Monday, February 28, 2011

Five Worst American Cars: The Henry J

About three weeks ago I started my list of the five worst cars in (recent) history. Coming in at Fourth runner up were the 1958-1960 Lincoln and Continental Mark series, followed by the 1958 Packardbakers and crude Chrysler Sebring / Dodge Avenger.

That brings us to a car that was almost as bad as all three of the above:

1) It was so terribly pretentious that its manufacture designed it with Cadillacesque fins as an homage that luxury brand

2) Its fit and finish made the 1958 Packard look like a real luxury car instead of a tarted up Studebaker – and –

3) Its compact size – like the Sebring/Avenger – was an excuse to build it on the cheap.

But it had one other thing going for it that none of the above could claim – it was also sold in Sears Roebuck Stores!

Thus, I name the Henry J as the first runner up to the worst US automobiles built – ever.

Now I can feel you all scratching your head and saying “the what? Did he leave out a word, or its name?” No: the car was, in fact named Henry J – after the whimsical steel magnet Henry J. Kaiser, and the car’s chief champion. Kaiser started building cars after buying an old Ford plant at Willow Run, Michigan from the Ford Motor Company. Teaming with Joseph Frazier (who controlled what was left of Graham Paige), Kaiser and Frazier built two brands of cars at Willow Run, the Kaiser and the up market Frazier. Except for the grilles, the cars looked exactly the same, because they were. Except one was named Kaiser and the other one was named Frazier.

While it was a seller's market, car starved American's bought anything on four tires.  Joe Fazier thought the company should develop the next generation car, but Henry Kaiser was man whose mind wasn't easily led by others opinions.  Everything for 1948 remained exactly as it had in 1948.

Joe Frazier knew that the ruse couldn’t go on for long, so he bailed on Henry Kaiser. After killing off the Frazier brand in 1951, Henry started thinking about another Henry – Henry Ford. Faster than you can say “What this country needs a good ten cent cigar” Henry Kaiser decided that if the other Henry could build a simple to own, low cost car for the masses – and make a million bucks – why couldn’t he?

Kaiser went to his car stylist and said he wanted a new car with a new look. And the stylist, Howard "Dutch" Darrin produced a beautiful design that could have been an instant classic - it could be a sedan, it could be a convertible - it would have sold like hotcakes.  But, almost at the same time, an ouside group came forward with their compact - a bulky small car that had more in common with an English Ford than a Kaiser.  So, Kaiser, who had the instincts of the dodo bird, went with that option and instead had Darrin tart it up a bit.

And that was exactly what he got. A cheap tart.

That the tooling for this new inexpensive “compact” was expensive - Kaiser couldn't enjoy benefits of mass production like GM did by spreading out the cost over many many cars, so to keep the car as inexpensive as possible, they cut some corners. Make that a lot of corners.

First, they did away with all the extra chrome in an era when consumers equated chrome with quality and luxury. The more chrome a car had, the better it was and the more envious others would be when they saw one driving it. For HJK’s new car, this meant that the bumpers, and the grille piece up front had chrome – everything else used black rubber seals. So the car looked cheap.

They also cut costs by making just one body style – a two door coupe - because it used just two doors and four hinges, whereas a four door-car used double that. So they would save on parts.  Rear windows that rolled down? Nixed. “And while you’re at it, bub – get rid of the trunk lid.”  And thus the car had no dedicated access to the trunk.  Put all that together and you get this:

Having made the car’s low cost as possible, then the Ad Men took over. Instead of giving it a sporty name and trying to sell its image to public, it instead was named for its number one promoter and champion, Henry J. Kaiser himself. The rationale was that they could market the Henry J. and the Kaiser – cars so good that Kaiser himself had them named for him.

 The Sexy Beast Himself, Henry J Kaiser

Kaiser’s car company also struck a deal with Sears Roebuck to sell a re-badged Henry J in Sears stores under the name “Allstate” as a product tie in to their line of car care products and service centers.  Under the plan, the Allstate would receive a bit more chrome and were given plaid vinyl upholstery, and would be sold in Sears stores in the south at first before going nationwide.

Yep, Henry J. Kaiser had a bulletproof plan – almost.

You know that old P.T. Barnum adage about never under estimating the intelligence of the American people. That was exactly what Kaiser had done.

The public hated the cars.

First of all, they thought the car was ugly, and they found it’s striped down persona crude. They also didn’t like that the car was powered by a four cylinder engine. And as it turns out, the public in 1950 liked the idea of windows going up and down, and on a new car they expected certain things, like a trunk lid.  And they really hated the idea that get the spare tire out of the trunk area that an adult had to climb into the back seat, reach over said seat back and then haul the tire out over the upholstery - and then that's where the old flat tire had to go, too.  All that road grime all over those plastic covered seats and "Oh, Auntie Hilda I'm sorry but you've ruined your dress!"

