Sunday, March 24, 2013

All-Star Baseball (game)

All Star Baseball(1941-1989)
Invented by
Ethan Allen
Wikipedia Page
More Detailed History
If you love baseball, winter is hard, so the idea of a game based upon baseball to fill the time between games probably goes back to the 19th century.  Most early games used dice to come up with the play, but those who longed for greater realism were out of luck.  That is, until All-Star Baseball was introduced.
The game was the brain child of Ethan Allen,* a moderately successful major league player of the 20s and 30s.  After he retired, he became head baseball coach at Yale, and it is here where he developed the game and sold it to Cadaco, who made it for years.
Instead of using dice, All-Star Baseball used cards.  Only they weren’t standard baseball cards:  they were circular, with a big hole in the center.  You’d put the card on a spinner on the game board (there was a raised area that matched the hole) and spun the pointer.  The number showing when the spinner stopped determined the results: for example, if you spun a “1,” it was a home run (as everyone who ever played the game remembers).
MantleBut the perimeter of the cards were not uniform.  Each section containing a number was a different size.  The size of each option were designed to match the performance of the player.  Thus the home run area (1) for Mickey Mantle was considerably larger than that for Nellie Fox. Although crude, the setup did have the players hitting like they did in real life.  There was a second spinner for the defense, which had limited options (things like holding a runner to one base instead of two on a single), and was probably not bothered with.
The game was far from perfect.  In addition to the lack of defensive options,** there was no consideration for the pitching,*** so a batter would hit just the same no matter who was on the mound.  The design of the cards meant that there was a trick to put them on the spinner, and the game consisted of placing the card, spinning the pointer, then putting down a new card.  Your finger could get pretty sore with all the spinning, too.
On the plus side, the game used the names of real players, both active and historical.  The players were honored to be part of it and granted their permission for next to nothing.  The game also could easily be played in a solitaire version.
As time went by, things changed.  They started adding player photos to the cards, and eliminated the large hole in the center. 
Around 1993, though, they stopped making the game.  One factor was that the Players Association started asking for more money for using the players’ names, but the drawbacks of the game conspired against it.  There were more accurate simulations by that point, and spinning the spinner was hopelessly low tech.  New versions come out sporadically for the nostalgia market
There are still many who look fondly back on the game, but computer games have moved far beyond what you could do with cardboard.  It’s too bad – I actually liked sports games where realism was thrown out the window.
*No, not the Revolutionary War hero.
**I don’t think many people bothered with it, and it seems to have been added to the game to give the defensive team something to do.
***Pitchers did have cards, but only for batting.  Pitcher cards rarely had a “1” on them.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Temperance Seven (music)

Temperance Seven(Founded 1955)
Members included
Paul McDowell , Philip Harrison and Brian Innes (founders) and Clifford Bevan,  Colin Bowles, Alan Swainston Cooper,  John R.T. Davies, Martin Fry, John Gieves-Watson,  Cephas Howard, "Whispering" Paul McDowell, Mac White, Ray Whittam Ian Howarthm, Graham Collicott and a cast of thousands.
Wikipedia Page
Temperance Seven Home Page

I’ve talked about my love for the Bonzo Dog Band.  I’m also a fan of music from the 1930s, so when I discovered the Temperance Seven, it was clearly something I’d want to include here, since they included elements of both.

The Temperance Seven was part of the “trad jazz” musical movement in postwar Britain, where bands started playing dixieland and other songs that their grandfathers listened to.  It remained popular into the sixties (though not often on the singles charts).  But as the movement matured, some musicians began to treat the music in a more ironic mode.  The Temperance Seven was founded at the end of 1955 in order to play that music and to have a lot of fun with it.

Though not a “comedy” music group like the Bonzos, the Seven* did not take their music too seriously.  They wore period costumes when the played and gave themselves bizarre stage names as part of the show.  They revived old tunes like “Tea for Two,” “Charleston,” “Ukelele Lady,” and many other of the era, with a sense of fun and real regard fro the genre.

The group was very influential in the UK, getting a #1 hit with “You’re Driving Me Crazy” in 1961.**  But the trad jazz movement was exclusively a British phenomenon; they didn’t make any impact on the US charts.***

Despite this, the Temperance Seven continued on.  They still seem active today, playing music that is more and more old fashioned but just as delightful as ever.

*The name of the band; there weren’t necessarily seven members at any given time; most album covers I can see show eight.

