Sunday, September 9, 2018

Remembering My Sanctuary: The Old Manchester Parkade

    Sometimes you find friends in unlikely sources, for me that friend was the long abandoned Manchester Parkade in Manchester, Connecticut. 

The old Manchester Parkade, photo taken by me, circa Autumn 2009

      I was evicted from my apartment in Middletown in 2009, and became homeless after my mom got sick. I was in my freshman year of high school and attended Middletown High. My family decided to place me in state custody and they sent me to live at the dreaded 89 Nutmeg Drive residential home for troubled boys (I was the only white guy there and was made the scapegoat of physical and mental torture from the African-American males that lived there, all of which were previously incarcerated for God knows what).

      I always had a passion for dead malls, being a member of the great Ames Fan Club ( and I had fond memories of shopping at Bradlees with my mother. In a weird way, going to see and snap photos of what some would call an 'eyesore', helped me and I always knew that if I needed an escape I could always go to the old Parkade, which I called my "Sanctuary". The entire plaza had been vacant for over ten years, but I felt at home there, and seeing the old Bradlees sign staring back at me, healed me in ways I cannot describe. It took me back, to when I was about four years old, getting school supplies with my mom. The sign had shown its age and looked like it had been in a war, however it still filled me with a sense of nostalgia. The Bradlees chain closed in 2001.

The former Bradlees department store, prior to 1982 it was a King's discount store.
Photo taken by me, circa Summer 2010, my last trip there.

     Bradlees was at one point in time, owned by the local grocery store chain, Stop & Shop, and many Bradlees stores were anchored by S&S, including the one in Manchester. It eventually closed up in the early 90s to move across the street in the current incarnation of the Parkade.

The former Stop & Shop grocery store. Summer 2010.

     My earlier photos were taken with old disposable cameras, I would buy them with the allowance I made from doing chores at the group home, I then would rush them to Rite-Aid to transfer them to photo CDs, some of which still survive. I was an inexperienced photographer at the time and my early efforts are amateurish at best.

Autumm 2009

I just loved this place, it took me away from my hellish existence and transported me back in a time machine to much happier times. The place was full of goodies too, I found working VHS copies of First Kid and Houseguest, both starring one of my favorite comedians, Sinbad, in back of the plaza, its as if they were waiting for me. Everytime I got a chance, I went to my sanctuary to see what else I could find.

The former Marshalls clothing store, at one time it was a radio station, nightclub and indoor mall.
Autumn 2009

 After a while, people at the home grew annoyed of my visits to the plaza, they simply did not know or care about what it meant to me. I had always loved history and this place was part of cultural history of a town that has since gone to the dogs. Their feelings did not stop me from going there, any chance I got, I escaped to my sanctuary, and those bad feelings vanished.

The towering Bradlees sign always greeted me, whenever I saw it, my face would light up.
Summer 2010
      I eventually fled the Manchester home, fearing for my safety, and settled in another group home, Sankofa House (part of The Village For Families and Children) in Hartford during the winter months of 2009. I was the oldest there, 15 at the time, everyone else were elementary school aged. It opened my eyes to the the plight children have everyday, especially when they don't have parents. It was an equally hellish time there, save for one girl whom I formed a bond with. The girl, who I will call Cynthia for this article, was on the autism spectrum like me, and she looked up to me as a big brother. I would help her get to sleep at night by reading her stories, getting her glasses of water, tucking her in and telling her that everything was going to be alright. When I left there, she reportedly told a staff member, "Make sure you tell Geno that I love him". There was another girl there, about 12, who I will call Kristina, who was constantly causing mischief. She would be physically restrained by staff, and we would all hear her screaming from in our prison cell-like doors. One time the cops were called and she was placed in handcuffs.

The strip mall portion of the plaza, it originally contained an Anderson Little clothing store, CVS Pharmacy,
Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hobbytyme toy store, Card Gallery and the famous Record Breaker record store.
Autumn 2009
     I never forgot the plaza. I went back in the Summer of 2010, this time equipped with a better camera, and better photography skills. I still felt the same feelings, and it was great to spend one final hour at the place I called my sanctuary. I loved walking the grounds that warm day, not knowing it would be my last time.

