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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It’s Your Turn, Fat Boy

“Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.”

Know who came up with that? Elmer Wheeler. That’s him at right. Elmer’s company, Tested Selling Institute, headquartered for years at 321 Fifth Avenue in NYC, sold sentences. Not just any sentences, mind you. Tested Selling Sentences. Elmer was the Founder, President, and sole employee of TSI.

Elmer analyzed the waitress’s classic response to a soda order – ‘large or small?’ – and suggested waitresses say ‘large one?’ instead. 7 out of 10 people, apparently, will say ‘yes’ in this scenario, which has since evolved throughout our culture, as epitomized by the phrase ‘Fries with that?’

Elmer’s biggest score was “The Fat Boy’s Book,” published in 1950, which went viral via newspaper syndication. Wheeler had written the book, the story goes, when he was shocked by a salesperson frantically trying to wave him into the ‘oversized’ section of a local department store. So Elmer lost 40 pounds in 80 days, and the rest is forgotten history.

Our buddies at Parker Brothers, at the time, were the greatest game company on the face of the earth. That would end in 1966, when they were taken over by General Mills, and subsequently spun off as Kenner Parker Toys in ‘85, which fought off a hostile takeover by Hollywood’s New World Productions in ‘87 and were saved by Tonka’s bid, thus briefly becoming Tonka Kenner Parker before ultimately being bought by Hasbro, which had previously scooped up Parker’s old rival Milton Bradley. Some history! But in 1951, Parker was in high gear, publishing an astonishing number of new board games every year. They jumped on the Wheeler bandwagon in 1951 with “The Fat Boy’s Game,” a lovely little board game, especially if you enjoy 50’s-style advertising clip art and 3-color printing. A really pretty gameboard in an unusual size: 9″ tall by 2′ wide. Here ’tis in all its 50’s glory (click to enlarge and savor):

The Object of the Game: Everybody is trying to attain a perfect figure. As the various contestants become familiar with the unusual and interesting play of the Fat Boy’s Game, the chances of outwitting each other are much greater and each move adds to the excitement and suspense.

But here’s the best part, under the heading ‘hilarious attention to detail.’ Guess which set of ‘tokens’ below came with “The Fat Boy’s Game.”

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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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The Player Returning to Earth First Ends the Game

Gold Discovered on Mystery Planet in Outer Space! Expedition Under Way Must Guard Against Space Bandits!

This is the first in a series of spotlights on Parker Brothers Games, specifically the ones that have gorgeous game boards. It’s Parker Brothers Space Game from 1953.

Click the gameboard photo to supersize the image. There’s a lot to like here.

- The delicate orange and green color scheme is spectacular, especially today, when we feel constrained to make space either black or blue. No satellite photos = green space, yellow stars.

- The smiling Conditioning Chamber: people enter in gray post-war garb and emerge in Chris Ware space suits belching orange flame.

- The rocket-ship design on the box cover looks like it was stolen from Ward Kimball’s top drawer.

- The Disney dark ride serpentine gametrack.

- The Nicholas Tesla fever dream bad guys with big magnets in the upper right corner.

- There are rumors that Black Bandits are hovering in outer space – it is well to avoid these dangerous people, if possible, because they demand booty if they contact a Space Man.

- Black dots = Danger spots.

- Parker Brothers: At The Cutting Edge Of Science. Two wormholes, here called Short Cuts.

- And the classic Parker Brothers logo.

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