Here’s Parker Brothers’ 1982 announcement of their entry into the videogame market. You can tell they’re proud of their Star Wars license, and they should be! Their Empire Strikes Back game was really solid. But outside of four minutes spent on Star Wars and one minute spent on…Frogger… there’s not much else here to announce.
It’s interesting that the video makes the case that the videogame market has “barely been scratched”. In 1982. A year before the massive videogame crash in North America in 1983. Still, you’ve got to appreciate the confidence. And they came out with some good stuff!
Showbiz Pizza Place was the Pepsi to Chuck E. Cheese’s Coke. The video game pizza parlor boasted a superior band with the Rockafire Explosion and an inferior everything else. Chuck eventually absorbed Showbiz to create a grand unified theory of mediocre food and semi-operational robotics, but before that happened they were engaged in a brutal war to get you, your family, and your softball coach’s quarters. We’ve all wondered whether we had what it took to be a Showbiz Pizza staff member, and it’s time to get some answers to that question with these training videos.
This 1981 video, Operation: Promotion explores the role of the Showbiz Program Director, that lucky person responsible for arranging in-restaurant events and out-in-the-world promotions. She also dresses in a ridiculous white outfit and top hat that she wears even when she’s by herself, in her office, on the phone.
She’s the one who drags an in-costume Billy Bob to every car dealership or gas station opening within a ten mile radius. I’m pretty sure, however, that BiIlly Bob doesn’t ride to these things in-costume on the back of a motorcycle.
The Program Director also schmoozes the guests at the restaurant, aggressively pushing all of the potential functions that their Showbiz could perform for these people. Best line: “Mom, ‘The Young and The Restless’ is on in the Sports Room if you’d like to watch that.”
Exhausting job, that of the Program Director.
Probably 90% of Showbiz’ business had to have been birthday parties. Here’s a stiff, poorly produced video with mono audio that trains employees on…how to answer the phone to book a party. A whole video for this? A jester and a clown at your birthday party, and the “surprise” is a hug from Billy Bob? This arrangment makes no sense.
The sloppy production on this video makes Operation: Promotion come off like Citizen Kane.
It’s hard to know what to make of this one, Operation: Entertainment. It’s a stream of consciousness riff on generally how to be “fun” as a waiter at Showbiz Pizza. One take, one set, 8 minutes, aimed at people who were determined to be in need of fun lessons.
I can’t tell if he’s an employee of Showbiz Corporate or just some local comedian hired to riff. Either way, it’s something special.
I think we’re all fully trained Showbiz employees at this point. See you at work tomorrow. And thanks, Brenda, for washing the uniform every night.
This 1960s training film on the merits of good checkout procedure places an awful lot of responsibility for the store’s performance on what happens in the checkout lane. Indeed, they are “The Front Line” in the grocery war. Seriously, they just casually call it a war.
I’m not going to spend time romanticizing the actual advice given in this film; it boils down to ‘make the right amount of change’, ‘don’t get tricked by crooks’, and ‘sell stuff at the right price.” The way they give the advice, though, is great: the hair and fashion are top-notch for the era, and the large green “test room” has an awesome visual aesthetic.
The real star of the film, though, is the reality of the 1960s grocery store and the golden crossroad of an almost clinically clean store design filled with beautifully packaged processed foods.
It’s worth “checking out”. Get it? Sorry. Here it is.
Cadbury’s Smash Commercial
Speaking of war, this 1970s spot for Cadbury’s mashed potatoes is nothing less than a declaration of it from those smug Martians.
Cosmography & Astrology
This beautifully confounding print from 1686 demonstrates the various applications of Cosmography and Astrology.
King Vitaman Commercial
I don’t know who these people thought they were fooling. This is a cereal made of styrofoam that nobody would enjoy.
It’s always weird when Nintendo tries to be cool. Cool just isn’t their thing. This 1995 infomercial for the Super Nintendo is a perfect example of my point; it sets out to showcase the system’s lineup in an edgy, gritty way and it comes off looking like when the chaperones try to dance with the students..
Bush video, or Korn video?
A man in a video screen sends his dark agents to gather intel on the latest Nintendo games. There’s an air of malice to the effort, but each outing quickly turns comical; there’s little edginess to be found in Yoshi’s Island, and even less in Donkey Kong Country. The agents seem committed to torture in order to get the info they need, but the ‘torture’ ends up to be mild aggression and, in one case, just plain money.
