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America’s favorite contemporary little big band, the award-winning retro swing ensemble Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, is set to release a new album, entitled How Big Can You Get (Big Bad/Vanguard Records), on April 21, 2009. The 11-song CD is a tribute to Cab Calloway, the legendary big band leader and jazz singer, and was recorded in honor of what would have been Cab’s 100th Birthday.

How Big Can You Get is a career milestone for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy — and not only as an illuminating revival of Calloway’s often hilarious (and just as often pointed) songbook, in the most skilled and enthusiastic hands imaginable. It’s also a revelatory moment for the band, whose musicianship, fire and interpretive powers are at an all-time high.

Says bandleader Scotty Morris, “Making the album was one of our biggest musical moments. Delving into Cab’s music made us see the high level that his songs were written and arranged at, and why they’ve lasted. We went top-to-bottom live in the studio and chose the best takes for the album, because Cab’s originals were live performances and radio broadcasts. People got a glimpse of him when he stole the show in the Blues Brothers movie. We want people to know he was more than the King of Hi-De-Ho-we want to put a light on Cab’s legacy more fully.”

Produced by Morris and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the record features several Calloway classics, including “Minnie the Moocher”, “The Ghost of Smokey Joe” and “The Jumpin’ Jive,” alongside some of his less obvious, yet just as powerful tunes, like “Reefer Man,” “Calloway Boogie” and “The Old Man of the Mountain” — all performed with the band’s usual enthusiastic approach and great interpretation.

The band also received support from Cab Calloway’s family throughout the project. Says Morris, “We felt like we were hugging an old friend when we made this album.”

Formed in Ventura, California in 1989, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy released two records independently before breaking nationally in the cult comedy film Swingers. They went on to release ten additional albums on various major labels before striking a deal to develop their own label, Big Bad Records, through legendary Vanguard. The group has sold more than 2 million albums, and several of their most popular songs, including “Mr. Pinstripe” and “You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight,” have been featured in films and soundtracks worldwide.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has also performed at the Billboard Music Awards, the White House, and during the halftimes of both the Super Bowl and the Orange Bowl. Their videos have been regularly featured on MTV and VH1, and they have appeared as musical guests on numerous television shows, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Live with Regis and Kelly and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Since their humble beginnings, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has outlasted the neo-swing movement and continues to deliver to its loyal and consistent fan base.

“How Big Can You Get,” the title track of the band’s latest release – now unbelievably poignant with lyrics that comment on corporate greed – is also the first single off the album. The group is shooting a new music video in Los Angeles this month, and will start a major tour in support of the new album beginning in April. For upcoming tour dates, visit www.bbvd.com.

Pin-up icon Bettie Page died on December 11, 2008, at the ripe old age of 85. Although millions of fans recognize Bettie as Queen of the Pin-Ups since the mid-20th Century, few know the other facets of her life, from her many failed marriages to her time in a sanitarium to her love for the island of Haiti. Here, pop culture connoisseur and author Bruce Lewis details the fascinating story of America’s favorite pin-up.

Forever Bettie Page

By Bruce Lewis

Bondage queen. Sex goddess. Pin-up icon. All of these words could be used to describe Bettie Page, and all would be good choices, for she was all of those things. But she was much more, besides: a scholar, a Christian missionary, and the inspiration for a character in Star Wars. She was smart. She was notorious. She was scorching hot.

And she was 85 years of age when she slipped from this world on December 11, 2008, at Los Angeles’ Kindred Hospital.

Bettie Page was without doubt the face of American beauty during the second half of the 20th Century. Yes, there were others — Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn — but these were mostly movie stars, known worldwide from the films in which they appeared. Bettie Page didn’t need Hollywood to make her a goddess. All she needed were some black-and-white still photographs — more than 20,000 individual images, by some accounts — and a few crude film loops to make her a star. And while the Silver Screen starlets’ fame was pure product, cranked out in job lots by the global Hollywood hype machine, Bettie Page became famous with nothing but her charm, her will, and a few tiny advertisements in the back pages of a cheap magazine.

“We were lucky to get an orange in our Christmas stocking.”

It is 1933, and Bettie Page is walking barefoot to school. She is walking barefoot because her father has run away again — this time for good — leaving her mother to feed, clothe, and care for her and her five brothers and sisters. Bettie and one sister live in an orphanage now, but despite the cold and the lack of shoes and the bright pain of abandonment she feels every night, Bettie keeps walking, keeps putting one bare foot in front of the other, because she has made up her mind to graduate at the top of her class and go on to Vanderbilt. I’m not going to be barefoot forever, she says to herself. I’m going to college, and I’m going to get a job, and I’m going to be somebody.

