Margaret Keane is the High Priestess of Pop Art, painting those huge waif eyed paintings that stared out at everyone throughout the 60’s and 70’s and are still copied and emulated to this day.


Last Thursday night I got to see not only so many of the original historic paintings but new works by Keane as well who hasn’t lost a gnat’s hair of technique.


This happened inside one of the greatest places in LA, the Phyllis Morris Showroom. Although Phyllis herself, creator of the original poodle lamp and unquestionably one of the greatest designers who ever lived at the high and artful end of Kitsch, isn’t still with us her creations very much are. Being in the actual presence of Keane and surrounded by both women’s work which not only dominated the eras they came from but still impact Pop Culture today was about as uplifting and exciting an art moment as this Pop artist could have. (I guess I’d have to throw in the time I walked past LA Eyeworks and through the window saw Andy Warhol staring at a motorized piece of art of mine for over five minutes. Him calling me a genius when I walked in was a watershed moment.)

There’s a movie in the works about Margaret Keane with Kate Hudson signed on to play Margaret. Her story is fantastic. Her husband, Walter, was a crafty businessmen and convinced his wife to basically paint and shut up. It was his name that was on all of her paintings and it was he who made multiple appearances on Johnny Carson, did all the interviews and got all the glory. Margaret is still very soft-spoken but came to her senses in an infamous 1965 court case during their divorce when she rightfully and finally claimed that the paintings that made Keane a household word were actually hers. When her husband called her a liar the judge set two easels up and asked them both to paint. Margaret got up and knocked out one of her famous big sad eyed paintings while Walter complained of a sore shoulder and sat there like a lump. Feminism was at its height and Margaret instantly became an Olympian sized champ.

I only own some Keane prints from back in the day. I would have loved to have bought one of her paintings last Thursday but as opposed to the few dollars they cost in the 60’s they now average between $75,000 and $225,000.

As far as Phyllis goes, I hope to go back to the showroom to shoot a video with Jamie Adler, Phyllis’ daughter who runs it now and is a fantastic designer in her own right.  Her mom set the bar for merging Art and Kitsch, magnificently over-the-top Baroque creations that remained totally tasteful and full of importance and humor.  Throughout the four decades she was designing, Phyllis’ oversized beds, chairs, wall units and accessories filled the homes of folks unafraid to embrace their own uniqueness and style like Liberace and Elvis Presley. Here’s Phyllis and her dyed pink poodles in 1953 with some of the first poodle lamps that rolled off the assembly line:

Now back to the showroom Thursday night:

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Thank you, Margaret and Phyllis, for the never-ending inspiration, talent and fun!

Main Photo: Katy Winn


Passover means Seder, Seder means matzoh and matzoh means crumbs. But fear not, the Matzah Sweeper is here, a convenient crumb caddy made from plastic that could not have cost the manufacturer much gelt because it’s so clunky to use.  After having decimated at least half a box of matzoh trying to get my favorite unleavened bread topping, peanut butter and jelly, spread evenly across it there were enough crumbs to make it look like my kitchen table was covered with snow.  But despite the fact that it says “press here”…


after five minutes of trying to pry it open pressing everywhere imaginable I gave up trying to crack the Matzah Sweeper open to dump the crumbs. I finally used it, full of crumbs,  as a  percussion shaker on a song I was working on yesterday. The trade-off worked out nicely.


One of my favorite things from a Kitsch perspective about matzoh is that there’s no clear correct spelling of the name. Sometimes it’s matzo, sometimes it’s matzoh and for the Rite Lite company of Brooklyn, New York it’s apparently ‘matzah’.


And now, an extra Passover bonus! Please enjoy The Temptations circa 1968 singing a Fiddler on the Roof medley. The visual quality of this clip is beyond chaluscious (sp? Yiddish for ‘atrocious’) but to hear this score sung this way will add a little pinch o’ soul to the matzo brei and gefilte fish and ensure you stay in the groove this Passover season.



