Tag Archives: vintage

Vintage WVIZ TV-25 Mug

I spent this past weekend dogsitting for my brother. Since I love dogs, especially these dogs, this was no inconvenience, but my wonderful generosity meant that the typical thrift store adventures weren’t going to happen. Since my main hobby is digging through stuff people couldn’t see fit to hold onto, well, let’s just say I don’t like being taken out of my comfort-zone.

Also, my cellphone is apparently not right in the head; I discovered that the only way to charge it without it constantly resetting/freezing/angering me to the point of violence is to shut it down completely and charge it that way.

It was immediately following one such charge-session that my reawakened phone alerted me to a text from my good friend Jesse. Jesse knows that I collect broadcasting memorabilia, and helpfully keeps an eye for me, which I certainly appreciate – especially when other duties keep me from hitting up stores myself, as was the case in this particular instance.

And boy, he found me a doozy: a vintage plastic mug for Cleveland & Akron PBS affiliate WVIZ TV-25! Cool winnins! Thanks Jesse!

My eyes were immediately drawn to the logo used. Logopedia sez this style was used from 1978 all the way up to 2000, but the exact variation of it as seen here (solid color, font of the call letters, etc.), coupled with the styling of the mug itself, methinks it almost certainly has to come from, if not the late-1970s then at least the early-1980s.

An online search, both via Google and eBay, told me nothing. In fact, besides the logo info and gut feelings on my part, I really don’t know much more about this mug than what I’ve already shared. It doesn’t take a giant leap to assume it was part of an annual pledge drive, though. I mean, that slogan “I’m part of the picture,” how could that not be pledge-related? Since PBS is, you know, funded by the public, this mug was (presumably) proof that the one using it made up a piece of the fabric that was public television in the Cleveland / Akron market at the time. Or something like that.

When it comes to PBS in the Northeast Ohio, there were, and are, two choices: WVIZ of course, but also WNEO-45/WEAO-49, which serves Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown – and more? Go read about it yourself on that Wikipedia link.

Anyway, from where I’m situated, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t pull in both affiliates. Sure, much of the programming was identical, but just like the WEWS/WAKC ABC situation here up through the mid-1990s, we got both. I didn’t really understand it growing up, but looking back, it’s sorta neat.

Of the two, I prefer WVIZ, but that’s not an opinion being swayed by this mug; it’s just the one I’m more used to, though there are points in my history where it’s been an even-split.

Still, my fondness for 25 increased my happiness with this mug, absolutely.

Like any other Northeast Ohio kid, a good portion of my formative years were spent with PBS. Sure, every kid watched Sesame Street, but for me, there was also Bob Ross, The Frugal Gourmet, and This Old House, all of which also colored my childhood. Or course, nowadays I can’t paint to save my life, asking me to cook anything but the most basic of meals is an exercise in frustration, and attempting to build anything beyond a paper airplane is just asking for a trip to the emergency room, but still, it was nice growing up with all that.

And believe it or not, it’s all running through my mind when I look at this mug, even though it’s (probably) a bit before my time and I never actually saw an example of it until this last Saturday. Go figure!

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Vintage WTRF TV-7 Matchbook Covers

“W-where ya been, North Video Guy?”

Yes, I’m still around. The long (well, long-ish) absence has been due to my Wi-Fi at home being extremely spotty. Like, only working 1/4 of the time spotty, and when it does go, it’s generally only at night when I just don’t feel like assembling anything resembling a cohesive article to my eight loyal readers. Plus, I’ve been busy with other idiotic projects and whims and so ons and so forths. You know how it goes.

But, the Wi-Fi, as of this moment, seems to be working adequately enough to try for a quick update. Don’t expect an incredibly long article here gang, but luckily, there’s only so much I can say about the subject(s) at hand, so it’s unintentionally kinda fortuitous.

As is evident from my last post 17,000 years ago, I love promotional television memorabilia. I’d say the older the better, but frankly, things from the 1960s to 1980s time span are what I prefer to search for. (Not that I’d turn away anything older or newer, mind you.) And on that front, I recently, as in just last week, obtained some incredibly cool pieces. Did you look at the title of this article? Look at the title.

A recent trip to a nearby thrift store presented me with a big honkin’ bag of old matchbooks, most from long gone local locations, but also plenty from vacation destinations around the U.S. Assuming they all came from the same person originally (as opposed to the store merely throwing a bunch together to entice suckers like me), this party apparently enjoyed traveling and had a burning desire to get a unique matchbook from every square inch of their journey. This was ultimately to my benefit, because even though the bag was sealed up tight, I could see several matchbooks just on the outside that told me this was worth the purchase, including one featuring the logo of WTRF TV-7. And so, here we are.

WTRF is the CBS affiliate for the Steubenville, Ohio / Wheeling, West Virginia area, and while my personal location in this country of ours means that I’m infinitely more familiar with the Cleveland/Akron television market, I do have some experience with WTRF. Enough to get me fired up when I saw the matchbook, anyway. (Read all about WTRF on Wikipedia.)

I found lotsa good stuff in the bag, and there were actually two WTRF matchbooks included, both of which we will now take a look at. Both also featured advertising info for Elby’s Restaurants, which either was or eventually became part of the Big Boy chain, on the opposite sides. Because I’m on a time limit of unknown duration (Wi-Fi, you know) and because I couldn’t get acceptable pictures of those sides on my phone (flash, you know), I’m going to forego those aspects of the matchbooks and keep the focus on the TV-stuff. They’re more conducive to the purposes of this blog as a whole, anyway.

This book here was the second I found in the lot, buried deep within its confines and thus not visible from the outside. According to the WTRF page on Logopedia, it’s the older of the two, and as such, is also my favorite of the two. Logopedia sez this exact style of logo was only used from 1972 to 1976, though a similar one was present from 1967 to 1972. It’s either old or older, and either way that’s mega cool winnins for yours truly.

