards” to access different types of games (these weren’t ROM cartridges though; scroll back up to that Wikipedia link for a better description), and that system gave way to a line of dedicated Odyssey consoles in 1975 and which continued for a few years until the Magnavox Odyssey 2 superseded the whole lot of them. As far as the line of dedicated consoles goes though, this Wonder Wizard is internally a Magnavox Odyssey 300, and externally a modified shell of the original Magnavox Odyssey. Well, at least the base is identical; here, let this site tell you more about it.

Put simply, the Wonder Wizard is a re-badged Magnavox Odyssey 300 console. Though truth be told, I think the Wonder Wizard looks much cooler. Check out the Wiki link and compare for yourself! (Also, reading that page on the dedicated console series, MAN did they have a lot of superfluous entries in the line. Minute-at-best modifications would apparently warrant a whole new console release!)

The Wonder Wizard wasn’t the most feature-heavy Pong clone ever released; there’s really not a whole lot of options at your disposal here. We’ll take a closer look at the games themselves momentarily, but for now, here’s what you get: hand ball, which is tennis played against a solid wall. Tennis, which is just Pong but not really but actually is. And hockey, which is tennis with more paddles and smaller “goalie” areas. (It’s only the sport of hockey in the most rudimentary sense.)

Curious about the difficulty options seen on the right side of the panel here? Why? They’re kinda self-explanatory, aren’t they? Oh alright, I’ll explain: “beginner” is supposedly the easiest setting, with larger paddles and a somewhat slower ball – it plays pretty much how (I guess) people would expect a Pong-type game to play. “Intermediate” shortens the paddles, and “pro” puts the paddles back to their original length but speeds the ball up considerably.

I probably would have changed the labeling of the difficulty settings somewhat, or at least renamed “beginner” to “normal” or something.

The underside of the Wonder Wizard is pretty barren, with only two things worth noting as far as I’m concerned. (In other words, y’all don’t need a pic of the whole bottom of the console.)

First, there’s this label, amazingly still affixed to the beast despite the 40+ years that have elapsed since the original, uh, affixation. See, 7702. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. And look; FCC approved!

I don’t really have much more to say about the label (what more can I say?), so I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that this particular Wonder Wizard wasn’t the only one released by General Home Products. Nope, according to this site, there were several other machines under that name. From the little bit of research I’ve done since acquiring this machine two days ago, it seems like the 7702 gets the most “press” online due to the Magnavox connections – and I assume because it strongly looks like it should be played by someone with oversized lapels – but I’d still say it falls more on the obscure side of the Pong clone spectrum overall. (Though truth be told, beyond Atari and their Sears Telegames rebrands, the Magnavox Odyssey and the Coleco Telstar lines, the vast majority of these Pong systems seem, to me, to fall on the obscure side.)

Here’s the other thing of note on the underside of the console: the battery compartment. Now, the Wonder Wizard 7702 does accept a power adapter, but such things were not included with mine. That’s okay, I’m used to it, and besides, as was common with these Pong clones, the option to use batteries was often (always?) included as an alternative. This was beneficial, because while I could have dug up or otherwise found a replacement adapter, I’m generally leery of such things, having once fried an Atari Jaguar many years back. (The subsequent ‘pop’ and wisp of smoke that arose from the Jag told me I probably did somethin’ bad to it. It was obviously my fault for not being more careful looking at the specs of the machine and the adapter, but hey, live and learn. I wound up getting a ‘good’ Jaguar later down the road anyway.)

So yes, if I was going to play this thing, it was going to be via six big ol’ size “C” batteries. Unfortunately, the sole issue regarding the condition of the Wonder Wizard – and I was cognizant of this while still at the thrift store – is in regards to that battery compartment. The problem? Look at the top right of this picture, and you’ll see that the plastic around the battery connector (is that what it’s called?) has broken. The connector itself isn’t broken, just the plastic (hey, it is over 40 years old), and as such, I knew there was a strong possibility that I’d have to play Bob Vila and do a little repair work when I got home. Fiddling with some new batteries and the connector later that first night, I did get the unmistakable beeps and boops of Pong to emanate from the system, so I had a good idea that the system worked in some fashion. So the next day (yesterday to you), I opened the whole thing up, used a roll of adhesive (that’s tape to you), and began the process of sturdily taping the connector back in place just enough to make adequate contact with the batteries.

I discovered while having the Wonder Wizard opened that except for the battery compartment, the thing was in exceedingly decent, clean shape. (Same goes for the outside of the unit; it sure appears to have been well taken care of!) Due to the wiring inside, it was tougher to get a decent view and/or my big meaty paws in there than I expected, but eventually I prevailed to the point of “good enough.” Remember, this wasn’t a big time restoration job; the batteries just had to make decent contact.

We’ll get to the fruits of my labor momentarily, but long story short: I was successful. It was an achievement worthy of me stomping around the neighborhood and hollering “I is MacGyver!” over and over. I didn’t, because that would have drawn the consternation of my neighbors and I generally try to avoid them. But I could have.

(This battery compartment picture was actually taken after all was said and done, and as such you can see some of my expert professional tape job in it. I had it taped into place better than it appears here; I accidentally pushed the thing back out when removing the batteries. “These pics aren’t in sequential order in regards to the story at hand?! Say it ain’t so!” That black tape to the left was there when I got the thing, and I just noticed the relatively minor cracking in the bottom left corner a moment ago. If I ever do much work with this thing again, it’ll be via an actual power adapter, lest I make things worse than they already are.)

There was one other issue regarding the hooking up of the Wonder Wizard to a TV, and though I didn’t fully quite recognize it as such at first, it was actually a far more pressing issue than the battery compartment. If I didn’t get that thing going, I’d just find an adapter. But if this other issue didn’t work out in my favor, I was in some actual trouble.

The Wonder Wizard has the RF cable hardwired right into the console, which is all fine and dandy. But, because this was actually made by Magnavox, the Wonder Wizard is subject to the same trappings as the Odysseys, and that could cause issues nowadays.

How so? Look at this RF plug here; doesn’t look like your usual RF plug, do it? Magnavox used what was, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong), a proprietary format for their Odysseys. That’s to say, unique. In other words, you need the appropriate switch box that matches with this plug before you can connect the thing to your TV. I consider this to be decidedly “whack.”

(Could someone do some splicing/soldering/etc. and make this relatively more compatible, i.e. with a more common set-up? Probably, but I have no such skills, and besides, I’d be worried about messing up my one and only example of the console.)

Fortunately, I had just such a switch box, from a Magnavox Odyssey 2000 I got at a different thrift store many many years ago. That 2000 is in somewhat iffy condition so I never even attempted to use it, though coincidentally, that Wiki link says it’s basically an updated Odyssey 300. I just can’t get away from that thing!

The 2000 has just been floating around my basement since acquiring it, so it’s nice to see that it’s finally earning its keep by providing the original Magnavox switch box for me to use here. And in a pleasant change of pace, I didn’t have to go through a laborious search to unearth it! It was grimy enough to make me wonder if it even still functioned however, providing me with yet another “I ain’t know” in regards to whether I’d ever get the Wonder Wizard displaying on a real TV or not. But, at least I wasn’t completely out of luck. Yet?

So, everything’s hooked up, and while there was some trial and error and aforementioned battery compartment-fixin’, the results eventually yielded were…

…An earthshaking success! I am the man! I. AM. THE. MAN. Time for a bizarre touchdown dance? Maybe!

Remember my cool 1975 RCA portable TV seen both here and then here? It was the only relatively-accessible TV with the old school screwy RF antenna jack things in my immediate vicinity, so as you can see, out it came. Plus, playing a Pong clone on that TV feels right; the Wonder Wizard displaying on that uber-retro television set, I mean, it just looks cool. The woodgrain of the console, contrasting with the sleek, smooth 1970s-ness of the TV –  the old school gaming vibes are strong with this one! Though, I did have to remove the protective face cover on the TV before taking pictures, since it was apparently made of the most reflective substance in the universe and I didn’t need y’all inadvertently seeing the look of utter awe and/or joy on mah face.

Like I said earlier, when messing around with the batteries, I did get sound to emanate from the machine (this is one of those old school consoles in which all sound effects come straight out of the system and not the TV as you’d expect), so something somewhere somehow worked. Nevertheless, it was a moment of sheer exhilaration (or at least relief) to see that the money wasn’t wasted to bring the Wonder Wizard home.

(I would have liked to get some actual screenshots of this console in action for this article, as opposed to mere pictures of it playing on a TV. Now that I think of it, I guess I could have screwed this unique switch box into a common, generic switch box, and then screwed that into the back of a VCR, and then plugged that into the VCR I have connected to my PC. But boy, that sure sounds like an awful lot of work for an article only three people will look at and only half will actually read.)

What you’re seeing displayed above is tennis aka Pong aka ping pong aka still tennis. It, uh, acts exactly as you’d expect it to. It’s Pong, what more can I say? I did discover that the paddles are pretty jittery on the Wonder Wizard, so actually playing the thing isn’t really feasible. I fully expected this, such things are very common with these dedicated consoles; cleaning the knobs would solve the issue, should I so desire.

This here is hockey, or rather what is purported to be hockey. I mean, technically I guess it is. You’ve got your goalies, and, uh, other guys. I have no idea why the right side features three players while the left side only has two; maybe the right side had a power play?

No matter, cause guess what, CPU? My superior 2020 intellect and advanced game playin’ skillz are about to take you down! Let’s rumble!!!

…Oh wait, the Wonder Wizard is two players only. Yep, in an annoyingly endearing trait of early video games, the option to play by your lonesome is, erm, not an option at all. Don’t have anybody to play with? Guess you’re playing you, then! First one to 15 is the victor! Hey look, I won!

And here’s the hand ball variation. Tennis/Pong and hockey may hold more gravitas in comparison, but had the paddles not been so jittery and I felt like browbeating someone into playing with me, I could see this one being potentially pretty fun.

As it stands though, it’s, uh, hand ball. You slam a ball against the wall and, I guess, hope the other person misses it? Are those the rules? Hey look, I won again! 15 to 1!

This raises the question though: was there ever a legit Pong variant of Jai Alai? Or, dare I dream it, Bocce Ball? (Those two sports don’t really have anything to do with each other and I’m not very familiar with either one; I’m just writing filler here.)

While taking pictures for this article, I thought turning the light off might improve the quality of the shots my phone was taking of the television screen. The difference was negligible, but I did get this really cool pic of the Wonder Wizard illuminated by the light of said screen. it evokes, I don’t know, bell-bottomed kids staying up late into the night playing this wonder of technology or something. “It’s far out, man!” Wait, were people still saying “far out” in our Bicentennial year of ’76?

So there you have it, the Wonder Wizard Television Sports Games (aka Magnavox Odyssey 300) console. Is it antiquated in both looks and gameplay? Well, yeah, I guess. But you know, I absolutely love the overt 1970s look of the console. And the gameplay? I hate the thinking that just because a game is old or graphically challenged (or another apparently popular one: pre-NES), it can’t possibly be any good. Yes, the game variants here are all primitive to the max, but I can absolutely still see some potential head-to-head fun being had here.

And really, this is pure gaming history. Okay, sure, in comparison to other Pong systems it’s probably a relatively minor piece, but nevertheless, the Wonder Wizard is still a part of that de facto first generation of home video games. (You thought the Atari 2600 was first gen? Sorry ace; that and consoles like it are actually second gen.)

Is the Wonder Wizard my new favorite Pong clone console? Well, I’m definitely fond of it (for what it cost, I better be!), and I do indeed collect these consoles in general, but it still doesn’t top my two favorite dedicated consoles from the era: the Coleco Telstar Arcade, which is so (relatively) advanced that calling it a mere “Pong clone” seems like a serious understatement, and Atari’s Video Pinball console, which isn’t even really a Pong system at all.

Still, the Wonder Wizard is neato, man. You know what it sorta recalls to me? Lemme see if I can explain this: due to the look of it, it just seems like something that was bought and played, and then just sorta became ‘part of the scenery.’ Not relegated to the basement or attic exactly, but just sort of there, kind of more like a piece of furniture than something anyone ever really thought of playing by a certain point – especially once more advanced consoles started coming out. Maybe it was dusted and kept clean fairly clean (this example is still in very nice shape), but was paid little attention to otherwise.

Does that make any sense at all?

I don’t know, maybe I’m putting too much thought into this. Anyway, the Wonder Wizard 7702: it looks neat and cool and strictly of its time, it plays fine (well, except for the jittery paddles), and it’s now part of my collection. What more could a vintage gaming system ask for?

Magnavox 19C503 TV (April 1985)

During my recent cleaning/organizing/searching/digging jaunts, some rewards of which were detailed in my last post, I also gained the opportunity to liberate some of the electronics I’ve had stacked, buried, etc., as well. Oh I knew well enough where and what they were beforehand; it’s just that they were buried under enough random crap that mustering up the energy to dig ’em out from whatever I had piled on top of ’em wasn’t going to happen on the spur of the moment. (In other words, I couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm.)

Still, since I wound up moving, shifting and/or replacing the precarious mounds of stuff that had accumulated over the years, there was no time like the present to unearth some of these specimens. And so, now I present to you a vintage TV so cool, I honestly should have written about it sooner. (Hindsight and all that jazz.)

Get a load of this:

It’s the Magnavox 19C503 color TV, manufactured in April of 1985, and just as it assuredly was 35 (!) years ago, it continues to be “hip,” “radical,” “boss,” “with it,” “the living end,” and any other number of trendy and up-to-date positive adjectives you can think to throw at it.

Where did I get this dandy example of 1980s electronic craft? A few years ago, Goodwill had a whole bunch of CRT (that’s “Cathode Ray Tube” to you, pal) TVs laid out for cheap buck bills. We’re talking literally $1-$3 apiece here. Whether it was one massive donation, a serious backlog of stock or what, I do not know, but it was obvious that they had a lot of old television sets and they wanted ’em gone right quick. This was well, well after the switch to digital, and TVs like these weren’t really showing up with any sort of frequency anymore anyway (I’m not sure they even accept CRT TVs as donations nowadays – at least not in my parts), so in retrospect this ended being a last hurrah of sorts.

I’ll never forget that while I was there perusing all this (and I do believe I already had this 19C503 loaded up in my cart), there was some dude there borderline flipping out over these bargains, as was made clear by his excited cellphone conversation. He even turned to me, mentioned the prices and uttered “you just can’t beat it” like we were sharing a moment or something.

ANYWAY, the 19C503: at first glance it doesn’t look too far off from any number of other TVs from around that period. Faux woodgrain sides, digital buttons, a screen size that measures about 18 or 19 inches diagonally; it’s not super heavy, but bulky enough that moving it around is hassle. It’s not a low-end television, and certainly not a portable, but also probably not what would have been considered a top-tier model, either.

Oh, and also, I can’t find much of anything about it online, either. Searches bring up service manual listings, but no real descriptive info, and certainly no pictures. Not that I saw anyway, and I sure looked. I’m not naive enough to believe I’ve got a super rare item or internet exclusive here, but, well…?

You know what attracted me first and foremost to this TV? Those cool diagonal power & channel buttons, that’s what! They just look neat, and even if it’s merely a cosmetic touch, the design absolutely screams “1980s!” to me. It’s not a big enough deal to make me drop $50 (or $20, or maybe even $10) on it, but $1, $2 or $3 (I honestly can’t remember exactly)? Oh there’s no way it wasn’t going home with me at that price. Aesthetically pleasing and a cool example of vintage electronics, that’s about all it takes!

(The slidey volume control is nice too, I just don’t have much to say about it.)

Of course, does the bulk and fairly big footprint it makes justify that price? The answer resides with the individual, but hey, I can live with it. I am living with it.

The flash on my camera makes it hard to see, but the moniker “DIGITAL CONTROL SYSTEM” is stamped on the door of the picture adjustment compartment. Highfalutin! That makes it sound like it should reside on the Enterprise or something. I like to imagine Picard watching Jeopardy! on this TV.

Kapow!

Of course the DIGITAL CONTROL SYSTEM door drops down to provide more options to enhance your television viewing experience. Not a ton of options, mind you; just the expected sharpness/brightness/picture/tint/color knobs you’re looking at here. While I wish there was more to make me feel like I was really controlling a battle station, I guess technically you don’t need much else.

Also, as per the sticker seen inside the door, automatic fine tuning is enabled when you turn the channel and then turn it right back. Handy!

Obviously it’s kind of a spartan set-up where options are concerned, and that continues on to the back of the TV…

No, I’m not taking a picture of the whole back, just the “essentials.” That’s not good enough for you? Nothing I ever do is right.

There’s not a whole lot here. Besides the model and serial number stickers, there’s the option to give this TV stereo capability, provided you, uh, had a stereo to hook it up to. Also, an RF jack, but except for the red audio jack for the stereo, no AVs to speak of, which further leads me to believe this was more of a “middle tier” television.

Oh, and a power cord; it’s got one of those, too. That’s how you give it juice to turn on, man!

(I clearly don’t have a whole lot else I can say here.)

See, manufactured April 1985. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. And as you can see, it’s a fine American product, assembled in Greeneville, TN, US of A; apparently they had (have?) a plant there.

(I clearly don’t have a whole lot else I can say here.)

We’ll get to the functionality of this TV momentarily, but let me just jump ahead here and say that I like it, a lot. I liked it in the first place obviously, but now I’m wanting to make it a “gaming TV.” Not that I don’t have those already, but this one, I’d like to just tuck it away with one old school console always hooked up to it, at the ready for whenever a particular whim of vintage video gaming strikes me.

Only problem there was that after a bit of usage, the “old TV smell” this thing began to emit started to get to me. It’s a common phenomenon, I briefly talked about it before (in this old post), and *I* attribute it to the decades of dust, dirt and I-don’t-want-to-know-what-else that has accumulated within it being ‘activated’ once the set really starts to warm up. An expert will probably come along and tell me I’m wrong – in which case, what’s the solution? (To the TV smell, not me being wrong, I mean.)

Since I don’t want this thing stinking up the room I tentatively plan to house it in, I decided to go the extra mile and clean the insides of this baby out.

Now, I admit, this is something I should be doing with most or even all of the old electronics I bring home. Besides just being good care for the unit itself, it would also eliminate the possibility of insidious bugs inadvertently being brought into my home. I’ve thus far been lucky on that front (to the best of my knowledge anyway), and while the period where this thing would’ve been housing something particularly nefarious has probably long passed, I still wanted to attempt to eliminate the possible cause of that smell as best I could.

A trip outside with some compressed air revealed that it actually wasn’t too bad inside, though there was certainly enough dust and whatnot to warrant the effort. And, since I can’t find any pictures of the outside of this TV online, and since I had the back off anyway, what say we take a quick look at the inner workings of this beast while we’re here. It’ll be fun?

