The Search For Annette's Secret Passage

You’d have never known it to look at her. There was talk at the Triple R Ranch, of course; the rumor was that if you were around when Annette had her bathing suit on, you might be lucky enough to see her secret passage. That was the game, anyway.

That’s right, Mouseketeers! Disney had made Annette a star, but it took Parker Brothers, the makers of Sorry! and Tell It To The Judge, to make searching for Annette’s Secret Passage a national pastime. Parker had included secret passages in previous games (Clue has two of them) but to make a young woman’s secret passage the sole focus for an entire board game was unprecedented in the 1950’s.

The game play has the ring of truth to it: first, you swim around the lake for a while (according to the rules, any number of players may occupy the lake at the same time). Then, you walk around the island. Once you’ve accomplished a complete trip around Shell Island, slip back gently into the water and wait. When it’s your turn, prepare to maneuver your piece towards Annette’s Secret Passage.

But beware! Already circling Annette’s secret passage are two vigorous, powerful, elongated, round-bodied fighters with long projecting swords. (Yellow Arrows were added to this illustration and do not appear on the original gameboard).

Worse, according to Wikipedia, is that swordfish happen to be one of the very few species with the ability to heat “selected body parts” above the temperature of the surrounding water. Thus, the question “Does Annette like swordfish?” takes on a whole new meaning in the game, which introduced many a young lad to the concept of “secret passages,” perhaps explaining why an original set in good condition commands thousands on eBay.

According to the instructions printed on Annette’s box, “Annette, Spin and Marty are on a cruise off the coast of California with Marty’s Grandmother. During the night Marty’s grandmother’s jewels were stolen! (Parker Brothers’ exclamation point). Annette thinks that whoever stole them must have escaped to the island. The next morning, with Captain Blaney’s permission, Annette, Spin and Marty decide to do some “skin diving” and “explore the island” (quotation marks mine).

A careful inspection of the entire game board reveals the entire story.

Disney knew that The Mickey Mouse Club wouldn’t last forever, and in the fall of ‘57 – around the same time the Studio was making money hand over fist from Annette’s Secret Passage – the studio announced two productions designed to carry the success of the Mouseketeers forward.

The first was a theatrical motion picture, “The Road To Oz,” featuring Annette as Ozma. Although considered a “sure thing,” the studio was curiously quiet about the project afterwards, ultimately announcing that the movie had been shelved.

The second production was a groundbreaking TV series to be based on Walt Disney’s Annette and the Mystery at Smugglers’ Cove, the Disney book that had been perched atop the Times Best Seller List for 38 consecutive weeks. The cover gives some of the plot away; Annette is sailing across Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds when a seagull swoops down and pecks at her forehead, drawing blood. This is the first of many inexplicable events Annette encounters as she arrives in, then tries to escape from, Smugglers’ Cove Island.

The pilot for the TV series was produced, but test audiences found it confusing and “disjointed,” something many viewers claimed Annette would have to physically have been in order to fit into the minuscule boat seen on the novel’s dust jacket.

The Disney studio would have to wait until it owned ABC Television in order to return to the project nearly five decades later, when it unexpectedly became a huge success. Alas, none of the footage from the original “Smugglers’ Cove” pilot still exists, and the episode is one of the ten “most sought after lost television shows” identified by the Library of Congress and something called The Paley Center for Media. All that survives is a single color still featuring Annette in her role as the upbeat, dancing castaway, Kate.

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Strangely Similar Music

“Wow, this song reminds me so much of some other song, only I can’t think of what that other song is while this song is playing, but if I turn off this song, I’ll forget what the other one sounds like.”

Sometimes, it’s coincidence. One song just happens to sound like another. I refer you to the words of Mr. Andy Breckman, who wants this phrase on his tombstone: These Things Happen.

Sometimes, it’s carefully plotted strategy (Gary Puckett and the Union Gap always made sure that their next hit contained roughly the same notes in roughly the same order as their previous hit).

Sometimes, it’s an honest mistake. The late George Harrison didn’t consciously elevate He’s So Fine into the realm of the sacred as My Sweet Lord. (When Paul McCartney was convinced that he had stolen the melody of Yesterday unconsciously, he hummed the tune to dozens of friends who failed to identify it, leading Paul to eventually conclude that he did, in fact, write it in his sleep).

Sometimes, egregious thievery is involved. That’s the subject of this post, although some of these amazing sound-alikes may not have resulted from conscious lifts.

