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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dreamin' Of The Screamin' Delta Demon At Opryland

For many years, whenever actress Delta Burke was mentioned on TV, the first thing I thought of was The Screamin' Delta Demon, the awesome fire-breathing monster that could be found at the Opryland theme park in Nashville, Tennessee.

The marketing department of the Opryland theme park had a knack for making a simple amusement park ride a highly anticipated experience. There wasn't actually a fire-breathing, flying alligator creature threatening anyone on The Screamin' Delta Demon.

Isn't this photo scary? I'm talking about the Eighties fashion and hair, not the highly themed Screamin' Delta Demon ride vehicle.

The Screamin' Delta Demon was an Intamin Bobsled roller coaster that weaved around a flume-like ride track through a forest in Opryland. Sadly, there was NOT an animatronic version of the Delta Demon roaring at riders (that would have been awesome!).

The ride was as visually intimidating as its name. I was terrified to ride this, but I'm glad I did.

My first and only visit to Opryland was in September of 1985. Back then, the park was called Opryland USA. The name would be changed around over the years.

I got to stay in the Opryland Hotel, which was pretty amazing. An expanded version of The Opryland Hotel is still open today, though the Opryland theme park closed down years ago.

Why did Opryland close? I'm not sure.

The theme park was said to be landlocked, so expansion may have been too difficult.

Opryland had some rides on my visit, but the focus was clearly on the shows.

The "Modern 1980s" Opryland musical presentation reminded me of the Saturday Morning TV show "Kidd Video" (which I DID watch at the Opryland Hotel right before going to Opryland) and I remember seeing a reference in the park's rock and roll section to "The Flipside" (which was also a setting on Kidd Video).

Opryland had a great deal at the time called the Tricket. You paid for one day and got two consecutive days free.

There were two rides in Opryland that captured my imagination when I was a kid. One was The Screamin' Delta Demon, and the other was Grizzly River Rampage.

The exciting ads for Grizzly River Rampage appearing on TV, newspapers and billboards featured a ferocious bear attacking river rafters. In reality, the bear was a static figure in a tunnel with a flickering strobe light. I think most people did not realize there was a bear there.

Many years later, Disney built a grizzly bear themed raft ride. Check it out at Disney's Country Bears At Grizzly River Run In California Adventure.

Opryland had some very famous mascots, including the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee.

Visitors to Opryland could meet all sorts of General Mills cereal characters.

Box tops from different "Big G" cereals were used for discounts on park admission.

Lucky the Leprechaun always had to worry about kids going after his Lucky Charms, whether it was the cereal or Lucky getting strategically kicked by rowdy children.

The Trix Rabbit could also be found at Opryland's Big G Cereal Play area for kids.

Opryland also had a Petting Zoo, complete with coin operated "game machines" featuring live animals (like bunnies and ducks). The animals would perform a simple trick (like playing basketball) and get food. I can't make this stuff up!

Count Chocula and the Monster Cereal gang are among my favorite advertising characters, and they were on hand to frighten visitors. Well, I don't think Boo Berry was there (he's always been tough to find).

Opryland really missed an opportunity by not making a haunted house ride with Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Boo Berry and Fruit Brute (the lesser known werewolf character---you can see references to him in Quentin Tarantino movies).

Sonny is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!

Like all the General Mills characters, Sonny's appearance has changed over the years.

I think General Mills introduced more cartoon cereal spokesmen than any other breakfast cereal manufacturer, for a wide variety of cereals that did not last (anyone remember Ice Cream Cones Cereal?). Cinnamon Toast Crunch originally had three baker characters, but only Wendell survived.

To see the two Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bakers that did not make the cut, and get a look at Ice Cream Jones (the mascot for Ice Cream Cones), take a look at Magic Trix Aren't Just For Kids.

Look, it's the Cheshire Canine! No, it's Chip the Cookie Hound, the mascot for Cookie Crisp Cereal (originally made by Ralston Purina, this became a General Mills cereal in 1997).

Cookie Crisp originally had a wizard mascot named Cookie Jarvis. Later, the character was replaced by the Cookie Crook and his dog Chip, who were always being pursued by the Cookie Cop. When General Mills bought Cookie Crisp, the Cookie Crook and Cop were dropped, making Chip the mascot for the cereal. Chip eventually lost his mask, and eventually his job when he was replaced by the Wolf character that is used to promote the cereal these days.