(DISCLAIMER: I don’t know much about the inner workings of CRT TVs, but I *do* know enough to know that tubes can hold a charge for looong after the TV is last plugged in/powered up, and that’s in addition to whatever other dangers may be present. In other words, please do NOT go messing around with the mechanics of old televisions – or any vintage electronics for that matter- if you don’t absolutely and positively know what you’re doing. Stay safe and leave it to the professionals! In my case here, I wasn’t exactly goofing around in there anyway, but even so, I was very cautious to not mess with any of the ‘important’ stuff.)

Plastered in the very back of the, uh, back was this handy diagram detailing…well, I really have no idea what it’s detailing, but it’s safe bet that it’s pertinent info for those with actual knowledge of the subject. (Quite a leap in my guesswork, huh?)

See that C 3-8-5 scrawled on the side there? What’s it mean? March 8, 1985? Or something else?

Rest assured, that grime you’re seeing on the bottom vent there was duly cleaned off with turpentine.

There are the main guts. There’s the speaker to the left, and the screen, and…and…and I really have no idea what I’m looking at otherwise, okay? The diagram probably pertains to all of this, but as previously mentioned, I don’t know what I’m looking at there, either. I know enough to know I shouldn’t go poking around in any of it though. Deciding this would be the ideal location to play tiddlywinks wouldn’t end well for me.

I was initially a little concerned that blowing compressed air directly at any of this would cause something to break/falter/etc., but it actually all looked pretty solid. I was able to get as much dust out as I could, and even a piece of styrofoam that probably shouldn’t have been in there was removed.

(Hopefully someone will chime in and let me know if something looks like it’s gone bad and will cause permanent damage to whatever.)

One more ‘guts’ shot, though this is really just some of the stickers on the inside, erm, side. I hope I didn’t void the warranty by opening this! I imagine the warning sticker lets me know, in strict legalese, that I shouldn’t go licking any of the electronics. That wouldn’t end well for me, either.

(DISCLAIMER AGAIN: Seriously folks, do NOT mess around with the mechanics of old televisions – or any vintage electronics for that matter- if you don’t fully know what you’re doing. PLEASE stay safe and leave it to the professionals!)

Okay, so even before I decided to clean out the inside of the TV, I knew I had to test this as best as I could. Hooking up a VCR would be more of a hassle than I was willing to tolerate, and I don’t have a digital converter box so real TV viewing was out. Naturally that left me with only the option to retro game, which should come as no surprise, since I already told you my intentions for this TV. Why aren’t you paying attention to my words?!

When I first got it, I’m not sure I realized the TV was from 1985. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention and just missed the sticker on the back, or maybe I had just forgotten in the few years since I picked the 19C503 up. Either way, I had a vague “early 1980s” definition floating around my head. As such, in regards to what I wanted to keep hooked up to it on a consistent basis, I was thinking along the lines of something hailing from around 1982/1983. Not necessarily something introduced in those years, just a console that was big enough to have a decent library by then.

Of course, now that I know the TV is from ’85, the easy answer is to hook a Nintendo Entertainment System up to it and let it ride. But, I don’t know, the woodgrain sides and general look of the unit still screams “early 80s American console” rather than “mid-80s” to me. Luckily, I have a console that fits both criteria…

Yes, it’s the INTV System III! And if it just looks like an Intellivision to you, that’s because that’s exactly what it is.

Y’see, thanks to the 1980s video game crash, Mattel wound up dropping the Intellivision line, but the rights were then purchased by a group eventually deeming itself INTV, and with that continued support came new games in production, and therefore new consoles were also needed. Thus the INTV System III was bornin 1985!

Really, it’s just a normal Intellivision, except with a new nameplate and the gold & fake woodgrain color scheme changed to silver & black. Otherwise, same design, same games, and same uncomfortable controllers that hailed from 1979 (or 1980 nationwide, as per Wikipedia).

This was given to me as a birthday gift a few years ago (pre or post 19C503? I ain’t remember!). I already had an original Intellivision, but it was stored away, and I had been wanting a good ‘playing’ console anyway, so that’s what the INTV System III became. Being able to get so reacquainted with it, it eventually shot up to be included in my personal top 10 favorite systems. It doesn’t make top 5, but top 10, definitely.

It was my initial intention to pair the INTV System III up with the 19C503 anyway, so what better way to, you know, test out the TV first?

Does it work? Why sure it does! The picture above sez so! And yes, the display on this TV is still very, very nice. I mean, the picture is really good! And the sound? Nice and clear and loud. Also, dig the inviting bright red channel number the TV displays – why, that’s also worthy of the Enterprise!

What you’re seeing played is the Intellivison staple Star Strike, a game that attempted to emulate the final Death Star battle in Star Wars at home. (Hey, who didn’t want to pilot an X-Wing and blow that thing up?) The idea is to bomb several ports in a scaling, Death Star-esque trench while avoiding/destroying enemy ships; hit all the ports and y’all win. Get killed before doing so or not hitting all the ports before the timer reaches zero, and the earth gets blowed up.

For a 1982 game, the graphics are undoubtedly impressive; Star Strike looks terrific, plain and simple. However, I’ve never been a big fan of the gameplay itself; not that it’s bad, but there’s just never been enough to it for me. Still, it sure looks great!

Anyway, things look and sound quite fine on the 19C503 – but it didn’t exactly start out that way. The TV powered right up, but it took a moment for sound to kick in, even though the only thing being displayed was static. And when I hooked the INTV up, at first all I got was a black & white picture – something worthy of dismayed mental “OH NO!”

I undoubtedly tested the TV at the Goodwill, but of course it probably hadn’t been used, really used, regularly in years. After it warmed up a little, the sound kicked in, and after a game was started, it only took minute or so for the color to pop right back. I guess it just took a bit for the TV’s synapses to fire back up!

(Though after all that, the sound of static, when turning the channels, at first it’ll be low before quickly going to full volume, and it happens every time. I actually don’t think it’s a fault on the TV; because it’s so consistent and because there haven’t been any other audio problems, I think it’s acting normally. Maybe it’s that automatic fine tuning, even though there’s nothing to actually tune in?)

After it got going, the only real fault on the TV’s part was the aforementioned smell,and after the cleaning, I’m still getting a little of it, but it’s much better. Maybe more usage is all it needs?

Indeed, after everything got up and running, my only real disappointment had nothing to do with the TV, but rather, the INTV. I was getting some noticeable video interference whenever certain sound effects played, but it turns out that’s normal. It’s a little annoying, but doesn’t render anything unplayable. My only worry there is that during all this last night, the interference got even more noticeable than it was earlier in the evening, and that definitely concerns me. Is my INTV System III on its way out? I hope not, but it’s not like I’ll be pitching it if it does; it’s too neato!

Plus, it’s not like it has to stay hooked to the 19C503; I’d like to keep it there, sure, but should it go kaput, I could always replace it, or find a 4-switch woodgrain Atari 2600 somewhere (the one that seems most fitting to this TV to me, for some reason).

But for now, the TV seems to be fine; it looks good, it sounds good, it’s got a terrific mid-80s aesthetic to its design, and once the old TV smell (hopefully) works its way out, it’ll be ready to be put in a place of honor. Not bad for only a few bucks at Goodwill!

A Trip Down Memory Lane (Cause Pandemics Don’t Let Me Do Nothin’ Else, Man)

I didn’t intend on taking nearly two months off here. Y’see, my Wi-Fi, which had been spotty at best anyway, went, as you would say, totally kerblooey. This of course inhibited new updates on my silly little blog.

That wasn’t the only reason, however. There’s also this coronavirus pandemic going on. (Maybe you’ve heard of it?)

No, I didn’t catch the thing. Still, given the stay-at-home order that has been in effect here since March, and thus the fact that I can’t really go anywhere, you’d think I’d have more than enough time sit around and write stupid dumb blog updates. I mean, my internet wasn’t bad the whole time…

(Of course, I’d much rather stay at home than risk catching the virus – and more importantly, spreading it to someone else. Still, the reopening of retail stores on the 12th will be welcome, even if it does mean I’ll probably have to wear a stupid mask while out in public. Although, it’ll be nice to have a reason to be antisocial for once.)

Despite frequent walks around the neighborhood, I’ve stayed pretty much in my abode. And yet, I’ve remained busy enough. Not wanting to sit around and do nothing all day, I instead took this opportunity to dig through many, many boxes, bags and bins of old childhood crap junk memories. Ostensibly it was in an effort to organize, but really, I just wanted to unearth “neat old stuff.” You know, things that should be properly preserved, or at least as properly as I can, uh, preserve them.

This was no small feat, and the amount of dusty, dirty, back-breakin’ diggin’ an’ liftin’ I had to do wasn’t exactly my idea of good time party fun. It was pretty time consuming too, as you may well imagine. And yet, I enjoyed the process! The constant discovery of new old things wound up being pretty addicting! I’ve gone through the vast majority of it all now, and honestly, I’m a little disappointed there’s not more to explore!

Toys, games, magazines, books, knickknacks, papers, even clothes, I dug through plenty of it all. Often, while uncovering some item, the memories came flooding back. Other times, it was like I was looking at a foreign object. Hey, my memory is good, but it’s not photographic.

So, now that I’m back in action, what say you join me on a little journey down memory lane? I’m not naive; much of this will be important to only me, but since I bank on my viewership being mostly comprised of people with nothing better to do (raging pandemic or not), hey, at least it’ll be a time killer.

Oh, and this is by no means the totality of what I uncovered. Not by a long shot. Furthermore, this stuff ain’t in strict chronological order, though certain entries will follow naturally from others whenever I decide to hamfistedly attempt a narrative.

Prepare now to take a trip into the psyche of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. What makes him tick? What makes him him? Partial, potentially unsatisfying (not to mention long winded) answers are forthcoming!


Found just two days ago, the Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos 1998 was the very first movie guide book I could call my own.

In the summer of 1997, I had discovered at my local library the then-latest Leonard Maltin movie guide on their shelves. Being a reference book, I was unable to check it out, and as such I wound up greatly anticipating subsequent trips to the ‘bary to further peruse the book. As a young movie buff, it was a wondrous tome; what did he like? What did he not? What could I discover? What did he score my favorite flick(s)? The internet and endless movie reviews – amateur or otherwise – in the following years kinda took away the usefulness of such books, but at the time Maltin’s guides were indispensable, and I still carry a hefty heap of nostalgia for them.

So why wasn’t a copy of Maltin the first personal guide to become mine? Well, as I recall it, mom promised me a copy for good grades or something (hey, I was in 5th grade!), and on the fateful day when it came time to make good on the promise, I was presented with the choice of not only Maltin’s document, but Blockbuster’s as well (along with a few other choices, which were and are still good, but not conducive to this particular recollection otherwise). Such was the power in the Blockbuster name brand at the time that I was torn; Maltin was already my trusted source, but surely the top purveyors of video entertainment would be an authority of such matters too! You can see what my ultimate decision was.

Did I choose wisely? Well, uh, not really. I have no idea if such things were present before or after, but this 1998 edition was riddled with errors that were obvious to even my young eyes. My favorite example: Godzilla vs. Mothra being listed as a 1964 *French* film. While the idea of ‘Zilla and Mothra sluggin’ it out with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop is undoubtedly delightful, it just wasn’t correct.

I rectified my mistake when the next annual movie guide editions came out, but I can’t help feeling some fondness for my Blockbuster book nevertheless. It may have been spotty fact-wise, but like I said, the chain was an absolute force at the time.

Next we have The Harlem Globetrotters: World Tour for the Game Boy Advance, still minty sealed fresh and with Big Deals stickers plastered on it. Evidently Deals couldn’t give it away at the bargain price of $5, so it was marked down even further to a mere $3. I honestly have zero recollection of ever getting this game, and it may actually belong to my brother, in which case, hey Luke, come an’ get it!

Obviously this isn’t a terribly old acquisition, but had you asked me beforehand if this resided somewhere in residence, I’d have scoffed and then given you a curt “NAY.”

Since it has never been opened, it has, needless to say, also never been played. I almost certainly never played it elsewhere, either. Apparently it was/is considered quite terrible, and as such, that sticker proclaiming it plays on the DS and DSLite handhelds reads more like a threat than anything. I take joy in imagining that Deals couldn’t even collect less than an Abraham Lincoln on these and just started throwing them in the bags with the other respective purchases customers were making, preferably on the sly. That’s honestly more believable when it comes to guessing how it actually came into my possession, anyway. That’d be a pretty funny customer complaint: “I didn’t want this dumb game! No, I *don’t* care if it was free!”

Probably hailing from about 1990, these knock-off Batman knickknacks are a sure sign of not only what an absolute phenomenon the 1989 movie was, but what a bonafide Batmaniac I was. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters and Batman, those were the big three for adolescent me.

While obviously capitalizing on the Bat-hype rampant at the time, you’ll notice that the logo is (I presume) just different enough to (hopefully?) avoid any legal entanglements. It’s not the Bat signal, it’s just a, uh, bat.

I have no idea where exactly these came from, but they’re obviously of the dime store variety. Still, they were Batman-related, and as such, something I needed in my simple little life.

Our line-up: a yellow ninja star-esque throwin’ object adorned with suction cups, a tiny, green, probably unusable even back then yo-yo, a red badge (the tiny lip on the back looks like it’d hang off a kid’s shirt pocket, at least until a mild breeze came by and knocked it off), a pink I-don’t-know-what (something on the back has long since broken off; I assume it was a clip, thus making this a cheap pin, but I guess it could’ve been a handle, making it a shield accessory for legit Batman toys – a scenario that is pretty baller when I think about it), and an orange get-the-ball-in-the-slot game watch, with bands so brittle that, as you can see, one has been lost to time.

The watch I actually uncovered over a year ago, but the others were all finds from my recent digs. What’s funny is I remembered the logo on these, but couldn’t have told you what actual items it could be found on until I, erm, found them. I’m pretty nuts about these though, and each new discovery was a moment of exhilaration for yours truly. Such a cool example of little me and my obsession with Batperson. They now all reside in a little wooden keepsake box appropriately deemed the “Bat Box” by no one but me.

I don’t know if these five items comprise a complete collection of all that I had, it’s reasonable to assume one or more similar Batfakes meeting their demise over the years, but they’re all I’ve found and I know not where else I can look. Heck, I don’t even know what to call the “line,” or how to search for it. At any rate, I love what I’ve got here; as weird as it may sound, these alone made all my searching worthwhile.

Old, unopened, sugar free pistachio-flavored Jell-O pudding. Yes, really. No, it hasn’t been sitting around since my formative years. Rather, this is something I found back in probably 2007, maybe give or take a year either way.

Where’d it come from? From the food shelves of a “salvage” store. The other ostensible edibles there were quite possibly of questionable age anyway, but this, nestled amongst other varieties of Jell-O, it was immediately evident that this box was of a graphic style no longer in production. The font just looked old, perhaps even 1980s old. Irrationally tickled that such a thing could survive to the then-present day, and out for actual sale at that, I plunked down however much the asking price was and happily trotted home with my expired puddin’ dessert, never actually intending to eat it.

(Wait, does Jell-O ever even go bad?)

I rediscovered this box months and months ago, pre-coronavirus and during a different excavation search, and even if it wasn’t expired back when I first got it, it undoubtedly is now. I still have no idea how old it actually is though; the lack of a web address anywhere on the packaging is a pretty good indicator that it’s of somewhat impressive age. It appears that “30 JAN90D6” is stamped on one side of the box – can I assume that means January 30, 1990? And if so, would that be the expiration date? How long is Jell-O pudding supposed to last in general? Maybe this really is from the 1980s?

In the same foodstuff vein, I now present to you my ancient bottle of Heinz Worcestershire Sauce. Unlike the Jell-O you just delightfully read about, this bottle has been around since my formative years. Indeed, it was never even actually lost, and as such may not technically fit in with the overall theme of this post. But if not now, when? Don’t get me wrong, if I got bored enough I could get an entire update out of this alone, but meh, lets just check this one off now. Besides, the longer this post is, the more impressed you’ll be with my literary skillz. Right?

Here’s the story: this bottle of Worcestershire (I’ve never been so grateful to have the ability to copy-and-paste as I am right now with that word) Sauce is nearly as old as I am, which is now over the 30 year mark. Is it as old as me? I don’t think so, but it could be. It’s definitely in the same vicinity.

Why does it still exist? Way back in the day, it floated (figuratively not literally HAW HAW HAW) around my parent’s pantry for years; seriously, it eventually became basically a part of the scenery, more of a decoration than something anyone would actually use to cook with. Years went by, and I grew older – as did the Worcestershire Sauce. As I recall it, it was eventually slotted for trashin’ when a long overdue pantry clean was ordered, but I rescued it from such an ignominious demise and have kept it happy and safe ever since.

I know how that preceding paragraph makes me sound, but I promise you, I’m not a hoarder. I’m a collector, and a sentimentalist, but trust me, I’m not in the habit of keeping expired food around. And yet, I just couldn’t let the Worcestershire be junked so many years ago. I think this was due to a few factors. Mainly, because it had been around for as long as I could remember, but also, that label. I mean, just look at the massive steak on that thing! I can probably attribute my lifelong love of steak (and mushrooms, and potatoes) to that graphic alone, and to this day that’s my ideal image of a steak dinner. And indeed, nowadays I love Worcestershire Sauce in general; if it can be added to a recipe, I’m there at the forefront championing its addition. Add it during the preparation of your hamburgers and just tell me it doesn’t enhance the flavor!

The bottle isn’t full, though there is still some liquid in it. The coagulation around the cap tells me it has probably turned into something fairly poisonous, but you know what? I’m still going to liken it to a vintage bottle of wine, something to be treasured, if not actually consumed. (You could point out the fact that vintage wine could still be consumed if one so desired, but I request that you don’t.)

You know, I now realize that in pursuit of honesty, this entire section of the article makes me sound like a crazy person. Maybe I should have stuck rigidly to the theme and omitted it? Oh well, the Worcestershire Sauce is in the bottle and the cat is out of the bag now.

Back to the non-edibles. As I mentioned earlier, There was Batman and Ghostbusters, and then there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s tough, but those heroes in a half shell may very well have been the definitive pop culture obsessions of my childhood. Toys, video games, books, clothes, never mind the cartoon, those pizza lovin’ dudes were a near constant of formative years. They were, as hip kids say, radical and totally righteous.

So when the first big screen movie came out in 1990, it stands to reason that I considered it something of a cultural event. A watershed touchstone? Sure, why not. What you’re seeing here are two of the promotional items foisted upon the children of America during the insane hype that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie. On the upper left: a pin, with a shot taken from the campfire scene. That’s Mikey and Don, lookin’ all nonchalant despite the amounts of pain they were capable of doling out. On the lower right: Raph and Leo share a brotherly moment in a shot that I think comes from after Raph had been revived following a severe beat down.

Both items are still technically usable, the pin more so than the keychain, which has cracked and was dutifully covered in tape by yours truly somewhere down the line. Nevertheless, both are absolute powerhouses of nostalgia for me (especially the keychain, because it features Raphael, who we all know was the superior turtle).