I really like the “7” in the TV-like border, but you know what makes this one? It’s the slogan: “The colorful TV station.” That’s just such a cool reminder of the time in which it hails; when stations could still play up the whole “we’re in color!” aspect. I don’t know how much longer channels could get away with that (wasn’t color the de facto norm by the 1970s?), but its presence here instantly marks this matchbook as a true product of a bygone era in television broadcasting. I dig it!

Now, this second matchbook is actually the first one I found; it was the one visible from the outside of the bag in which the entire lot was housed. Seriously, I pretty much bought a hundred or more matchbooks for this one alone. (Well, this one and the promise of more neato finds to be had – a promise that was eventually fulfilled!)

When it comes to WTRF, this was the logo I was most familiar with. (Remember, my familiarity with channel is relatively limited in scope.) That “7” featuring the Ohio-West Virginia-Pennsylvania borders within is ridiculously clever, and the “Call it home” slogan apropo; lotsa people from different territories finding common ground in one aspect of life. Or something like that (it plays out more articulately in my head).

Logopedia sez this particular style of identification was long-lived, lasting from 1980 to 1999. As such, this one is a bit harder to date than the other matchbook. But, compared to the other covers in the lot, I’m inclined to say this one hails from earlier in the 1980s than from later. But heck, even if it came from the extreme of 1999 (highly unlikely), it’s still promotional television advertising, and thus worthy of inclusion in my collection of…stuff.

So there you have it. Not a long update, but an update nonetheless, and one featuring some very cool TV-related pieces to boot! Like I said before, most of my expertise (ha!) resides in the Cleveland-Akron television markets (and to an extent, Canton, too). As such, stations that also reside (or at least air) in Ohio but are out of my reach tend to have an almost “exotic” feel to me, and I mean that in absolutely the most complimentary way possible. These matchbooks certainly qualify, and I count myself fortunate to have stumbled upon them.

There! Maybe I’ll update again sometime within the next 20 decades! We’ll see!

Vintage WDSM TV-6 DIALING FOR DOLLARS Keychain

I’m going to go outside of Northeast Ohio (but not the Midwest) for this update, because it’s my blog and I’ll do whatever I want. There’s only so much I can say about the subject, both because of its nature and because I’m neither from the area nor era in which it hails, but this is such a neat piece of vintage television memorabilia that it needs to be archived. Even if said archiving is on my stupid dumb website.

Backstory: I’m a big fan of the various incarnations of the Dialing For Dollars franchise that aired nationwide (though each market got their own locally-produced version). You may or may not recall this was a daily program, typically airing in the late morning or early afternoon, in which a movie was shown and viewers were phoned live on-the-air during breaks and given the opportunity to win a cash prize – a jackpot that would increase for the next lucky person called if the one prior failed to win it. Certain game play details could vary from iteration to iteration, but Wikipedia has an excellent write-up on the normative format and program in general.

Obviously, with the live, daytime format and lengthy block of time it would take up, having a regularly-scheduled Dialing For Dollars today just isn’t feasible. Too many people work during the day or are busy streaming inconsequential crap on their smartphones to pay enough attention to something like this now. Still, there’s little doubt it was a wildly successful movie showcase across the U.S. for decades, and as an example of not only television history but local television history, the “cool factor” is off the charts.

Here in Northeast Ohio, we had Prize Movie on WUAB TV-43, which wasn’t quite the same format as Dialing For Dollars but still had the ideal of live callers, daily movies and (potentially) big money prizes at heart. ‘Course, if you headed Youngstown way, you could see WFMJ TV-21’s Dialing For Dollars, as well as the Money Movie over on WKBN TV-27. Whether you could get those stations in my particular neck of the woods probably depended on weather conditions and/or how cheap you decided to be when you purchased your rabbit ears. You better reach deeper in them pockets if you want extra channels, sport!

(There was also something called the Bingo Movie on Canton’s WOAC TV-67 in the 1980s, which I can only guess was similar in spirit if not in practice.)

ANYWAY, Finding artifacts pertaining to Dialing For Dollars is a little tricky; for obvious reasons, there weren’t any official video releases of these programs (to the best of my knowledge), and besides, a good many of these aired either before or during the infancy of the home video era. (Though some, such as our Prize Movie, ran well into the 1990s; it really all depended on the market.)

So, that leaves the, as I like to call them, “supplementals.” You know, the promotional items. Things like glasses, mugs, TV listings and advertisements, and as our subject today demonstrates, keychains. I collect television-related stuff like this anyway, but Dialing For Dollars is an area of extreme particular interest in that, erm, area.

(Boy, I sure killed the end of that paragraph dead.)

And that brings us to the eBay-purchased promotional item you’re seeing to the right. From WDSM TV-6 of Duluth and Superior, MN, it’s a vintage keychain spotlighting their local version of Dialing For Dollars. I don’t know what year(s) it hails from exactly, but since Wikipedia tells me WDSM became KBJR in 1974, it’s at least as old as that. Neato!

The ring and chain project some old-timey vibes, as in I can’t see a modern day keychain using either style (unless they do; it’s not like I keep heavy tabs on this stuff) but it’s really all about the Dialing For Dollars fob here. It looks like a film reel! And check out the “R,” or rather, the swoop (?) coming off of it: it looks like a strip of film! Apropo! Also, lotsa dollar signs, because big money was at hand and it was just waiting for you, yes you, to win it!

Look, the thing is just cool, okay? I’m going to assume it’s an approximation of the actual logo used for the show, but that’s merely guesswork on my part and based on nothing substantial whatsoever.

