Here’s hoping that everyone is having a blast this Memorial Day! I hope that includes popping lots of bottles with a similar vintage bottle opener as well as eating lots of hot dogs.


If it had a pointy metal end the hot dog’s hair gel/ketchup would look a lot like the ‘Have A Blast” cap popper.


The ‘Have A Blast’ even  has a baby brother:


Obviously the more popular of the two, the baby’s message is almost completely blasted off.

If you had either one of these openers right now you could pop the cap on something cold and celebrate the holiday by whipping up some Festive Hot Dog Soufflé from The New Hot Dog Cookbook, a 1968-updated-in-’83 tome of wiener recipes.


Or if that doesn’t sit right on your taste buds perhaps you could “make your wieners Wynders”.  Trust me, this is worth watching:


If you don’t want to drop coin on buying a Wynder’s Wiener maybe you’d like to spend this holiday tooling your own:


However you spend your holiday I hope you’re doing what you want to do and don’t forget to:



In anticipation of the Memorial Day holiday tomorrow and the many glasses that are about to be lifted these Party Jocs drink cozies make it easy to keep track of your drink and keep your hands moisture free as you chug it down.


Wednesday night I went to my favorite restaurant, Street, in anticipation of lifting a glass in celebration as Chef Susan Feniger won another round of Top Chef Masters on TV.  Not  only was she one of the final four but she had won 75% of her battles so far.


I went with my good friend, Stu James, who was also Harpo in my musical, The Color Purple. Although I didn’t have the Party Jocs with me and no glasses are evident in this photo we took with Susan we were all in a glass-lifting celebratory mood as the show began.


What’s great about being at Street on the nights that Top Chef Masters airs is that not only can you order any of the completely and insanely inventive food on the menu but also little trays of whatever Susan cooks on the show that night are passed around. We started out with Lamb Kakta Meatballs drizzled with date and carob molasses…


… followed by the Tatsutage Fried Chicken marinated with soy, mirin and sake and crispy fried in rice batter, topped with spicy kewpie mayonnaise sauce.


Then came the Burmese Lettuce Wraps with gin thoke style lentils, toasted coconut, peanuts, fried onions and sesame ginger dressing…


.. and the Paani Puri, spiced potato, chutneys and sprouted beans in crispy puffs of yogurt-cilantro water dipped dough…


… with the Brazilian Acaraje not far behind – black-eyed pea fritters with palm oil, garlic and cilantro stuffed with citrus cabbage slaw and malagueta chile sauce.


Then we topped it off with barbecued pork sliders:


Obviously Stu and I spent as much time taking photos of each other eating as we did talking, all the while watching Susan toil away on TV.  The chefs’ challenge this week was to make food “fit for the gods of the heavens”.


Susan was assigned Aphrodite, goddess of love.  She went for it with one of the signature dishes at Street, Kaya Toast.


Kaya Toast  is a Singapore street cart experience – toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam and sweet butter that you dip in a soft fried egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper.  When you bite into it it fills your mouth with such an unexpected burst and multi-textural slide down the throat that your whole body jolts with the sensation. I can always tell when someone orders Kaya for the first time because there’s always a long drawn out ‘oohHHhhhh’ that accompanies it. That’s love. And it’s certainly fit for Aphrodite.

As individual servings of Kaya Toast were passed around to all of us in the restaurant Susan raced to finish the dish on the show.


As the judging began, the whole restaurant got ready to lift their glasses to celebrate yet another triumph. At that moment I wished I had brought the Party Jocs with me so Stu and I could have toasted in style not to mention hand comfort.


But the only thing about the Kaya Toast is that it looks like a very simple dish. Everyone always thinks it’s going to taste like a grilled cheese sandwich.