And faster than you can say “Joe Frazier”, Sears bailed on the Allstate after selling less than 1,000 of them.

So what did Henry do with the Henry J.? It eventually got a trunk lid (told you so), some more chrome (told you so), plaid interiors (seems that Kaiser had stocked up on plaid vinyl sensing that the Allstate would be an all-star) and it got a continental style spare tire. How chi-chi!

Kaiser also managed to jam a six cylinder engine under the hood.  But by the time Kaiser did all of this this, the car cost as much as a full sized car from the big three, and it was still ugly!

Even after all the improvements, they still couldn't get dealers to take delivery of them, because the dealers were losing money on every one they tried to give away.

Kaiser wasn’t alone in producing a compact in the early 1950s. Nash’s Rambler – a compact that debuted in 1950 as a fully loaded premium compact convertible – became such a success that it eclipsed the Nash brand. But then there was Hudson, which pinned its hopes on the compact Hudson Jet, and crashed,.  The Henry J had a lot of high hopes attached to it when it helped to kill off Kaiser's US auto works. Unlike Hudson, though – a company that built quality cars that were race track ready – Kaiser had little, if anything going for it.  And in marketing terms the Henry J was a joke from the get go.  The Yugo had better buzz about it than the Henry J.  Even in collector's circles the cars are more likely to raise an eyebrow than young mans interest.
But what of Kaiser and his cars. By 1956, Kaiser was out of the US car market, instead focusing on Kaiser Jeep division.  In a rare move of to automobile prowess, Henry J was able to pick up Willys when it was on its last legs, and in the deal he got Jeep.  However Kaiser continued manufacturing cars in Brazil using his sedans (marketed in South America as the Carabella) and the Willys Lark series through the 1960s.  But the Henry J? The dies were cut up and melted for scrap, and Henry J. Kaiser said literally siad "To hell with this'" and went to Hawaii to build tract housing.  And the managed healthcare monolith Kaiser Permanente actually has its roots in Kaiser's Steel corpration.

And thus, I bestow upon the lowly Henry J the title of first runner up – and should the Worst American Car Ever Made be unable to follow through with discharging it’s duties, than this plain Jane sedan shall be elevated to something other than its toad like status in American Motordom.

Coming soon, the absolutely worst car in the history of American history.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Taking leave of my senses...and the blog-o-sphere!

Dear faithful readers - just a quick note to let you know that I am taking a leave from this blog for about ten days.  I am simply too busy jungling knives, selling a house, taxes, running a farm (Oh, yes, Bitches - From Shaker Heights to my very own version of Green Acres), organizing an estate auction, et. al., to post here. 

In fact, there is so much going on that it may lead to something very extreme!  How extreme? I just might have to operate heavy machinery!  I just might have to throw myself at my accountant!  Or I might lose all sense of right and wrong and go on a madcap no holds barred caprice!

But like that uncle in your family that no one talks about (except in hushed under tones) I'll be back by the 10th of March. 



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pat Collins - The Hip Hypnotist

Because MJ posted Pat Collins hair on The Hair Hall of Fame web site, I decided to post the episode of Pat on the The Lucy Show.  NOT ONLY do you get to revel in the look of her hair, but you also get to see her in action. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Play in case of Tuesday Blahs

If Yma Sumac can't brighten your Tuesday, I don't know what can.  Have a great day!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Coffee Table

Since Norma asked nicely, here is THE coffee tables to end all coffee tables.  It's an Erwin-Lambeth (now Tomlinson Erwin-Lambeth ) piece and for those of you that know furniture, Erwin-Lambeth is so exclusive that its only sold in the trade and only sold by designers that T/E-L approve of.

The table is a solid brass chassis, with a rosewood frame that holds a 1" thick beveled glass top, about four feet by four feet square.  And folks it is beyond heavy.  My parents paid about $1,000 for it in 1968 when they moved into the 5,000 square foot monster house in 1968.  I have been told that it's official model name is the "Fender", and it was designed by Mrs. Lambeth.

And the condition is exquisite.  The forty year old glass is perfect and there is one bump mark on the wood frame, and you would be hard pressed to find it.  The brass base is perfect - no scratches, mars.

I have only seen one other table like this - it was in the grand foyer of a chi chi bank in Cleveland.  And the only reason why I saw it was because my mother heard that the bank had one and she wanted to visit it in the garnd setting it was in.

But for all its perfectness, I fear it will go cheap.  The economy is bad, and its old enough to be old, but not old enough to be an antique.  Whoever buys it will have a great ticket to some 5 minutes of fame on the Antiques Roadshow in 2020.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut just now...