Betty Mae Page was born into a family of eight in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 22, 1923. Her parents, Walter Roy Page and Edna Mae Pirtle, never could get it together. Walter Roy Page molested her when she was 13; after he went to jail for stealing a car, Edna Mae Page took two jobs and sent Betty and two sisters to an orphanage. There, the young Betty Page taught herself to sew and do makeup. Her natural intelligence began to emerge during her years at Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville, where she was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by her classmates and graduated salutatorian of her class in June 1940, earning a scholarship to George Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt University). She gradated from Peabody four years later.

That’s right — Bettie Page had a degree: Bachelor of Arts, 1944. She also had a husband when she graduated, an old school flame named Billy Neal. But there was a war on, and Billy Neal found himself drafted into the Navy, so Betty Mae ended up following him around for a while, eventually landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which at the time was still a more-or-less civilized country. She loved the island, but couldn’t stay. Nor could she stay married to Billy Neal. They divorced in November 1947.

“From the first time I posed nude, I wasn’t embarrassed.”

It’s 1950, and Betty Mae Page is walking along the strand at Coney Island. She’s been all over and done a lot since her divorce: a little modeling of furs here, a little secretarial work in San Francisco there, even a screen test at Fox (which went nowhere due to her refusal to spend casting couch time with an older executive). Bill Neal had come home, and they’d tried to make it work, but after the miscarriage they had parted for good. Betty is working as a secretary now, typing all day in an office, spending her free time walking on the beach. Jerry Tibbs, a police officer and amateur photographer, is there, too. He raises his camera to capture the winsome 27-year-old’s image, and with a click of a shutter, the career of Betty Page ends, and the legendary Bettie Page is born.

“You ought to be a model”, he says, handing her his card. “I could make a portfolio for you.”

Bettie Page began her career as a glamour photography model, posing in lingerie for the various “camera clubs” that thrived in New York at the time. These clubs were less about f-stops and exposure timing and more about generating “pin-ups” — erotic but non-pornographic images of pretty girls in titillating garments and poses that were de rigueur among young, healthy male Americans in those pre-Playboy days. Bettie (as she was now known) was a pin-up natural, her combination of girl-next-door approachability and curvaceous sensuality tailor-made for the eyes of a worldly-wise but still essentially small-town male America.

By 1951, Bettie’s image graced the pages of men’s magazines everywhere; by 1952 she was the best-known pin-up in the world, thanks in large part to her partnership with bookstore owner and pin-up photographer Irving Klaw. Klaw specialized in cheesecake — saucy but essentially harmless turn-on photography featuring smiling cutie-pies in skimpy outfits, images of a type common in men’s magazines (and even in some mainstream press) of the day. Klaw’s photos and “specialty” films often showed Bettie and other women clad in kinky outfits, pretending to participate in bondage, spanking, and other acts of outlaw sexuality — yet, all were curiously chaste by modern standards. Irving Klaw catered to his clients’ tastes, but he was not a pornographer; his all-female films and stills might have been designed to thrill, but they never depicted nudity or contained explicit sexual content. Bettie would not have consented to appear nude or engaging in sexual activity in any case; beneath the curves and the silk dominatrix gear she remained the same small-town Tennessee girl she’d always been.

But she was becoming so much more. In 1953, Page resumed her dream of becoming an actress, taking classes at the renowned Herbert Berghoff Studios and making her first stage and television appearances, including some off-Broadway work and a memorable one-shot on the top-rated Jackie Gleason Show. Her first speaking part in a feature-length film came in the burlesque Striporama (the only time Page is known to have spoken on camera); two burlesque films by Irving Klaw (Teaserama and Varietease, followed. It is from these latter two films that Page is best known by her later generations of fans.

In 1954 Page met photographer and former fashion model Bunny Yeager.  Yeager’s subsequent photographs of Bettie in a home-made jungle girl getup — the now-famous “Jungle Bettie” set — catapulted Page to the big leagues. Based on these images, Hugh Hefner himself picked Page to be Playmate of the Month for January 1955. The photo shows a beautiful and buxom Bettie Page, kneeling topless in front of a small Christmas tree, a wink beneath her bangs and Santa hat. She was 31 years old, and at the pinnacle of her career.

“All of a sudden I felt a hand in mine, leading me across the street to a small church…”

It is Christmas 1957, and Bettie Page is sitting in a southbound train car, headed for Florida. Her career as a pin-up model is over. Irving Klaw has been destroyed, dragged before the Congressional obscenity hearings convened by crusading Senator Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn.) in the Senator’s crusade to smash the pin-up business as he had the comic book industry several years before. Klaw is still around, of course (he won’t die for another ten years yet), but the business he created has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory, and Klaw has fed the negatives of Bettie’s catalog of images into the fire.

