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Marvin Minsky, visionary of robotic arms, thinking computers and major motion pictures, is interviewed by Ray Kurzweil. The topic, unsurprisingly: “Is the Singularity Near?”

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On a 1977 Mike Douglas Show episode, comic-book collector Phil Seuling showed off an original Superman, revealing that it was worth $1,500. The audience gasped. But that was before a globalized world needed simple dialogue and action-hero antics to sell blockbusters all over the world. Today an exceptionally clean copy of that inaugural issue, currently at auction on eBay, has seen early bids reach $1.75 million, heading toward the stratosphere faster than a speeding bullet. From Graeme McMillan at the Hollywood Reporter:

 “In a video released to promote the auction, Pristine Comics owner Darren Adams explained how the auction copy remained in such good edition. ‘There was a gentleman in 1938, buys a copy … off the newsstand. And he lived in a fairly high altitude area of West Virginia and kept the book in a cedar chest,’ Adams said. The quality of the issue — the pages of which, thanks to being kept in a dark, dry space for decades, haven’t yellowed with time — makes the copy ‘not just a copy of Action Comics No. 1 [but] the copy of Action Comics No. 1,’ according to the dealer.

Back in 2011, another edition of the issue raised $2.1 million in auction, becoming the most expensive comic ever sold in the process. With nine days remaining on the current Action Comics auction and bidding currently at $1.6 million, it’s very possible that record is about to be broken.”

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“The superheroes caught everybody’s fancy”:

 

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Knowing the present isn’t knowing the future. At best, we make educated guesses uncolored by personal beliefs or wants. Even then, we’re often wrong, unprepared for the black swans and their lovely necks. When William Masters and Virginia Johnson sat down for this Good Morning America interview, with the AIDS crisis at its height, it seemed monogamy, not Tinder, would be the future. How quickly things change.

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The image of the robot I used in this post and the one in the news articles above are of a 1949 machine named “George,” a creation of then-20-year-old British military pilot Tony Sale, who was a crack codebreaker. Here’s some footage of George in action from British Pathé.

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Jorge Luis Borges penned a perplexing review of Citizen Kane in 1941, and Orson Welles had a perfect riposte for it: “Borges is half-blind,” the director pointed out. “Never forget that.” Here’s the ending of the critique, which can be read in full at the Interrelevant:

“I venture to guess, nonetheless, that Citizen Kane will endure as a certain Griffith or Pudovkin films have ‘endured’—films whose historical value is undeniable but which no one cares to see again. It is too gigantic, pedantic, tedious. It is not intelligent, though it is the work of genius—in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of that bad word.”

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“Now he can live his dreams with less distraction”:

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It’s odd that Dick Tracy, a strip loaded with forensics and retrofuturism, hasn’t translated into our gadget-happy world which loves crime-scene entertainments and cartoon-driven blockbusters. Here’s the strip’s creator, Chester Gould, who penned its panels from 1931 to 1977, on To Tell the Truth in 1965.

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I’m never surprised when somebody dies except when it’s by their own hand. Why not stay a little longer? Come here. Stay with us.

Terrible news about Robin Williams passing away. Here he is on a Canadian chat show in 1978, in the first blush of his fame, brilliantly disarming an awkward line of questioning about the stereotypical characters he would often use in his stream-of-conscious stand-up act, which for him were like the members of a company of stock characters in his head.

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In 1986, David Brenner interviewed 20-year-old Mike Tyson, just before he won the heavyweight title, along with Jake “The Raging Bull” LaMotta. It would be easy to say that young Tyson had yet to fall from grace, but he was falling from the start, desperately trying to return all of life’s blows, a flurry that did little good, especially since his retaliation was scattershot. He didn’t truly know who had wronged him. It all seemed wrong.

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The world is ending, eventually. One who sees the curtain coming down sooner than later is the Christian evangelist Hal Lindsey, co-author with Carole C. Carlson of the meshuganah 1970 bestseller, The Late Great Planet Earth, which estimated 1988 as the Judgement Day. Missed by that much. Lindsey, who is still alive as are many of the rest of us, spends his dotage accusing President Obama of being “the Antichrist.” Whatever.