The first one did, though:

The Song You Know is Venus by Shocking Blue (1970)

Why was Dutch group Shocking Blue a one-hit wonder? Maybe because they stole their hit song from The Big Three featuring Cass Elliot (before she became a Momma). Oh, and you’ll notice, in the opening notes, that Shocking Blue also “borrowed” Pete Townsend’s signature guitar riff from Pinball Wizard, released the previous year.

The song Shocking Blue wishes would disappear is Banjo Song by The Big Three (1963). (OK, The Big Three “borrowed” some lyrics from Stephen Foster, but still…)


Another song: Ernie’s Tune by the Tony DeSimone Trio. The instantly recognizable song was actually titled Oriental Blues and is credited to Jack Newton. It accompanied some of the best comedy ever to appear on TV.

What a great song it is – worthy of a George Gershwin. Very worthy.
Rialto Ripples by George Gershwin.


Last but not least, one that I’ve been thinking about for a couple of months. It is The Theme to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

When you’re pledging to your local public radio station to support Melissa Block, you might want to send a couple of bucks to the poor devil (Randy Newman)who wrote Just One Smile by Dusty Springfield. (Wait for the chorus).

And in the picture above, Dusty Springfield looks strangely similar to Paula Poundstone in a blonde wig.

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Damn, I’m busy that night

Starts at 11 p.m.
It’s not listed on their schedule (shh!) The Cutting Room, NYC
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He's In The Cast Of Supporting Players And So Can You

I had forgotten that Dana Carvey’s short-lived TV show had such a brilliant supporting cast, many destined for greatness.

The Nauseated Waiters sketch (in this show) is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.

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Please Wait.
You have attempted to connect to this page
while a web history tour is in progress.

TourGuide: Here’s a typical abandoned blog. Take a look around.
Fusion50: When was it abdomened
TourGuide: early 21st century.
Fusion50: why
TourGuide: it should have been destroyed in the Google purge
TourGuide: The owner left and never came back
Fusion50: good move
Fusion50: but its not distroyed
TourGuide: When they shut down the blogosphere, they didn’t bother to erase them all.
Fusion50: why borther
Fusion50: bother
Fusion50: i dont see what so special
Hstrygrl: Fusion50, all surviving blogs were declared protected historic sites
TourGuide: Right, content plays no role in preservation. The only thing that’s ’special’ is that it survived.
Hstrygrl: It’s the retro templates, the drop shadows, that stupid header and things like counter styles etc that are interesting
TourGuide: This is one of three surviving Blogger sites that used TicTac (Blueberry).
Hstrygrl: It screams Dan Cederholm from 8 miles away
Fusion50: so its like an art thing they kept it
Hstrygrl: Tictac blue was less popular than Tictac green :-0

Fusion50: omg
artgeek: lol! Where’d you get that
Fusion50:so like thousands of people had blogs that looked exactly the same -what the point
artgeek: i think it’s hysterical!!!!
TourGuide: The other tictac templates that survived are this one and this one.
artgeek: you’re making my head spin
TourGuide: Any other questions? If not, meet me here and I’ll answer any additional questions.
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Put It There, Pal - A Dog's Life In Hollywood

Identity issues – problematic for humans, but worse – far worse – for dogs.

I mean, look at the confused expression on Pal’s face in the still above, from Challenge To Lassie. The object of everyone’s attention, and he’s staring off into space, no doubt thinking, “Just who the hell am I, anyway?”

Pal, a male dog, is playing Lassie, a female dog. For most Hollywood stars, an entire career spent in drag would require plenty of couch time to sort things out. Pal, of course, was not allowed on the couch.

It is generally agreed that Pal reluctantly agreed to appear as “Lassie” in the first Lassie film, Lassie Come Home, on the advice of his agent. From there, the story depends upon whose version you accept. Pal’s agent claimed that Pal knew very well that he would have to be neutered for the role; Pal maintains that he was told only that “there were a few cosmetic issues that had to be addressed” before the film went into production.

Lassie Come Home was such a huge hit that Pal was forever typecast as the bitch who could always find her way home. Pal fired his agent both figuratively and literally, proving that he could, in fact, find his way to anyone’s home when, long after filming had completed, the lack of an opposable thumb proved no barrier to the dog’s determination to set his agent’s house ablaze at 2 a.m. on September 29, 1943… barely two weeks before the film’s New York Premiere. The negative publicity surrounding this incident would have irreparably damaged the movie’s box office potential, and many historians believe that the agent’s subsequent death (which took place two days after the arson incident, from which he escaped unharmed) was not the anguished suicide over Pal’s defection that was presented in the press. (For more details on the fire, listen to Shawn Colvin’s Sunny Came Home, originally titled Lassie Come Home and changed at MGM/Turner’s request).

