Walt Disney is Proof that Great Ideas Can Come Out of Nowhere

Walt Disney’s passport, dated Aug. 19, 1965, sold for $28,680 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

I never met Walt Disney. He died four months after I joined Frito-Lay in 1966 and was among the last of a generation that smoked three packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day. He died of lung cancer.

However, like virtually everyone else in Southern California, we were familiar with the incredible theme park he built in nearby Anaheim. Disneyland opened to the public on July 17, 1955, and Frito-Lay had a direct relationship with Disneyland through a Mexican food restaurant in Frontierland called Casa de Fritos (Home of Fritos). It featured a unique product called a “Ta-cup” … basically, traditional taco ingredients served in a fried tortilla cup that helped with eating on-the-go using one hand.

I met the manager, Joe Nugent, during a meeting with Frito-Lay corporate officers from Dallas (The Flying Circus) who were in Los Angeles to review our zone’s 1967 profit plan and operating budgets. The only surprise was a mild rebuke to Nugent: “Dammit Joe, we told you last year that we don’t want to make a profit. The whole idea is to expose more people to Fritos and build the brand!” Joe just nodded and resorted to his previous tactic of lowering prices in the hope of lowering profits. Alas, it seemed that the more he dropped prices, the more the crowds waited in line to buy even more. What he experienced was the 1960s version of leveraging overhead costs, which lowered margins but increased total profitability. The Sam Walton slogan of “stack ’em high and sell ’em low.”

Another surprise was the mid-1967 completion of Club 33 at Disneyland, a private club with a top-notch restaurant that could only be accessed with a special card and hidden elevator. Frito-Lay was one of 33 local companies with membership, along with Carnation, Bell Telephone and Bank of America. It was the only place in the park where alcoholic beverages were served and in 2010, I read there was a 14-year waiting list for new members. Frito-Lay is now the crown jewel in the PepsiCo empire and analysts are advocating they get out of the beverage business.

From what I’ve read, Walter Elias Disney was a lot like the two men who started the Frito and Lay companies: humble beginnings, entrepreneurial and ambitious. Disney went broke when no one would buy his first animated films, Alice Comedies, so he moved from Kansas City to Hollywood in 1923, took out a home equity loan for $2,500 and rented the back room of a local real estate office where he created the studio that would become the Walt Disney Company‍. What a success story from another “garage” operation it has become.

We then moved to Cupertino in the Bay Area, where the business guys only seemed to talk about technology (using names like Ampex, Atari and H-P) and whispered about the next garage operation that would be a huge success. What we didn’t realize is that we had moved into one of the greatest wealth-creation areas in the history of the world … where two members of the Homebrew Computer Club – both college dropouts – set up shop to sell their techie friends the circuit boards one of them had invented. There are several versions of why they named their company Apple, but the consensus is Steve Jobs had been working at an apple orchard. Our old backyard is not far from the $5 billion Apple campus, but nobody tipped us about what the future might be.

We never heard the term “Silicon Valley” or about two guys in Vermont who had pooled their resources to make ice cream in an abandoned gas station after installing a 4½-gallon freezer. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were on the opposite end of the technology spectrum when they made a low-tech fortune with Ben & Jerry’s. Of course, not every inventor sticks his hand into a tin and comes up with “Chunky Monkey.” Most will fail. Even those who receive patents and set up small companies will not make these kinds of fortunes. Consider poor Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin in 1793 while working as a tutor at a Georgia plantation. His was probably the most influential invention in the 18th century and it got him into the history books, but nothing in the bankbook.

