Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bar Necessities

The 1991 film "Necessary Roughness" was a part of a wave of "ragtag misfits come together" sports movies that were hugely popular in the 80s and early 90s.  It fit right in with movies like "Major League" or "Wildcats" and works for our purposes because it was filmed in Texas.

The majority of the movie was shot at the University of Texas in Denton which filled in for the fictional Texas State University (go Armadillos!) and there are are few other north Texas locations, but what brings us all here today is a bar room brawl at the World's Largest Honky Tonk.

Scott Bakula, Sinbad and the rest of the gang decide to blow off some steam at Billy Bob's Texas in the Fort Worth Stockyards.  Billy Bob's is a world famous bar and entertainment venue that attracts some of the biggest musical acts in the world.  So of course, I had to stop by and see if I could find some of the specific areas where they filmed.

The problem, of course, being that the movie is a couple of decades old and the bar has been remodeled a few times since then.  Gotta get the saw dust off the floors and keep it fresh!  So consider this an exercise in seeing how the place has changed and updated over the years.  For example, you can see that the light fixtures over the pool tables are different.

Seems like some of the neon has been moved around or replaced too.  Normally I try to match up shots as closely as I can but I had to settle for just getting close on this trip.  There are a few other shots in Billy Bob's rodeo area and out front but the main action happened where the drinking gets done.

There's a lot to see in the bar, like the concrete hand imprints of the musicians who have performed there and several celebrities who have visited.  But there's also an interesting prop from a forgotten movie above the dance floor.

The duded-out saddle from the movie "Rhinestone" serves as the disco ball above Billy Bob's dance floor.  The movie stars Dolly Parton as a singer who makes a bet that she can turn Sylvester Stallone into a country music sensation...which sounds like a totally made up movie parody but it was real...and the proof is in Fort Worth!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Shoe Maker

Houston is known for its Art Cars of a variety of shapes, sizes and overall wackiness. One of the biggest and brightest puts its best foot forward at parades and charity appearances throughout the year.  Ronald McDonald's Big Red Shoe Car was made by Texas artist Jason Barnett and I had a chance to ask him about his ultimate clown car.

Texas Pop Culture: How did you get involved with the creation of the Shoe Car?

Jason Barnett: In about April of 2002, a friend of mine was one of the local Ronald McDonald's that made appearances at McDonald's events. He came to me and said that the Texas Gulf Coast McDonald's were looking to have a promotional vehicle made is the shape of a Ronald McDonald clown shoe and that they were going to have some of the local art car parade guys bid and build it. My friend Bill (Ronald), told me of a meeting that was to take place the next day in Houston about the shoe car idea and if I wanted to get a bid in that I had better have something ready by that morning. I immediately did a quick sketch of my idea and built a remote control model of my idea using a PT Cruiser remote control car that I bought and removed the body from.

JB: I worked all through the night and at about 5 am the remote control car was finished. The problem was, at the time I lived in Midlothian and it was a 4 hour drive to the meeting. I drove all the way down to Houston and handed over the car sketches and the remote control model. Bill is the ultimate in presenters and showmen. He waited for the meeting to start with all of the board members at their giant table and then flung open the doors and drove the remote control car into the room. Instantly my phone was ringing and the board wanted to meet. Over the next few months we went back and forth over the design and over a year later I received a check to get started.

TPC: How long did it take to design and build?

JB: The actual construction process involved about two years of hard labor and itching from the fiberglass body. I had underbid the project so badly that I had to take on other jobs to fund the project. If not for that blunder, it would only have taken about a year to complete. As I was building the car, improvements were made to its design. The first thing was that I decided to make the entire nose of the car flip forward to access the engine and I decided to have suicide doors.

JB: The car was about 8ft wide in the front and narrowed down to about 4ft wide at the rear. It would have been very difficult to get to the engine with a normal car style hood. Originally the car was to be built on a 2003 Chevy1/2 ton truck chassis with a 6 cylinder engine. When I went down to buy a truck from the dealership, they made me a better deal on a truck with a V8 and cruise control. I have personally driven the shoe car well over 100mph!

TPC: What was your favorite part of the process?

JB: As far as my favorite part of building the car goes. I would have to say that was when I got the fiberglass body back in from the workshop that hand laid the fiberglass. We didn't use molds. I carved the shape of the car out of huge blocks of foam and then coated them with layers of drywall mud to fill in the imperfections. The giant mock-up was sprayed with latex paint to create a barrier from the fiberglass. Once the fiberglass was laid up on the mockup and cured, I popped the new fiberglass body off of the foam. I still had a lot of hand work to do to the body, but at that point the car was coming to life. Anytime a new part was added- doors,hood, hatchback,etc., it was necessary to drive it around to test for problems and rattles. There was nothing like watching kids and adults freak out as I drove past in the 23 ft long shoe.