And that’s what judge Jay Rayner couldn’t get out of his head, that it looked like a PB&J and he didn’t find that very sexy.  So Susan went down in flames…


But I’m here to tell you that it took balls to make a dish like that, on first impression so plain and simple but upon tasting it a cornucopia of textures, tastes and sensations.  So come to Street if you want to taste food fit for the gods. And to Jay Rayner and the remaining three male chefs I lift my glass, now adorned with its comely 1960’s fashion statement, and wish them all very happy highballs as they cook to the finish.



Yesterday, iconic TV host Art Linkletter passed away. Even as a little kid Art seemed a little square to me but there’s no doubt that he pioneered many of the formulas of today’s TV shows with segments like celebrity guests, cooking, talking to kids and audience quizzes. His big two hits which between them ran from 1952 to 1970, House Party and People Are Funny, were massively popular. This ‘party game with cards’ spun out of the latter and continued in people’s living rooms what was so popular on Art’s shows –  getting everyday people to do dorky stunts like trying to cash a check written on a watermelon and make fools of themselves, oftentimes ending up with a pie in the face for failing. It’s obvious that Linkletter’s tactics are still very much alive on TV today.


As simple as the concept of the TV show was, the instructions for this 1954 game made by Whitman Publishing Company, known mostly for the books they made of popular TV shows, are exhaustive. I would’ve been tired from reading them and gone to sleep without starting the game.


But I think the gist is that one card describes an aspect of your character, the second your occupation, the third a hobby and the fourth assigns an attribute to all of it.


Then something like Charades happens. I swear I’d be in the kitchen baking brownies as I have no patience for long instructions OR Charades.


A little known fact about the TV show People Are Funny is that it pioneered computerized dating in 1956, matching up couples who answered questions from a Univac computer.


In the late 60’s, Art made this commercial for ‘Circus-Vac-In-A-Box’ Circus Nuts with his daughter Diane.


They also recorded this message about the necessity of clear communication between parent and child:


In 1972, Diane jumped out of the window and met her demise six stories down. Art then became a crusader for the perils of LSD.


I guess most people would show you a classic Art clip from his most famous tv segment on House Party, “Kids Say the Darndest Things”, but as an avid aKITSCHionado I must fast forward to 1990 and show you Art and his chairs.


So, Art, your time has finally come…


Your People Are Funny game caused people to think about themselves in different ways and try new things and I’m always in favor of that.


R.I.P. Art Linkletter.



This is one of the few food related items that John Lloyd Young didn’t jewel at my place last Sunday when The Allee Willis Museum Of Kitsch & APLA hosted “Food for Thought”, the first ever exhibition of his brilliant Pop Kitsch art interpretations of iconically kitschy komfort foods. Had I remembered where I put it I may have used my Velveeta camera to take some fabulous photos that day.  Lucky for us I didn’t as you can actually see the work and the beautiful Pop Kitsch guests like RuPaul who came to view it much clearer then my little Shells & Cheese Dinner baby is capable of popping out.


John Lloyd’s eye-popping work costs somewhat more than the three Kraft box tops and dollar shipping and handling one had to send in to get this Velveeta Camera when it was made in the 1980’s. The 110 Kodak film cartridge is still inside…


…just as fresh as John Lloyd’s ever-glowing can of Spam.


Of course, my preference would be to dump the Kraft Shells & Cheese Dinner cam and go for John Lloyd’s Kraft Mac & Cheese “Dominoes”. It’s hard to a tell from this photo but he jeweled 100 boxes of it and toppled them out on a 16 foot serpentine table.


In 2006, the musical I co-wrote, The Color Purple, lost the Tony to Jersey Boys of which John Lloyd Young was the star and for which he won the Best Actor Tony.


We hadn’t seen each other since the round of award parties back then but a few months ago he e-mailed me out of the blue and asked if I was interested in writing some music with him. When he came over to talk about it he brought me a gift that he had just made, a jeweled box of Triscuits.


