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Fountain Pens Are Good For You!

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Sheaffer Student Pen Value Pack; Note The Translucent Blue Barrel.

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, I was a fountain pen user. I can remember the very first ballpoint pens I ever saw, when I was in the first grade (1958 or so) living in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The drug store nearest our school was giving away cheap plastic ballpoint pens from a box that was big enough to hold thousands. Like my classmates, I scurried in, grabbed a handful, and ran to school. I remember snagging six pens that day, and not one of them worked.

Giveaway Ballpoints

Giveaway Ballpoints; My Grandmother Loved Using These!!!

Later, when I saw the Bic ballpoint pens, I was much more favorably impressed. Those pens were cheap, non-refillable throwaways, but they worked perfectly and were good value. I seem to recall that they cost 19¢. If you took the blue plug out of the back end and sucked on the tube barrel, you’d get a mouthful of blue ink; I learned that the hard way.

The Original Bic Pen

The Original Bic Pen

I much preferred my fountain pens, as I was a constant doodler, and fountain pens were better– for me– to draw with. The fountain pens I used back then, and all through high school, were the cheap Sheaffer fountain pens you could get for a buck or so. They used ink cartridges and worked fine. I liked the medium-point nibs on mine.

Sheaffer Student Pen

My favorite Sheaffers had the translucent candy-colored barrels, shown here:

Sheaffer Trans Pen

Sheaffer-Green

A few ballpoints crossed my path. I tried a Parker ballpoint, shown here. I still have it.

Parker Ballpoint

I liked it fine for a ballpoint but went back to my cheap fountain pens. Like every kid in America, I received a Cross ballpoint pen and mechanical pencil set for my high-school graduation. Hated ’em. The pen wrote in a scratchy fashion and the pencil was crap.

Cross Pen Set

Cross Pens Made Me Cross!

For art, I used dip pens with Speedball and Hunt nibs using Higgins India Ink from a bottle, or Rapidographs or Leroy technical, which used cartridges and had nibs in a variety of point sizes. Those pens using India Ink had to be cleaned the second you were done with them or the dried ink was extremely difficult to clean off. I still have a fishing tackle box from college days filled with these dip pens and nibs.

It's Easy To Do This With A Speedball Pen; yeah, right!

It’s Easy To Do This With A Speedball Pen; yeah, right!

When all is said and done, I still prefer fountain pens. My current favorite is a Parker silver-crosshatched Sonnet with a medium nib, which looks a lot like my old Parker 75, but there are several brands in my mahogany pen box and part of the fun of fountain pens is using different pens and inks depending on the mood you’re in on a given day!

Here’s what my Parker looks like:

Parker Cisele Sonnet Fountain Pen

Parker Cisele Sonnet Fountain Pen

Parker calls this silver crosshatch style “cisele,” which is a French term for having a chiselled appearance. Kenneth Parker, president of Parker Pens back in the early 1960s, had a cigarette case with this silver grid pattern, liked it, and decided it would be perfect for the Parker 75 they introduced in 1963. It is a snazzy-looking finish!

Sheaffer Cartridge Pen Ad, 1957

Sheaffer Cartridge Pen Ad, 1957

When Is a Pie Not a Pie?

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When it’s a cake! Patty created this masterpiece from a Martha Stewart recipe she found online. It is a strawberry cake, believe it or not.

As you can see, it looks like a pie and has not yet been tasted. It smells great!

Strawberry Cake

Of course, this cake reminds me of something musical: Lisa Loeb’s wonderful 2002 Cake and Pie album, which included great work by her friend, Dweezil Zappa. My favorite track is We Could Still Belong Together, but the entire album is certainly worth your time.

Lisa Loeb- Cake And Pie Cover

For those who’ve chided me about not posting recently, I can only plead for your forgiveness because I’ve been out of town for two weekends and busy at my daily contract assignment. I have a few posts started, but gathering the images and getting the text worthy of someone’s time reading it isn’t something I can do at lightening speed.

Here’s the Martha Stewart recipe for those who may be interested:

http://www.marthastewart.com/336020/strawberry-cake

Enjoy!!!

UPDATE: Having demolished a slab of this strawberry cake– it never knew what hit it– I can assure you it is a keeper recipe. Trust me. As my old boss Norbert used to say, “You will very enjoy.”