I remember, back in the early-90s, an entire wall in Sears (or maybe it was JC Penney?) being dedicated to smaller TMNT items such as these. As I recall it, it was located in the vicinity of the shoes, and if the turtles’ faces could be plastered on it, it was there. We’re talking shoelaces and the like, in addition to the stuff like what you’re seeing above.

While certainly emblematic of the TMNT movie fervor I had at the time, these were far from the only items I had spotlighting that 1990 debut movie; somewhere I have a giant cardboard standup of all four turtles. It has not as yet been recovered, and I sure hope it hasn’t disintegrated into a mildewed pile of sadness. That would be decidedly not righteous.

(My dad took me to see the movie in the theater. I vaguely recall arriving a little late and later spilling some of the green TMNT-esque drink. Loved the movie though, and you know, I think it holds up better today than it has any right to – though in the interest of full disclosure, I’m looooong overdue for a rewatch. It’s been years!)

The Ninja Turtles weren’t my only cinematic obsession of 1990, however. TMNT found a natural place in my heart due to already being a fan of the franchise. My other movie hero of 1990 was, on the surface, a bit more inexplicable though, and his name was Dick Tracy.

Played by Milton Armitage Warren Beatty, 1990’s Dick Tracy was aggressively marketed to kids, and in my case, it worked. Big time. For a period there, I was all about that copper and his sunshiny bright yella coat. Dutifully, we all went to see it at the drive-in; I recall falling asleep at some point later in the flick, but that wasn’t a commentary on the quality of the film (I was too young to judge, and truth be told, I haven’t seen the movie since then – but I want to, because it absolutely looks like something I’d love nowadays).

Beyond the movie itself was a promotional blitz that, in retrospect, seems sorta unlikely for a comic strip character that was hardly a beacon of “hip” to kids my age beforehand. I’ve read that it was intended to mimic the Batman ballyhoo of the summer prior, and even if it wasn’t ultimately as successful, it certainly seemed comparable in terms of all-encompassing hype. Like I said, it worked big time in my case.

The two pins you’re seeing above are just two small parts of that blitz. The button in the lower right, it’s just the expected Dick Tracy logo that was plastered on pretty much everything at the time. (Even today, TMNT notwithstanding, that logo screams “1990”  to me in a way that few other things can.) The pin in the upper left, well, it’s missing the actual pin part on the back, but it’s shaped like a badge, and declaring the wearer to be a “Junior Detective.” I’d seriously consider keeping that one in my wallet if I didn’t think I’d get busted for impersonating a cop and providing the world’s most embarrassing rap sheet. Dick Tracy wouldn’t approve of that.

I fear it’s long, long gone by now, but I’d sure LOVE to find one of the cards from McDonald’s Dick Tracy Crime Stoppers game. I had one, but I haven’t seen it in decades. That, to me, would be more emblematic than anything of the Dick Tracy mania that swept 1990.

The promotional blitz didn’t end there, though…

No, this isn’t an official Dick Tracy item, but in my world, it’s related, and it’s something I was quite happy to rediscover recently. Lemme explain…

In conjunction with the movie came the expected line of toys. Such things were beyond commonplace by 1990; it would have been weirder if they hadn’t released a corresponding toy line! Put out by Playmates, the same folks behind the fantastic line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, Dick Tracy and his fellow cast of characters were immortalized in plastic.

Like TMNT, the line was brilliantly detailed, with some of the villains being pretty accurate toy recreations of their disgusting big screen counterparts. Indeed, from looks to scale, these figures would have fit right in the Ninja Turtle world, and while I personally don’t recall doing so, it’s easy to imagine other kids taking advantage of that. The line certainly never achieved the same long running success as the Turtles did, but it was pretty decent for what it was…

…Except for one aspect that burnt me up then, and still puzzles me now: THE DICK TRACY FIGURE DIDN’T HAVE A YELLOW RAINCOAT! How on earth do you make a Dick Tracy action figure and then omit his most recognizable aspect?! It boggles mah mind! Oh, he had the hat alright, but the sensible suit that made up the figure’s attire otherwise just didn’t cut it, man. Not then, and not now. And what makes things even more inexplicable is that Playmates released a Donatello action figure with a raincoat  – that very same year!

Anyway, thanks to what I assume was incessant badgering on my part, mom took pity on me and actually sewed a proper yellow coat out of felt for my Dick Tracy action figure! Thanks, ma! Naturally, that’s what you’re looking at above. Actually, for reasons now forgotten, she sewed me two of ’em; I came across the other during my recent digs, but stupidly didn’t put it aside like I did this second one. I don’t have the stamina go digging again just for that, so this coat above will have to represent all on its own. (They were both pretty much the same, and nobody but me cares about any of this anyway.)

Such things were (are) typical of mom, even with something that in the grand scheme of things is of zero importance. But really, even she must’ve realized you just don’t make a Dick Tracy action figure without the yellow raincoat. You. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Oh was I happy to find this one; I had been on the hunt for it for well over a year, but I never expected to find it buried among old high school junk. It wasn’t the only surprising find in that batch either; there were some TV Guides that, like this book, I thought were in one specific place but actually, erm, weren’t.

The Kid’s Guide to Home Computers hails from 1983, but that’s not when I got it – I wasn’t born yet! And no, it didn’t come from a thrift store, garage sale or what have you, either.

Nope, I actually got this ‘new’, albeit well, well after it was even remotely current. It was at some store inside of Chapel Hill Mall, I recall it as a Big Lots-styled, closeout type place, but I could be wrong on that. Actually, I could be wrong on it being at Chapel Hill, too; that particular part of my memory has faded. BUT, I do absolutely recall seeing it on a rack along with others books/magazines, and this wasn’t an oldies rack. I mean, if this was a closeout store, maybe they were, but even so, The Kid’s Guide… stood out to me. How it got to where it was and lasted there as long as it did, I do not know. But I’m sure glad it waited around for me!

By then, I was certainly already familiar with the Atari 2600 console, and I believe I was familiar with both the Intellivision and Odyssey 2 too (albeit only via old print advertisements at that point). So, I’ll say I picked this book up around 1995 or 1996. Maybe even ’97, but that seems a little too late. We’ll stick with mid-90s and leave it at that.

I was already a sucker for retro gaming then, though I’m not sure most of it was old enough to be considered “retro” just yet. In those pre-internet-as-we-now-know-it years, this book was an absolute revelation. If the pages within weren’t my first actual introductions to the ColecoVision, Atari 5200, and Atari 8-bit computer line, then they were certainly my first real introductions. As you may surmise from the title of the book, the proceedings lean heavily on the “home computer” side of the equation, as opposed to the “home video game console.” Of course, since nearly all of the home video game consoles at the time were trying to be home computers in some form, there was quite a bit of overlap, and it was fantastic to read all about it.

The book is an absolute time capsule, with chapters on choosing a PC, the various hardware and software out there, even upcoming titles. Most of the major players in the industry are represented, and even a few that, at least now, may not be considered major.

I absolutely poured over all this back in the day, and despite clearly being aimed at kids (as you, uh, gleamed from the title) in writing style and length, it covers a lot of bases. A sign of the times: the Atari 5200 controller was considered an improvement over the 2600 joystick. (And at least on paper, that was true!) Also, this was where I first learned that M*A*S*H had been turned into an Atari 2600 game! Neato!

Okay, sure, technically there’s nothing in this book that can’t be learned online nowadays, but as a snapshot of gaming/home computing in the early-80s, I consider it indispensable. And I’m never letting it get lost again.

Undoubtedly you’re asking yourself right this moment “say, what’s with that swell gem-shaped rock y’all got there, North Video Guy?” And to that I reply “pump the brakes Ace, I’ll explain.” (Seriously, haven’t you been paying attention? I always explain!)

This wasn’t a store-bought acquisition. At one point during my earliest of years, I wanted a “gem.” Why or what kind of gem, I don’t know, and I’m not sure I could have given you a decent explanation even back then, either.

So anyway, my dad took a rock, and polished into the smooth, gem-like shape you’re seeing now. Thanks, pa!

Like so many of the smaller pieces in my childhood ‘stuff’, the gem/rock/thing floated around (figuratively not literally HAW HAW HAW) the house for years, at one point being colored red with crayon (except for some edge chips that you can just barely see in this pic, this was eventually cleaned off), and ultimately being boxed/bagged/whatevered up until I uncovered it during my archaeological dig some weeks ago. It was immediately set aside, because you know, I still really like the gem rock (I’ve decided that’s its official name, “gem rock”). As a childhood trinket, its nostalgia is powerful.

(Of course, I doubt anyone else anywhere would care all that much about it, and truthfully I don’t have a ton more to say about it here; I mean, what do you want? It’s a rock polished into the shape of a generic gem! I gave you its history, so what more can I say? Nothing’s ever enough for you, is it?)

I think you’d have to be of a certain age to really appreciate the ubiquitous LCD handheld video games Tiger Electronics released in the 1980s and 1990s. These things were everywhere; a seemingly countless number arcade or console games, movies, cartoons and sports received dedicated Tiger handheld adaptations. I mean, MC Hammer and Full House even had handhelds! (As a TGIF kid, there’s a good chance you’ll hear me flipping out from wherever you happen to be should I find that Full House somewhere. And minus the whole TGIF aspect, the same goes for MC Hammer too, come to think of it. Also, now’s as good a time as any to mention that it saddens me that Urkel and/or Family Matters never received a Tiger LCD game adaptation.)

Of course, even those that grew up with them tend to admit that they really weren’t very good. Even compared to other single game handhelds like those by Nintendo (Game & Watch!) or Konami (or at least their TMNT games were pretty decent), the Tigers could come up a little short in the gameplay department – even with the diminished expectations that inherently come with a single game LCD.

So why was I so happy to see that they’re being revived? Nostalgia, I suppose. I loved these things back then – even after I had a Game Boy. Cheap and cheesy as they might have been, there was something oddly special about them at the time – and that something may or may not translate to modern times, even for those that grew up with them originally. I don’t know, maybe I innately sensed that the single game set-up and dedicated marquee-like graphics recalled the coin-ops that were still so prevalent at the time? (Actually, I started that thought fully intending to be a smarty pants, except I then remembered that Tiger ran commercials in the late-80s specifically touting the arcade-in-yo’-pocket aspect of these things. In other words, initial smarty pants reaction or not, subconsciously I guess I wasn’t too far off!)

Indeed, when I learned of the revival, I looked around for one that was worthy of specifically reviewing. I obviously never made the plunge, though Street Fighter II was a serious candidate for about 12 seconds (until I played it and couldn’t decide if some of the controls were broken or if that’s just how it was supposed to play.)

SO ANYWAY, that all played into my being pleased when these two childhood examples were rediscovered during my ‘ronavirus-sourced searchin’. Ninja Gaiden II and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, as you can see. Look close and you’ll notice that the screen in Ninja Gaiden II has been smashed beyond repair (?), which is just a real shame. Sonic 2 still plays fine though.

Indeed, my want and anticipation of Sonic 2 was unbelievable at the time. I wouldn’t own a Sega Genesis for a year or two more when I first got it, but I had already become a Sonic fan nevertheless, via the not one but two cartoon series centered around him. For a period, I was all Sonic all the time, despite natively being a Nintendo kid and not owning any actual Sonic games yet. While ultimately a prime example of Tiger translations of ‘real’ video games not exactly living up to the originals, my yearning for this Sonic 2 back then was unprecedented, and comparable to my wanting of whatever Game Boy title was currently on my radar. I played the heck out of it too – it held the Sonic fort until I got the real Sonic 2 some time later.

Oh, and during my searching, I also found Tiger handheld renditions of Batman Returns and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Dimension X Assault (which seemed like somewhat of a novelty to me back then, not only because it talked but also because Konami released the previous TMNT LCDs). I knew automatically that these actually belonged to my brother, and when I sent him a text asking if I could have them or if he actually wanted them back, he replied in the affirmative regarding the latter. I was somewhat disappointed in this response, and that leads me to this interlude.

Here, flanked by those two Tiger handhelds that have been begrudged me, as well as a Pocket Rocker, is Imperial’s King Kong figure. The sad (for me) fact of the matter was that as I dug through all this childhood stuff, I wasn’t finding only my crap, but stuff belonging to my brother as well. He didn’t want all of it back, but the stuff in this picture, he did. The two handhelds, I understand it, those were staples of his childhood, I get it. And the Pocket Rocker was gifted to him by some relative one long ago Christmas, so I get that, too. (What I don’t get is why he got the cool Pocket Rocker, since I was the one who remembered the commercials; IT AIN’T FAIR. I mean, *I* want an almost immediately worthless music playin’ device, too!)

I was really hoping I could finagle that King Kong out of him though. He didn’t go for it, and that hurts me deep. And after I went through the trouble of locating his stupid stuffed Wiley Ewok thing, too! Thas gradditood fo’ ya!

(Of course I kid. Or do I? You decide!)

I thought for sure I had written about these old Big Chuck & Lil’ John stickers before; maybe I had and the post is just no longer up. I do that sometimes. Either way, during my digs I came across a stray example, and despite already having a number of them ‘in their place’, I was pretty derned happy to rescue yet another, because believe it or not, they’re actually some of my favorite pieces of BC&LJ memorabilia.

(I actually came across precious little material regarding Northeast Ohio’s horror hosts during my searches, which is both good cause that means I’ve already got most of it preserved and bad because I, erm, want more. Oh, I found a few bits besides this sticker here, but more is always better.)

These stickers hail from around 2000/2001. They were freebies at the Fox 8 store in Summit Mall. (Yes, a local channel had their own store in a mall; it was honestly pretty cool, and I wish I’d taken even more advantage of it than I did.) I can’t remember if it was beforehand or if it was when I met Big Chuck & Lil’ John for the very first time in person in the summer of 2001 (just before I entered high school), but there were a whole bunch of these stickers (in a basket on the checkout counter, if I recall correctly), and they let us take a handful.

Hailing from where and when it does, this is just such a terrific example of Northeast Ohio broadcasting at the time. I mean, You’ve got Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who are indisputably local legends, and you’ve got the mention of them following another local institution, The Drew Carey Show. Although it wasn’t (normally) filmed there, Drew himself is a Cleveland icon, and the sitcom was set there, so naturally The Drew Carey Show was a fairly big deal around these parts.

It’s hard to explain what a piece of the cultural landscape Drew’s show was in the late-90s and early-00s, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. Everything stopped for the new episodes on ABC on Wednesday nights, and then Drew’s Whose Line is it Anyway?, and of course the syndicated episodes that were airing multiple times a day on channel 8.

The very fact that a Big Chuck & Lil’ John sticker plays into all of that makes it an indispensable part of my collection, no matter how many times over.

You may notice that this particular copy of the sticker is in a protective card case. No, I didn’t find it that way; rather, whilst digging, I also came across two of the only remaining Pokemon cards I own, both contained back-to-back in said protective case. Since Chuck & John trump Charizard any day, out went the cards and in went the sticker – though truth be told, I made the switch mainly just because it amused me.

I’m seriously considering having both Chuck and John sign the back of the sticker if I bother to go to the next Ghoulardifest, and if I could get Drew to sign it too at some point, well, that’d be pretty amazing.

Speaking of autographs, here’s something I found that I had no recollection of ever having, though I do remember the meeting itself.

You’re looking at the autograph of one Don “Action” Jackson, who until recently was one of *the* DJs at WMJI 105.7 FM. He was recently laid off during that iHeart Radio restructuring or whatever it was, and that’s a genuine shame. Not only was Action Jackson ever present during the years in which I was forming my musical tastes (thanks largely due to his station), but he was just a terrific DJ in general – energetic, entertaining, and in no way deserving of such an unceremonious exit.

Anyway, I met him in 2002, at the opening of some store somewhere. (A Giant Eagle, I think? Or maybe a Sam’s Club? I ain’t recall.) That’s obviously where this autograph came from, signed on the back of a “United We Stand” bumper sticker (it was the months following 9/11, after all).

And as luck would have it, he was also giving out Moondog concert tickets as prizes, should you be able to answer four of the performers appearing at the show that year. The guy next to me blanked, but I nailed three of them before blanking on the fourth. I did recall the opening, warm-up act though, so I took a chance, and that was enough to net me two free tickets to the Magic Moondog Coronation Ball 2002. Which leads me to this…

I already kinda knew where this Moondog ’02 program was, it wasn’t really a rediscovery here, but it still needed liberated, so here we are. This program was, of course, the result of my ticket win. My brother and I both went, and I’m not sure about him, but I do believe this was the first real concert I ever attended. Unless you count the KISS tribute band in the parking lot of High Point Furniture, which I don’t.

(What, I treat you to a free, memory-makin’ Moondog concert and you can’t toss that King Kong figure my way, bro? UNBELIEVABLE.)

The Moondog, held annually for years starting in 1992, commemorated Alan Freed’s original Moondog show of 1952, generally considered the first legitimate Rock & Roll concert. 2002 happened to be the 50th anniversary of all that.

The guest line-up on the first page of the program gives you a good idea of what the Moondog consisted of for a number of years. Namely,1950s and 1960s acts, and man, 2002 didn’t disappoint. (Partners in Rhyme, an a cappella group, was the opening act that inadvertently won me the tickets; thanks guys!) Not a dud in the bunch, and one of them (Lesley Gore) is no longer with us. As a first concert experience and a lover of 50s and 60s pop/rock (then and now), it was tough to beat! I specifically remember Gary Puckett’s vocals absolutely shaking the arena.

(And yet, the best Moondog I ever saw was in 2011: The Grass Roots, a few months before Rob Grill died, Eric Burdon of The Animals, whose voice was still unbelievable, The Spinners, who put on a fantastic grand finale-type performance in the middle of the concert, Felix Cavaliere & The Rascals, and headliners America. I mean, I love all of those acts, and aside from the fact it was tough for anyone to follow The Spinners’ showstopper, it’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen by someone not named Bruce Springsteen. 2012 was good too but just couldn’t compare, and I haven’t made it to a Moondog since. Actually, I don’t think they’ve even had them for the last few years, which is pretty sad.)

Time for some more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles memorabilia. This one, I had already found an empty tube some time beforehand, and then I found another during the recent searching. Which one is this? Does it even really matter? Stop being so needlessly arbitrary, you! They’re both the same!

(Yeah, like I have any room to be criticizing anybody for being arbitrary!)

Put out in conjunction with 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, this was a tube of “Squeeze & Lick Lollipop,” as per the now-empty tube you’re seeing to your right. It was really just a fruit-flavored gel, though I recall it being tasty enough. I question the look of anger on Raph’s face as he samples it though; what, if it ain’t pizza it ain’t good?

It’s tough to say when TMNT mania among kids reached its peak. I’d cautiously posit 1990/1991, though. You had the cartoon with three years under its belt, an endless amount of merchandise (toy, game, clothing, food, you name it), and now two live-action movies. Oh, and a live concert tour that featured a promotional appearance on Oprah. That happened too. The early years of the 90s really did belong to the Turtles, at least where kids were concerned. This empty tube does a decent enough job of representing that era all on its own, if you ask me.

