Children’s Highlights Magazine

Children’s Highlights magazine from 1964

I was a kid who was always sick. I was at the doctor’s office for various childhood ailments ranging from chicken pox to pneumonia. I hated going to the doctor, because it would invariably mean getting a shot.

However, there was a pleasant memory of doctor’s offices of the 1960’s. That was Children’s Highlights Magazine.

Dr. Wendlekin, our family physician in Miami, Oklahoma, had the typical waiting room of the era: semi-comfortable chairs, ash trays, and magazines in a rack with thick clear plastic covers protecting their pages. There were all sorts of different magazines to be found, but I always went for the big, friendly copies of Children’s Highlights.

Highlights was (and still is) a fun read for a kid, particularly an anxious one who is awaiting an appointment with someone who would be prodding him with instruments, checking his pulse with a big, cold stethoscope, and no doubt also sticking him with a needle.

The big, friendly pages had regular features that were eagerly sought out by their young fans. For instance, there were the hidden pictures. A page would be filled with an illustration, and your task was to locate all of the hidden items contained therein. The pen-and-ink drawing would contain some easy giveaways for the youngest, and some tough ones that only an astute eleven-year-old would have the acuity to spot.

The Timbertoes were another favorite. The wooden family would teach us gentle lessons about lightweight matters like the fun things about going to the park, playing in the snow, and other diversions. Not too much heavy learning there. That would be handled by another pair.

Goofus and Gallant got down to the hard facts of life. Do you want to be liked and respected by all? Or would you prefer to be known as a self-centered jerk? It was obvious which of the two was more likable. Goofus would shove old ladies out of the way to make his way to the head of the line, while Gallant would stop what he was doing and assist those who needed help, frequently undoing Goofus’s damage in the process.

The lesson to be learned was so obvious that I wonder why the world has approximately ten Goofuses to every Gallant among its population today.

I also remember the bears. They were a family who would face challenges and have adventures, all begun and concluded within a single page of print.

Highlights would offer subscriptions in every waiting room issue, but I didn’t know anyone who got them at home. No, they were one of two good things about going to the doctor.

The other was the sucker you would receive as your posterior was still stinging from that blasted shot.

Chariots of the Gods?

Chariots of the Gods?

Humans, no matter what generation, have always loved a good implausible theory. Nobody actually ever SAW a dragon in medieval times, but that didn’t stop the hordes from believing fervently in their existence. A comprehensive sonar scan of Loch Ness revealed no evidence of elasmosaurs, yet sightings and fuzzy photos are still produced. And long lines in Peru’s deserts could only mean one thing: ancient astronaut airstrips.

In 1968, Swiss author Erich von Daniken published a book with a question mark at the end of its title that many of its readers felt should have been replaced with an exclamation point. The world was going UFO-crazy about that time, and an official Air Force study, Project Blue Book, was still in operation, investigating unknown aerial phenomena. What a great time to publish a theory that ancient artifacts suggest that we were visited by aliens long ago.

The book was a controversial smash success. Proponents and detractors alike bought copies to examine the evidence von Daniken had amassed.

Basically, his opinion was that many of the great creations of the ancient world were beyond the capability of ancient man. He must have had some extraterrestrial help. Evidence of this included a 16th century Turkish map that allegedly showed the presence of Antarctica. Another artifact that defied explanation was the Antikythera mechanism, apparently a metal geared analog computer from ancient Greece.

Other ancient accomplishments that needed alien help to pull off include Stonehenge, the Easter Island statues, Egypt’s pyramids, and the aforementioned Nazca lines.

As expected, such stretched reasoning was pooh-poohed by the experts, and embraced by much of the general public.

Von Daniken’s allegagtions were, in many cases, quite easy to refute. He showed “ancient” pottery depicting space ships which were revealed to have been made for him by a potter he had hired. A non-rusting iron pillar of unknown origin in India was found to be rusty, and obviously man-made. Plus, his theories were based on his assumption that ancient peoples were savages incapable of anything but the crudest attempts at engineering.