The General Mills Breakfast Babies bean bags were part of a mail-order promotion released in 1997, which is the same year Opryland closed.

Just a few months before my September 1985 visit to Opryland, Dolly Parton (a talented performer and business person) announced her plans to open the Dollywood theme park (formerly known as Silver Dollar City) in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Here's a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article that mentions plans for Dollywood parks in Japan and Europe.

Dollywood (and later, Dollywood's Splash Country water park) have been huge hits for Dolly Parton. Get your minds out of the gutter---I said HITS!

For a look at an early map of the park, check out Dollywood is Open From 9 to 5.

The former site of Opryland is now home to a mall, Opry Mills. Wait a minute---Opry Mills? General Mills Cereal!? Coincidence? I think not!

For even more southern fried fun from the past, see Tennessee It No More: Magic World in Pigeon Forge.

*UPDATE For January 21, 2012:

On January 20, 2012 (the day after Dolly Parton's Birthday) it was announced that Dollywood and Gaylord Entertainment are joining forces for a "water and snow park" near the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. It should open by Summer 2014. Great news!

Also on January 20, Bobby Bickert wrote to me about those game machine performing animals at Opryland:

"I believe you about these performing animals, because I saw what may have been the same animals in Florida a little while before you did.
They were part of St. Petersburg's famous "Webb's City" department store, which I visited not too long before it closed. The year after Webb's City closed, all of the animals except the tightrope-walking chicken (which wasn't in an enclosed space) turned up at the Florida State Fair as the "IQ Zoo". After that they disappeared. Since this was in the early 1980's, I wonder if they were taken to Opryland?
Here's what I can remember:
Chicken that walked a tightrope
Chicken that played Tic Tac Toe with you
Chicken that "danced" (after turning on a "jukebox")
Chicken that gave you a "prize" out of a gumball-type machine
Duck that played a piano (It turned on a lamp first.)
Rabbit that "kissed" a fake female rabbit
Rabbit fire chief
There were probably others, but that's all I can remember."
Yes, that sounds like the same animals to me. Thanks for the information, Bobby!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Elvis Presley, The All Shook Up Roustabout At The Heartbreak Hotel In Graceland

Jailhouse Rock 45 RPM Elvis from Hasbro is ready to shake things up! The King is here to prove that Elvis memorabilia is not child's play. This advertisement appeared in a 1993 issue of Entertainment Weekly Magazine.

Accessing your favorite music used to be a lot more difficult. If you did not have a record store near you, there was always TIME LIFE Music, which featured Elvis Presley songs in its collection.

You can get this set on two LP records, or a Double length audio cassette, or this new thing called a Compact Disc.

Elvis Presley is famous all over the world.

Who can forget the film "Christmas in Bequia" starring Elvis and Ann-Margret? Or that big Elvis Presley concert in Maldives? Everyone remembers those!

Ads for items like Elvis stamps and collector's plates could often be found in issues of TV Guide.

If there wasn't Elvis merchandise advertised inside, sometimes Elvis appeared on the front cover.

Sometimes special Elvis CDs were included alongside the magazine, too. Note the warning here that "Loading the CD onto a non-tray-loading device is likely to damage the machine." Yikes!!

There's also five different covers to collect! If you were too lazy to drive to every supermarket in town to get them all, you could have ordered them from TV Guide.

But even if you got all those covers, there were still more you had to look for.

TV Guide taunts collectors with Elvis covers from the past. Good luck finding them on eBay.

Elvis and TV Guide made sure you wouldn't have a Blue Christmas. They included Elvis CD-ROM discs directly on their magazines in 2006.

These could have been nice, low cost (free) gifts for Elvis fans.

Elvis and some of his friends found their way on U.S. Stamps, too.

Be sure to put a stamp on your letter to Santa Claus. There's lots of Elvis stuff you'll want him to bring.

It's time for Elvis watches!

They even made multiple versions of Elvis Stamp Watches. You'll need to buy one of each.

It's "Make-Out Pillow Elvis" and an "Elvis Face Throw Rug" to sleep on.

I guess all the CD Tower companies have gone out of business now. Sad.

