Hot Wheels: America Keeps on Rolling

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For as long as Americans have been walking about, someone has been trying to add a little pizzaz by sailing on tiny wheels.

The first known use of roller skates was at a London theater in 1743, and by the mid-1860s, skaters in New York City were rolling about on a four-wheeled skate that allowed them also to curve. By the 1880s, roller skates were being mass-produced in America.

In the 1930s, vast roller skating marathons were conducted across the country, with couples dancing on skates for as long as six days.

From that evolved roller derby, a contact skating sport performed on banked tracks. In 1940, more than 5 million spectators watched the sport in 50 American cities.

Roller rinks became popular in the post-World War II baby boom of the 1950s; a roller-skating birthday party became a rite of passage for kids of the ’50 through the ’80s. Drive-in restaurants often featured servers on roller skates.

In the ’70s, roller derby became popular again with movies like Kansas City Bomber and Unholy Rollers.

And then, with the disco craze of the late 1970s, it wasn’t long before people were roller disco dancing.

The fad took the country by storm, with 28 million Americans buying roller disco skates at a then-average of $75 a pair. Celebrities of all stripes got into the act, from Bianca Jagger to Cher to The Village People, Olivia Newton-John, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall (of Laverne and Shirley) and even Andy Warhol.

In 1979 the skates were redesigned using polyurethane wheels in an in-line alignment and attaching ice-hockey boots, and rollerblades were born. Various wheel sizes are used for diverse skating styles—roller hockey, artistic inline, freestyle slalom and speed skating.

Now amateur roller derby has become a popular sport for young women, with more than 1,250 leagues worldwide. Emphasizing athleticism, a strong DIY ethic and more than a little camp as players adopt “derby names” such as Punky Bruiser and Ivana Crushyu.

No one knows what will come next, but it’s a sure bet that if new wheels can be fit on a shoe, new skaters will arrive for the fun.

— David Cohea

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Skating to  work in the 1940s.

Skating to work in the 1940s.

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Anne Gwynne, 1942.

Anne Gwynne, 1942.

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The Skating Vanities of 1948 poster

The Skating Vanities of 1948 poster

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Skating rink, 1940s.

 

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Roller derby, 1950.

 

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Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe skate in “Monkey Business” (1952).

 

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roller skate drive in

Drive-in with roller-skating waitresses, 1950s.

 

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Pepsi ad, 1958.

Pepsi ad, 1958.

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racquel welsh roller derby

Raquel Welch in “Kansas City Bomber” (1973)

 

 

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Roller disco mania, late 1970s.

Roller disco mania, late 1970s.

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Roller disco diva Cher.

Roller disco diva Cher.

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CHiPs goes roller disco.

CHiPs goes roller disco.

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Boardwalk disco queens.

Boardwalk disco queens.

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Blonde Fitness: How Marilyn Got (And Kept) Those Curves

marilyn exercise

“Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all.”

Believe it or not, that quote came from Marilyn Monroe.

Still considered the quintessential sex symbol more than 50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe didn’t rely on sweaty gyms, fad diets or pills to maintain her hourglass shape. Of course, it could be argued that God gave her an extra advantage at birth, but there’s also no doubt that she made the most of it.

At 5 foot, six inches tall and a weight range of 115 to 140 pounds, the actress followed a high-protein, low-carb eating plan combined with 10 minutes of weight-lifting per day, in stark contrast to the two-hour routines and low-calorie diets espoused by today’s celebrities.

And in those 10 minutes, she took a relatively relaxed approach to working out, confessing to Pageant magazine in a 1952 spread that, “I don’t count rhythmically like the exercise people on the radio; I couldn’t stand exercise if I had to feel regimented about it.”

Nor did Monroe enlist any kind of personal trainer, telling Pageant that she had “evolved her own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise.”

Her routine was simple: 15 reps each of lifting five-pound weights above her head from different angles, followed by moving the weights in circles with her arms at a 45-degree angle from the floor until she tired. Although she also enjoyed horseback riding and light jogging, Monroe was not athletic, saying she had never really cared for outdoor sports and had no interest in excelling at tennis, swimming or golf: “I’ll leave those things to the men.”

While admitting that some of her peers labeled her diet bizarre, the actress herself doubted whether “a doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry.” Said breakfast consisted of two raw eggs whisked into a glass of warm milk and a multi-vitamin. She then skipped lunch, and for her “startlingly simple” dinner, stopped at a market near her hotel, where she bought a protein-rich meat like steak, lamb or liver, to broil in her room’s electric oven. Four or five raw carrots rounded out the meal.

