Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

23 AUGUST, 2010

Everyone’s Favorite Guessing Game: 7 Must-See What’s My Line Episodes


What girdles have to do with civic activism.

In the 1950’s, the popular TV gameshow What’s My Line? cemented America’s relationship with television as an entertainment medium and a voyeuristic window into celebrity culture. The premise of the show was simple: In each episode, a contestant would appear in front of a panel of blindfolded culture pundits — with few exceptions, a regular lineup of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, actress Arlene Francis, Random House founder Bennett Cerf, and a fourth guest panelist — who would try to guess his or her “line” of work or, in the case of famous “mystery guests,” the person’s identity, by asking exactly 10 yes-or-no questions. A contestant won if he or she presented the panel with 10 “no” answers.

Over the 17-year run of the show, nearly every iconic cultural luminary of the era, from presidents to pop stars, appeared as a mystery guest. Today, we’ve curated 7 must-see What’s My Line? appearances by some of history’s sharpest minds and most compelling creators.


In a WML episode that aired on January 20, 1952, Salvador Dalí is assigned the line “artist” and identified as “self-employed.” But the real comedic genius of the footage is that the great creative cross-pollinator answers nearly all questions in the affirmative, to the audience’s exponential amusement, not with the intention of misleading the panelists but merely as a reflection of his vast intellectual curiosity and creative output — our kind of character.

There’s nothing this man doesn’t do! What we have to guess is an all-around man.”


On November 11, 1956 — just a few months after the grand opening of Disneyland — Walt Disney appeared as the mystery guest on WML. One particularly interesting piece of the conversation unfolds when Daly asks Disney’s opinion of television, which he had just recently begun dabbling in.

Well, it’s wonderful. You get to reach people in a sort of an immediate way. With pictures, you work for years and then it’s quite a while before you know how what you’re working on is going to come out, how it’s going to be received, but with television you know, well, in a very short time.”

We’re left wondering what Disney would make of the Internet, with its even more instant gratification yet ever-harder to decipher impact.


From the impressive pretend-accents and speech impediments to the priceless facial expressions to the facetious disregard for the show’s rules by dodging yes/no questions with lengthy, Yoda-esque answers, Hitchcock’s performance on WML is just that — a performance, and an outstanding one at that.

I was hoping to see Marilyn Monroe here tonight, but I didn’t hear any ooh’s and ahh’s, so I take it you are not Marilyn Monroe. Is this correct?” Hitchcock: “It is impossible.”

Hitchcock’s humor is unparalleled and particularly fascinating in contrast with the dark, often grim undertones of his films.

Daly: “Did you ever make a picture in which you haven’t appeared, in one time or another?” Hitchcock: “The indignity of being a ham is thrust upon me.”


In 1954, an elderly yet razor-sharp Eleanor Roosevelt took her seat at WML for a near-silent performance.

Are you now or have you ever been associated with politics?” “The answer to that would have to be a ‘yes’ … but that is also to advise you that, in one way or another, almost every good citizen in this country is associated with politics.”

Well said, Mr. Daly, well said. A powerful statement on civic engagement, delivered with a wink, is just the kind of commentary that made WML as much an entertainment brand as it was a pipeline for the social, political and cultural ideas that moved the era forward.


To step away from the celebrity focus of WML for a moment, let’s return to the show’s original roots — having panelists guess an ordinary person’s occupation, or “line.” To keep things interesting, WML would invite contestants with unusual, bizarre and downright wildcard occupations, from Marilyn Monroe’s calendar salesman to this professional girdle-tester, who actually wins the game by getting all 10 “no” answers.

Judging by that answer, may I assume that this product is not edible?” Desmond: “You’re right, not edible.”

Oh, dear sir, if only you had lived to see the advances in… materials innovation.


Lucille Ball, the woman who arguably single-handedly catapulted the sitcom genre into its pop culture pedestal, is both witty and charming in her

Perhaps the most priceless moment of this clip, however, is a subtle one that becomes a living hallmark of the medium’s technological deficiency: The telling question, which exposes Ball’s identity, asked on black-and-white national television:

Are you a dazzling redhead?”


The final episode of WML aired on September 3, 1967. Besides its grand-finale status, what makes is particularly notable is that on it, host John Daly himself is the mystery guest, an exercise in meta-comedy long before meta was the hottest hipster humor.

The heritage of WML poses one interesting question: In its heyday, the show was essentially the only media property that could “have” any celebrity or cultural figure. The one entity no one said “no” to. And much of this was due to the involvement of Random House founder Bennett Cerf who, through his deep connections in the journalism and media world, was within a few degrees of separation from just about any public figure.

Nearly half a century later, after an epidemic of media fragmentation and audience erosion, we’re left wondering what contemporary culture’s version of WML is, this can’t-say-no-to platform for ideas. The closest thing that comes to mind is TED, spearheaded by Chris Anderson who also rose to status as a publishing entrepreneur. So is TED this generation’s WML, the potent mix of cultural commentary and smart entertainment that frames for its audience the people and ideas that matter in the world? If not, who is? Or are those shoes even fillable in today’s fragmented media landscape? We’d love your thoughts.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:

04 AUGUST, 2010

One Designer, Two Designer: Vintage Australian Animation


Tea cups, cavemen and why consumer research is doing design a disservice.

