Thursday, July 2, 2015

Conan O'Brien Hosts Week of Comic-Con Shows from San Diego--July 8th-11th

The San Diego Comic-Con International--known simply as Comic-Con--is a four-day event held during the summer at the San Diego Convention Center in lovely Southern California. This year's event takes place July 9th-12th.

Three hundred comic book enthusiasts attended Comic-Con's first event held at the U.S. Grant hotel in 1970. Organizers soon discovered that working with groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Mythopoeic Society broadened its fan base and attracted a lot of new talent to their event. For the last several years, the gathering at the San Diego Convention Center has been at full capacity with 130,000 participants. The economic impact on San Diego is $180 million.

In the beginning, Comic-Con showcased primarily comic books and science fiction related items but soon expanded to include a wide range of pop culture including animation, anime, collectible memorabilia, video games, web comics, and fantasy merchandise.

Tony Stark makes an appearance at Comic-Con.
Popular sponsored events include panel discussions, seminars, and workshops with comic book artists and writers. There are feature film previews and an independent film festival for movies and shorts without a movie deal. Film and television personalities attend this convention to create a buzz about their upcoming projects and take full advantage of the extensive media exposure.

Comic-Con began awarding their Inkpot Award in 1974 to persons of interest in the Popular Arts industry. In 1988, organizers established the Will Eisner Award--named after the pioneering comic book writer and artist. Winners comprise the comic industry's Hall of Fame. Comic-Con has a large ballroom for exhibitors and an Artists' Alley for autographs and photo-ops from artists, writers, and celebrities.

One of the standout features of Comic-Con are the costumes worn by many of the participants and the masquerade contest to determine the year's best. The spectacle is nothing less than Halloween on steroids. No shortage of superheroes, villains, plum smugglers, and buxom beauties.

The San Diego gathering is the Mecca of Geekdom. This year, their king--Conan O'Brien--will host a week of shows from San Diego's historic Spreckles Theatre. Rather than beginning the week with Monday and Tuesday night shows, Conan's week will begin Wednesday night and run through Saturday. Episodes will air on TBS at 11:00 PM nationwide and across their mobile and digital platforms the following day.

Conan O'Brien
Guests already announced are the casts of The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. Saturday night's line-up is a secret--making me think it might be the cast of next year's Batman v Superman. I'll have to tune-in to find out.

Comic-Con is suffering from its own success and has outgrown the present San Diego Convention Center facility. Because of overcrowding, organizers have capped attendance since 2007. In October 2013, the San Diego Coastal Commission approved a $520 million expansion to add another 225,000 square feet to the facility. 

A new 80,000 square foot ballroom is planned, and a second tower will be added to the Hilton Bayfront Hotel adjacent to the convention center increasing its capacity by 500 rooms. Comic-Con is expected to remain in San Diego for many years to come.

Comic-Con 2015 is already sold out, so begin planning for 2016. Information about obtaining an authorized Member I.D. number and purchasing tickets for next year's event can be found at this link:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Twelfth Night--Gender Bending at The Old Globe in San Diego

The Old Globe Theater's opening night of Twelfth Night--Shakespeare's gender bending romantic comedy--couldn't have been more timely given the recent Gay Marriage Supreme Court ruling. With the GLBT banner waving from the California Tower in Balboa Park, these talented actors--under the skillful direction of Rebecca Taichman--brought that madness we call love, in all its ridiculous splendor, to the outdoor Festival Stage in San Diego.

My wife and I attended an Old Globe fund raising dinner before the show with many of San Diego's theater glitterati in attendance, not least of whom was Marion Ross of Happy Days fame. Miss Ross is a local San Diego girl who first appeared on the Old Globe Festival stage in 1949 as Olivia in Twelfth Night. Miss Ross was seated directly in front of us and intently focused on the performance. I caught her quietly reciting the lines a couple of times.

As she was walking up the aisle at play's end, I offered her my arm for the long trek up the stairs. She smiled and said, "Please."

I'm hear to tell you that Mrs. C. is just as charming in person as she was when she appeared in America's living rooms with Richie and the Fonze.

