Long before the Internet, CGI, smartphones, and other tech colored our world, we enjoyed simple pleasures – like looking through the Sears Wish Book to pick out our dream Christmas or Hanukah toys. Among the coolest toys were monsters – classics inspired by film and television. No computer-generated imagery, 200+ million movie budgets, or product tie-ins needed – just old-fashioned creativity with a healthy dose of camp. With all girls in our house, monster toys were not on our list, but as an artist, I’ve always found them visually delightful. Here are 10 awesome monster toys from yesteryear. This is for all you late Baby Boomers who grew up watching Creature Features (if you lived in Chicago it aired on WGN and WFLD), The Munsters, Addams Family, or any other classics. Many of these toys command high prices at auction, scooped up by people like you and me trying to recreate carefree days of youth (or at least we remember them that way). The Great Garloo – 1960 One of the greatest toymakers of all time, Louis Marx and Company was in business from 1919 to 1980. The Great Garloo, released in 1960, was a battery-operated robot that looked a little like the Incredible Hulk and Jolly Great Giant’s son. It was $17.98 according to the 1961 commercial – quite a chunk of change for that time. The remote control toy moved forward and backwards, bent over, and could pick up objects, with a little steering wheel to control direction. A near mint one in the box sold on ebay recently for about $500, while others not as pristine have sold in the $135-$200.00 range. Universal Monsters Soaky Bubble Bath Containers – 1963 Made by Colgate-Palmolive in 1963 for 59 cents each, a mint set of…
When I was a kid, I was particularly good at Skee Ball. I remember one family vacation to N.J. to visit my Aunt Ella, stopping at some run-down arcade with Skee-Ball and rolling a high score. This talent continued through my teen years and early adulthood. When I visited NYC in the mid- to-late 1970s, I always made it a point to stop at the Playland at 1565 or 1580 Broadway and play Skee-Ball. As I recall, I accumulated enough tickets to win a metal Statue of Liberty souvenir. Back then, every neighborhood carnival seemed to have a few Skee-Ball lanes, but these dwindled over the years until you could no longer find them. Skee Ball was relegated to a a few old school game arcades and later to party venues like Chuck E. Cheese, GameWorks, Dave & Buster’s, and the like. The balls at GameWorks are made of cheap white plastic and simply don’t have the same “roll” as the originals or well-made new balls. Furthermore, one game costs four credits which is $1.00!
Remember the beloved film, A Christmas Story? Nine-year old Ralphie only wants one gift for Christmas – a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and sundial. The very last present his parents give him is the beloved Red Ryder. Ralphie takes the gun outside, firing at a target perched on a metal sign in the backyard. Unfortunately, the BB ricochets back at him, knocking his glasses off. Ralphie actually thinks he shot his eye out since he cannot see without his glasses. He steps on the glasses while searching for them and they break. He tearfully conceals this fact from his mom, telling her an icicle fell on his face. Every year, thousands of people including children younger than Ralphie suffer injuries from BB and air guns. These aren’t toys, although I’m certain thousands of people will disagree with me on that. I did not have a BB gun as a kid, but I played with a cool, tooled toy cap gun that used a minuscule amount of gunpowder in the caps. I remember loving the way it smelled.