Intimates of Pal claim that the dog did not fully understand how far Eddie Mannix (left) would go after he promised the collie to “smooth things over and make this go away.” Pal subsequently decided to drop out of sight for awhile by signing with The William Morris Agency. This is plausible, because collies lack a sense of humor, meaning Pal probably did not realize the William Morris line was a joke.

In any case, Pal needn’t have worried. No charges were ever brought by the agent’s heirs.

Pal was next signed to star in a sequel, “Son of Lassie.” When Pal got the script, however, he was horrified to see that he would not be playing Lassie in the sequel, but rather “Laddie, Son of Lassie.”

“For this, I got neutered?” the canine was heard to mutter.

Again, Eddie Mannix (left) intervened, this time taking the dog aside for some straight talk. “There’s a thousand dogs out there who can limp, walk on their bellies, paw doors, and whine,” Mannix purportedly said. “Wake up and smell the kibble, Pal, you need MGM more than MGM needs you.” Louis B. Mayer himself was even more blunt with Pal, who wanted to go out but was kept waiting for three agonizing hours outside Mayer’s office. Finally ushered in to the great man’s presence, Mayer outlined the canine’s future at the studio in two words: “Sit. Stay.” Daring to defy Mayer, Pal went. On an expensive carpet.

Both physically and mentally castrated, the dog grudgingly did as he was told and prepared to reprise his role as “Lassie” in the third Lassie picture, The Courage of Lassie, even as his team of lawyers sought to break the contract. But Mayer and Mannix had one trick left up their communal sleeve: Pal was to be billed as “Lassie” in Courage of Lassie … but in the film, “Lassie” (now Pal’s legal name, but owned by MGM) would portray “Bill,” yet another male dog.

It was the final straw. Pal crawled on his belly to Mayer’s office, pathetically scratched at the door, and, when let in, rolled over on his back and whined, conclusively acknowledging Mayer as the alpha male at the studio.

Courage Of Lassie is today remembered primarily for the on-set incident that nearly killed Pal. A “post-Our Gang” Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (who would die, ironically, in a shooting incident over a lost dog thirteen years later) portrays a young hunter in Courage of Lassie who accidentally shoots Bill (Lassie) (Pal).

No one can explain why Alfalfa’s gun was loaded with live ammunition; members of the crew claim to have checked and double-checked the “prop” rifle. There is a lingering suspicion that Switzer himself switched the blanks for live ammo, thanks to an unflattering interview suggesting this possibility given to the press by Roach star “Pete The Pup,” actually retired at the time and living in the Motion Picture Country Kennel/Retirement facility in Toluca Lake.

Yet, again, there was a call to Mannix (left), who said he’d “see what he could do.”

A week later, a short press release from the Motion Picture Retirement Center announced that two stalwarts of the silent screen had been euthanized: Roach’s beloved Pete The Pup and Charlie Bowers, a forgotten animator and slapstick comedian who had once dated Mannix’s wife Toni.

Pal recovered (it was just a flesh wound) but the magic spark that had endeared him to audiences worldwide as Lassie, Laddie, Son of Lassie, Bill, and, in his best dramatic performance, Terry Malloy, was permanently extinguished. He continued to pile on the years, seven at a time. He married, adopted, divorced, and remarried. He never reconciled with his children, who later wrote the scathing expose entitled The REAL Lassie, as told to Bob Thomas, published, ironically, in The Saturday Evening Post, where the first Lassie story had been printed 100 years earlier.

Pal died in 1958. In a moving eulogy delivered by close friend Charles Busch, he was remembered as “a dog unafraid to reveal his feminine side… with a masculine side that that was, and will be, sorely missed.” Many in the audience were frankly skeptical that “Lassie” was truly gone for good, and were convinced that the famous dog would somehow find her way back to this life.

Sorry. His way back to this life.

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The Curse of the Broken Lever

Think of [your blog's] readers as laboratory animals in an experimental cage that’s equipped with a bunch of levers. If the lever you control dispenses a tasty morsel each time it’s pushed, the animals will keep coming back for more. If you forget to provide a treat for the animals’ effort, the animals will stop pressing your lever and look for a more reliable source of nutrition. That’s why it’s good to post at least one blog entry a day, because people will get used to the idea that your blog will deliver a treat each time they visit.