I don’t know who hosted WDSM’s iteration of Dialing For Dollars, nor do I know for how long. A Google search told me nothing. TV Guides from the area would probably reveal some print ads for the program, but without knowing some rough dates, searching out appropriate issues on eBay could quite conceivably be like the proverbial needle in a haystack, and while I’m always up for a quest, I’m far too broke to attempt such a thing right now.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that anyone with any memories and/or info pertaining to WDSM’s Dialing For Dollars is invited to hit the comments and share what they know. See, this is an interactive site!

The other side of the fob features the station identification and location. More $$$igns, and look close for the covert, kinda-easy-to-miss “6.”

I wonder how people could obtain this keychain back in the day? A giveaway at personal appearances by whoever hosted the show? A consolation prize to those who failed to win the mighty dollars? I don’t know, but it’s definitely cool.

You’re not getting a true sense of scale from my pictures, and I don’t really feel like digging out a measuring implement to give exact dimensions, but the fob is about the size of a larger coin, as in it’s positively quarter-ish. Minus Abraham Lincoln’s George Washington’s visage plastered all over it, of course.

In fact, remember those Sacagawea dollar coins nobody really liked? Maybe they still strike them, but either way, I refuse to believe their inspiration was anything other than this Dialing For Dollars fob. Yep, you can spit facts about the legendary woman and her helping Lewis & Clark at me all day, I’ll still maintain an obscure, regional keychain was the actual catalyst. An exercise in frustration for you, an excerise in amusement for me.

I don’t know what this keychain is made of. Obviously the fob is shiny and plated in gold or some gold-like substance. Could be 22 karats for all I know. The actual ring and chain look to have some mild tarnishing, as you’d expect of something this age, but there’s no rust anywhere on it, so it’s made of whatever is resistant to those substances.

All things considered, it’s in exponentially good condition. A little tarnishing, a little wear, but since it’s at the very least 44 years old, that’s beyond minor. I’ll guess whoever originally owned this never actually used it. However they got it, maybe they either babied it, or it got thrown in a drawer and forgotten about. Hey, we’ve all got stuff like that. I know I do.

So there you have it, WDSM TV-6 of Duluth and Superior, Minnesota and their local incarnation of the Dialing For Dollars franchise, immortalized as an old promotional keychain. Like I said before, I don’t know who hosted the series or for how long, and I have no idea as to the specific details of its format, either. And you know, it occurred to me that this exact keychain could have shown up nationwide, with only the station I.D. on the back varying from location to location. I mean, I’ve never seen one, but then, I’ve never seen another one like this, either.

WDSM wasn’t the only Minnesota television station to have a program of this nature, by the way. WDIO TV-10 (also of Duluth) and WIRT TV-13 of Hibbing ran the Matinee Money Movie, hosted by Lance Parthé, for a period. Maybe its run coincided with this Dialing For Dollars at some point, I dunno. I’d like a keychain representing that show too, though.

VHS Review: BATMAN & ROBIN Widescreen Edition (1998; Warner Home Video)

I don’t have a ton to say about this one, because it’s shrinkwrapped and I can’t bring myself to crack the seal. Now granted, it’s not factory shrinkwrapped; judging by the amount of wear on the box itself, this is almost certainly a used copy that was re-shrinkwrapped at some point. A former rental, perhaps? I don’t know, but the fact remains I can’t work up the nerve to rip the plastic off.

And why’s that? Because this is Batman & Robin, that of generally-poorly-regarded late-90’s sensibilities, on VHS. Of course, under normal circumstances this isn’t an even remotely tough movie to find on the format, and indeed, we took a look at a one such example years ago.

Still, why the need to keep this as minty sealed fresh (such as it is) as possible? Take a look at the red banner string across the top edge of this tape, because that’s what makes this one special. It’s the widescreen edition! That’s cool! And evidently fairly rare; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person before landing this copy, I’ve seen none for sale on eBay (currently or in the past), and Amazon turned up nothing upon keyword searches.

In fact, it wasn’t until I did a Google image search that I found a single shot of the mythical beast, which linked to this Amazon listing, which oddly enough I couldn’t figure out how to bring up otherwise. Maybe it’s a UPC thing. (Look, I did the legwork for you!). There were exactly two used copies for sale there, I bought the cheaper one, and here we are.

Aside from that banner along the top (and which extends to the sides, FYI), the front cover is identical to the ‘normal’ VHS release; you know, Arnold in his career-defining role as Mr. Freeze, looming above wildly miscast George Clooney as Batdude and Chris O’Donnell as Robin, plus Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Seriously, if you hit up thrift stores as often as I do, you’ve seen this cover approximately six thousand times by this point. Except for, you know, that banner

That Amazon page is really my only resource for this release, and it tells me that it hit shelves on April 14, 1998, several months after the regular edition, which according to Amazon dropped on October 21, 1997. There was no small amount of negative press leveled at the movie, so it’s a little surprising to me that Warner Bros. thought there’d be enough demand to warrant a widescreen edition, especially one so many months later. I’m assuming the print run was pretty low, which would explain why there are quite possibly only two copies in the entire universe. Approximately, I mean.

Actually, for the most part, the print runs of widescreen VHS editions in the 1990s seems to have been lower in general. I pay special attention to these while out and about, and I even keep an eye on online auctions, and they tend to show up much less often than their full screen counterparts. There are exceptions of course, but apparently widescreen VHS editions of movies were a pretty niche category throughout the 1990s and even into the 2000s; maybe widescreen didn’t truly catch on until DVD flourished, I don’t know.

