Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

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Boomers Loved Troll Dolls

If you are a mid- to late-boomer, you probably remember troll dolls, the weird-faced creatures with crazy hair that stood up. They were around in the mid-60s and reappeared each decade after until the 1990s. The story is, though, the original maker was copied and most of the imitators commandeered the eighties and nineties. It was boomers who had the best access to the originals.

Now Disney has decided to take up the troll doll banner and will be releasing a Trolls movie this coming week. You can already see the blitz of toys and collateral merchandise growing on TV commercials in anticipation of what they must believe will be a blockbuster franchise.

As early as the 1930s, Thomas Dam, a Danish fisherman and former bricklayer and baker, created the doll for his daughter one Christmas because he couldn’t afford a present. He fashioned the doll from his imagination, carving the face and body out of wood, with inset glass eyes and sheep skin pieces for hair. Clothes were sewn for the doll, increasing its already unique qualities. Other people saw the doll and asked Dam to make one for their children. By 1959, the doll was being manufactured by the Dam Things Company and sold in Europe. It was made from rubber filled with wood shavings, but retained the original sheep skin hair.

Trolls originated in Norse mythology hundreds of years ago. They became part of the legends of Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Trolls were a non-human race that have been depicted as everything from human-like dwarves to., more often, giants. They resided in caves and dark places near stones, and were known for their skillful work with stone and metal. They sometimes have magical powers attributed to them, and could be oafish and evil or cunning and devious, but rarely were they ever helpful to humans. In most stories, trolls would turn to stone if exposed to sunlight.

The troll doll, called a Dam Doll, made its way to the U.S. in the fall of 1963 and was an instant success. Called Good Luck Trolls, they were produced by the millions in a wide range of sizes, from three inches high to more than a foot tall. The body was made of plastic and the hair, now a synthetic product, was dyed a variety of colors, most often bright orange or blue. The dolls appeared clothed in a variety of outfits or could be sans apparel. Boomer girls would brush the troll’s hair like they did with their Barbie dolls. To the best of Mister Boomer’s recollection, his sister did not have a troll doll. Nor did Mister B have any incarnation of troll paraphernalia.

Mister Boomer recalls seeing them everywhere, from the small ones inside gum machines to the popular six inch models (which did not include another four or five inches of hair) at the discount stores. Whole mythologies grew around the dolls, from assigning them sinister properties to calling them good luck charms. Older boomers had them hanging from keychains and car rearview mirrors.

Many companies copied the troll and sold them in a vast array of products, from coloring books to comics; dolls to TV shows. There was an attempt to bring back trolls in the 1990s, but it failed to catch the interest of the public. In 2005 Dam Things reclaimed control of the copyright and shut down the operation of its many imitators. In 2013 Dam sold the rights to use the troll image and name to Dreamworks, which was later purchased by Disney, paving the way for the upcoming movie.

Did you or someone on your family jump on the troll doll fad, boomers? Did you find them cute or ugly?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History,Toys and have Comment (1)

Mister Boomer Turns Six

It’s our anniversary! We’re starting our sixth year of talkin’ ’bout our generation at misterboomer.com. A look back at the posts that marked the beginning of each of our new years reveals our mission to explore the personal connections we boomers had to the historical revolution that was the post-war years. This week, click the title of these previous postings and recall where you were when …

2010: The Sweet Taste of Success
Remember when we were young, and sugar was a good thing? Companies, in fact, thought so much of sugar that they could openly advertise their products as made with the real deal. No one advertised with more gusto than the cereal companies, and of course, we all remember those classic commercials for Sugar Pops, Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks.

2011: Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Yes, we are old enough to remember when air conditioning first began to be popular in new cars.

2012: Boomers and Pens: A Nib and a Click
Boomers lived directly in the path of the changeover from fountain pen to ballpoint pen and on to disposable pen.

2013: Boomers Said: “A Penny for Your Shoes”
Legend has it placing a “lucky penny” in a shoe was derived from the practice of putting a penny in a bride’s shoe on her wedding day to give the couple good luck and wealth. The penny loafer became a big deal for early boomers when Ivy League students began wearing them with their khakis.

2014: Boomers Said, “Let’s All Go to the Movies!”
Going to the movies was a real event for Baby Boomers. Movies and matinees and drive-ins … oh my!