And Bettie has gotten the message as well. The FBI boys were never rude or threatening, of course — Mr. Hoover would never have permitted such unprofessional behavior from his men — but the subpoena with her name on it, and the 16 hours she’d spent in claustrophobic room in the Capitol of the United States waiting to testify, were clear enough. She’d never been called before the committee, as it turned out, but Bettie Page was no fool. She got out. Her career as a pin-up idol is over.

Two years pass, and Bettie walks into a small church in Key West. Soon after, she severs all contact with her prior life, and disappears.

“I wish I could erase the years from 1979 to 1992…”

It is June, 1982, and Bettie Page is sitting in a California courtroom. She has 22 years, three marriages, and one trial for assault with a deadly weapon (1980, not guilty by reason of acute schizophrenia) behind her. Now, Bettie is on trial once again, this time for attempted murder. The victim, Leonie Haddad, is an elderly woman. Bettie had been her tenant when, for no reason anyone could see, Bettie had attacked her with a knife, severing Haddad’s finger. The judge is speaking now: “This court finds the defendant to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Due to the danger she poses to others, she is hereby sentenced to ten years at Patton State Hospital, sentence to begin forthwith.”

The gavel bangs. Chairs honk against the waxed floor as the Court stands adjourned. Bettie Page is carried away kicking and screaming to her second stint in the nuthouse.

But this is not the end of the Bettie Page story, because time, therapy, and a very good God smiled on her. Ten years later, Bettie emerged from Patton State well and healthy, her insanity in remission thanks to conscientious care, her own iron will, and many hours of prayer. At 70, she moved into a Los Angeles group home to live out her remaining years in obscurity — “penniless and infamous,” as she put it.

Penniless she was — although not for much longer; infamous she most definitely was not. For during her 30 years of divorce and despair, madness and mystery, Bettie Page’s images — the very images that had made her a pariah so long before — had transformed her into a superstar. And she had no idea.

When TV host Robin Leach came calling in 1993 to interview her for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Page was utterly unaware of the resurgence of her popularity. Entertainment Tonight arrived next to shoot a segment. When it aired, Page watched dumbfounded from her chair at the group home. It was only then that Page superfan Greg Theakston, whose fanzine The Betty Pages had kickstarted the Bettie craze of the 1980s, became aware that his longtime idol was yet alive. With glee, Theakston introduced a stunned Bettie Page to the universe of comic books, illustration portfolios, fine art prints, and film characters based upon her image.

And happy days were here again for Bettie Page. Newfound fame, fortune and fans followed as Bettie emerged from three decades of obscurity. The money began to flow to Bettie again, courtesy of a professional public relations firm whose owner was a longtime Bettie fan with a genuine concern for her welfare. An authorized biography was published in the late 1990s; two films about her life came next. Even the Klaw family and Bunny Yeager came to benefit from Bettiemania.

And she is not ashamed. “I never thought it was shameful,” she told “The Playboy Interview” in 1998.  I felt normal. It’s just that it [modeling] was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.”

At last, Bettie Page’s childhood dream had come true. The barefoot Tennessee schoolgirl had come a long way, but she’d made it. At last, Betty Mae Page was the one, the only, Bettie Page: Queen of the Pin-ups, icon, goddess. She was, as she had promised herself so long ago, somebody.

“Unforgettable…”

It is 2003. Bettie Page is 80 years old — and here she is again, posing for the August 2003 edition of Playboy. This time, however, there are no whips, no gags, no silky lingerie. Bettie will no more stand for such things now than she would have stood for full nudity in 1953. Today, she wears a simple plaid shirt and ordinary street dress. She is, in many ways, a very ordinary elderly woman. Yet make no mistake: Bettie Page is far from ordinary, even in her golden years. She remains eminently photographable. The beauty is still there — the same bangs, the same pageboy (now silver gray), the same naughty eyes, and the same heart-melting smile. Hef does not make mistakes in this area; his onetime Playmate of the Month is still very much a scorching hot babe — the kind of older woman that earns sheepish second glances from the teenage boys at the mall. Yes, she’s put on some weight. Yes, it’s hard for her to get up and down these days. But, Bettie Page is still the Queen of the Pin-Ups.

And it is the Queen of the Pin-Ups that the world mourns today, 85 years and eight months after Betty Mae Page came into this world. She leaves us as she came to us: forever smart, forever notorious, forever scorching hot — forever the incomparable, unforgettable Bettie Page.

