These are exciting times at Great American Things. Our new website is almost ready, and we think you’re going to enjoy it more than ever! You’ll still find the same thought-provoking selections, only now in a brighter and more contemporary format. And you’ll have easier access to our archive of nearly 800 previous Great American Things selections.
Our target date for revealing these changes is Tuesday, September 20. Thanks for your support since our start in March, 2009, and we look forward to celebrating this great country with you for years to come!
Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston were featured in Chinatown. But the real star of the movie was the screenplay by Robert Towne. Uploaded by screencrave.com.
I love film noir. Give me a good black and white mystery from the 1940s, maybe written by Raymond Chandler, with a tough private eye and a beautiful dame, and I’m a happy guy. The popularity of color naturally pushed noir into the shadows (so to speak), but it had something of a revival in the 1970s, led by the wonderful Chinatown.
Uploaded by ameba.jp.
Directed by child molester Roman Polanski (he’ll never be on this list), the movie featured Jack Nicholson (Great American Things, Sept. 12, 2009) in one of his greatest performances, along with Faye Dunaway and John Huston. But the real star of the film was Robert Towne, the screenwriter. He set his mystery in the 1930s, allowing for the true noir mise-en-scene. (Pardon my French.)
Towne’s brilliant script won an Oscar, the only one the film received out of eleven nominations. In the AFI’s original 100 Years…100 Movies, Chinatown was ranked number 19. In the 10th anniversary edition, it was 21. And it was the AFI’s number 2 mystery film. Why it wasn’t number one is… a mystery.
Probably the best capture of the hobo lifestyle ever recorded - a lifestyle that's largely gone away. Uploaded by avclub.com.
Roger Miller wrote and recorded a series of lighthearted songs in the 1960s that might be called “novelty songs” except for one thing. They were really good. You might remember songs like “England Swings,” “Dang Me,” and “Chug-a-Lug.” But it’s “King of the Road” that featured Miller’s smart lyrics and breezy country vocal style.
Uploaded by top40db.net.
I’m not sure if there’s another popular song written about hobos. In fact, I’m not sure if what we think of as hobos – train riding, nomadic, freeloading folks – are still around. But Miller’s song romanticized the lifestyle, and gave it to us as a time capsule.
I smoke old stogies I have found
Short, but not too big around
I’m a Man of means by no means
King of the road
The song won five Grammy Awards: Best Country Song, Best Vocal Performance – Male, Best Country and Western Recording – Single, Best Contemporary Vocal Performance – Male, and Best Contemporary (Rock and Roll) Single. The song was selected for the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Will Ferrell in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, perhaps his funniest role. Or maybe that would be Ricky Bobby. Hard to say, the man is a great comic talent. Uploaded by zimbio.com.
I don’t think anyone will be comparing Will Ferrell’s acting ability with, say, Robert DeNiro anytime soon. I hope they never do, because the whole reason we love Ferrell is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Bill Murray is an example of a funny man who proved that he could move into more substantial roles. I hope Will Ferrell never tries. Just be funny, Will. Just be funny.
Uploaded by sportsillustrated.cnn.com.
Ferrell had his break on Saturday Night Live (Great American Things, April 9, 2009), where he created some memorable impressions (George W. Bush, Harry Carey, James Lipton), some great characters (Cheerleader Craig Buchanan), and one of the show’s most memorable skits (“More cowbell”). He stayed on SNL for seven years before devoting his career to films.
Ferrell’s movies include:
Old School (2003)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Step Brothers (2008)
Will Ferrell hasn’t won any major acting awards, and it’ll be an upset if he ever wins one. But he currently commands $20 million per picture, and that will buy a lot of Oscars on eBay.
You can count on about five hours for the 300-mile road trip. Unless you leave during Friday night rush hour. And depending on how long you stay at the In-N-Out in Hesperia. Uploaded by travelpod.com.
It’s about 300 miles, give or take a few casinos. You can make it in about five hours, provided you don’t travel during Friday’s rush hour. Start on I-10, do a little shake and bake until you reach 1-15, and it’s a straight shot from there. Along the way you’ll pass the World’s Largest Thermometer (134 ft. high), stop at the In-N-Out in Hesperia (a must, according to the folks at 11points.com), and pass such dream towns as Barstow, Primm, and Jean.
I can feel your excitement from here.
Uploaded by vegas.com.
Want the time to go by quickly? Here’s a tip from comedian Rita Rudner (and where has she been lately?):
“I recommend first renting a five year old to sit in the back seat (as it happens, I have one to rent), and have her say ‘Are we there yet?’ and ‘I feel sick’ at least 12 times an hour,” Rudner said. “When you next make the L.A.-L.V. trip, minus the child, the five hours will just fly by.”
