Saturday, July 25, 2015

This Day in Pop Culture. June 25

The Last Packard Produced, 1956

The last Packard–the classic American luxury car with the famously enigmatic slogan “Ask the Man Who Owns One”–rolls off the production line at Packard’s plant in Detroit, Michigan on this day in 1956.

Mechanical engineer James Ward Packard and his brother, William Dowd Packard, built their first automobile, a buggy-type vehicle with a single cylinder engine, in Warren, Ohio in 1899. The Packard Motor Car Company earned fame early on for a four-cylinder aluminum speedster called the “Gray Wolf,” released in 1904. It became one of the first American racing cars to be available for sale to the general public. With the 1916 release of the Twin Six, with its revolutionary V-12 engine, Packard established itself as the country’s leading luxury-car manufacturer. World War I saw Packard convert to war production earlier than most companies, and the Twin Six was adapted into the Liberty Aircraft engine, by far the most important single output of America’s wartime industry.
Packards had large, square bodies that suggested an elegant solidity, and the company was renowned for its hand-finished attention to detail. In the 1930s, however, the superior resources of General Motors and the success of its V-16 engine pushed Cadillac past Packard as the premier luxury car in America. Packard diversified by producing a smaller, more affordable model, the One Twenty, which increased the company’s sales. The coming of World War II halted consumer car production in the United States. In the postwar years, Packard struggled as Cadillac maintained a firm hold on the luxury car market and the media saddled the lumbering Packard with names like “bathtub” or “pregnant elephant.”
With sales dwindling by the 1950s, Packard merged with the much larger Studebaker Corporation in the hope of cutting its production costs. The new Packard-Studebaker became the fourth largest manufacturer of cars in the nation. Studebaker was struggling as well, however, and eventually dropped all its own big cars as well as the Packard. In 1956, Packard-Studebaker’s then-president, James Nance, made the decision to suspend Packard’s manufacturing operations in Detroit. Though the company would continue to manufacture cars in South Bend, Indiana, until 1958, the final model produced on June 25, 1956, is considered the last true Packard.

A Marriageable Woman, Circa 1950

Sally Edelstein, the writer of the blog "Envisioning the American Dream" recently posted a quiz from the May 1953 edition of "The Girlfriend and the Boyfriend" magazine. The quiz "What Are You Best Fitted For, Love or a Career?" offered young women some insight into what their future might hold for them. Answering all or most of the 11 questions 'yes' indicated that the young woman may best be suited for a career. A similar number of 'no' answers indicated that love lie in her future.

Ladies, take the test for yourself and eliminate some of the guesswork out of those big life decisions.


To see Sally Edelstein's original post on the quiz, click here.

To see more images from the magazine, including a companion quiz on judging your boyfriend as a lover, and advice on spotting girls who flirt, visit the KultureKat Pinterest board:

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BBC's Poll Results of the 100 Greatest American Films

I usually don't put a great deal of stock in Top 10, 50, or 100 lists, whether they're for songs, second basemen or movies. I never feel that the item that's third on the list is clearly better than items four or fourteen. Its not that I think that they're completely inaccurate. If something makes one of these lists it usually deserves to be considered as one of the best in the category. To me, the Top 10/50/100 lists are useful for starting meaningful conversation, something much more valuable than the specific ranking of certain items.

This week released the results of a poll of the "100 Greatest American Films". To qualify as "American" the film must have been fianaced by US backers. At first I wasn't sure about this being the sole criterion for consideration. Does it matter that 32 directors on the list were born outside of the US? But after reviewing the titles, none stood out as anything other than an American film.

The poll was conducted among film critics from around the globe. Each was asked to provide an ordered list of the 10 films which they feel "on an emotional level" are  the greatest in American cinema. First place on a critics list earned a film 10 points, 10th place earned it 1 point.

And the award for Best Picture goes to...

What else could it be other than Citizen Kane? Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece has been at or near the top of every critics' poll for over 50 years. Film fans love the film, but not nearly as much as the critics. Its a great story, well-told, and the novice Welles employs every technique that he admired from other films.

Here are the top 10 films according to the BBC poll.

