Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Signs of the Times: Henry's Tacos, Long Live the Memory

I wish this was a "Chow Time" post but evidently, it was not meant to be.  

Initially I was resistant to the idea of blogging because I am the late adopter of all late adopters.  When technology is involved, I am usually the last person to make the scene.

I have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward anything more
 technologically-advanced than an Apple IIC and a Walkman.
Getting pretty banged up along the way, I guess you could call me a "haggard laggard."

Moore's Technology Adoption Lifecycle

Fortunately, I made the leap, resulting in friends/virtual pen pals all over the world.  Even with this reliable network of cool folks who are always on the lookout for the weird, wild, and wonderful, it never ceases to amaze me when I am alerted to something wacky tacky in my own backyard by someone who lives clear across the country.  Such was the case when our pal Mod Betty at Retro Roadmap, informed us of Henry's Tacos, a googie taco stand in crisis in North Hollywood.  Sadly, after a battle with an evil tyrant of a landlord, this San Fernando Valley landmark closed this month after 51 years of business.

RIP Henry's Tacos - North Hollywood
(photo by iamnotanartist)

Now, technically, North Hollywood is slightly further afield than my own backyard, so Henry's was a place that I did not frequent and had not heard of until the brouhaha surrounding its application for landmark status.  Hearing that its doom was very much impending, we went by twice before its official closing date only to find it well...closed.  At that moment, I would have given anything to sink my teeth into that prime example of authentic Mexican cuisine, the Taco Burger with cheese. hungry for taco burgers....

Nevertheless, I had to be sated alone by the groovy architecture and brilliant signage.

Don't you love it?
It isn't much, but imagine those hot summer nights of '65 with everyone
 hanging out at the picnic tables and chowing down on taco burgers.
It sounds like a dream!

The "tacos" font is second only in greatness to the brilliant color scheme.

I want one of these.
I hoped they would go to the good home of a longtime employee or patron;
I have learned subsequently that they have already found a place
with San Fernando Valley Relics with the idea that they would
become part of a SFV heritage museum. 

Most cases of a hallowed landmark shuttering its doors after decades in business would result in a tear-stained missive by Mr. Tiny founded strongly on the principle of our need to support local, old-timey, family-owned, wacky tacky, mom 'n pop businesses.  In the case of Henry's Tacos, however, the closing was the result of a greedy landlord and a small business owner's desire for recognition as an historic landmark.  I guess the real lesson here is "Go to these places while they are still around because one never knows when they will fall victim to neglect, greed, old age, indifference, or worst of all, 'progress.'"  For fans of the taco burger (I can't let it go), the good news is that there are plans to establish a new Henry's location with the reins being passed to a veteran employee.  Viva Henry's!!!

Henry's Tacos (the building still stands but the signs are already gone)
11401 Moorpark St
North Hollywood, CA

Thanks Mod Betty for letting us know about Henry's, even if we were a little too late - laggards in all things, I guess!


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

wacky tacky Icons: Ethel Smith

Ethel Smith
(November 22, 1910 - May, 10 1996)

It becomes increasingly evident in my old age that there is little to be gained by denying the joy that is inherent in many of the things that I love - uncool though they may be.  We have all gone through phases when our devotion to a particular type of food or music or genre of film seems like it would be unending.  Then, the very something for which we were sure our love would ever be fervent is replaced in relatively short order by something newer/better/more interesting.  One of the few passions that has survived the tumult of my many manias is organ music.  I'll listen to recorded organ music but I've also been known to travel far and wide for anything from sacred to secular, classical to jazz - as long as it's played on the organ.

The Spreckels Organ Pavilion at Balboa Park in San Diego
 offers free weekly organ concerts, usually in a classical style.

Mary and world-renowned theater organist, Bob Salisbury, at the
console of the Avalon Theater's Page Organ on Catalina Island. 

The roots of this interest are firmly planted in the front room of my great-grandmother's home where an electric organ took pride of place.  The bilevel keyboards, the flips and switches, the hum of the console as it whirred to life - what was there not to love?  Being an abject failure at any musical instrument more complex than the kazoo (which still manages to trip me up on occasion), I knew there had to be someone who could make the best use of all the knobs, keys, and pedals.  As a child, my heart was filled and my mind was blown when I first got a glimpse of Ethel Smith.  Smith's appearance alongside Donald Duck and Jose Carioca in Walt Disney's Melody Time proved that the organ was for far more than playing hymns at church!