And at the risk of letting this post become just a bunch of quotes from comedians (though there can be worse things), here’s a final tip. George Wallace reminds you to buy your gas before you arrive in Las Vegas:
“That’s why Vegas is the fastest growing city in America,” Wallace quipped. “People come here lose all their money and can’t go home.”
(Thanks to vegas.com for the assistance in today’s post.)
Pixy Stix have been around since 1952, and are still delivering sugar highs almost 60 years later. Uploaded by random.hydryad.com.
Want to hazard a guess about how Pixy Stix came to be popular? Okay, maybe you think it was created as a drink mix. But then kids found out how good the powder tastes, so the powder came to be sold as straws. Hey, you’re right! Your next challenge is to guess how Jujubes got their name.
Uploaded by m.reporternews.com.
Pixy Stix have been around since 1952, marketed then by the Sunline Company in St. Louis. Today you can get the Stix in two sizes – a smaller paper straw and a larger (almost two feet long) plastic straw. And they’re now available in a variety of flavors, including blueberry, orange, watermelon, lemon, pineapple, strawberry, Maui punch, cherry, green apple, and grape.
Because of their high sugar content, Pixy Stix aren’t recommended for those with a tendency to have blood-sugar fluctuations. Oh, by the way, if you wonder what Pixy Stix powder would taste like if it were made into a solid, the boys in the lab can tell you. They’re called Sweet Tarts. Same stuff. It’s better living through chemistry.
No song in music history has been played on the radio more often than the Righteous Brothers' 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin''. Uploaded by uulyrics.com.
The story goes that one night as Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield sang as part of a group called the Paramours, an African-American in the audience shouted, “That’s righteous, brothers!” You believe that? I don’t know. But if it’s not true, it makes a good story, so it’s “virtually” true.
Uploaded by timegoesby.net.
The guys owed a lot of their success to the great producer/murderer Phil Spector. His famous “wall of sound” production technique helped propel their first mega-hits to the top of the charts. Medley was a quick learner, and after the Brothers split from Spector’s Phillies label, he copied the “wall of sound” for their recordings on the Verve/MGM label.
Johnny Unitas won MVP honors three times, played in 10 Pro Bowls (three-time MVP), and won the NFL Championship in 1958 and 1959. Uploaded by dpatsblog.blogspot.com.
Johnny U. can’t be credited with single-handedly making the NFL into America’s favorite sports league. Nor was he the league’s first superstar. But he did lead his Baltimore Colts to a sudden-death overtime victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 Championship Game. And he did revolutionize the position of quarterback, helping to make the forward pass the game’s most exciting play.
Uploaded by withfriendship.com.
Unitas played collegiately at Louisville. At that time, the Cardinals weren’t exactly in the upper echelon of college teams – they played (and often lost to) such powers as St. Bonaventure and Eastern Kentucky. Unitas played both offense and defense and proved to be quite an athlete. Still, no pro team wanted him after graduation, and he worked in construction to get a paycheck. In one of their all-time smart (lucky?) moves, the Baltimore Colts invited him to try out before the 1957 season. He made the team, and became a starter midway through that campaign. Neither the Colts nor the NFL were ever the same.
Unitas set a boatload of records, most of which have been exceeded by pass-happy offenses of recent years. One remarkable one stands, however. He threw a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games, something Marino, Fouts, Bradshaw, Montana, Brady, and Manning have been unable to match. Unitas was named league MVP three times, and NFL.com selected him as the sixth-greatest player of all time.
For a good while, the ads said Delivered in 30 minutes or it's free. But they experienced too many accidents trying to make the deadline, so now we wait a bit longer. Uploaded by unhipcheck.com.
America certainly didn’t invent the pizza, but you can definitely make the argument that we – I don’t know if “improved” it is what I mean, more like we made it our own. And we didn’t invent the car, though no country in the world is more auto-centric (probably both ways that can be taken) than America.
Uploaded by staytondailyphoto.com.
So it’s only natural that we brought together the pizza and the automobile, and home delivery was born. My apologies to readers in rural areas who don’t enjoy this perk of modern life, but if civilization ever reached its true zenith, it happened when someone said, “Hey, we could put this here pizza in an insulated bag and take it to the customer’s home!”
The service used to be free, but expensive gasoline has led most pizza companies to tack on a service charge. And they used to guarantee “30 minutes or it’s free,” but a rash of accidents involving speeding delivery cars trying to beat the deadline brought that feature to a halt. Even so, let’s celebrate the driver who negotiates city streets with hot pizzas beside him, and exercises the self-restraint not to reach in and pull a couple of slices of pepperoni off the top…
Rolling Stone Magazine selected this as number one on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Works for me. Uploaded by andromeda84.deviantart.com.
“Like a Rolling Stone” is Bob Dylan at his cynical best. It’s clear that he dislikes the girl (“Miss Lonely”) and what she stands for (“How does it feel?”). Yet he also recognizes that by abandoning her position in society, she can enjoy a freedom she’s never known (“You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal”).
