September 26, 2009

SEPTEMBER 27 - Remember when we used to “Fly the friendly skies?”

Several airline advertising slogans have become memes in our culture even though the airlines that used them no longer exist. For example...

“It’s the only way to fly!” – The famed ad slogan used by Western Airlines, starting in 1956, which became a familiar saying.

“If you've got it, flaunt it” - The ad slogan used by Braniff Airways, starting in late 1968 or early 1969. It was apparently inspired by the famous line said by Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’ great 1968 comedy movie, The Producers: “That's it baby, when you got it, flaunt it! Flaunt It!”

“I'm [Name]. Fly me.” (e.g., “I’m Cheryl. Fly me.”) - The suggestive ad slogan used by National Airlines in the 1970s.

Another famous airline ad slogan that’s still quoted is “Fly the friendly skies of United.”

According to the U.S. Trademark Database, “Fly the friendly skies of United” it was first used in commerce by United Airlines on September 27, 1965.

It was created by legendary American ad man Leo Burnett, who also created such cultural icons as the Jolly Green Giant, the Marlboro Man, Charlie the Tuna and Tony the Tiger.

In the vintage United Airlines TV ads and print ads that used the slogan, it looked like it would be a pleasure to fly in those comfy seats, being taken care of by those happy, friendly ladies-who-were-still-called-stewardesses-not-flight-attendants.

“Fly the friendly skies” was the airline industry’s longest running marketing message. It was finally retired in 1997.

United replaced it with the unmemorable one-word ad slogan “Rising” (which didn’t make it into the quotation books).

Unlike the airlines that had the other famous ad taglines I mentioned, United is still flying. In fact, despite various rocky financial periods it’s one the biggest surviving airlines.

However, given the high-security, delay-ridden, pay-for-all-extras, cattle-car experience of air travel today, United’s “Fly the friendly skies” slogan is now generally cited in jest or derision.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 27:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” – One of the famous “Yogiisms” by baseball player and manager Yogi Berra (b. 1925), commenting on the 1973 National League pennant race when the New York Mets lost 8-5 to Montreal on September 27, 1973.

“The Silent Spring.” - Title of the groundbreaking book that became an environmental rallying cry, written by American biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) and released on September 27, 1962.

September 22, 2009

SEPTEMBER 22 - “Slowly I turned…”

September 22 is the anniversary of the most widely known version of an old vaudeville routine – the “Slowly I turned” shtick.

In this classic comedy bit, the name of a certain place causes a husband to recall how his wife ran away with another man and how he took his revenge on the wife-stealer when he found him.

The Three Stooges made “Niagara Falls” that place in their short film Gents Without Cents, which was released on September 22, 1944.

Today, most people know what comes after “Niagara Falls,” even if they never saw that Stooges film:

“Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch...”

As he says these words the husband gets so worked up he starts demonstrating on an innocent listener how he smacked, poked, punched and otherwise took his revenge on the wife-stealer. When the poor listener is reeling from the blows, the husband suddenly realizes what he’s doing, stops and apologizes.

Ah, but then, the listener accidentally mentions the place name again – triggering another “Slowly I turned” rant and another beating.

In Gents Without Cents, the Stooges do a stage show in which Moe and Larry both get triggered by “Niagara Falls” and Curly is the recipient of their smacks, pokes and punches.

Other comedians, such as Joey Faye and Abbott and Costello, did their own versions of the routine before and after the Stooges, using other trigger words.

But, for some reason, the Three Stooges’ Niagara Falls version is the one that has stuck in our language and brains. Along with those eloquent words: “Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 22:

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” - The famed words of Nathan Hale before he was hung as a rebel spy by the British on September 22, 1776. Hale was a school teacher before the American Revolution and was probably inspired by a line he knew from Joseph Addison's play, Cato (1713): “What pity is it, That we can die but once to serve our country!”

“Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!” – The most quoted line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Building of the Ship,” which he composed on September 22, 1849.

September 18, 2009

SEPTEMBER 18 - Was Lincoln a Great Emancipator or a Great Obfuscator?

An Abraham Lincoln quotation that is often noted in modern, clear-eyed accounts of his life comes from one of his debates with Stephen Douglas, during their 1858 contest for an Illinois Senate seat in Congress.

At the time, white male voters were the only voters and most were racist. So, Douglas had been doing his best to scare them into thinking Lincoln was an unqualified abolitionist and an advocate of “mixed race” marriage.