JB: I had it in my head from the beginning that I was going to be able to pull this off entirely by myself. Luckily for me, I had a lot of friends and family that volunteered and spent endless days and nights to make this project a reality.

Check out Jason's website for more of his unique work:

He's a very talented guy and we hope to cover his upcoming projects so check back soon for more details!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pros at Cons

These days, if you wanted to, you could probably attend a scifi or pop culture convention just about every weekend.  Sure, you'd have to travel but probably not as far as you'd think.  The act of standing in line to get a $40 autograph from someone who did something you liked has gone completely mainstream as conventions are popping up everywhere, all the time.

But not so long ago these kind of cons were a lot rarer to find.  They were grass roots initiatives by and for hardcore fans that are now the stuff of legend.  One such convention was HoustonCon.  I stumbled across program for the 1974 HoustonCon and today we're going to check out some of the highlights.


If you found yourself cast in a scifi or superhero show today you'd probably have a clause in your contract necessitating a certain number of convention appearances per year (or at least an incentive for those appearances).  That's why you might find half the CW Network in Lexington, KY or Bozeman, MT on a particular weekend.

But in the good old days, actors had to make their own way to cons and it was usually well after their show was off the air.  And if they charged for autographs, it wasn't anywhere near today's prices.  There was a bit of a negative connotation to these appearances back then as it was sometimes seen as a desperate choice for someone whose acting work had dried up but we've thankfully gotten past that today.

HoustonCon '74 had two primary focuses:  old movie serials and Star Trek.   With those themes, these two were pretty good gets.  Kirk Alyn was the first ever live action Superman on film in the original serials and Walter Koenig served his tour of duty on the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original Star Trek TV series and movies.  There were other actors that were willing to brave the Houston humidity that year but these two are probably the best known today.


There were a couple of artists listed in the program but I picked Fred Fredericks to feature on the blog because of his contributions to the program itself.  You can see his two page spread above as well as his work on the cover.  At first I wasn't sure if that character was meant to be the Lone Ranger or not because of the weird netting on his mask, but after some quick research, it looks like it is.

Apparently that's the type of disguise the masked man wore in the first Lone Ranger movie serial.  With the convention's movie serial theme, it makes sense that Fredericks would use this design.  He also seemed to be known for his work on the comic strip for pulp hero Mandrake the Magician as well as several cartoon character comics.


First up is an ad for the "All American Book Store" in Hurst which features what I can only assume is a non-authorized appearance by Captain America.  I'm not sure which artist drew him but I'm gonna guess...the store's owner?  I can't find any confirmation that this place is still open but thankfully the ad includes a handy "map" if anyone wants to try and track it down.

The next ad is a great sign of the times.  This was well before the age of Netflix or video on demand, so if a fan wanted to catch their favorite episode of "I Dream of Jeannie" or 'The Flintstones" they'd have to wait until the rerun was rerun.  These bootlegs were presumably for sale on VHS but in 1974 I can't imagine too many people had VCRs.  Like any good page from a decades old convention program, this brings up more questions than answers. 

In addition to the gems I've posted, the program included con rules and schedules, with an emphasis on their screenings of Star Trek episodes and movie serials as well as bios of the other actors, writers and artists that were appearing.  It's a great window into a different time when fandom was a lot more work than it is today...but it looks like it was worth it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Eat and/or Be Eaten

As you can imagine, the "East Texas Zoo and Gator Park" in Grand Saline is packed with various wildlife but the main event is definitely the gators.  And the best part of watching gators is: feeding time!  Each day at 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM a park employee will bring out the feeding bucket the frenzy begins!

The gators' menu seems to consist of (at least during scheduled feeding times) chopped up chicken parts.  When a piece hits the ground it doesn't take long to end up inside a gator's belly.  Here's a little glimpse at supper time:

 If watching that makes you work up an appetite then the Park has a way to turn the tables and put you in the role of predator by offering a small selection of dishes with alligator meat at the Park's Grill (bottom left):

Behold the Gator Kabob!!

A little small for the price but the gator meat was fantastic.  It was perfectly seasoned and well textured.  The old cliche is that it "tastes like chicken" but this had more of a red meat vibe, probably since it was grilled with similar spices that would be used on a steak.  It wasn't gamey at all.  The veggies were good too!

