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“The Grapes of Wrath” was published 75 years ago today April 14, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, Movies, Weather.
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John Steinbeck’s famous novel about the Great Depression and a family’s Moses-like journey on Route 66, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was published 75 years ago today.

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., is marking the anniversary all year, and I’ll post a review of a new book about the writing of the novel when I’m done reading it.

In the meantime, NPR today posted a six-minute segment about the book and its impact on American culture and America in general.

A print article of the NPR segment is here.

The Telegraph newspaper in England also posted “10 Surprising Facts” about Steinbeck’s novel. One of the excerpts:

In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck became the first writer to refer to Route 66 – the two-lane, 2,448-mile-road that connects Chicago to Los Angeles – as the “Mother Road”. In doing so, he helped capture the road’s image of redemption and turn it into a cultural icon. The fictional Joad family of the novel was an example of the thousands of people migrating to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl states, and many used Route 66. “66 is the mother road,” Steinbeck wrote, “the road of flight.”

Steinbeck also reportedly adored Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad in the film version of his book, as he should.

The definitive nonfiction book about the Dust Bowl is Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time,” which I recommend for its eye-popping accounts as well as its graceful writing. Strangely enough, it took more than 70 years after the disaster for someone to write a truly great account of the event.

Lest you think an environmental disaster such as the Dust Bowl won’t happen again, I’ve read reports on Facebook almost weekly of dust storms in eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. And, in an ironic twist, California — where the Joads journeyed to escape the dust — is suffering from a historic drought of its own.

(An image of the cover of a 1945 edition of “The Grapes of Wrath” by Make It Old via Flickr)

It’s official: There will be a third “Cars” film March 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Movies.
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Disney-Pixar plans a second sequel to the animated “Cars” movie, according to Variety and many other media outlets, although we’d long reported it would happen.

Disney CEO and chairman Bob Iger made the announcement during the annual Walt Disney Co. shareholders meeting Tuesday in Portland, Ore. However, author Michael Wallis, a Route 66 consultant to the first “Cars” film and voice of the Sheriff of Radiator Springs in it, hinted of the sequel more than a year ago and essentially confirmed it by August during a radio interview.

The original “Cars” in 2006, which primarily took place in the fictional Route 66 town of Radiator Springs, ignited the biggest revival for the real-life Route 66 since the publication of Wallis’ best-selling “Route 66: The Mother Road” in the early 1990s. “Cars” was based on many real-life people, towns, and landmarks on Route 66.

Wallis said during the radio interview the new “Cars 3″ film goes back to Route 66 and includes Route 99, a historically significant highway in California.

Iger offered no time frame of when the third “Cars” film would be released, nor was there any such information on Disney investors website.

The first “Cars” movie, released in 2006, grossed more than $460 million worldwide. The international spy caper that was “Cars 2,” released in 2011, wasn’t as well-received but grossed more than $500 million.

Beyond the box office, “Cars” films spawned more than $5 billion in merchandising sales — by far the most at Pixar. That’s an impressive figure, especially when one considers other Pixar films — especially “Toy Story” — come loaded with marketing potential. Cars Land — Disney’s theme park in California — also has been massively successful since it opened in mid-2012.

I’ve emailed Wallis to ask for more details. I’ll pass them along here later, if he has any.

Upcoming film set along Route 66 January 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, Movies.
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An upcoming independent film titled “The Frontier,” starring Kelly Lynch of “Magic City” and “The Drugstore Cowboy” and Jim Beaver of “Deadwood,” will take place in a motel along Route 66, reported Deadline Hollywood.

Pic is set in 1974 along Route 66 and centers on a desperate woman on the run from the law who takes a job at a remote desert motel. She soon discovers the motel’s patrons are rendezvousing after a large robbery, and deciding she has nothing to lose, hatches a plan to steal their loot.

According to the website, filming began Saturday in Lancaster, Calif., about 70 miles west of the real Route 66 town of Barstow in the Antelope Valley.

This will be Oren Shai‘s first directed film; he also is co-writer of the screenplay and has earned acclaim as a film writer and as short-film maker in his native Israel. Dana Lustig is producing.

Shai also has posted some details about the film’s shooting from his Twitter account.