Further digging and experimentation has revealed that the Great Pyramids of Egypt could have been assembled quite handily with a combination of the engineering expertise of their day and a supply of labor. Drawing extremely straight, long lines on the desert floor is not as difficult as von Daniken asserted. And the question of why ancient peoples would create such phenomena which can be best seen only from high overhead, it turns out that a perfectly plausible answer is “well, why not?”

But there’s no doubt that the book was a fun read. And it certainly stirred the pot, causing much more archaeological studies to be done in the name of debunking, which has proven beneficial for science as a whole. And it’s also a pretty cool memory for us kids who grew up in the Baby Boomer era.

CARtoons Magazine

As a kid hanging around Moonwink Grocery, one of my favorite activities (and one of Mark, the owner’s, LEAST favorite activities) was reading comic books. Sometimes, these would be Archie, Batman, or Superman. But sometimes, it would be an issue of CARtoons.

CARtoons was a mixture of comics and captioned photography. The comics included cars with outrageous hood scoops, massive engines, and gargantuan tires. The photos often featured clueless cops. It was all irresistible to a seven-year-old kid.

CARtoons got its start the same year that Barbie and I did, 1959. It was the creation of Pete Millar and Carl Kohler. Millar was an artist and a drag racer. Together, the duo produced what became a memory for Boomer youths of the 60’s.

The magazine came out every other month. Sometimes, it would come out eight times a year. It was sort of an informal situation. But its fans were many, and, well, fanatical.

In 1964, Unk and them varmints made their debut. They were on practically every cover until the magazine received a 1975 rework. Those blasted varmints were always losing Unk’s tools and such.

The format change meant the end of Unk, but was the start of iron-ons that were included. Many a 70’s t-shirt was decorated with hot rod art thanks to CARtoons.

The magazine survived until its disappearance in 1991. (2019 update: it’s back!

CARtoons fans are still out there, though. For instance, the magazine has a Facebook page. There is also a website which has lots of old covers that will bring back memories.

So here’s a fond tip of the hat to CARtoons, a magazine which made many of us car lovers before we were old enough to drive.

Big Little Books

Big Little Books

Big Little Books go back way before Boomer years, yet they were a part of our culture, too.

In the sparse economic atmosphere of the Depression, in 1932, Whitman Publishing sought to find a use for paper scraps that were too small to use in magazines or standard books. Thus, the birth of the Big Little Book, 3 5/8″ wide and 4 1/2″ high, with 432 pages, making it about 1 1/2 inches thick. Truly, a big little book.

The books had lots of illustrations and big type, easy for a child to read. And a child could complete a Big Little Book in a day’s time, proudly announcing the fact to his parents or schoolteacher.

The Big Little Books I remember were the 2000 series, produced from 1967-68. One I particularly remember owning and reading numerous times was about the Man from UNCLE. It was called The Calcutta Affair, and even though I haven’t seen it in nearly 40 years, I can still recall many of the illustrations and details of the story.

Solo to Kuryakin: “You know, if you could eat an egg’s shell along with the rest of it, it would be a complete meal.”

Kuryakin: “I ALWAYS eat the shell.”

Thus, a kid is introduced to dry humor, courtesy of a Big Little Book.

There is a killer website out there called that is loaded with info about the diminutive volumes. In fact, they have an article on the very book I used to own here! Cool stuff.

So yes, we were known as the TV age, spending more time in front of the idiot box than any prior to us. But thanks to Whitman’s Big Little Books, as well as other series aimed at kids, we were also pretty darned well read.

Bazooka Joe

Bazooka Joe cartoon

Sometimes, the Johnny-come-lately overshadows that which he imitates. Such was the case with one Bazooka Joe, who appeared in 1954 as an answer to Fleer Funnies, which had been around since the 1930’s.

Bazooka bubble gum actually appeared in the 1940’s. Topps saw Fleer’s success with comic-wrapped gum, and decided there would be room in the market for competitors. So they created Bazooka, the Atom Bubble Boy.

As is stated in Ecclesiastes, a name is better than good oil. But that was a name that simply didn’t catch one. So the first mascot was abandoned in short order.

Topps put other comics in with their penny gum, but didn’t really hit it big until they dreamed up the character Bazooka Joe in the aforementioned year of 1954.