So whether you're interested in gators eating or eating gators, this place is definitely worth a stop!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Jobe to the Future


"Amazing Stories" was an ambitious mid-80s attempt to capture a little Twilight Zone lighting in a prime time bottle.  As with any anthology, there were hits and misses but it's widely regarded as a show that was "pretty good."

The third episode of the series caught the attention of a young "me" since it featured a world famous landmark I had recently visited...the Alamo!  The legendary Texas battle site was having a bit of a Hollywood renaissance with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Cloak & Dagger making use of the location and now it was time for a small screen adventure.

The elevator pitch for the episode is: a fifteen year old volunteer from the Battle of the Alamo is transported to present day (A.K.A. 1985).  And that's also pretty much a summary of the episode too.  It's not what you would call a very plot heavy entry into the time travel genre.

The story begins during the battle (and uses footage from the John Wayne Alamo movie from 1960) and our hero Jobe (Kelly Reno from the Black Stallion movies) name checks fellow Alamo heroes William Travis and Davey Crockett and is given instructions to take a note to "General Lefferts" on "Shuttlecock Road."

While this is going on, Jobe keeps seeing 1985 tourists pop up in the mission, seemingly unaware of the carnage surrounding them.  He even hears some unfortunate news about the ultimate fate of the Alamo defenders from a tour guide (who probably hasn't gotten to the part about adobe or corn yet).

Sure that's a freaky thing to see but Jobe's a total pro and is determined to deliver the note.  But now it's his turn to time travel on his way out of the Alamo.  After a quick visit to the 1985 gift shop he's kicked out by one of the staff.

If I were to ask you, does that door look familiar?  You'd probably say, "Yeah, that's the door to the Alamo."  But you'd be wrong.  And I'd really stick it in your face in the smuggest way possible.  And then you would walk away from me and I'd be left alone once again with my useless trivial knowledge.

That being said, the Alamo doesn't allow people to film there.  So any time you've seen a movie or TV show at the Alamo, you've seen a sound stage.  This particular faux Alamo door was built for the film "Cloak & Dagger":

And at this point, just as Jobe must come to the realization that he's in another time (which he never really seems to do), we must realize that this episode is passing off Los Angeles as San Antonio.  But at least they make an effort to hide it.  Check out this matte shot:

Well now it's time for some fish-out-of-water shenanigans as Jobe hijinks his way across pseudo-San Antonio in the 80s, while encountering tons of sights and sounds that should freak him out but never really do.    It wasn't too long before it was time for a a classic trope:

Yep, out-of-towner guy meets hip guy.  In this instance the "hip guy" is a break dancer who tells Jobe that he digs his "funky cap."  Just as Jobe seems mildly curious yet mostly uninterested in the future things he see, the people he meets seem to feel relatively the same way.

I guess seeing somebody walking around San Antonio dressed in buckskins is like seeing someone dressed as a Disney princess in Anaheim.  After awhile it just becomes a fairly common part of your work week.

After some additional fun involving bus rides, pay phones, a stolen horse and a police chase, our hero finally gets to his destination.  There was no "General Lefferts" involved with the real Alamo and the real San Antonio doesn't seem to have a "Shuttlecock Road" so don't feel obligated to go on your own Jobe-esque quest the next time you're in town.

The fictional Leffert had a fictional descendant who runs a fictional antique shop where Jobe finally ends up to deliver the note.  Mission Accomplished!  With that done he returns to the Alamo and presumably his own time.  But before he gets there he gets directions from this helpful citizen:

So does this mean that Jobe survived the Battle of the Alamo and had kids?  It's not really clear and I'm not anticipating a follow-up any time soon so we'll all just have to write our own Amazing Stories fan usual.

So once again our beloved Alamo has made its presence felt in popular culture and we all plan our next family road trips to the real San Antonio.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Top 5 Things For Sale at Corpus Christi in the 80s


The Legend of Billie Jean was a teenage rebel movie that was smack dab in the 80s.  It was released in 1985 and takes place (and was filmed in) in the Corpus Christi/Padre Island area.  Helen Slater stars as a well meaning teen who (after an unfortunate chain of events) has taken just about as much crap as she's gonna take and goes on the run from the law with her friends and kid brother.

According to IMDb, the entire film was shot on existing practical locations so you get a good look at that area of Texas in the 80s.  And since the kids always need provisions, you also get a good look at some of the old products that were on the shelves at the time.

So instead of the usual gift shop browsing I thought I'd take a look at what I thought were the Top Five Things For Sale in the movie...or rather the Top 5 Things For Sale Corpus Christi in the 80s.