Two of the last photos I ever took at the plaza.
Summer 2010
     I left Sankofa that summer and returned home to my mother, whose health had improved. I was relieved my troubles were over, but saddened that I was more distant from my beloved Parkade. I sadly never got to return there.

I found out in late 2012 that the town had demolished the site to the ground only two years after I left Hartford, and with that, my sanctuary was gone. I was crushed, and had regrets that I never made another pilgrimage back there. Seeing video of townsfolk rejoicing and celebrating the destruction of these buildings angered me, it still does. What angers me even more is that, as of this writing, the lot is still empty. 

In closing, while I never got the chance to see the Parkade during its heyday, it nevertheless made an impression on me and made memories for me that can never be destroyed. Take that Manchester!


My 15 year old self in front of the Bradlees.
Autumn 2009.

Monday, January 22, 2018


                I think the majority of people who knock Herb Abrams UWF, are  fans who expect all promotions to be like the megafed WWF. Not every promotion can be WWF, and not every promoter can be Vince McMahon. People forget, McMahon had knowledge of the business due to his dad, promoter Vince McMahon, Sr., teaching him at a young age and McMahon inherited the WWWF from him too. McMahon, in a sense, was born in to royalty.
                Herb Abrams was more or less an outsider to the world of professional wrestling and as such didn't have the resources that many of the more seasoned veteran promoters had. I admire Herb as he had a dream and he went after it. He signed a lucrative deal with the now-defunct Sportschannel America and signed some top talent from the glory days of the AWA, WCW and WWF. Most online reviewers say these guys were past their prime and couldn't go anymore, in my eyes guys like Paul Orndorff and B. Brian Blair showed that they still had it when the cameras started rolling on the UWF weekly series Fury Hour in the summer months of 1990.
             You can't say that Herb was a bad businessman, he knew how to market his product and promote it well. People say he wasn't good at pulling in large crowds, well there is a reason for that, if you had to choose between attending a live taping of WWF television over UWF television, it is rather obvious you would choose the more established product due to a lack of certainty with the new upstart organization. It needed a chance to grow, and it wasn't going to happen overnight. I feel the reason that people hate Herb Abrams so much is because he took the UWF name from under Bill Watts when Watts failed to trademark his version of the Universal Wrestling Federation, if the fans should be angry with anyone it should be with Watts for not filing the proper paperwork. Something I've learned a long the way is that people are huge marks for Bill Watts.                                                              Another complaint that Herb Abrams gets is that the quality of the wrestling isn't very good and he was a terrible booker, well of course he was, he had never done this before and because of respected and opinionated dirt sheet writers like Dave Meltzer,its likely that Herb never would have gotten the full backing from the wrestling community that was needed to hire more experienced writers and bookers. Herb had to do it all on his own, with no help from the outside world and for all intents and purposes, the product is actually rather good for a man who never had experience at all in professional wrestling.                                                                                                                                           Herb's greatest achievement though was the hiring of young up-and-comer Steven Ray, a former football player and former bodyguard of Hulk Hogan, to wrestle for the UWF. Ray was billed under the name "The Wild Thing" and had a gimmick that was a cross between Motley Crue's Vince Neil and Ric Flair. This young man had charisma, charm and great in-ring ability, whose career was cut short due to his wife becoming pregnant with their son. Abrams partnered him with the memorable Sunny Beach (Rick Allen) and one of the most charismatic and greatest unsung tag teams in the history of professional wrestling was born.                                                                                                        The following statement will be controversial but so be it, Vince McMahon stole from Herb Abrams. Truth be told, Abrams was in fact the first ever authority figure to be at the center of a storyline on any wrestling program, predating the "Mr. McMahon" character by a good five or so years. Abrams created a personality as the upstanding promoter who rooted for the faces and called out the bad guys for cheating and even suspending wrestlers on television for breaking the rules. If you are getting vibes of "Mr. McMahon" screaming at Shawn Michaels, "You're Fired", you should. People are marks for McMahon so I guess when he does it its OK, but when Abrams did it, it was a strokefest, don't understand that logic at all.