“My biggest single concern used to be getting enough to eat. Now I have to worry about eating too much,” she told Pageant. But she did confess to one less-healthy indulgence—evening stops at a local ice-cream parlor for a hot fudge sundae after her drama classes.

As one fitness expert has noted, “You can’t outwork a bad diet.” Monroe’s frequent consumption of some of nature’s most nutritionally dense foods trumps many of the synthetic “health” products consumed by continuously dieting Americans nowadays. And while her routine might not be for everyone, when it came to fitness, Marilyn proved she was no dumb blonde.

— Lucie Winborne

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Filed under Fitness, Hollywood, Movieland, Pin-Ups, Retro Beatuy, The Fifties, Vinage Beauty

A Brief History of the Times Square Ball

history-of-times-square-ball-drop

We Americans have a strange if entertaining habit of dropping objects from a pole as the clock strikes midnight each Dec. 31: a moon pie in Alabama, an olive in Oklahoma . . . a drag queen in Key West or an onion in Bermuda — even a top-hatted, bow-tied, stuffed muskrat in Maryland.

The inspiration for this silliness? You’ll find it in New York City’s Times Square, of course, where crowds brave freezing temps for hours to watch THE drop.

Of a ball.

THE ball.

No other name is necessary for the glittering behemoth that’s 12 feet in diameter and tips the scales at nearly 12,000 pounds. Its original counterpart was a more homely affair of iron, wood and twenty-five 100-watt light bulbs, but today’s model boasts 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles attached to 672 LED modules, fired by over 30,000 individual LEDs.

New Years Celebrations

An impressive sight, to be sure, but what’s up with that drop?

For that, we can partly thank inventor Robert Wauchope, who built the first “time ball” in 1829 as a way of broadcasting the time to sea travelers. When the balls descended at noon or 1:00 pm in ports around the world, ship captains set their clocks accordingly. Technology rendered them obsolete, but in 1907 Adolph Ochs had the bright idea of combining them with the relatively new incandescent light bulb. Immigrant metalworker Jacob Starr was commissioned to create a nearly 700-pound globe and lower it down a flagpole from the roof of One Times Square at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1907 … and a tradition was born.

The first drop in 1907.

The first drop in 1907.

Over the decades the ball has evolved to fit the times: made of iron in 1920 in a nod to America’s steel strength, then aluminum in 1955. Forty years later, rhinestones, strobe lights and computerized lights symbolized the computer age.

Today it’s a year-round object of admiration at the top of One Times Square, fully in step with technology with its own Twitter account and app allowing users to livestream the entire celebration. Like any great American tradition, it “has its own personality,” noted Jeffrey Strauss, president of Countdown Entertainment, developer of the app. “When that ball starts to drop, we all stop and count down those final seconds of the year. It really brings us all together.”

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Over a million followers surely would agree.

See you in Times Square!

– Lucie Winborne

 

New Year's Eve in Times Square, 1959.

New Year’s Eve in Times Square, 1959.

 

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Style on Screen

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr

“Anyone can look glamorous. You just have to stand still and look stupid.” – Hedy Lamarr

If only it were that easy! But even Hedy Lamarr, who was most certainly not stupid, needed a little extra help. So do most of us. Then again, most of us will never achieve it in our ordinary lives, so we enjoy the next best thing: watching the glamor parade onscreen.

What do we really want when we pursue glamour? The answer, of course, is “a certain lifestyle” – which, if it doesn’t make problems disappear, would at least seem to make them easier to bear.

Or even forget, something Hollywood counted on during the Great Depression. Although conventional wisdom of the time held that film was a luxury in which few could or would indulge, for an average price of 27 cents per ticket, audiences flocked to the celluloid world of vicarious romance, fashion and rags-to-riches drama before returning home with, as writer John Farr put it, “enough renewed hope to get them through one more week of grim reality.”

Here’s a look at some screen icons whose sartorial style has held us spellbound in good times as well as bad.

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Swing Time

Top Hat (1935)

So what if the plot is wildly implausible? Ginger Rogers in ostrich feathers and Fred Astaire in tails; diamonds, furs and endless ballrooms; gondolas and seaplanes and the freedom from seemingly all cares but dancing: Astaire isn’t the only one in heaven for nearly two hours.