I didn’t, and don’t, think the sequel quite topped the first movie in terms of quality, though I will say the second flick did achieve something approaching a microcosm of early-90s kids’ pop culture. Or something like that. Vanilla Ice performing “Ninja Rap” just may be the definitive summation of 1991 when it comes to the world of children at the time. Of course, I’m biased; I was there for it as it happened. My perception may very well (and almost certainly is) skewed.

This follows, cause Ninja Turtles, pizza, ya dig?

Found in a bag of random papers and whatnot, this is an original flyer for Pizza Pan, a local chain that was, as you can see, “home of the free pizza.” I can’t believe this survived to the present day, and even crumpled and a little torn (I’m trying to flatten it out as best I can right now), it’s a find I’m pretty happy to have had.

Here’s how it worked: have a pizza delivered, and you got one free. Pick it up yourself, and you got two free. As seen here, the same deal applied to their ribs. With an offer like that, there’s naturally going to be some buzz, and for awhile there in the early/mid-00s, Pizza Pan was aggressively pushed locally. Big Chuck & Lil’ John themselves even pitched them in commercials, and even their show proper. (Hey, here’s proof!) The push worked, because we certainly sampled their wares more than once.

And then they just seemed to sort of go away. I vaguely recall the free pizza deal being done away with, which, if my memory is correct, is going to hurt business considering that’s what the business was built on. Maybe I’m recalling wrong, though. At any rate, the location nearest us closed, and we never had them again. There’s still a website, though it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2015, and nearly all of the tabs just lead back to the store locations page – and I’m not sure how many of those are even still open today.

Still, like Mikey and Regency Windows ads (“I’m gonna save you a lotttttta money!”), the promotions for this place were ever present at the time, and for me, an indispensable reminder of that era in Northeast Ohio.

My recent digs weren’t relegated to only bags, boxes and bins of childhood crap, however. I’ve also used this unexpected down time to take the opportunity to sift through my vast, VAST video collection, simply to recover long missing tapes that have been on my mental want list for too long.

The tape, from 2005, that you’re seeing here wasn’t the biggest rediscovery, but it’s certainly one that I’d been searching for for quite awhile, and as such pretty representative of the whole project. When I finally unearthed it, the contents weren’t even marked (something that, I’m sad to say, became quite common for me as the 00s dawned).

While an episode of That 70s Show and part of The Simple Life (The Simple Life, boy, I had forgotten all about that garbage) were captured afterwards, the main purpose of this tape was to grab three episodes of Seinfeld that I found particularly brilliant. This was of course before the DVD releases, when the only way to consistently re-watch these was to tape them via syndication. At the time I was a huge Seinfeld fan, and while the truth is the show hasn’t worn all that well for me now, I do indeed still consider these three episodes to be among my favorites:

“The Bizarro Jerry” (season 8, episode 3), in which Elaine falls in with a group of friends who are the polar opposites of Jerry, George, Kramer and Newman, behavior-wise. I’ll never forget just how clever I found the concept the first time I saw the episode. Oh, and “man hands” stems from this ep, too.

“The Merv Griffin Show” (season 9, episode 6), in which Kramer finds the discarded set from the aforementioned show in a dumpster and recreates the program in his apartment. It’s a little surreal, and while the occasional surrealism of the later seasons of Seinfeld have been criticized (even by myself at one point), it’s an aspect that, ironically, holds up better for me now.

“The Frogger” (season 9, episode 18), in which George buys and attempts to keep his high score preserved on an old Frogger coin-op. This one, besides having the usage of a vintage arcade machine as a natural source of interest for yours truly, was one of the first (and only) episodes I saw first run. In the hype surrounding the series finale, I briefly started watching new episodes on NBC, though I didn’t stick with it. Despite the heartbreaking image of a Frogger machine smashed to bits at the episode’s conclusion, there’s still some real nostalgia at play here.

Obviously the tape is pretty worthless now that the uncut, squeaky clean DVDs are readily available, but at the time, this was as good as I could have hoped for. And dig this, there’s a Pizza Pan commercial during “The Frogger” episode, too! Look, it’s all comin’ together, just like an episode of Seinfeld!

(I’ve managed to relocate nearly all of the tapes I’d been searching for, albeit at the expense of a beater VCR that actually held up for far longer than it should have considering what I put it through. The last hold out? Years ago, I had five tapes loaded with Nick Arcade episodes. I have #1, #3, #4 and #5, but as of this writing, #2 is still MIA. I would have marked that one, so where could it be? It’s drivin’ me ‘nanners, man!)

Hey, did y’all know I was an artist? NO?! Well, that’s understandable, since I’m really not. Not professionally, I mean. I’d like to think that the image to your left here was my only real flirtation with surrealism or existentialism or some artsy fartsy term like that, though.

Here’s the story: during my senior year of high school, my art class was split in two groups. There was photography, and then there was whatever I was in (I honestly don’t remember). The photography part took up most of the teacher’s focus, so me and the two or three others in our group were largely left to our own devices. Oh, the teacher would give us assignments and we’d do them, but since her attention was focused on photography, we got to screw around way more than we would have otherwise. No joke, I once made a makeshift TMNT action figure in a kiln, because some things stay with you for life.

Anyway, one time, I can’t remember if there was a bowl of pretzels set out for us or if someone just brought pretzels as a snack, but I got the idea to dip one in epoxy or something and wing it at a piece of my art paper. The result survives to this day and is what you’re seeing now. I call it “Discarded Pretzel,” and it represents isolation or something. It looks like it’s been spit out, okay? I can’t decide if the pretzel itself is more or less toxic than the Worcestershire Sauce I wrote about several months ago in this article.

We’re nearing the end of our journey here, which is good, because my enthusiasm is fading fast. Still, I find this artifact pretty funny. I don’t know when it’s from, but it’s the result of my brother and I being needlessly destructive.

You know those dollar store G.I. Joe knock-off figures that have been produced forever, right to this very day? Well, at one point my brother and I decided it’d be a good idea to melt a toy roulette wheel into the torso of one. You can ask me why, but I have no good excuses.

Honestly, it’s something so pointless and stupid, I can’t help but love it. I kinda regret ‘modifying’ the wheel (which I think hails from the same general era as those fake Batman things waaaay up above), but considering our clumsy melting skills, it’s amazing that the wheel is not only still functional, but so are the hapless soldier’s appendages. Even his head still turns!

Remember those little I.D. cards on the back of G.I. Joe packages, detailing the attributes of whatever specific figure you bought? I can’t help but wonder how this guy’s would read (even though he’s not a G.I. Joe). I mean, could his specialized skill be any more useless? The dumb wheel doesn’t even work right unless he’s laying down! (We call that gravity, gang.) What, is he hoping to tap into the compulsive gambling habits of Cobra?

The questions are endless; this dude’s a total enigma. I deem him “Wheelhouse,” because that sounds like a G.I. Joe-ish moniker. Oh, and he has to originally hail from either Vegas or Atlantic City, I haven’t decided which yet.

During my digging, I turned up not one, not two, but three old Mystery Science Theater 3000 merchandise order forms! Cool winnins!

I had written the show and sent in some of my artwork back in, probably, late 1997, and that was enough for them to add me to the “Info Club.” Thanks, MST3K! Man, I loved getting these things in the mail; new MST3K merch to buy – too cool! Well, having even less money then than I do now (which is really saying something), most of it was just for me to gawk at, though I did order tapes fairly frequently from them. This is also where my “Bot Building Booklet” and some kind of MST3K-emblazoned folder loaded with stuff came from, but usually, it was all about the VHS.

Do I wish I had taken even more advantage of the wares they offered? Well, of course. Still, I can’t complain about what I did get, and I’m certainly glad to have a decent number of these old order forms survive in my collection. As far as I know, the Info Club is no more, but at least we MSTies have artifacts such as these to remind us. (As well as the on-screen graphic that remains in old episodes.)

And last but certainly not least, we have this dandy little item. Dig this: it’s a State Road Shopping Center coupon booklet, from 2006! Mega cool winnins!

One of the most popular articles on this blog is this oldie, in which I detailed, in photographic form, some of the establishments that had once made up the shopping center. It’s kind of a wash, since it’s an earlier effort and I don’t think it’s particularly well-written, but meh, it is what it is.

Anyway, this booklet was good throughout May 2006 (14 years ago as of this writing!), and I imagine it was a last ditch effort to improve business and stave off the eventual demolishing that ultimately took away the old center and made way for the one that stands today. Or maybe they just though it’d be a nice gesture, I dunno. But look, it was free!

I myself didn’t actually find this; rather, mom came across not one but two of them during her own personal cleaning project. (See, it’s not just me; there hasn’t been much anyone can do around here lately!) She actually asked me if I wanted them! Uh, yeah ma, I do! Mom knows what kind of stuff I collect, so I appreciate her saving these for me. Thanks again, ma!

Not every place in the strip was represented in the booklet, and that unfortunately means no special deals for North Gate Lanes (though I can’t remember for sure now; they may have been gone by ’06). Still, the coupons for Arby’s (still there), Pro-Tec Electronics (relocated), Goodwill (relocated), Fishland Pets (gone, I think?) and Longhitano’s Restaurant (still around in Kent), among a few others, make this an essential piece of local (and I do mean really local) memorabilia for yours truly!


And with that, our little trip down (my) memory lane comes to a close. This was a fun article to write, mostly because it was mainly for me. As I said over 8000 (yes, really!) words ago, much of this is probably only important to me. But like I also said way back at the beginning, hey, it’s a bit of a peak into what makes me, me. Not a big one, but one nevertheless.

If nothing else, hopefully it gave you something to do, provided you’re under the same stay-at-home orders as I currently am. I want everyone to be safe and healthy and to do their part to keep others safe and healthy, but man, I’m ready for this to be over. I never expected to live through something like this pandemic, and I sure hope I never have to live through something like it again.

Stay safe, everybody!

Oh, but before I go…

There, that’s better! Seriously, Dick Tracy without the yellow raincoat, man, it just ain’t right!

Panasonic RE-7441 FM/AM Radio (Circa-1969)

People seem to like the old electronics posts, so I’ve been looking to get another one up lately. Not that I don’t already have a bunch of ancient clocks, radios, VCRs, or whatevers lying around that I could write about, because I do. Oh how I do. BUT, nowadays I really prefer to spotlight items that showcase the era from which they hail particularly well.

Well, as luck would have it, I found a doozy of a candidate at the thrift store just earlier today. Dig this retro piece of cool, because man, I think it fits the bill:

This is the Panasonic RE-7441 FM/AM radio, and what it lacks in all-encompassing-photographability (that is, a single shot just doesn’t do it justice; read on, there’s more), it more than makes up for in stylish, late-1960s/early1970s good looks. And crevices; I’ll say right upfront that I did my best to clean the decades worth of dust and grime off of and out of this thing, but it was a battle I just couldn’t totally win. So when looking at these pics, know that, hey, I tried.

Functionally, there’s not really a whole lot to the RE-7441. It’s not a clock/radio, it’s just a radio. There’s the standard on/off/volume knob, a tone (bass/treble) knob, frequency selector (FM/FM AFC/AM) knob, and of course a tuning knob (it’s how you get your channels, man!).

But actually, provided someone nowadays wasn’t put off by the retro aesthetics (how could they be?!) or lack of satellite radio or some such, this thing is theoretically just as useful today as it was approximately 50 (!) years ago. That is, provided it works, naturally…

…Which, I’m happy to say, it does. Exceedingly well, in fact! The sound is very nice and I was able to tune in a decent number of channels. And bear in mind, this was in my messy basement and without any extra accoutrements, i.e. an external antenna. Had I used one of those and/or had this out in a garage or something, I’d probably be batting an even better average.

The flash on my camera totally drowned most of it out, but the display on this remains nice and bright, too. Indeed, except for some of the expected wear-and-tear that comes with years of presumable usage, this thing works like a champ. I’ve showcased before (here and here are just two examples) of how fond I am of vintage Panasonic products, and the RE-7441 just reinforces that mindset.

There’s no date on this model, but my initial, patented Northeast Ohio Video Hunter deductive reasonin’ told me 1970s at first glance. However, a quick online search found this forum post about the radio, and responses in that thread seem to point to this being a late-1960s innovation. Now that’s cool. And what’s more, Logopedia says that the Panasonic logos seen here were changed in 1971. Further research shows that Panasonic continued producing this radio with their updated logo afterwards, so yeah, my model here hails from somewhere around the late-60s/early-70s, it seems. As seen in this update’s title, I’m going with a circa-1969.

The back of the radio is pretty minimalist; except for the cord and external antenna inputs, there’s not much to speak of.

The back here does actually give a better idea of the cool contours this thing has. If the preceding front-of-radio pics didn’t get the point across (and I know they probably didn’t), you do get a sense of the sloping speaker/grill design from the back.

In fact…

…Here’s an even better look, taken from the very side. Yep, the speaker/grill portion on the front of the radio is actually raised and sloped, giving the whole thing a proto-Atari 2600 appearance, which, you know, is just plain neato.

Beyond that, as you’ve seen, this thing is built of black plastic, aluminum trim, and obviously, faux-woodgrain sides. Again, it gives the whole thing a proto-2600 sensibility; no wonder my initial thoughts told me this was strictly a product of the 1970s!

(Yes, I know in the 70s it was the Atari VCS and that the 2600 branding began in ’82 when the 5200 came out; you know what I meant, lay off.)

Here’s the very bottom of the unit; condition-wise, this one’s a little rough, but that’s to be expected. Besides, it’s not like it matters all that much, since you, uh, probably wouldn’t be looking at the underside of the radio whilst listening to the hip, groovy tunes you love so.

Look close and you can see the $12 price tag I was almost able to decently remove. I did mah best. You can tell I like this thing because under normal circumstances a 12 dollar price tag would cause me to (figuratively?) ball up my fists and crinkle my face in disgust. That’s to say, I don’t really like paying that much for anything. But then, needless to say, the RE-7441 was so worth it.

If you’re inclined, click on the picture for a supersized view. See, Re-7441. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. I like the presence of the original serial number sticker; I wonder if the actual date of the machine can be traced through that, somehow?

(I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something identifying the date of manufacture on the inside, though I’m not going to go through the trouble of opening it up, mainly because I don’t want to know what horrible creatures crawled and subsequently died in this thing over the past 50 years. Plus, wouldn’t opening it void the warranty, he said facetiously?)

Here’s one last front-view look; you can kinda see the sloping grill better here.

The Panasonic RE-7441 is definitely a slick piece of retro technology, ridiculously cool lookin’ and still perfectly functional in this day and age. It would have easily looked at home in someone’s modern, space age living room or some long-haired, “with it” teenager’s desk, and it still exudes personality to this day. Indeed, it’s not a small radio, but not terribly big, either; find one in working condition, and you’ve got a still-usable radio that also makes for a cool conversation piece.

$12 may have been about $7 more than I would have liked to have paid for it, but that’s just because I’m cheap; $12 is in actuality a pretty reasonable price, and just goes to show that awesome vintage electronics like this can still show up for decent prices. You just gotta keep your eyes peeled! (But not in my general vicinity, please; I don’t need the competition.)

A Leap Day Superhost Post

I wanted to get something up today, simply because it’s Leap Day; it’s not like we get one of these every year (duh!), and as such, having an update immortalized on my silly blog would make me feel like a big man. (I’m easily pleased.)

Problem was, boy, I couldn’t think of anything to write about yesterday in preparation for today. Well, not quite; I’ve got plenty of stuff I could write about, but the problem was inspiration. I’ve gotta feel the fire inside! Attempts at articles on Indestructible Man and an old Zenith clock radio fell in defeat to my lack of drive yesterday. (It didn’t help that the radio portion of the aforementioned clock radio was seemingly dead, effectively depleting whatever inspiration I had initially mustered up to zilch.)

But really, I guess what’s been preying on my mind lately has been the recent death of Marty “Superhost” Sullivan. I mean, it’s not like I was unaware of this, and I’d been figuratively scratching my head trying to come up with an appropriate follow-up to my last post on the subject. But, I just couldn’t think up anything that I’d be totally satisfied with. So instead, why don’t we just briefly talk about Supe for the sake of talking about Supe, eh? One final (?) tribute to Mr. Sullivan on this site.

There’s our dear departed television buddy, on that classic WUAB set, fan art behind him and a smile on his face. I mean, this pic could be the very idea of a Cleveland Saturday afternoon personified! At three years old, that Superman-like appearance demonstrated so ably above is what first caught my attention, and even though I knew it was a parody (though I naturally didn’t know it in those terms; I was only three after all!), it was that striking image that has been ingrained in my psyche ever since. I may have been way too young to actually ‘get’ Supe then, but my earliest Northeast Ohio horror hosting memories are of him nevertheless.

I know I’m repeating myself here; after our 2014 interview and my meeting him this past November, I don’t know how much more I can say. He was a total pro at what he did, beloved on-camera and off, and I’m bummed that he’s gone.

The news of his death really was pretty shocking; even though he was 87, he sure seemed like he was in good health this past November. Indeed, I had hopes that he may even make it to a future convention in Akron and/or Cleveland. Obviously that’s not going to happen now; Supe’s gone, and even if he hadn’t been on television regularly in decades, the world of broadcasting is lesser for it.

Here’s a short story I don’t know if I’ve ever recounted online before: in the aftermath of our 2014 interview, I sent him a self-addressed stamped envelope for a signed picture (at that time, it didn’t seem like he’d be making a return trip to Northeast Ohio), and when I got the return, not only did it have a full 8×10 autographed photo, but also an unexpected (and unnecessary) bonus: a smaller photo along with a post-it note thanking me for all my kind words. He didn’t have to go that extra mile, but that small additional gesture really summed up how giving Marty was with his fans.

An addendum to that story: I think I sent this after the SASE rather than with, but I found an old 8-track (is calling an 8-track “old” redundant?) in a Superhost-ish light blue shell, and as a final thank you to him for the interview, I stripped off its labels and mocked up a custom Superhost 8-track tape, which of course I sent to him. Because why not? I wish I had a picture of the finished product; it actually looked pretty snazzy, all things considered. I hope Marty liked it!

Thinking of it, my personal experiences with Marty were almost like a flip of what I had with fellow local legend Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed, who of course passed away less than a year ago as of this writing. I only met Marty the one time, but spoke with him at length over the phone years ago, and a few times online as well. Sweed, on the other hand, I met several times during his WBNX run in the late-90s/early-00s and of course spoke with him at those appearances, but I never really had a long, detailed conversation with him. But then, being quite a bit older by the time Sweed came back to Northeast Ohio television in 1998, I was able to absorb his show in a way I was too young to do with Marty’s.

Despite the differing circumstances, both were absolutely kind and gracious in their time with me. I’ll always be grateful for that.

In fact, while on the subject…

In 1999, both The Ghoul and Superhost were invited to be background extras in the 100th episode of The Drew Carey Show, behind-the-scenes coverage of which was presented on The Ghoul’s program. As you can see above, both got together for a brief moment. (Sorry the quality’s fuzzy; a 20 year old SLP VHS screencap doesn’t exactly make for archival-quality material!)