Manischewitz is the premier manufacturer of kosher foods. I can’t tell you how many boxes of their matzo or those squared off bottles of wine sat upon seder tables of my youth but one Manischewitz product I never saw before is this special edition single released in 1958. I never even knew there were Jewish cowboys let alone that Harold Stern was one of them.


Stern regales us with almost 9 minutes of chatter about being a Jewish cowboy and the joys of Manischewitz.


Many famous songwriters have been Jewish, among them the very founders  of Pop music like George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein, but who knew about “Avram”?!


This record is fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which is that it was put out by a big legitimate company yet it’s just a demo, not an officially recorded record.


I personally usually love demos, what the songwriter records as their idea of the song, better than the actual records made of them. But back in the day, very few people who couldn’t afford to go the full record route copped to the fact that what they were putting out was the demo. Here they didn’t even spring for a back label.


Who knew that Centerville, Texas was such a hotbed of religious passion?


I always liked Peanut butter and jelly on my matzo.  Perhaps I’ll crack open a box and spread a little of that on now, fill my Swinger Glass with  grape wine and lie back and enjoy all the fruits of Manischewitz and The Jewish Cowboy’s labor.



I first got into throwing parties, my favorite thing to do among everything I do, by inviting friends over on Sunday afternoons to watch Bad movies. I was long aware that environment totally influences anything that happens inside of it and the bad films allowed me to ratchet up my collection of Kitsch to enhance viewer experience. Grabbing candy out of a plain white bowl was just that, grabbing candy out of a plain white bowl, but sticking your hand into something like these incredibly cheap sawed-in-half plastic beer bottles acted like Mind Control pulling my guests further into the inane madness of classics like  “Monster from the Surf”, “The Lonely Lady”, “Attack of the Mushroom People”, “Black Shampoo”, “Plan Nine from Outer Space”, “Puma Man” and other Academy-Award-worthy nominees for Worst Film Ever in my never-ending collection of cinematic clunkers.

There are several things that set these ‘novelty nut dishes’ apart as outstanding artifacts of Kitsch. 1) They’re so incredibly cheaply made that they crack as soon as you breathe on them:


2) They’re apparently called “Beer Friend”…


… though the name “Beer Friend” appears nowhere on the box:


3) The realllllly cheap, mushy, squishy cardboard box with its 4) tag line, “Perfect for candy, too”, with a misplaced comma not to mention the aforementioned 2) absolutely no mention of “Beer Friend” despite it being embossed in big letters on the back of the “bottles”.


If you’re not doing anything  when you read this grab some nuts and a cold beer (neither of which are particular favorites of mine) and watch one of the above mentioned movies. Your day will improve immensely.


Although one of these little fish was a victim of the 1994 LA earthquake and lost the tip of her fin this happy couple are still among my favorite salt-and-pepper shakers in my collection of 1000 or so vintage ones. Though any ceramic animal, fish, vegetable or otherwise that has eyelashes immediately leaps it to a higher ranking in the army of Kitsch over here.

The only drag about these stone cold 1950’s/ Made in Japan amphibians is that the holes drilled for the S&P to come through are so huge that once you flip the fish over the entire Morton Salt mine blankets the food like an avalanche. Over the years I’ve learned how to bend my wrist just so in order to release the desired amount but they still terrorize dinner guests if I haven’t remembered to swap them out for a pair with more delicate holeage.

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As if knee high stockings weren’t Kitsch enough I love that Sophia’s desk is a dining table.

I can’t imagine anyone whose skirt is that short getting away with knee-hi’s. Apparently Sophia thinks this look is fashionable which is good as for sure once she removes them the impression left by the elastic will remain pressed into her legs for a good half  hour more of leg fashion. But perhaps they don’t bother her because, unlike in real life, they’re not even visible in the photo.