For example, I think I see at least one copy of that double VHS Saving Private Ryan set every time I’m out – the full screen edition, that is. And yet, just a couple of weeks ago, I finally found the seemingly-less-common widescreen one, which naturally became mine. Jurassic Park is another one; I’m not talking about the later THX edition with the shiny cover and all that, but rather an earlier copy that, like Batman & Robin here, looks identical to the full screen edition except for a red banner along the top edge. I stumbled upon that version by happenstance at Goodwill a few months back, and there was no way it wasn’t going home with me.

1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns also received the widescreen treatment on VHS, and while there’s a bit more evidence supporting them out there, even those don’t show up frequently at all. I’m not sure 1995’s Batman Forever even got a widescreen VHS – though eBay listings say otherwise; I’m guessing they’re auto-listings repeating an error over and over, because every time I tape a closer look, it’s the regular full screen tape.

I just realized not everyone may know what widescreen (or letterbox, as it was/is also called) refers to. Wikipedia explains it better than I ever could, but simply put, it’s the preservation of a film’s original ‘wide’ theatrical aspect ratio on home video, rather than cropping, panning and scanning for a 4:3 screen. Of course, we have big ol’ widescreen TVs and Blu-ray and whatnot now, so it’s not much of a big deal anymore, but back in the standard-definition television days, widescreen was the way to go if you wanted to see the whole movie. Yes, the image was technically smaller, with big black bars along the bottom and top of the screen “sandwiching” the film in the middle, but you got the entire image, and that was the important thing.

Does Batman & Robin benefit from this enhancement? It’d take more than letterbox to save the movie, but then, maybe that’s why I get such a big kick out of this release. “Well, it’s not a very good movie, but at least now we can see all of it…”

Plus, I just like widescreen in general. As such, I try to pick up these versions whenever I can. Or more truthfully, I like to get both pan-and-scan and widescreen copies when possible, not unlike both mono and stereo LPs.

Like the front cover, the back cover for the widescreen edition of Batman & Robin is practically identical to the full screen version you trip over while walking down the street. The only real differences are the additions of a 1998 copyright date added to the fine print and the box at the bottom explaining the widescreen situation (as opposed to the usual “this film has been formatted…” line). Look, Batman & Robin‘s 1:85:1 aspect ratio hath been preserved!

If you go back and read my older article on the full screen edition of the tape (albeit a Blockbuster-branded one, hence the article in the first place), you’ll see I felt the descriptive summary on the back cover was a little “out there.” All these years later, widescreen or not, that feeling remains. In lieu of re-sharing my thoughts in a slightly altered form, I’m just going to copy and paste what I wrote then, because you can’t plagiarize yourself and it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want: “My favorite part is the mention of ‘New very special effects…’, as if these special effects are substantially more special than your usual , run-of-the-mill special effects. I love this tape. Also, ‘From our Batfamily to yours’? That’s adorable Give me a break.”

Batman & Robin is one of those movies I’m inexplicably fond of. Yes, the negative buzz surrounding it is warranted. BUT, it’s such an artifact of late-1990s Hollywood and the period of my life in which it falls, that I just can’t hate it. In fact, I’m going to quote myself again here, because like I said, my blog, my rules: “Despite the fact the movie is one of the worst things ever, I have an inexplicable fondness for the film. Well, not really for the film per se. More for the time period and where it falls in my lifetime. Going further into all that would be a huge digression, so let me stay kinda on track here. Batman & Robin: I remember the release, I remember (and sampled) the Taco Bell tie-in promotion, and I remember the revelation that it apparently made theater-goers cry. I wouldn’t know, though; we tried to go see it, but the only available-to-us showing was sold out, so we settled for, I’m pretty sure, Men In Black.”

Look, this is all my half-hearted way of trying to close this one out. Like I said before, I can only say so much about a sealed tape. And besides, today the prospect of a widescreen version of this movie isn’t so novel anymore; you’ve been able to see it this way since it hit DVD, as far as I know. (Wasn’t it a flipper disc, with full screen on one side, widescreen on the other? I have an old DVD copy boxed away, but I refuse to dig it up for an article approximately four people are going to read.)

Still, a widescreen VHS copy of Batman & Robin, that’s pretty neat. I don’t know how long it was in print or for how long it was sold, but in my experience, it’s not easily found nowadays. Since the regular VHS version had that late-90s home video charm in spades, it stands to reason that the special widescreen edition does as well, though I’ll admit the feeling of ‘exclusivity’ takes away from the mass-market, mainstream appeal of the version you usually come across. Or something like that.

I don’t know where exactly I’m going with this. Look, 1997’s Batman & Robin, they put it out on a widescreen VHS, and you’ve just see the proof. THE END.

Video Rental Artifact: ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991; 1992 Blockbuster-Branded VHS)

Sometimes when I’m out hunting for this or that and I find a VHS tape that strikes my stupid dumb fancy, it’s not always just about the tape itself. I mean, yeah, it helps when I have at least some vested interest in the release proper, but oftentimes there are ‘supplemental’ features that will take a a tape from “well, alright, I guess” to “must must must buy and you can’t stop me and if you try I’ll throw down legit.” Today’s subject is a definite example of the latter.

(HINT: I’ve been down this route before.)

Before we get to that, let me provide a little backstory first: It’s 1991, I’m five, and the big budget Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is seemingly aimed directly at me and my kind. Kenner put out a neato toy line that, unbeknownst to me then, was chock full of re-purposed molds. (Y’all get genuine props for reusing the Ewok village as Robin’s forest fortress, Kenner!) There was even a Nintendo game that, I discovered years later, was actually pretty good (a rarity in the world of NES movie-based carts).

The marketing worked, and just like a year earlier when I jumped on the Dick Tracy bandwagon hardcore (or at least as hardcore as is possible for a four-year old), little me was all about the Hood. Erm, Robin Hood, I mean. Dad took me to see the film in theaters, and frankly, I don’t remember much about it, but it was probably a bit too dark for a five-year old.