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queen bee

Queen Bee (1955)

As in real life, a high-handed manner occasionally accompanies high style. Eva Phillips (Joan Crawford) is, at least outwardly, the epitome of bejeweled, fur-wrapped Southern graciousness on her Georgia plantation, but all her gold can’t gild the bitter pill of a jealously manipulative personality.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Holly Golightly may be a gold-digger and call girl, but the sordidness normally associated with those occupations is missing in this Blake Edwards production. Still, before the ’60s started swinging, Holly’s tiaras, little black dresses, cab drop-offs at dawn and swanky Manhattan parties represented a sophistication that was just a bit dangerous, as well as enviable, to young women.

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great gatsby

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Not only did “Gatsby” costumes earn their designer an Oscar, they spawned a Brooks Brothers collection. From “chandelier” sheaths adorned with crystals to arresting feather headdresses, waistcoats and straw boater hats to Jay Gatsby’s pale pink suit, the wardrobe projects had as strong a personality as its wearer.

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Dynasty (1981-1989)

Glamour, glitz and greed! Dynasty’s storylines contained no shortage of keep-them-coming-back drama, but let’s face it: What we really remember are the sparkling jewels, power suits, designer gowns … and shoulder pads, which star Joan Collins praised for their way of making waists and hips look slimmer. “We went all out,” she said of the series’ fashion sense, adding, “When I started getting very dressed up for every single scene, even in the boudoir, they loved it so much that every other actress was also dressed up to the nines.”

— Lucie Winborne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Brief History of Prom

Life - 1958 prom

The prom is fondly considered a rite of passage and even has been called a “dress rehearsal for a wedding.” An appropriate enough metaphor, given the common elements of elaborate formalwear, music and refreshments, themes and the ceremonial honoring of a couple. But while it hasn’t been around nearly as long as the formal wedding, what we know today simply as “prom” has, like weddings, done its share of evolving down the years.

Originating most likely in the “promenades” held for upper-class university students, the lavish balls of the early 1800s were a way to celebrate the end of college life before entering society, not to mention a vehicle for identifying an appropriate future spouse.

By the early 20th century, they had trickled down to the high- school level and become much simpler affairs: tea dances for seniors in their Sunday best rather than debutantes in sparkling gowns and well-cut suits. While still a milestone in a young person’s life, the emphasis gradually was shifting from a formal presentation to hoofing for the sheer fun of it, especially at the annual class banquets of the ’30s and ’40s.

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Norman Rockwell, "After the Prom"

Norman Rockwell, “After the Prom”

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The thriving postwar economy of the ’50s brought about a return to the glamor we associate with the prom today. Dances were just as likely to be staged at a country club or hotel as a school gymnasium, although perhaps no one has ever topped the venue chosen by first daughter Susan Ford in 1975 – her prom took place at the White House.

Proms took on an increasingly competitive spirit in the quest for best outfit, best transportation and best-looking date, with the coveted position of queen still representing the pinnacle of popularity.

Early promenaders would no doubt be astounded at some of the controversies later associated with their decorous tradition, from a principal threatening cancellation if interracial couples showed up at his school, to the first same-sex prom couples … or no couples at all. Going stag is no longer a badge of shame, and some teens arrive in groups. A commitment to having a great time is the most important factor for the dateless.

And it doesn’t seem that the institution is in any danger of dying, social and economic changes plus a downsized economy notwithstanding. While some attendees scoffingly view it as a wasted evening, others regret missing out on the experience well into their adulthood, even to the extent of attending an “adult” or “alumni” prom or throwing a “prom party,” as actress Drew Barrymore, who also missed her own, did for a friend’s birthday.

But why do we continue to spend oodles of cash on hair and nails and gowns, pose for cheesy photos and cause ourselves annual angst chasing a single night of perfection?

Perhaps the best answer comes from novelist Adora Svitak: “Prom has all the elements of a popular story,” she writes. “It reeks of all-Americanness, tension, drama. It has romance. Pretty dresses. Dancing. Limos. High school. Coming of age.”

Who isn’t captivated by the tale of a really good time?

— Lucie Winborne

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Prom King and Queen.

Prom King and Queen.

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Dressed the the nines for '60s prom.

Dressed the the nines for ’60s prom.

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Senior Prom

’80s prom.

 

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Puttin’ on the Ritz for Black Tie season

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Back in the early 1900s, the New York social season had winter and summer phases, with the winter season stretching from mid-November to the onset of Lent.