So the estate auction is about a month away and we're getting things ready.  Among the things I', selling of the things I am selling is Mom's car - a 2006 Toyota Highlander, and today we started routing around in it getting it ready for the auction.  Poking around under the gear selector I found a bunch tapes and CD's, .75c and a half a peanut.  The CD's and the tapes are going into the auction. 

The peanut went into the trash, prompting my mother's voice to ring in my head and say "come the Revolution you'll be sorry that you threw that out!"

I'll take my chances.

I'm also selling the Kindle Dining Room suite that she always had.  That was a tough one to agree to sell.  Its gorgeous.  But we simply don't have room for it in our house.  I'm also selling her Erwin-Lambeth coffee table which will go for a fraction of its worth. 

My hope is that someone will buy that monster of a coffee table - its huge and needs to go to a house where they have a living room that can handle it.

The dining room furniture is another story.  I hope whoever buys it will love it as she did.

More as we get closer to the sale date.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Goodies found in the basement!

The thing about cleaning out a basement in an older home is, that you never know what you are going to find.

I found twelve of these stickers, unused, on a top shelf in the basement of our vacation home: Château Cookie Du Nord, which is what we have named my mother's house.  I think they predate my stepfather's purchase of the house in the early 1960s.

So I looked at these and wondered, for a second, "who would use these?"  But I channeled my inner Mr. Peenee and had an epiphany: would Peenee throw these out?  Not without sending them to RMan's sister on her next birthday present.

So I kept them. Yay me! 

But seriously, beyond their camp value, I mean, who lives with this type of filth that your would have to label it with something that reads like a script for Sirius Black's mother's portrait?

There were other goodies to be found: a semi full glass bottle of Johnson Wax's Jubilee brand kitchen wax.- ten baby food jars hanging from their caps (which had been nailed to a floor joist (a very favorite handyman suggestion in Better Homes & Gardens in the 1950s) that held all manner of screws, nails, rivets, wire, clips, brads, staples, tacks (both carpet and thumb types) and wire nuts.   

You can never have enough wire nuts.

The estate auction is scheduled for the end of March.  I'm selling all of it, right down to the rafters. 

But not these - I'm thinking we need to frame these and hang them up somewhere...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Seperated at birth?

I have long believed that every human "bears" a resemblence to its twin in the animal kingdom. 

Experimental Dancer Martha Graham and the favorite of science experimentalist,
the rhesus monkey, separated at birth?

We have just learned that one of our favorite magazines of era's gone past - SPY Magazine has just been digitized and released on Google Books.  Yay!

In its early years, SPY was witty, biting, funny, profane, silly, smart and worth every penny.  Toward the end it was just a waste of paper.  But for those first five glorious years when it hit the mark - brilliance! 

If you don't remember SPY, go browse through Google Books and learn the real meaning of SNARKY and SATIRE and how funny it can be when done correctly in a take no shit, take no prisoners type of fashion.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Where do we begin

We spent the day at my late mother's house going through stuff.  We spent the day in the spare bedroom, sorting through stuff I want to keep, things I want to let go of and pitching things that need thrown out. 

While going through through the linen closet, I found this - a relic from my childhood.  So I put it on the vanity (and yes, that is real Formica made to look like marble) with the mirror star in the background and that FABULOUS wall paper that came with the house, and snapped this picture just for you.  Doesn't it make your eye's just ache?

So, where do I begin to explain this golden object?

When my parents decided to have their divorce remanded (one of the great mistakes of mankind) they bought a huge place in eastern Shaker - out by the Beachwood "frontier" (now the land of aging split levels) back when there was nothing east of Sulgrave Oval.  That house didn't have just a first floor half bath - it had a powder room. At the direction of one of my father's infamous friends - this one an ersatz decorator - the wallpaper man was instructed to paper in blue foil wallpaper and us a silver foil on the ceiling.  It was very chic. Anyhow this craptalistically gauche soap holder was plunked down on the white marble vanity, and had a matching tissue box and waste receptical.

Cherubs had great significance to Reform Jews of that era.  Historically, Jews didn't have Cherubs, we had suffering. But once my father's people (and the vast network of Eastern European kin that came over on the boat) churubs bespoke of suave class, to a rich heritage and to sophistication that my father's people craved and adopted.  While the WASP's in our neighborhood were mad for plaids and anything having to do with fox hunts and sailing, the Jews were adopting Louis the XVI so fast that it would have made Madam Defarge suspicious.

So the powder room has a cherub soap dish, and the living room had a cherub statue and the library had a cherub on the shelf.   My grandmother had a 14" cherub on the piano in her home, and he currently is residing in our guest-room closet. 

Over the years, as we left Shaker, and tastes changed, this little bugger went from house to house, and finally, I think it sank in on Mom that it was a bit on the gaudy side and she shoved it away - but she didn't toss it out. 