But that’s not the point. The dream that it’s possible, that an idea can come out of nowhere and can – with a lot of hard work – lead to success is more alive than ever. That kid working away or thinking about dropping out of Harvard to start his own company can change the world. Still skeptical? Just ask Bill Gates.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Muggy Day in 1958 Gave Us One of Coolest Events in Music History

A vintage photograph of jazz vocalist Maxine Sullivan, signed, was offered in an October 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On an otherwise routine day in August 1958 (most claim it was the 12th – a few are not positive), the epicenter of American jazz was at 126th Street, between 5th and Madison, in New York City. Perhaps 57 or 58 of the greatest and near-greatest jazz musicians were assembled to have their picture taken – Willie “The Lion” Smith may have gotten bored and wandered off. They had been invited by Esquire magazine for a cover story, “The Golden Age of Jazz,” published in January 1959.

Jimmy McPartland was definitely not there since his wife, Marian, could not get him out of bed early enough for the scheduled 10 a.m. event. In fact, Marian was one of only three women there, including vocalist Maxine Sullivan and pianist Mary Lou Williams. Three other luminaries – Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong – were not pictured, but many legends like Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge and Thelonious Monk were there for the 10 a.m. event and right on time.

One cat said (seriously) he was surprised when he found out there were two 10 o’clocks every day!

The idea was Art Kane’s, an ambitious freelance photographer/art director who also volunteered to take the photograph, in spite of his almost total inexperience. Presumably, no one involved was aware they might be making history; primarily what gets recorded as history – like the very best jazz – can be surprising and unpredictable. Kane’s photograph was a way cool picture taken on a typical muggy New York City day.

To really understand the story behind the picture, watch the 1995 Oscar-nominated documentary A Great Day in Harlem. It was directed by first-time documentary filmmaker Jean Bach, who in her late 70s had more gumption, style and resilience than any of today’s self-proclaimed, oh-so-hip filmmakers could ever muster. She knew and loved jazz and the only city where that historic picture could possibly have been taken. She worked on the film with a great producer, Matthew Seig, and a superb editor, Susan Peehl. They all knew what they were doing and that shows, too, from the opening frame to the final credit. Jazz critic Whitney Balliett wrote in The New Yorker that the film is “about the taking of the picture, and it’s also about mortality, loyalty, talent, musical beauty and the fact that jazz musicians tend to be the least pretentious artists on earth.”

Of the 57 jazz musicians/artists in the photograph, only two are still alive. Walter Theodore “Sonny” Rollins (87). He’s a terrific tenor/soprano saxophonist who has lived a remarkable life that includes music (check out his album Saxophone Colossus, recorded in 1956 and preserved in the Library of Congress for artistic significance); a stint in Rikers Island for armed robbery; and being one of the guinea pigs for using methadone to break a heroin habit. There are way too many honorary awards to list.

The other survivor is Benny Golson (89), a tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger who worked with superstars like Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie. Golson also gained a modicum of fame from the 2004 Steven Spielberg movie The Terminal, which stars Tom Hanks as a traveler trapped in JFK airport over a visa issue. Hanks is on a fictional quest to get Golson’s autograph – the only one his jazz enthusiast father needs to have all 57 autographs of the musicians in the original photograph. Trivia spoiler… he gets it!

Man those cats could play!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

‘Your Show of Shows’ a Classic Reminder of Television’s Potential

A Sid Caesar and Imogene Coco signed photo from Your Show of Shows went to auction in February 2003.

By Jim O’Neal

In the fall of 1949, inside a room on the 23rd floor of NBC’s Manhattan headquarters, an ensemble of comedy writers were preparing to give Americans a reason to stay home on Saturday nights, glued to their 10-inch televisions. Soon, their efforts would spread fear down Broadway, just as Hollywood was beginning to worry about the effects of television on box-office receipts.

But this seemed different. The sophisticated, rowdy and mainly 20-something staff was about to use the relatively new medium of television to create stay-at-home laughter that surpassed everything that came before. From its premiere on Feb. 25, 1950, the manic energy of Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, turned Saturday nights into a showcase for pure comedic genius.

Aside from launching legendary careers for Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Larry Gelbart, the 90-minute revue provided a beacon of hope and direction to a medium that needed both.