In the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate, held on September 18, 1858, Lincoln responded. He said:

“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”

Lincoln went on to say: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”

How does this now oft-cited quote square with the old traditional image of Lincoln “The Great Emancipator” who “freed the slaves” with his Emancipation Proclamation?

Well, in a nutshell, the Civil War wasn’t really a war to free the slaves. And, the Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime strategy employed by Lincoln. It only “freed” slaves in Confederate states, to encourage them to leave their Southern masters and hopefully disrupt the Southern economy and war effort.

In the Northern states, slavery wasn’t legally abolished until the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1865.

Lincoln’s pandering speech to voters on September 18, 1858 doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great man. It just means that he was complex – like real people and real politics really are. 

It’s a fitting time to read more about this great and complex man, since 2009 is the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 18:

“Bring ‘em Back Alive.” - Wildlife collector Frank Buck’s signature catchphrase, which he used as the title of a best selling book copyrighted on September 18, 1930.

“Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more...” - The hit song by Ray Charles (written by Percy Mayfield) which entered Billboard’s Top 40 music chart on September 18, 1961.

“Men Behaving Badly.” - The title of a British TV sitcom that ran from 1992 to 1998. It was creeping into American vernacular, but was fully embedded in our language here when an Americanized version of the show started airing on September 18, 1996.

September 14, 2009

“Danger, Will Robinson!”

In addition to being a fan of old TV westerns, like Have Gun – Will Travel, I’m also a fan of vintage science fiction shows. Even the bad ones, if they’re bad enough to be good.

One of my favorite so-bad-it’s-good-bad science fiction series is Lost in Space, which debuted on September 15, 1965.

This campy show popularized several catchphrases – including the series title itself.

Prior to 1965, the phrase “lost in space” had been used occasionally. (I checked in But the series is what made it a common term.

Lost in Space was a variation of the classic Swiss Family Robinson castaway story.

The premise is set up in the debut episode. The Robinson family has volunteered to be first American space pioneers sent via spaceship – from the "desperately overcrowded" Earth of the year 1997 – to establish a colony on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri.

There’s the father, Professor John Robinson (actor Guy Williams), his wife Maureen (June Lockhart), their curvaceous teenage daughter Judy (Marta Kristen), and their two younger kids, Penny (Angela Cartwright) and Will (Billy Mumy).

The other crew members are spaceship pilot Major Don West (Mark Goddard), who has the hots for Judy, and a Robbie-like robot who is just called The Robot.

The day they are set to leave Earth in their saucer-like ship, its vital controls are sabotaged by the evil (but snarkily funny) scientist, Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris). He’s working for some unnamed “foreign power” that wants to beat the USA in the space colonization race.

In the process of doing his dirty work, Smith accidentally traps himself on board when the craft takes off. Then, because of his handiwork, the ship goes into an uncontrolled hyperdrive that sends it into some unknown sector of the universe.

After that, the Robinsons, Major Don, Dr. Smith and the robot have 82 more episodes worth of campy castaway adventures, which typically involved dealing with some hokey-looking aliens on cheesy-looking sets. (You can watch them all on Hulu, if you can take it.)

Throughout the series, the robot regularly used two catchphrases that are still heard today: “Does not compute” and “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 15:

“Keep the home-fires burning.” - Song title and lyric by Ivor Novello, copyrighted on September 15, 1915.

“Live long and prosper.” - Vulcan greeting first heard on the Star Trek episode “Amok Time,” which was first aired on September 15, 1967.

“You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” - Al Pacino in the 1979 movie ...And Justice for All, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 15, 1979.

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Related reading and viewing…

September 10, 2009

SEPTEMBER 11 - They’ll never take our freedom (to rewrite history)

If you saw the 1995 movie Braveheart, you almost surely remember star Mel Gibson in his blue-painted face yelling the famous line “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

If you didn’t, watch the clip on YouTube.

In fact, even if you’ve seen the movie multiple times (like I have), watch that clip again just for the pure goose-bump raising thrill of it. It’s one the greatest pre-battle scenes ever filmed.

Braveheart is based on the true story of the Scottish hero William Wallace, a key leader of the 13th century Scottish rebellion against domination by the English.

Gibson plays Wallace. The famous “freedom” speech is what he uses to convince an outnumbered group of Scots to fight a much larger English army at the historic Battle of Stirling Bridge – which took place on September 11, 1297.