We have a soft spot for documentaries about design — from Gary Hustwit’s Objectified to the BBC’s The Genius of Design. And while industrial design may seem like a relatively newfound cultural obsession, the design of “things” has been on the minds of filmmakers for a long time.

Today, we look at an uncovered gem from the archive of the Design Council of Australia — One Designer, Two Designer, a wonderful animated short film circa 1978 comically exploring what makes good and bad design.

Style can be very easily confused with design and is very often substituted for that. A trendy hook to a product may be just that. To serve a popular style today is often to perform a disservice to the customer. The real function of the designer is to understand the function of the thing he is designing.

Despite the humorous tone, the film delves into the important misconceptions about design and designers’ role in society, emphasizing the need for developing a design sensibility to better and more critically evaluate the value of objects beyond what advertising slogans may promise.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

27 JULY, 2010

Mad Men on Wheels: Vintage Car Ads


Babes, bumpers and Bentleys, or what Don Draper would’ve looked like on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

After last weekend’s Mad Men season premiere, we felt a certain pang of nostalgia for an era we never actually lived in. Today, we’re celebrating this nostalgia with an intersection of two of the era’s greatest cultural landmarks — cars and advertising — with five fantastic collections of enough vintage car ads to make Don Draper’s portfolio look paltry.


Unassumingly and almost dryly titled, American Car Brochures offers an impressively vast archive of vintage car brochures and original factory documentation, equal parts eye candy, tech time machine and economic reality check. (Care for a “gay, young-looking” Aero Willys at $1,499, circa in 1943?)

Culled by Norwegian IT consultant Hans Tore Tangerud, the collection is catalogued by brand name and dates as far back as the early 1900’s.


While Don Draper was busy selling Cadillacs to the American classes, his Soviet counterpart — someone, we imagine, named Doncho Drapkov perhaps — was busy selling Ladas and Nivas on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

The always-excellent English Russia has a fantastic roundup of vintage Soviet car ads from the 1960’s-1980’s.


It may be just a single piece of collateral, but this Volvo booklet from the 1950’s is a pinnacle of old-school art direction and storytelling. Aiming to introduce a foreign car into the American market, the book follows the journey of American couple Philip and (of course…) Janis Benson on their trip to “Volvoland” in (of course…) Sweden.


Once you get past the crummy site design and awkward navigation, British Car Brochures is a treasure trove. Since he was a child, Romanian car enthusiast Hermann Egges has been collecting vintage car ads, brochures and articles. Now, his massive collection of over 1,250 brochures and 2,800 ads is available online for all to ogle, ranging from rare retro gems (1940’s Bentley, anyone?) to recent-vintage aesthetic atrocities (90’s Land Rover ads, we’re looking at you).

For more of the British vintage car advertising world, we recommend Heon Stevenson’s excellent illustrated anthology British Car Advertising of the 1960s.


A museum and gift shop of mid-century illustration, Plan 59 has a formidable collection of vintage car ads from the 1930’s through 1950’s.

For a closer look at the fascinating history of car advertising, look no further than Classic Cars of the 20th Century: 100 Years of Automotive Ads, 1900-1999, which explores the lush visual language of automotive ads, decade by decade, in more than 500 advertisements from the collection of Taschen editor Jim Heimann.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

24 JUNE, 2010

5 Seminal Vintage Russian Animation Short Films


What dancing ballerinas and hungry kings have to do with the dawn of the digital age.

While Walt Disney was building an animation empire in America, a thriving school of animation mastery was unfolding on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Russian art directors, illustrators, animators and video producers were experimenting with techniques often decades ahead of their time and creating beautifully crafted, visually stunning short films despite the technological limitations of the era. Many of these masterpieces are now available in Masters Of Russian Animation — a remarkable collcection of animated shorts from the 1960s through 1980s in four volumes.

Today, we look at five of these gems, with many thanks to reader Sebastian Waack (@edutechnews) for bringing some of them to our attention.


Based on a Russian folk tale, Hedgehog in the Fog, a 1975 gem by master-animator Yuri Norstein, utilized techniques like cutout-animation and stop-motion three decades before they reached creative buzzword status.

Thinking about how these effects were achieved — brilliantly — in the age of manual, analog studio production does give one pause in the face of all the digital tools we take for granted today.

Found on Volume 2.


Director Fyodor Khitruk’s Story of a Crime is part Hanna-Barbera, part Hitchcock, part something else entirely. Using techniques like cutout collages and photo-illustration hybrids long before they had entered the mainstream animation arsenal, the film won the Jury Prize at the prestigious 1980 film festival in Lille, France.

You can catch part 2 here. Found on Volume 1.


From director Anatoly Petrov comes The Singing Teacher, an eerie, haunting, stunningly illustrated gem from 1968.

Found on Volume 1.


Based on the famous A. A. Milne poem The King’s Breakfast, director Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s The King’s Sandwich features intricate line illustration and remarkably expressive characters from the dawn of computer animation.

Found on Volume 3.


With its minimalist lines and intricate play of perspectives, director Lev Atamanov’s Ballerina on a Boat is a lovely exercise in storytelling through grace and simplicity.

Found on Volume 2.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.