It had started when NBC’s television programming chief, Pat Weaver, pitched Your Show of Shows in 1949 to Max Liebman, a veteran producer. Since television’s debut in 1946, networks attracted advertisers by allowing sponsors to buy entire timeslots and produce their own shows. A prime example was the Texaco Star Theater featuring Milton Berle.

Weaver had an entirely different concept. His network would air its own shows and sell “spots” of airtime to multiple companies. Liebman had been the first to pair Caesar and Coca when he directed a sponsor-driven program, the Admiral Broadway Revue, and he agreed to produce this new NBC-owned show. He quickly decided to reunite Caesar and Coca and then form the writing team around them.

A dream team as it turned out. Sid Caesar described it best: “This writing staff was pure magic. We were all a little bit crazy, but it somehow produced terrific material.” All that talent converged in the smoke-filled “writers’ room.” It was where the 21-year-old Mel Brooks would punctuate his chronic lateness by screaming, “Lindy has landed!” – much to the open anger of the demanding Sid Caesar.

Lucille Kallen, the lone female writer, is quoted as saying the team literally lived Your Show of Shows, working seven days a week, 39 weeks a year from that office … and loving every minute.

In what would later be known as television’s Golden Age, the incomparable staff created a gallery of memorable sketches, brought to life by Caesar, Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. There were movie parodies like From Here to Obscurity, Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, and the extraordinary chemistry between Coca and Caesar, displayed in the saga of Doris and Charlie Hickenlooper’s floundering marriage. And, of course, Caesar’s portrayal of the “Professor.”

The show was so popular that Broadway movie and theater owners, after experiencing a dramatic box-office decline, pleaded with NBC executives to move the TV show to midweek. Even critics loved it. The notoriously harsh Larry Wolters of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Sid Caesar doesn’t steal jokes, he doesn’t borrow ideas or material. A gag is as useless to him as a fresh situation to Milton Berle.” Alfred Hitchcock said, “The young Mr. Caesar best approaches the great Chaplin of the early years.”

What effect did the show, running over five years, have on television? Consider this: When it debuted in 1950, there were 4 million sets in American households. When the final curtain fell on the Hickenloopers and company, over half of the nation’s 48 million homes had a television.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but it’s also a reminder of what television at its very best could be … before the “vast wasteland” encroached.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

News Reporting Has Come a Long Way, but Kinks Remain

A sketch of Edward R. Murrow, signed, by artist Johnny Raitt is among six sketches of famous newscasters that went to auction in July 2010.

By Jim O’Neal

In the past year, several prominent newspapers and TV networks have corrected or retracted provocative political stories that were factually wrong. Critics are prone to blame the insatiable appetite to feed the 24/7 news-cycle beast and, increasingly, a news organization’s rush to be first. This has been compounded by the steady transition from costly field correspondents to much-less expensive panelists sitting around a table in the TV studio offering personal opinions.

Most of these discussions start with “I think” or “In my opinion,” which by definition blurs facts with subjective comments. Unbiased, factual reporting is mixed into a lethal cocktail that blurs reality and has inexorably led to an environment where charges of “fake news” are routine. Then social media further distort issues and reality. People can now easily shop for any “facts” on TV or the internet that support their opinions. However, the “need for speed” is not a recent phenomenon.

Triggered by the oldest of journalism’s preoccupations – the desire to be first with a dramatic story – Edward R. Murrow, William L. Shirer and their network, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), made broadcast journalism history on March 13, 1938. What set the stage was CBS founder and CEO William S. Paley’s realization that his radio network had just been soundly beaten again by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and their reporter “Ubiquitous Max” Jordan, with his eyewitness account of Austria’s fall.