Nevertheless, there’s some definite nostalgia on my part now when I look back at Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s not a film I’ve revisited in the 27 years that have elapsed, but yeah, nostalgia. Plus, it’s a film I can conceivably see myself revisiting nowadays, which is no small feather in its cap, or arrow, or [insert further Robin Hood-themed pun here].

The VHS release of this movie is not even remotely hard to find. Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of movies from that era, which for the longest time were seemingly ever-present used, are not as commonly found nowadays. I’m not saying they’re rare, not at all, but unless it’s ’89 Batman, Jurassic Park or (looking ahead a bit) Titanic, you’re not always guaranteed a quick find while out hitting up the thrift stores and whatnot for VHS. (It’s not a dead format thing – yet – either, because I still come across a lot of VHS during my travels.)

No kidding, it took far longer than I care to admit to stumble across Cop and a Half, another one I saw in the theater back in the day, until I finally, finally did, several weeks back. It was a moment of triumph, flourish, and bravado that, quite frankly, I probably shouldn’t be so ready to admit. Of course, once I finally found that copy, some two weeks later I came across another one; I picked that one up too, on principle alone.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is, in my mostly-useless experience, not one such release. Hardly a thrift run goes by that I don’t come across one or more copies of the flick on VHS. As such, nostalgia notwithstanding, I’ve never felt much need to throw one in the cart when I’m out and about and picking up too much crap I don’t really need, because it’s pretty much always available.

But then, this copy came into my life, and that all changed.

Several weeks back, during a fairly impromptu thrift trip, the location of choice had somewhat refreshed their home video shelves, which meant there was a decent selection of obsolete media for yours truly to gawk at. I didn’t see much worth buying at first glance, but then I happened to take a closer look at the copy of Robin Hood that was laying there, of which I had previously paid little attention. This was fortuitous because, man, I had inadvertently stumbled upon not only something that tied into my formative years, but was also a legitimate artifact of the video rental-era – an era that was also a part of my formative years!

Behold! It’s a vintage Blockbuster Video-branded copy of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves! Cool winnins!

I’m always on the lookout for tapes like this, and while Blockbuster-emblazoned stuff isn’t very hard to find, in my (again, mostly-useless) experience, tapes prior to 1995 or so show up much less frequently. (This is from 1992; hold your water, you’ll see proof in a moment.)

Of course, as far as the sleeve goes, this branding extends only to the shrinkwrap; the jacket itself is your common, garden-variety Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves VHS sleeve, what with the title and Kevin Costner with his flamin’ arrow and whatnot. If I were to be foolish enough to remove said shrinkwrap, outside appearances would belie the real history of the tape.

And that history, the very fact this is such a relic of the video rental-era (at or very near its height, no less), when Blockbuster was veritable king of the VHS world, that alone makes this tape worth the 60 cents the thrift store was asking for it. You could claim that I’m flippin’ my beans over that swanky old school “previously viewed” sticker, and I am weird enough to buy a tape just for something like that, but it’s really the whole package with this one. Like I said, this is a legitimate artifact of early-1990s home video! The fact I have real history with the movie just makes it all the better; I wouldn’t be as happy if this were a copy of Curly Sue, for example. (Sorry, Jim Belushi.)

That particular “special price sticker” on the front isn’t something I come across often at all when it comes to used VHS buying; usually, it’s those square yellow stickers from the mid-90s or circular red ones of later years that I find affixed to my obsolete video formats.

But it’s the sticker on the back of the sleeve (well, shrinkwrap) that puts this one over the top, though. Dig this: this copy of the movie was placed out for sale on February 9, 1992! And look, it was only $9.95! This was a time when you could get away with charging that much for a used VHS tape! (Though, granted, wasn’t $9.95 like $600 in 1992 dollars?)

In a nice turn of events, there was no description on the back of the sleeve for the sticker to obscure, though the fine technical print wasn’t so fortunate. Still, you get the typical ballyhoo of quotes and taglines and whatnot. And look, recorded on BASF tape!

I’m not sure when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves debuted on home video. In the U.S., it hit theaters on June 14, 1991, and while home video releases didn’t move as quickly then as they do now (or so it seems to me), I would assume it was out in time for the Christmas season. At any rate, by early ’92, this particular Blockbuster location had a used copy out for sale. I’m going to guess that this was a holdover from an initial “rental push,” after it first debuted on VHS. That’s my theory, anyway; early-92 seems pretty close to when this would have initially hit rental shelves. Or not; what do I know?

As I said, remove the shrinkwrap (not that I ever will), and that video rental lineage mostly goes away, but slide the tape out of the sleeve, and there’s a piece of evidence a bit more solid…

Ah, the famous “y’all betta rewind” reminder! As per the norm, slapped right over the left window of the tape! Thas adorable. And look, the previous owner did NOT rewind all the way to the start! Despite that being the benefit of owning a tape yourself, I still demand restitution. But from whom?!

I’m not sure why the title “label” on the tape, which is actually just printed right on the casing itself, is upside down though. Was this normal, or a mistake? I come across plenty of Robin Hood tapes, so I really should know this, but I, uh, don’t.

Actually, during a thrift trip just two nights ago, one store had not one but two copies of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on VHS for sale. Well, technically, one plus a sleeve; the first copy was legit, but the other one had what appeared to be a blank tape mistakenly (?) housed in the sleeve, and severely molded to boot. The ‘real’ one, however, I checked, and it had an actual label on the tape, placed right side up. Maybe a later pressing? I don’t know, but my attempts at sleep later were relatively tortured, and there’s the slight possibility that it was a subconscious reaction to this Robin Hood conundrum.

None of this really matters and I’m clearly just babbling now.