Fast forward to recent times: it’s sad to realize that both would be gone within a year of each other. Local legends, crucial pieces of our television history, laid to rest and never to be repeated. RIP, guys.

Such is the nature of time marching forward; all you can do is deal with it. But hey, we’ve been given a bonus day today; what say we appreciate it, huh?

RIP, Marty “Superhost” Sullivan

Oh no. No no no.

The news dropped online tonight: Martin Sullivan, aka Superhost, has passed away. This is just a terrible, awful thing to hear, for so many reasons. A Northeast Ohio television icon and a horror hosting legend, he was absolutely both of those things. But more importantly, he was one of the nicest, most genuine people anyone could ever hope to talk to.

Me with Marty “Superhost” Sullivan at Akron Comic Con 2019

Supe has long had a presence on this blog. There were several older posts that have long since been taken down, but the most important articles are still up: just over six years ago now, I had the great fortune and honor to interview Marty for this site, which can be read here. And of course, just this past November I had the opportunity to meet him in person at Akron Comic Con, which was commemorated here. I mean, it was like I just met him; how can he be gone?!

When I say Martin Sullivan was beyond gracious, informative and kind, trust me, that’s coming from personal experience. Not once during our phone conversations back in 2014 was he anything less than wonderful. Indeed, even after the interview was published and I gave him the heads up, he took the time to read it through and send me the correct spellings of some of the names of people he used to work with. I mean, he cared.

That same care was evident this past November at Akron Comic Con. Not only was he an absolute pleasure to meet and speak with in person, but I saw him devote his full time and attention to everyone in line; there was no rush, everybody got their chance to talk with Supe and let them know just how much he’d meant to them over the years.

My earliest memories of the Cleveland horror hosting tradition are of Superhost. WUAB would air the promos for his show during their KidsLand programming, and from an early age, Supe dancing around to “The Curly Shuffle” was ingrained in my psyche.

This is heartbreaking news, and frankly, I just don’t know what else I can really say right now. I’ll leave you with this though: prior to Akron Comic Con, the last time I had spoken with Marty was via email in August 2017, asking him some questions regarding when he premiered as Supe back in 1969. In typical fashion, he went above and beyond, did more research than necessary and got back to me with the info of Queen of Outer Space being his debut movie on November 8, 1969 at 3:30 PM. He then asked “Good enough?”

Yeah Supe, good enough.

RIP, Marty.

The Sandwich Chef Mug Mystery

[UPDATE: Our good friend Kabir Bhatia, he of WKSU fame and a good egg to boot, has solved the mystery! I’m not going to edit this post beyond adding this update, because hey, I still want y’all to chime in with your recollections. But, you’d still be well-advised to check out the links Kabir has helpfully provided in the comments section! There’s a very interesting history behind Sandwich Chef, which lives on to this day as Wall Street Deli.]

Friends, I begin the new year here with a query. I am stumped, I am intrigued, and I humbly implore you to share whatever knowledge you may have on the subject in the comments. I expect no immediate response, but at least this post will be here when the right person stumbles across it.

As you may or may not recall, I’ve gone to the, as I have just deemed it, “mug well” more than once here. It’s true; I *love* collecting vintage mugs, glassware, that sort of thing. What we’ve seen before (here, here, here and here) has all been associated with broadcasting, and as such falls within whatever rough guidelines I have established for my stupid dumb blog. (Guidelines that are easily broken when I feel like it cause it’s my site and I’ll write what I want when I want.) But the fact of the matter is that my interest in promotional drinkin’ and eatin’ implements goes beyond just the TV and/or radio-related ones. Old business establishments, beer and soda, locally-related stuff in general, or sometimes just something that strikes my fancy (there’s a reason I got supremely stoked over a coffee mug featuring a presumably-1980s-era paint splash design scheme), it’s all fair game. The end result of this mindset? I don’t exactly pick up everything I come across, but nevertheless, I frankly have almost too many mugs/glasses/etc.

Aw, who am I kidding, there can never be too many. And luckily for me, they’re plentiful and usually pretty cheap. Evidently no one else in my general vicinity cares as much as I do about this sort of thing! (Or so I hope!)

Anyway, when it comes to this particular hobby of mine, probably the area that gets me just as fired up as something broadcasting-related are those things related to eating establishments. As in, restaurants. Drive-ins, burger joints, steakhouses, pizza places; the older the better. I flip over this sort of thing, especially when the establishment in question is a piece of Americana no longer in existence, or one that’s still alive but only as an endangered species.

And that brings us to today’s subject. In relation to the end of the preceding paragraph, I can only guess that this one’s the former and not the latter, cause man, I can’t find nothin’ on it out there in internet land.

As you can see, it’s a plastic, almost-certainly vintage, mug for a place called Sandwich Chef. I have no recollection nor knowledge of Sandwich Chef, and the choice in name doesn’t exactly make for a narrow set of search results. There appears to be a place in Little Falls, NY with that name, but apparently they opened in 2012; I don’t think they’re the same, because this mug just screams 1970s-to-early/mid-1980s to me.

The overall design is the same as that McDonald’s/WAKR one I linked to before (here, have it again), and the Sandwich Chef logo features the kind of old school aesthetic that you frankly just don’t see anymore. (The 1972-1978 Burger Chef logo seen here features the same vintage charm, though please don’t take that to imply there was any sort of connection between that chef and this chef. Unless there was? I’d think I’d be coming across some info if that were the case though…)

And look, “Home of the 25 Cent Coffee,” when was the last time you could find a cup o’ joe for that bargain price?! (Unless you still can somewhere; with pop being my nearly-all-day choice of caffeinated beverage, I don’t drink coffee very often.)

Both sides of the mug are essentially the same, the only difference being the reverse has, in place of the 25 cent coffee slogan, a declaration of Maryland Club Coffee, which I take to mean was Sandwich Chef’s coffee provider of choice. (Marvel at the power of my deductive reasoning!) It’s really not a big enough difference to make me go upstairs and take a picture of, but it is an additional piece of info – though I’m still not finding anything helpful online.

As evidenced in that McDonald’s/WAKR mug link (here, have it again), this Sandwich Chef thing most likely came with a lid and surface holder originally, though both are currently MIA. I could easily replace them, though ideally I’d like know what color the originals were before doing so.

So, my questions regarding Sandwich Chef are as follows: where was it located, and for how long? 1970s? 1980s? Was it a chain, or a standalone spot? I’ve searched to no avail, and I’ve asked to no avail. Since this was found locally, it’s a reasonably safe assumption that it was a Northeast Ohio establishment…until I remember that I come across out-of-state stuff pretty frequently. Hey, people move and/or go on vacations all the time, after all! And if it was a chain, I’d like to think I could uncover some recollection somewhere. But as far as all these questions go, so far no soap.

Whether these mysteries are eventually solved or not though, this is still a really neat find. Indeed, these are the kind of promotional items that tend to get me really fired up, because it’s stuff you just don’t see very often – if at all. I just wish that, you know, I knew more about it! If you do, hey, hit up the comments! Please!

REVIEW: A Double-Dose of Christmas DRAGNET (Dollar DVD; 2004)

Aw, I couldn’t let December go by without a Christmas update! I’ve been a busy cat with little time to write arbitrary articles for my silly little blog, but I had to get some kind of post up for the holiday, you know?

I’ve been ruminating on this one for some time now, and I’ve been wanting to showcase Dragnet in some way here for awhile anyway, and today that time has come. I’ll say right up front, I’ve been a big Dragnet fan for, boy, around 20 years now. Back in the late-90s, TV Land was running the 1967-1970 color revival series, and that’s where I was first introduced to Jack Webb’s still-influential police procedural. The cornier, preachier aspects of the show would become increasingly evident to me over the years, but the fact remains that to this day, to me, when 60s Dragnet was good, man, it was good. Nowadays, I find (most of) the episodes that basically act as tutorials on how the L.A. police department operates in various situations to be fairly insufferable, but the rest, square as they may seem in this day and age, I genuinely enjoy.

That famous title screen

Anyway, through the power of the then-still-burgeoning internet of the late-90s, I was able to discover that Dragnet was first a 1950s television series, though that iteration was nowhere to be seen regularly on TV by then – at least to the best of my knowledge. (And yes, I know, Dragnet was actually a radio series before it hit television, if y’all wanna get technical, but we’re talkin’ TV here so lay off.) It wasn’t until a trip to Best Buy to visit their wondrous $2.99 VHS section in the summer of ’99 that I came across two episodes of the 1950s Dragnet, one per tape, and needless to say, they so came home with me that night.

What I found was that, on paper, the show was largely the same as its 1960s continuation: sure, Joe Friday’s partner was different, but it was still ultimately a cop show that emphasized realistic police procedure and detail rather than continuous car chases and shootin’ extravaganzas. But that earlier version of Dragnet was, to me, quieter, maybe even quainter in comparison. Hey, I was 13; what did I know? I liked it, but to me, Frank Smith couldn’t replace Bill Gannon.

Looking at it through more-seasoned eyes though, 1950s Dragnet took a grittier, oftentimes positively noir-ish approach to the proceedings, with a more documentary-like feel. Yes, at heart it’s the same thing, but the Dragnet of 1951-1959, or at least what I’ve seen of it via the 20+ episodes that make the public domain rounds today, eschewed the preachy tutorials of that later version in favor of a darker, more unflinching, and dare I say, cooler approach to the television police drama. Ironically, it’s the older version that has aged better than the newer one! The fact that each episode ostensibly presented a real case, with only the names being changed, only added to the sense of realism. None of this may look like much now, but rest assured, this was revolutionary entertainment, with traces of the trails it blazed still evident in the cop shows of today.

(I steadfastly maintain that the three most influential television police dramas are Dragnet, Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice.)

As I said, there are a number of episodes of 50s Dragnet that have fallen into the public domain. The status of the rest of the series I do not know, but it has become a game of mine to search out the best, most (relatively) comprehensive DVD collections. Included episodes and print quality certainly varies from release to release, but at the end of the day, if you’re like me, this is still engrossing stuff!

And yet, months and months ago, when I found myself at a thrift store and in the vicinity of a still-sealed Dollar DVD (a company whose cardboard-slipcased releases were commonly found at Save-A-Lot and the like throughout the 2000s) disc from 2004 that featured two Christmas-themed episodes of Dragnet and in an appropriately-designed sleeve to match, I hesitated. I mean, I’ve got public domain Dragnet episodes over and over and over again by now, so was a two episode, single disc release really something I needed to add to my increasingly-cluttered collection of stuff? Evidently it was, as that’s the very disc we’re looking at today, here and now. (In the interest of full disclosure, I honestly never really intended on actually opening the DVD, but when I decided it would probably be best to review something for Christmas 2019, well, here we are.)

Obviously, here’s the cover to your right, so y’all will know what to look for. The cover is also the sleeve; it flips open and the disc slides out, as you may well expect it to.

I like the inclusion of mistletoe around the “Christmas” banner; there’s no mistaking what the theme of this disc is! The notations of the included episodes on the cover are reversed from how they actually appear in-play, though that was probably a wise decision, for reasons that will become obvious momentarily. Besides scene selections, there are no special features beyond the episodes themselves, buy hey, it originally only cost a dollar, so stop yer complainin’!

The print quality of the two episodes is fairly good. The first one presented (“The Big Little Jesus”) is the better of the two; sure there’s lotsa dust and dirt and scratches, but the image is reasonably sharp. “The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas” (as you can see, titled “Twenty-Two Rifle for Christmas” on the sleeve) is a bit fuzzier, but both are perfectly watchable. So what say we check ’em both out now, eh? (Yes, there will be spoilers ahead, but don’t let that deter you from tracking either of these shows down; they’re both very good!)

“The Big Little Jesus” (Originally aired December 25, 1953)

It was probably a good idea to lead off with this installment, not only because it originally aired on Christmas day, but also because, frankly, it’s the more holiday-appropriate of the two. Fun facts: while no circulating prints feature it, this episode was originally broadcast in color! My dream scenario (which is looking increasingly unlikely) is for the original color broadcast to be included in an official DVD and/or Blu-ray complete series set, if indeed a print even still exists. Or give me a standalone release, I don’t care; I just wanna see the “real deal” finally put out there on home video!

Also, the December 21, 1967 installment of the revived Dragnet series featured a remake of this episode, titled “The Christmas Story” and complete with several of the same cast members reprising their roles. (The 1967 version is the one that introduced me to this story so many years ago, as you may expect.)

The plot: a statue of the infant Jesus has been stolen from a Catholic Church, and while it’s not technically worth very much, it has great sentimental value to the parish. With less than 24 hours before Christmas Mass, it’s up to Joe Friday and his partner Frank Smith to try to recover it. The fact that they have no solid leads doesn’t help matters.

A check of religious stores that may have taken in the statue comes up empty. Indeed, the only thing approaching a real clue is the sighting of a parishioner who was seen leaving the church around the time the statue might have disappeared. They track him down, and his sketchy demeanor and criminal past initially looks promising for a break, but it turns out he had accidentally scratched a car and thought that’s why he was hauled in.

Returning the baby Jesus to the Nativity

All seems hopeless, and Friday and Smith return to the church to inform the priest of the developments, or lack thereof. At that moment however, a poor parishioner, a little boy, comes in with a wagon, a gift he received. In it is the statue of Jesus; the boy had taken it. Not to keep, but rather, he had prayed for the wagon, and had promised the Christ child the first ride in it. Needless to say, no charges are filed against the kid.

Obviously this wasn’t your typical episode of Dragnet, but rather one specially tailored to the season, and day, in which it aired. The ending is suitably heartwarming, and the importance with which Friday and Smith go about the case, at one point convincing their superior to let them stay on it despite a more important matter having arisen, is nice. Of the two episodes on this disc, this is the one that could (should?) be considered annual family viewing.

Funny moment: when a boy who Friday and Smith want to talk to comes into the station, and they inform him he could have just called, the boy answers that his dad says “any kid that uses phones is lazy.” Oh how the times have changed!

Also kinda amusing: since Frank smith was the family man of the duo, he takes a moment at the beginning to chide Joe for being unmarried and unromantic. It’s the sort of thing Harry Morgan regularly did as Col. Potter Bill Gannon in the color version of Dragnet, and it’s to the credit of Jack Webb’s Friday that he tended to accept this ribbing with fairly good humor.

“The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas” (Originally aired December 19, 1952)

The older Christmas episode was placed second, and despite the holiday theme of it and this disc as a whole, it’s, uh, not a very happy installment. Whether hiding it behind “The Big Little Jesus” was intentional or just how things ultimately ended up, I do not know. At any rate, this episode probably isn’t good for perennial family viewing. It does present an important message though, so it probably should be family viewing. Just not Christmas family viewing.

(Ben Alexander normally played Joe Friday’s partner Frank Smith, but in this episode, the role was played by Cleveland native Herb Ellis.)

The plot: it’s shortly before Christmas, and a neighborhood boy has turned up missing. The only clues to his disappearance are a bit of blood on his family’s patio and a spent shell casing from a .22 rifle. It’s soon revealed that his parents had gotten him a .22 rifle for Christmas, and while the gift was wrapped and hidden, the kid had apparently found and opened it.

Not long after, another boy from down the street also turns up missing. The first boy returns home unharmed, but when questioned by Friday and Smith, the boy reveals that his friend accidentally shot and killed himself with the rifle, so he hid the body. It was strictly an accident, but the kid is naturally distraught.

Smith, Friday, a grieving father, and his son…

Anyway, when the father of the dead boy is informed of what has happened, he’s understandably in shock, crying over and talking to his son’s body (which is laying in his room; was that proper police procedure back then? I mean, wouldn’t they have taken the body to the hospital or morgue or something?), but then angrily storming down the street to the house of the boy whose rifle killed his son. Friday and Smith follow behind, but when the man confronts the kid, he noticeably softens, says he knows it was accident, and then gives all of his son’s presents to the boy!

Look, I know these shows were based at least in part on real cases, but somehow the conclusion of this one rings a little false to me. The father of a dead child forgiving who he considers responsible is certainly feasible, but giving the kid all of his son’s presents mere minutes after being informed of what happened? I call fake. Or maybe these things actually happened, and they condensed them to fit into the single episode here?

Dragnet was pretty far ahead of its time with stories like this, and it’s overall a captivating, and subsequently heartbreaking, installment. And, there’s an important (and still timely) message here; the subject of giving a rifle to a young boy for Christmas is one that will understandably draw some ire nowadays (and back then too, I’d imagine), but it’s specifically stated the kid was going to be shown how to properly use it. That seems to be no excuse for Friday, who somberly states “you don’t give a kid a gun for Christmas” to Smith as they sadly leave the scene.

Like I said earlier in this article, the 1950s version of Dragnet could be very noir-ish, and while you see some of that in “The Big Little Jesus,” it’s far more evident in this episode (probably due to both the subject matter and the fact that the other episode was originally broadcast in color). There are some very evocative angles and lighting to be found in “The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas,” without a doubt. It all adds to what is an important and vital piece of television, if not a very happy one.


Despite the wildly different emotions and plots found between the two, these are both excellent episodes of Dragnet. They run the gamut of hopeful and joyous to dark and heartbreaking. The birth of Christ is obviously the most important aspect of the holiday, and that message is front and center in “The Big Little Jesus.” The theme of forgiveness is found in both, though it’s more overt in “The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas.”

They’re both engrossing and well-written episodes, and anyone who has only knowledge of the 1960s version of Dragnet would do well to look at these (or any number of 1950s installments, honestly) and see just how different, and frankly, better, the earlier TV version could be. (And keep in mind, I did and do love the 1960s Dragnet.)

I probably won’t see you again until after the new year, so let me wish you now a very Merry Christmas. I hope your holiday is truly blessed, filled with happiness and peace and the joy that should go with the season. That is my hope for you all.

REVIEW: Mill Creek’s 16-Movie John Wayne “The Duke” DVD Set (2010)

Hey, know what it’s time for again? If, without glancing at the title of this post, you guessed another budget DVD compilation of public domain movies, you’re, uh, right. I love collecting these DVD sets, but there’s only certain instances where they enamor me enough to, you know, give them a review. Needless to say, this is one of the good’uns.

This is the cover of the set, if you couldn’t figure that out. Keep your eyes peeled for it, pardner!

Dig this: it’s a John Wayne comp featuring a load of his pre-stardom poverty row westerns. On the surface that may not seem so unusual; there are countless releases like this out there, after all. The difference here is that the line-up of movies included in this one is, well, pretty stellar. (For those of you with long memories, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a budget western DVD set here on the blog.)

No joke, I don’t think I’ve come across one of these sets with such an “all killer, no filler” movie selection. Put out in 2010 by Mill Creek (a company I love, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen them hit it out of the park), this particular release, while still focusing on works that have loooong been in the public domain, forgoes the inclusion of later, sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb flicks or earlier, non-western features and/or serials (or, as some sets include, documentaries on The Duke).

