April 15, 2013


Volume 7, Issue 28 – April 15, 2013


No Need to Thank Me

I don’t know if everyone has heard this already, but Atlanta was just named the nerdiest city in America.  It seems that Randy Nelson, blogger on Movoto.com (the lighter side of real estate), has created a top 10 of nerdiness, based on such things as number of comic book, video game, anime, and science fiction/fantasy conventions, people per comic book store, people per computer store, and people per science museum.  Using these criteria, Atlanta came out #1 with Portland, OR #2, Seattle #3, and so on, down to Denver at #10.  You can see the analysis and the various comments on it by clicking here.

Thanks to Nancy Reichert (Director of the Honors Program), who sent the email to the campus letting us know about this.  In it, she wrote “I’m sure that Dr. Szafran would love his definition since it includes people per comic book store 🙂

Now, it would probably be arrogant to say that Atlanta has moved up the rankings now that I’m here (along with the vast Szafran comic book repository), but can it be a coincidence that the former nerd nirvana of Boston is now down to #6 now that I’ve left New England?  I think not.


First Love Lost

Everyone remembers their first love, and I shared mine with millions of guys who are now in their fifties and sixties.  Sadly, she passed away this past week.  Of course, I’m talking about Annette Funicello.

Most people don’t know that Annette was actually not a California girl—she was born in Utica, NY, only an hour away from Syracuse where I grew up.  I first saw Annette on the Mickey Mouse Club, where she was one of the older mouseketeers.   She could sing, she could dance, and her personality made her stand out from all the others.  Walt Disney saw this too, and in the Club’s third season, pulled her out to star in her own 19-part serial within the show, imaginatively titled “Annette”.   In the serial, she played an orphaned country girl who moves into town with her upper-class relatives.  It’s basically a variation on the city mouse-country mouse story, with Annette trying to fit into the city high school scene.

During the serial, she sang a song called “How Will I Know My Love” which drew so many letters that Disney signed her to a singing contract and released it as a single.  Annette was always a reluctant singer, since her voice was rather thin.  She did have a series of minor hits as a singer, the best known of which was “Tall Paul” which reached #7 on the 1959 charts.

After the Mickey Mouse Club went off the air, Annette appeared in several Disney TV Shows (Zorro, Elfego Baca, the Horsemasters) and went on to star in a number of Disney movies (Babes in Toyland, The Shaggy Dog, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, and The Monkey’s Uncle).

Annette perhaps is best known for the string of beach movies that she costarred in with Frankie Avalon for American International Pictures between 1963 and 1965.  The movies all had more-or-less the same plot:  Frankie and Annette arrive at the beach with a bunch of friends, Frankie wants to go farther than Annette romance-wise, they get into a big fight where one of them seems to go off with someone else, there’s a sequence involving race car driving or sky diving or the like, and Frankie and Annette get back together.  The movies had a lot of their cast in common, beyond Frankie and Annette, including son Mark’s favorite—Harvey Lembeck as Eric von Zipper, a pretty unintimidating motorcycle hoodlum.  Music was supplied by a variety of groups, which almost always included Dick Dale and the Del-Tones.  One of my proudest possessions is a poster of the movie Beach Party, signed by both Frankie and Annette.  You can see it in my office.

There’s an urban legend that Annette never showed her belly-button and always wore a one piece bathing suite in all of the beach movies.  Since I own ‘em all, I can assure you that it isn’t true—she wore a two-piece bathing suit in Beach Party (the first of the beach movies, 1963) and Muscle Beach Party (the second, 1964), and she wore a bikini in Bikini Beach (the third, 1964).  This legend probably comes from the true story that Walt Disney asked Annette to always wear modest bathing suits, and the suits she wore were generally among the more modest in those movies.  One funny thing is that in the cover photo of the record album Bikini Beach (released on Disney’s Buena Vista label), she’s wearing a one-piece.


Annette, complete with bikini and belly-button, in “Bikini Beach” (1964)

Non-beach movies of this genre also showed up in this time period, including Pajama Party and Ski Party, the latter not featuring Annette (but including both Leslie Gore and Yvonne Craig, who later went on to become Batgirl.  They’re both pretty good.)  The beach movie craze ended in 1965.  Annette’s almost last hurrah came in two racing movies, Fireball 500 and Thunder Alley, in 1966 and 1967 respectively.  Both are pretty blah, unless you’re a NASCAR fan—there’s some pretty cool early NASCAR footage in them.  The odd thing about Fireball 500 is that while Frankie Avalon is in it, Annette winds up with his rival, Fabian.