In 1979, when the batshit book had been made into a film–with Orson Welles picking up late-life wine-and-bullfight money for handling the narration–Lindsey was profiled in a People piece by Lucretia Marmon. The opening:

“In 1938 Orson Welles terrified radio listeners with War of the Worlds, an imaginative report of a Martian invasion. Now Welles, as gloomy-voiced narrator of a film, The Late Great Planet Earth, out this fall, tells another frightening tale. This time it is a movie version of the end of the world, based on a scenario by evangelist-author Hal Lindsey. The script, claims Lindsey, really isn’t his. It’s all in the Scriptures.

Lindsey’s book Earth, published in 1970, has been translated into 31 languages and 10 million copies have been sold. The public also snapped up five subsequent Lindsey books on the same subject, running his sales total to over 14 million.

Thus Lindsey, 47, may now be the foremost modern-day Jeremiah. ‘If I had been writing 15 years ago I wouldn’t have had an audience,’ he concedes. ‘But a tremendous number of people are worried about the future. I’m just part of that phenomenon.’

Lindsey splices Bible prophecies of doom with contemporary signs. For instance, he says the Bible pinpoints Israel’s rebirth as a nation as the catalyst to Judgment Day, which will probably occur by 1988. The intervening years will see the emergence of a 10-nation confederacy (prophet Daniel’s dreadful 10-horned beast) or, as Lindsey sees it, the European Common Market. Eventually Russia (biblical Magog) will attack Israel and precipitate a global nuclear war. Only Jesus’ followers will be spared. Hence, Lindsey advises, ‘the only thing you need to understand is that God offers you in Jesus Christ a full pardon.’

Meanwhile, is Lindsey cowering in his fallout shelter? Not at all. Sporting a gold Star of David around his neck and another on his pinky (‘After all, Jesus was a Jew’), Lindsey zips around Southern California in a Mercedes 450 SL. He conducts services on the beach and indulges in his hobbies of photography and surfing.”

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“This was a prophet–a false prophet”:

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In 1982, when Bryant Gumbel interviewed John Updike for the Today show, a serious novelist being too popular was considered concerning. No need to worry any longer. Crisis averted.

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Wearable computing, as predicted by an IBM spot 17 years ago. From the commercial’s director, John Allen: “We did this piece for IBM in 1997 or so. It was the first time anyone had seen a computer like this, wearable, almost invisible, elegant and futuristic. In fact, we still haven’t seen anything like this. It was a prototype that had to be signed in and out every time it was transported.”

Earlier this year, Jonathan Moore of Speedhunters did an excellent interview with artist and visual futurist Syd Mead, whose outré automobile designs which have enriched film (Blade Runner, most famously), print publications and imaginations for decades. An excerpt about the role of cars in a time when we’ve passed peak-auto:

Jonathan Moore:

With a declining interest in the car nowadays, the car as personal transport appears an ever more precarious economic prospect. Do you think that the car as a private but communal mode of transport is living on borrowed time? What’s coming next and how quickly will it arrive? Is it the ’sentient, super-evolved version of the horse’? And did you already sketch it in the ’60s?!’

Syd Mead:

The future of the car as personal transport will morph into time/use formats probably owned either by municipal agencies, a variation of corporate rental schemes and rotating mileage based lease by single lessees. With 50 percent of the world’s population living in cities, I predict that a lot of high-density core urban mobility will be by moving platforms, sidewalks, escalators and lift platforms as architectural enclosures become larger and more interconnected. The autonomous car is almost here already, making ‘call, ride and forget’ a real personal transport factor.

‘So-called mass transit is the automobile. Bus systems, light rail and combinations thereof are subject to unionized strikes, expensive staffing costs and maintenance of route fixtures and machinery. Dial in aggressive riders who ignore rules of civility and you have a worrisome vector in public transportation. I sketched and rendered the ‘electronic herd’ concept years ago, depicting MTU’s (Mobile Transit Units) traveling in a bunch, thus creating a high-density use of existing thoroughfare routing.

