WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN DECEMBER 1950
 
 

One of the most popular novelty records of its time, The Thing, tops the charts and becomes a short-lived phenomenon, with jokes across popular cultural referring to the unnamed object that caused terror in all who saw it.

Phil Harris known mostly for his radio work where he played the egotistical comedic bandleader on The Jack Benny Show since 1936 as well as his own show with his real life wife, singer and actress Alice Faye, had been in music since the late 1920’s and without benefit of a traditional singing voice he helped popularize a rhythmic spoken delivery often referred to as talking blues.

That’s the style he employs on this record which finds him humorously playing up the exaggerated fear created by an indescribable something or other found on the beach and featured a thumping fractured three beat drum pattern (1… 3, 4) as the punchline which substituted for the description of the contents of the box.

Coming three years after the first widespread rumors of UFO sightings the song played into America’s wariness of the unknown as humanity was rapidly advancing through science and technology allowing people to imagine the day where no place on earth – or in space – might be out of reach.

Naturally it attracted a few covers when it became so big, but rock ‘n’ roll wisely steered clear of it at the time. Eleven years later however Ray Charles tried his hand with it and delivered what might be one of the worst performances of his entire sixty year career as he’s unable to convey any humor and even removes the familiar hook by replacing the drums with flatulent horns amidst a brassy outdated arrangement.

By contrast the Harris original, which was based on British drinking song melodies, was genuinely amusing if not outright funny, and surprisingly much more musically appealing as well.
 


 
 
 

The perils of publicly reviewing music was made clear when the father of a singer sent an angry rebuke to the critic who had panned his daughter’s performance, threatening violence should they cross paths.

That the letter writer was the current occupant of The White House made this natural paternal reaction a national story when Harry Truman’s letter was published in newspapers from coast to coast.

His daughter Margaret, an aspiring professional soprano, had drawn the ire of The Washington Post’s music critic, Paul Hume back in 1947 while her father was in the midst of his first term as President, saying “she should refrain from public appearances for two or three years until she learns how to sing properly”.

Now, three years having passed, Hume saw her performance at Constitution Hall and felt compelled to write a critique on her lack of progress, stating “Miss Truman can not sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time… There are few moments during her recital where we can relax and feel confident that she will make her goal – which is the end of the song”.

An amateur pianist himself, her father took umbrage at this assessment of his daughter’s technical shortcomings and wrote Hume, “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

The lesson being it isn’t easy criticizing the failings of others, especially when their parents are the head of a world superpower.

In a related story, Hume was disintegrated by what appeared to an atom bomb explosion in his townhouse while brushing his teeth the following week which also wiped out three blocks of downtown Washington in the blink of an eye. After a thorough investigation a government spokesman claims it was merely a coincidence.
 
 
 
 

Space Patrol debuts nationally on ABC with a 30 minute Saturday show on the last weekend of December with the episode “Treachery On Mars” after airing as a daily 15 minute program in Los Angeles since March. Its appearance helped fuel the nationwide craze over the fledgling space program and the still real possibility of voyages into the cosmos.

Ed Kemmer stars as Buzz Corey, the Commander of their mission to clear the space lanes and police the outer reaches of the galaxy and is joined in his adventures by Lyn Osborn as Lt. Happy, the youthful cadet (24 when the show went on the air) with the brylcreem hair who served as comic relief and the viewer surrogate for the younger target audience.

The program did have some things working in its favor including an extremely large sound stage for television which allowed more action to be shot and while it was all done live which required real-time coordination between actors and special effects crew its success allowed the paltry budget (including just eight dollars per episode for each of the cast) to quickly increase to a whopping $25,000 per show by 1952.

Though there was no deviation from the good triumphs over evil plots with clean-cut heroes and cardboard villains they did manage to include two prominent female roles both of whom carried some responsibility in the plots, although considering it was set a thousand years in the future, 2950, actually suggests there’d been remarkably little progress in the field of equality over a millennia.

Over six years there were more than 900 fifteen minute episodes produced, 210 half hour shows, plus 129 radio programs, with plenty of commercial tie-ins of course to help fund their dangerous mission in the vast expanse of outer space.

 
 
 

Jimmy Stewart brings one of his favorite roles to the big screen as Elwood P. Dowd, a gentle kindhearted drinking man who sees and befriends an invisible rabbit, a story which questions the very nature of reality.

“I’d just put Ed Hickey into a taxi. Ed had been mixing his rye with his gin and I just felt that he needed conveying. Well, anyway, I was walking down along the street and I heard this voice saying, “Good evening, Mr. Dowd.” Well, I turned around and here was this big six-foot rabbit leaning up against a lamp-post. Well, I thought nothing of that because when you’ve lived in a town as long as I’ve lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name.”

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning stage play of the same name, Harvey brought back its stars Stewart and Josephine Hull who won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Elwood’s flustered older sister Veta who eventually consents to having her brother committed in an attempt to prevent him from further destroying her social status with his abnormal behavior.

