Books: Chris Epting’s Pop Culture Dispatches

•July 17, 2010 • 4 Comments

Chris Epting

Chris Epting is the real deal.

And, if you love the study of Popular Culture half as much as I do, you need to add a few of his books to your shelves. The only challenge may be choosing among them.

Epting has penned seventeen pop culture landmark guides for multiple publishers (including a handful of Arcadia Publishing’s sepia-toned historical photo volumes), but he is more than just a writer of books. Among many other roles, he is the national spokesman for Hampton Inn’s “Save-A-Landmark” program, hosts the weekly syndicated radio show, The Pop Culture Road Trip, and regularly dons the mantle of “Pop Culture Guru” on National Public Radio, the E! Channel and Access Hollywood.

His books, however, remain the most accessible pop culture fix for most fans. Even limited exposure to this fun and fascinating body of work leaves the impression that Epting himself could be parachuted blindfolded into any tiny corner of the United States, and–after taking a moment to get his bearings–teach the locals a few things they didn’t know about their own hometown.

Of course, his past work has not always been about famous people. Like Paul Simon, he sees “angels in the architecture,” and can often wax as lyrical about the history of buildings, landmarks and trees as he can about the rich, the famous, and the infamous.

Epting just knows stuff.

The tales he spins, however, are more than just book knowledge or a bunch of unrelated facts memorized off of out-dated Trivial Pursuit cards. For the past four decades, he’s enjoyed amazing first-hand experiences with some of the biggest sports, musical and pop culture icons of recent generations, and he generously shares many of them in his most recent work, Hello, It’s Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie, just published by Santa Monica Press.

Make no mistake. Epting gets around. Like Johnny Cash, he’s been “everywhere, man.” He’s Zelig without Photoshop, Forrest Gump without the special effects. From an early age, he’s posed for more “grip & grin” photos than any three Presidents. Dude’s a walking Kodak moment, but with a soundtrack to match.

He knows baseball. He knows music, film and television. And he may be the only man who could have negotiated a truce if a group of WWII veterans ever accidentally wandered in to CBGB’s back in the day.

With Chris Epting at a book signing for "Hello, It's Me" at Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach

I worked alongside Epting a decade ago at a mid-sized Orange County advertising agency, and can attest to his creative energy, sense of humor, and voracious appetite for all things pop culture. But despite his marketing background and knowledge of the ad biz, his books are chock-full of entertaining and enlightening paeans to his passions. He doesn’t write about baseball and rock and roll because it will “sell.” He writes about these and other topics because he genuinely loves them. Writing from a point of passion is certainly a road less traveled in the book business these days, but, for Epting, it makes all the difference.

The personal, passionate tone of each tale included in Hello, It’s Me adds to the telling. For the first time, Epting is a character in each of his mini-plays. And don’t assume that the “pop culture” he covers ends with the 1990s. Although the book begins in the early 1970s, the last few chapters are as timely as the requirements of the printing press will allow. The most recent, a moving chapter on the family, life and tragic death of Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, drummer of the popular hard rock/metal core band Avenged Sevenfold (which grew out of a series of columns he wrote for Huntington Beach Independent), is not to be missed.

Hop in the shotgun seat alongside Chris Epting for a radical ride-along, either with Hello, It’s Me, or one of many other works. You won’t be sorry.

Check out Epting’s website for more information on Hello, It’s Me and all of his other titles. His books are also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders and many other fine web retailers.

His available titles include: James Dean Died Here, Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here, Elvis Passed Here, Led Zepplin Crashed Here, Vanishing Orange County, Roadside Baseball, and many others.


RIP, Fess Parker

•March 18, 2010 • 2 Comments

The world lost another class act today with the passing of Fess Parker (85), who died earlier today of natural causes. Parker first made his mark as Disney’s Davy Crockett before going on to portray Daniel Boone on the long-running 1960s eponymous television series on NBC. After retiring from acting, he went on to great success as a hotelier and winemaker.

He was a gracious and gentle giant of a man, and he will be missed by many. Click HERE to read a lengthy obituary from Dennis McLellan of the Los Angeles Times.

Here are links to some other “Parker” posts found here on “Get it. Got it. Good.”

craig hodgkins

Disney: John Lasseter at the D23 Expo

•October 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Here’s a link to a video (from Mark Eades/the OC Register online) of John Lasseter’s September 13, 2009 press conference at the D23 Expo.