The private automobile as a personal possession will certainly survive, but as an increasingly expensive proposition for those who choose, like now, to own a vehicle that sits unused for various periods of time. We have four vehicles in our ‘stable’: an ’03 Sebring convertible, an ’09 Cadillac DTS and two collector cars, a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser two-door with electric windows and the 1972 Imperial LeBaron four-door hardtop. Working at home, the two collector cars are operated maybe once every two weeks, the Sebring maybe once a month. The Cadillac is the most used daily driver and it has only 16,000 miles after almost five years of use.”

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“In effect, I was creating my own world”:

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Harold Robbins wrote literature most suitable for the beach and for masturbation, though it’s probably best for readers to choose one or the other. In typical bluster from his heyday, the wet-dream merchant used a 1974 People article by Sandra Hochman to dismiss Roth, Bellow, Mailer and Hemingway, though the racy writer did speak fondly of Steinbeck, Dickens and Dumas. The article’s opening:

“Harold Robbins steps off the plane at La Guardia Airport dressed like a California cowboy. Tall and tough-looking, he is wearing a tan cashmere jacket, silk printed shirt open at the chest, tight brown pants, a $3,000 Patek Philippe watch and white-embroidered brown boots, which are on one-inch platforms. He is as subtle and unpretentious as a character from one of his own steamy novels.

His press agent arrives in a blue limousine crammed with shopping bags which contain copies of Robbins’ new book, The Lonely Lady. Robbins and his wife ride out to the Air France terminal at Kennedy Airport. Grace Robbins, who is at least his third wife—he says only that he’s had “many”—is striking. She is all in white. Her shoes are wooden wedgies, even higher than his.

They are both easygoing, smiling. At Air France, their party is hustled to the VIP area of the first-class lounge. It is a circular, red-carpeted nook that has fake flowers on the coffee table, a white leatherette couch and a huge hanging silver lamp that looks like a hair dryer. The best-selling author in the world and his consort settle themselves comfortably for a short wait on their journey to France and home.

Printed on the inside of Harold Robbins’ paperbacks is the claim: ‘Every day, around the world, 25,000 people buy a Robbins novel.’ That’s 9,125,000 books a year, counting Sundays; it may well be true. His dozen previous novels have topped the best-seller list. Lonely Lady, his 13th, will too. All told, Robbins’ books have sold more than 135 million copies. In a world where few writers ever find their way to the top, Robbins lives there.

No credit is due critics and purists, who usually consider Robbins’ lettres to be less than belles and delight in saying so. A 1974 New York Times review of The Pirate said, ‘Robbins is more a product than a writer and is marketed as relentlessly as a vaginal deodorant spray.’ Reviews of The Lonely Lady so far have damned it with the faint praise of ‘good entertainment.’ But who’s to say his work won’t be among the most remembered literature of our time? One person’s laundry list is another person’s poetry.

Robbins politely asks a lounge attendant for Playboy and Hustler to be sent over from a newsstand. He needs them, he explains, because he is researching a new book. The hero will be a skin magazine publisher, perhaps a composite of Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione and others in that trade.

Robbins courteously orders drinks. There is talk about a big party which will take place in Cannes. Robbins seems indifferent. It is to be a combination birthday-promotion party for the movie version of The Pirate, the first film that Robbins is producing independently. But Robbins hates parties, even his own, which are frequent.

Harold Robbins writes about street people who hurl themselves against a hostile society and either become cosmically rich and powerful—or abjectly fall apart and are corrupted. This contrast between good and evil has led many readers to place Robbins’ work in the category of morality tales. His affinity for explicit and kinky sex scenes has led other readers to dismiss it as pornography.