After the movies were done, in 1965, Annette got married to Jack Gilardi.  I was heartbroken.  She had three children, Gina, Jack, and Jason, and spent most of her time caring for her family with only a few TV appearances.  The marriage lasted until 1981, and she married her second husband, Glen Holt, in 1986.  Her final movie, Back to the Beach, was in 1987—again co-starring with Frankie Avalon.  The movie was a loving parody (“Appearing for the 20th straight year—Dick Dale”) of her earlier movies (and Skippy TV commercials), with Frankie and Annette now parents of two teenagers.  In the movie, she does a great version of the song “Jamaica Ska”, a song she had recorded more than 20 years earlier, with Fishbone.  You can see the youtube video here.  At 2:20 into the clip, you can hear someone in the crowd shout “We love you Annette”.

It was around this time that Annette began to suffer from the effects of multiple sclerosis.  She publically announced she had the disease in 1992.  A TV movie was made of her life story—A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story—in 1995.  Eva LaRue plays Annette in the movie, but in the last scene, turns away from the audience while seated in a wheelchair, and when she turns back, it’s the real Annette.  Annette lost the ability to walk in 2004, and to speak in 2009.  On April 8, 2013, she passed away, at the age of 70.  My closest friend and college roommate, Joseph Lucchesi, was also a victim of this terrible disease.

Annette Funicello was one of those rare individuals who was popular with everyone—I never met anyone who didn’t like her.  On screen and off, she radiated charm, modesty and sweetness.  You could instantly tell she was the real thing, and she really was.  We’ll miss you, Annette—more than you ever knew.


Three on a Match

Also passing away on April 8 was Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.  Conservatives loved her and liberals hated her, but I’m not going to get into that.  To me, the most fascinating thing about her was that little feature that she had in common with the Pope and with me—she was a chemist.  Margaret Roberts (that was her maiden name) earned her B.Sc. with 2nd Class Honours at Oxford in 1947, and went on to work at BX Plastics as a research chemist.  She was reportedly rejected for a job at Imperial Chemical Industries because the HR department found her to be “headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated”.  How little they knew of what was to come—she turned to politics, and the rest is history.



Last Time’s Trivia Contest

Questions last time focused on computers.  The   winner was Alan Gabrielli (SPSU-Teach) with all five correct. Here are the answers:

  1. To err is human, to really foul things up requires                                 A computer.
  2. Someone who tries to exploit a weakness in computer security.  Hacker.
  3. :>)  A computer emoticon.
  4. “Pong” was the first successful commercial one.  Computer Arcade Game.
  5. The only Disney movie with the word “computer” in its title, it came out in 1969.  The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.



This Week’s Trivia Challenge

Today’s trivia challenge focuses on people who were chemists or chemical engineers, but are better known in other fields.  Special Rules for this one:  First person to get five right wins (and Alan Gabrielli is disqualified from this one)!  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO zszafran@spsu.edu, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Star of “Two and a Half Men” and “That Seventies Show”.  Studied biochemistry at University of Iowa, but didn’t graduate (slacker!).
  2. Director for “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Chemistry degree from California Institute of Technology, 1918.
  3. Author of “Cat’s Cradle” and “Slaughterhouse Five”.  Majored in Chemistry at Cornell.
  4. Science-fiction writer, best known for his “Foundation” and “Empire” novels, and responsible for the three laws of robotics.  Chemistry Ph.D. from Columbia in 1948.
  5. First female Attorney General of the United States (1993-2001).  B.S. in Chemistry from Cornell in 1960.
  6. President of Israel (1949-1952).  Ph.D. from the University of Freiburg in 1899.
  7. Russian composer of the opera “Prince Igor”, and the “Polovtsian Dances”, as well as three symphonies and “In the Steppes of Central Asia”.   He was the chemistry chair of the Medical-Surgical Academy of St. Petersburg, and co-discoverer of the aldol condensation.
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