Another Kind Of Advent Calendar 2020: December 5th

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Welcome to the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, I’ll be posting a little something unexpectedly Christmassy for you in honour of the festive season. It’s been the weirdest year, so let’s have a bit of fun…

Is it just me, or is this photograph decidedly creepy? All those dolls… The fact that there’s very little information available about it makes it even more mysterious – and most of what I can tell you is frustratingly vague and incomplete.

Taken some time between 1910 and 1915, possibly in New York City, and distributed via the Bain News Service, this image shows a department store Christmas display window absolutely chock-full of a disturbing number of dolls.

The darker side of Christmas presents?

Don’t have nightmares…

If you’re feeling festive, you can find lots more Christmas reading and watching from me here – there are now over a decade’s worth of seasonal posts to explore…

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Another Kind Of Advent Calendar 2020: December 4th

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Welcome to the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, I’ll be posting a little something unexpectedly Christmassy for you in honour of the festive season. It’s been the weirdest year, so let’s have a bit of fun…

So, do aliens believe in Santa Claus? Do little green men hang their little green stockings up on Christmas Eve? Is Santa’s sleigh actually a UFO (Unidentified Festive Object)? Can Rudolph spacewalk on all four hooves in zero gravity?

According to these fab American pulp sci-fi magazine covers from the late 1950s, the answer to all these questions would seem to be a resounding yes. After last year’s visit to the Christmas celebrations on the ISS, I thought it would be fun to see how fictional spacefarers enjoyed the festive season – so I turned to the pages of one of the most well-known science fiction magazines of the immediate post-war era.

Galaxy Science Fiction may have been somewhat pulpy, but it was also hugely influential and did great Christmas covers (as you can see in the slideshow below). It ran between 1950 and 1980, and was known for publishing work by classic writers like Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and Harlan Ellison alongside specially commissioned and distinctive cover artwork.

I love the contrast between the determinedly traditional appearance of Santa and the space-age setting in most of these festive cover images – in a lot of ways, this is a reflection of the uncertainties of the period. Post-war reconstruction and the desire for peace and familiarity butted up against the beginnings of the space race and the technology of the Cold War to create something new and perhaps a little unsettling by the middle of the 20th century.

Put simply, these illustrations were bringing our Mr Claus bang up to date, the old and the new neatly combining to create a different take on Santa – something that was already often a feature of 20th century representations of everyone’s favourite seasonal gift-bringer, as we have seen before (at least the reindeer get a look in this time!).

One hopes this space-age, up-to-date Santa manages to get round the whole galaxy on Christmas Eve, and that the aliens remembered to leave out a mince pie or two to fuel his journey…

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If you’re feeling festive, you can find lots more Christmas reading and watching from me here – there are now over a decade’s worth of seasonal posts to explore…

Another Kind Of Advent Calendar 2020: December 3rd

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Welcome to the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, I’ll be posting a little something unexpectedly Christmassy for you in honour of the festive season. It’s been the weirdest year, so let’s have a bit of fun…

Meet Jimmy the Raven. He’s a handsome chap, isn’t he?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Ravens aren’t very Christmassy!”. I beg to differ – this one was. The unsung co-star of one of the most beloved festive movies of all time, Jimmy is a minor Christmas legend…

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Like so many movie stars of the era, Jimmy’s true origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery. The story goes that he was born some time in 1934, and his nest was found in the wilds of the Mojave Desert by Hollywood animal trainer Curly Twiford, who took him in. His first film role was in Frank Capra’s Oscar-winning You Can’t Take It With You (1938), where he acted alongside the likes of Lionel Barrymore and Ann Miller.

Ravens are intelligent birds, so it hadn’t taken long for Jimmy to learn some useful acting skills. He could type, open letters, understand a certain amount of human language – and even apparently ride a little motorbike! Indeed, James Stewart, the star of It’s A Wonderful Life, described Jimmy as “the smartest actor on the set”, and director Capra clearly agreed, casting the raven in many of his films.

From the late 1930s until his death sometime in the 1950s, Jimmy appeared in hundreds of Hollywood movies (including a brief cameo in another festive favourite, 1939’s The Wizard of Oz), and was considered important enough to be insured for $10,000 by the studio. Quite a sum for a raven!

Despite the fact that he was uncredited in many of his film roles, Jimmy was a proper movie star, with multiple stand-ins on set – and was so well known for entertaining the troops during and after the war that the American Red Cross presented him with a medal.

His last known film was Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s 3 Ring Circus (1954), after which he seems to have gone into retirement. Little information is available about his later years, but his performance in It’s A Wonderful Life remains an indelible part of our Christmas celebrations more than eighty years after his discovery out in the desert…

If you’re feeling festive, you can find lots more Christmas reading and watching from me here – there are now over a decade’s worth of seasonal posts to explore…

Another Kind Of Advent Calendar 2020: December 2nd

Black and white postcard from 1914 of a small and grumpy tabby cat dressed in a winter coat and muff, pulling a sled piled with presents.
“Honestly, Tabby. I told you we should have taken the bus…”

Welcome to the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, I’ll be posting a little something unexpectedly Christmassy for you in honour of the festive season. It’s been the weirdest year, so let’s have a bit of fun…

After yesterday’s aquatic Christmas tree, hiding behind the second door of the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar is an old festive favourite round these parts…

Yes! The Grumpy Victorian Kittens are back! And this year they’ve been Christmas shopping – although this particular kitty looks quite seriously grumpy about it.