‘NOTHER UPDATE: Originally, I had featured a YouTube video of the Lisa Loeb song referred to above with visuals from Pride and Prejudice; sorry, but that YouTube video is gone. Here’s the song with visuals from a movie series you may be familiar with:

Yours Truly, Old-Time Radio!

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Family Radio

For those who have grown up listening to radio as it is today, what we fans call “old-time radio” (OTR) is a revelation. Radio before 1962 had many great series shows, and they included comedy, drama, horror, soap opera, detective and other offerings. Many, like Dragnet and Gunsmoke, later became television programs as TV became available in the early 1950s. I know of one series (Have Gun, Will Travel) that was a television show first and then became a radio show.

If you have a long commute to work, there is no better way to pass the time than listening to OTR and it needn’t cost you a dime.

While in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a couple of times recently, I was lucky enough to visit the radio studio in the Scranton Times Tribune newspaper building, which still looks like it did when it was used in the 1930s. Here’s a great photo showing a radio studio in the 1940s:

Radio Studio 1930s

If you have XM or Sirius satellite radio, discovering OTR is easy. Just tune to channel 82 and listen to the offerings hosted by OTR wizard Greg Bell (his website is gregbellmedia.com). Greg provides interesting commentary and the shows on his Radio Classics channel have superb-quality audio. His content provider, RadioSpirits.com, also sells classic radio shows on disc. Many folks I know say Greg’s channel is the main reason they subscribe to satellite radio, and my wife and I agree!

If you want to download OTR, there are many sites, both free and subscription; just Google Old TIme Radio and download the files. Please know that the audio quality on many of these, uploaded by OTR fans and collectors, aren’t what you’ll hear on Radio Classics.

Now that we’ve got that stuff out of the way, let’s look at one of the best of the OTR series: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. This detective show lasted a long time; there were over 800 episodes from 1949 to 1962. Johnny Dollar was “the man with the action-packed expense account,” and the premise of the show was that Johnny Dollar was describing the incident while compiling his expense account to whatever insurance company had hired him that week. Johnny’s file on each case was usually referenced as a “matter,” as in “The Silver Blue Matter” or “The Forbes Matter.”

Johnny Dollar was the last of the episodic OTR shows, and over the years there were several actors who played the hard-boiled insurance investigator. My favorite was Bob Bailey, who had a world-weary and somewhat sarcastic delivery perfect for the part:

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Here are a couple of Johnny Dollar episodes for your enjoyment. The first stars Mandel Kramer as Johnny Dollar, and is a half-hour complete episode from the last couple of years of the show:

The Medium Rare Matter

Now, for comparison, here’s my favorite: Bob Bailey in an earlier version of the same show. This episode is part four of the five-part version of the show that ran for a while:

Part Four: The Medium Well-Done Matter

Those of you who remember the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger, Third Eye spoof of old-time radio will recognize a lot of Johnny Dollar in Nick!

A huge part of the attraction of these shows were the sounds effects, created by talented and inventive folks called foley artists, and here’s a YouTube video showing how these effects were created. It’s a hoot!

I’ll be discussing other great OTR shows in the days and weeks to come; be sure to TUNE IN!

My First Published Work!

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Sherman, please set the WABAC machine to 1962 and let’s look in on ten-year-old Jimbo Page, who’s family is spending that summer in Apalachicola, Florida.

His dad, who is a stern and unfriendly person, loves airplanes and little Jimbo decides that since his dad’s favorite magazine, Trade-A-Plane, publishes a little one-panel cartoon in the upper-right corner of every cover, he’ll draw something and submit it for their consideration and– maybe– they’ll publish it. They did!

As a fourth-grader, I was amazed to see something I drew in print in a national– if decidedly niche– publication!!! Trade-A-Plane is still being published, though I’m not certain if they still are a tabloid pub printed on canary-yellow newsprint, and I’m not certain they’re still published in Crossville, Tennessee.

My dad seemed astonished when the magazine came in the mail and my cartoon was on the cover. He soon got over that, I suppose.

A very gracious person at Trade-A-Plane was nice enough to find and scan my cartoon and send it to me this afternoon (thanks, Linda!!!). She’s even sending me a collection they published a few years ago of their best cartoons, and mine was one of the ones in the collection.