Skokie, as it is known today was incorporated as Niles Centre in 1888. Around 1910, the spelling was Americanized to Niles Center. A village-renaming campaign began in the 1930s and residents chose the Indian name Skokie over Devonshire in a November 15, 1940 referendum. Its population today hovers around 65,000, but it’s been higher. In the mid-1960s, 58% of the population was Jewish, the largest percentage of any Chicago suburb. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 pf those residents were Holocaust survivors who started life anew after suffering immeasurable pain. Infamous History In a November 27, 1934 shootout dubbed the Battle of Barrington, infamous bank robber Baby Face Nelson and his gang killed two FBI agents. Nelson was severely injured and his body was brought to Winnetka where he died. According to history, his accomplices either dumped his bullet-riddled body at the north end of St. Paul Lutheran Church Cemetery on Harms Road or in a ditch adjacent to St. Peter Catholic Cemetery in downtown Skokie. In 1977, a neo-Nazi group led by Frank Collin announced plans to march in Skokie. The news set off a rhetorical firestorm and residents filed a court order to prevent this on the grounds it would “incite or promote hatred against persons of Jewish faith or ancestry.” This Skokie controversy triggered a rare, remarkable moment in American history when citizens throughout the nation vigorously debated the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union represented the First Amendment rights of the neo-Nazi group. The Supreme Court ruling on June 14, 1977 stated the group could march wearing uniforms with swastikas under the constitutional protections of freedom of speech and assembly. Ultimately, they decided to march in Chicago, which was met by derision and little turnout. In the summer of 1978, in response…
In 1959, my parents moved from Rogers Park to Lincolnwood, a quiet Chicago suburb with a current population of about 12,697 people. My dad broke the mold of all his physician friends, many of whom moved from Hyde Park or South Shore to North Shore suburbs such as Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, and Highland Park. They all thought he was a little nuts for choosing this somewhat obscure, unassuming village. However, he had the last laugh because Lincolnwood is an easy commute to North Michigan Avenue, where nearly all of them practiced and my dad has since 1958 – and still does part-time at age 93! My dad could have bought a house in the Lincolnwood Towers, famous for its extravagant Christmas decorations. Back in 1959, there were very few if any Jewish families living in the Towers, so instead he opted for a house in the Lincolnwood Terrace section just east of the Towers. My dad loves recounting the story of live reindeer with a manned sleigh that graced one homeowner’s front lawn when they first moved to Lincolnwood! Actress Barbara Eden looked at a house in the Towers at North Shore and Navajo when she married Charles Fegert, a Chicago Sun-Times advertising executive, but they ended up living in Water Tower Place (1977-1983). Lincolnwood is just a stone’s throw away from Chicago – Sauganash and Edgebrook are the lovely communities closest to where I grew up, near Pratt and Cicero. When I went to college on the East Coast, nobody heard of Lincolnwood, however, when I mentioned Skokie and Evanston, that elicited a glimmer of recognition. I wrote before about Lincoln Village, which was just over the border in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue between Kimball and Kedzie and the adjacent Hollywood Kiddieland. I discuss both beloved places later in this blog. A Short History Incorporated as Tessville…
When we adopted two kitties in May of 2015, it took a little while to come up with two perfect names. I never had a kitten and did not have cats growing up. Sweet Pepper came into my life fully grown when I met Jeff in 1998. I fell in love with him, but it took a few more years to fall head over heels in love with Pepper and truly become a cat person. Pepper succumbed to kidney disease at age 19 1/2 in December 2014. While I thought we would never get over this loss, I have to say that Matisse and Monet have filled the collective hole in our hearts. Jeff let me choose the names Matisse and Monet for our male and female kitties – he liked the names right away, but now he cannot imagine any other names for our two little characters. Aside from the fact that we are both artists and these were two of the greatest French artists of all time, the names are beautiful, rolling off the tongue like music to the ears. I love van Gogh as an artist more than Matisse or Monet, but I could not see naming our male cat after the talented and tortured Dutchman – when you pronounce it the correct and guttural Dutch way, it’s not so pretty! When I first told my dad the names of our new kittens, he said, “Monet is a man’s name,” and yes – Claude Monet was a guy – and an immensely talented one at that. However, Monet is also a girl’s name, as in Monet Mazur.