Now 60, Robbins did not start writing novels until he was in his 30s, but then his formula emerged full-blown: Take a famous person who is or has been in the public subconscious—Howard Hughes (The Carpetbaggers) or auto executive Henry Ford (The Betsy) or, with his current novel, Peyton Place author Grace Metalious. (Robbins says The Lonely Lady is not Jacqueline Susann, as some reviewers have speculated.) Create a persona in fiction that is an exaggeration of the celebrity. Jumble together action, narrative drive, bitter pragmatism, sex, exotic locales, accurate observation of small details and energetic street language.

Robbins certainly knows the hard-times-to-lap-of-luxury tales he deals with; whether writing about the hucksterism of Hollywood, the rackets of the jet set, the con men on the streets and in large corporations or the poverty of a kid on the Lower East Side, Robbins has some life research he can put into his novels.”

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“People who have it all and want more,” 1969:

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Here’s the 1962 film of Stanley Milgram’s “Obedience to Authority” experiments at Yale, which were shocking in more than one sense, a supposed study of memory which was really just a measurement of complicitous savagery. A companion (if in spirit) to Philip Zimbardo’s “Stanford Prison Experiment,” conducted a decade later, which was also ethically dubious and yielded surprisingly sad results.

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Apart from money, J. Paul Getty wasn’t a very rich man. A billionaire in a time when such things were unheard of, Getty was a strange and miserly sort with five marriages and a procession of troubled heirs. His thriftiness, if you would call it that, seemed to come not from wisdom but from a dark place. The opening of a People article from 40 years ago about the man who, by some measures, had it all:

In deepening solitude, like some melancholy Dickensian recluse, Jean Paul Getty offers the frailest of shoulders on which to rest the title of World’s Richest Man. At 81, he speaks in a low, croaking monotone, his face a sunken mask of old age. When his left hand trembles violently from Parkinson’s disease, his right must come quivering to restrain it. And his conversation, fitful and laborious, trails off into lingering silences. 

But the fertile brain that assembled one of the oil world’s great empires has lost neither its cunning nor its grasp. During the current energy crisis—in which the value of Getty’s oil leases spirals astronomically as great ships laden with his liquid treasure bear it to the oil-parched industrial nations—the gnome of Surrey paces his Tudor palace, monitoring the nerve centers of the financial world. 

The son of a prosperous Minneapolis lawyer who moved to Oklahoma and promptly struck oil, Getty was only 21 when he began buying and selling oil leases himself. He made $40,000 his first year, and his first million a few months after that. When the Depression hit he had enough to buy millions of shares of collapsed oil stocks, acquiring fortunes in oil reserves and fresh cash. In 1949, just before seizing control of the giant Tidewater Oil Co., he arranged a deal with Saudi Arabia’s King Saud, predecessor of the present King Faisal, obtaining half-interest for the next 60 years in a raw swath of land called the Neutral Zone. The area was considered bleakly unpromising, but, typically, Getty brought in the gushers. Moving to London to be nearer his Middle East operations, he has never returned to America. 

Today, with enormous personal holdings in stock in the parent Getty Oil Co. and a controlling interest in nearly 200 other concerns, the octogenarian billionaire has accumulated wealth beyond precise calculation. Yet until 1957, when Fortune named him the richest living American, he was virtually unknown to the public. 

One reason, perhaps, is that he has never been inclined to philanthropy. No foundation bears his name, and he has indicated that when he dies his fortune will be plowed back into his businesses. 

‘Money is like manure,’ Getty once said. ‘You have to spread it around or it smells.’ Often, in his case, this has been a dictum observed in the breach. Though he paid a modest fortune for Sutton Place, his 72-room mansion outside London, he prudently outfitted it with a pay telephone. ‘The guests won’t mind paying for their calls,’ he said, ‘and as for the deadbeats, I couldn’t care less.’ He never accepts mail with postage due and rarely carries more than $25 in pocket money. He has been known to wait five minutes in order to get into a dog show at half price, and to avoid a restaurant rather than pay a cover charge. ‘I pay the going rate,’ he explained, ‘but I don’t see any reason for paying more than you have to.’