It really gets going about five minutes in (not coincidentally, after a question from Leo Holzer) when john starts to discuss Walt Disney’s influence on story, the value of hand-drawn animation, the way Pixar does their films, etc. Great stuff as always from John.

FYI…that’s me as the disembodied host voice (see photo HERE). I may look better on audio.

Click HERE to watch it.

craig hodgkins

Disney: Day 3/Day 4 of the D23 Expo

•September 13, 2009 • 3 Comments

Since I’ve been a day late with both of my previous D23 Expo posts, I’ve chosen to combine my thoughts of Day 3 and Day 4 in one to catch up. Fortunately, I should stay caught up, since today was the fourth and final day of the Expo. Phew!

Me hosting John Lasseter in the D23 Expo press conference room

Me and John Lasseter in the D23 press room. I'm wearing the Hawaiian shirt in his honor.

Although it was an incredible (and exhausting) four days, I’d have to say that–all fascinating presentations, surprising special guests and wonderful show, ride and movie announcements aside–my favorite moments of the D23 Expo came when I hosted Sunday’s press conference with Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter. More press turned out for him than for any other presenter, and understandably so. John has helped revitalize Disney’s animated films division since he and his Pixar team joined forces with the Mouse, and his ability to speak into everything from theme park attractions to consumer products is already paying big dividends, financially and “corporate” culturally.

Some of the intrepid D23 Expo press contingent

Some of the intrepid D23 Expo press contingent. The bigger video cameras were in the back row, just out of sight.

In fact, just in case you’re wondering if any press turned out to hear John, here’s a photo (on the right) I snapped of some of them (with my “host-cam” iPhone) while we waited for John to arrive.

In true Disney fashion, I asked them all to smile for the camera, since we had been smiling for theirs all week…

But before getting too far into the Sunday program, let’s cover Day 3…

The press docket for Saturday, September 12 started off with Jay Rasulo, Disney’s President of Parks and Resorts, who was joined by Imagineers Eric Jacobson, Jon Georges and Chris Beatty. Among the future plans discussed by Jay and the team from Imagineering were the upcoming re-vamp of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World and the just-announced (at the prior presentation) re-do of Star Tours…in 3-D!

From left: Eric Jacobson, Chris Beatty, Jon Georges and Jay Rasulo

From left: Eric Jacobson, Chris Beatty and Jon Georges listen as Jay Rasulo responds to the press

My “M.O.” for all of the conferences was to moderate questions, and ask my own in case of a lull. There were no issues with the latter at any of the Parks sessions, as the press fired question after question at our panels. I must add that both corporate executives I hosted (Bob Iger and Jay Rasulo) did a wonderful job with the queries thrown their way. If a question arose that they couldn’t answer (at least “on the record”), such as a common one about company earnings, they demurred with humor and grace.

I’m the sort of guy who can listen to Imagineers discuss projects all day, so I was sorry that the allotted half hour had seemed to pass so quickly. I really enjoyed everything Chris, Eric and Jon had to say about their work on the new Fantasyland.

Me with Roy Patrick Disney

Me with Roy Patrick Disney

The second event of the day was quite a departure from our usual slate of company project announcements. Roy Patrick Disney–son of former Vice Chairman of the Board Roy E. Disney and grandson of company co-founder Roy O. Disney–stopped by the press conference room to discuss his presentation of “Growing Up Disney,” one which had been so popular that a second session was hastily added to the D23 Expo schedule.

I really appreciated Roy’s candor regarding the sometimes difficult (and always complicated) relationship between his grandfather and Walt, as well as the challenges he sometimes faced when he was working for the company that bore his surname (Roy hasn’t worked for the Walt Disney Company for more than a decade).

Our third panel featured Imagineers Kim Irvine and Tom Morris, who weighed in on the recent remaking of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” attraction. Both Kim and Tom are Imagineering veterans (I wonder how many combined years of experience our WDI panels had?), and told of how they painstakingly returned to the original work of Mary Blair, Rolly Crump, and Alice Davis (among others) to inspire their re-do of the iconic attraction which dates back to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Again, I was impressed (but not surprised) by the level of detail and care these  artists take when undertaking any new or revitalized show.

We ended the day with the always fun Tony Baxter discussing the reworking of another World’s Fair (and Disneyland) audio-animatronic resident: Abraham Lincoln. Tony lovingly discussed the re-editing of Royal Dano’s voice recordings that brought our 16th president to life, and which soon will again in the U.S. Presidents show.