I've never been to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. I do think Paul Simon would be the most logical choice for their spokesperson.

I would like to see an Elvis theme park with rides at Graceland. There has to be some sort of thrill ride called "The Pelvis."

Graceland was reported as a hot spot for earthquakes back in 1994, as this Entertainment Weekly article discusses.

I love this Elvis illustration by David Cowles, a talented artist that has created celebrity images for Entertainment Weekly for many years.

It's time for an Elvis trivia question, courtesy of an old issue of Entertainment Weekly.

How did you do? I had no idea what the answers were.

Is there a Heartbreak Hotel at Graceland? There should be.

I'm picturing a Disney-style hotel with an Audio Animatronic Elvis stage show.

Did you buy the Heartbreak Hotel plate? You really should have. Read why.

I bet this is worth a fortune now. Assuming you did not mess it up with peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

During the late Eighties and early Nineties, you could find Elvis movies on The Disney Channel.

Kids today may not know this, but The Disney Channel used to play all kinds of different movies and TV shows.

I think Disney and Elvis could be great partners and do something really cool with Graceland.

Stitch from Lilo and Stitch would be a great mascot for Graceland. Plus, Stitch is big in Japan, and could bring in more tourists. More on Stitch later...

This Elvis '68 Comeback Special Plate ad is from an old Disney Channel Magazine.

Was this a good deal in 1992? I wonder what these sell for today...

Hasbro also issued a '68 Comeback Special Elvis figure.

One accessory inadvertently not included is the pile of underwear that has been thrown on the stage.

The '68 Comeback Special was really big for Elvis. It was #5 on the 100 Music Moments That Rocked TV list that TV Guide made in 2003.

What was the #1 Moment That Rocked TV? I'll NEVER TELL!!! MWA-HA-HA!!

People have reported numerous Elvis sightings over the years.

By 1993, Elvis started appearing on Ted Turner's TNT.

At this time, Elvis could also be found in some advertising campaigns.

I'm not sure if this is "officially Elvis" but it looks like him to me.

TNT had some great ads for movies, including this one for Jailhouse Rock.

This movie inspired all sorts of celebrities to go to jail.

The Elvis movies eventually became available on DVD from Warner Brothers (which had merged with Turner Broadcasting) in 2007.

These days, I'm guessing that you can also watch these movies on your phone or mobile device while you are driving your car, or attending a concert, or out to dinner eating with people.

In 2002, Walt Disney Pictures released "Lilo and Stitch," a popular animated film about an alien and a Hawaiian girl that was dreamed up by artists Chris Sanders and Dean DuBois. It also featured the music of Elvis Presley.

There has been quite a bit of merchandise of Stitch dressed up as Elvis, but this set of figures is unique because it includes a photo of the King.

A new generation knows Elvis Presley songs from "All Shook Up," the popular musical stage show.

"All Shook Up" is a Jukebox Musical set in 1955 that weaves Elvis Presley songs into its story.

"All Shook Up" does not include Elvis himself, but features a hip-swiveling, lip-curling, blue suede shoes wearing character named Chad.

Chad rides into a sleepy town singing "Roustabout" and Chad resembles the motorcycle-riding, leather-jacketed character Elvis Presley played in the "Roustabout" movie from 1964.

For the 2005 Broadway version of "All Shook Up," Chad was played by actor Cheyenne Jackson.

Years later, the multi-talented Cheyenne Jackson became one of Tina Fey's co-stars on "30 Rock," which I think is one of the best shows on TV.

I have collected PEZ dispensers for years, and the Elvis set (circa 2007) is among my favorites.

The Elvis PEZ tin includes three different versions of Elvis, plus a CD.

This set also includes Cola flavored PEZ candy.

Cola PEZ is tasty, but I was expecting Peanut Butter and Banana flavored PEZ candies.

This 1993 Entertainment Weekly Elvis Article by Benjamin Svetkey is a nice, short read.

It's pretty amazing that after all these years, Elvis is such an icon.

To keep The King rocking, I'd love to see an Elvis animated cartoon series (in the style of the Hanna Barbera cartoons from the Sixties---it could even feature Ann-Margret, like The Flintstones did!).