I can relate.

Actually, this one isn’t technically Victorian since this photo was taken in 1914, and she comes from the collection of the New York Public Library, which probably explains a lot – she’s definitely got that New York [c]attitude!

In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen such an exasperated and fed up kitty in a long time (and I once had to give a cat a bath). She quite rightly looks like she wants to escape from this weird human who has put her in these stupid clothes to take stupid photos of her and go home to curl up in front of the fire. I don’t blame her…

If you’re feeling festive, you can find lots more Christmas reading and watching from me here – there are now over a decade’s worth of seasonal posts to explore…

Another Kind Of Advent Calendar 2020: December 1st

Welcome to the Another Kind Of Advent Calendar! Every day for the next twenty four days, I’ll be posting a little something unexpectedly Christmassy for you in honour of the festive season. It’s been the weirdest year, so let’s have a bit of fun…

Behind the first door of our 2020 Advent Calendar is a scene from a 1950s Christmas in Florida. We’ve visited Floridian festivities in previous years, but this time our stopping point is a little more glamorous than simply joining Santa in chilling on the beach (sorry Santa!).

Today we are visiting the Wheat family in Fort Lauderdale – and like Floridians at Christmas generally, they don’t necessarily do things the traditional way. I mean, I don’t know about you, but Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a floating tree in your swimming pool, is it!?

If you’re feeling festive, you can find lots more Christmas reading and watching from me here – there are now over a decade’s worth of seasonal posts to explore…

Post Early For Christmas: Lockdown Edition

A young woman in WAVE uniform stands in front of many sacks of mail, holding Christmas packages (1944)
New Orleans (1944) – WAVE Ensign Sarah B. Corkern, USNR, on duty at Fleet Post Office, holds two of many Christmas packages destined for US troops serving abroad

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to start December on Another Kind Of Mind by reminding you all to post early for Christmas – and this year, it’s not just me (or Ensign Corkern) who is suggesting this!

With so many of us unable to gather together this Christmas due to COVID restrictions, there will inevitably be more strain on the postal service as we send cards and presents to loved ones we can’t visit – just as during the war years

Christmas is always the busiest time of the year for our posties to begin with, and this year they’ve been working extra hard anyway due to all the online shopping we’ve been doing due to lockdown.

Then there’s the lovely ladies who work behind the counter in my local Post Office – they’ve done a sterling job of looking after the public during both lockdowns here

And on this side of the Atlantic in the 1940s, I was amused to find this wartime newsreel item on the subject of addressing your envelopes properly. This is as important today as it was then

And, as ever, here are the last posting dates for the four countries who visit Another Kind Of Mind most!

The Post Office

USPS

Australia Post

Canada Post

London on Film: The Sound of Silence?

Just a quick drive-by post today…. what’s that you say? You can’t hear me? I said JUST A QUICK DRIVE-BY POST TODAY… Bloody pneumatic drills.

Like all the best things that turn up on Another Kind Of Mind, I found this extremely silly snippet of 1930s newsreel footage while I was looking for something else entirely – so here it is in all its pneumatic glory.

For more on London, visit here and here.

 

Halloween Spook Special: Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

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Life’s no fun without a good scare – ‘This Is Halloween’ (Nightmare Before Christmas)

I love horror movies. There’s something so cathartic about a good scream when a zombie lurches up behind you, don’t you think?

There have been horror movies as long as there has been film. There are clever and ingenious ghostly special effects in a pre-World War One cinematic adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, still guaranteed to give you a delicious shiver and make you jump. A vintage favourite of mine, FW Murnau’s Nosferatu (an early and very unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), was made back in 1922 and is still genuinely groundbreaking – and genuinely scary.

Continue reading “Halloween Spook Special: Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”

Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)

A smiling Eddie Van Halen photographed in 2015 next to one of his guitars.
Eddie Van Halen (2015)

Bill: Ted, while I agree that, in time, our band will be most triumphant, the truth is, Wyld Stallyns will never be a super-band until we get Eddie Van Halen on guitar.

Ted: Yes, Bill, but… I do not believe we will get Eddie Van Halen before we have a triumphant video.

Bill: Ted, it’s pointless to have a triumphant video before we have decent instruments.

Ted: Well, how can we have decent instruments if we don’t really even know how to play?

Bill: That is why we need Eddie Van Halen!

Ted: And that is why we need a triumphant video!

Both: [think for a second] EXCELLENT! [air guitar]

‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (1989)

If you were to look up the phrase ‘guitar god’ in the dictionary, the entry would simply be a picture of Eddie Van Halen. His distinctive and innovative sound was hugely influential on generations of rock and metal guitarists, many of whom went on to be legends in their own right (and, of course, Bill & Ted). His death robs music of an originator and an elder statesman – and a guy who could rock out with the best of ’em…