NOW, they had a hit on their hands. It wasn’t that they took customers away from Fleer’s Pud and his friends, it was that kids just liked bubble gum comics with familiar reoccurring faces. Kids weren’t really sure who was in Pud’s gang or who was in Joe’s, and they didn’t care. They simply bought millions of dollars’ worth of comic-wrapped gum, one penny at a time.

Bazooka Joe’s friends include Mort, who is the one I remember best. He wore a red turtleneck sweater with the neck stretched over his mouth. I remember trying that myself with a turtleneck shirt I had. I wasn’t impressed.

Bazooka Joe cartoon

Other friends included Pesty, Zena, Gloomy Gus, Silent Sy, and Hungry Herman.

The comics were only part of the fun. There were also fortunes printed at the bottom of the page. which were pretty funny. And you could save wrappers and send them in with a dollar to get funky toys and such.

But I never knew anyone who ever actually did so. Instead, we would open the wrapper, pop the pink gum in our mouths, and read the comic. We would pass them around, and then they would likely be discarded.

Enough kids saved them, however, that they are affordable collectibles today.

In the meantime, Bazooka bubble gum has become a worldwide best seller. You can find the familiar red, white, and blue wrapped gum with numerous different languages written on them. The characters also look different based on locale, for example the Nigerian flavor features black characters.

So, worldwide, Bazooka Joe has overtaken and passed Pud for familiarity. But back in the 60’s, we kids just wanted a funny comic to go with our chew. The faces that populated the strips really didn’t matter.

The Attack of the Killer Fan Mags

Tiger Beat magazine from 1973

Once upon a time, circa 1965, teen idols arose and began dominating the daydreams of young ladies. The media industry picked up on this, and began covering the newsstands with brightly colored magazines with titles such as 16, Tiger Beat, and FaVE.

These periodicals were a source of great consternation to young males, who considered the adoring photographs and articles which paid homage to young male heartthrobs as the height of silliness. Magazines were more properly devoted to august subjects such as hot rods and Alfred E. Neuman.

The teen mags would feature pinups, which would adorn the rooms of the sisters of my buddies. These pinups were often the earliest cause of eye-rolling in the male populace, such reactions being provoked at the tender age of five of six, in many cases.

But they are a memory for all of us, whether we scarfed up the magazines themselves and snuck them into class, or whether we simply acknowledged their presence on the magazine racks, as we dug past them for the more socially significant CARtoons.

The fan mags have an origin which is difficult to track down. Their nature defies conventional postings of their histories. For instance, check out Tiger Beat‘s website. With all of the flashing graphics, the exclamation points, and the OMG!’s, a staunch historical narrative of the magazine’s origin would seem out of place.

The Wikipedia entry tersely states that Tiger Beat was founded in 1965 by Charles “Chuck” Laufer and his brother, Ira.

I do know that 16 magazine began in New York in 1957. However, the author of the article stated that the magazine was still thriving as of the 2003 date of writing. I could find no online evidence that 16 magazine still exists today.

Readers, correct my assumption and I’ll happily change this article.

16 Magazine

FaVE magazine was published by the Tiger Beat folks, but vanished at some point in history. There is a Fave magazine out there today, but if you’re looking for the latest dreamy photos of Donny, David, or Bobby, you may possibly find them, but in the context of a gay publication!

Our fellow female Boomers kept these three periodicals, as well as others, on the magazine racks and making money throughout the 60’s and 70’s. And they also kept their bedroom walls well papered with pinups.

I don’t know if my parents were familiar with the faces on the covers. The Monkees were prominently featured, as were David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson, Kevin Tighe, Randolph Mantooth, and numerous other dreamboats.

Looking at a recent cover of Tiger Beat featured at their website, I see Jonas, Taylor, Demi, and Rob. I have absolutely no clue who they are! Were my parents as clueless about the subjects of 60’s and 70’s covers?

Tiger Beat survives today. And obviously, young females continue to buy the magazines, or they would have vanished from the shelves.

Boomer ladies, I have thrown down the gauntlet. My own recollections of 60’s fan magazines are quite spotty. What did they mean to YOU?