Nope, instead this collection focuses solely on Wayne’s poverty row oaters of the 1930s. Again, that may not sound so unusual on the surface, but in this case, at a whopping 16 movies spread over two DVDs, Mill Creek has included nearly all of Wayne’s output for Lone Star Productions (which was really just Monogram), and while they didn’t include every one of them, instead filling out the line-up with a couple of his other B-Western efforts from the 1930s, they got most of them here.

Garnering nearly all of Wayne’s Lone Star flicks in one fell swoop and without having to sift through a bunch of stuff I quite honestly have no interest in is, for me, what puts this one over the top. I’m considering this one comprehensive-yet-concise, if that makes any sense. I’m no stranger to public domain movie compilations of John Wayne, but given the solid, ‘unbroken’ line-up here, I dare say this is the best I’ve come across.

I explained my fascination with the Lone Star series in my article covering an old VHS release of Texas Terror, a movie we’ll see again in this set. Check the link out for a more-detailed explanation if you’re so inclined, but real quick: these Wayne Lone Stars are less “John Wayne movies” and more “poverty row westerns that happen to star John Wayne.” He’s not really The Duke as we’ve come to know him, but rather more of a generic B-Western star – and that’s what’s so fascinating with these. A raw, unformed, but undeniably captivating John Wayne, post-The Big Trail and pre-Stagecoach (which is to say, pre-stardom).

Don’t get me wrong; the reason these films have so endlessly been released over the decades is obviously due to the namesake of their star. In action they’re really not so different from a thousand other cheapie westerns of the period – but if you love the budget oaters like I do, that’s just part of the fun!

(Also, the Lone Stars have terrific opening fanfare for their flicks, complete with a charging-towards-the-screen sheriff’s star, exciting music, and neato titles. Indeed, it was this opening that first captivated me when I came upon a television airing of Blue Steel some 20 years ago.)

I first stumbled upon this DVD set about two years ago. I was out Christmas shopping with my mom, she looking for a good gift for my presumably movie-lovin’ uncle. When she showed me this, I used my powers of useless knowledge to inform her that the movies included made for a pretty strong line-up. (Though I imagine I wasn’t as verbose about it in reality.) Well, there was only one copy left, and I technically didn’t need any of these films again, so on my recommendation she bought it for him. I wound up wanting such a decent all-in-one collection for myself however, and eventually, as you may deduce, said collection became mine. And so here we are.

The famous Lone Star opening fanfare.

There are 16 Lone Star features in Wayne’s oeuvre. As previously stated, there are 16 movies present on this set, and two of them ain’t Lone Stars. West of the Divide and Randy Rides Alone (both 1934) were omitted in favor of Winds of the Wasteland (Republic, 1936) and Hell Town (Paramount, 1937). I’m not quite sure what I want here; on one hand, a complete collection of the Lone Stars would be pretty baller (and neither of the missing films are even remotely hard to find – they’re even on other Mill Creek DVD sets). But on the other hand, the two non-Lone Stars are flicks I’m always happy to see included in collections like this and do provide nice, albeit brief, changes of pace here. Maybe we could have had an 18 movie set instead? Though that may have bumped this to a three disc collection instead of two, though in that case Frontier Horizon (released in 1939 – after Wayne hit it big with Stagecoach) could have then been included, along with perhaps one other public domain western of his from the same rough time period to make it an even 20 movies. Yeah, I don’t know what I want here.

Like most DVD collections of this nature, the sound and picture quality varies from feature to feature, but they’re all watchable. I’ll point out aspects of the prints used that I feel need, uh, pointed out, but unless otherwise noted, consider these to mostly look like your common, garden variety old public domain movies. That is, there will be scratches, splices, dust, dirt, too bright, too dark, etc. etc. etc. Typical, but like I said, they’re all watchable.

(You may wonder if I, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, have stumbled across consistently good prints of these films. I’d say that disregarding later colorized efforts and/or releases that added newly-implemented scores to the soundtrack – so they could be more easily copyrighted I’d imagine – the best ‘traditional’ versions of these movies I ever saw were the copies AMC would occasionally run in the morning back in the late-90s/early-00s. They weren’t pristine, but they were very, very good. I wonder what happened to those prints? Were they ever officially released?)

Also, being B-Westerns, none of these were intended as high art; these are breezy (typically less than an hour) poverty row matinee outings. Don’t go in expecting Red River, okay? Taken for what they are though, these are still fun, entertaining films! Some Lone Stars are better than others, I have my own personal “Lone Star spectrum” that I’ll occasionally make reference to, but really, even the weaker ones are worth watching. They’re all so charmingly cheap, sometimes so scatterbrained, and despite featuring plenty of shootin’ and whatnot, somehow so innocent, that they’re all worth your time here. Once again, Mill Creek has knocked it out of the park, I say!

So, what say we now go through the set, movie-by-movie? As in, I’m going to watch each and every one here and provide my stupid thoughts on ’em. Hunker down gang, this is gonna be a long, loooong read. I want this to be the budget John Wayne DVD set review to end all budget John Wayne DVD set reviews!

(Oh, by the way, there’s going to be a few spoilers present. I’ll give a warning here and there, but hey, you’ve had 80+ years to watch these movies, so I darn well better be in the safety zone by now!)


DISC ONE

(There are no special features on either disc in this set; a scene selection is your only option. Besides the movies proper, I mean.)

Blue Steel (1934) – I’m going to say right up front that, for as much as I love these Lone Star outings, I hadn’t seen every film in this set beforehand, and even with some of the ones I have, well, it’s been awhile. That’s not the case with Blue Steel, however; this was the flick that introduced me to this series long, long ago, and I’ve watched it numerous times over the years. Y’all need to recognize that I know my Blue Steel; no joke, I practically know it backwards and forwards. Even though from an objective standpoint it would probably be generally considered only “pretty good,” I don’t care; it’s far and away my favorite film in this set, and my favorite Wayne B-Western period. And you can’t change that.

Wayne, Gabby, and some pretty decent print-quality.

Wayne plays Cahill John Carruthers, U.S. Marshal, who finds himself teamed up with Sheriff Jake Withers (George “Gabby” Hayes, minus the whole “Gabby” persona – that came later). Together they must save a small town that is being intentionally kept short of supplies by a nefarious would-be landowner. He wants to buy up all the property to get to the sweet, sweet gold found just below the surface (unbeknownst to the actual landowners, as you may well imagine). Also, thanks to a case of wacky mistaken identity, Withers spends the majority of the film thinking Carruthers is “The Polka Dot Bandit,” a subplot that converges with the main plot in a manner worthy of Seinfeld.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mill Creek got one of the better prints of Blue Steel I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t pristine; I doubt Criterion winged this copy over Mill Creek’s way. Sure there’s some dust and scratches and such, BUT the picture is *relatively* clean, and with fairly good balance and depth. It’s not exactly HD, but I could actually make out some fine details that I wouldn’t have expected to. You can actually see Carruthers and the heroine riding off into the sunset (because of course) at the end.

The fairly nice picture quality comes with a caveat, however: splices. Not that there’s a ton of them, or at least not really any more than you’d typically expect for a picture of this age and nature, but they do rear their head. Indeed, Blue Steel should run around 52-54 minutes, but the print here only runs about 50. There’s one pretty big splice early in the film that cuts out Withers’ entrance into Carruther’s abode and sharing some beans with him. They just automatically appear ‘teamed up’ to take on some bandits that enter the picture (literally and figuratively) at about the same time. To a first time viewer, this would naturally be a “wait, say what?” moment.

That aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the print quality otherwise. As far as budget releases of Blue Steel go, Mill Creek has released one of the better ones I’ve come across.

The Dawn Rider (1935) – These films weren’t placed in chronological order across the two discs, and therefore what is the second feature in the set was in actuality the penultimate John Wayne Lone Star western. Not that it really matters, I guess; it’s not like there’s an ongoing arc to these films. They ain’t the Hill Street Blues of the western set. Anyway, this is one I’m almost positive I’ve never seen before.

First things first: it doesn’t hold the same “hey, that’s pretty good!” picture quality standard as the preceding film. Indeed, The Dawn Rider looks more like you’d expect a public domain movie on a budget DVD set to look: either too dark or too bright, and quite a bit blurrier than Blue Steel. There’s also some frequent jittery video artifacting throughout that, I guess, is a fault of the master tape, I guess? I don’t know, but it’s kinda distracting.

Getting held-up, early in the film.

Wayne plays John Mason, who has just come into town to visit his father (appropriately deemed “Dad Mason” throughout; was that his birth name?), who is some big muckity-muck in the freight industry. And wouldn’t you know it, Mason walks in on pops being robbed. His father is shot and killed, and Mason injured in the ensuing chase. Obviously, there’s gonna be some vengeance at play once he recovers.

Further complicating matters is a love triangle that develops between Mason, leading lady Alice and Ben, Ben being the guy to get into a drag down brawl with Mason at the start of the film, which (inexplicably?) leads to a friendship. Oh, and Alice’s brother is the guy who killed Dad Mason, so yeah, it ends up being kind of a mess. There’s a happy ending for Mason and Alice (because of course), but honestly, getting to it is a bit of a guessing game, with how much of the film plays out. That’s to the film’s credit.

This really isn’t a bad movie, but in my eyes it’s a little uneven. The revenge plot and love triangle held my attention, but it’s – ironically – an action sequence in roughly the middle of the flick that kinda stops things dead. It picks back up afterwards, and there’s what looks like it’s going to be a very cool climatic shootout in town that doesn’t end up as satisfying as it could have been, but it all still manages to work more than it doesn’t.

Some humorous bits are found in The Dawn Rider as well. The local undertaker is the comic relief, and his dismay at the start of the film (apparently the town is “too healthy” for his liking) and obvious interest when it looks like someone is about to die (never mind when someone does die) is darkly funny. And at the end, there’s a too-long laugh shared between the undertaker and local doctor that, in conjunction with the undertaker’s stilted way of laughing, is pretty funny. Seriously, it goes on just long enough that I’m not convinced it wasn’t made to be intentionally awkward – in which case The Dawn Rider could be argued as the precursor to all of the ‘awkward humor’ single-camera comedies of today. If, you know, you wanted to perform enough mental gymnastics to make it fit, that is.

Oh, and apparently this film was remade in 2012, which honestly kinda blows my mind.

The Desert Trail (1935) – Obviously I’m not watching all of these films all in one single sitting; there are exceptions now and then, but generally speaking I can’t “binge watch” any show – or in this case, movie series – for hours on end. One or two of whatever a night is usually my limit.

You know, after The Dawn Rider, I found myself genuinely looking forward to some more new-to-me cheapie oater action the next night, which needless to say was The Desert Trail. Unfortunately, I chose to watch when I wound up having very little sleep the night before. I wasn’t exactly dozing off during the movie, but my general level of exhaustion kept me from getting as much from the flick as I could, and that was something I recognized as I was watching it.

Under normal circumstances, I *hate* re-watching a movie soon after, erm, watching it. Doesn’t matter if I loved the flick or not, I don’t like to ‘repeat’ a film in short order. Some people can do that, but I can’t. (While on the subject of my movie-watching habits, I firmly believe films should be watched at night; there have been exceptions, but generally, the idea of an afternoon movie viewing just does not sound right to me, which is ironic since the subjects of this DVD set were probably seen mainly as matinee offerings.)

So, I watched The Desert Trail again a few nights later. I probably didn’t need to, I got the gist of it the first time around, and while I liked it well enough then, I came away appreciating it a bit more after watch #2.

Scott and Kansas Charlie, typically competing for the affections of a lady.

This one is a bit unique as far as these John Wayne Lone Stars go. Instead of the usual law enforcement agent/vengeful loner/ etc. etc. etc. that Wayne usually played in these, here he’s John Scott, a rodeo rider. (Wait, a rodeo rider? Is that what they’re called? Look, he’s a rodeo guy, okay? Buckin’ broncos and all that.) He and his partner “Kansas Charlie” (who’s a gambler, not a rodeo rider/guy/dude) are falsely accused of murder in one town, which is trouble that follows them to another. They also get blamed for robbing a stagecoach, and are after the man who robbed them, as well.

Plot-wise this all may not sound too out of the ordinary (though perhaps a bit convoluted), but what sets The Desert Trail apart is just how comical it is. It’s not technically a comedy, but large portions of it are played for laughs. Scott and Charlie, while buddies, are also constantly at odds, fighting with each other, competing over women, insults, that sort of thing. And it’s to the film’s credit that some of it I did find pretty funny. Early in the film, after Charlie has sworn off going after women (he proclaims himself “deaf and dumb” to them), Scott takes the opportunity to rag on him in the presence of one they both find attractive, until Charlie can’t take anymore and blows up. Funny stuff!

One other difference: Wayne, well, he kinda plays a jerk here. Oh, he’s the protagonist alright, but his jousting with Charlie does occasionally approach being mean spirited. And heck, he basically robs a guy (who, granted, was trying to rip him off), and later, actually fires at a sheriff and his posse! They don’t know any better, but they’re still, you know, the good guys! Yikes! Naturally he still gets the girl in the end, because of course.

By the way, the titles of these Lone Stars often don’t make a lot of sense. I mean, we can assume there’s some steel that is blue in, uh, Blue Steel, and I guess John Mason could be referred to as “The Dawn Rider” for some reason. Point is, though they sound cool, there’s often little in the movies to directly connect them to what they’re titled. The Desert Trail is unique in another way there; the titular desert trail is actually referenced in the movie, albeit only once and briefly at that. Still, it’s there, and that’s…something.

The Lawless Frontier (1934) – In stark contrast to the jokey Desert Trail, The Lawless Frontier is a much more serious movie, with some seriously dark undertones – and overtones.

The villainous Pandro Zanti (a half-white/half-Apache who poses as Mexican, so you decide which group the character is most insulting towards) and his gang are terrorizing the land. One of the first things we see is Zanti busting out a window and shooting a pair of homeowners in cold blood so his gang can steal their cattle. We don’t see the homeowners shot, only their cries; the scene takes places with the camera focused solely on Zanti breaking the window and firing his gun. It’s an unsettling start to the picture.

As it turns out, Zanti has killed the parents of John Tobin, naturally played by Wayne. Yep, he’s back to playing the vengeful loaner. His distraught discovery of his parents is effectively filmed; like how we saw Zanti kill them, the camera is focused entirely on Wayne and his reaction upon discovering their bodies.

(Also, notice how he’s played a character with the first name “John” in each film so far? Such things were common with B-Westerns, Ken Maynard tended to play a “Ken” after all, but it’s something that would have made including Randy Rides Alone in this set a small-but-nice change of pace.)

Tobin’s pursuit of Zanti crosses paths with Dusty (Gabby’s back!) and his daughter Ruby, who are being pursued by Zanti. Zanti wants to kill Dusty for his cattle or land or something like that, but for a film of this nature, the more shocking aspect is that he wants to kidnap Ruby to be his new “romance.” It doesn’t take too many mental jumps to figure out what that means, and wow is that dark for a B-Western.

Tobin doggedly pursuing Zanti across the desert terrain.

This is a very good movie. Some of the usual Lone Star elements are here, such as Wayne’s character being mistaken for one of the baddies (by the town’s incompetent sheriff, who takes unearned credit for the capture of Zanti and then all but lets him go), but the overwhelmingly serious nature of the film really makes it stand out. Zanti is a vicious, brutal outlaw in a way that most bad guys in these cheapie oaters aren’t. He’s an unlikable dude, that’s for sure. You always want the good guys to win in these flicks, but here, you’re also really, really wanting to see Zanti get his comeuppance.

(Here comes a big spoiler where Zanti’s comeuppance is concerned: he doesn’t go down in a hail of bullets or John Wayne opening up a righteous can on him, but rather by accidentally drinking poisoned water! It’s…unexpected, that’s for sure. The scene leading up to his demise is a very cool panning long shot of Tobin doggedly pursuing the dazed Zanti across the desert. Along with the aforementioned scenes of Zanti killing Tobin’s parents and Tobin’s discovery of such, this is probably about as artsy as these Lone Stars get. Also, the film concludes with a rather abrupt ending: it’s revealed that John has married the heroine, because of course, and is now the new sheriff – thankfully. The old one was a dunce.)

Watch for the scene where Dusty gets a knife in the back, appears totally dead, and then shows up later claiming it was only a scratch! Ah, poverty row logic!

The Lucky Texan (1934) – Here’s my personal story regarding The Lucky Texan: waaaay back in the day, 1998 or so, after I had first discovered and become enamored of these Lone Stars via Blue Steel on WAOH TV-29, Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section was also a big part of my movie-goin’ life. As luck would have it, they had a copy of Blue Steel, and it became mine. Oh how happy I was to have it for my very own! During that same trip, as we traipsed through Target next door, I looked at the newer, big budget ‘real’ John Wayne movies on their VHS shelf, thinking to myself “why have that when you could have Blue Steel?” Hey, I was like 12. I was one proud papa!

So I get home, immediately and happily watch Blue Steel, and then suffered extreme  heartbreak – the tape wouldn’t eject! This wasn’t a fault of the VCR – I hadn’t run that into the ground just yet – there was something wrong with the tape itself. Eventually it was removed without harm to the deck, but needless to say the tape had to be returned as defective to the store. It’s not like I could, or would, watch it again! Too much risk, man!

Anyway, I can’t remember if it’s what I got in return in that instance or if I found it there later, but eventually The Lucky Texan, via that same $2.99 VHS section, was my Lone Star consolation prize. This one played and ejected just fine, but still, it wasn’t Blue Steel. Either that tape was sold long ago or it’s seriously buried somewhere in my parent’s basement, but either way, I’ll always remember the movie for being Blue Steel‘s also-ran. In my eyes back then, I mean; this viewing here was my first since back in about 1998. (Some 21 years ago as of this writing!)

I spoke too soon about that Randy Rides Alone thing last entry; here Wayne plays Jerry Mason (any relation to The Dawn Rider‘s John Mason???) who along with old family friend Jake Benson (Gabby!) finds a rich vein of gold in a riverbed. Their frequent big money hauls attract the greed of the local (and quite shady) assayers, who trick Jake into signing over the deed to his ranch and set out to find this gold deposit to net the big big profits for themselves.

Skiing (?) down an aqueduct (?)

I remembered very, very little of this film beforehand, though certain scenes did reemerge in my memory as I watched. Jake’s big ol’ mustache, Jerry digging grime out of a horse’s shoe (this leads to the discovery of gold), Jerry skiing down an aqueduct (I guess that’s what it is) and Jake masquerading in drag to fool the assayers during Jerry’s wrongfully-accused-of-murder trial, all jogged my faded memories.

There’s a sequence in the body of the film in which Jake is accused of killing the local banker (who turns out to be alive) and Jerry apprehending the real culprit, who turns out to be the sheriff’s loser son. It feels like filler, and really, the film would have flowed just fine (albeit shorter) without it. Its main purpose seems to be adding some suspense for Jerry to get Jake out of prison without Jake’s just-arrived-in-town granddaughter finding out.