"Blame it on the Samba" - Ethel Smith & The Dinning Sisters
from Melody Time

There is something about those 1940's shoes skittering effortlessly over the pedals that just sends me.  Yes, you may quickly file that under "Things I never needed to know about Mr. Tiny." 

"Tico Tico" - Ethel Smith

In spite of her acclaimed tours of South America (including a residency at The Copacabana in Rio de Janiero), her famous Latin numbers, and the exotic lilt of her name, Ethel Smith was not quite the saucy senorita depicted in Melody Time.  Born in Pennsylvania, her skill as an organist landed her work in nightclubs, on the radio, and eventually in Hollywood movies.  

Bathing Beauty (1944)

Easy to Wed (1946)

Melody Time (1948)

Smith, "Empress of the Hammond (the Hammond B-3 Organ)" earned her status as, what I like to call, a "novelty star."  A novelty star (see Edgar Bergen, The Nicholas Brothers, et al) isn't a movie star in the traditional sense.  A novelty star also wouldn't fall into the category of character actor (see Eugene Pallette, Mary Wickes, Allen Jenkins).  An anomaly of 30's and 40's filmmaking, the novelty star was a performer (usually untrained in acting) brought to Hollywood for a unique talent that could be wedged, however awkwardly, into the plot of a movie for a dash of non sequitur flavor.  The novelty star, as a device of filmmaking, might be odd and totally disruptive to a film's narrative but that is precisely why we love novelty stars, particularly Ms. Ethel Smith. 

"Para Pan Pin" - Ethel Smith

"By the Waters of Minnetonka" - Ethel Smith

"Lero Lero Bem Ti Vi Atrevido" - Ethel Smith

Briefly married to actor Ralph Bellamy, Smith seemed to find more success in music than in love.  She parlayed her movie mojo into a career as a recording artist and publisher of music arranged for the electric organ.  

Ethel gettin' groovy

We love Ethel Smith because she was an ambassador of both the Good Neighbor Policy and of electric organ music.  She paved the way for many amazing female organists including one of our favorites, Perry Blackwell.  She played with amazing flair and an abundance of joy that radiated off of the screen. 

"Toca Tu Samba" - Ethel Smith

So, how'd I do?  It is kind of a minefield writing at such length about organs without including some sort of cheesy double entendre.  Have you become a fan of organ music too?  If not, don't tell me; just watch every video in this post over and over until you've been converted.  Consider us your organ donors.


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chow Time: The Tam O'Shanter Inn

It is time that I come to terms with my suppressed, yet abiding, love of themed restaurants.  For many years I have convinced myself that much like lactose (and now gluten) I had a severe theme intolerance.  After visiting the Tam O'Shanter Inn in the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, I realized that mine was not an aversion to themes, mine was an aversion to themes done poorly.  The themed restaurants of the 1980's and 90's always seemed too contrived, too plastic, too precious, and too loud.  The Tam O'Shanter Inn (est. 1922) is a beautiful example of a themed restaurant done right and the fairy tale, half-timber, Tudor-revival styling of the exterior gives patrons a delicious hint of what lies inside.

The Tam O'Shanter Inn

While it has endured some cosmetic and structural changes, the integrity of the original concept and design theme is very much intact - praiseworthy in a region where themes come and go (mostly the latter) and where vernacular architecture is quickly torn down or repurposed beyond recognition.  While we secretly think it is kind of awesome, we live in a town where tamales turn into beauty parlors.  Is there no respect for history?!  Well, there is at The Tam O'Shanter; the original family of owner/operators has been serving high tone Hollywood types for over 90 years in the same helpful, hospitable Scottish style.

Given my druthers, I, of course, would prefer the Tam O'Shanter of the 20's

Speaking of old-Hollywood, the roster of diners at Tam O'Shanter reads like a "Who's Who" of Hollywood royalty including one of our very favorites, Walt Disney.  The original Disney Studios were located a very short distance from The Tam O'Shanter and became a regular spot for Disney and his team of hungry animators.