Getty’s legendary parsimony extends even to eminent friends of long standing. He and the Earl of Warwick have lunched together regularly for 35 years. Lest either pay a bill out of turn, the two share a little black book in which they keep track of all their meetings, the cost of each lunch and whose turn it is to pick up the check.”

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In ths 1970s, the industrialist spoke on behalf of E.F. Hutton:

Long-form 1986 interview with J. G. Ballard. (A little Swedish, mostly English.) 

“The only point of reality we have is inside our own heads,” Ballard said, though that feels like a very different time, our heads no longer really our own, their contents now commodified.

The writer also feared a “boring, event-less future.” No such luck.

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Now you can put the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the head of a pin, and you can slide a war in your pocket. Or at least a drone. That’s what American soldiers may soon have to conduct remote reconnaissance. Of course, it’s just a matter of time–and not much time–until the “nano air vehicles” will be in your neighborhood. Just try to legislate that, attempt to manage that cheapness and smallness. From Douglas Ernst at the Washington Times:

“Future U.S. Army soldiers sent into combat may have a brand new tool at their disposal: the pocket drone.

The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts is developing a “pocket-sized aerial surveillance device” for soldiers assigned to small units in dangerous environments.

When the Army’s efforts come to fruition, the Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program will provide dismounted troops with real-time surveillance of threats in their environment.

‘The Cargo Pocket ISR is a true example of an applied systems approach for developing new Soldier capabilities,’ said Dr. Laurel Allender, acting NSRDEC technical director, Army.mil reported July 21.”

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“Just about 10 cm x 2.5 cm”:

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Dick Cavett has the distinction of being the only talk-show host to land on Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List.” His “crime”? He focused segments of his great ABC program on the President’s crimes (no quotation marks required). Here’s the trailer for Dick Cavett’s Watergate, which runs next month on PBS.

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Two drivers, with different results: Stirling Moss, who crashed and burned, and Ray Harroun, who made it to the finish line. Who learned more about life from their experience?

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Life speeds in one direction, and how can anything ever be different? Then events occur. Similar traumas in the past haven’t caused a break, but this one takes hold. The brain rewires itself. All is different now. You can never return.

Moss in his career-ending run in 1962.

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In 1961, newly crowned Indianapolis 500 champ A.J. Foyt appeared on I’ve Got a Secret with Ray Harroun, who won the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911.

Stephen Colbert, preparing for a demotion to network TV, interviews Elon Musk about rockets, Tesla patents and jetpacks.

If one of SpaceX’s reusable rockets should implode over the next few years, will there be a huge overreaction to such an occurrence? Unfortunate, certainly, but it would really be an unsurprising outcome in rocketry, part of the learning curve.

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A photo process that used a metal plate and electrical charge to take trippy, often spectral-looking pictures, Kirlian photography was thought at one point to perhaps be able to reveal the “auras” of its subjects. Could it read the mental states of people whose thumbs were photographed? Could it tell who was suffering from cancer before other tests could reveal the disease? No, it couldn’t. The process was discovered by accident in 1939 by Russian inventor Semyon Kirlian, who spent a decade developing the equipment with his wife, Valentina. While oddly beautiful to look at, it ultimately had no scientific application. Footage is from UCLA in 1974, when that university was heavily researching parapsychology.

Two Johns–Cage and Cale–bring the avant garde to I’ve Got a Secret in the 1960s.

In 1960, Cage goes electric–with an electric mixer.

Cale, in 1963, the year before he met Lou Reed.

Fritz Lang, one of film’s great visionaries, interviewed in 1975 by William Friedkin, no slouch himself.

 

In 1973, K-Tel celebrated (i.e., exploited for cash) Israel’s 25th anniversary. Yes, a song by Sammy Davis, Jr., a famous convert, is included.

Elaine Stritch, who was a corker and also a wang dang doodle, sadly just passed away. Here she is excoriating David Letterman in 1996, just about a decade before 30 Rock provided her with an amazing late-career TV role. Fucking Colleen.

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