For still photographs from the performance, check this link:;OtDyMJuXhE9vV2pKHv8l2hKdd4yGRQVZJc9at0ZWc6dUdhhZg0ZE~_VoKc6ebKeE87qwWTUFSXFz5aC52iAdvD7FhRP8zw4zG0nJ~_~;Njfr7NLxxZYgM~-.bps.a.10153315337154350.1073741897.8498549349/10153367686549350/?type=1&theater

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Detroit's Edgewater Park--A Fading Memory

Pay-One-Price Ticket
The Rouge River ran behind Edgewater Park--a twenty-acre amusement park on the West Side of Detroit. The park opened in 1927 on West 7 Mile Road and Grand River--just in time for Depression and World War II generations to escape the dire headlines while having some fun and diversion during hard times. 

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s--my era--the amusement park was one of the most popular recreation spots in the Detroit area. When we were kids, my parents took us to the park every year or so, but when my friends and I started to drive, Edgewater park was a regular after dark destination. We drove north up Telegraph Road from Dearborn Heights. It took no time at all to get to this oasis of affordable amusement and cheap thrills.

Popular rides and attractions were the one-hundred and ten foot tall Ferris Wheel with its great neon lighting effect at night, the Wild Mouse that would give riders whiplash, the always popular Dodge-Em cars, the reality-altering Hall of Mirrors, and the Fun House where many a male got to first base for the first time.

Clicking and clacking before The Beast's first drop.
Edgewater Park's premiere ride was a wooden roller coaster named "The Wild Beast." During the days of Pay-One-Price admission, some riders would see how many consecutive times they could ride The Beast in a day. I remember riding it seventeen times and having bruises all over my body afterward. One person claims to have ridden it twenty-seven times in one day, but I'm not certain how many of those rides were pre- or post- mortem. He must have worn protective clothing. The real record is lost to history.

In the 1960s, the Teen Scene became a popular weekend spot. Admission to the park and the concert were included in the ticket price. Popular Motown groups often appeared at the park--as did the likes of Del Shannon and David Cassidy. Corn dogs, Coney dogs, cotton candy, and real French fries with malt vinegar drew teens to the park in huge numbers.

Roller Coaster Ruins
Declining revenues and competition from other amusement parks like Bob-Lo Island in the Detroit River and Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio proved to be more than the old park could handle. The last click of the turnstile was on September 13, 1981. The park operated for fifty-four years, but little is known of its history. Today, the site is home to the Greater Grace Temple.

Photos of Edgewater Park:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chameleon Charm and Serial Killers

In the late nineteenth century, Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso was credited with the theory that some types of people are closer to our primitive ancestors than others. Dr. Lombroso utilized the work of anthropologist Pierre-Paul Broca which relied on facial measurements and anomalies of the skull, face, and body to determine who was--or was not--a criminal type.

Lombroso based his theory of the born criminal--who was a throwback to earlier hedonistic races--on hundreds of post-mortem examinations of criminals. He compiled a list of criminal traits which included receding hairline, forehead wrinkles, bumpy face, broad noses, fleshy lips, sloping shoulders, long arms, and pointed fingers. This condition was named atavism and was strongly associated with Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species--published in 1859. The belief that there was a face of evil was an easy one for society to accept in the Gilded Age of Queen Victoria.

In the twentieth century, this theory was strongly reinforced in the popular culture through cinema, novels, radio mystery shows, and television crime dramas. Of course, some common criminals undoubtedly conform to the stereotype of the dumb hoodlum by virtue of their less than average intelligence and their need to follow a charismatic leader, popularly known as the Boss or the brains of the outfit. This folklore gives rise to the idea that criminals--psychopaths among them--are easily identified because they look different from normal people.

Rather than scientific, these ideas broke along racial and ethnic lines, and in nineteenth century America, religion was also a prejudicial factor in determining guilt. It was believed that Catholics and Jews bore a greater responsibility for crime, in cities like Boston and New York, than the hard working Protestant folk. The Nazis made great use of this type of junk science against European Jews, which they proudly documented for the world to see in the last century.