When a Scottish soldier suggests to Gibson/Wallace that it would be better to retreat and live to fight another day, he responds by saying:

“Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live – at least a while. And, dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!?! Alba gu bra!” *

As things turned out, Wallace inspired his troops to win the Battle of Stirling Bridge. And, the legends that grew up around him inspired Scots to continue and ultimately achieve the goal of Scottish independence. (Unfortunately, Wallace was caught, tortured, disembowled and beheaded before that came to pass.)

There are those who have complained that Braveheart strays more than a wee bit from the factual record.

They note that the Lowland Scots Wallace led didn’t wear kilts, like they do in the movie.

And, the bridge that played a major role in the Battle of Stirling Bridge – by creating a bottleneck that prevented English troops from rolling over the Scots – was nowhere to be seen in the movie.

Sticklers also note there’s no record that William Wallace ever said anything like the famed “freedom” line that’s in the movie.

However, to use a phrase coined by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew exactly 39 years ago today, on September 11, 1970, I think complainers about the historical details of Braveheart are just “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

I’m making “they’ll never take our freedom” the quote of the day for this date.

* In Scottish Gaelic, “Alba gu bra” means “Scotland forever!”

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Related reading and viewing… 

September 09, 2009

SEPTEMBER 10 - I want to believe the truth is out there!

It has been a year to the day since Barack Obama uttered his controversial “lipstick on a pig” sideswipe at John McCain and Sarah Palin, on September 10, 2008. But I covered that quote in another recent post.

So, for today’s post, I’ve picked two of my favorite TV quotes: “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” and “I WANT TO BELIEVE.”

Those quotes didn't start out being uttered. They were words on our TV screens, first seen in the pilot episode of The X-Files, which first aired on September 10, 1993.

The glowing words "THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE" memorably loomed against a dark sky at the end of the show's opening credits sequence.

They soon became a well-known and oft parodied phrase. And, since the show was a big hit, its stars soon became stars in the bigger Hollywood sense of the word.

They were Gillian Anderson, playing by-the-book FBI agent and scientist, Dana Scully, and David Duchovny, as her polar opposite partner, Agent Fox Mulder, an alien-paranormal-conspiracy-theory buff.

One of the things that helped establish Mulder’s persona was the poster on the wall of his office. It showed a picture of a flying saucer with the words "I WANT TO BELIEVE."

That became the second famous catchphrase generated by the show. (There was a third. Do you remember it yet?)

The X-Files aired for nine seasons, until 2002. Like Star Trek, it has lived on in movies. The second X-Files movie released in 2008 was titled I Want to Believe.

I did want to believe the second X-Files movie would be better than the kinda blah first one. And, it was.

But my fondest memories are still of the monster-of-the-week X-Files episodes, like “Squeeze,” “The Host” and “Home.”

Trust no one who tells you that the "mytharc" episodes that focused on the show's ongoing mythology-conspiracy arc were as good as those gems.

SEPTEMBER 9 - Happy Birthday, United States of America!

Yes, I said Happy Birthday United States of America. And, yes, I know this is September 9th and not July 4th.

But the fact is, it was on September 9th  – 233 years ago today – that our country was officially named.

Before that, our would-be country was known as the “the United Colonies.” And, that’s the name that was still in use when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

It’s true that the Declaration refers to the “united States of America.”

But look closely at a copy of the Declaration. Zoom in to the last paragraph, five lines above John Hancock’s famously humongous signature.

You'll see that the “u” in “united” is lowercase.

That’s because, in the Declaration, the word “united” was being used as an adjective. It was making the point that the “States of America” (which were not quite states in the current sense yet) were united in pursuing independence from King George and Britain.

The Founding Fathers did apparently notice that the phrase “united States of America” had a certain ring to it.

Shortly after the Declaration was signed, they prepared a draft of the Articles of Confederation for the nascent nation. That draft said: "The name of this Confederacy shall be ‘the United States of America.’”

Then, as things turned out, the Articles of Confederation got sidetracked and weren't officially adopted until 1781.

However, in the fall of 1776, the Congress decided to pass a resolution making the name official.

Here's how it was recorded by John Adams for the Journal of Congress:

"Monday September 9, 1776. Resolved, that in all Continental Commissions, and other Instruments where heretofore the Words, 'United Colonies,' have been used, the Stile be altered for the future to the United States."

Break out the firecrackers!

September 05, 2009

SEPTEMBER 6 - OMG re: W. and OB-GYNs

Back in January of 1775, British playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals premiered. It introduced a character named Mrs. Malaprop.