- Tip Number 4 for running a popular blog, from Rule The Web, Mark Frauenfelder’s guide on ‘How to do anything and everything on the internet – better, faster, and easier.’

Long ago, I recommended Mark’s book to anyone and everyone who uses the internet, giving it the highest possible praise by suggesting its title could have been, and should have been, The Junior Woodchuck’s Guide to the Internet. It was nice to read that this pleased Mark.

Mark’s very first blogging tip says that:

…I’m surprised at the number of people who post things just because they think they will attract more readers to their site… if you aren’t passionate about the things you’re writing about, readers will quickly become bored and never return.

And there, fellow lab animals, lies the problem. I think Mark Frauenfelder is exactly correct, and up until quite recently, I’ve tried to provide a morsel per day.

Future morsels will be just as tasty, but new ones will probably appear on a less-than-daily schedule. I expect that the ones that do find their way here will be all the more tasty, given the added prep time.

Please come and press the lever every so often, even though I admit defeat in balancing Mark’s first and fourth tips on a daily basis.

Spencer Tracy characterized Katherine Hepburn once by saying “There ain’t much meat on her, but what’s there is cherce [sic].” Less posts here, but what goes up will be cherce, and that’s a promise.

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The Dionnes, Part 3

Dr. Dafoe quarantined the Dionne Quintuplets “to keep the germs away.” That meant keeping people away, too – like the Quints’ parents and the rest of their family. There’s a film clip that shows the result: Jean Hersholt, who played a version of Dr. Dafoe in the three 20th Century Fox features, presents a puppy to the sisters. They’ve never seen a puppy before (dogs have germs, except when Hollywood needs a puppy scene), so the sisters are frightened and back away. It was supposed to be a cute scene. It was a disaster. They stopped the camera, probably had a talk with the girls, then started again. It clearly demonstrates their isolated existence – yet it was used in the feature.

Quintland was the world’s first theme park. It’s estimated that three million people made the trip to see the Quints in person. Often, over two miles of stop-and-go traffic “clued everyone in” that they were getting close.

The Dafoe Hospital had an outdoor playground. Surrounding it on three sides was an enclosed, horseshoe-shaped viewing area. Supposedly, the darkness inside the viewing area, coupled with screens of some sort, would make it impossible for the Quints to know that they were being observed. But the quints caught on quickly – they might not have been able to see the tourists, but they certainly could hear them.

What’s missing in the story of the Dionne Quintuplets… is a hero. Someone who rides to the rescue. Someone who says “This is wrong and it has to stop.”
  • It wasn’t Dr. Dafoe, who commandeered the quints, was celebrated by the press as a savior, and made a lot of money.
  • It wasn’t Oliva Dionne, whose initial reaction to the birth was to “sell the Quints,” in order to make a lot of money.
  • It wasn’t Father Daniel Routhier, from whom Oliva Dionne sought guidance and who suggested that, since the children were a miracle from God, 7% of the money should be given to the church.
  • It wasn’t Elzire Dionne, who had married at 16 and was the embarrassed mother of 10 at age 25.
  • It wasn’t Dr. W.E. Blatz, who headed the team from St. George’s School for Child Study at the University of Toronto, who cataloged every move the Quints made but either did not see, or did not want to see, the big picture.
  • It wasn’t Mitchell Hepburn, the premier of Ontario, who arranged for the Quints to be taken from their parents legally, via a “guardianship” act that officially gave the government and Dafoe full charge.

Yvonne, Marie, Emilie, Annette and Cecile had to become their own heroes.

They didn’t all make it through… but as this ‘behind the scenes’ production video for the TV movie “Million Dollar Babies” shows, Yvonne, Cecile, and Annette Dionne lived to tell the tale.

Quints Digitization Project
Quintland Site
Second Birthday Party (Audio)
Picture Album

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Dormant Dionne Virus Flares

Oh, I should know better.

I’m listening to an audiobook: The Immortal Game by David Shenk. A history of chess.

At the beginning of the book, the author suggests that the best way to understand chess is to think of it as a virus that infects the brain, pushing all other thoughts aside.

I have a virus like that. Nothing to do with chess; I’m Mr. Patzer.

This other “brain virus” – the one I seem to suffer from – began with a localized outbreak in Ontario, Canada, in May of 1934. It spread quickly, infecting tens of millions of people, and didn’t disappear until well into the 1940’s. Truth be told, in the depths of the great depression, most people were only too willing to let their other thoughts get pushed aside.

It is no longer a threat, although it’s still possible to catch this virus via direct brain-to-brain transmission. The internet may have spawned one or two isolated cases.