I went completely nuts for the box and encouraged him to keep on jeweling. What I saw over the next couple of months I considered brilliant works of Pop Kitsch art and I decided that presenting John Lloyd’s work would make an excellent exhibition as the first artist officially sanctioned by The Allee Willis Museum Of Kitsch.  My Tony loss to him already made a perfect set up for Kitsch. I also thought that his Pop Kitsch sensibility would inspire mine and make for some excellent party props like this sign I painted interpreting the junk food John Lloyd chose to honor in his work.


We both were hard at work up until the last minute before the guests arrived.


And arrive thank God they did as all proceeds benefited AIDS Project Los Angeles. Those who dug deep included Stu James (Harpo in The Color Purple), Lesley Donald (Buster in The Color Purple) and Jai Rodiguez,


as well as Mito Aviles, Chadmichael Morrisette and Tiffany Daniels (Squeak in The Color Purple) posing with John Lloyd’s very first jeweled piece, “Virtue” (not edible!)…


…and a couple hundred more folks who you can see you right here.

When it came to food there was delicious Moms BBQ House soul food versions of John Lloyd’s delicious jeweled food.

kfc peas

Here’s Charles Phoenix modeling the chicken, peas and mac & cheese with me, Sonny Ruscha Bjornson and Mark Blackwell:


“Food for Thought” was also an unbelievably great excuse to order the world’s largest home delivered pizza…


… and to float individual servings of cotton candy in the pool for guests to snack on.


Here’s a lovely display of Spam that accompanied John Lloyd’s bejeweled Spam…


… and the artist vouching for its edibility:


I must say that despite my lifelong dedication to junk food I never tasted Spam until I spiked a cube here. Not surprising to anyone who knows me I found it very tasty. But I digress.

All in all, it was a wonderful day both as a party host and as a conceptual artist. John Lloyd’s and my work melded into one big kitschified fondue and despite the fact that rain was threatened all week the heavens held up so our eyes and stomachs were able to ingest beautiful works of art that my Velveeta camera only dreams of capturing in their full glory.


For full documentation of the bejeweled food fest go here.

To see how the Los Angeles Times enjoyed it go here.

Photos: Melissa Manning for the Look Partnership LLC


This late 60’s Soul Grabber sign for Budweiser malt liquor is one of my favorite possessions. Everything about it screams late Afro 60’s, one of my favorite periods in Soul. In my personal life there’s one supreme SOUL GRABBER and her name is Patti LaBelle. She was the first singer to start regularly doing my songs, starting with “Little Girls” in 1978 and continuing throughout the years with others like “Come What May” and “Stir It Up”, which won me a Grammy when it was on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. When I first met her Patti also introduced me to Herbie Hancock and between the two of them that led to Earth, Wind & Fire.  So when it comes to grabbing souls Patti got a hold of mine, shook it loose and got it soaring.

Last night I went to a surprise birthday party thrown for Patti. As surprise parties go, as parties in general go, this was a killer, a real SOUL GRABBER. Here I am with Patti and her mom:


And here with Anita Pointer (of The Pointer Sisters, also responsible for me getting that Grammy with “Neutron Dance”), Luenell (hooker extraordinaire in Borat and fantastic comedienne/friend), Bunny Hull (who wrote “New Attitude” for Patti), Constance Tillotson (inseparable from Luenell – we call ourselves Twinkie, Ding Dong and Hostess Snowball):


And here I am with Loretta Devine, original Dream Girl…:


… and Siedah Garrett, singer extraordinaire who also wrote  “Man in the Mirror”:


And for the second day in a row here I am with RuPaul who I just saw at my party:


Don’t worry, I  haven’t forgotten about the Soul Grabber…


Here I am with Charlo Crossley (one of my oldest friends, a former Bette Midler Harlette and also a Church Lady on Broadway in my musical, The Color Purple) and Rudy Calvo, who’s always with Patti whenever I see her:


The great Kym Whitley:


And the so great Brian Dickens, Fantasia’s manager. I co-wrote and just co-produced “I’m Here”, Celie’s big song in The Color Purple, with a live 40 piece orchestra and Fantasia, who starred as Celie.  It comes out July 13.