Walt Disney, Tam O'Shanter owner Lawrence Frank, and
  Papa Hemingway architect  Harry Oliver.

Fortunately, the Tam O'Shanter need not only be a place where the elite meet; plebeians and untalented riffraff of every ilk are welcomed.  Knowing this, we made our way there on a recent adventure day.

No, Mr. Tiny, telephone reservations are not
 necessary for an early lunch.

The hearth situated in the restaurant's entry recalls historic, roadside
taverns and inns that dot the countryside of the British Isles.

Wood-paneled nooks with gracious wingback chairs invite
 hungry guests to stay and chat awhile.

For lunch, the Ale & Sandwich Bar provides fresh, carvery sandwiches and pub food including homemade potato chips and macaroni and cheese.

I was a little too shy to ask for a photo of our server, but she
was clad in an outfit not too dissimilar from the one seen on
a Tam O'Shanter hostess circa 1970.

The Tam O'Shanter is a Lawry's restaurant, famous
 for their prime rib and roasted meats of every kind.
Mary ordered her sandwich from one of the master carvers.

Mr. Tiny got the cobb salad - more Hollywood than Edinburgh - but
really quite tasty.

Because it was our first time at the Tam O'Shanter Inn,
 our kilt-clad hostess brought us free dessert!  Knowing I
wouldn't be able to eat any of it, Mary polished it off before I
even had a chance to say, "None for me, thanks."  From what
 I understand, it was delicious...

Sometimes the picture of the food getting its picture
taken is better than the picture of the food itself.

The Scottish theme is evident in every nook and cranny of the Tam O'Shanter's many dining rooms.  Having never been to the British Isles, I can only hope and imagine that, should I get the chance to go, I would be treated to a very similar experience - including the glaring omission of haggis from then menu offferings.  Again, "None for me , thanks."

Given its Scottish - empahasis on the "ish" - provenance and its show business ties, I couldn't help but think of the Scottish number from an under-appreciated Astaire and Rogers musical picture, The Barkleys of Broadway.

"My One and Only Highland Fling" - Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers

Feeling fine after a bra bricht  lunch, Mr. Tiny took
part in that oldest of Scottish traditions, lion surfing.

Sadly, we missed last year's 90th anniversary as wonderfully documented by our pal, Patricia Lynn, over at "Lady by Choice."  But if you're ever in the neighborhood and have time to stop and smell the heather, I highly recommend The Tam O'Shanter Inn.  If its Hollywood history (John Wayne ate here) isn't enough to lure you, then come for the theme; I have truly been converted.

The Tam O'Shanter Inn
2980 Los Feliz Blvd
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Just Because I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi Like You Very Much

I love birthday presents.  I love Christmas presents.  It is a fact that I love presents of all varieties, but usually I protest the opportunity to be a recipient because I was raised with the notion that a gracious decline (see "no gifts please") was good manners.  No matter how much I protest, which I usually doth too much, there is no denying the joy of fiendishly tearing into the aluminum foil (What?  Everyone doesn't ensconce gifts of the heart in food-grade wrapping?) to uncover something that is meant just for me; growing up in a family of five children, there were very few things that I could claim as mine alone.  The only thing better than a birthday gift or Christmas gift, is that gift that comes totally unexpectedly at a time when a little pick me up is needed but no such expectation can be justified because the major gift-giving holidays have just very recently passed - the "just because" gift.  When that rarest species of gifts just happens to be old-timey AND wacky tacky, then you know you have hit the "just because" jackpot!

Many people will say that they were "born in the wrong decade," but I am convinced that the same people would be reticent to abandon the luxuries and basic comforts provided by the modern world.  I see it as an episode of The Twilight Zone - an unwitting protagonist wishes to go back in time but fails to read the fine print and promptly contracts polio and lives in an iron lung for the rest of his life.  Despite the obvious pitfalls of time travel, I will admit that I too have been guilty of spending an inordinate amount of time planning the clever and productive use of a time machine should such a device ever become available.  Few things make the desire to explore the flexibility of the space-time continuum more profound than a "just because" gift I recently received from my pals Jesse & Emily.  Just four words....