Uploaded by briefandtothepoint.blogspot.com.
The recording of this song is legendary. Dylan had written a long (10 or 20 pages, accounts differ) story/poem, and he extracted the lyrics to create these four verses. But in the studio, he couldn’t get the sound he wanted. Al Kooper, who wasn’t even supposed to be in the session, sat down at the Hammond organ and improvised the now-famous riff. The session’s producer wanted it removed, but Dylan liked it, and insisted it stay. Then when he performed live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, he was booed – electric guitars! A rock sound! The folk icon Bob Dylan was dead, long live rock star Bob Dylan.
“Like A Rolling Stone” was the closing track on the legendary album Highway 61 Revisited. Bruce Springsteen described the moment he first heard the song:
The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind … He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock’n’roll for ever and ever “
Rolling Stone anointed “Like a Rolling Stone” as number one in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The cast was together for less than half the show's episodes, and yet it remained in the top 20 of the ratings its entire run. Uploaded by serietele.com.
First, let me say that if this show took place today, Ben Cartwright would probably be the subject of an investigation on Dateline. Three wives, all of whom somehow died? In fact, anytime one of the Cartwrights got interested in a gal, she either got sick, died, or took off with some undeserving fella.
Uploaded by webring.org.
The Cartwrights lived on the Ponderosa, a ranch said to cover 1,000 square miles. Really. They made their money by selling timber and livestock, though it seems that occupied less of their time than solving their own and their neighbors’ problems.
The cast of Lorne Greene (Ben), Pernell Roberts (Adam), Dan Blocker (“Hoss”), and Michael Landon (Little Joe) were all together for fewer than half of the show’s 431 episodes. Roberts decided he was disenchanted with series television, and Blocker died following surgery. Even so, Bonanza remained a huge ratings hit throughout its run, spending three years at number one, nine years in the top four, and never finishing out of the top 20. TV Guide ranked Bonanza #43 on its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
Joseph Heller's Catch 22 is listed as the seventh greatest English-language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, and one of the 100 greatest of all time by The Observer. Uploaded by wells.edu.
“Catch-22” has come to be a popular phrase that today means “a frustrating situation in which one feels trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.” It comes from Joseph Heller’s breakthrough novel of the same name.
Yossarian, the main character of Catch-22, would be right at home dealing with the American bureaucracy in the second decade of the twenty-first century. His particular frustration came in dealing with the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army during World War II. But people who have to make their way through today’s heavily regulated society often invoke the phrase, or the spirit, of Catch-22.
Uploaded by neatorama.com.
Yossarian wanted to stop flying missions in the war. But he saw what happened to his buddy Orr. As Joseph Heller describes it in his groundbreaking novel:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.
Published in 1961, Catch-22 is ranked as the seventh-greatest English language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, while The Observer lists it as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time.
With Desilu, Lucy became the first female head of a production studio. Desilu produced The Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and I Spy. Not bad. Uploaded by artwallpapers.net.
I love Lucy. Everybody loves Lucy. With her husband Desi Arnaz, she virtually invented the situation comedy, a genre that has thrived on television for 60 years. But Lucy enjoyed a successful career both before and after her iconic show.
Uploaded by ranker.com.
Lucy began making movies in 1933, and appeared uncredited in more than two dozen films before finally getting a credit in Chatterbox (1935). Many would have (and probably did) give up Hollywood dreams after such a difficult stretch. But Lucy persevered, though never achieving true star status on the big screen. She had some success on radio, especially the show My Favorite Husband, in which she created the role of a wacky housewife. CBS asked her to develop it for television, and Lucy insisted on performing with her husband, Desi. CBS wasn’t sure, but eventually gave the go-ahead to I Love Lucy (Great American Things, May 12, 2009). I expect they were glad, don’t you?
As if appearing in one of America’s all-time favorite shows wasn’t enough, Lucy had other career distinctions. At Desilu, she became the first woman to head a production studio. She had two more successful sitcoms, The Lucy Show (1962-1968) and Here’s Lucy (1968-1974). And she appeared in several successful films, including Yours, Mine and Ours with Henry Fonda and Mame. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously from President George H.W. Bush.
A number of people have come forward over the years, claiming to be either the sailor or the nurse in this iconic photo. It happened so quickly, and the scene became so chaotic, that photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was unable to get their names. Uploaded by blogbybeckett.blogspot.com.
It’s a thing of wonderment when a photographer can capture the mood of an entire nation in a moment of spontaneous excitement. When a great photographer like Alfred Eisenstaedt accomplishes it and publishes it in the pages of Life Magazine (Great American Things, May 19, 2011), the country’s leader in photojournalism, it achieves iconic status.
Alfred Eisenstaedt, by Mark Lennihan, AP.