Bruce Lewis is an American voice actor, writer, artist, and author. He has worked in the U.S. manga and anime industry since 1993, and his book Draw Manga: How To Draw Manga In Your Own Unique Style, is an Amazon.com Bestseller.

BACK TO THE RETRO FUTURE: PART 2
Yesteryear’s Movies of Tomorrow

By Will “The Thrill” Viharo

In this second installment of our three-part series, B-movie conoisseur Will Viharo ventures into the vaults of vintage sci-fi cinema to highlight the best in classic spaceship celluloid. This isn’t just a lesson in cinematic history, it’s a look deep into the collective American psyche in the mid-20th century. Ready for more? Then pour yourself a refreshing glass of traggle nectar, lean back, and enjoy the continuing journey into uncharted realms known only to diehard science fiction fans.

“PIE PLATES OF PERIL”: EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956)

Fear of an invasion from outer space, spurred by vague but frequent UFO sightings and whispered conspiracies, was as palpable among the panicky population of the ’50s as worry over a nuclear standoff with Russia. And, filmmakers were quick to cash in on this terror-stricken trend. Special effects guru Ray Harryhausen is better known these days for sword-and-sorcery swashbucklers like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, but in the black & white days of the ’50s, his specialty was devising methods for the destruction of various cities, including their most famous landmarks. In Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), the first feature film for which he created all the special effects, the prehistoric Rhedosaurus rampages through New York; in It Came From Beneath (1955) a giant octopus ravages San Francisco; in 20,000 Miles to Earth (1957) a Venusian monster called an Ymir makes his last stand on the Coliseum in Rome.

But for Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, Ray’s 1956 alien invaders masterpiece, the creative juggernaut devised ingenious flying saucers that became the most memorable—and mimicked—of all interstellar invasion vehicles (copied outright in Tim Burton’s outrageous 1996 send-up, Mars Attacks). Keeping pace with Ray’s other displays of urban destruction, and taking a cue from Day the Earth Stood Still, the invaders also trash our nation’s capital, but with much more malevolent force than the diplomatic Klaatu: the Washington Monument is totally toppled in the assault!

Also see: George Pal’s seminal and influential classic War of the Worlds (1953), based on the H.G. Wells novel but more inspired by Orson Welles’ infamous radio play, which caused real life panic during its 1938 broadcast; AIP’s drive-in classic Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) featuring Frank Gorshin and a gang of Paul Blaisdell’s bulbous-headed, cat-eyed, alcohol-clawed space monsters, but only one sad little saucer; Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World (1951), the crowd-pleasing classic about a hostile alien veggie-monster-man (James Arness) who crash lands his saucer near the North Pole and proceeds to terrorize a scientific expedition; and The Mysterians (1957), Toho’s entry in the space invader race, as evil aliens armed with a bird-like giant robot named Mogera lay waste to Japan, as if resident giant monsters Godzilla and Rodan weren’t doing their job properly.

“ROBOTS ‘R’ US”: FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

While many of us want our jetpacks, the homemakers among us yearn for another un-kept promise from the architects of yesteryear: the robot maid. Postwar visionaries often pitched the home of the future as a modern oasis replete with automatic devices, self-sufficient resources and plenty of intelligent mechanisms to aid our leisure. As of this writing in the futuristic year of 2004, they’re still working on ‘em. But, perhaps the most legendary embodiment of this technological Utopia was Robby the Robot, the inhuman star of Forbidden Planet, an interstellar re-imagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest that is arguably the most famous and beloved of all ’50s sci-fi movies.

Robots had been popular in sci-fi literature and pop culture for decades already, but with all the advances made in technology since WW2, people began to actually expect a race of robots to one day serve humankind. Nowadays, robotic humans are regularly seen in political circles or reporting the news, and Arnold’s Terminator is the current standard for our mechanical doppelgangers. But Robby remains the robot for the ages: boundlessly smart, eloquently personable, magically resourceful, and incredibly cool. Only the Robot on the Lost in Space TV series can compete with Robby’s pop cultural standing (and in fact they once teamed up in an episode).

Forbidden Planet is itself a marvel–the vividly colorful sets and costumes of the crew (led by Leslie Nielsen, long before he realized how funny he could be) and the philosophical underpinnings (including a giant invisible monster spawned by the Freudian “Id”) set it apart from its many imitators and descendents. It also boasts the premiere all-electronic score, by Louis and Bebe Barron. Word of a remake has been circulating for some time, but the fact is, only the innocent imagination of mid-century dreamers could create such a warm, vibrant and relevant masterpiece. Though set in a future where interplanetary space travel is the norm, it’s a time capsule treasure of and from the past. Leave it alone.