Serial killers are cut from different cloth than common criminals. Psychologists have done extensive studies on this unique category of murderer. Their studies have discovered that they tend to be above average in intelligence and some are gifted. These are people who often have a belief that their intellect exempts them from the rules and regulations that were devised to keep less intelligent people in line--an attitude of entitlement develops.
Their intelligence allows serial killers to tidy up evidence, dispose of the body, and return to their normal fa├žade of life until the urge falls upon them to strike again.

Understanding the construction of the mind simply by looking at physical traits doesn’t work. Serial killers often look normal and blend into the background, so their behavior often requires sophisticated psychological profiling before they are caught. Regrettably, profiling only becomes more accurate as the body count rises, sometimes not even then.

Everything about serial killers is frightening. But the most disturbing thing of all is that they look just like the rest of us. These people are often superficially described as charming or engaging.

John Norman Collins
Even after the outrages of serial killers have been discovered, many people are dumbstruck despite the evidence that a normal looking person could be responsible for such carnage. It is part of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality of their personality disorder that enables serial killers to deceive people so easily. They are natural actors because deception and manipulation are second nature to them.

The true beginnings of modern crime fighting:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Inside the Mind of The Curious Incident of the Dog

Last week, I saw an amazing play in New York with the most creative use of theater space I've ever seen. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a National Theatre production based on a 2003 mystery novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. The original London production--now running on Broadway--won seven Olivier Awards in 2013. 

What first appears to the audience as the chaotic thoughts and erratic behaviors of a fifteen-year-old male with Asperger syndrome, proves to be a journey through the mind of someone who is a math savant. But this is neither a play about Asperger syndrome nor math. It is about Christopher Boone's investigation into the pitchfork murder of his neighbor's dog that leads to a larger mystery he is determined to solve.

Several days after I saw the play, I was thinking about the inventive set. Duh! It finally struck me. The stage is a representation of Christopher's mind. The mystery unfolds on stage with the background, left and right sides, and the floor configured like graph paper. The open ceiling shows the limitless night sky and the scope of the boy's ambition. The lighting effects and the tech work behind this production are an eye-popping assault on the senses.

This metaphoric construct depicts the inner reality of an autistic teenager who discovers much more than he could ever imagine. He can interpret only the literal and not the figurative. When Christopher sets out in search of his mother, he must interact with the London Underground system for the first time in his life. Navigating the subway for most people is nothing more than a routine nuisance, but for Christopher, it is a harrowing ride towards self-discovery.

I expect this mystery drama will do very well Sunday night at the 2015 Tony Awards.

Friday, May 29, 2015

John Norman Collins Strikes a Pose

In January of 1969, John Norman Collins did three photo shoots for a pocket-sized body building magazine entitled Tomorrow's Man (1952-1971). The popular subtitle for this "beefcake" magazine was "Hunks in Trunks." Readers may recognize the names of Steve Reeves (Hercules) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) as people who have posed for this periodical. The pictorials and covers featured prominent bodybuilders and amateurs.

This pulp fiction relic was particularly popular in the 50s and 60s among gay men and curious newcomers. It was considered a crossover publication which could be found on newsstands in urban areas across the country, or it could be mail-ordered discreetly from home.

In those days, beefcake magazines were often the only connection closeted gay men had to their sexuality. But by the end of the Sixties, social conventions had relaxed and gay porn became legal. The market for beefcake magazines declined. The advent of home video in the Seventies struck the death knell for this pulp genre. Collectors of vintage beefcake magazines have made it next to impossible to obtain a copy of Tomorrow's Man.


In a prison letter written July 15, 2013, John Norman Collins tells his Canadian cousin the story of his brief involvement in the world of bodybuilding modeling. 

[The following excerpt is presented essentially unedited as written.]