1 Citizen Kane Orson Welles 1941
2 The Godfather Francis Ford Coppola 1972
3 Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock 1958
4 2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick 1968
5 The Searchers John Ford 1956
6 Sunrise FW Murnau 1927
7 Singin' in the Rain Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly 1952
8 Psycho Alfred Hitchcock 1960
9 Casablanca Michael Curtiz 1942
10 The Godfather Part II Francis Ford Coppola 1974

By the way, the number 11 film on the list is Welles' 'The Magnificent Ambersons' from 1942. Not a bad couple of years' work by a first time director.

The nominees for Best Director are...

Okay, I have to admit that I got a little geeky with the list. It was so neatly formatted that I just had to paste it into a spreadsheet so I could do my own analysis.

C'mon. You'd do the exact same thing. Admit it.

Noticing that several directors make multiple appearances on the list, I wondered if one of them might be the "home-run king" of American film. I was surprised to find that there wasn't one "king", but a small group of directors who account for a disproportionate number of great American films.

Four directors appear on the list for five of their films: Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg.

Coppola, Howard Hawks and Martin Scorcese each have four films on the list. Welles, John Ford, and Charlie Chaplin each make the list three times.

Together, these 10 directors account for 41 of the Top 100 films.

And the Best Decade for American films is...

In a companion piece to the poll results, Tom Brooks observes that "contemporary films didn't fare well" in the poll, noting that the most recent film in the top 10 is Coppola's 'The Godfather Part II' from 1974.

Let's turn to the spreadsheet for some insight on a similar question: What decade produced the most (and the least) number of films on the Top 100 list? The results are not completely surprising.
1910's - 1
1920' - 4
1930's - 6
1940's - 15
1950's - 15
1960's - 10
1970's - 21
1980's - 13
1990's - 9
2000's - 4
2010's - 2
Some of this makes sense. The 40's and 50's were a great period for American films. The industry had matured and had absorbed a lot of talent fleeing from Europe. The 70's reflect the rise of the great independent directors: Coppola, Scorcese, Robert Altman and to a lesser extent, Spielberg.

What's more troublesome is the glaring shortage of great American films in the 90's, 00's, and 10's. And lets extend that period a bit. of the 13 Top 100 films in the 80's, 10 were produced before 1985.

So what has happened to American films in the past 30 years? The migratation of talent from cinema to television didn't really start until the late 90's. Could it be explained by changes to the economics of the US film industry? The revenue from international distribution of US films has grown tremendously and favors popular blockbusters. Umm, maybe.

Maybe this has something to do with the critics, who for some reason are biased towards older films.


The first link below is to the article on the results of the poll. The last link is to a companion article that briefly explains why each of the top 25 films deserves its inclusion on the list.

The 100 Greatest American Films

What's So Good About Citizen Kane?

The 25 Greatest American Films

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This Day In Pop Culture, July 10

Richard Speck Kills 8 Nurses In Chicago

Was there a time in the 20th  century in which fear wasn't an ingredient of American culture? There was the decade-long Great Depression, which was alleviated only by World War II. After the US took a breather to kickoff the baby boom, the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949, went hydrogen in '55, and parked a dozen missiles in Cuba in '63. It seems that fear has always been with us, changing in texture from a material to a mortal threat, and from internal to external. The Depression was material and internal, the Cold War mortal and external.

A new mix of fear began in 1966 when Richard Speck killed 8 nursing students in an apartment on the south side of Chicago. At the time, Speck was considered the embodiment of evil. In hindsight, he was not a monster but a hapless loser, a petty criminal, an alcoholic with his own fears, a coward who could only find courage from the handle of a knife. Speck was destined for insignificance until circumstance - he was bumped from his spot working on a merchant ship the day before - placed him in Luella Park, drunk, staring up at the nurses' apartment building.

Speck forced his way into the apartment and bound seven nurses with torn bed sheets before methodically stabbing and strangling them and two others who came to the apartment to investigate the noise of the struggles.

No, I haven't lost count. Speck bound seven nurses, killed two more who came to the apartment, but a total of eight nurses died that night. It was Speck who lost count, forgetting the ninth nurse who had squrmed under a bed. It was this nurse who when asked if she could identify the man who murdered the others stood up, walked to the defense table, and pointed her finger at Speck's face. But that was nine months later.

Less than three weeks after the murder of the nurses, Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas with a carbine, a shotgun and a dolly of ammunition. A natural marksman honed to expertise by the Marines, Whitman shot 46, killing 14.