            On hand to assist Herb were the legendary Bruno Sammartino, one of wrestling's all time greatest grapplers and the always enjoyable Captain Lou Albano, one of wrestling's greatest managers and characters. Sammartino served as color commentator, first with Herb Abrams and then with Craig DeGeorge who had previously worked for the WWF in the 1980s. Albano had his own segment on the Fury Hour called "Captain Lou's Corner" where he interviewed the UWF's roster of talent and even Andre The Giant on a couple of episodes.                                                                                    People say Herb used to cheat the boys or "stiff" them out of cash money. Well, which promoter hasn't done that? You cannot tell me that Vince McMahon never stiffed anybody or Verne Gagne never flew the coupe prior to payday. This was an all too common occurrence in the wrestling business in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I am not excusing Herb Abrams for doing that, but he isn't the only guilty party is he? People also take issue with Herb's cocaine addiction, there is a reason Herb had that addiction. Herb was a notorious party animal and also a notorious sex addict and due to his small stature, he needed something to fuel him during those times of passionate intimacy. I don't know why I should even discuss that though, a man's personal life isn't the issue we should have, it is the quality of product that matters here, which I will reiterate was not that bad all things considered.                               Fans like to sadistically laugh at the events of Herb Abrams' death, in which he died in police custody, after suffering a cocaine-induced heart attack, nude, covered in Vaseline, chasing prostitutes with a baseball bat in his New York Office. The author wishes to dismiss those cackles as I see his death as more of a cry for help, than just the rampage of a psychopath. We can't take things in face value, we must look within ourselves and wonder, what if that were my family member, would you still want to laugh if that were your brother or cousin, or would you want to get them some help. I'd choose the latter. Another thing to consider is the possibility that Abrams had Autism. As an autisitc individual myself, I can detect it more than others can. Herb's mannerisms, his ticks, his attention to detail, all speak to Autism, a disorder that was never diagnosed until after Herb died.                                                        At the end of the day, was Herb Abrams a saint, of course not, and it isn't my intention to lead you in that way, however he wasn't necessarily the arrogant, idiotic jerk that people in the wrestling community make him out to be either. After many long, intimate chats with Steve "The Wild Thing" Ray, I have a whole new outlook and appreciation for Herb Abrams. Herb taught Steve everything he knew as a businessman which led Steve to owning and operating his own wellness organization for many years. Herb helped out a lot of people and by all accounts that I've heard personally, was an all around good guy. Don't believe everything you hear from so-called "wrestling" fans who piggyback off of loudmouths like Dave Meltzer. Do your own digging, watch the product objectively from the perspective I've given you here, and you will discover that Herb Abrams wasn't a lunatic, but an underappreciated genius.                                                                                            

An unsung hero of professional wrestling.

P.S. My wonderful friend Jonathon Plombon is working on a new book about Herb Abrams and the UWF, which will do a much better job than I have of illustrating one of wrestling's most eccentric and mysterious figures as well as the empire he built. You may check out the progress of the book at his Facebook page: UWF and Herb Abrams: The Book Project

Also check out his YouTube channel for rare UWF videos: John's UWF Channel

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Memory Machine - Episode One - So Weird

Hello All,
    I have been working on a lot since my last post, including several podcasts and shows. I am proud to present The Memory Machine,  a podcast that talks about movies and TV shows from the 90's and early 2000's.
   Today's topic is the late 90's Disney Channel series So Weird, which explored paranormal activity and scary situations. The show was about a young girl, with a rock star mom, who ran her own paranormal website and often had to combat demons, aliens and monsters.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