Don't you want to live in a time when a South American songstress was popular enough with the whole family to warrant a coloring book?  Even if you didn't want to live in 1942, wouldn't be a nice place to visit?

Carmen Miranda, having been featured previously on our blog, is a true icon of wacky tacky.  Our credo of "More is more," is a natural extension of her outlandish hats, beautiful costumes, and mile-high platform shoes.  Owning this nearly-untouched coloring book is a bit intimidating because the large pages are just begging to be colored (a favorite wacky tacky pastime) but the nagging feeling that it is somehow wrong to color a vintage coloring book can't be denied.  What do you think?

There are a few colored pages but it is obvious that the artist, Mary Ann, applied a gentle and loving hand.

All I want is a trip to Copacabana Beach - circa 1939

It is amazing to me how with just a few simple lines, the spirit of Carmen is captured in the pages of this book.

Thrown in for good measure?

The details are all there, right down to
 those famous platform shoes!

This generous gift is even more meaningful because Emily is a huge, classic movie buff; she has a beautiful blog called The Silver Screen Affair.  For her to have a little piece of movie-related history in her hands and be magnanimous enough to give it to me was a truly kind gesture.  The greatest part about a "just because" gift is the opportunity to pay it forward and make somebody else's day.

"I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi Like You Very Much" - Carmen Miranda

Thanks Emily & Jesse!!! I, yi, yi, yi, yi, yi like you too!!!


Mr. Tiny

Friday, January 18, 2013

Happy 2nd Blog-O-Versary!!

As someone who writes quite frequently, I firmly believe that a notebook on the nightstand is imperative for capturing genius should the muse happen to come calling in the middle of the night.  In all sincerity, it is quite common that I wake up in the wee hours to scribble down the brilliant thoughts whose powers are strong enough to wrestle me from deepest slumber.  Why then, when I am fully awake do these ideas, that to a sleep-addled brain seem like all the wisdom of the ages combined, read like utter and unqualified nonsense?  It has happened before, even when I convince myself that I'll remember every detail of my active subconscious brainstorm, that I force myself to roll over and jot down a few notes only to wake anxious to find something poetic and instead find something woefully pathetic.

Happy Blog-O-Versary Darlin'!

Today we celebrate two full years of bringing you our best in wacky tacky.  I didn't really have a clear direction when I began to compose this post last night so I decided the best thing to do was sleep on it.   I went to bed confident that in the morning the refreshment of a good night's sleep would break my writer's block.  A night of sleep, however fitful, did not disappoint in the brilliant ideas department and I was glad to know that if I didn't have a solid eight hours, I at least had a notebook full of inspiration.

Imagine my disappointment when I got up this morning to see two barely legible words scratched onto the page - "floaty pens."  FLOATY PENS?!?!?!  It all came rushing back to me; I had a semi-wakeful dream about those souvenir pens that have moving sailboats, animals, rockets, baseball players, race cars, and in the case of a secret one my grandpa hid in a drawer, a disappearing bikini.


Instead of focusing solely on the never-ending charms of floaty pens, I thought I'd take a look at traditional anniversary gifts for a second anniversary.  According to several websites, a second anniversary warrants gifts of cotton.  Since, for all practical purposes, I am married to my blog, it only seemed fair that I pick out a few gifts that I'd like to receive for wacky tacky's two-year Blog-O-Versary!

This chenille, Hopalong Cassidy bedspread

This vintage yardage for sale on Etsy

More vintage yardage for sale on Etsy

This hot dog & hamburger tablecloth from The Vintage Table.
This old cotton candy sign...that counts right?

The Yodeling Blonde Bombshell, Carolina Cotton

"I Love to Yodel" - Carolina Cotton long as we're on the subject...

Well, that's about it.  I just thought that I should acknowledge two years of blogging and express my appreciation that you've "cottoned on" to the world of wacky tacky; thank you for your support.  We are closing in on 200 followers and when we do, we'll have yet another big giveaway.  Until then, I remain respectfully yours.


Mr. Tiny