Since the “rabbit” never appears on screen the audience is in the same position as the people whom Dowd encounters who view him as either a harmless drunk or a delusional crackpot but when certain small inexplicable events occur the characters and viewer is left to decide whether or not he’s imagining it after all.

It was one of just six roles Hull ever had in motion pictures dating back to silent films, though she was an acclaimed stage actress for decades. Meanwhile Stewart wound up reprising his role for a television version of the story twenty one years later as did another co-star Jesse White as the exasperated hospital orderly who falls for Veta’s unattractive daughter Myrtle Mae.

Harvey, the six foot three and half inch rabbit, played himself in all three versions, stage, film and television and became a frequently employed cultural reference in movies ever since.
 


 
 

When Mother Nature lays down on the job and doesn’t consent to give you the weather you want when you want it, then it’s up to humanity to take the reins themselves and set things right.

As a result of this meddling, the first patent for a machine to make artificial snow was filed two years after a couple of Americans who owned a ski shop had been upset their livelihood was threatened by a winter without snow in 1948.

Capitalizing on an invention by a Canadian scientist, Ray Ringer, which manged to produce snow via a method of blowing compressed water vapor through freezing air, they set out to ensure that people would always have reason to buy funny wool hats, skis and poles to go down the side of a mountain they just paid a hefty sum to travel up in the first place.

 
 
 
 

Looking for a Christmas present for that lazy daughter of yours who’s nearing twenty years old without a prospective husband in sight to get her off your hands?

Remember dads, her future happiness depends on how carefully you mold and shape her dreams today and what better way to help her start planning the right kind of future with a cedar Hope Chest from Lane.

Sure, her D+ average in school means she’s unlikely to get a job doing more than selling lady’s hosiery at the local department store, while the cigarette habit she picked up from her mother and her taste for booze she got from you will mean her future will be decades shorter than you’d thought when you first had her.

We also know you’re also faced with the unpleasant reality that her homely appearance will mean she’ll always be the wallflower at dances and will be left to pick between a few no account bums when choosing a mate, but isn’t that what dreams are for? To forget these obstacles exist by stashing them in a wooden trunk at the foot of her bed?

At just $49.95 for our lowest price model, these are a wise investment to make because even though these hope chests can’t promise you she won’t still be living under your roof when she’s a bitter old maid, our insurance policy CAN guarantee she won’t have moths eating away at those discarded dreams she stuffs in this handsome piece of furniture over the years.

What better way to say… Merry Christmas!
 
 
 
RECORDS REVIEWED FOR DECEMBER 1950:

MARGIE DAY (with THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS): Little Red Rooster
MARGIE DAY (with THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS): Blues All Alone
ROY BROWN: Teen Age Jamboree
ROY BROWN: Double Crossin’ Woman
THE NIC NACS: Gonna Have A Merry Xmas
THE NIC NACS: Found Me A Sugar Daddy
JOHNNY OTIS: Head Hunter
JOHNNY OTIS (ft. REDD LYTE): Cool And Easy
THE FOUR BUDDIES: I Will Wait
THE FOUR BUDDIES: Just To See You Smile Again
MAXWELL DAVIS: Boogie Cocktails
WYNONIE HARRIS: Triflin’ Woman
WYNONIE HARRIS: Put It Back
IVORY JOE HUNTER: You Thrill Me
THE DOMINOES: Do Something For Me
THE DOMINOES: Chicken Blues
CECIL GANT: It Ain’t Gonna Be Like That
PAUL WILLIAMS: Turtle Rock
SMILIN’ SMOKEY LYNN: Goin’ Back Home
THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS: Blues With A Beat
THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS: Griff’s Boogie
JOHNNY OTIS (with LITTLE ESTHER & MEL WALKER): Love Will Break Your Heart
JOHNNY OTIS (with LITTLE ESTHER): I Don’t Care
JOE THOMAS: Got To Have Her Lovin’
THE BLENDERS: (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over
BIG JOHN GREER: I Want Ya, I Need Ya
THE FIVE LARKS: My Heart Cries For You
THE FIVE LARKS: Coffee, Cigarettes & Tears
FREDDIE MITCHELL: Home Sweet Home
IVORY JOE HUNTER: Send Me Pretty Mama
BILLY WRIGHT: Keep Your Hands On Your Heart
BILLY WRIGHT: Mean Old Wine
JIMMY PRESTON (with BURNETTA EVANS): Rock With It Baby
JIMMY PRESTON: My Baby Done Left Me
MARGIE DAY (with THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS): Bonaparte’s Retreat
THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS: Hot Pepper
CLARENCE GREEN: Hard Headed Woman
THE RAVENS: My Baby’s Gone
EUNICE DAVIS (with FREDDIE MITCHELL): Rock Little Daddy
SARAH DEAN (with FREDDIE MITCHELL): Long Lean Daddy
JOE LUTCHER: Give Me My Hadacol
JOE LUTCHER: I’m Cuttin’ Out

 
 
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