Fluff it up

In 1917, Archibald Query invented Marshmallow Fluff in Union Square, Somerville. Of the many Fluff-focused tributes at Saturday’s Marshallow Fluff Festival, check out games including Pin the F on Fluff Boy, Fluff Fishing, and Fluff Jousting. Artists, musicians, performers, inventors, vendors, and humorists include songwriter Allee Willlis (“Boogie Wonderland” and “I’ll Be There For You”), and Susan Olsen (Cindy Brady from “The Brady Bunch”) whose Fluff-inspired artwork will be on display.Sept. 24 from 3-7 p.m. (rain date Sept. 25). Free (except for food and some activities). Union Square Plaza, Somerville. 617-955-0080. www.unionsquaremain.org/fluff-festival



My time to pay as much attention to my Kitsch O’ The Day blog as I am want to do has dwindled lately because I’ve done what I never thought I would have the guts to do: give live performing a try again after marching off stage in the middle of a song in 1974 and proceed to walk right out of the building, never to return again. Or so I thought… On October 18 I’m going to give the whole thing a go again. As such, I was most ecstatic to stumble on this in the Los Angeles Times, especially as I haven’t really even publicized the show yet, which means they stumbled on it on their own.

If you’re going to be in LA on October 18, come to the El Portal Theater. Leave plenty of room in the aisles as you never know who’s going to be jumping off of the stage. Although I hope that almost 40 years has matured me somewhat and that all my years as a party thrower pay off in this, my about-to-be-most-recent incarnation.

I wasn’t even sure what this was when I saw it on eBay a few years ago but it looked like it couldn’t possibly have been actual sanctioned Beatles swag, and that alone kicks it into a very high level of Kitsch. Besides, just the box – 5″x7″x1-3/4″ with colors so vibrant they make your brain rattle – was worth the 3 bucks it took to procure it.

George and John actually look like George and John.

But Paul kind of looks like a cross-eyed Paul and Ringo looks like Paul-but-not-really-but-certainly-not-like-Ringo.

When something comes packaged in the original cellophane as this Beatles product did it absolutely kills me to open it. But seeing as I really had no idea what lay within I had to carefully slice through the cello to reveal this:

100 tiny packages of Beatles pomade:

Greasy, waxy hair product that the Beatles never would have used on their Beatle hair as the whole point was that it bounced all over their head in rock ‘n roll defiance.  The wax still retains its original squish:

Now that the package is open to reveal the secrets within, my whole house smells like the bathroom at a Chinese restaurant circa 1964. Maybe because it was made on that side of the world that long ago.

That smell isn’t the best smell in the world to inspire brilliant music, which I have to write today, so I’ll confine myself to looking at the  box, not smearing anything on my head, and pray the Beatles vibe enters without rubbing it in with pomade.

I’m not sure what goes on in Dyersville, Iowa but I sure hope it’s not a factory that specializes in turning out coffee mugs as this is one of the most seriously ugly ones I’ve ever seen. And, trust me, as a purveyor of kitsch I’ve seen a lot of them. If this is truly “Where Dreams Come True”, I hope that at least one Dyersville citizen is dreaming about a new coffee mug design.

The trees are in relief so your fingers bump up and down as they rest on the cup. There’s a layer of nice green ones that are then mysteriously covered over by a layer of brown and dead looking ones. It actually looks like there was a more intricate design underneath but the bowel brown trees apparently appealed more to the artisan.

Okay, I just googled Dyersville and I think the mystery is solved! According to the Chamber of Commerce, Dyersville has a population of 4000 and is known as the Farm Toy Capital of the World.  I would suggest the next run of mugs should feature miniature tractors and the like but that will never happen because of this: “Dyersville is also the home of the Academy Award nominated film, Field of Dreams.” Which explains the over-forestation on the coffee mug. Though I believe that a field consists of a patch of cleared land. Next time I hope someone mows the mugs before they hit the shelves.

I absolutely loved The Fifth Dimension. I loved Jimmy Webb and I loved Laura Nyro, the songwriters who wrote some of their biggest hits, both of whom were major influences on my songwriting career and the latter of whom was one of the first artists I worked with when I got a job at Columbia and Epic Records fresh outta college. Nyro wrote songs like “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stone Soul Picnic” and “Save The Country” while Webb wrote The Fifth’s first major hit, “Up Up and Away”, as well as “Carpet Man”and my favorite though slightly more obscure Fifth song, “Paper Cup”.

My 7-Eleven Slurpee cup may not be a paper cup but it’s plastic and lasts forever which seems like it would have been a more appropriate kind of cup for Jimmy Webb to write about crawling into and wanting to live forever.