That bit aside, it’s a decently-paced flick. It held my attention, it wasn’t bad, but it probably falls more in the middle of the Lone Star spectrum, though that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining; it is. It’s nice seeing Wayne play a slightly different character from what we’ve been seeing – excepting The Desert Trail. He still gets the girl in the end though, because of course. (Thus far we haven’t seen a flick here in which Wayne’s character isn’t at least engaged to the leading lady by the film’s conclusion, and I’m going to keep making that “because of course” quasi-gag until we do. There’s a strong possibility I’ll be saying it for each and every entry.)

While watching, I did remember something that didn’t sit well with me then, and actually still doesn’t sit well with me today: the appearance of power lines and and an actual automobile near the end points to this being a more ‘modern day’ western, if not set in 1934 then at least somewhere in the earlier years of the 1900s. I always preferred my westerns to be in the old west, somewhere in the 1800s. Just feels more authentic and westerny to me, and that feeling goes back to when I was around 12 years old and discovering all this stuff for the first time. Arbitrary? Well sure it is!

By the way, the title implies this is set in Texas, but boy, there’s an announcement during a courtroom scene that sure sounded to me like “Omaha County.” Maybe I heard wrong (entirely possible), or maybe the title was added later without regard to the movie proper. It’s not like B-Westerns weren’t thrown out to the public quickly.

Anyway, The Lucky Texan is certainly no Blue Steel, but methinks I just didn’t appreciate it enough on its own merits back in the late-90s. A solid, watchable Lone Star outing. (Strangely, the opening “Lone Star” card is omitted here, instead starting directly with the title.)

The Man From Utah (1934) – Okay, the first thing you’ll notice with this one is that the title credits music has been very obviously replaced with something of a more-recent vintage. A ‘bigger’, more-dramatic theme that clearly wouldn’t fit with a movie this old. Say what?! A background score has also clearly been added throughout as well. The later colorized versions of these movies from the 1990s (more info on those in the next entry) replaced the credits music and added a score (these movies don’t normally feature any kind of music beyond the opening and closing titles, as was typical of B-Westerns in the early/mid-1930s), so was this the colorized version reverted back to black & white? And if so, WHY? It’s not even remotely hard to locate the original cuts of these movies, so yeah, I’m puzzled with the alterations here, especially since none of the other movies in the set feature these additions.

Wayne with a guitar that he really shouldn’t have.

The surprises don’t end once the movie starts proper, either. As soon as the story starts, we’re treated to John Wayne riding along – and singing! That’s right, he plays a singin’ cowboy in this one! Okay, so it’s just one song at the beginning, and his voice is very obviously dubbed by someone else, but nevertheless, putting John Wayne in the same arena as Gene Autry or Roy Rogers is highly eyebrow-raising.

Here, Wayne plays John Weston (I like to imagine him as the great-great-grandfather of Dr. Harry Weston), who rides into town, is almost immediately deputized, and is put in charge of figuring out if a big-time rodeo is being fixed by the people running it. To do this, he goes undercover by entering said rodeo, besting every event, and naturally running afoul of the gang behind the whole thing. (Apparently the bad guys have injured or killed outsiders who’ve done too well in the past.)

The added background music really takes me out of things with this flick; not that it’s bad, it’s not, but it just doesn’t fit. It sounds too new, and lays ‘on top’ of the film rather than being part of it. (The composer does get a credit at the very end though, which is nice.) Besides that, while I found the rodeo scenes fairly interminable (they were probably fine for the kiddies back in 1934, but for me they just drag things to a halt), the rest of the movie isn’t bad. I found the plot fairly engaging, though like the last movie, it’s probably more of a middle-of-the-road Lone Star entry than a top-tier feature.

Something I found odd: at the very end, right before it’s revealed they’ve become engaged (because of course), the leading lady forgives Weston for going off with another woman, who unbeknownst to her was part of the gang Weston was investigating (which was also unbeknownst to her). Didn’t they put the cart before the horse a bit there? I mean, wouldn’t they have solved this issue before pledging to spend their lives together? From what I know of women (which admittedly isn’t much, given my constant inability to relate to them), spending time with another girl would probably be an obstacle needing cleared before getting engaged. But hey, I’m no expert in these matters, so what do I know?

Unlike most of our other movies seen so far, there are several references to Weston as “the man from Utah,” so that was a factor of the film deemed important enough to be shared with the title of the movie. (Or maybe vice-versa.)

The Man From Utah got a pretty clean print. There’s expected dust and scratches present, but by and large it’s a fairly clear picture, albeit one that’s not as sharp as you’d hope. Also, some odd video ‘interference’ is seen throughout, though not enough to be distracting, and certainly not to the extent of The Dawn Rider‘s picture issues. Overall it looks pretty nice. I just wish I didn’t find that newly-implemented musical score so distracting.

(By the way, the copy of this DVD set I’m reviewing was still sealed new when I got it, but I found it at a thrift store, and judging by the amount of dirt/dust on the shrinkwrap, I’m guessing someone got it closer to 2010 than not, and obviously just never did anything with it. As such, I’m not ruling out the possibility that some of the video issues seen in this movie or The Dawn Rider weren’t fixed in subsequent pressings of the set. But, I can only review what’s in front me.)

The Star Packer (1934) – This is one I had the colorized VHS edition of looong ago. Still have it actually, though I haven’t watched it, or this movie in any form, in probably 20 years. The Star Packer was my second colorized Wayne Lone Star; the first was The Trail Beyond (which we’ll be seeing next, as the last movie on disc one), and naturally both came from Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section.

The colorized VHS editions of these movies (not to be confused with the new colorized DVD editions) were neat, but even back then kinda head-scratching. I mean, did these movies really warrant the expense of colorization? Not to mention the newly-added musical scores? From how I understand it, these full movie releases were taken from a syndicated TV series that used edited versions of them to make up the installments, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, VidAmerica first released these on VHS in the early-90s, and UAV re-released them in the late-90s. For me, The Star Packer was the former while The Trail Beyond was the latter, not that it really matters, since I *believe* the content was the same regardless.

That was pretty much my only personal recollections of The Star Packer; I couldn’t remember anything specific about the movie itself, so I essentially went into this one ‘fresh’. Though like The Lucky Texan, certain scenes jogged my memory when I saw them.

Wayne plays Cahill John Travers, U.S. Marshal, who is after the murderin’ scoundrels responsible for, uh, thievery and the like (you know how it is). He becomes the sheriff of a town where this gang of hoodlums happens to be headquartered. They’re led by a mysterious head honcho known only as “The Shadow,” who speaks through a fake wall safe.

Getting instructions from “The Shadow.”

I’m going to be honest with you; I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. The movie tries to add a novel twist by adding mystery elements regarding the identity of The Shadow, but it’s so painfully obvious who it is early on that it doesn’t really count. He turns out to be – (spoiler!) – local rancher Matt Matlock (besides his slightly redundant name, I like to imagine him as the great-great-grandfather of…oh you know who I mean). Well, someone who has assumed his identity, anyway.

The usage of the name “Matlock” is delightful, and it along with Travers’ faithful Indian companion Yak (played by stuntman extraordinaire Yakima Canutt, who we’ve been seeing all throughout these Lone Stars), who is fairly insensitively portrayed but at least he’s a good guy, well, there’s not a whole lot else that really stands out about this one. The whole “Shadow” aspect is a real missed opportunity for a stronger mystery element to the movie, or possibly even a (light) horror element.

Not really a bad movie, but fairly run-of-the-mill as far as the Lone Stars go; a real programmer, even for a series that was, by definition, made up entirely of programmers. Though, Gabby Hayes playing a villain and the conclusion featuring Travers married to the leading lady (because of course) but several years after the events of the movie proper (by then they’ve got a kid that’s old enough to walk and talk), that’s all kinda unique…I guess.

The Trail Beyond (1934) – Like I said last entry, this was my introduction to the world of the colorized Lone Stars. I still remember the night I found it: it was the summer of ’99, and the next day my brother and I were off with my dad and his friend to the Brickyard 400 in Indy. The race was on Saturday, August 7, and we got there the day before, so the night The Trail Beyond in blazing color came into my life had to be Thursday, August 5, 1999. It was a banner night at Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS racks, netting me not only this but the restored-to-original-color Zorro opus The Bold Caballero, and not one but two (single episode each) VHS releases of the black & white Dragnet. Having only heard of the 1950s iteration beforehand but being a rabid fan of the 1960s revival that was then-running on TV Land, the Dragnet tapes were the big finds of the night, but it was pretty cool winnins all-around.

Like The Star Packer and The Lucky Texan, I remembered little of this flick beforehand, though a bit more than the those. Probably because the novelty of having a colorized Lone Star was so great at the time, more of it stuck with me.

In what seems like the first time in ages on this “Lone Star Journey” (as dictated by the line-up of this DVD set, I mean), George “Gabby” Hayes is not in this one…but two Noah Beerys are! That’s right, Noah Beery Sr. and Jr. are both in this one! Neato!

The surprises don’t end there, either. While the plot isn’t too out of the ordinary, the setting certainly is; The Trail Beyond primarily takes place in Northwestern Canada! Oh sure, there’s plenty of gunfightin’ and horses and such, but just the presence of a different backdrop alone really helps set this one apart.

Wayne and Beery Jr., extricating a map from a skeleton’s hand (!)

Wayne plays John Rod Drew, who is enlisted by an old family friend to find out what happened to his estranged brother and never-met niece. (The friend’s brother and niece, I mean.) So, off to Canada Ron goes! Along the way, he runs into old college chum Wabi (Beery Jr., and yes, that’s really the name of his character), who is almost instantly blamed for a murder. Rod helps him escape, though luckily they’re in the general vicinity of where Rod needs to be anyway. Thanks to poverty row logic, almost as quickly as Wabi was blamed for murder, they discover what happened to the brother (and his mining partner): their bone-dry skeletons are found in a cabin, along with a map to a gold mine. That part of his mission near-instantaneously complete, it’s off to find the niece.

As you may well imagine, the revelation of the mine map draws the attention of the local hoodlums (one of whom is Lone Star regular Earl Dwire, though he adopts an exaggerated French-Canadian accent for this role), and don’t forget, that murder rap is still hanging over Wabi’s head.

Even without the scenic locales it’s a pretty captivating plot, as far as these B-Westerns go. I really liked this one, far more than I did back in the day. Some of the dialogue is pretty eye-rolling; the family friend positing that it’s likely his niece is named Marie since that was her mother’s name is a real “huh?” statement, though it provides for a red-herring moment later that, truth be told, doesn’t really go anywhere.

Just one of the scenic backdrops in this movie.

Of course, the pine trees, cabins and rivers (and Mounties; this movie’s got Mounties!) of what was supposed to be Canada are what help things stand out even more. The scenery is beautiful! Indeed, while the print here isn’t bad, mostly good-not-great, this is a movie that would really benefit from a crystal clear transfer. As I recall it, my old colorized version featured a pretty nice base print…

And that brings us to the end of disc one. By and large, it’s a fun line-up. I’d say the first half is stronger than the second, which dips a bit before finishing strong with the excellent Trail Beyond, but there’s no true dud movie in the bunch. Considering this is a budget DVD set and thus probably not commanding much dough wherever you may find it, disc one is worth the price of admission alone, but disc two is certainly no afterthought; there’s more neat stuff just ahead!


DISC TWO

Hell Town (1937) – The second disc kicks off with a real gear shift from we’ve seen so far! Originally released by Paramount as Born to the West, Hell Town, while still decidedly a B-Western, has something resembling an actual budget. In stark contrast to the Lone Stars, which are fun but can be a kinda creaky, Hell Town just looks and feels so much more professional. There’s even background music throughout, which makes a huge difference.

Dare and Dink, after some bar-brawlin’.

Wayne is Dare Rudd (yes, really), who along with his lightning rod salesman buddy Dink (yes, really) wander into Wyoming and wind up working for Rudd’s cousin Tom (Johnny Mack Brown!)…but not before running afoul of some cattle rustlers. Rudd already doesn’t have a great standing with his cousin, further exacerbated by his brawling and generally wild ways. Rudd also falls for Tom’s maybe-fiancee Judy – an attraction that is evident to Tom but weirdly never seems to concern him as much as you might think. (Judy is played by Marsha Hunt, who as of this writing is still with us – how neat is that?!)

Rudd is eventually promoted to heading a cattle drive for Tom (think of a proto-Rawhide, minus Clint Eastwood, cause, you know, he was only like seven years old at the time of this film), lands in a crooked poker game, and gets in a big ol’ shoot out. Eventually it all works out for the better, because you don’t expect a nihilistic ending in a B-Western. Rudd winds up with Judy (because of course…and basically at the behest of Tom, so you know it ain’t exactly a flick grounded in realism) and Dink continues to babble about lightning rods.

This is a goooood movie! Not that I haven’t been enjoying the Lone Stars but the higher budget and better script here, needless to say, make a big, big difference. And what’s more, whether it’s due to the script or simply because a few more years of experience had elapsed, but Wayne exudes an easygoing charm and style that makes him seem more like the ‘real’ John Wayne people tend to think of, instead of the generic B-Western John Wayne we’ve been seeing and are about to see more of.

This, my friends, is a very entertaining B-Western, real fun matinee stuff; I like it a lot!

‘Neath Arizona Skies (1934) – Back to the Lone Stars. I taped this one a zillion years ago but I’m pretty sure I never actually watched it, so I’m basically going in fresh here.

The good guy, the bad guy, and the leading lady – who happens to be the sister of the bad guy, who switched clothing with the unconscious good guy prior, unbeknownst to the leading lady but known to the good guy. (Got all that?)

Wayne plays Chris Morrell, who is in charge of a little half-Indian girl that stands to inherit some big oil money – provided he can find her father, or provide proof that her father is dead. Needless to say, this attracts the attention of local hooligans, who want to find the father or kidnap the girl or both so they can steal them big big bucks. Complicating matters is a hold-up in which the robber switches clothes with an unconscious Morrell – and who happens to be the brother of Morrell’s destined-to-be love interest. The little girl’s father is eventually found, and relatively easily, and naturally he runs headfirst into this mess, as well. Look, the way this stuff all intersects isn’t very realistic, but hey, Seinfeld got away with that sort of thing all the time, right?

(Also, I assume this all takes place, say it with me, beneath Arizona skies.)

Oddly enough, despite being in the film and having a fairly visible role, Gabby is uncredited in the, erm, credits. I hope he still got paid! Naturally, Wayne gets the leading lady in the end (because of course), but for once there’s no mention of automatic engagement or marriage, so there’s that. (Hell Town had no mention of marriage either, but that wasn’t a Lone Star so my babbling doesn’t apply there.)

Coming off such a big change of pace, and with an annoying little kid in the cast, I wasn’t expecting to like this one very much. To my surprise though, I found this one pretty entertaining. It’s not a great movie, but it’s not bad either. But boy, coming off Hell Town, the poverty row-ness of ‘Neath Arizona Skies really stands out more than it probably would have otherwise. Much more stilted, much creakier.

(Also, while not as frequent as The Dawn Rider way back early on disc one, there are some moments of heavy compression/artifacting/pixelated break-up in this one.)

Paradise Canyon (1935) – Like I said before, these Lone Stars aren’t in order of release on this set; we haven’t even seen Wayne’s first Lone Star entry yet. But here, we have the last Lone Star picture Wayne made. Were all the stops pulled out for one last grand shoot-’em-up at Monogram, or did the series unceremoniously peter out like a spent river bed in some dry dusty gulch somewhere?

Unfortunately, it was the latter. I found Paradise Canyon, while not terrible, to certainly be on the lower end of the Lone Star spectrum.

Wayne is government agent John Wyatt (just once I’d like his last name to be “Hiatt” in one of these, simply because it would amuse me) who is sent to stop whoever is passing counterfeit money. Wyatt follows and later joins a traveling medicine show he suspects of the crime, only to run smack dab into the real counterfeiters.

You know, this one initially looked like it was going to be a manhunt-type film, with Wyatt following the medicine show from town to town, progressively closing in on his target. Even when the typical Lone Star three cent budget is factored in, that plot, to me, shows some promise.

Trick-shootin’ with a mirror.

That’s not what we got though. In short order, Wyatt finds Doc Carter’s medicine show, helps them escape the local law (he’s a government agent, I guess he can get away with that?), and then joins the show under an assumed name. Did you ever want to see a long, interminable demonstration of the medicine show’s entertainment? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Complete with trick-shootin’, terrible songs and pitching of Doc Carter’s supposedly-Indian-concocted medicine (whatever it is, it’s 90% alcohol), in short order you’ll be tempted to shout at the top of your lungs “hey, this is total filler!” And you’d be right!

Much about this one, to the plot to the dialogue to even the sound effects, filled me with, if not disgust than at least a vague forming of disgust somewhere in the back of my psyche. Or something like that. It kinda annoyed me, okay? I’m not totally sure why either, since one thing I love about B-Westerns is their reliable predictability, but there’s not much that worked for me with this one. And to top it off, the medicine show used a real drivin’ truck to get around; if necessary, go back and read my Lucky Texan take to see how I feel about that. Also, despite the title, I’m not sure if any of this takes place in an actual canyon. But then, admittedly there were points where my attention was slipping and I just didn’t care, so maybe?

The conclusion has Wyatt and the leading lady waiting for the Justice of the Peace to wed them (because of course), only for the film to reveal that he and Doc Carter are off getting drunk on the ‘medicine’ somewhere. What a way for Wayne’s Lone Stars to go out!

I wonder if Wayne and/or Monogram knew this would be it for his Lone Star series? Yes or no, it wasn’t a great way to end things. (By the way, there’s an odd solid border around the screen for the opening credits, which disappears when the movie proper begins. Why?!?!)

Rainbow Valley (1935) – I’ve been looking forward to this one. Y’see, back in the day, some time after that initial Blue Steel caused my VCR to explode and The Lucky Texan became the consolation prize, I found a four-VHS John Wayne box set at Best Buy. It wasn’t a $2.99’er, but it finally gave me a copy of Blue Steel I could hold onto, along with Randy Rides Alone, The Lawless Frontier and this film, Rainbow Valley. Rainbow Valley never overtook Blue Steel in my eyes, but became one of my go-to Lone Stars back then nevertheless.

Every single print of Rainbow Valley I’ve seen has shared the exact same maladies, namely that the quality is pretty wasted and scratchy, as if there was only one extant copy out there and everyone keeps passing it around. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but my curiosity was peaked as to whether the trend continued with this Mill Creek set or not.

In short, it did. Unfortunately, it’s not a unique print of Rainbow Valley here, and by this point I’m not convinced there is another print of the flick out there. Prove me wrong? And oddly enough, something I noticed on this viewing: you can often hear shouting/talking/action in the background of the soundtrack, and it doesn’t correlate to what’s happening on screen. A mistake with the existing print, or was Monogram filming something else nearby which Rainbow Valley got some residual audio evidence of? I wouldn’t be surprised in either instance, honestly.