Which brings us to Sunday…

Me addressing the press

Me addressing the press

Among the topics John Lasseter discussed were Toy Story 3, his teachers at Cal Arts, how he learned to make “timeless” and story-driven films from Walt (“Walt was always trying to push the technology of the films…but it was always in the service of story.”), and the mantra of Pixar, which is “tell a compelling story, populate it with appealing characters, and put those characters in a believeable world.”

That’s just a taste…it was more like a symposium than a press conference.

Our final conference of the day was our largest, as 5 Imagineers and 2 members of the Pixar team joined us for a discussion of “Imagineering Pixar for the Disney Parks.” This group included WDI’s Bruce Vaughn, Kathy Mangum, Eric Jacobson, Bob Weis and Kevin Rafferty as well as Pixar’s Roger Gould and Liz Gazzano.

Among the many items discussed was the new 12-acre Cars Land area, set to open at Disney’s California Adventure in (I believe) 2012. Kathy did an especially wonderful job of narrating us through a new cars ride. It was also cool to hear the panel tell–from both the Pixar and Imagineering vantage points–of how excited each team was when the Pixar/Disney deal went through. Roger Gould said that when they heard the news, he and Liz both shouted a loud “Yes.” When he related the story, he accented the word “Yes” with a first pump worthy of Tiger Woods.

Erin, Diane and Emily hang with the original Herbie from "The Love Bug"

Erin, Diane and Emily hang with the original Herbie from "The Love Bug"

I had a couple hours of R&R between the two Sunday press conferences, so I was able to show my wife and two daughters around the showroom floor downstairs, and escort them through the Disney Archives exhibit.

And, since my younger daughter wanted to see the big Wizards of Waverly Place stage show (nearly the entire cast sat on stage and talked about the Emmy Award-wining cable series), we did that as well. It had been quite a while since I was in a huge theater with that many screaming teens and tweens. Yikes!

But all good things must come to and end, and so it was with the inaugural D23 Expo. I don’t think I’ll have a vote in the process, but based on the attendance at the Anaheim Convention Center, I’m pretty sure there will be a second iteration of the D23 Expo.

John Singh joins me at the conference tables

John Singh joins me at the conference tables

I’d like to thank Disneyland’s Director of Publicity Mike Hyland and D23’s publicity consultant John Singh for allowing me to spend four wonderful days chatting about the Mouse and hob-nobbing with several of my old Disney pals (such as Richard and Elizabeth Sherman, Mary Costa, Howard Green, George Savvas, Tim O’Day, Michael Young…), and giving me the opportunity to meet so many new ones. I’d also like to thank the Orange County Register‘s Joshua Sudock for letting me use his photo of John Lasseter (and me).

We’ll see you next year!

craig hodgkins

For links to posts about past Disney events, click HERE.

Disney: Day Two of the D23 Expo

•September 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Day 2 of the D23 Expo continued right where Day 1 had left off, with some even bigger surprises. During Studio President Dick Cook’s presentation, special guests John Travolta and Johnny Depp wowed the crowd, as did his sneak peak at several future studio releases. You’ve all seen the photos…no need to repeat them here. Well…OK…here’s a link to Access Hollywood’s footage of the two visits (A short commercial precedes the footage).

Although Miley Cyrus, Nicholas Cage and Tim Burton were also wandering the property at various times, I was busy off in the press conference room, hosting no fewer than five post-presentation soirees throughout the afternoon and evening with animators, Imagineers, producers, preservationists and songwriters. Quite the docket, to be sure.

Imagineers Steven Davison and Sayre Wiseman

Imagineers Steven Davison and Sayre Wiseman

First up was the Imagineering tandem of Steven Davison and Sayre Wiseman, leaders of the team designing and executing the upcoming (Summer of 2010) “water-and-fire spectacular” at Disney’s California Adventure. Really can’t wait to see it out at DCA. It sounds amazing.

Following Steven and Sayre was noted animation preservationist Ron Stark of S/R Laboratories, who has been studying and practicing the art and science of the restoration of animation art for decades. Ron was a great interview. His business card says that nobody knows more about animation art, and I can believe it!

Andreas Deja and David Pacheco with D23 Expo host Craig Hodgkins

Animator Andreas Deja and Master Artist David Pacheco with D23 Expo host Craig Hodgkins

Later in the afternoon, it was my pleasure to welcome long time Disney artists and friends Andreas Deja and David Pacheco to our little corner of the D23 Expo. Their presentation, “The Evolution of Mickey,” filled the Stage 23 auditorium. Andreas and David joined Walt Disney Animation a few weeks apart in 1980, and have each gone on to great careers with the company. Andreas most recently lent his talents to next year’s The Princess and the Frog, and David is currently a master artist, responsible for mentoring and advising the hundreds of artists in the Disney Consumer Products division.