The likenesses on this plastic Slurpee cup bear little resemblance to the real persons.  For example, here’s Billy Davis, Jr. in plastic next to Billy Davis, Jr. in real life:

They didn’t even get his signature pencil-thin-mustache-that-turns-into-a-goatee and certainly shortchanged him on his Afro. 7-Eleven did a better job on some of the other 1970’s rock star Slurpee cups I’ve collected:

Though neither Smokey Robinson nor Grand Funk seemed the types to merchandise themselves by aligning with a convenience store, especially as this kind of stuff was rare in the 1970’s, but maybe they liked Slurpees as much as I did. The Fifth Dimension seemed a more likely choice because of their sugary and delicious pop sound.


I bought my first African American church fan in the late 1970’s but my collection really kicked into gear after I worked with James Brown in the mid-80s. He always told me my music was so hot and picked up the fan to “cool himself down”. So after that I always bought the fans when I saw them cheap enough. But the collection blasted into overdrive when I began writing The Color Purple musical in 2001. The very first time Alice Walker, the author of the original book, came over I gave her her choice of over 50 fans.  I used them all the time with Brenda Russell and Stephen Bray, my music co-writers, but sadly can’t seem to find any photos of us cooling ourselves. But anytime anyone came over to hear any of the music they always listened with church fan in hand. I think we had just finished one of the Church Ladies’ songs when this group, including Alfre Woodard, Lorraine Toussaint, Stephanie Burton, Peter Hastings, Roderick Spenser and Maggie Wheeler (Janice on Friends), came over.

Screen shot 2010-09-30 at 8.53.02 AM

As often as they came from churches, the fans were also a hot promotional item given out by funeral homes. They usually portrayed a gorgeous, dressed in their Sunday best, peaceful looking, happy family. The fans I’m featuring today aren’t necessarily my favorites so much as I love that they all feature white hats. This first one comes from the Brown & Robertson Funeral Home in Picayune, Miss. According to the back of the fan, they offer “A Dignified Service in a Sympathetic Way”.


This next one comes from the Jones-Gaines & Sons Funeral Home in Topeka, Kansas, “Serving Topeka Area Families With Over 51 Years of Courteous and Efficient Service”.


This one’s courtesy of the Dykes Funeral home in Covington, VA. “Consideration for the Living–Reverence for the Dead”.


And finally there’s this one from John Q. Adams of Victoria, Texas that says simply “Ladies Hose & Shoes”. I’m assuming that that does not refer to a selection in the funeral home so I guess the fans were available to any business that wanted to hand them out.


I took a fan with me last night when I crawled along the 101 to Thousand Oaks to see the Second National Tour of my musical, The Color Purple. After 2-1/2 years on Broadway and a three-year First National Tour, this was going to be my first time seeing this all new production and cast.


There was a huge traffic jam on the freeway for about 7 miles because of an accident on the other side.  Los Angeles has just gotten over record-breaking heat so people were a little more cuckoo in their cars than usual. I stayed cool because I had my fan and sensible shoes for driving.


I wish I could say that the show was fantastic but I ended up staying in my car on my Ipad for most of it because an idea I’ve been attempting to massage out of my head for several weeks finally decided to spill out while I was in line at Weinerschnitzel.


So I spent most of Act 1 pounding away in a parking lot under the glow of the yellow W neon.  Having driven all the way to Thousand Oaks though, I made myself get to the theater.


I walked in during “Uh Oh”.


But this idea kept smacking against the front of my brain and I couldn’t open my Ipad in the theater because the last thing I wanted to do was distract anyone in that audience from what was going on on stage. So, knowing I had tickets to see the show the rest of the week, I joined my now-sitting-in-the-car-way-too-long-to-eat Wienerschnitzel and fan and headed back home.



I’ve long said that everything about and around a person is a vehicle for self-expression. I mean the way you dress, how you decorate your living space, your hair, the plaster frog family on your front lawn, everything in your personal, physical and virtual environments is a canvas on and through which you show the world who you are. The driveway at The Allee Willis Museum Of Kitsch at AWMOK.com is packed with cars, campers and trucks that scream the personality of the person behind the wheel. Here are but a few examples of some such “I Am” vehicles.  Click any of them for more info.

Were I to drive a truck it would most certainly look something like this:


If I were taking a summer road trip, here’s what I’d be steering:

Screen shot 2010-08-04 at 9.01.56 AM

Were I of that persuasion and super friendly with God I’d  be pullin this down the highway:


If I were a butcher I might drive this. Then again, as far as “chick magnets” goes, this is the ultimate cock car:

Screen shot 2010-08-04 at 9.04.21 AM

If you were Angelyne you’d be tooling around the streets of LA in this living monument to cheesedom in stardom car. If you were lucky enough to be friends with Angeline you’d be tooling around with her.

Screen shot 2010-08-04 at 9.09.40 AM

If you like peas this vehicle is for you:

Screen shot 2010-08-04 at 9.12.38 AM

If you don’t like vegetables perhaps you like fruit:

Screen shot 2010-08-04 at 9.22.50 AM

Harry And David made a whole business of fruit. Here’s what they commissioned to have made in 1960:


If you’re a crafter, this muffler car might be more your speed:

Screen shot 2010-08-04 at 9.27.45 AM

If you’re really bad at directions this 1940’s coupe is for you:


Here’s a nice Sunday car:


If you need a tuneup or your teeth cleaned you might want to stop here:


And, of course,  if you don’t want to take the highway you can always fly.