Speck may have had problems with simple addition, but when it comes to settling the questions of justice, we humans are all mathematicians. We calculate cause and effect, we balance the equation. On one side we have an unsettling horror, on the other a set of actors and their actions. With a little fudging we find a way to tell ourselves, "They had it coming". Unfortunate yes, unexpected no. We reconcile the equations of justice, recapture the orderliness, and get on with our lives.

In 1966 randomness entered the equation and our mathematics no longer added up. What had 20 year-old Gloria Davy done to deserve being stabbed and strangled by Speck? What had 16 year-old Mark Gabour done that explains why Whitman shot him in the head? Americans had to face the unsettling possibility that if violence could be random even those like themselves, the followers of the rules, could be victims of unexplainable, unpredictable violence.

But Speck and Whitman were only the spectacular opening acts of what would be a generation of continuosly increasing rates of violent crime. From 1957 to 1980, the homicide rate in the US more than doubled, from 4.0 to 10.2 per 100,000. At the same time rape, assault, robbery and theft also increased.

American's fear of violence soon appeared in our pop culture artifacts. In the 1968 Presidential election, Nixon made violent crime one of the central issues of his campaign, promising that "The wave of crime would not be the wave of the future for America", as can be seen in this television ad below.

Steve Pinker describes the impact of violence on American culture in "The Better Angels of Our Nature":
The flood of violence from the 1960s through the 1980s reshaped American culture, the political scene, and everyday life. Mugger jokes became a staple of comedians, with mentions of Central Park getting an instant laugh as a well-known death trap. New Yorkers imprisoned themselves in their apartments with batteries of latches and deadbolts, including the popular “police lock,” a steel bar with one end anchored in the floor and the other propped up against the door. The section of downtown Boston not far from where I now live was called the Combat Zone because of its endemic muggings and stabbings. Urbanites quit other American cities in droves, leaving burned-out cores surrounded by rings of suburbs, exurbs, and gated communities. 
Then in the first half of the 1970s, American pop culture fought back, giving us a string of vigilante films satisfying the audiences' craving for justice. In 1971 Dirty Harry was released, followed by Walking Tall (1973) and Sudden Impact (1974). All had similar themes: smug criminals who felt they were untouchable by the law, an incompetent criminal justice system, and most important, an avenging hero who takes matters into his own hands.

Pop culture also dealt with violence in a new genre of film that first appeared in the late 70s. The Urban Apocalypse film assumes a dystopian future in which order has collapsed and society is ruled by street gangs. The Warriors and Mad Max were released in 1979, with Escape from New York coming two years later.


To read the relevant excerpt from Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" go here.

For KultureKat's collection of 1970s Vigilante and Urban Apoalypse movie posters, please visit our Pinterest board by clicking the link below.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Aviator Chic

When this KultureKat is on the prowl for pop culture morsels he has a few regular spots he likes to visit. I'll turn you on to one of them right now: Yeah, that's right. I can find plenty to satisfy my American pop kulture kravings on the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Like this little appetizer about the creation of Ray-Ban sunglasses and the subsequent fashion statement we'll call aviator chic.

The original Ray-Ban Aviator glasses were developed by a real pilot in 1920. John Macready was motivated to find better eye protection after an incident involving fellow test pilot Shorty Schroeder. It seems that Shorty was on a test flight that broke the 33,000 foot barrier. Somewhere near the apex, Shorty pulled off his goggles which had fogged over. His eyes immediately began to freeze. Fortunate to land his plane safely, Shorty was helped from the plane by Macready. Distressed by his friend's experience, Macready contacted Bausch & Lomb with some ideas for a green-tinted, tear-drop shaped lens specfically designed to protect a pilot's eyes from the sun and freezing tempertures.

General Douglas MacArthur rockin' the Ray-Bans circa 1940.
The sunglasses took off for civilian use in 1937 as the Ray-Ban Aviators and, while remaining a favorite of real pilots, also became a fashion statement for General Douglas MacArthur, as well as Tom Cruise in Top Gun.


For more about the histroy of Ray-Ban sunglasses and aviator chic, please follow this link to the full article on

Friday, July 3, 2015

This Day In Pop Culture, July 3

Brian Jones and Jim Morrison Die

We've all stared at the stars and played connect-the-dots. "Those four over there look like..." Depending on your situation or disposition you might see a giant ladle or a bear. The very same stars, connected by different imaginations.