Two more fun conferences rounded out the day. First, the team behind the recent Disney Cruise Line stage success, “Toy Story–The Musical,” told of the creation, gestation and production of this fun on-board show, currently exclusive to the Disney Magic. This energetic team includes Michael Jung, Matt Almos, Brendan Miburn and Valerie Vigoda.

Don Hahn and Dave Bossert

Don Hahn and Dave Bossert discuss Disney Rarities

Our conference day concluded with a personal favorite of mine, producer and author Don Hahn, who appeared with Dave Bossert, the Creative Director for Walt Disney Animation. The two had combined for a presentation called “Disney Rarities,” which featured a collection of short films which had not seen theatrical distribution in decades.

Dave is the man who convinced the company to re-release several of the cartoons produced during and for WWII, including Victory Through Airpower and many other shorts, which came out on the Walt Disney Treasures DVD set On the Front Lines. Don’s is the author of the recently published “The Alchemy of Animation: Making an Animated Film in the Modern Age.” He is also the author of one of my favorite books on creativity, titled “Dancing Corndogs in the Night.” He is currently producing a documentary in the late 1980s renaissance in Disney animation.

craig hodgkins

For links to posts about past Disney events, click HERE.

Disney: Day One of the D23 Expo

•September 11, 2009 • 1 Comment
The D23 Expo press conference set-up

The D23 Expo press conference set-up, sans guests

Much has already been written about Day 1 of the inaugural D23 Expo, but I’ll weigh in with a little personal perspective, since I spent a good deal of the day hosting and moderating multiple press conferences, which were not open to the general public.

Fortunately, I’d already checked out many of the exhibits and displays during set-up on Wednesday evening (including the wonderful “Treasures of the Disney Archives” exhibit), and let me say this…if you are a Disney fan, and haven’t come to the D23 Expo, you are really missing out on some unique stuff.

Disney's Steven Clark and Bob Iger at the first D23 Expo press conference

Disney executives Steven Clark and Bob Iger at the first D23 Expo press conference. Taken with my official "host-cam."

My personal adventure began shortly before the first press conference. It was scheduled to start at 1:30, and was to feature Steven Clark, Vice President of Corporate Communications and the man behind D23 and the Expo. But at 1:25, we all received a surprise: Disney CEO Bob Iger, who hadn’t been scheduled to do a press conference, would join Steven. Suddenly, press and video cameras came out of the woodwork. It was as if the Beatles had reunited and landed to announce their recently remastered CD box set.

Bob fielded questions regarding the creation of D23 and the Expo, future theme park plans, and the recent acquisition of Marvel. Regarding the latter topic, he talked at length of the similarities of the two businesses, and shared how–after some initial meetings–he had put current Disney Feature Animation head John Lassiter in direct contact with Marvel executives, since John and his PIXAR team had recently gone through a Disney acquisition experience of their own. Bob’s enthusiasm for the future of all things Disney was contageous, as it was during his speech to open the Expo earlier in the day. He not only said the right things, but had a genuine passion for what he was saying.

The second conference featured Imagineer Tony Baxter and Media Preservationist Ed Hobelman, who discussed the rare footage the pair had shared during their “Wonderful World of Vintage Disneyland” presentation (one so popular with the Expo crowd that more than 100 people had to be turned away). Building on the bonus footage currently available on the “Secrets, Stories & Magic” Walt Disney Treasures DVD set, Tony and Ed told of discovery after discovery in a warehouse full of un- or mis-marked film cans, many scheduled to be destroyed. Several hundred hours of footage remains, and the pair are hoping for just the right projects to come along so they can share more of it.

Legendary Imagineers at D23 Expo

Imagineer Emeritus Bob Gurr answers a question while the Legendary panel looks on. From Left: Don Iwerks, Bob Gurr, Marty Sklar, X Atencio and Alice Davis

The final Thursday conference featured a group of Imagineers with more than 300 combined years of creative service to the world of Disney: Bob Gurr, Marty Sklar, Don Iwerks, X Atencio, and Alice Davis. The five, along with sculptor Blaine Gibson (who had to return home prior to the press conference), were fresh from their “An Afternoon with Imagineering Legends” presentation, which Marty had moderated.