Archie Comics, Part 2

Betty and Veronica Double Digest from 2006, with the infamous “new look.”

Despite the sameness of Archie and his friends, they have reacted to the times, albeit gently. The latest dances are always featured, Betty and Veronica are always on fashion’s cutting edge, and even modest excursions into movements like beatniks, hippies, and punks were taken.

But despite that, Archie fans knew that nobody was going to die, a la Captain America, or no quantum leaps in character depictions would ever be taken.

Until December of 2006, that is.

An edition of Betty and Veronica Double Digest came out that month with the girls redrawn to look more human. It was an “experiment” by the publishers to gauge reader reaction.

It was about as popular as passed gas in an elevator.

Betty and Veronica were perfect 10’s long before Bo Derek. They were drawn simply, but their beauty was manifested immaculately in that simplicity. Seeing them drawn in detail was simply horrifying to long-time fans.

They quickly got enough reader reaction to make a statement shortly after that the new look would NOT be tried again.

Indeed, a standardized look to the characters was established in the late 1940’s. The original Archie bore more of a resemblance to Little Archie than his present-day self. He even had Alfred E. Neumanesque buck teeth.

In 1947, when Bob Montana began producing the newspaper strip, his look stabilized. It was cemented in place in 1957 by artist Dan DeCarlo. Except for the aforementioned deliberate attempt otherwise, the characters are instantly recognizable over six decades of publication. And that’s how we fans like it.

Archie’s Gang

The relationships among the characters are consistent as well. Archie prefers Betty’s down-to-earth personality, but he finds it difficult to ignore Veronica’s beauty and bucks. Moose’s girl is Midge, and anyone who thinks otherwise is in BIG trouble. Big Ethel has the hots for Jughead, who occasionally gives in to her advances. Reggie is the thorn in Archie’s side, occasionally proving to be a friend, but most often a snake in the grass. Mr. Weatherbee is the stereotypical clueless figure in charge, perhaps the one who originated all of his imitators in every high school movie. Dilton Doily is the brilliant nerd. He scores straight A’s in Mr. Flutesnoot’s class.

Archie has long sought to escape the comic book pages. There was an Archie radio show on from 1943-1953. A 1990 TV movie was made, showing real actors playing older versions of the gang. It sank out of sight quietly. However, a cartoon series that ran from 1968-1978 was a much larger success. It even spawned Top Forty songs! The Archies were a group of studio musicians that paradoxically scored hits as cartoon characters. Weird, interesting stuff.

But even though all of those series are gone, now, Archie and the gang continue to live their everyday lives on the pages of comic books. The vast wealth of material from over the years means a never-ending supply of reprintable stories, along with new ones turned out every month.

And we Boomers like finding something from our childhoods that still exists today in essentially the same form that we remember.

Archie Comics, Part 1

The Very First Archie Comic, 1942

I had two older brothers growing up. We bonded in different ways. My oldest brother and myself shared a love for science, as can be exemplified by our mutual love for the Mr. Wizard show. My middle brother and myself shared love for things like fireworks, Flipper, and Archie comics.

I was very fortunate to have been taught to read by a progressive-minded kindergarten teacher who was a firm believer in phonics. That meant I could enjoy Archie comics storylines at the tender age of five! And enjoy them I did.

Bill would obtain the comics for twelve cents, and I would get to read them for free! Not a bad deal at all.

The comics that my middle brother and I held in such high esteem got their start back in 1939. MLJ Comics, named after the first initials of its three founders: Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater, began in that year. Two years later, in an issue of Pep comics, a character named Archie Andrews appeared.

His character was based, among others, on Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy character. But instead of Judy Garland, he got to run around with gorgeous girl-next-door type Betty and equally gorgeous rich girl Veronica.

Man, those gals gave me an appreciation for the female body at an early age.

But a recurring theme of Archie comics, which continues to this day, is an inherent innocence and wholesomeness, enforced by fierce brand name protection for any who might use trademarked characters without permission and approval.

The comics grew in popularity, and more and more characters were added, many of whom rated their own series of comic books. Thus, we got Reggie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Archie’s Pals and Gals, Li’l Jinx, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, and even Little Archie, the youthful version.