5.  Gasoline

Any rebellious road trip requires frequent fuel stops.  Movies like these can be snapshots into the culture of the time and one of the things I always keep an eye out for is gas prices.  In the movie gas clocks in at $1.05 per gallon, which seems a little high for '85 but South Padre is a tourist spot so things can get a little pricey.

4.  Almost Home Cookies

Like a lot of discontinued food items, Almost Home Cookies have a bit of an online following.  They were billed as a "homemade" style cookies and were one of the first "soft baked" cookies on the market.  A lot of people forget about the stranglehold that crispy cookies used to have on the market and these were meant to push back against that crunchy agenda.

3.  G.I. Joe Solid State Deluxe Walkie Talkies

This must have been product placement because these babies get a nice close up.  The gang needed to communicate with each other and in 1985 you needed a wheelbarrow to carry around what passed for a cell phone so walkies were the next best thing.  Like most kids of that era, they came in handy when outwitting authority figures.  Another great character touch in the film is the I.O.Us the gang left behind when they needed to "acquire", ya know...they mean well.
 2.  LaserDisc Players

The Lasers Disc format came and went in what seemed like a hurry.  People will swear that they were only around for a year or two but they actually hung on for several years and made an appearance in the movie.  Billie Jean and friends essentially invent social media by recording messages on a "Betamovie" camera and sending them to the media, thereby gaining "followers" of their exploits.  So maybe Laser Discs and Beta tapes weren't particularly prophetic but people's reactions and the cultural influence of self-created media definitely was. 

1.  Matchbox City Garage  

I guess Matchbox didn't have deep pockets like Hasbro because these things were stuck in the background.  For a young boy in the mid 80s there was nothing better than rolling your toy cars around a beauty like this.  Hot Wheels had a similar model but the City Garage has a little more charm if you ask me.

Honorable Mention:  These Wig Holders

These things caught my eye and while they're not technically for sale (the wigs are though) I thought I'd give them a participation trophy.  Mainly because they reminded my of the neck work done by stretchy superheroes like Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four.  I've seen plastic heads that hold wigs before but never the stretchy neck variety.  And now you've seen them too.

So that's a lot of nice finds for a movie I had never heard of until a few months ago.  Surprises are nice but surprises involving laser discs, G.I. Joe and cheap gas are the best.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Hat Man Returns


For as long as I can remember, every year at the State Fair, Big Tex as been front and center in his usual spot.  Even after the fire a few years ago most people just take it for granted that he'll be right where he always is and people have no qualms saying "Meet me at Big Tex."

But since he's not a year 'round kind of guy, Big Tex needs help getting up and around every year.  The raising of Big Tex has become a yearly event that attracts not just the media but plenty of spectators.  It's been almost 15 years since I've attended personally so I decided to go this year.  But first, here's a look at the video I shot way back when:

They've managed to streamline the process over the years and can now get him up pretty quick.  If you plan to go next year, here are a few of the things you can expect:

The Press is There - A Lot of Them

All of the local news channels want to start their evening broadcasts with a shot of Big Tex going up on that day.  There can also be some stations outside of the DFW area that show up: Tyler/Longview, Sherman/Denison, etc.  You never know who wants to make the drive out to see the iconic moment.  There's also tons of stringers, freelancers, photographers, bloggers and anyone else who wants to capture the first moment the big guy makes his yearly appearance.

Spectators Are Into It

It's not uncommon for the crowd to bring lawn chairs and a picnic basket for the event.  Like I said earlier, it used to take a lot longer but even now it can still take a few hours to get Big Tex fully dressed (boots and all) and ready for the adoring crowds.  You can see the kid above doing his best Big Tex cosplay and entertaining the crowd.   The event can be a nice little diversion from day-to-day stress.

People Get Inspired

It's not just the Big Tex kid above who gets creative but other local artists as well.  This year local painter Eric Hanson was creating a portrait of the man of honor while the instillation was happening.  Also tons of professional and amateur photographers get shots that might just be entered into next year's Creative Arts contest.

Everyone's In a Good Mood

If you've ever visited the State Fair before then there's a good chance you have at least one fun memory about it.  If you've been several times then you've probably got several good memories.  Since Big Tex is the personification of the fair, seeing him again is a great reminder of all the fun and happiness the fair can bring.  And that shows in the delight people take in the big guy's return.

We live in an overly harsh world so it's always nice when people can come together to ride some rides, eat some food and have a little fun.  And with Big Tex's return, those good times are right around the corner.

Welcome back Big Tex!