As I look at this effort now, I see stuff I didn’t see when I drew it. Being a kid, I didn’t realize that printers needed an inked, not pencilled, piece for printing (notice the signature of the person who kindly inked it at the publication for me in the bottom right of the cartoon). Also, I misspelled “Apalachicola.” The two people are drawn (from a World Book photo of Wright and a comic-book drawing as references) in two different styles. The microphone and reporter’s hand are awful. Most absurd is that I accidentally drew Wilbur instead of Orville Wright, which messes up the gag; Orville sported a mustache.

I guess I was just too excited and eager to mail it in to care about niceties, and I was just a ten-year-old kid.

As Conan Doyle once said, when someone pointed out a few mistakes in one of his best-loved Sherlock Holmes stories, “Sometimes one has to be masterful regarding details.”

Anyway, here’s the cartoon:

JamesPageCartoon

Batmobiles and Me . . .

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TV Batmobile

Today’s sale of the original TV-show Batmobile reminded me of my slight brush with the history of the various versions of the car.

A kid in the 1950s and ’60s could be a fan of both Superman and Batman, and I was, but Batman had a couple of extra things going for him: he had a cave and he had a cool car. The primary Batmobile of the 1940s was a good-looking unit, and no other comic-book character had anything remotely as cool as this:

1940s Batmobile

In 1950, the editors of the Batman comics decided it was time to update the Batmobile, and this one was born:

1950 Batmobile b

This 1950 Batmobile had a crime lab built into the back seat and still had the spooky and amazing front bat-face thingie and the neat swooping rear fin. Not a thing wrong with this baby:

1950 Batmobile a

But by the mid-1960s, even I had to admit that 1950s Batmobile, still used in the comic books, was dated-looking.

We had just moved down to Marathon, Florida, and I had time on my hands. So, I decided to create a more modern Batmobile. I chose the front end of a Pontiac of the era and the back end of a Chrysler; combining those was easy; then I added a couple of canopy bubbles like fighter planes had. And, to top it all off, I added a couple of hood and side scoops like Corvettes had. I made sure it had a bat face on the front and two bat-fins on the back!

I drew a really clean version of the design and sent it to Mr. Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics who seemed to encourage kids to become involved in the books.

I promptly forgot about the whole thing until a few months later, when a postcard came from Mr. Schwartz; he always wrote on postcards. He was going to use my Batmobile in the comic books! And– WOW– I would get a free one-year subscription to all the comics he edited. He edited a bunch of good ones, too: Batman, Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, Justice League of America!

Here’s what my version of the Batmobile looked like when it appeared in the comic books:

JBP Batmobile b

JBP Batmobile c

JBP Batmobile a

I was so proud! Then the TV show came out, and the Batmobile on the show made mine look like crap.

Here are a couple of photos of the TV-show Batmobile taken before it even had its glossy paint job; it’s still wearing its flat-black primer:

Original Primered TV Show Batmobile

Rear, Primered Batmobile

I was devastated at first, but then figured, “Okay; they have pro guys designing TV-show cars and I’m just a kid! No wonder their’s looks so much better!!!”

One problem was that I could no longer tell my pals I had designed the Batmobile, because the first thing they’d say would be, “THE TV-SHOW ONE?!?!?!” And I’d have to reply, “No; the lame one they use in the comic books and comic strip.”

Eventually– and we’re talking over a year; maybe more– I grew sick of seeing my Batmobile in the books and strips and wrote to Mr. Schwartz again: “Why do you keep using my Batmobile design when the TV-show one is ten times better looking?!?!?!” And a few weeks later, a DC Comics postcard came with his response: “Yours is easier to draw.”

Oh, well. They’ve come out with a 1:43-scale Corgi die-cast version of my Batmobile, which is one of the rarest and costliest Batmobile die-cast models because it is lame-looking compared to the TV-show one and not much sought after. A very generous Batmobile historian and enthusiast in England was nice enough to send me one a couple of years ago; I darn sure wasn’t going to spend over $250 for it on eBay!!! Too bad they used a baby-blue paint for the color:

JBP Batmobile Corgi Die-Cast

Yes; I’m proud of my lame creation, but, to me, there is only one Batmobile, and it isn’t the one I dreamed up sitting on the side of my bed in Marathon, Florida, and it isn’t the ones in the comic books and strips and it sure isn’t any of the recent Batman movie Batmobiles; it’s this:

Batmobile On Set

It’s a Phone Phreak’s Life! Gaming Ma Bell . . .