Life With Archie

Life with Archie was an example of thinking outside the box. This series would look at things more seriously. It featured Archie and pals as super heroes fighting crime, of as tortured teens suffering from angst or temptations. There were even some Christian stories. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, this particular series is one of the most sought after by collectors today.

But by and large, Archie comics were nice, lightweight entertainment. The fact that they continue to sell in the millions over sixty years after their inception proves the value of picking a simple premise and sticking with it.

After all, it’s impossible to picture Archie and his friends protesting the Vietnam war, or introducing a gay character, or taking a stand on abortion. Feminists have vilified the comics for making Betty and Veronica stereotypical beautiful ineffective bimbos, but they are missing the point. Archie is all about the fantasy world of Riverdale. They don’t suffer from mundane problems like AIDS, destruction of the ozone layer, abuse of the helpless, or things like that. No, the biggest hitches that are faced are what to wear to the dance, or who to ask without making the other angry, or facing a pop test in Mr. Flutesnoot’s class.

In other words, it’s ESCAPISM, and we need it badly from time to time. I salute Archie’s creators for staying with the ship’s course. Its continuing popularity makes it clear that it’s a good way to go

Andy Warhol Pop Art

Andy Warhol

One of the best things my parents ever did for me was to subscribe to Life, Look, and Post. The big, lavishly illustrated magazines gave me an appreciation for all sorts of things that I might have otherwise missed out on living in a small town.

For instance, Miami, Oklahoma didn’t have an art gallery. But Life and their ilk allowed me to develop an appreciation for art nonetheless.

An artist whose work appealed to a child like me was Andy Warhol.

Warhol was one of the most famous “pop art” artists. Pop art got it start in the mid 50’s. The unconventional style involved techniques like assembling collages of photographs, or painstakingly creating blown up reproductions of comic book scenes, accurate down to the individual color dots. Warhol’s style, at least in the early part of his career, used silk screens, photograph-like paintings of everyday objects like Coke bottles, and bright, unnatural colors.

A kid would love it. That’s why many art critics spurned Warhol’s art and dismissed it as juvenile and amateurish.

Warhol’s Famous Marilyn

Warhol was born to his Slovak immigrant parents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928. A construction worker, his father died in an accident when he was thirteen years old.

The young Andy had an artistic knack, After graduating high school, he studied art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in his hometown. Graduating in 1949, he got a job as a commercial artist in the advertising business. His work also appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and other New York publications.

Warhol began exhibiting his works beginning in 1952. He was basically removing the line between commercial and traditional art. He once stated “When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums.”

While many critics sneered, the public loved it. Eventually, he dropped out of the commercial business and opened his own studio appropriately called The Factory in 1962.

The factory cranked out lots of art. Warhol would produce prints and silkscreens that could be replicated by his employees. He also designed shoes which they would assemble. Additionally, the gifted but eccentric artist produced many films there. They were pretty strange. For instance, Sleep, his first, was a six-hour film of a man sleeping.

In 1964, an art show called The American Supermarket was put on by Warhol and five other pop artists. In it, he debuted his famous Campbell’s Soup concept. The illustrated painting was available for $1500. He also sold autographed cans of soup for $6.00 each. Either purchase would have been a seriously good investment.

Andy Warhol’s Soup Can Painting

Warhol’s art appeared everywhere throughout the 60’s (including Life magazine and her sisters). But then, in 1968, everything changed with a gunshot.

I’m not talking about Bobby or Martin Luther King. Warhol himself was shot at The Factory by a nutty woman who had founded a group called SCUM (Society Cutting Up Men). Warhol was seriously injured, but survived.

However, his commercial-themed art days were done. When he got back to work, his specialty was portraits of the rich and famous. He eventually opened a nightclub and launched a magazine called Interview.

Warhol died in 1989. His legacy includes many great works of art, both “pop” and more traditional. But if you remember JFK, you likely also remember Campbell’s Soup cans, Coke bottles, or possibly purple Marilyn Monroes hanging on the walls of some of the places you visited, or perhaps illustrated in Life magazine.