Worse, the fault was Paley’s. Until Jordan’s story and its effect on America, Paley had supported news director Paul White’s decision not to use network employees for hard-news reporting. To their increasing chagrin, men like Murrow and Shirer were forced to cover truly soft stories like concerts instead of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’s actions and intentions. Paley had had enough. He asked White to call Shirer and tell him, “We want a European roundup tonight.” The broadcast would cover the European reaction to the Nazis’ Austrian takeover. The players would include Shirer in London with a member of Parliament; Murrow in Vienna; and American newspaper correspondents in Paris, Berlin and Rome.

They had eight hours to put together what had never been done before. As Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson describe in their book The Murrow Boys: “Never mind that it was five o’clock, London time, on a Sunday afternoon, which meant that all offices were closed and that all technicians and correspondents and members of Parliament they would need were out of town, off in the country or otherwise unreachable. Never mind the seemingly insuperable technical problems of arranging the lines and transmitters, of ensuring the necessity of split-second timing. Never mind any of that. That was what being a foreign correspondent was all about. It was part of the code of the brotherhood. When the bastards asked if you could do something impossible, the only acceptable answer was yes. Shirer reached for the phone and called Murrow in Vienna.”

Beginning at 8 p.m., with announcer Robert Trout’s words, “We take you now to London,” Murrow, Shirer and their comrades proved radio was not only able to report news as it occurred but also able to put it into context, to link it with news from elsewhere – and do it with unprecedented speed and immediacy. They set in motion with that 30-minute broadcast in March 1938 a chain of events that would lead, in only one year, to radio’s emergence as America’s chief news medium and to the beginning of CBS’s decades-long dominance of broadcast journalism. The broadcasts by Murrow and his team during the London blitz and over the entire course of the war set the standard for broadcast reporting style and eloquence.

We have come a long way since then, but it’s not clear to me if we’ve made any progress.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Put on Your Trivia Hat … it’s Time for the Academy Awards

A rare six-sheet poster for The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century Fox, 1940), measuring 81 by 81 inches, sold for $35,850 at a July 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The 89th Academy Awards are set for Sunday:

►Three films won 11 Oscars: Ben Hur (1959), Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

►Three films had 14 nominations: All About Eve (1950), Titanic and La La Land (2016).

►Cabaret (1972) won eight Oscars … but not Best Picture.

►Katharine Hepburn has the most Best Actress Oscars … four (yes, more than Meryl Streep).

►Henry Fonda is the oldest actor (76) to win an Oscar for Lead Role in On Golden Pond (1981).

►John Ford won four Oscars for Best Director … The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952).

►Peter Finch won Best Actor posthumously for Network (1976).

►Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor posthumously for The Dark Knight (2008).

►Peter O’Toole was nominated for Best Actor and lost eight times.

►Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland are the only sisters to each win an Academy Award for Best Actress.

►Walt Disney won 22 competitive Oscars and four Honorary.

►Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar, for her Supporting Role in Gone With the Wind (1939).

►Midnight Cowboy (1969) is the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture.

►Gone With the Wind (1939) is the first color movie to win Best Picture.

►Cate Blanchett won an Oscar playing real-life Oscar-winner Kate Hepburn in Aviator (2004).

►Laurence Olivier is the only person to direct himself in winning an acting Oscar, for Hamlet (1948).

►Barry Fitzgerald was nominated twice for the same role in Going My Way (1944) … Best Actor and Best Supporting (won). The rules were changed to avoid this in the future.

►The most nominations (11) with zero Oscars … The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985).

►Halle Berry is the only African-American to win Best Actress, for Monster’s Ball (2001).

Tatum O’Neal and Ryan O’Neal in 1973’s Paper Moon.

►George Bernard Shaw is the first person to win an Oscar and a Nobel Prize (Bob Dylan matched this feat last year).

►Timothy Hutton is the youngest (20) to win Supporting Actor, for Ordinary People (1980).

►Tatum O’Neal is the youngest (10) Supporting Actress, for Paper Moon (1973).