Anyone who’s worn this type of stocking knows they end up choking your legs, getting more and more hideous and annoying as they roll progressively down your gams until they finally turn into little roly-poly worms making your ankles look fat. As close as these things will ever get to my legs is contained in the cellophane on display in my bathroom.

Sophia’s pearls go nicely with her stockings.

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Unless you were Frank Sinatra Bing Crosby was about as big as you could get in the 1950’s. Big enough to rule the Hit Parade AND in 1953 get his own brand of ice cream. He even owned the brand, Bing Crosby Ice Cream Sales, Inc., Hollywood, California, which he licensed to Valley Farm’s (excellent use of a misplaced apostrophe) who  promised that the contents was of  “Cream of the Stars” quality.


This carton was one of my earliest vintage possessions. When I first started  seriously collecting in the early ’70s I used to spot these  in thrift shops all the time. In the 80’s I used them a lot in my collage art figuring I’d always be able to find more. But now they’ve gotten appropriately rare so all I have left is this one faded carton with hardly any Bing left and a photo of a flattened carton I took when I stumbled on a whole case of them back in the day.


I wish there was still ice cream in the carton because if it was half as smooth as Bing sang it would be one tasty lump of sugar stuff. And it certainly would’ve gone well with the Allee Willis Ho Ho (yes, that’s the real name) dessert I shared last night at Street, my fave restaurant in LA (which I co-own), with John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys (to which my very own Color Purple lost for Best Musical in 2006). John’s as smooth a singer as Bing.


You may think it’s a stretch to connect an ice cream carton to Ho Hos and then to John but if you knew what we were cooking up together you would  see that it was the most direct link possible. Let’s just say that John loves cartons and I love what John does to cartons and Bing Crosby graced a carton so all ends meet perfectly in the middle.

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These little hard plastic record coasters were all the rage in the 1950’s and 60’s when 45’s and 33-1/3’s were blasting from hifi’s all over the world and Tom Collins, Manhattans and Hi Balls were resting on them as everyone did The Jitterbug and Stroll, topping it off with The Twist.   Some of the coasters were just cheesy versions of records featuring hit drinks:


Others used them as an advertising tool:


All of them came in handy little record jackets:


They were cute and practical as water rings no longer ruined blond wood kidney shaped tables and other groovy Atomic furniture the drinks were set upon.

I had a set of these last night with me in the recording studio so I didn’t leave rings on the mixing console. Although we’re not holding our drinks or displaying our coasters they were there in full force. I wanted my mind in peak enjoyment mode as I got to hear/produce Fantasia recording my song, “I’m Here” from my musical, The Color Purple, LIVE with a 40 piece orchestra.

fantasia,aw,im-here_6984(L-R) Frank Filipetti (engineer), Brenda Russell (my co-writer/ co-producer), Stephen Bray (co-writer/ co-producer), Joseph Joubert (arranger, conductor), Fantasia, Greg Phillinganes (keyboard player extraordinaire) and me (co-writer/ co-producer).

I’ve been collecting these coasters long enough that I could have brought one for everyone but the night was about making music and not decorating so the bulk of my stash stayed safely at home awaiting the next cocktail, Slurpee or Vernors to be placed upon it.

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In the 1950’s, people were very creative about how they packed their liquor to self medicate at ballgames, in cars or just to show off at parties.  This flask, sold in magazine catalogs and naughty peep shops, was one of the most popular ones around for very obvious reasons.


Made by Master Plastics, BB stands a lofty 7 inches high and contains enough liquor to do the trick several times over. No double entendres intended on the words “high” and “trick”.


I love the bikini line in the lower 40.  Although it doesn’t continue in the back so maybe she just oinked on a few ounces.

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Nothing like using a clown to sell inebriates to get a kid revved up for adulthood. This 26 foot high sign has been a landmark in North Hollywood, CA., featured in enough movies to get a horse drunk. I’m happy whenever I drive by it but still think mixing an icon of childhood with liquor probably happened because the store owner was drunk when he thought of it.