It was really nice that so many family members reached out to me and commented on my first Howard Clothes article. This yielded a good deal of insight and information, which inspired the desire to write this epilogue. Based on my communications with family members, I found out Elaine Winik is the sole surviving child of Samuel and Minnie Kappel. I also discovered she wrote a book entitled Still Looking Forward, published in 1996. I decided to purchase a copy on Amazon and gave this to my dad to read first. After all, it was his family with the connection to Howard Clothes and to Minnie and her mother Mollie Sennowitz. Elaine’s book filled in a lot of blanks including first names of people who were unknown to me when I wrote the first article, and had escaped my dad’s memory at this point in life – he is 92 after all. A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of talking to Elaine on the phone, and she graciously sent me a few clippings and photos that I have added to this blog. My dad got a real kick out of this passage from Elaine’s book: After living with us, grandma came to my parents and said that although we all were wonderful to her, the house wasn’t kosher, and besides, she missed her Yiddish-speaking contemporaries. If mother and dad would pay rent to “the greenie,” (all immigrants were referred to as greenhorns) her newly arrived cousin from Russia, she would live with him and his wife. Of course we could come and visit her there. She also mentioned that it would be very nice if my parents would furnish the apartment for the “the greenie” as he had no money at all. They did, as they asked.
I have written in the past about toys from the 1960s-1970s that would not pass today’s more stringent safety standards. I have also written about how much I loved picking out toys from the Sears Wish Book every holiday season. This post is a tribute to simple toys that are still around today, despite the incredible technological innovations children have at their fingertips. Children these days are often computer literate to some degree before they are out of diapers! They are playing video games and Wii as little tykes and many have tablets with tons of apps. Yet these simple toys have endured for ages and appear to be just as beloved as they were back in the Stone Ages when I was a child! Candy Land Designed by Eleanor Abbott, Candy Land was acquired by Milton Bradley Company (now Hasbro) and first introduced in 1949. My personal love for this game came from the visuals – I loved the candy graphics that appeared on the Candy Land board and little cards, no doubt due to the sweet tooth that was nurtured by my dad. My nostalgia for this game is tied strictly to the visual elements, because the game itself was rather basic and simplistic. I don’t like the newer graphics which look tacky and ostentatious. I am not surprised that a VCR version and electronic version were released in 1986 and 1998, respectively. Licensed versions include Winnie the Pooh, Dora the Explorer, Disney Princesses, and SpongeBob.
Howard Clothes was a name I heard throughout my childhood, as my dad regaled us with tales of his youth. However, I never took the time to learn more until recently, which proved quite a challenge. My 92-year-old dad has a spectacular memory, but I was seeking concrete information on this rather obscure clothing company that has seemingly been lost to history. The first Howard Clothes store opened in New York in 1924 and was founded by Samuel Kappel, Joseph Langerman, and Henry Marks – named after Langerman’s son Howard. A corporation was subsequently organized in New York in 1925 under the name Howard Clothes Inc. and was later changed to Howard Stores Corporation. The company operated a massive factory in Brooklyn, just on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge, in the neighborhood now known as Dumbo. They sponsored a radio show called Howard Dandies, broadcast on WABC. Their line was limited to men’s clothing, with a major competitor being Bond Stores. Bond operated numerous retail outlets across the U.S., with a factory in Rochester, N.Y. and a flagship store at 372 Fifth Avenue at 35th Street in NYC. Although Bond was primarily a men’s clothier, by the mid-1950s some stores carried women’s clothing, and in their heyday, like Howard Clothes, they also had around 150 stores.
My paternal grandfather Abraham immigrated by himself to America in 1905, leaving behind my grandmother Nettie to fend for herself with their firstborn infant, my Aunt Ella, in a small village near Lomza, Poland. Once my grandfather settled in NYC, he worked in the garment industry as an embroiderer – the trade he learned in the old country. He returned to Poland in late 1911, already a U.S. citizen – Jacob (my Uncle Jack) was born in 1912 and when Abraham left again for America later that year, he was unaware that my grandmother was pregnant with Dora (my Aunt Dottie), who was born in 1913. When World War I broke out, he was separated once again from his family, this time for even longer. He returned to Poland in 1919, moved the family temporarily to Lomza, and worked towards the goal of immigration for his family. Abraham, Nettie, and the three children stepped foot on Ellis Island on April 9, 1921, after sailing from Southampton on the Aquitania. My dad Sam was the only member of his immediate family to be born in America, in September 1923.