I’ve been in remission for years, but yesterday, I was archiving an old VHS tape onto DVD and made a terrible mistake. I started watching the program. I couldn’t stop and subsequently suffered a severe flare-up.

A bit of that program appears below.

WARNING: It is very likely that you already have full immunity to this virus, and it is highly improbable that exposure to the short video will result in infection. If, however, you feel yourself becoming transfixed, stop watching immediately and call a doctor. With that warning, meet Annette, Cécile, Emelie, Marie and Yvonne Dionne.

Doctor Dafoe. The “modest little country doctor” whose ability to take advantage of his patients wasn’t equaled until Brian Wilson’s therapist started taking co-writing credit and put himself into the will.

It is the proud Doctor Dafoe who presents the sisters.

Doctor Dafoe who “permits the parents to see their babies occasionally.”

Did he invent the lies, or just go along with them? Dafoe only delivered two of the sisters (two midwives handled the first three), and while his efforts may indeed have saved some lives in the Quintuplets’ first few days of life, no one today could deny that Dafoe’s lasting legacy and enduring achievement was the total destruction of the Dionne family. Dafoe, in collusion with the government, built a “hospital” across the street from the Dionne home, kidnapped the babies, and displayed them to the public as a tourist attraction.

If there was something beneath Doctor Dafoe’s dignity, it was never discovered. Eventually, Oliva Dionne (the sisters’ father) went public with his displeasure, and eventually, he won them back. But by then it was too late.

It seems incredible today, even unimaginable, but the Dionne Quintuplets were a source of continuing fascination and infatuation in the months and years following their birth. People kept scrapbooks of magazine pictures, went to see Dionne newsreels and feature movies, devoured articles by the dozen, and bought Quintuplet calendars, spoons, dolls, books, postcards and whatever the Quints endorsed: dental cream, syrup, candy bars, soap, disinfectant and breakfast food, to name just a few. The quints even endorsed “Body By Fisher”for General Motors.

Today, it is not uncommon for sets of quintuplets and even sextuplets to occur (fertility drugs) and survive (sophisticated neonatal care).

Yet the survival of the Dionnes – identical quintuplets – remains unique. Twice before their birth (in 1786 and 1849) and four times since (in 1936, 1959, 2004, and 2007) identical quintuplets have been born, but the Dionne Quintuplets still represent the only instance where all five infants survived.

The word “miracle” is tossed about the Dionnes almost as frequently as the word “magic” is brought into play for Disney. But if their birth and survival were, as many believed, the result of divine intervention, it’s difficult to understand why a subsequent miracle never materialized to save the girls from a life of confusion, exploitation, misery, and poverty. Two of the five are still alive today.

This is how the virus has mutated: the original strain was cultivated in those willing to believe the “fairy-tale” existence myth propagated by the media. The current strain has to do with truth and tragedy. Click here for Part Two of this post.

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Fixing Rampant Children's Hour Confusion

I can’t believe the hundreds of e-mails I’ve been getting about “The Children’s Hour.”

If I haven’t answered yours personally, my apologies, but I’ve been totally swamped. It seems best to try to clarify the issue once and for all right here in one definitive post. Let the debates and flame wars rage elsewhere… here are my last words on the subject.

The Children’s Hour (1863) is a classic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which describes a “sneak attack” by his three daughters, who wrest the author from his studies and demand his full attention: “A sudden rush from the stairway/ A sudden raid from the hall!/ By three doors left unguarded/ They enter my castle wall!”

The Children’s Hour (1934) is a classic play (and, later, movie) by Lillian Hellman about two women who run a school for girls. They run afoul of a nasty little student who starts spreading rumors that the two women are partners in more than a corporate sense, threatening to ruin their reputations and the school. Now, as if  if two different Children’s Hours weren’t enough – brace yourself – there’s a third.

The Children’s Hour (1946) is a game by Parker Brothers featuring “Peanut The Elephant” that’s aimed at children 5 to 10 years of age. The box contains three separate games – “Porky The Pig Oink Oink,” a card game; “Peanut The Elephant,” a board game; and “ABC Fishing,” a game which tests manual dexterity.

Each of the three Children’s Hours is satisfying in its own way. The current hullabaloo began when confusion between the three entertainments started creating awkward social situations where one Children’s Hour was mistaken for another.

If you’re worried that your planned night at the theater might actually turn out to be a poetry reading or card-table event, have no fear. Here’s the definitive word on how to positively distinguish These Three (1936).

Click on the fact-filled chart at left to enlarge.

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