There would have been good value in watching this as a kid in the mid-90s. There weren’t many chances to get a look at footage of games that weren’t out yet, and Killer Instinct is a pretty extreme title for Nintendo. Even though Super Mario RPG wouldn’t come out until the N64, it’s pretty exciting to see it here.
And speaking of N64, the video ends with the ultimate intel: a first glimpse at the new console from a Japanese convention. There’s not a lot to it, but what’s there is cool.
So yeah, a mixed bag. The tone isn’t really congruent with the Nintendo we knew then or know now, but it was the ’90s and everyone was trying this sort of thing on. Here’s the video:
1940s Catholic Truth Society Covers
Vintage Irish Book Cover enthusiast Hitone’s got some book covers from the Catholic Truth Society that are nothing short of breathtaking. Here are a few of my favorites – hit their site for the rest.
This “Giant Moon Robut” is flat-out terrifying. Just $9.99 in 1960s money!
I’d like to live in this 1910 poster for a French Race sponsor.
Finally, this 1970 commercial for an adhesive glue that almost certainly gave anyone who touched it some sort of disease.
Leonard Nimoy lends his credibility to this alarmist video produced to aid those concerned with the potential societal collapse caused by the world’s computers’ refusal to acknowledge the year 2000.
This video is one of several attempts to cash in on the hysteria around the Y2K phenomenon. 1999 was the perfect breeding ground for such a scam – nobody could say for sure that the Y2K alarmists were wrong, and nobody wanted to look like a fool. The President even appointed a Y2K Czar! And the Y2K Czar appeared in this video! What an honor!
While the content of the video is assuredly alarmist, and we’re reminded throughout that many people are probably going to die, the tone never rises above a typical infomercial level. It’s not a frantic or panicked video, which makes it play pretty creepily.
It’s sort of an impressive effort that this video is an hour long – it’s really about 4 minutes of information repeated over and over again in different ways. When the video feels like it needs a break from that, there are instances of what seems to be free-form musing on specific catastrophes that could occur.
There’s a lot of specific advice, too. Helpful nuggets, like “Don’t buy a machine gun and run to the woods.” We’re also encouraged to “enjoy the family time” when our systems fail us. I can only imagine the satisfaction that those who paid actual money for this VHS tape must feel. The video takes on a very nuclear-scare-era tone when advising preparedness: store fresh water all over your house, in any dark place, toilet safety in a world without plumbing, stock up on baby wipes to bathe with. From here, it’s essentially a survivalist video – which makes for a good thirty minutes more content. While the video stresses the importance of community, there’s an underlying addition of “but make sure you get yours first”, which is pretty ugly once you notice it.
Here it is. Alarmist and cheesy, and a little bit alarming that so much time was spent on this. And that it probably made money.
French Mega Man 2 Commercial
There’s so much to love about this commercial for Mega Man 2 – from the newscaster Mario to the overacting live-action Mega Man to the shrouded, overacting Dr. Wily. Perfection.
In 1993 Pioneer released a sort of megadevice that combined CDs, Laserdiscs, video games, and interactive karaoke CDs. Called “LaserActive”, it retailed for just under $1000 and in a result that shocked nobody, was largely unsuccessful.
This 1993 “issue” of Zoom, the “Video Magazine” (what?) features the ins-and-outs of the LaserActive. It’s a showcase of the technology itself, the software featured, and an awkward technical section that describes how to set the thing up. Not sure that last part is “video magazine”-worthy but hey, I’m not a “video magazine” editor.
This video is about 40% content and 60% stock ’90s introspective flash and graphics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The LaserActive software is impressive; games like Pyramid Patrol, Quiz Econosaurus, and I Will demonstrate the different types of game options available, and the quality of the (then) high technology is evident.
Here’s the thing: it’s actually a pretty impressive machine. In the early-to-mid nineties, in the aftermath of the VHS/Beta war, in the middle of the CD/Laserdisc/VHS landscape, and on the cusp of DVD’s entry into the foray (not to mention minidiscs and mp3s), a device that could do it all was a pretty novel idea. And in that light, $970’s actually a value. Still, that’s a high price point to rationalize.
An interesting experiment, albeit a failed one. What do you think? Here’s the “video magazine”.
In my day, Cap’n Crunch battled the Soggies. These white, wet embodiments of too much milk goofily tried to thwart the Cap’n and his child companions, to no success. In the 1970s, though, the Cap’ns nemesis was a fellow pirate named Jean LaFoote. He had his own cereal, Cinnamon Crunch, years before Wendell and the bakers would come along and stake a claim on cinnamon-flavored cereal with their Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Here’s LaFoote’s finest hour.