Today on the anniversary of the deaths of Brian Jones (1969) and Jim Morrison (1971) we have the anchors of the constellation that has been named in retrospect "The 27 Club".

Morrison's legend survives his passing and his name remains instantly associated with The Doors. I suspect that Jones' legacy hasn't done as well across subsequent generations. In brief, Brian Jones was the founder of The Rolling Stones, their original promoter, and probably the Stone who had the greatest impact on the music over the first five years of the band. His role in the Stones diminished with his drug use, the growing control of manager Andrew Loog Oldham, and the creative maturation of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. He was fired by the band in June of 1969 and was found at the bottom of his swimming pool less than a month later.

Brian Jones

While unlikely his intention, Jones also became the founder of The 27 Club, a collection of popular musicians who all died at the age of 27. And depending on your dispostion, "27" may be a coincidence, or the manifestation of some deeper underlying process.

Of course no constellation is made up of a single star, whether gaseous or rock. Even two stars do little to fuel the imagination. It was only with the death of Morrison, following the 1970 deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, both also 27, that some first noticed an emerging pattern. When Kurt Cobain of Nirvana committed suicide in 1994 at 27, "The 27 Club" became for many much more than a coincidence. Amy Winehouse's failure to clear that dreaded age turned The Club into a law of stellar physics.

The "Big 6" of "The 27 Club"
Once The Club was founded, the obituaries of all rock and blues musicians were reviewed for prospective members. As you would imagine given the total number of musicians and their propensity for self-destructive behavior, The Club could now fill a good-sized tour bus. Blues legend Robert Johnson (also a member) is probably behind the wheel, cruising through the crossroads.

I've not seen research that supports or refutes the basis of The Club. I'm sure such research is possible. For my part, I don't think there's anything to that specific number which explains the death of musicians. Ex-Byrd, ex-Flying Burrito Brother Gram Parsons died at 26. Jazz cornet great Bix Beiderbecke died at 28. Miles Davis almost died at 28 but saved himself by kicking heroin, locked up in his father's house.

I have a friend who is working on a play about The 27 Club, so I've probably given it more thought than is necessary for a functioning life. My guess is that there's actually a 26/27/28 Club, and maybe a few more numbers are needed at either end. The life of a rock, blues, or jazz musiscian is dangerous. Drugs and alcohol are available, accepted, and encouraged, while at the same time money, fame and parasites insulate them from the sobering effects of reality. You either get your demons in check by the time you're 26, 27, or 28, or your demons get you.


The most thorough roster of "The 27 Club" I've seen is on Wikipedia. For a few more pictures of Jones, Morrison and the others, check out the KultureKat Pinterest board.

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In Passing: Patrick MacNee, Steed in 'The Avengers'

This post is in development. The following is an initial summary of the expected content.

Patrick MacNee was a British actor whose career spanned much of the post-war period. In the American Colonies, MacNee is best remembered as John Steed, the main character in the 1960's hit TV series, The Avengers.

In each episode of The Avengers, Steed undertook a new mission to right an injustice. In the first seasons of the series which began in 1961, Steed was played straight as an avenger for justice. As the series evolved, the series increasingly traded in wit and style, with the evil foes becoming less likely until it wasn't unusual for The Avengers to find themselves battling killer robots and the such.

Patrick McNee with Diana Rigg as Emma Peal, in The Avengers (1965)

What earns this series a place in American pop culture is its arrival on US shores in 1965. For the first 4 seasons, The Avengers could only be seen in England. Following the initial British invasion of music and fashion, all cultural treasures of that fair island that could be exported were boxed and shipped to the US. ABC television purchased the rights to air The Avengers in 1965 for $2 million. Unsure of what to do with their prize, ABC first aired the show in the 10:30 time slot. Viewers found it nonetheless and made the show a US hit for three seasons.

As a young lad I never missed the show, though I'm sure I missed much of the humor. Below is a video of the introductory title and credits for the 1966 season. The show was sooo cool and Diana Rigg was soooooo sexy.

For more pictures Patrick MacNee, Diana Rigg, and some of the other characters of The Avengers, please visit KultureKat board on Pinterest.

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