Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Did we ever tell you about our family’s minor but memorable role in the legend of the Mother Road, Route 66? No?

Some years ago, our father told us that, in 1933 or so, his parents operated a combination gas station, cafe and motor court right on Route 66 in the western section of Oklahoma City (our hometown, don’t you know). Our recollection is that he said it was west of Portland, not far from where the 66 Bowl bowling alley was for so long (the preceding details are included for those who are familiar with OKC).

Route 66 holds a place of honor in the states through which it passes; it certainly does in Oklahoma. And we count ourselves as Mother Road aficionados; we even drove the entire length of Route 66 in the summer of ’92. So we were very excited to learn that our family had played even a small role in the history of that fabled highway.

And we were even more delighted when Dad filled in some details. His father (our grandfather) was always looking for a leg up, a new scheme to make it big, and that’s why, when he moved his family moved from a farm outside Wayne, Oklahoma, to OKC, they ended up owning (or renting, we’re not sure which) the motor court.

But the story got juicier: Dad told me that not only did the cafe serve beer (we’re pretty sure this all took place during Prohibition, but Oklahoma was a dry state even after repeal), but the rooms were available for shorter stays of, say, an hour or two in length. And yes, that means just what you think it means.

We could not imagine our devout, church-going, teetotaling Grandmother putting up with such nonsense (you can see Grandmother in the photos accompanying these posts—does she look as though she’d be comfortable operating such an establishment?). Dad acknowledged that his mom was none too happy about the family’s new enterprise, but Grandpa was not a man easily denied. It is interesting to note, however, that our grandparents only operated that gas station/cafe/motor court for a year or so, so while Grandpa may have won the battle, it seems that it was Grandmother who won the war.

Spring forward 77 years: Our mom was a go-getter. She got stuff done. But one task she never accomplished was sorting through what she insisted were boxes and boxes of family photographs. When she passed 2010, we finally gained access to those boxes (we never even knew where they were) and we spent hours going through them. While our siblings were more interested in the photos from our own lives, the color shots from the 1960s and ’70s, we were fascinated, it will not surprise long-time readers of this site to learn, by those taken during the first half of the 20th century. We always want to know what we missed! So we were tossing aside all the color shots and going right for the black-and-whites (we’ve shared any number of those with you right here on this website over the years).

And were we thrilled when we came across these photos of Dad’s family posing for snapshots outside that roadside establishment on Route 66! We do wish someone had stepped across the road and taken a shot of the entire layout, but beggars can’t be choosers. We’re very happy to have this photographic evidence of our family’s contribution to Mother Road lore and legend.

Past Paper: Merry Christmas—Stop—Happy New Year—Stop

We don’t view the Cladrite Era as the good ol’ days in the sense that we’re convinced life was better then than now. Different, sure, and it’s those differences that fascinate us. But better? In some ways, yes, but worse in others. We figure things tend to balance out over time. Every era has its highlights and low points.

But we do mourn the passing of certain practices and traditions, and high on that list is the telegram.

Truth be told, we’d give our eye teeth to be able to observe special occasions by sending telegrams. Sure, sure, email’s great, and Facebook, texting and Tweeting all have their place, but none possess the charm or carry the weight of a telegram. And while Christmas cards are a delight to send and receive, imagine sending Christmas telegrams!

We, alas, have never received a telegram, and we’ve sent only one, in 1984 (it never arrived, and to this day, we have no idea whether we were charged for it). But we perk right up any time we see a telegraph office or a telegram delivery depicted in an old movie. The practice and process of sending telegrams continues to fascinate us.

So we were very pleased to come across this promotional pamphlet for Postal Telegraph, Commercial Cables, and All-America Cables (were they all owned by the same concern? We assume so, but we don’t really know. If there are any telegraph experts reading this, by all means, please clue us in).


Hi-res view

Hi-res view

Hi-res view

We like that telegrams are pitched in the pamphlet’s copy as the “modern way” to send holiday greetings, as the “convenient and timely way of sending good wishes.”

And we love the list of suggested messages on the back. We’d heard that one could order a pre-written telegram by the number, like an item on a menu at a Chinese restaurant, but we’d never seen a list of pre-composed messages and their accompanying numbers. Clearly one would hope to receive a telegram bearing one of the messages numbered from 134-141, since they were all intended to accompanied by wired money. Happy holidays, indeed!

This post was originally published in slightly different form on 12/15/2011.

Past Paper: The Mystery of the Vintage Magazine

Vintage magazine cover-The Oklahoma WhirlwindOn a recent visit to a paper ephemera store in our hometown of Oklahoma City, we came across a vintage magazine called The Oklahoma Whirlwind. Dated 1928, it was tightly sealed in plastic and the crusty proprietor of the shop wasn’t willing to let us to peek at the publication’s contents, but we found the cover illustration intriguing.

Was it even remotely possible that in 1920s Oklahoma, there was a magazine that was marketed to—or, heck, even friendly toward—the gay community? Surely not, but here was this cover, plain as day, right before our eyes.