And because I am a big softy, I can't toss him out, either.  Instead, he'll come to our house, where he will live in the closet with the BIG cherub until such time that he'll be employed to shock our friends.

"You see," I'll begin, "for tonight's party, we don't have a bathroom.  You'll just have to use the powder room."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is it an Heirloom, or a Hair-loom?

Not that I want to throw cold water on any Trekie that has it big for William Shatner as Captain Kirk, but there is something rather evident in this video clip that most people miss.

As Shattner moves in for the concealed kiss (the camera doesn't show them in actual lip lock - but rather the kiss is tastefully obscured by the 3/4 rear angle - and his head starts moving, watch how his hairsprayed and rigid wig exposes the thinning hair on the scruff of his neck.

Its been known for years that Shatner wore a rug, so this isn't surprise information, but lets just call it proof, shall we?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011



Those of you who know about Periodically Anachronistic may think that this is a creation of my mind. But the truth is - you can't make something like this up.

True Medic Stories was a very real magazine, published quarterly in the 1950s and the 1960s.  It's what is inside that is unreal - a world where doctors and nurses lead glamorous lives of working together, dining together and - yes, if you can imagine - socialize after work together. 

They come up on eBay, appear at ephemera shows and sometimes they can be found in antique mall.  Happy hunting, nurse.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My parents document their place in history

Found in my mothers "stuff" this picture from 1961.  While my father signs the Declaration of Independence, my mother makes goo-goo eyes at a tall, landed, patriot from Virginia.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

We have some fun...

If you didn't know, and I don't know how you could not know, last summer I approached several friends about doing a cooperative blog dedicated to the biggest, baddest and the most bouffanted hair around and call it the Hair Hall of Fame.  Since blogger alreaduy had blog by that name, we capitalized "The" and the blog was born.

Needless to say, its been more fun than just blogging alone.

And it works because the people involved  - TBJ, MJ, Thombeau, Jason, Pirate (AYEM8Y) , Donna, Felix, Gum Popping Trainee Stylist and the madcap Norma Desmond are creative, funny, convivial, smart and sassy.  My fun comes from them letting me hang out with them.

But it also works because they all bring something to the HHoF that is unique - their perspective and outlook and most importantly, their energy.  The rules are simple - they contribute when they feel like it, share something with a hair theme and refrain from posting anything that would get an "Adult Content" label slapped on the blog.  (This means that MJ is unable to post her image of the VonTrapp Family singers sculpted in pubic hair.)

Without them, that blog would be nothing.  While it is not the pure shrine to the perfectly bouffanted, it has become something much more vibrant because it is the blog that we have created, rather than a stiffly constructed, inflexible shrine.  As a result, it is a more healthy organ, and I think, more entertaining and engaging.

So when Thombeau slipped me a graphic of line drawn girl heads from the late 1960s, it was simply Kismit that there were ten, and we at HHoF are ten, too.  And thus this blog banner/flag.

So my invitation to you, if you haven't already done so, please feel free to visit The Hair Hall of Fame - no appointments necessary for good friends - and scroll through the past posts if you have a moment.  We'd love to know what you think or have to share!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ground hog day

Meet Buckeye Chuck.  Chuck is Ohio's official state ground hog, and a resident of Marion Ohio.  Chuck was evidently unhappy to be roused from his comfy hutch behind radio station WMRN today, so that he could he held aloft by humans who are anxious about the outcome of what he sees, or does not see.

The official annoucement is that he did not see his shadow, which portends an early spring.  In reality, as I have said before, what Chuck saw where about fifty people gathered around him anxiously awaiting the outcome of what he sees (them) or does not see (a girl woodchuck). 

What do you think has Chuck all riled up?  He's not a morning person, is my guess. 

What does this all really mean?  Well, what it really means is that this will happen again next year and the year after that and the year after that, and so on and so on... 

That is the brilliance of Ground Hog Day. 

Just like the movie -  where Bill Murray keep waking to live the same day over and over - every year on February 2nd, we humans get up, drag a groundhog out of its cozy burrow and pin our hopes on what the keepers of the Ground decide we are to hope for or endure.

Ice Storm

Don't know how the rest of you all are doing but we are in the midst of an ice storm.  Nothing as dramatic as the movie but we are all keeping as close to home as possible and staying away from metal guard rails that have overhead power lines, and we have been turning down invitations to "key parties" as well.

I can deal with the cold and the snow, but ice is dangerous and makes me distrust others - especially those who insist on shaving, applying make up, reading their crackberries, or speaking on the phone - all at once - while driving.

So far so good at our home.  The big white pine in back  is still standing, although the white birch we planted across the street to block the view of the crappy old duplex took a hit.  I hope it can be saved.

The good news is that all of this madness has moved off to the east.

Like I said, the bitter cold, the snow - I can handle, but ice is dangerous.