Her name was inspired by the French term mal à propos, meaning “inappropriate.” The name reflects the fact that Mrs. Malaprop was very linguistically challenged.

In the play, she said lots of funny things like: “Forget this fellow – illiterate him from memory” (when she meant to say “obliterate him...”).

Mrs. Malaprop’s mangled remarks became famous and spawned the word “malapropism.”

That, in turn, begat other “isms,” like the term Spoonerisms.” It was created for the legendary slips of tongue made by British Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930). Like the time when he tried to make a cheery toast to Queen Victoria but it came out as “Three cheers for our queer old dean!”

Flash forward to George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States.

Dubya also became renowned for his malaprops. They have been dubbed Bushisms – and there are many of them.

Indeed, dozens of books and websites are wholly devoted to Bushisms. And, one example near the top of most lists of Bushisms was uttered on September 6, 2004 – five years ago on this date.

Pres. Bush was in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, giving a stump speech during his campaign to be reelected to his second term as president.

He was criticizing his opponent, Democratic Presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, for picking a former trial lawyer, Sen. John Edwards, as a vice presidential running mate.

Bush noted that “frivolous lawsuits” by trial lawyers increased malpractice insurance costs for doctors and health care costs for patients.

Then, he added: “Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their, their love with women all across this country.”

This unintentionally salacious and hilarious head scratcher is now enshrined in the Bushism Hall of Fame. As it should be.

September 04, 2009

SEPTEMBER 4 - The birth of billions of “Kodak Moments”

On September 4, 1888, the name “Kodak” was registered as a trademark by American inventor and entrepreneur George Eastman (1954-1932).

Soon thereafter, it became a household word.

Around the same time, Eastman was granted a U.S. patent for his pioneering roll-film still camera. A version was soon named and being sold as the Kodak “Brownie.”

The Brownie was a very big deal at the time, because it was the first camera that could easily be used and afforded by almost anyone. It was light and small, and it was the first relatively simple point-and-shoot camera.

The Brownie came pre-loaded with a roll of film. When all the shots were taken, the owner sent the camera to a Kodak factory, where the film was processed. Then the prints were sent back to the owner along with the camera, reloaded with a new roll of film.

Eastman promoted the Brownie with a slogan he coined. It soon became famous worldwide: “You press the button. We do the rest.”

Eastman also coined the name “Kodak” itself. He apparently made it up out of thin air with the help of his mother. He wanted some word that was short, unlike any other word or product name and easily pronounceable in all languages. And, for some reason,“K” was his favorite letter.

When he registered the trademark for the name on September 4, 1888, he probably couldn’t have guessed how famous it would become.

The Kodak company later implanted the now ubiquitous phrase “Kodak moment” into our language, through an ad campaign that began in 1993.

At that time, execs at Kodak probably couldn’t have guessed that digital cameras would soon change photography in a way as revolutionary as the Brownie did a century ago.

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September 01, 2009

SEPTEMBER 1 - We must love one another or (and?) die, Daisy!

One of the most famous poems written by W.H. Auden isSeptember 1, 1939.” It has the famous line: “We must love one another or die.”

At least that was the line until Auden decided he hated it and essentially tried to erase it – unsuccessfully – from the public’s mind.
Auden wrote the poem shortly after World War II started in Europe.

The next to last stanza describes the poet’s initial reaction to the war:

“There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.”
The poem and the “love one another” line became popular. Then the cantankerous poet decided he disliked them both – especially the “love” line.

In 1945, when a major collection of Auden’s was published, he insisted on cutting the entire stanza that ended with the “love one another” line. And, in the 1950s, he started refusing to let the poem be printed at all.

He did give special permission to include the poem in the 1955 edition of The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse. But he had the famous line changed, inserting “and” in place of “or,” so it read “We must love one another and die.”

He told a friend that the original line was “a damned lie! We must die anyway.” Nonetheless, it was his original line that remained famous. (Sorry, W.H.)

It was later infamously recycled in Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 TV attack ad against Barry Goldwater, the Daisy ad.”

In that pioneering negative ad, a little girl’s enjoyable day picking daisies is disturbed by a countdown to a missile launch, then a nuclear bomb blast and mushroom cloud, then LBJ intoning “We must either love each other, or we must die.”

After which the announcer urges: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Auden didn’t like that, since he didn’t much like Lyndon Johnson or politicians in general. (Sorry again, W.H.)

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