2015: The Boomer Era Had Its Scandals
It’s hard to see any media these days without running into some sort of corruption and scandal. Yet we tend to forget that this is nothing new; the boomer era had its share of political, corporate and personal scandals as well. Two of the most famous involve the entertainment industry: the Quiz Show Scandal and the Payola Scandal.

Keep coming back to misterboomer.com each week for a look back at the way we were, how we grew, and who we became because of it all. Subscribe to the RSS feed and get notification whenever a new post is published. And, tell all your friends and neighbors to drop in through the Facebook link, too! Thank you for five memory-packed years!

posted by Mister B in Cars,Fashion,Film & Movies,Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Mister Boomer Turns Six

Twister Made Boomers Twist & Shout

It happened this past week: The National Toy Hall of Fame inducted another boomer toy — Twister — into its ranks. The Hall was established in 1998 by Ed Sobey and originally resided at A. C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village in Salem, Oregon. When it had outgrown its surroundings in 2002, the Hall was moved to the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

The Hall was established to recognize toys that had staying power beyond fads and trends to establish themselves as icons that cultivated learning, creativity and discovery through innovative play or design. A look at the inductees over the past decade and a half reveals many Boomer Era favorites, including Etch A Sketch, Barbie, Play Doh and many more.

Now Twister joins the illustrious ranks. Twister was conceived in 1964 by Reyn Guyer as a promotional item for Johnson’s Shoe Polish, a client of his father’s design company, Reynolds Guyer Agency of Design. He called his game Pretzel. When salesman Charles Foley called on the purchasing agent of the company, he saw a model of the game displayed. Foley approached Guyer, telling him he had some connections in the toy business and thought his game might be viable in the marketplace. With funding from his father, Guyer started a toy division with Foley and another man, Neil Rabens.

The three men worked out the now-familiar mat design of colored circles arranged in rows, with each row having the same color, and added hands to the original feet-only-placement game play. It was simple enough for people of any age to play: a spinner card was printed with color blocks of red, yellow, blue and green repeated four times, with each of the quadrants assigned to the left foot, right hand, right foot and right hand. So, a spin could result in the spinner card arrow pointing to “right foot, green,” for example. The player would then have to find a green colored circle on the mat to place his or her right foot. When a player touched a knee to the floor or fell, he or she was eliminated; the last person remaining on the mat was the winner. The game was designed for two or more players.

In 1964, the men submitted Pretzel to the Milton Bradley toy company which saw merit in the game and agreed to produce it. However, when Milton Bradley discovered the name was already trademarked the name was changed to Twister, much to the chagrin of Reyn Guyer.

The game was not well received in its early days. In 1965 Sears Roebuck told Milton Bradley they would not sell it in their stores because toy competitors had labelled it “sex in a box,” referring to the potential of co-ed play with overlapping body parts. Milton Bradley was reconsidering whether there was a future for the game when a P.R. firm got word of it to Johnny Carson in 1966, and arranged for Eva Gabor to play a game of Twister on air with The Tonight Show talk show host. That TV appearance invigorated sales and Foley and Rabens submitted it for a patent that same year.

For many boomers, Twister was a family game. As early TV commercials suggested, children, parents and grandparents could participate in the fun. For teenage boomers, Twister became a party game — a chance to interact with the opposite sex while listening to increasingly popular rock ‘n roll 45 RPM records in many a suburban basement. In Mister Boomer’s household, both were true.

His younger sister was the gamester in the family. She had all the popular games of the day — including other Hall inductees Candy Land and The Game of Life — so when Twister hit the scene, she wanted that one, too. As with all “major” toy purchases, her games were acquired by way of birthday or Christmas gifts. She’d enlist Mister B and his father in the game. His mother rarely participated, and Brother Boomer, a high school teenager, was hardly ever home. The mat, once spread out on the living room floor, took up all of the space between the couch and TV.

Mister B didn’t find the game all that interesting, but then his brother told him teens were playing it at parties. Brother Boomer went to many parties, carting his collection of 45s with him. Those 45s, marked with his name so if they got mixed on the turntable stack, he’d be able to retrieve which were his, are now in Mister B’s possession. The Twister game, however, did not survive the years.

How about you, boomers? Was Twister a family game for you, or a “sex in a box” teen party game?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Pop Culture History,Toys and have Comment (1)

Boomers Made Things Ready to Fly

As boomer kids, we made things; big things like tree houses and snow forts, and small things like slingshots and throwable rocket ships. We made go-karts out of two-by-fours and Halloween costumes out of rags. Whether we borrowed our dads’ tools or mothers’ sewing baskets or used no tools at all, we were always making things.