Wayne and Gabby, sitting in “Nugget Nell” the automobile.

John Martin (Wayne, duh) is an undercover government agent (again), sent to protect the residents of the titular location from the local gang, who are, as you’d expect, terrorizing the populace. They want to drive people out and buy the land up cheap, again, as you’d expect. Martin must put a stop to this. Along the way you’ll get the usual misunderstandings as to who Martin really is, and a leading lady who hates him until she doesn’t. (Because of course.) Oh, and Gabby; Gabby’s in this one too.

Not gonna lie, all I really remembered about Rainbow Valley, besides the trashed quality of the print, was that dynamite played a big role, and I remembered correctly; at one point Gabby drives around in his rickety automobile (grrrrr…) and lobs sticks of dynamite at bad guys, which sounds like it’d make for a cool mission in an original Xbox game, truth be told.

Rainbow Valley is…alright. Re-watching it with a more objective eye nowadays, I wanted to like it more than I did, but, it’s strictly mediocre. I found it to be a better movie than Paradise Canyon (I compare both because that’s the movie immediately preceding this on the set and because both titles share similar a motif, which I only now just realized), and I like the general idea of the film, but in practice it’s pretty by-the-numbers. And yet, I’d still be interested in seeing a cleaned up, or at least better, print of the film.

The unique billing of Wayne as “Singin’ Sandy” on the title card.

Riders of Destiny (1933) – This was actually the very first Lone Star picture Wayne did, and it differs from later productions in a few ways. In contrast to later programmers for the studio, Wayne is specifically billed as “Singin’ Sandy” on the title screen; this is the only time his character is given such a shout-out. I assume Lone Star/Monogram was attempting to create a film series around this character, something which obviously never happened.

Wayne is indeed “Singin’ Sandy” Saunders, and as the feature opens, he lives up to his namesake, riding along and singing a cowboy tune – one of the very first singing cowboys of the movies! It’s an achievement not typically credited to Wayne, and for good reason; we saw him sing in The Man From Utah earlier on this set, and like that film, his singing voice is very obviously dubbed here by someone who sounds absolutely nothing like Wayne.

Anyway, the opening song here isn’t the usual paean to love or lonesome cowpoke lament; no no, this song is all about brutality. No kidding, Saunders sings a tune about total bloodshed. Seriously, it’s all about gunning his enemies down; only a pre-Hays Code flick could get away with something like that in what was probably considered mainly kids fare. It’s a really dark “say what?!” moment, and it’s even repeated later in the film, like a vocal calling card. Yikes!

Saunders is a gunman with a Billy the Kid-like reputation, though in actuality he’s a government agent sent to rid a local town of bad guy Kincaid, who is using both a near-total control of the water supply and the usual strong arm tactics to drive the other ranchers out and buy their land up for cheap. This, needless to say, won’t do, and so it’s up to Saunders to help the townspeople out of this mess.

The plot may not sound all that unusual, but it’s handled pretty well here; Riders of Destiny seems to generally be considered the best of Wayne’s Lone Stars, and while it may not *technically* be my favorite, I think I have to agree with that. As these things go, it’s excellent. After watching the last two movies for this review, I was wondering if I was simply burning out on these flicks, but the more I watched Riders of Destiny, the more I found my attention focused on it. This is a good, good poverty row oater!

Shootout in the street…

Although there’s the usual temporary case of mistaken identity and stabs at comic relief found (they’d be no stranger to later Lone Star entries), what really sets Riders of Destiny apart is how surprisingly dark (as in tone, not lighting) it can be at times. Sandy’s aforementioned song, of course, but later in the film there’s a scene where he lassos two inept baddies together and drags them along the ground behind his horse! Even more shocking, Riders displays the typical shootout in the middle of town at one point, but rather than just having Sandy blow the guy away, he instead quick draws and shoots him twice, then declares that the guy will never handle guns again. There’s then a quick close-up of the baddie with blood trickling down both his hands; Sandy put holes through his wrists! It’s not particularly graphic in this day and age, but for a B-Western it’s shockingly brutal, and almost unthinkable in later Lone Stars, never mind later 1930s poverty row westerns in general.

Even the conclusion of the film, in which Sandy kisses the heroine and promises to be back in time for dinner before riding off, is a little different. It’s a happy ending, but with, to me, a vague, bordering-on-bittersweet undertone. I’m not even giving this a “because of course” declaration this time around, because the romance, while not much (if any) of a focus during the film proper, at least doesn’t conclude with a random engagement and/or marriage.

For as much as I love Blue Steel, objectively I have to admit Riders of Destiny is the premier (as in best) Lone Star flick. Kinda funny that it was also the premiere (as in first) Lone Star flick, though that’s not to say later entries were all wastes. As we’ve seen throughout this review, there were a few dips, but by and large these are still movies worth watching!

Sagebrush Trail (1933) – In a nice bit of continuity with the preceding movie, this was the second Wayne Lone Star. Methinks this was a coincidence; I was trying to figure out if there was any rhyme-or-reason to Mill Creek’s placement of these movies on this set, and then I realized that, per disc, the movies are in alphabetical order.

Like Riders of Destiny, this is an excellent film. Just as good? Maybe, maybe not; I can’t decide. It’s close. It’s certainly a less brutal movie, and Wayne doesn’t fake sing in it, so there’s that. But like Riders, Sagebrush Trail plays out a little differently from how most of these Lone Stars went, or eventually went. And, even though there’s a scene early in the film that places the events in a then-more-modern setting, that doesn’t even really bother me this time around, because I enjoyed the rest of the movie so much.

Wayne is John Brant, and as the film opens, he’s an escaped convict. Seems he was put away for murder, and since we know how these B-Westerns generally go, it can reasonably be assumed that he didn’t do it. We don’t know that right away though, not for sure, and it’s a nice change of pace to have Wayne playing someone who isn’t a sheriff/marshal/government agent – he’s just some guy, running for his life, trying to find who committed the murder he’s been blamed for.

Utilizing the “world is only populated by a couple dozen people” economy that these poverty row oaters, or at least Lone Stars, practically turned into an art form, Brant stumbles upon a gang of thieves and befriends the real killer – unbeknownst to him at first, or course. It seems like the kind of place he should be searching anyway, so he joins up with them, both to find the real baddie and to thwart whatever crimes they hatch.

Broken eggs and Sally, the former being an object of comedy and the latter being the object of Brant and Conlon’s affections.

Lane Chandler plays Joseph Conlon, the man Brant becomes buddies with. The rapport between the two is evident; during a scene in which they goof on each other in a general store, I caught me genuinely smiling to myself! And even though Chandler is technically a bad guy (he was in the store to scope it for a robbery later that night, after all), he never really seems totally bad. He likes Brant, and even towards the end of the film when he finally becomes convinced Brant is a good guy and sets him up for an ambush by the other gang members, there still seems like something redeemable in him. There’s a likability in Chandler’s Conlon that I wouldn’t have expected beforehand!

Naturally (spoiler!) Conlon gets plugged and spills the beans to the law before expiring, thus exonerating Brant once and for all. Then, with Conlon’s body only feet away and still warm, Brant kisses leading lady Sally (because of course), the object of both Brant and Conlon’s affections. It’s kind of an awkward, inappropriate way to end the film, honestly. That aside though, Sagebrush Trail is a terrific movie as far as these Lone Stars go; attention-grabbing and generally fun, it’s among the upper-echelon of these flicks in my opinion.

(I was also pleased to see that Sagebrush Trail got a pretty decent print here. The quality of the preceding films on this disc have varied but mostly stayed in a standard, expected PD movie camp. Sagebrush Trail, however, while not exactly Criterion-quality, is relatively sharp and balanced. I’d say it falls safely within the realm of “good,” as opposed to the usual “well, it’s watchable.”)

Texas Terror (1935) -We’re nearly done with this journey through Mill Creek’s set. The penultimate movie on it is also the last Lone Star we’ll see; the final movie is a Republic offering. If you remember 600 years ago during my intro to this article, you’ll recall my link to my VHS review of this movie. Here, have it again.

I wasn’t real big on the flick following that viewing, and the print used was pretty wasted, which didn’t help matters. But because I’m firmly in “Lone Star” mode right now, Texas Terror can (probably) only go up in my opinion.

And the print? Luckily, Mill Creek does have a different and better print of the movie here.  Like Sagebrush Trail before it, Texas Terror looks surprisingly nice! Granted, it would be hard to look worse than that old VHS copy I reviewed. But while I’m not claiming Texas Terror to look pristine on this set, it sure looks better than I expected it to. It’s relatively good, at least on the higher end of the public domain Lone Star spectrum. It has its issues, no doubt (there’s an annoying ‘pop’ on the soundtrack whenever a scene/camera angle changes, for example), but nevertheless, Texas Terror doesn’t look too bad here. (Something I didn’t notice or don’t recall noticing last time, during an early scene with Wayne’s character and his friend sitting in an office: look close, there are flies noticeably buzzing about, landing on their hats, etc.)

Higgins, thinking he’s accidentally killed his friend Dan.

The plot: John Wayne is John Higgins, and not the one that was always yelling at Magnum, either. No no, this one’s a sheriff, ostensibly in Texas, and apparently a pretty good one – until he believes he’s accidentally killed his friend and father-figure Dan. This causes Higgins to leave the job and became a loner, friend only to Indians. Of course, he didn’t really kill Dan, and after a year-long (!) sabbatical, he returns to town to help Dan’s just-returned daughter Bess run the family ranch as well as find out the whole truth behind Dan’s death. Bess winds up loving Higgins until she doesn’t until she does again, because of course.

Did my opinion of Texas Terror go up this viewing? Well…not really. I want to like the plot so much more than I do; there’s the germ of a decent idea there and the usage of Native Americans as dependable and heroic characters is a plus (even if their dialog is rendered a somewhat offensively), but man, after an okay start, the film devolves into typical Lone Star  fare. A long dance and cow milking contest (!) sequence provides a few moments to further the plot but is really more filler than anything, for example. Even the grand climax with the Indians coming to Higgins’ aid, I found my mind wandering. After that decent opening, the movie is either by-the-numbers or outright dumb. Oh, and there’s another then-somewhat-modern automobile present, which doesn’t help matters in the eyes of yours truly.

Texas Terror is strictly mediocre, probably middle-of-the-road as far as B-Westerns in general go, but probably in the lower-tier as far as these Lone Stars specifically go.

Winds of the Wasteland (1936) – And so we come to the last movie on Mill Creek’s 16-movie “The Duke” set. Like the flick that kicked off this second disc, this isn’t a Lone Star film, but rather one of Wayne’s other pre-Stagecoach B-Westerns that also subsequently fell in to the public domain. Released by Republic less than a year after the final Lone Star, the differences are, like Hell Town, pretty striking. Mainly as far as the budget goes; I have no idea what any of these films cost, I’m assuming Winds of the Wasteland was substantially higher than any of the Lone Stars, but less than Hell Town. Don’t quote me on any of that though.

At any rate, like Hell Town, Winds of the Wasteland has something resembling a budget. Decently filmed action sequences, a good plot and an actual background score, Winds looks less like an uber-poverty row oater and more like a, uh, run-of-the-mill B oater. Or something like that.

Like Sagebrush Trail, Wayne is teamed with Lane Chandler as his buddy. There’s no hidden agendas or secret identities between them this time around though, and oddly enough, I didn’t see the same chemistry here. Maybe they needed that ‘torn between two worlds’ thing? Oh well, it’s nice to see them partnered up again anyway.

Wayne is John Blair, who along with his friend Larry Adams (Chandler) decide to go into the stagecoach business together. Instead of buying fresh though, they wind up purchasing a coach and line for “Crescent City” from the unscrupulous Cal Drake; you can pretty much tell he’s unscrupulous from the get-go, but Blair and Adams evidently can’t, because they buy into it all sight unseen. Naturally they’ve been ripped off; there is indeed a stagecoach and city, but the coach is rickety (and home to a skunk), and the city is almost entirely uninhabited.

The climatic stagecoach race.

Using ingenuity (and a little B-Western luck), they start turning the stage into a success, progressively drawing more people into the city and, naturally, attracting the ire of Drake – who they still owe some installments on the deal to. It all culminates in a stagecoach race between Blair and crooked Drake for a $25,000 mail subsidy, which is of course the final push Crescent City needs to put things over the top. Also, the daughter of Crescent City’s doctor hates Blair until she doesn’t, because (for the last time) of course.

The final action sequence goes on a bit too long for my tastes (I found my mind wandering more than it should have, though the matinee kiddies of 1936 probably loved the whole thing), but for the most part, Winds of the Wasteland is a pretty good flick. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Hell Town or some of the higher-ranked Lone Stars on this set, but it’s a very solid Republic offering. (It’s interesting to note that Wayne displays a bit more “John Wayne-ness” here than he did with the Lone Stars, but not as much as he did with Hell Town, where he came off much more like the John Wayne people think of when they think “Duke.” Experience or scripting or both? You decide!)

(Oh, and that border around the screen during the opening credits of Paradise Canyon? It’s back for this one.)


So there you have it, Mill Creek’s big ol’ 16-movie John Wayne DVD set, “The Duke.” No, as far as his public domain works go, it’s not the most comprehensive set out there. Even Mill Creek themselves have released 20+ collections that not only include all 16 Lone Stars but a bunch of his other PD stuff as well. But like I said at the start of this review, I like the quick, all killer no filler approach of this set. I just don’t want to wade through a John Wayne serial, His Private Secretary or a documentary on The Duke! Sure, I could always just skip those entries, but there’s something to be said for a no-nonsense, concise two disc approach to these things, and that’s what attracted me to this collection in the first place.

Would I have preferred that this set stuck to all 16 Lone Stars, preferably in order of release, and left things at that? Well, yes, I think so. But, Hell Town and Winds of the Wasteland are such enjoyable B-Westerns, and they do provide a nice change of pace, that I can’t really complain too much.

And you know what? Even though some of the Lone Stars dip in quality or fall into the trap of ‘sameness’, the fact of the matter is that I genuinely enjoyed going through this collection, film by film. Like I said before, B-Westerns weren’t/aren’t high art, nor were they intended to be. This is real matinee stuff; fast, simple and easy to digest. By and large this is a very good collection in demonstrating that, with even the weaker films being worth a view.

Mill Creek’s “The Duke” DVD set gets my enthusiastic recommendation, and as we all know, my recommendation is of tantamount importance. Pick it up and let the pre-stardom waves of a young John Wayne take you on a trip to depression-era filmdom!

(Boy, that last line borders on being outright stupid, but this review is now over 11,000 words; I’m spent, man!)

Meeting Marty “Superhost” Sullivan (November 2, 2019)

Yours truly with Marty “Superhost” Sullivan! (11/2/19)

I had exchanged emails with him. I had spoken with him on the phone. But I had never met him. And this past weekend, the dream was realized. This won’t be a long update, but I would be remiss in whatever it is that I do if I didn’t commemorate this event in some way.

I’m speaking of course of one Martin Sullivan, aka Superhost, one of the giants of Northeast Ohio television. For years he could be seen, out of costume, doing a news break or guest hosting The Prize Movie on WUAB. But it was his 20 year run, from 1969 to 1989, as the caped Saturday afternoon horror host with the big shoes that endeared, and continues to endear, him to a legion of fans. Fans for whom declarations of “gimme dat shoe!” and memories of “The Moronic Woman” and “Caboose Supe” and endless old science fiction and horror movies were immediately familiar. Many of those fans came out to Akron Comic Con this past weekend, Saturday, November 2nd and Sunday, November 3rd, to meet him. I’m proud to say I was among them.

You may recall my interview with Sullivan waaaay back in January 2014. It has continued to be one of the most popular pages on this site, and for good reason; when it comes to Cleveland television, Superhost is up there with the biggest of names. He’s a local television legend, and that is an indisputable fact.

That fact, along with the fact that, having since moved from Ohio, he had not made a personal appearance here in years (don’t quote me on this, but I believe the last one was in 1997) meant that I pretty much had to go meet him. There was never any question, no mental debate; I *was* going to meet Supe.

Of course, given the long period between appearances, his fan base, the online response to the announcement of his appearance here, and his contribution to a new book by my friends Mike & Jan Olszewski, I started having (figurative) nightmares of waiting in the line to meet him. Would it be an hours long wait? Obviously there would be autographs, but would there be an opportunity to take pictures with him? How long could guests spend talking with him? I was going to wait as long as necessary to meet Supe, but in the weeks leading up to the convention, these thoughts were indeed rushing through my mind.

As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. Naturally there was a line to meet him, but at least for when I was there (early afternoon on Saturday), it was never insurmountable.

But more importantly, I had gathered from my phone conversations with Sullivan that he was one of the nicest guys anyone could hope to meet, and that feeling was found to be true. He signed pictures, the book, or whatever people brought from home, and as you can see above, took pictures with guests. But better than all of that was just how genuine he was. He was incredibly gracious and giving with his time; he let everyone have their moment with him. No rushing the guests or anything like that. That’s not just an observation from my visit with him, but something I noticed with those meeting him ahead of me, too.

So no, meeting Superhost did not disappoint in the slightest. It was a real honor to meet the guy, a dream realized. Dare I say Supe’s return to Northeast Ohio for at least this one weekend was a watershed moment? I do! I have no idea if he’s planning any future return visits, but for this (potential) one time, well, it was enough. The fans turned out to show their appreciation, and Supe showed his in return. How cool is that?!

You know, my earliest Northeast Ohio horror host memories are of Supe. I may have seen his actual show at least in passing, but as a child enamored by superheroes, if nothing else the promos for his weekly airings of Three Stooges shorts and him in his parody Superman costume were burnt into my mind from an early age. Even if I was too young to really ‘get’ it back then (I was only three years old when Superhost left the airwaves, though Sullivan himself continued at WUAB for several years afterwards), the image of him always stuck with me. Later, when I got older and was able to actually see his material, I realized just how terrific he was in action. Do I wish I could have spent more time with him when he was on the air? Of course I do. But, I’m pleased that, even in my ultra small way, I was able to spend some time with him back in the day.

(Also, I had never been to an Akron Comic Con before, but the venue it was held at this year was not unfamiliar to me. Taking place at the Emidio & Sons banquet hall, not only was it a very short distance from my house but also a location I was familiar with; years ago, back in the 1990s, “computer shows” would be held there, conventions in which all manner of old electronics would be sold. My dad would take my brother and I there, and it was always a lot of fun. I loved going to those shows, though looking back, there were a lot of things sold that nowadays command some decent money. If only I could go back in time! At any rate, the guys behind Akron Comic Con put on a really good show, with lots to do and see. And at least when I was there, the place was pretty packed.)

If this was my only time meeting Marty Sullivan in person, I couldn’t have asked for more. Friendly, generous with his time, he was everything that meeting these local TV legends has proven to be for yours truly over the years. These are people that really give back the love their fans have shown them. And shouldn’t it always be that way? I strongly feel that it should.

So, it’s not much, but I just had to come here and say “THANKS SUPE!” What a great moment, what a fantastic memory!