It was early evening on August 14, 1945, and President Truman had just announced Japan’s surrender, and people began to flock to Times Square to celebrate. Right before the streets became crowded with revelers, Eisenstaedt saw his opportunity developing. The sailor was “running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight,” Eisenstaedt said. “Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference.”
The memorable kiss between the sailor and the nurse has been a subject of curiosity ever since, because Eisenstaedt didn’t have the opportunity to get the subjects’ names. Dozens of people have laid claim to that distinction over the years, but the identities are destined to remain unverified. You have to love Life’s caption to the photo: In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.
Legend has it that the motivation for one of the founders of YouTube was his inability to find Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Uploaded by infobenissa.cat.
YouTube was launched in November of 2005, but its immediate ubiquitous presence on the web makes it seem as if the video sharing website has existed for much longer. Created by three former employees of PayPal, legend has it that the idea for the site was born after one of the founders had trouble finding a video of Janet Jackson’s famous “wardrobe malfunction” from the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2004. The de facto site for just about anything in video format, YouTube now consumes as much total bandwidth as the entire Internet did in the year 2000.
Perusing the all-time most viewed videos on YouTube is a strange way to kill an hour. Among the mind-numbing music videos by pop stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, there are cute kids doing cute things, a sneezing panda, the “Time of My Life” scene from Dirty Dancing, a ventriloquist act, and an entirely unarousing thigh massage video. Oh, and that cat video that your aunt Carol thinks is so funny.
Uploaded by blog.delta.com.
It’s easy to think of YouTube as the first site you’d use to find a song you heard on the radio last week, or to see the trailer for the movie you want to see this weekend. But it’s also a resource for more practical uses, because no matter what you’re into, you’ll find it. Detailing a ’55 Chevy Belair? There’s a video on that. Developing black and white film in a dark room? Check. Want 6-pack abs in a 3-minute workout? Yep.
Every once in a while I’ll happen across a video of something cringeworthy or embarrassing, like a news anchor cursing when she didn’t know she was live, and it’ll make me hope that the worst moment of my life doesn’t wind up on YouTube. Nobody wants their 15 minutes of fame to come that way, but it happens often. The flavor-of-the-month pop stars with 600 million views will come and go, but thankfully, YouTube stars like Antoine Dodson and the Techno Viking will always be here to make the internetz a more interesting place.
Movie candy has traditionally been sold in those larger boxes so that theater owners could charge higher prices. Of course, another tradition is to stop at the 7-Eleven on the way to the movie, buy cheaper candy and hide it in a purse. Uploaded by couponmamainsc.wordpress.com..
I’ve placed this post under “kid stuff,” but we have to be honest here. Lots of adults prefer candy to popcorn (or nachos or any other current concession fads) as movie fare. For many of us, it allows us a (mostly) non-judgmental way to eat what we wouldn’t otherwise buy out in public.
Uploaded by infinitegift.com.
There’s a certain canon of concession confections we all know. Some have been bringing profits to theaters for generations. Some of the most popular candy items sold through the years as movie treats include:
Of course, movie candy has always come in those large boxes, allowing theater owners to charge outlandish prices. But that’s part of the movie-going experience. Also part of the movie-going experience is stopping at the 7-Eleven on the way to the theater and hiding candy in a purse. Whoops! Did I let a secret out of the bag?
12 Angry Men was the first film directed by Sidney Lumet, whose courtroom drama "The Verdict" has already been honored on this list. Uploaded by prodeoetpatria.wordpress.com.
It’s not a good thing to feel claustrophobic during a movie. And except for a couple of brief scenes at beginning and end, the “action” in 12 Angry Men (1957) takes place in a closed jury room. As they say, in the hands of a lesser director this would have been a problem. But the great Sidney Lumet (Network, The Verdict, et. al.) took this on as his very first production, and showed why he would be a directorial force for decades to come.
Uploaded by vinok2movies.com.
If you haven’t seen 12 Angry Men, I don’t want to spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that a jury of all men debate the fate of a defendant who’s one of “those people,” and most initially consider him guilty. Henry Fonda is the lone dissenter, and he uses his powers of logic and persuasion to try to convince the others that they may be convicting an innocent man.
The film wouldn’t have worked without a terrific cast, and it had one. Among the jurors were E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, and Jack Klugman – a who’s who of great 1950s era character actors. Most forceful of all was Lee J. Cobb, leading those who believed in the defendant’s guilt. 12 Angry Men is considered one of the top courtroom dramas of all time (AFI considered it number two), and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars. And if it hadn’t come out in the same year as Bridge on the River Kwai, it might have won them.
Copyright 2009-2011, Robin G. Chalkley. All material on these pages, and the listing of items as Great American Things, is copyrighted. The exceptions are the photographs and videos, which remain the property of their respective owners.
Header photo used courtesy of Flickr photographer too melo.