One of the things Mister Boomer and his neighborhood friends enjoyed making was parachutes for their plastic Army men. It was an easy thing to do and provided hours of fun, not to mention exercise, throwing the things up in the air and re-enacting scenes they had witnessed in World War II movies.

Every boy had some Army men. There were just some things a boomer boy had to have: marbles, baseball cards and Army men were among them. Every household had a rag box or bin and some thread or string available, so nothing else was needed except a pair of scissors. The boomer boys tore off an appropriate square of lighter-weight fabric, like from a sheet or pillowcase, then got together at one boy’s garage or another’s front porch for assembly. They snipped slits at the corners and center edges of the square with a pair of scissors. After cutting equal lengths of thread or kite string, the strands were looped through the slits in the fabric and tied into knots. Next an Army man was chosen. The ones with two armholes worked best, or at least the ones that had arms raised so the string could be wrapped and tied around the torso and held in place. Neatness didn’t matter, as long as the contraption could drift in the wind.

Mister Boomer fully admits that his attempt at recreating the Army man parachute of his youth turned out to be more complicated than he remembered some fifty-plus years ago. He quickly learned at the first trial of this conglomeration that the chute was too small, and since the Army figure he ended up with was smaller and lighter than those of the 1950s and '60s, the string could have been replaced with thread.

Mister Boomer fully admits that his attempt at recreating the Army man parachute of his youth turned out to be more complicated than he remembered some fifty-plus years ago. He quickly learned at the first trial of this conglomeration that the chute was too small, and since the Army figure he ended up with was smaller and lighter than those of the 1950s and ’60s, the string could have been replaced with thread.

Task completed, the boys headed to the street or nearby schoolyard to make them fly. How the rig was folded seemed to affect whether the chute would open correctly. The boys folded the chutes in half lengthwise, then rolled the chute from the top down until it met the back of the Army man.  With the Army man facing up, the boys could wind up and give it their best baseball pitch skyward. If the full-throttle heave into the air was successful, the chute would would unravel along the string line on its upward trajectory, and then would deploy as the air lifted under the fabric square. A good toss and a nicely made parachute could drift for several seconds, which was long enough to position the enemy on the ground to shoot up or the parachutist to shoot down. As far as Mister B was concerned, the flight was the main attraction. He and his cohorts would toss the plastic figures again and again until their arms hurt.

One of the younger kids on the block had a G.I. Joe and decided to try and make a chute for it. The construction went according to plan and in theory it looked like the thing was going to fly. The boy wrapped it according to neighborhood tradition and it gave an immense overhand throw into the air, but the weight of the action figure was too much for the rigging to support and it crashed to the ground.

Since the boys had a full understanding of physics and the forces of gravity, one suggested it might work if dropped from a higher height. The G.I. Joe boy’s house had a garage behind it, so he grabbed a ladder and climbed to the roof. Giving it a good wind up, he slipped and practically fell off the roof. After gaining his composure, the boy tossed G.I. Joe into the sky with as much might as he thought he could manage without falling. The chute was barely deployed when it hit the ground. The theory was plausible, but something wasn’t jiving in the coefficient. Either the height wasn’t enough to counter the pull of gravity on the heavier figure, or the chute was too small, or maybe both. The boy gave up and got down from the roof before his father could see him up there. None of the neighborhood kids tried to repeat the experiment.

What’s interesting about stories like this to Mister B is the contrast that has developed among subsequent generations. As boomers we were always outside — regardless of season — and always making our own fun. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were developing a team mindset as ideas and suggestions bounced from one to another. We were learning to use tools, though Mister B doesn’t know how he or his neighborhood pals didn’t draw more blood more often than what occurred. We were learning engineering principles and how to solve problems, like wheels that wouldn’t turn correctly and things that wouldn’t glide. And we learned that we could make functional things on our own, with some scraps and simple materials.

What memories of making things do you have, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Pop Culture History,Toys and have Comment (1)

Boomers and Safety: Let’s Be Careful Out There

The notion of safety is yet another in a long list of things that have dramatically changed since the 1950s and ’60s. It makes Mister Boomer recall the before-and-after poster that was circulating after the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed in 1970: on the left of the horizontal poster was a cowboy on a horse, and on the right that same cowboy after OSHA. Various safety belts and devices had been attached to the cowboy, and a safety net was suspended from the horse.