Also see: Robby’s return in The Invisible Boy (1957); another children’s robot classic, Tobor the Great (1954); and a more menacing metal man in Herman Cohen’s Target Earth (1954).

“SWINGIN’ AMONG THE STARS”: QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958)

This was a plot peculiar to the 1950s: a group or horny frat-boy astronauts, including at least one wisecracking sidekick from Brooklyn or someplace like it, sometimes with a pet monkey, land on another planet and encounter a race of Amazonian women wearing high heels, short skirts, thick mascara, red lipstick, and uptight attitudes supposedly caused by years of forced virginity due to the death/disappearance/unexplained absence of all males in their society. Fortunately for the guys, none of the women are lesbians, and after the requisite fights with the local giant spider puppets and whatnot, the mating process begins.

Of course this is the straight male’s wet dream come true, and it came true several times throughout the decade, reaching its zenith in Queen of Outer Space, starring Zsa Zsa Gabor (though she does not play the titular monarch). This wide-screen Deluxe color cult classic is one of the funniest movies ever made, and rumor has it the camp was intentional, years before that became the fashion, so in effect this was the earliest film to spoof its own genre (like much later efforts such as John Landis’ Amazon Women on the Moon). The script was allegedly developed from an idea by the legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht, though no one has ever really substantiated this rumor, especially not Hecht, who probably talked too loud while drunk one night at an industry shindig, hitting on the local talent. This concept was ubiquitous enough, though, so we’ll let Ben off the hook. If there is a cure for humorless political correctness, this is it.

Also see: the sexist 3D thrills of Cat Women of the Moon (1953), and its remake(!), Missile to the Moon (1958); the oddly titled Abbott and Costello Go To Mars (1953), in which Bud and Lou go to Venus and find a bevy of beauty pageant contestants; and Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956), in which the Brits prove they’re as randy (and as willing to travel for it) as us raunchy All-Americans.

There’s lots more to come, readers. Stay tuned for Part Three of
Will Viharo’s sci-fi cinematic escapades!

Beatnik lounge lizard and writer Will “the Thrill” Viharo and his wife, Monica “the Tiki Goddess,” host a live cult movie cabaret called “Thrillville” at the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater in El Cerrito, CA. Will also has a B-movie tiki lounge at home, where he watches his DVD collection while drinking homemade Mai Tais (which may have influenced these reviews somewhat).

BACK TO THE RETRO FUTURE: PART 1
Yesteryear’s Movies of Tomorrow

By Will “The Thrill” Viharo

In the first of this three-part series, B-movie conoisseur Will Viharo ventures into the vaults of vintage sci-fi cinema to highlight the best in classic spaceship celluloid . This isn’t just a lesson in cinematic history, it’s a look deep into the collective American psyche in the mid-20th century. So, pour yourself a tumbler of rocket fuel, kick back, and get ready to blast off into uncharted realms known only to diehard science fiction fans.

Many of us poor Earthlings stuck here in the dawn of the terror-stricken, economically challenging, morally complex, gas-guzzling 21st Century wonder one simple thing: Where are our personal jet-packs promised by The Jetsons back in the early 1960s?

Today’s sci-fi blockbusters are decidedly more pessimistic than the space-age films of yore. Beginning with cynical cyber-punk classics like Blade Runner (1982), modern science fiction movies invariably depict dreary, dystopian futures for our species, full of screeching sound, smoke and steel. (See also: Mad Max, Matrix, Alien and Terminator franchises, and the more recent I, Robot.) Even relatively optimistic options offered by the sundry Star Trek spin-offs or the Star Wars movies are noisy, busy and, by certain standards, downright ugly. As they say, the future is not what it used to be. Continue Reading »

Love the look of classic pin-ups from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s? Ever wondered what makeup tricks they use to get that perfectly flawless finish, those sultry bedroom eyes and those ruby red lips? Learn to do it yourself in this quick video tutorial from ItsJudyTime, and you can look like a retro pin-up model, too!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxwvGeZsWNA]

The Timeless Appeal of Retro Red Lipstick
By Jodi McNarland

Some staples to a woman’s wardrobe simply cannot be ignored. A little black dress may catch a fella’s eye, and strappy heels may turn a gentleman’s head, but nothing puts the shine on the apple like luscious red lips.

Briefest history? Babylonians used ground jewel powder (expensive, no staying power), Cleopatra used ground beetles (yuck and yes, I know we’re still doing it, but we hide it well and let’s leave it at that, shall we?), less affluent Egyptians used henna and ground leaves (poisonous mercury-based plants no less). Continue Reading »

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