   For those who know me, know that I am a massive fan of vintage television. Be it a drama like Dragnet or a sitcom like The Andy Griffith Show, you can pretty much find me glued to my old tube TV reveling in entertainment of olden time. I am also a fan of classic game shows, ranging from the 1950s, all the way up to the late 1970s. Some of my favorites of the genre include, What's My Line, You Bet Your Life and To Tell the Truth.
   Sadly for a lot of fans of this vintage material, there is no definitive spot to go to fill your cravings for the classics. Many television stations object to showing black & white material, and the ones that do, pepper the airings with numerous, and gratuitous, modern day commercials that take away from the wholesome experience of watching these classics of yore.
   Enter W. Gary Wetstein, of Arizona, a man who has dedicated his life to finding and preserving this material. Mr. Wetstein has scoured the ends of the Earth to provide classic programs, many of which were lost for decades. One such, recent, example was the discovery of a previously missing episode of the long-running panel game show, What's My Line, that hadn't been seen since its original airing on October 1st, 1950!
   Gary, as he prefers to be known, hosts numerous YouTube channels featuring full episodes of What's My Line, To Tell The Truth, and You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. Nearly every episode of each series has been uploaded to their respective YouTube channels (links to which can be found below).
   Not only does Gary upload the full episodes, most with their original commercials, but he also writes intricate descriptions for each, along with the original airdates. These notes give the viewer a greater understanding as to the program they are about to view, and can sometimes be far more interesting than the actual programs themselves.
   Gary also hosts accompanying Facebook groups for each program, each of which contain captivating production information, cast and crew biographies and more. There are also the weekly "Chat-a-Longs", in which Gary links to a particular episode and invites members to watch along and discuss the episodes live every Sunday or Saturday night.
   As a fan of these programs, I have learned things from Gary that I would have never known about these shows otherwise. Gary is a kind and intelligent man, who, in addition to his YouTube and Facebook work, has contributed to numerous print and online publications regarding classic comedy, classic television, and his personal obsession, George Burns and Gracie Allen. Most recently, Gary wrote a fantastic article for Matthew Coniam's brilliant biography of Groucho Marx entitled, "That's Me, Groucho", available now from McFarland Books. Gary is currently working on the definitive text on What's My Line, a project nearly three years in the making.
   I am honoured to be friends with this talented and unique individual, he has taught me a lot about classic television, and has opened my eyes to the preservation and archiving of vintage and forgotten television. He has influenced me to start my own YouTube channel, Geno's House of Rare Sitcoms, where I upload unseen television episodes and movies dating from 1933 all the way until 1990. Gary is to be commended for his many years of hard work, and this article surely does not do him justice. Thank you for the many years of friendship, Gary, here is to many more. Cheers.

Gary's "You Bet Your Life" Channel
Gary's "What's My Line" Channel
Gary's "To Tell The Truth" Channel

"To Tell The Truth" Facebook Group
"What's My Line" Facebook Group.
"You Bet Your Life" Facebook Group

Geno's House of Rare Sitcoms

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gulliver's Travels - A Marketing & Release History

Hello friends, I just had to post here after reading my friend Kyle J. Ostrum's wonderful new blog entry on Disney feature logos through the years, ( I figured, I would follow suit and analyze the various ways that 1939's Gulliver's Travels has been marketed to consumers, be it on the big screen or home video. Now since this film is in the public domain, it would be impossible to document every release, so only the most important ones are covered. Lets begin.....

 Here is the original title card, I have always loved this font and, if I knew how to create fonts, I would try to construct a free font based on it and upload it to dafont. What I like about it is, it looks like a typical Fleischer font, which were usually very poppy, and charismatic. It has a nautical quality to it, while simultaneously conveying the old tyme period in which the film takes place. Many DVD's of the film have tried to redux this logo, but none are better than they are here.