A decade or two earlier, parents viewed safety as more of a “let’s be careful out there” teaching moment than a pro-active sheltering of their children. From an early age, “no” was sufficient to train us from sticking things into electrical outlets or handling pots on a stove. Many boomers have noted how we were free to come and go, especially in the summer months, without either parent knowing where we were or what we were doing. True, and probably inevitably, what Mister B and his neighborhood were doing wasn’t always the smartest activities, like riding bikes (or sleds) down impossibly-angled hills; jumping off swings at the peak zenith to the rocks or asphalt below; building tree houses in the woods with found materials; climbing and playing on heavy construction equipment; and many more.

It’s not that the notion of safety was absent from boomer lives altogether. In school they’d see safety films (complete with rattling projector noises and garbled voiceovers) about electricity safety, fire safety, swimming safety, street-crossing safety and most notably, bicycle safety. It is the latter that brings a chuckle to Mister Boomer, because his school once saw a bike safety film that had Mister B’s brother in it. Somehow, the local police had filmed neighborhood kids — including Brother Boomer — riding their bikes no-handed in the middle of the street.

It was common practice for neighborhood kids to be riding no-handed, attempt “wheelies” and other tricks on their bikes in the street, so Brother Boomer could have been filmed at any point. It’s a mystery why the filmmakers chose to use him as an example, though.

Mister B recalls one no-handed ride by Brother Boomer that was part of a game the neighborhood kids had devised. Since the block had a hill that sloped down to a highway, the kids would use it for sledding in winter, and bike or homemade go-kart riding in summer. In this particular game, the kids — mostly boys — would ride down the block as fast as they felt was “safe,” then jumped off the bike across the street from Mister B’s house near the bottom of the hill. The object was to lift the bike up the curb, jump off and land in the grass. It was fun. Extra points were obtained if the riderless bike went on to hit the tree at the edge of the neighbor’s property. Brother Boomer did a run no-handed once, upping the ante for participants.

The film did not show the game and the jumping off part, but made a point of showing that riding without both hands on the handlebars was not a safe thing for kids to do, even on a side street.

Mister Boomer has written previously about how the building of the Interstate Highway System became a playground for him and his neighborhood boomer friends. Whenever construction was finished for the day or week, the kids would be on the sites — which were not fenced off — climbing on equipment and playing in construction trailers and on mounds of dirt. Hazards were everywhere, and the mere thought of kids on construction sites would be unthinkable today.

Chances are these and many of the activities of boomer kids would not have been sanctioned by their parents had they known, surely all in the name of safety, but they did not know, and the kids weren’t going to tell them. There were occasional consequences to their actions, resulting in some blood, cracked teeth, shattered glasses and broken bones, but for the most part, the kids walked away from their fool-hardy tossing of safety caution. When these incidents occurred, the reaction of parents was often one of concern, but in the end, supportive healing and a lecture to not do whatever it was again was their response.

Helmets were never required for bicycle riding, there were no knee pads available at the sporting goods store, unless your child was to be a baseball catcher or hockey goalie, and a few bandages and a couple of broken bones were thought of as part of growing up. Safety was taught and older siblings might intervene in some instances, but it was up to each child to internalize the lesson to keep themselves safe.

By comparison, today’s helicopter parents are more like the cartoon drawing of the cowboy after regulatory assistance: it seems they would prefer to bubble wrap their children head to toe if they are to be allowed outside at all. Kids are often not allowed to be on their own these days. One of the things that made that possible in our boomer days was that most families had several kids. The oldest were often charged with watching the younger ones, so it was not unusual to see a group of kids ranging in age from seven to 16 all playing together. In retrospect, that may not have been the wisest thing for safety as the harebrained schemes of the older kids filtered down to the younger ones.

Today there are more than 100 million additional people in the U.S. than fifty years ago, and with more people come more problems — so some measure of caution is in order — yet Mister B feels that surely there is some middle ground that should be the target for keeping kids safe. Perhaps our boomer experiences were the extreme on the other end of the spectrum. It is true parents today have more to think about in terms of safety; add Internet safety to the list of usual kid safety themes of watching out for strangers, fire, electricity and water safety, bike safety, traffic safety and even playground safety. Nonetheless, Mister B feels sorry for today’s kids who can’t wander around, come across a stick with a nail it and have some fun for a few hours.