(EDIT: The label as seen here is normal; I’ve since verified it with yet another stumbled-across copy while out thrifting. I didn’t buy it, but maybe I should have…)

Anyway, I’m not going to play this; what would the point be? I can get a “watching copy” at essentially any time I please; heck, I had yet another chance just the other evening! And probably another one later today! And besides, for the purpose of this article, what could I really say? “It’s Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, on, uh, VHS…” The quality will be fine, SP, not up to the standards of DVD, but then, would you expect it to be?

No no, this particular copy hath been deemed my “collector’s copy,” and as such deserves a place of honor. Like a shiny display case or something, maybe with a rotating stand. You know, like how they show off rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. No, wait, that might end badly…

Really, I get a big kick out of this find. As mentioned, I have childhood memories of not only the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but also the associated merchandising hype that went along with it. Add to that definitive evidence of Blockbuster Video’s heyday, which lends an even more decidedly early-90s ambiance to the proceedings, and you’ve got something that could really be considered special. If you’re into old home video, anyway.

On a final, related note: you can almost be guaranteed that if I ever come across a copy of 1989’s Batman, or even 1992’s Batman Returns, with similar Blockbuster-branding all over it, there’s a good possibility you’ll hear my giddy exclamations from wherever you may currently be situated.

DVD Review: A BIG BOX OF COWBOYS, ALIENS, ROBOTS AND DEATH RAYS (S’more Entertainment, 2011)

You know how much I love budget DVD compilations of old movies; I’ve gone to that well more than once here on the blog. I don’t claim to own, or even seen, all that the “genre” has to offer, and so, it’s always a thrill to find a new, unbeknownst-to-me set – especially one that makes my eyes figuratively pop out. S’more Entertainment’s A Big Box of Cowboys, Aliens, Robots and Death Rays is absolutely, without a doubt one such DVD collection.

This was released in 2011, seemingly to cash in on the hype surrounding a movie I have practically zero recollection of: Cowboys & Aliens. I haven’t seen it and I have no intention of seeing it.

Still, I always love it when a new home video release plays into the vibes of a then-current Hollywood product; we saw this big time with Sons of Kong, and in the same vein comes A Big Box… That is old, public domain movies, in this case B-Westerns with elements of science fiction and/or horror, put together to “ride the wave.” All four of my regular readers will recall how much I love B-Westerns, and when they broke out of the mold and included elements not commonly associated with the genre (that is, sci-fi and horror), as we saw this past Halloween season with 1944’s Wild Horse Phantom, well, that’s just double-interestin’ to yours truly.

Given the title, I was expecting an actual box set, but when my copies arrived (that’s right, copies. I had to order these, and I got two; one to watch watch/review, and one to keep minty sealed fresh cause that’s how I roll), but in reality, what arrived was a four-disc, eight-movie set (two movies per disc, giving them a nice “double feature” feel), all housed in a standard-size DVD case with four hubs inside. Rest assured, I prefer this packaging; it’s a sleek, compact design that doesn’t take any extra space on the figurative DVD shelf, but with enough weight to it to really feel like a product, if that makes any sense. I dig it, is what I’m saying.

I like the cover art. The robot on the horse seems to be a modified version of the ‘bots seen in the first movie of the set (more on that momentarily). As you can see, the graphic artist in charge put him on a horse, threw him in a western village, and gave it a flying saucer to loom overhead – complete with big ol’ explosion! This art is also found (in slightly animated form) on the DVD menu screens, and I like it a lot – even if there are no actual flying saucers in any of these films. It absolutely gets the point across, and appears competently made to boot. Well done, me says!

So now, let’s check it out, disc by disc. Being such old films, the print quality obviously varies movie by movie, as (I hope) you’d expect. Yes, there are splices, scratches, dirt, dust, and quite often the edge of the frame is plainly visible. I don’t mind any of that one bit. The print quality lends these films an added air of old-time matinee charm, and besides, scratches or not, they’re all uniformly watchable.


Disc One: The set kicks off with a bang, with Radio Ranch, a 1940 feature version of the 1935 serial The Phantom Empire. This film alone basically sums of the title of the collection as a whole. Starring Gene Autry (in his first lead outing), the flick combines the singing cowboy sub-genre of B-Westerns with a legitimate science fiction bend, and from start to finish, it’s pretty wild.

Gene hosts a daily radio program from the aforementioned “Radio Ranch,” a showcase in which to sing his songs. He’s amassed quite a following; he even has his own fan club on the premises. Unfortunately, not everyone loves Gene’s show; a group of scientists want him off the land so they can harvest the valuable radium deposit right underneath.

Oh, and also located directly beneath the ranch? A lost underground civilization, and guess what? tThey want Gene outta there too. (These are the “aliens” of the collection’s title; no outer space fellas in this one!) The underground city is a trip; it’s a sprawling underground city (think of a cut-rate Metropolis), complete with goofy-lookin’ robot servants, citizens that can’t breathe our air and thus need oxygen masks (we can breathe okay down there, though), and a really icy (as in disposition) queen ruler.

Since it’s a condensed version of a 12-chapter serial, it stands to reason the flow of the film is a somewhat disjointed, but you know what? It’s a lot of fun, and a good summation of what this DVD set is supposed to be about.

Nearly any film is going to appear tame by comparison, but even so, the next feature on the disc, 1936’s Ghost Patrol, seems really tame, which is too bad because the title of Ghost Patrol is pretty cool. But in actuality, it’s a talky Tim McCoy vehicle, and while there is a legit sci-fi element to it, it doesn’t appear in full until the last 15 minutes of the feature, and even then nothing much happens until the last 4 minutes. As such, this is more of a straight B-Western than anything.