"Oh my God, you found those pictures of me in that "Tomorrow's Man!" ha, ha. Those were taken when I was at Eastern Mich. University. I was a Junior I believe [January 1969]. The media tried to PLAY IT UP after my arrest and make me seem GAY. Here's the SCOOP, John [Collins' Canadian cousin]. I was a JOCK in college and loved all sports so I joined a JOCK Fraternity [Theta Chi] that had lots of football players, wrestlers, baseball players, etc. Well a couple of Brothers told me about this guy that took photo's of guys for some weight-lifting magazines and it paid really good for just 1/2 hour of work. I went to the studio with a few Brothers and I saw what they really did and I agreed to do it. I did like maybe 3 sessions and forgot all about it. I knew the photographer could use my photo's in any magazine he wanted to and he used Bill Kenyon as my name. I have no idea WHY he did that? Anyhow, he used guys from the wrestling team, swim team, etc. Anyone that was in decent shape. At the time he told me he would try to get me into modeling jobs (clothing), BUTT, that didn't happen. How many pictures were in the mag.? I'll never be an "Arnuld." ha, ha. Maybe I should have you send me a copy of the photo(s) they used in the mag.? :) Just curious! I lifted weights for football, hockey, baseball etc., NOT really to be a bodybuilder. Just want some size & strength."

Tomorrow's Man used only one of the photos from Collins three separate shoots, for which he was paid $5.00 a session. "Teenage bodybuilder" Bill Kenyon was, of course, twenty-one year old John Norman Collins. In addition to the photograph, which was placed to the right of an advertisement for wheat germ capsules, the photo's banner read "GREAT FUTURE."

Two Eastern Michigan University coeds had been murdered in Washtenaw County prior to the Collins photo sessions. Five additional unsolved murders of young women occurred in the nine months after Collins posed for Tomorrow's Man magazine. Only for the last of these brutal serial killings would John Norman Collins ever be tried and convicted. The six other cases have hung in limbo for almost fifty years.

For more examples of Tomorrow's Man covers, tap on the following link:

For more information about Beefcake magazines, tap on this link:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Allen Park's Uniroyal Giant Tire--Fifty Years Old--Heralds Entrance into The Motor City

The original U.S. Royal Tire exhibit was a Ferris wheel attraction at the New York World's Fair of 1964/1965, held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the borough of Queens. The fair was open for two six-month seasons. In 1964, it was open from April 22th until October 18th, and in 1965, the dates were April 21st until October 17th.

The history of the U.S. Royal Giant Tire is pretty straightforward. Originally rigged as a Ferris Wheel and powered by a 100 HP engine, it was over eighty feet high. It carried over 2,000,000 people at the World's Fair, many of them famous world figures. There were twenty-four barrel shaped gondolas, each carrying up to four people for a total of ninety-six passengers paying a quarter apiece. 

At the Fair's end, the tire was disassembled and shipped by rail to Detroit and reassembled as a static display outside the Uniroyal sales offices in Allen Park, Michigan. It is the world's largest roadside attraction. The Uniroyal office has since moved, but the Giant Tire still stands.

The tire is not made of rubber, but sightseers don't notice the difference whizzing past the landmark at seventy miles an hour on Interstate 94. The tire weighs just under twelve tons and is anchored in twenty-four feet of concrete and structural steel. It is rated to withstand hurricane force winds.

When the Michelin Tire Company bought out Uniroyal and Goodrich in 1990, they renovated the landmark in 1994 with a fresh coat of paint, a modern looking hubcap, and neon lights for the Uniroyal lettering. Four years later in 1998, the Giant Tire was modified again to resemble a "Nail Guard" tire. An eleven foot long, 250 pound nail (world's largest) was sticking out from the tire to promote their new puncture proof product. The nail was put up for auction on eBay in 2003 and sold for $3,000, with proceeds donated to the Allen Park Historical Museum.

In 2003, the Giant Tire was once again renovated as part of the I-94 corridor revitalization. The neon lettering was replaced with reflective lettering and spotlighting. It has remained a Detroit landmark and an Allen Park roadside attraction for forty-eight years heralding the entrance into the Motor City from Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan.

It has been noted that the one thing the Beatles wanted to see on their American tour was the Giant Tire. Whether they stopped along the freeway to take a good look at it on their way into Detroit from Metro Airport isn't known, but when Paul McCartney and Wings were touring in 1976, the moment was commemorated.