What was safety like for you, boomers?

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Now vs. Then: The Boomer Snowman Challenge

After the latest round of snowstorms in Mister Boomer’s region, he has noticed the lack of snowmen visible in the neighborhood. While it’s true that these particular snowfalls were icier, leaving the snow uncooperative for snowman-making, after consulting on the subject with some boomer friends, they concurred: in general there appear to be fewer snowmen being made than when we were kids.

The most cynical of this boomer panel attributes the drop in snowman frequency to the fact that, as one boomer put it, “It’s impossible to get my kids to go outside.” Others noted the schedules kids are expected to keep, leaving them little time for outside play. Others still point to the the Generation Gap between the ages; where making a snowman was once considered fun, and every bit a part of the suburban social norm, it now seems passé as community rules, smaller front and back yards, and less viable areas of public parks make the activity far more difficult than it ever was. Besides, most kids over the age of eight just don’t want to make snowmen.

The snowmen our generation made were hardly discernible from those of our parents’ generation. For us, the definitive description of a classic snowman has to be as sung in the tune, Frosty the Snowman. The song was released by Gene Autry (who also sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to us) in 1950. The famous animated version with Jimmy Durante narrating and singing the song didn’t come along until 1969.

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul,
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal.

The snowman’s top hat and scarf were mentioned later on in the song.

With this in mind, then, let the snowman smackdown begin:
THEN: Most often boomers made a snowman with a group of kids of varying ages. That allowed the youngest to be tasked with making the head, while the older kids could roll the base and torso. The goal was always the biggest snowman the group could physically manage to assemble.
NOW: It appears snowman making is not of much interest to kids by the time they reach the age of eight, leaving the activity to the younger set, accompanied by a parent. The result is not only fewer snowmen, but smaller ones. Some seem to be nothing more than hand-packed snowballs rather than the classic three stacked rolls of our generation.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. Unsupervised outdoor activity with children of all ages playing together taught life lessons while providing great exercise.

THEN: We were the last generation to be able to use chunks of coal for a snowman’s eyes, mouth and buttons. Actually, Mister Boomer had an aunt who still heated her house with a coal-burning furnace in the 1950s, but the houses in his neighborhood were all fueled by natural gas. Consequently, that meant his neighborhood didn’t use the classic Frosty coal, but rather, small rocks or buttons from their mothers’ sewing baskets. More often than not, boomers used a carrot for a nose that added dimension to the face.
NOW: You’ll see small rocks used for eyes and mouths, and Mister Boomer has even observed a rare sighting of charcoal briquets employed as a coal substitute, but more often than not, today’s snowmen have eyes that consist of a poke of a finger, while the mouth is a hand slash to form a smiley face rather than the connect-the-dots smile preferred in our generation. Some carrots are visible as snowmen noses today, but it’s possible that carrots aren’t as prevalent in the fridge as they were in our day and that may explain the quantity disparity.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. When working in a monotone medium such as snow, one cannot dismiss the importance of contrast.

THEN: While boomers seldom added a corncob pipe — though one was available in Mister B’s basement from previous Halloween costume props — scarves and hats were definitely required. For Mister B and his siblings, one of his grandfather’s old hats resided in the basement for Halloween costuming and snowman wardrobes. There was never a worry in the neighborhood that hats and scarves would be stolen. They remained until they were removed by the builders.
NOW: Hats are rare, though an occasional toque or watch cap shows up. The same is true of scarves. For the most part, snowmen appear unadorned.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. Really, you’d let your snowman sit out there in all his naked glory?

THEN: Attempts were made to add hands. Most often these were tree twigs stuck in the sides of the center torso ball. Occasionally boomers would have a “hand” hold an upside-down broom, or an old pair of mittens might be placed over the twigs, jazz-hand style.
NOW: Tree twig hands are still seen on occasion, though it’s been Mister Boomer’s observations that modern snowmen tend to be armless.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. Just because a new generation tries to redefine the parameters of acceptable snowman-ness, doesn’t make it so.

So, evolution marches on as the venerable snowman of our youth joins the ever-growing list of things that are changing with the times. To that, Mister B lends a grumpy old man exclamation of, “Bah, humbug.”

What have you noticed about snowmen in your area, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History,Seasons and have Comments (2)