In it, a scientist has been captured by baddies and forced to perfect a death ray, capable of causing a plane’s engine to fail. Said baddies use this to bring down planes carrying the, as you would say, big money. Tim McCoy is a government agent out to put a stop to such shenanigans. Also present is the scientist’s daughter, who…doesn’t do much of anything, honestly.

Ghost Patrol isn’t a bad film, but a little slow and definitely a huge step down from the wackiness of Radio Ranch. Still, neat title


Disc Two: For the sake of full disclosure, I muse admit that when I first dug into this set, this was the disc I started with. Under normal circumstances, I steadfastly refuse to enter in the middle of things, as it were. Nope, I like to start at the beginning and go in order until it’s finished. So why the deviation this time around? Two words: Ken Maynard.

No joke, Ken Maynard is my favorite B-Western actor, and quite possibly my favorite western star period. I haven’t seen a film of his that I haven’t liked to some degree, and the first feature here, Tombstone Canyon, is a flick I’ve been jonesin’ to watch. I actually already owned it, as both a standalone DVD and an old VHS release, but for one reason to another, I just never got around to checking it out, despite its cool concept.

(In fact, the whole reason I stumbled upon this DVD set in the first place was because I was researching different releases of Tombstone Canyon.)

Tombstone Canyon falls much more on the horror side of things than the previous two films. In it, Ken rides into town at the insistence of an old friend, but to get there he has to pass through the titular location, and that’s where the trouble starts. Not only are there some villains running rampant right from the start, but more distressingly, there’s someone dubbed “The Phantom Killer” roaming the canyon. He makes weird howling calls, he’s really strong, and he has no qualms about killing people. The character lends a creepy, engrossing air to a film plot that would have been standard western fodder otherwise.

The ending is also slightly abrupt, but in a good way. Think of some of those shocking endings in certain episodes of the original Hawaii Five-O or Miami Vice, where there’s some violence, and then it just ends. It’s a little like that, and it works really well. The entire climax of the film is terrific, come to think of it.

Tombstone Canyon also boasts the best film print of all 8 movies in this set. Oh, there’s scratches and dirt and such, but the image itself is beautifully sharp and clear. It even looked good while being unnaturally stretched to widescreen on my HDTV. (I refuse to fiddle with the picture settings.) Add that on top of an already phenomenally entertaining flick and first-rate star, and you’ve got easily my favorite movie in the entire collection.

The second disc starts strong and finishes strong, with 1937’s Riders of the Whistling Skull. I’m not sure if this or Radio Ranch is the more famous example of the “weird western” sub-genre, but it’s certainly a heavy-hitter. An entry in the long-running Three Mesquiteers film series, Riders… may be a little (but just a little) less overtly nutty than Radio Ranch, but it’s still pretty out there.

Here, the Mesquiteers get involved with an expedition into a lost city, where a fortune in gold resides. A scientist had previously traveled there but never returned, so it’s up to his daughter and crew to try and rescue him. Along the way, there’s a weird Indian cult (complete with a guy dancing around in a skull mask), murder, some double-crossin’, a skull-shaped mountain (not that one!), even a temple with some mummies! A standard B-Western this most certainly is not!

A ton of action, too. In comparison to how the first disc ended, Riders… is incredibly action-packed. It’s a pretty good movie as a whole too, and since I’m not a big Three Mesquiteers fan, that says a lot.

I dare say that of the four discs, this second one is the strongest of the lot. Two excellent films that are pretty much worth the price of admission alone.


Disc Three: The second half of the collection opens with an entry in the “Renfrew of the Royal Mounted” series, 1940’s Sky Bandits. As you may surmise, Renfrew was a Canadian Mountie, and with the Yukon setting, this isn’t technically a western film, but these Renfrews are (seemingly) usually lumped in with the genre anyway, and besides, it has all the other correct ingredients.

Another reason this inclusion fits perfectly? According to Wikipedia, it’s actually a remake of Ghost Patrol! The plots are strikingly similar; both feature a scientist under the thumb of some unscrupulous types, both feature a death ray that is used to bring down airplanes in order to extract valuable cargo, and both feature the scientist’s daughter showing up to get in the way.

Sky Bandits is a better movie by far, however. It moves much faster, with more action, more usage of the death ray, and with some real comedy relief provided by Dave O’Brien as fellow Mountie. Even the daughter actually has a real bearing on the plot here. Throw in a couple inexplicable-but-fun musical numbers, and you’ve got a fun, breezy flick. I had never seen a Renfrew before, but I genuinely enjoyed this movie! More than I was anticipating, quite honestly.

Next: 1938’s Gun Packer, which is the most ‘normal’ western movie in the entire collection (though it’s a close call between it and Ghost Patrol). Honestly, it’s practically a straight B-Western. Oh, there’s a scientist on the premises, and he’s devised some weird method for making gold “disappear,” as well as created a highly-explosive liquid substance, but the science fiction threads aren’t overt at all here.

Unfortunately, Gun Packer also demonstrates the era in which it was produced. Our hero has an African-American sidekick, played by Ray Turner, and, well, he portrays the kind of stereotypical comedic character that was common in movies at the time. It’s pretty uncomfortable, and it’s in cases like this that a film has to be watched with a historical context in mind.

Fun Fact: Dave O’Brien and Louise Stanley are in both of the third disc’s offerings, making me wonder if the pairing was intentional. Stanley is the usual female lead in both, but O’Brien’s roles are polar opposites; goofball comedic relief in Sky Bandits, one of the bad guys in Gun Packer.


Disc Four: The final disc of the collection starts with 1941’s Saddle Mountain Roundup, an entry in the “Range Busters” series. Another one of those trio films like the Three Mesquiteers, (Max Terhune plays the jokey ventriloquist member in the examples of both found in this collection), there are very strong horror overtones in this one.