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Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, subscribing to magazines was a big deal. Every family took pride in having a slough of magazines arriving at their home and reading them was a pleasant way to stay informed and pass a lazy afternoon.

My mom subscribed to McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Vogue and some other fashion magazines; my dad, who was a pilot, subscribed to a bunch of different magazines. There was Trade-A-Plane, a tabloid showing planes for sale across the world printed on yellow newsprint. It always had a sixth-page sized single-panel pen-and-ink cartoon on the first page/cover, and that publication printed a cartoon of mine in 1962.

As a fourth-grader, this was an enormous deal for me (I was now a published cartoonist!!!) and my dad was stunned when he saw it in his magazine. He also got Flying magazine and whatever else was available concerning airplanes, along with Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, True, Argosy, Reader’s Digest, and, of course, National Geographic. The family also got Life, TV Guide, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. We loved them all.

I don’t recall my brother, Jeffrey, subscribing to anything, but I subscribed to Mad, American Heritage and a couple of Superman-family comics. My favorite was the magazine put out by the folks at the Boy Scouts of America: Boys’ Life.

Boy's Life Covers

The Boys’ Life of my day was a terrific read. Not only did it have stories about hunting for fossils in the Far West or what it was like to be a cadet at West Point or what was happening next at NASA; it also had some top-notch comic-strip features that I looked forward to seeing every month.

Space Conq2

Several cartoon features were promotional comic-strip-type ads by big companies. My favorite was the adventures of Chip Martin, College Reporter, which was sponsored by Bell Telephone and had art by the young Neal Adams, who went on to revolutionize the look of comic books in the late 1960s. His slick, clean style really caught my eye.

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt2

One unanticipated result of all this info pouring into the homes of kids of the early 1960s was that it gave some of us naughty ideas. We may have been Boy Scouts, but we were still boys with time on our hands and vivid imaginations and we came up with some creative ways to have fun, as you will see.

Most of my readers weren’t around in the days of no-such-thing-as-a-cell-phone when most telephones had rotary dials and were wired to a wall and there was one big phone company that made certain that long-distance phone calls cost a fortune, so the following may be hard for them to imagine: Many of us kids, including a couple of brainiac nerds named Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, got interested in computers by way of our attempts to hack free long-distance telephone service from the Bell telephone monopoly. We proudly called ourselves phone phreaks, and that little community, with its mimeographed newsletters passed around schools or head shops on the sly, is where I first heard of Jobs and Gates, years before Apple or Microsoft were even dreamed of.

Here’s a grainy picture of future Apple computer founders Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak playing with their phone-hacking toys.

Jobs and Wozniak

In the early 1970s, we all had trick homemade electronic blue- or black-boxes that could get us into a Bell long-distance trunk line for free; they were made of pilfered organ keys that could replicate the duotone sounds that controlled a telephone switchboard. We scoured the local Radio Shacks for little goodies that might be put to creative use.

We were astonished when we discovered that a freebie plastic whistle that came in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal could get you into the free long-distance circuits, too, and those whistles were much sought after and in the pockets of many a phone phreak in those days. We loved getting something free from Ma Bell! Just blow your Cap’n Crunch whistle– mine was a baby-blue one– into a telephone handset microphone and you can call anywhere in the world for free! Take that, Ma Bell! Want to talk for hours to a girl who goes to school several area codes away for free? NO PROBLEM!!! Just use my handy blue Cap’n Crunch whistle, my friend!!!

Capn Crunch whistle

Enough true confessions; here are some Bell Telephone comics from the very early 1960s, drawn by Neal Adams, that show the phones of the future! WOW!!!

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt2

Chip Martin 1962-11

Chip Martin 1962-11 pt2

Of course, all that Up Ma Bell! stuff was very illegal, but we felt as though a monopoly like the phone company was fair game. And it was a game: Bell Labs employed short-haired smart guys in suits and ties and we were long-haired smart guys in jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts matching wits with them. Many phone phreaks later worked for the many phone companies that came into being after the government shattered the Bell Telephone monopoly. Those ex-phreaks knew phones and how they worked.

Other ex-phreaks, like Jobs, Wozniak and Gates, used the skills they learned by soldering electronic phone-phreaking gizmos to create the first personal computers. This ex-phreak used those computers to change how folks made maps or colored comic books. At some point, even the weird turn pro.

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