Life-size replica of Tow Mater will be auctioned January 11, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Movies, Vehicles.
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A man in Washington state who built a life-size replica of Tow Mater from the Disney-Pixar “Cars” movies will auction the truck Arizona later this month, according to the Daily Herald of Everett, Wash.

The film’s original inspiration to Tow Mater — a rusty 1951 International boom truck — still sits on Route 66 in Galena, Kan., as you can see below:

But a business owner in Everett several years ago made sure to build a nearly exact replica of the buck-toothed tow truck in the films.

Jack Walkley, owner of Everett’s Cobra Construction, and his crew have put $120,000, 13 coats of paint and 2½ years into perfecting every detail of the recognizable rusty rig.

“Jack spent so much time making sure everything was exact, not just close — exact,” said Marley Janes, Walkley’s bookkeeper. “He has put a lot of heart and soul into this truck.”

Walkley has used Mater’s cartoonish charisma to raise more than $760,000 for charity since completing the rubber-and-rust reproduction in March 2010. [...]

Mater has his own bank account, is on Facebook and Twitter, and has a nonprofit organization, the Rusty Wrecker. He has drawn attention from Larry the Cable Guy, who voiced the movie’s show-stealing, down-home country character, and Disney/Pixar executives.

“They said he was by far the best in the world,” Walkley said.

Walkley said he’s grown tired of traveling, and his brother-in-law died over the summer. So he decided to sell the vehicle, which is a combination 1955 Chevrolet farm truck, a 1964 Mack cab, a 1955 Holmes wrecker and various other parts.

Barrett-Jackson is auctioning Tow Mater live on Fox television on Jan. 17. You can see the listing here.

UPDATE: Walkley’s Tow Mater was sold Friday for $62,000.

“American Giants,” Episode 8 January 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History, Movies, People.
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Here is the eighth episode of Joel Baker’s ongoing “American Giants” series about roadside fiberglass giants, also known as Muffler Men.

This episode covers the last of the Muffler Men in Chicago, including one extensively modified into a Frankenstein monster. Baker told me that the next episode will take place in Dodge City, Kan.

John Lasseter’s introduction at the Route 66 roundtable December 7, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, Movies, Route 66 Associations.
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The folks at the World Monuments Fund a few hours ago posted this video that played at the beginning of the “Route 66: The Road Ahead” roundtable a few weeks ago near Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.

If you’re a newcomer to Route 66, John Lasseter directed the Route 66-inspired 2006 Disney-Pixar film “Cars” and is CEO of Pixar. Lasseter also is a member of the Route 66 Alliance.

Introduction to Route 66: The Road Ahead from World Monuments Fund on Vimeo.

An initial report about the roundtable — including a proposed merger of two national Route 66 associations — is here.

DVD review: “The Spirit of 66″ November 30, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Movies, Television.
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Here’s an interesting addition to a Route 66 fan’s library — a documentary shot so long ago and out of circulation for so long, it’s become a relic in its own right.

That would be the DVD version of “The Spirit of 66″ ($20, plus shipping), the 50-minute pilot for a proposed 10-part television series meant to air during the 66th anniversary of Route 66 in 1992.

The series, directed by Dave Bartholomew and shot by Gary Parker, never was greenlighted, although the pilot showed up on a few PBS stations. A VHS videotape of the pilot was released to the market.

But the video eventually dropped out of the marketplace for so long, I’d never heard of it until a few weeks ago (I’ve been a Route 66 fan since 1999). Recent searches for copies of the videotape on Amazon and eBay turned up empty.

Bartholomew announced a few weeks ago he would re-release “The Spirit of 66″ on DVD through his Hyphenate Productions in Kansas. In an email, Bartholomew acknowledged the source material was decaying, so digitizing it for posterity was crucial. It stands to reason that if Bartholomew’s tapes were going bad, roadies’ copies of the VHS tape would as well.

The episode’s first segment opens with an interview with Bobby Troup, composer of the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” It’s a kick (no pun intended) to see Troup drive around Southern California in a 1941 Buick — the same type of car in which he composed the song — and singing his most famous tune. He talks about his early career and tells a few memories of his real Route 66 trip, including the “terrifying curves” outside of Oatman, Ariz.