**The Bonzo Dog Band were influenced by them.

***About the only trad jazz that made an impact on the US was Mr. Acker Bilk, The New Vaudeville Band, and the Village Stompers and Al Hirt from the US.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Special Event: Futuredaze

FuturedazeAs I mention to the left, I’m a science fiction writer.  And tomorrow, March 12, there will be a special, online chat to promote Futuredaze, a new YA anthology containing my story “Spirk Station.”  It also has fiction by authors like Gregory Frost, William John Watkins, Jack McDevitt, Gregory Frost, and many others.

The chat is being held by Bitten by Books  starting at noon, Central time, and will run 24 hours.  If you take part, you earn points; the the two people with the most win $20 Amazon gift certificates. RSVP in advance and get extra points toward them.  Follow this link to the chat:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sugarfoot (TV)

Based on
a story by Michael Fessler and a screenplay by Frank Davis and Winston Miller.  Original TV screenplay by Devery Freeman
Starring Will Hutchens
IMDB Entry
Wikipedia Entry

In the late 50s, the major movie studios start to think that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and made the jump into TV production.  Disney was first with Disneyland on ABC, but that was an aberration.* But Warner Brothers realized that there was money to be made in TV production and made a deal with ABC with a rotating group of three shows:  Cheyenne, King’s Row, and Casablanca. Cheyenne became a hit, so they spun it off and added two more westerns, Bronco and the subject of today’s lecture, Sugarfoot.

Tom Brewster (Will Hutchens) was a young would-be lawyer in the TV west, traveling from one job to another and, of course, always running into trouble.  What made him different from other TV cowboys was his deliberate lack of machismo.  He drank sarsaparilla, spoke softly, and didn’t usually carry a gun (though he was a crack shot when necessary).  Because of this, he was called “Sugarfoot” – one step below “Tenderfoot.”

It was a somewhat different sensibility from the other westerns of the time.**  Brewster was awkward and polite to everyone, and preferred to out think and out reason his foes rather than meet them in a showdown.  Occasionally, he’d meet up with his outlaw cousin, the Canary Kid (Hutchins again), and there’d be mistaken identity galore. The show had a light touch to it, playing off Brewster’s seeming naivety. As far as I know, he never got his law degree.

The show ran for four seasons. Afterwards, Hutchens moved on to the sitcom Hey Landlord and as a guest star. 

*Disney actually wasn’t a major studio at the time.  Walt made the deal because he needed the money to build his theme park.

**Though similar in many ways to the later movie Support Your Local Sheriff, which costarred Jack Elam, who had a recurring role in Sugarfoot.  Small world.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Arthur Upfield (author)

Wikipedia Page

Arthur UpfieldMystery stories are about gimmicks:  the gimmick that makes the murder stand out, the one that leads the detective to the solution.  And, of course, the detective him- or herself.  And its these gimmicks that create great detectives.  Arthur Upfield used an off-beat detective and a talent for creating great mysteries to create a long career that is underappreciated in the US.

Upfield was English, but moved to Australia as a boy, where he spent most of his life.  After WWI, he worked on various stations in the outback and started writing.  His first novel, The House of Cain, was successful enough, but his second, The Barrakee Mystery, introduced his signature character:  Inspector Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte.

Bony* had an Aboriginal mother and white father (something that was extremely daring when the book came out in 1929), and leaned heavily on this Aboriginal background.  It wasn’t mystical mumbo jumbo, though, but rather the application of both keen observation and a knowledge of the natural world of the Australian bush.  Bony was sure of his own abilities and proud of never having let a case go unsolved.

The mysteries themselves were also clever and well constructed.  Upfield was always on the lookout for new twists (usually one that related to Australia). 

In one occasion, The Sands of Windee, he even did it too well,  The “Murchison Murders” were committed by an acquaintance of Upfield who used it to dispose of bodies of people he killed.  He didn’t follow the method perfectly, though, and Upfield testified against him at the trial.**

Upfield also wrote some other mysteries,*** but it was Bony who made his reputation.  He completed 29 novels with the character until his death in 1964.  His work is still well known in Australia, of course, and in the UK, but most American mystery fans have never heard of him.  His Bony books can be found, though, and are worth the effort to dig up.

In memory of the Wombat: jan howard finder (March 2, 1939 – February 26, 2013).

*He insisted everyone use that name.

**He later wrote a nonfiction book about the case.

***The Beach of Atonement, which was next to impossible to find, was recently reprinted.  I designed the cover.