I just thought of a title for the cartoon: Hanna Barbera presents Elvis Presley and the Peanut Butter and Banana Splits.*

*The Banana Splits was a 1968 Hanna Barbera show featuring a group of animal musicians. Warner Brothers now owns this property, and distributes the Elvis movies, so maybe this could really happen someday.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Big Bird And The Cyborg Of Sesame Street In The Seventies

I had never heard of Sesame Street's Sam the Robot until I read the book "Sesame Street Unpaved" by David Borgenicht a few years ago.

SAM (Super Automated Machine) was performed by Jerry Nelson (the Count) and only appeared briefly in the early days of Sesame Street.

Sam, you just messed with the wrong bird.

I guess Sam wore out his welcome quickly.

I just discovered this "Sam Shows Big Bird Five" story in November 2011, thumbing through a copy of "The Sesame Street 1,2,3 Storybook" at an antique store on a vacation visiting family.

For Christmas, I was given the book as a present.

The Sesame Street 1,2,3 Storybook has stories written by Emily Perl Kingsley, Jeffrey Moss, Norman Stiles and Daniel Wilcox. Joseph Mathieu, Kelly Oechsli, Mel Crawford and Bob Taylor provided the illustrations.

The cover of The Sesame Street 1,2,3 Storybook was illustrated by Michael Frith, who would later design the world of Fraggle Rock.

The inside cover art was created by Mel Crawford.

I am a big fan of the dynamic poses and unique style found in Mel Crawford's drawings.

Sherlock Hemlock is another early Sesame Street character that disappeared (at least in the United States).

Like Sam, Sherlock Hemlock was performed by Jerry Nelson.

This Sesame Street spoof of Sherlock Holmes used to be featured frequently on the show.

With the new Sherlock Holmes movies these days, maybe Hemlock will return.

This is a fun little story. Who are the twins in the picture? "Come and play with us, Danny!"

As Oscar the Grouch might say, "I've got a mystery for you, Hemlock. What happened to your career?"

Oscar is one of my favorites.

Originally, Oscar wasn't green. In the first episode of Sesame Street, Oscar was orange!

It's kind of hard to believe that Oscar and Big Bird were performed by the same person, Carroll Spinney.

Oscar's accent was inspired by a New York City cab driver that had asked Carroll Spinney, "Where to, Mac?"

Oscar was originally planned to live in the sewer, but it was thought to be too creepy. The original idea for the Muppet characters on the show is that they would live in a world underground. This would later be the premise for Fraggle Rock.

"...turn that page and then I won't have to look at you any more!! Good-by!!" Too funny!

Sesame Street used to have some monsters that were kind of scary.

Cookie Monster (originally performed by Frank Oz) was based on a toothy Muppet called The Beautiful Day Monster, which had been created for an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

I think it's safe to say that these monsters would never show up on Sesame Street today.

Some of these guys would be at home in the world of "Where the Wild Things Are."

The monster with the tail is especially frightening.

The Sesame Street books show us that Herry Monster wore pants. Who knew?

Sesame Street, please don't ever turn Cookie Monster into the Broccoli Monster.

The illustrations by Joseph Mathieu for this story are incredible.

I thought Cookie Monster did a great job with his campaign to become a host on Saturday Night Live in 2010.

I'm pretty sure that "Norwegian wood!" is a reference to the Beatles song ("This Bird Has Flown").

I could not figure out who the artist was for this Grover story.

This drawing of the balloon salesman is hysterical to me.

Frank Oz performed many famous Muppets, including Grover, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Bert and Cookie Monster. He was also Yoda in the Star Wars films, and is an accomplished film director.

I believe this balloon salesman is based on the Anything Muppet called "Fat Blue."

Don't worry, Grover! Remember, as Super Grover, you can fly!

These days, Super Grover wears a secure, soft helmet. He used to wear a loose metallic helmet, which was funny, but I'm guessing it got complaints.

On my 2011 Christmas vacation, I found some more Sesame Street books at another antique store, not far from where I found "The Sesame Street 1,2,3 Storybook."

The cover of this book and the inside cover for this series was created by Joseph Mathieu. The other illustrators for The Sesame Street Library include Mel Crawford, A. Delaney, Michael Frith, David Gantz, Jon McIntosh, Marc Nadel, Kelly Oechsli, and Michael J. Smollin.