The original 1939 poster is lavish and perfectly emulates the fairy tale look of the film, With that said, the font chosen leaves much to be desired, while it is nice, it simply does not show the epicness of the film it is trying to advertise. The curves of the letters are a nice touch though. The main attraction for you is Gulliver himself, who looks awesome, albeit a tad off model. His figure blends in nicely with the cartoonish and otherworldly background. I love the trail of Lilliputians behind Guliver, he is clearly the leader of the pack, though Gabby doesn't look too pleased. Though the font is not as striking as I would like, the brilliant and colorful art makes up for that, and I would love to have a reproduction poster hanging up in my room.

By comparison, NTA's 1957 reissue poster is rather bland, no trace of color save for the orange background. The artwork is lifted from an old piece of publicity art created for the original '39 release. Newly painted artwork would have been most welcome. The hyperbole is in full force, that tagline, while epic, is not film specific. I could place it on a poster for Heavy Metal and it wouldn't be out of place. The font chosen for the title is boring as nails, and no effort was made to fully sell this to the masses. It is almost as if NTA bought the film, and didn't know how to market it. NTA, by the way, being the main distributor of Fleischer product, mostly for the television market. I will give them some slack, given they were a very low end film distributor, and perhaps didn't have the funds or experience to distribute a film theatrically. Also note the scroll, listing everything found within the film, making it almost an exploitation film, and the rather hilarious misspelling of King Bombo's name (NTA called him "Bongo").

The 1999 WinStar Home Video release, for the film's 60th anniversary, was the first in a long list of restoration attempts. It is, in fact, the first version of the film I ever viewed. I owe a lot to this release, and still hold it in high regard, given the fact the Thunderbean release has surpassed it in clarity. The sound was enhanced in 5.1 Dolby surround, with minor effects alterations. The sound created a marvelous experience for yours truly, so much so that it led me to establishing a now, five year friendship with the man responsible for the restoration, the multifaceted Dr. Thomas R. Reich. The picture quality was also head and shoulders above any other release of this title at the time. The cover is striking, and the font is possibly my favorite of all of the home video releases. The calligraphy is beautiful and the gold shimmer is used to nice effect. I love the shading on the characters, giving them depth that the posters lacked. An interesting side note, this release was Roger Ebert's video pick of the month in 1999, and I am glad to still have this edition to this day and look back on it with fond nostalgia.

In 2009, Dr. Reich attempted a second restoration effort to much less success. the 2009 DVD and Blu-Ray release, from Koch/E1 Entertainment, is still considered by many collectors and picture-purists as one of the biggest travesties to ever hit high definition.I must stress, from talking with Dr. Reich, that it was not (I repeat NOT) his choice to convert the film to widescreen from its original full frame ratio. That was the choice of the distributor, and Tom was contractually obligated to carry out the mastering per Koch's specifications. Tom even tried to compromise by having both the full frame and widescreen editions on the disc, but Koch stood their ground. On a positive note, the cover is very pretty, and I wouldn't mind having a poster of it hanging in my bedroom. The font is kind of meh, in my eyes, and I wish they used Max Fleischer's signature. Otherwise a nice looking cover, for sadly, one of the worst Blu-Ray releases in history.

The 2014 Thunderbean DVD/Blu-Ray release is widely considered to be the definitive edition of the film. The picture achieved a clarity unseen since 1939, and looks splendid when projected on a HD-TV. I take problem with the overall look of this cover. I think it would have been served better by just simply calling it "Gulliver's Travels - The Hap-Hap-Happy Special Edition", or something of that nature. The "Fleischer Classics" banner outsizes the title of the film itself (the font of which mimics the on screen logo). In a perfect world, the Koch cover would be used for this release. The actual artwork was very well done, but Popeye, Koko and Betty Boop seem out of place. Not my favorite cover, but the contents within more than make up for that.

So there you have it, every major release of Fleischer's underrated masterpiece, documented in one article, Aside from the anecdotes of Dr. Thomas R. Reich, most of what has been written here, has been the author's personal opinion, and is not meant to be taken as fact. I hope you have enjoyed this all too brief look at one of animation's forgotten gems. Be sure to follow my Facebook page for the film ( Happy trails.