As you’ve already guessed, we broke down and bought the vintage magazine, ripping open the plastic as soon as we stepped out of the shop. We quickly ascertained that The Oklahoma Whirlwind was a college humor magazine, published by students at the University of Oklahoma. The material is pretty typical of the era and of limited interest (though a few of the advertisements have appeal). No mention is made of the illustration of the cover.

But a closer inspection of the illustration revealed a couple of details that suggest the cover wasn’t so gay-friendly, after all. The tiny depiction of a rat chasing a mouse and a bird giving the go-by to a willing-to-be-eaten worm (see below) suggests that the point the artist is making is that a gay couple canoodling on a park (or campus, perhaps?) bench is against nature, or something along those lines. As depictions of homophobic sentiments go, this one’s pretty mild, thankfully, and perhaps even crosses over to good-natured.

A mouse chases a catA bird refuses a worm

Una Merkel—Picture Saver

This interview with Una Merkel originally appeared in the May 1935 edition of Movie Classic magazine.

Talent, combined with a marvelous
disposition, keeps this charming
young player the busiest actress
in Hollywood

By ROBERT FENDER

Una MerkelTHERE’S a girl in Hollywood known to directors and writers as “the pulmotor girl.” Does that mean anything to you? It didn’t to me, either, until I started thinking of those things used by firemen, lifeguards and physicians known as pulmotors. They’re the emergency machines employed to bring nearly dead people back to life.

Just so, when writers have a nearly dead story on their hands, they write in a part for this girl. And when directors see their pictures expiring dead away, they broadcast a frantic call for this very same girl. She’ll save it if it can be saved, they cry. Get her. And get her right now!

The “her” in this case, as anyone in Hollywood will tell you, is a charming little person with blonde ringlets in her hair, a twinkle in her eyes and a great heart tucked away inside her. Her name is Una Merkel. And she’s perhaps the most universally loved girl in town. Certainly she’s the busiest.

If you saw Una in a Hollywood crowd (say at a preview), you couldn’t pick her out if your life depended upon it. But ten to one she would be the young lady on your left who, on very tip-toe was jockeying for a better position to see the movie stars pass by. For Una is the most confirmed and ardent movie fan in town. She is, to my knowledge, the only one who saves all the programs of all the shows she attends—yes, and makes tiny penciled notes on the margins about players she likes best and why.

Una is so necessary to directors and ailing pictures, I suppose, because she is the only one of her kind in town. She is no more “movie actress” than you. Her unaffected laugh, tinkly and delightful to hear, differs from the average star’s studied “abandon” as a child’s laughter differs from the wearied old man’s croak. She is youth itself, mighty good for the soul, and she’ll continue to be young no matter how many years pile up on her.

“There’s so much,” she told me in her tiny feminine dressing room at M-G-M, “to be happy for. There’s so much to laugh about. Do you see that big building next door? Well, next week I’m going to have a grand big new dressing room.”

“Moving you over there, Una?”

Una laughed. “Oh, Heavens no,” she cried. “That’s going to be for the big stars. But they’ll leave their dressing rooms here and they’re going to give me a bigger one in this building. And they’re going to let me furnish it. Just as I like!” she finished, evidently carried away in high glee.

“Don’t you want to be a big star, Una?”

Una burst out laughing. “Me a star? Do you know any more funny ones?” Then she wrinkled her cute little brow and indulged in some thinking. “But,” she began, “but—even if I could, I don’t think I would. The other night I was trying to think what I’d rather be than myself and I couldn’t think of anything. Not,” she hurried, “that I think I’m pretty good but simply that I’m—I’m so darned happy!

“I love my husband, Ronnie Burla, and he loves me. I get more pleasure out of my work than anyone in Hollywood. There’s just one thing that worries me and that is that there are so many people who don’t share my good luck. I feel so sorry for people who don’t seem to have anything. I wish there was some better way of distributing money and happiness.

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A Trip Through Columbia Network Studios!

We recently came across this 1934 pamphlet/game board. It was a handout from WCCO, a Minnesota radio station that began operation in 1922 as WLAG (the call letters were changed to WCCO in 1924). But the pamphlet appears to have been issued by the CBS network, not an individual station. It’s our bet that this was distributed by CBS-affiliated stations across the country.

In 1934, CBS was headquartered in New York City (much of their programming originated from Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in Manhattan), and we can only guess that it’s that facility that’s depicted here (but we encourage more astute radio historians than we are to chime in if we’ve got that wrong—Edit: A more astute radio historian did chime in; see the comments below).

Among the famous (and perhaps now not-so-famous) faces you’ll see on your stroll through the studios are crooner Dick Powell, theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, Irving Kaufman (in his Lazy Dan, the Minstrel Man mode—really? Blackface on the radio?), Bing Crosby, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Isham Jones, and George Burns and Gracie Allen, among others.

Click below to see a higher-res version of the image, or to view or download an even larger, higher-res version, click here.

A Trip Through Columbia Networks Studios