EPCOT Horizons Commercial
It’s not often that I come across something about Horizons that’s new to me, so I’m excited to share this sedate 1980s EPCOT commercial focused entirely on Horizons. Everything about it is great, but for some reason the music doesn’t feel like a total match. Still, so good!
Mason Shoe Recruitment
This ad ran in men’s magazines in the 1960s, recruiting would-be door-to-door salesmen across the country.
1940s Band-Aid Commercial
This commercial features a fascinating and unsettling proof-of-concept, testing the band-aid’s adhesiveness on an egg. That glue is way too powerful.
Way too powerful. Man was not meant for this level of adhesion.
In the late 1960s, NBC had a short-lived Sunday afternoon anthology show titled NBC Experiment in Television. From what I can tell the show seems like a general-audience-aimed The Outer Limits, with an expectation for the audience to cut the NBC some slack if episodes strayed from traditional themes and formats. In 1968, Jim Henson took a break from Muppet-ing to produce The Cube, an hour-long teleplay that aired on Experiment in Television in February of 1969.
The Cube opens with the central character, The Man, upon his arrival and realization at his current situation. He’s inside of a cube, presumably trapped, with nothing but white on the walls. Throughout the hour he encounters several different people, who help him put together who and where he is; some arrive to assist him, others appear to test him, and still others show up to harass him. All cause him to doubt both himself and the world around him.
Each character enters and exits through doors that appear in The Cube, doors that vanish once that character leaves. Although he is told he is free to leave if he chooses, emphasis is placed on the doors that appear being that character’s door, and not The Man’s door. Items appear and disappear as well, relating to the visitor’s need for it. The Man increasingly feels like he’s on the outside of a colossal inside joke.
The episode does a pretty good job of setting both The Man and the audience’s expectations of these visitors intents and then turning those expectations over. Each visitor embodies a theme of 20th-century life. Some are more blatant in their theme than others.
I won’t tell you how it ends; that feels cheap. It only aired twice, once in 1969 and then in a replay in 1970. To my knowledge it’s not available anywhere but on archive.org – there are no high-quality copies to be found. It’s a fun watch, but I have to admit that I don’t know how I’d feel about this if I didn’t know that Jim Henson was behind it. There’s a very college-psych-101-meets-drama-club vibe to it and while the acting and technical execution is great there’s still a whiff of something we’ve seen before in less-competent venues.
Definitely worth watching, though. Here it is.
If there’s a dryer way to deliver what was at the time an amazing piece of technology, I don’t think I’ve seen it. The imagery and that early-’80s background music are fantastic, though.
I have no idea what this is from but I want to live in this hacker’s house.
A 1989 anti-marijuana scare film, starring pre-Beverly-Hills-90210 Kathleen Robertson!
The best part is how it ends with the usual 1980s advice to give anyone who suggests using drugs “crazy” and “edgy” insulting excuses like, “I can’t today, I’m basket weaving!”.
Here’s a roundup of some gorgeous covers of the long-running Popular Science magazine. Retrofuturism bliss ahead!
I particularly love this one featuring automotive issues as devils!
This 1977 game show is an Australian version of The Match Game. Pretty much line-by-line. They even had their own Charles Nelson Reilly!
It’s probably my own ignorance that I don’t know who these celebrities are, but for me this is like what waking up in an alternate dimension in the 1970s and seeing their version of The Match Game would be.
Science Moves The Army
I’m not much of a war guy by any means; I certainly don’t plan to start any myself. This 1950s propaganda film about the role science is playing in military development, however, is still pretty fascinating.
Lucid Dream Machine
How about this crazy 1980s infomercially ad for a Lucid Dream Machine? Also, I’m in for two. Get me Preston Hogarth on the phone.
Bonk’s Adventures Commercial
A super cute animated 1990s Bonk’s Adventure (called PC Kid in Japan) commercial rounds us out this week.
1. Man in Space – Futurist Disney is, without a doubt, my favorite kind of Disney. Here’s a documentary from the early side of the futurist Disney era, featured on the Wonderful World of Disney.
Man in Space is a pretty earnest effort to educate (presumably) children about the mechanics involved in getting a man into space and keeping him alive there for an extended period of time. It combines live action clips and scenes animated just for this film, and both aspects are remarkable.