In it, cranky land owner Magpie Harper is convinced someone is trying to kill him and, well, he’s right. The Range Busters, already hired to watch over his property, try to figure out who done did it.

Sadly, like Gun Packer, the racial stereotypes of the era rear their head again, this time in the form of Chinese cook (and occasional suspect) Fang Way, played by Willie Fung. His sometimes-shifty behavior, nearly-incomprehensible English and scatterbrained demeanor are wildly unacceptable today, so again, this is a case where you have to view with historical context in mind.

That’s the only serious blight on the movie though, because otherwise, I genuinely enjoyed it. Creepy cinematography, rain storms, a murder mystery, cloaked figures, a cave that is essentially the fill in for an “old dark house,” horror vibes are found throughout. The plot is fun and at less than an hour, breezy enough.

And that brings us to the final movie of the collection, 1935’s The Vanishing Riders, and boy is creeeeeeaky. B-Westerns weren’t exactly high-budget items anyway (hence the “B” branding), but even so, the cheapness of this one really shines through.

Bill Cody (not the Buffalo one) and his real-life son Bill Cody Jr. (also not the Buffalo one) star as a (former) sheriff and his adopted child, respectively. There’s a deserted town, a marauding gang of thieves, a crotchety old man, a lovely leading lady and a plot to rustle some cattle, but I’m going to be honest with you, only two things stick out to me about this one: 1) Cody Jr., roughly 10 years old, has a role comparable to the other adults, and he gets a lot of screen time doing ‘heroic’ stuff. We’re talking Gamera-movie levels of importance for the kid. Frankly, it’s pretty annoying. 2) At one point both Cody men dress both themselves and their horses up in skeleton costumes in order to scare the thieves.

It’s those skeleton costumes that lend a horror flair to The Vanishing Riders, so it fits the theme of this DVD fine, but for as much as I love B-Westerns, the kid-friendly nature of the flick drags this one down for me.


A Big Box of Cowboys, Aliens, Robots and Death Rays is a pretty consistent collection of horror and science fiction-tinged B-Westerns. The overall theme of the set is just so neat that you (well, I) can’t help but love it. Radio Ranch, Tombstone Canyon and Riders of the Whistling Skull are terrific and worth the price of admission alone, Sky Bandits and Saddle Mountain Roundup are fun, solid inclusions, and Ghost Patrol, Gun Packer and The Vanishing Riders, while not up to the level of the other movies in the collection (in my opinion), are if nothing else watchable examples of the B-Western genre and the matinee vibes said genre exemplifies.

Aside from the few noted and unfortunate racial stereotypes that were products of their time, it’s a pretty easygoing set; for fans of B-Westerns, vintage horror and/or science fiction, or all three, it’s not a bad choice. It appears this compilation is out of print, or at least, Amazon currently has no new copies for sale, but methinks it’s worth hunting down; it certainly stands out from the numerous other budget DVD compilations that have hit the shelves over the years!

Big Chuck & Lil’ John Promotional Flying Disc (Circa-1993)

Look chief, when I said back in February that I wanted to spotlight more Cleveland television memorabilia, I wasn’t lying. I certainly like seeing original broadcasts, or obtaining promotional photos, or finding vintage print ads, but here’s my hidden secret: one of my great passions in this hobby is collecting the, as I have deemed it, “solid memorabilia.” That is, mugs and glassware, pins, shirts, hats, or anything randomly emblazoned with the names/stations/logos of Northeast Ohio broadcasting. For whatever reason, I place these types of items in a different mental category than I do paper ware and video tape. So there.

Today’s subject fits my weird “solid memorabilia” ideal and new decree that I spotlight such on my stupid dumb blog to a tee, because this, this is legit. Dig this: it’s a vintage (from somewhere in the early-1990s) promotional flying disc for WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show. Yep, the iconic late night horror hosts/comedy duo of everlasting Northeast Ohio fame had their own promotional toy. Neato! As you can see, it features their classic caricatures and the old school WJW logo, all printed on a flashy green disc. Rest assured, this is exactly the kind of memorabilia I’m always on the lookout for!

I’m not totally positive on when it’s from, mainly because I don’t know how long they were pitching these. They were definitely pushing them in 1993, and thus that’s the “circa” date I’m going with, but I’m unaware of when they were first produced for sure, nor do I know when they stopped making them. So yeah, circa-1993.

I’m also not completely sure as to how the common dude-on-da-street could obtain these. I’d imagine they were sold regularly, probably at personal appearances and maybe at stores around town, but don’t quote me on any of that; it’s merely a guess on my part. I do know that they were given out as prizes for correct trivia answers on their show. That is, to studio audience members lucky enough to be called on and lucky enough to have a satisfactory answer to a given question, not to mention lucky enough to be in attendance at a show taping in the first place. If these flying discs were uniquely given out as show prizes, well, that’s just plain cool, and not something easily obtainable, either then or now, I’d assume.

Also, it’s important to note that it’s not a “Frisbee,” but a “flying disc.” Y’see, “Frisbee” is a Wham-O product and a trademarked name, but like “Band-Aid,” it’s often used to describe all similar products. But no, this is technically speaking a “flying disc.”

There were actually two of these discs out at the same time: a large (standard-size) disc, pink in color, and a smaller green one. The smaller variant is what you’re seeing above; I haven’t picked up the big one yet, mainly because I’m at the mercy of what comes up for sale and enters my line of vision. Plus, you know, there’s that whole scraping-together-enough-money thing, too.

The reason for the two different sizes? Well, obviously the big one signified Big Chuck, and the small one signified Lil’ John! That’s actually a pretty great gimmick, one that fits the duo perfectly.

So, not a long post, but then, there’s only so much I can say about a 25 (?) year old flying disc. Oh, and happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way; the disc is green, so it works here, right?