Screen shot 2010-08-04 at 9.30.54 AM


I never really watched Murder, She Wrote during its run on CBS from 1984-1996. I was in a very heavy songwriting and technology phase and although I always had the TV on – or should I say TVs as I had 28 of them at the time, one against every wall in each room so I wouldn’t miss a moment – I never had the sound up. All I ever watched then anyway were comedies. I didn’t have the patience for any of the more complex murder shows. To appreciate and understand what was going on in them I would have needed the sound up and once that happened it became more about me listening to the score and looking at the hairdos and fashions than actually following the plot. Following the intricacies of a murder case demands concentration. Just like trying to figure out how to play the Murder, She Wrote game does:


I know the rules are too hard to read this small but I devoted 500 pixels to trying to make them readable and, in my opinion, anything that’s supposed to be played for fun should not demand this arduous of focus.

I also don’t like boardgames or books or any other kind of memorabilia based on something that began as a TV show when you don’t get an actual photo of the star.


Although this illustration kind of looks like a (Paint-By-Number) Angela Lansbury it also looks like 3 trillion other women who didn’t start using skin cream early enough and have always kept their hair in a convenient and generic bob.   I should know as I’ve seen the real deal Jessica Fletcher up close and personal when I was up for a Tony in 2006 for The Color Purple.


In 1995, Murder, She Wrote met its demise when CBS moved it to Thursday nights where it crumbled faster than a lame alibi against NBC’s reigning behemoth, Friends.  Normally I wouldn’t be happy to see someone as iconic as Angela Lansbury slide down the tubes but seeing as I wrote “I’ll Be There for You” (the theme from Friends) if someone had to win I’m glad it was who was paying me royalties and not the series that spawned this board game.

murder-she-wrote-game_3660 murder-she-wrote-game_3667 murder-she-wrote-game_3663


chuckwagon-airstream_2324 2

It’s no secret that one of my favorite genres of Kitsch is when something goes tragically wrong in the manufacturing process of the product yet it still hits the store shelves. In this case, the fumble occured on the packaging assembly line. Inserted snuggly inside The “Chuckwagon” combination salt and pepper shaker box is one combination salt and pepper shaker that, in the spirit of the old West, reads “Travel Joy, Travel Luxury – Airstream”. I don’t know about you but the last Airstream I saw didn’t have a wagon wheels and wasn’t being pulled by a horse.


There’s not really anyone to blame as there’s no sign of a manufacturer anywhere on the box or on the shaker itself. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before in a commercial product. It’s as if they knew they were going to insert the wrong thing in the wrong box and didn’t want to be blamed when that happened.


Whatever the reason for the forgetfulness or sloppiness or just plain brain-tweaked-so-tight-these-kind-of-mistakes-are-bound-to-happen,I for one am ecstatic because it has given me a completely unique piece of Kitsch from something that, if they had just decided which product it was, The”Chuckwagon” or The “Airstream”, would have been very cute but not as KITSCHTASTIC as it is now.



In 1973 when the Ronco Miracle Broom sprung on the market half of the households in America started vacuuming their shag with this revolutionary cordless electric vacuum cleaner.  That’s reason enough to collect it now but with products like this, especially those made in the 70’s and especially in the genre of products sold on TV – the Miracle Broom was among the first of hard-sell filmed TV commercials hawking new and unique products birthing what would later be known as the infomercial – oftentimes the box was as good as the product that came in it. Not to say that this Streamlined Moderne-meets-70’s-modern looking gadget isn’t great in and of itself but the graphics showing suggested uses of the product are even better. Blown out color, cheesy furniture and excellence in hand modeling being some of the pillars of that greatness. Here’s one of my favorite shots:


The crumbs are SO over-exaggerated. I’d like to know who eats toast leaving crumbs this big and in this formation? Only a chipmunk or someone without teeth was capable of creating this mess.

For this shot Ronco spared no expense on the tablecloth. Then again, they wanted you to concentrate on the crumbs. Seems to me they should’ve called the toothless person back to create better crumbs though as these don’t seem that serious.


I love how the ashtray is overturned in this next one. Even more, I love the pattern on the tie of the man wielding the Miracle Broom. Even more, I love that Ronco was evolved enough to have men doing some of the cleaning.


I can’t figure out what spilled on the following car seat. It’s somewhere between Red Hots, vomit or that crumbled fauna stuff you buy at craft stores to make little trees out of.


The Ronco Miracle Broom was the stuff of legend in the 1970’s, a massive lunge forward in the revolution of products designed with style, convenience and innovation in mind that began in the post-World War II Atomic Age. I may have shed the shag carpeting over the years but the double D’s are always on hand to pop into my Miracle Broom whenever I’m too lazy to completely chew my toast.