Walt sets us up for what we’re about to see, explaining that in just the next few years the impossible will become possible. He then turns it over to Ward Kimball, one of the Nine Old Men, to take us through it. Ward also holds a rocket.
The first segment of Man in Space gives us the history of rocket technology, complete with beautiful-yet-occasionally-offensive-these-days animation. Newton makes an appearance, too, and the idea of action and reaction is introduced which will play significantly through the film.
The next section focuses on then-current efforts to get a rocket into space and keep it there. Willy Ley takes over, giving a rundown of what they expect to achieve over the next few years with rocket-stage technology.
Heinz Haber takes the reins for the third segment of the film, discussing the complexities of keeping a man alive and mentally stable in “the incomprehensible nothingness of space”. There are some pretty great animations in this segment featuring the average Joe in space, dealing with things like weightlessness, cosmic rays, and meteorites. Spoiler: the meteorite kills him and then his body boils on one side and freezes on the other. Seriously. This happens in the film.
Werner Von Braun brings it home in the final segment to discuss the future of the American space program, detailing a ‘what-if’ scenario for the next few years that hits surprisingly close to the mark. That’s the thing about this film – for something produced and released in 1955 there’s a lot of dreaming and stuff that never materialized, but also a lot of practical thinking and stuff that did. I think you can say that about a lot of Disney’s futurist thinking, and whenever I read about guys like Elon Musk and their enthusiasm and ideas for the future I get a whiff of the same scent. It’s encouraging, and I wish there were more of it.
Here’s the film.
2. Grill Skill – We’ve recently learned that Chili Can Be Served With Cheese, but here’s a training video from Wendy’s in 1989 that goes into just how that huge grill should be managed. As expected, it’s song-based.
The video follows Bill, a young up-and-comer at Wendy’s, who’s getting promoted to grill duty that day. His manager sits him in front of a television mounted in what I assume to be a corner of the restaurant and gives him a VHS to place into the television. He does so and the TV goes haywire….revealing a rapper!
Bill gets sucked into the TV and ends up in some sort of strange nether region with the rapper and a grill and a supply of fresh ground beef and NOTHING ELSE.
The rapper takes Bill through a five minute song that goes into great detail on how to properly cook a Wendy’s burger. There’s a neat segment where the ground beef itself has cartoon faces and sings about its various cycles of life on the grill.
Did I say neat? I meant horrifying.
Once the rap is done, Bill recites the rap back to the rapper without the benefit of the music. The rapper gently corrects him on a few missteps.
Then (and this was a reveal for me on the level of the ending of Soylent Green or Se7en), the rapper casually mentions that botched/over/undercooked burgers end up IN THE CHILI. Seriously?! Why does that gross me out so much?
Upon proving his mastery of Grill Skills to the unnamed rapper, Bill is sent back out into the real world where he has to prove his mastery to his unnamed manager. There’s a weird sequence of them forming what appears to be a love connection over the grill.
The video then becomes a music video of a bunch of Wendy’s employees singing about Grill Skills. There’s no real value or message or instruction to take away from this video; it seems to be there just to pad the length. Also, a guy plays air guitar on a spatula.
Where “Chili Can Be Served With Cheese” exhausted viewers at 4 minutes, “Grill Skill” runs fifteen! Yet it must be viewed. Do so now.
Don’t miss Dave Thomas there at the end, sitting down to a table with a bowl full of REJECTED MEAT CHILI.
3. Fairfield – Gorgeous ad here from Curtis Mathes for the Fairfield, an elegant combination television, AM/FM Radio, and Stereo.
That Curtis Mathes logo is no slouch, either!
4. Major Matt Mason – Speaking of Man in Space, here’s Mattel’s Major Matt Mason. That’s a pretty nifty spider crawler he’s sporting there on the moon.
5. Meat for Babies – This one makes me shudder. It can’t be real, right? An appalling yet beautifully laid out ad.
Don’t miss those “New! Ready to serve egg yolks!” either!
1. Betamax Salesman Training Video – You might look at something titled “Betamax Salesman Training Video” and think, snoozefest. You might be right! But not this time.
There’s a lot to love about this video – the fashion and set design of the era, the trumped-up abilities of the video tape recorder and, most of all, the smug salesman pitch that makes me happy I was never on a 1977 showroom floor.
The video encourages salesmen to roleplay their sales pitch to each other, and the tension that appears between the two example salesmen when figuring out who’s going to be the pitch-man is a little awkward and…romantic?
Here it is, every talking point of the beautiful Betamax console unit in 6 short minutes.