These books share some of the same content found in The Sesame Street 1,2,3 Storybook.

The writers for this series should be familiar to Muppet fans. They include Michael Frith, Jerry Juhl, Emily Perl Kingsley, Sharon Lerner, Nina B. Link, Albert G. Miller, Jeffrey Moss, Norman Stiles, Jon Stone and Daniel Wilcox.

The Sesame Street Library has some great recipes, courtesy of Cookie Monster.

I think Cookie Monster should have his own show on Food Network.

Ernie can take off his nose and throw it. Don't try this at home, kids!

I believe this was drawn by Mel Crawford.

It's time for more baking tips from Cookie Monster!

Cookie Monster teases more recipes for Volume 2. I don't have Volume 2. What did he make?!

Carroll Spinney did not just perform Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he was a talented artist, too!

Oscar the Grouch was recycling before anyone else was.

Pinwheel, pinwheel spinning around. Look at my pinwheel and see what I found... Wait a minute!! Wrong show!

Since Snuffleupagus is sort of like a Woolly Mammoth, he was the logical choice to show us how to make snowflakes.

Is the Amazing Mumford the Count's brother from another mother?

The Amazing Mumford was also performed by Jerry Nelson.

I can't find a notation anywhere, but I think "The Monster's Picnic" was drawn by Michael Frith.

You're invited to a picnic, a monster picnic, and humans are allowed today!*

*visitors to Six Flags Over Georgia may find this little story to be reminiscent of a section of The Monster Plantation ride (now called The Monster Mansion)---especially Herry Monster swinging from a tree branch. Check out The Monster Plantation/The Monster Mansion Part 2 for a glimpse of this ride.

Cookie Monster is back to show us how to make more cookies.

This recipe was brought to you by your local dentist.

Ernie (originally performed by Jim Henson) and Bert (originally performed by Frank Oz) are back with more fun!

I bet Mel Crawford drew this, too!

Here we get a rare glimpse of Big Bird's Granny.

Butter is yellow...that reminds me, I need a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.*

*Really Old Sesame Street Reference.

And now, the comedy duo of Oscar and Maria (played by Sonia Manzano).

I always thought Oscar and Maria had good chemistry together.

Go look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls!*

*These books were a product of the Children's Television Workshop and a reference book company called Funk & Wagnalls, Inc. There was a variety show called "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" on television in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls" became a catchphrase used in skits on the series (because it sounded naughty).

In case you wondered, these Sesame Street Library series books cost me just $1 each.

Sesame Street used to have some shady characters, including Lefty the Salesman (performed by Frank Oz).

More great Mel Crawford drawings, I believe.

The Count visits Mr. Hooper at his store.

The Count make a mess and is proud of it.

Since the Count is a "glass half full" kind of guy, he suggests what Mr. Hooper can do with an empty egg carton. You can make an adorably creepy camel.

Look! Now you know how to make a Twiddlebugs Twiddlywinks game out of an egg carton. You're Welcome!

Roosevelt Franklin was a popular character created by Matt Robinson (who also played Gordon for a few years).

Roosevelt Franklin is gone from Sesame Street these days, but he's not forgotten.

The Count used to be a bit darker.

I'd like to pitch an idea to Sea World, Busch Gardens, Sesame Place and Universal Studios Japan (theme parks that feature the Sesame Street characters). I want to see a Count's Castle dark ride (with Muppet ghosts).

Oscar is back for some book-making fun with Betty Lou.

Historically, Sesame Street had difficulty launching a break-out female character.

I would suggest that Red Fraggle from Fraggle Rock (or a character very much like her) would be a big hit for Sesame Street.

Oscar cracks me up again. What a bitter-sweet ending!

For Christmas, I was also given the book "Street Gang" by Michael Davis, which is "The Complete History of Sesame Street." This is a fantastic book, full of behind-the-scenes drama, egos, gossip and trivia.

If you are an old-school Sesame Street fan, I also recommend you find the book, "Sesame Street: A Celebration" by Louise A. Gikow. I got a copy real cheap at a store called Half Price Books, and it included a DVD of the first episode of Sesame Street (a real trip!).

For more Seventies Sesame Street fun, check out My Sesame Street Adventure With Big Bird, Mr. Hooper and Snuffleupagus.