I still haven’t forgotten about the Soul Grabber…


Here I am DEEP in conversation with the birthday girl:


And with Cheryl Dickerson and Freda Payne (“Band Of Gold”, “Bring the Boys Home” and party regular here at Willis Wonderland.)


And here I am with Norwood, songwriter and owner of my favorite front lawn in LA…


… the one with all the statues of David in front of it:


That house grabs my soul and everyone else’s who spots it and does an abrupt turn off of 3rd Street to park in front and take photos.

So happy birthday Patti LaBelle and may your soul continue to be grabbed so that you may regularly grab all of ours!


Photos: Prudence Fenton and Allee Willis


This vintage cleaning product can may be a little worse for wear but so am I as I hobble around my house shining it back up to its usual state after a couple hundred people trounced through here yesterday in celebration of John Lloyd Young’s debut exhibition featuring his very first works of Kitsch Pop art. I love that cleaning products in aerosol cans were so new when this came out in the 1950s that it was made of silicones (more than 1!) and was referred to as the “push-button cleaner”.


John Lloyd might be referred to as the “push-rhinestone artist”. He does phenomenal work jeweling everyday food products like a box of Cornflakes, a can of Spam and a bucket of the Colonel’s favorite.


Most of the food appearing as bejeweled art was actually served at the party. If you had a couple minutes to spare we would even toast you a Pop Tart.


I’m sick that I didn’t take a photo of the gigantic three-foot round pizzas that arrived to match this piece John Lloyd made of himself holding his Tony for  Best Actor in a Musical for Jersey Boys (trouncing my own musical, The Color Purple, I might add) surrounded by a melange of Tony’s Pizza boxes.


The intricate jeweling doesn’t read well in the longshot so here’s a close up of the pie:


I won’t see all the photos from the party which was a benefit for AIDS Project LA until later today but here are a smattering of some a friend snapped until I post the real deals tomorrow.

Honoree and hostess:


Michael Lerner, me, RuPaul and Charles Phoenix:


Stu James, Lesley Donald (Both in The Color Purple), me, JLY and Jai Rodriguez:


Prudence Fenton, Mark Blackwell and me:


Mito Aviles, me, Tiffany Daniels (Squeak in The Color Purple) and ChadMichael Morrisette:


JLY and me and our shows as bejeweled by the artist:


I need to get  back on my hands and knees and start cleaning so I’m ready to look through the real photos when they arrive later today.  Thankfully, the Bonami can contains handy instructions for how to use the contents:



As any good party hostess knows, one of the biggest drags is seeing a sea of half filled cups littered all over your place left by guests who are on their way to the bar to get a fresh hit because they have absolutely no idea where they left their drink. As someone who is writing this as 200 guests head toward here for “Food For Thought – The Allee Willis Museum Of Kitsch presents The Art of John Lloyd Young” party/AIDS Project of LA fundraiser, I don’t have to worry about such things because over the years I have bought at least 20 sets of these brilliant “What’s Yours?” Drink Markers that you snap on the side of a glass as soon as a drink is poured so the hostess not only knows exactly what’s in the glass to refill it but as each little tab is numbered also knows what drink belongs to who.


The manufacturer seemed to be particularly attached to Bourbon and Scotch:

whats-yours-drink-markers_1966 whats-yours-drink-markers_1965

In case the party host  gets too inebriated to remember that all you do with these little clips is to clip them on the side of the glass. handy idiot-proof instructions have been included.  My favorite instruction is that the host is instructed to carry the box of tabs with them as they offer their guests a drink and ask each of them, “WHAT’S YOURS?”.