It’s a terrific interview, and I’m glad Bartholomew landed it before Troup’s death in 1999.

Next is an interview with photographer Carlos Elmer inside the now-closed Beale Hotel in Kingman, Ariz., which his grandmother once owned. Elmer, who gained regional fame for submitting photographs to Arizona Highways magazine for 50 years and published several Arizona-related books, talked about delivering a telegram from Beale guest Charles Lindbergh and receiving advice from internationally famous nature photographer Ansel Adams.

At the time of the interview, Elmer still was active with a camera. “My favorite photo is the next one to shoot,” he says. Elmer died in 1993 at age 72.

By now, you start to see a pattern. Except for the seemingly ageless Angel Delgadillo in Seligman, Ariz., most of the people in “The Spirit of 66″ have died. It makes me grateful Bartholomew and Parker captured these people’s memories of Route 66 (including one woman who recalled using a broom to sweep gravel off a Route 66 bridge so she and her fellow teens could dance on it Saturday night) before they died. Remember, the footage was shot about when Route 66′s renaissance began and before the Internet became widespread. If nothing else, “The Spirit of 66″ fills a few historical gaps.

The film also contains an interview with Robert Allison, a quasi-caretaker for the ghost town of Two Guns, Ariz., also known as Canyon Diablo. The cowboy hat-wearing Allison guides you through the so-called “Cave of Death” and how the property reputedly was cursed. Allison noted the owner of a wild-animal zoo there was seriously mauled by a mountain lion, then by a lynx, before giving up the business. Allison didn’t seem to buy into the curse legend, but he didn’t seem to totally disbelieve it, either.

One of the most poignant parts of “The Spirit of 66″ was the people who remember their towns being bypassed by the interstate. Delgadillo has become the go-to guy in recent years of someone who keenly remembers the exact hour when I-40 opened. But the film crew found other business owners who recalled that day Route 66 became deserted.

“I still get chills thinking about it,” one said.

I also got chills when Delgadillo said the only other time he recalled U.S. 66 becoming deserted occurred in the hours after President Kennedy was shot. I happened to be watching the DVD on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.

One of the last segments of “The Spirit of 66″ is 200 residents of Winslow, Ariz., singing along to The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” on what later became Standin’ on a Corner Park. I thought: “I wonder whether La Posada will be included in this,” then realized Alan Affeldt and Tina Mion didn’t buy that Harvey House until a few years later. And the building behind Standin’ on a Corner Park hadn’t yet been destroyed by a destructive fire. Time rolls on …

The age of the videotape shows with occasional image distortions or warbling, but the footage mostly looks good. A few may quibble about the episode taking place only in Arizona and California, but one should remember the creators were going to explore other parts of the route in other episodes, but didn’t get the chance.

I asked Bartholomew what prompted him to re-release “The Spirit of 66.” He replied via email:

Some heartfelt response in the form of handwritten letters and emails from old fans — owners of the vhs who were clamoring for it to be released on dvd — put me over the hump. In designing the new box artwork, etc., I wanted to “freshen it up” slightly, but to simultaneously keep it close to the original, so those who own the vhs would know that this is the same program — in case they didn’t want to be purchasing it again.

Bartholomew said about 25 hours of footage were shot all those years ago. As for what will happen to it:

As all of the money to produce it came out of my pocket, I figured we would finish the pilot, sell it, come back to use some of the additional footage, and go out and shoot more — finishing the journey all the way to Chicago. That didn’t happen … but we had already edited a few more stand-alone sections for a future episode. I considered adding a couple of these as a bonus feature for the dvd release, but only could find these edited on vhs.

But I do have all of the original tapes, and as their shelf-life does have more and more of an impending expiration date … I am now strongly considering digitizing all of it, and going back in and maybe at least releasing a second installment from the footage currently in my possession.

AND — I had gone out on my own and shot a reunion of the last surviving Harvey Girls, within a year of that first summer; and I really feel I will edit that together and release a stand-alone program on them, as I feel there would be interest.

I and many other Route 66 aficionados will look forward to that previously unseen footage if it’s released. But for now, “The Spirit of 66″ deserves a prominent place in a roadie’s video collection.

Highly recommended.

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