It was a treat for me to see them all of these Legends again, but especially Alice, since I had hosted several events with her and her late husband, Marc.

One of the more interesting questions was how being an Imagineer today differed from those in the past. Marty was quick to point out that most of the original Imagineers had come with a good deal of experience from other creative disciplines from within the Disney studios (since there was no way to be trained specifically to work for WED, as WDI was then known).

When asked if any of the panel had worked on any favorite shows or attractions that were never built, Bob Gurr pointed out that no good idea ever died. If an idea or method of executing a good story wasn’t used in one show, it would probably resurface in a future attraction. Marty added that some great stories and ideas simply had to wait until the technology to best communicate them had been developed.

Other highlights of the day:

  • A special screening of the documentary “The Boys,” along with a special guest appearance of songwriter Richard Sherman.
  • The Treasure of The Disney Archives” exhibit (don’t miss it!)
  • A walk-thru of several future theme park attractions, including some for the Hong Kong Disneyland and a sneak preview of Cars Land, set to open in Disney’s California Adventure in 2012
  • The 2009 Disney Legends ceremony, the first to be held off Disney property. Those recognized include: actor/comedian Robin Williams, Imagineer Don Iwerks, character voice talents Tony Anselmo (Donald Duck) and Bill Farmer (Goofy), and TV’s Golden Girls Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan and Betty White.
  • A lengthy preview of the upcoming animated feature “The Princess and the Frog.”
  • and a whole lot more…

All in all, a great first day! I’ll be back with more tomorrow…

craig hodgkins

For links to posts about past Disney events, click HERE.

Images of Us: The Library of Congress Photostream Project

•July 10, 2009 • 7 Comments
The New York Tribune, December 27, 1908

The New York Tribune, December 27, 1908

If a picture is worth a thousand words, than the Library of Congress Photostream project is more valuable than Fort Knox. From its cavernous collection of famous faces and everyday people to the far, exotic places and the farmer’s field just down the road, this online repository is truly a national treasure.

I’ve long been fascinated by photographic images of the past. I first came across a bound collection of historical shots as a twelve year-old volunteer at my local library. But it wasn’t until a few years later, while reading Jack Finney’s novel Time and Again, that it finally struck me: the characters in those often stiff and colorless images had been actual living, breathing human beings, just like me, my family and my friends. The photographs had merely frozen a moment of their lives in time.

Mr. and Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Lyman, Polish tobacco farmers near Windsor Locks, Connecticut

Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Lyman, Polish tobacco farmers near Windsor Locks, Connecticut

As Finney pointed out, each had been doing something immediately before the photo was taken (even if it was only posing or grooming), and their full-color lives went on after the bulb popped, or the smoke from the flashpowder had dissipated. For example, can’t you “hear” Mrs. Lyman’s laugh in the photograph at left, and don’t you wonder what made her laugh so heartily?

The Library of Congress collection features a wealth of images, broken into categories, but sortable in multiple ways, and not all in black & white.

For example, one category, “the 1930s-1940s in Color,” contains rich color images from a era most of us have only seen in shades of gray, and features everything from female factory workers in wartime, rural landscapes, carnival entertainers, and the hearty homesteaders of Pietown, New Mexico. Other segments of the collection feature actual newsprint images, Abraham Lincoln, and thousands of news photos from 1910 alone.

The images are fascinating, and comments added by visitors (often with links to Wikipedia entries or other informative websites) shed more light on the subjects, rendering the images more lifelike by adding a virtual third dimension of detail.

Dorethea Lenge's "Toward Los Angeles"

Dorothea Lange's "Toward Los Angeles"

Some date before the turn of the century, and give us glimpses into a class-divided society. Others focus on heroes of the sporting or show business worlds. Many are from the great depression, and are associated with the massive programs of the arts and cultural arm of the WPA.

I’ve collected a complete first edition set of the WPA guides to the United States (often referred to as the “American Guides”), and I consider these photographs to be a perfect compliment to the hardcover and softcover volumes and pamphlets published on the 48 states (plus the territories of Alaska and Puerto Rico…no WPA guide on Hawaii was published) and several major US cities.

A few “famous” photographers, such as Dorothea Lange, are represented in the collection, but most of the images were created by hard-working and little known craftspeople who often toiled for news or government agencies.

If you’re like me, and are drawn into the stories (and mysteries) of historical images, you’ll love clicking through the Library of Congress Photostream project. But don’t blame me if you get lost for a couple of days.

craig hodgkins