Despite the fact that, in theory, this bar accessory serves a very practical purpose the most amazing thing about it is that every time I use these I come back to my glass to find it stripped of its badge. The Alexander & Wilson Co. of Pasadena, California may have put a lot of thought into the concept of their product but apparently not enough into the composition as per longevity. Perhaps the plastic was elastic enough in 1950 to ride the glass as if it were a polo pony and stay on but it doesn’t take more than about 60 seconds for the front of the tag to bust loose from the clip today and land in some undesirable drinking spot like the floor.


Yesterday John Lloyd, the honoree at my party today, and I spent the day setting up.  We did actually have drinks before we sat down to take this photo and would have brought them with us had we remembered where we set them down.


I have no idea why I wasn’t you carrying around my “What’s Yours?” Drink Markers.



Brought to you  in the early 50’s by realtor and insurance agent Joe Hodge this big mouth plastic chef spoon holder, or spoonholder as Joe spells it, is one of my favorites from my collection of fifty or so chefs in the same genre. I especially like this one because of the tongue relief in the mouth/spoon cavity as well as the clef in his chin as most other plastic chefs are flat in both places.


I also like any establishment that might be located on a street named Dairy.


As cute as these vintage spoon holders are they’re incredibly impractical.


If you’re cooking anything on the stove the chef needs to be close enough so the spoon won’t drip all over the place before resting in his mouth. But if he’s that close he’s sure to start melting and will end up poisoning you. So ultimately most of these chefs ended up hanging on people’s walls for decoration as opposed to actually assisting in the kitchen.



Newberrys, before and after dropping the J.J., was an American five and dime store, my favorite genre of store growing up later supplanted in my affections by 99 and 98 cent stores, thrift shops and any other place I could find a wide and often nonsensical variety of goods for bargain prices. These foot long metal rulers encouraging shoppers that “For a Full Measure of Value The Year-Round Shop Newberrys” featured calendars from September 1957 through December 1959, peak years for the chain whose beckoning portals invited shoppers to drop their cash on lots of cheap and oftentimes fantastically cheesy finds inside.

newberry-ruler_2070 newberry-ruler_2069

Although green on green was a popular color combo in the late 50’s it would have been even better if the rulers featured the store’s original gold serif signature logo on bright red that used to spread across the entire width of the top of the stores.


The logo changed over the years, dropping the serifs and going to a more modern script font but very little changed inside and it became one of the more excellent trips down memory lane before all the stores disappeared, gobbled up by time as chain monsters like Wal-Mart, K-Mart. stomped through the land.


This 1928 Newberrys on Hollywood Blvd. in LA is now the Hollywood Magic Shop.


Thank God I still have two full measures of Newberrys..



An excellent sign of Kitsch is when names are bent and mutated to fit a purpose.  This one’s a perfect blend – The ever-Italian Mouseketeer, Annette, with the perfect name (and flip hairdo) to add that guaranteed-to-be-cheesy ‘ette’ onto the end of something to assure its kitschified status.

Annette Funicello’s embroidered blouse may be as snappy as her fingers but nothing’s knocking me more out than her perfectly painted lips. About 20 years ago I was in a thrift shop. It was pouring rain, perfect conditions to hit the outside bargain area where they’ll practically give away things for free on a rainy day just to not have to deal it after.  There was a canvas lying face down on the ground. There was no chance it was going to be good as even if something fabulous was painted on it it was surely now melted from soaking in the bathtub sized puddles. But lo and behold, when I turned it over I almost melted myself. It was a hand-painted portrait of Annette, nary a hair askew, colors as vibrant as the day her ever-present smile popped out of the womb.  And even better, there was a cut out photo of her lips pasted next to her on the canvas and in large childlike scroll this autograph in lipstick:  “To Tony, Lots of luck to you always! Love, Annette”.


This portrait deserves a lot more than a quick mention in a post about something else, even something as great as “Italiannette”. So I merely show it here as evidence that my story above is true as the autographed portrait is deserving of its own Kitsch O’ The Day exploration which will happen someday soon. I think I’m going to put on “Italianette” and enjoy looking at it even more right now.