Kicking off with the National Horse Show and the opening of the opera season, the society season included balls, receptions, parties and formal dinners. There were coming-out receptions for debutantes and junior cotillions for the younger set.

It was a time for being seen on the scene, for opulent ball gowns and immaculate tuxedoes. “Black tie” meant dress it and how. (Victorian and Edwardian etiquette manuals devoted entire chapters to the layering of proper attire when attending the opera. ) If you were fabulously rich and never had to work a job, the society season gave a gilded one percenter something to do.

The party largely came to an end with the stock market crash of ’29 and the ensuing Great Depression. After that, mainstream Americans found a way into high society through movies, flocking in droves to watch Fred Astaire in tux and tails twirl a gossamer Ginger Roger across a gleaming dance floor.

Since then, fantasy of high society has persisted mostly in those cultural occasions when tux and gown are required—weddings and high-school proms. Through these very plebian events, the glow of Downton Abbey’s aristocracy still can be seen.

This issue of ReMIND declares Black Tie season for an issue and celebrates the arts and laughs of dressing up.

I doubt I could still fit into the last and only tuxedo I have ever worn—a powder-blue zoot I wore for my sister’s wedding back in ’87—but I’ve always fantastized about wearing one into a casino and strolling up to the baccarat table. Look out, Oh Oh Seven . Ah well, a boy can still dream.

— David Cohea

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Style on Screen

hedy-lamarr

“Anyone can look glamorous. You just have to stand still and look stupid.” – Hedy Lamarr

If only it were that easy! But even Hedy Lamarr, who was most certainly not stupid, needed a little extra help. So do most of us. Then again, most of us will never achieve it in our ordinary lives, so we enjoy the next best thing: watching the glamor parade onscreen.

What do we really want when we pursue glamour? The answer, of course, is “a certain lifestyle” – which, if it doesn’t make problems disappear, would at least seem to make them easier to bear.

Or even forget, something Hollywood counted on during the Great Depression. Although conventional wisdom of the time held that film was a luxury in which few could or would indulge, for an average price of 27 cents per ticket, audiences flocked to the celluloid world of vicarious romance, fashion and rags-to-riches drama before returning home with, as writer John Farr put it, “enough renewed hope to get them through one more week of grim reality.”

Here’s a look at some screen icons whose sartorial style has held us spellbound in good times as well as bad.

space

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in "Top Hat"

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

Top Hat (1935)

So what if the plot is wildly implausible? Ginger Rogers in ostrich feathers and Fred Astaire in tails; diamonds, furs and endless ballrooms; gondolas and seaplanes and the freedom from seemingly all cares but dancing: Astaire isn’t the only one in heaven for nearly two hours.

space

Joan Crawford in "Queen Bee"

Joan Crawford in “Queen Bee”

Queen Bee (1955)

As in real life, a high-handed manner occasionally accompanies high style. Eva Phillips (Joan Crawford) is, at least outwardly, the epitome of bejeweled, fur-wrapped Southern graciousness on her Georgia plantation, but all her gold can’t gild the bitter pill of a jealously manipulative personality.

space

Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Holly Golightly may be a gold-digger and call girl, but the sordidness normally associated with those occupations is missing in this Blake Edwards production. Still, before the ’60s started swinging, Holly’s tiaras, little black dresses, cab drop-offs at dawn and swanky Manhattan parties represented a sophistication that was just a bit dangerous, as well as enviable, to young women.

space

great gatsby

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Not only did “Gatsby” costumes earn their designer an Oscar, they spawned a Brooks Brothers collection. From “chandelier” sheaths adorned with crystals to arresting feather headdresses, waistcoats and straw boater hats to Jay Gatsby’s pale pink suit, the wardrobe projects had as strong a personality as its wearer.

space

Linda Evans, John Forsythe and Joan Collins in "Dynasty."

Linda Evans, John Forsythe and Joan Collins in “Dynasty.”

Dynasty (1981-1989)

Glamour, glitz and greed! Dynasty’s storylines contained no shortage of keep-them-coming-back drama, but let’s face it: What we really remember are the sparkling jewels, power suits, designer gowns … and shoulder pads, which star Joan Collins praised for their way of making waists and hips look slimmer. “We went all out,” she said of the series’ fashion sense, adding, “When I started getting very dressed up for every single scene, even in the boudoir, they loved it so much that every other actress was also dressed up to the nines.”

– Lucie Winborne

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Filed under Black Tie, Movieland, Retro Beatuy