Best of luck to the nominees.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Early Broadcast Advertising was Shunned … Until Listeners Demanded More

A $12 ticket could get you into the first Super Bowl in 1967. This full-ticket example, a Gold Variation graded PSA NM-MT 8, sold for $26,290 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1967, the cost to air a 30-second commercial in the first Super Bowl was about $40,000. Nearly two weeks ago in Super Bowl LI, the cost had increased to $5 million and fans were eager to see the latest creative efforts of Corporate America to hawk their products on TV. Ads are everywhere we look. They pop up on our computers and iPads and are common on race cars, golf apparel and sports stadiums. The Nike swoosh is instantly recognized.

It was not always this way, at least on radio.

During the early days, many radio stations had a practice of observing a weekly “silent night” when they would go off the air. However, the trend was definitely in the opposite direction as listeners were seeking more programming than the stations could produce. This led to hybrid programs combining content with advertising. Early high-profile examples included The Maxwell House Hour (the No. 1 coffee in the U.S.), General Motors Family Party, and The Ipana Troubadours from Bristol Myers toothpaste.

But the issue of regulation hovered over radio like a dark cloud. Some argued for total government control as was the practice in Britain. An even more vigorous debate erupted over commercial advertising. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover asserted it would kill radio. After all, how many listeners would stay by their radios to learn about the advantages of one soap over another? (Quite a few, it turned out.) He argued for the industry to adopt self-policing policies to curtail advertising excesses.

However, broadcasters were salivating over the new revenues and wanted even more. Finally, in 1926, an NBC variety show was interrupted for a special promotional announcement from Dodge cars and it encountered little audience objections. From this point forward, commercial breaks during regular programs were the norm.

Advertising became an integral part of radio broadcasting and never hesitated again.

Some early sponsors did worry about being too aggressive and carefully chose tasteful, discreet language … “Swift & Co has a few practical hints on how to lower your meat bills.” That quickly changed once they discovered consumer-crazy citizens of the 1920s were eager to embrace radio advertising. Far from being insulted, people desperately wanted to hear the messages. They wanted to stay hip, keep up with the latest technologies and the most modern forms of behavior.

A hundred years later, I have a smart phone with more computing power than an Apollo mission, that can hold all my music and trace my ancestry. But after spending most of my life chasing larger screen TVs, I do object to watching my programs on my watch!

Must be a generational thing. Times change.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Hamilton-Burr Duel Remains a Puzzle of American History

alexander-hamilton-warner-brothers-1931-one-sheet
Warner Brothers’ 1931 film Alexander Hamilton was based on the play that opened on Broadway in 1917. This original poster for the movie sold for $5,975 at a July 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indies, arriving in America in 1772 to pursue an education. Aaron Burr was born in 1756 in Newark, N.J. When they met for their famous duel, Hamilton was a former Revolutionary War General and had been the first Secretary of the Treasury. Burr was a respected soldier, former U.S. Senator and the vice president of the United States.

Their duel is still controversial and somewhat puzzling. Why would two prominent Americans end up early one morning in a situation where one would be killed and the political career of the other effectively ended?

Burr has steadily become one of the great villains of American history. But before the duel, he was an impressive man. Contemporary reports asserted he was open and kind, and wrote letters to his servants, solicitous about their welfare. He had fought to eliminate slavery throughout the country and is credited with helping end the practice in New York in 1799.

Before the contentious election of 1800, Burr and Hamilton were friends who enjoyed dining together and their two daughters were also friendly. Yet the two men, among the most prominent lawyers in New York and the entire country, found themselves enmeshed in the code duello, a system of honor no better than current street rules for gangs in Chicago or Los Angeles.

It had started in February 1804 at a political dinner when Hamilton had supposedly called Burr a “dangerous man” unfit to lead. A doctor, Charles Cooper, leaked the comments to an Albany newspaper, which printed them. When Burr confronted Hamilton, Burr was told to ask Dr. Cooper, and then several more letters were exchanged, each one slightly more hostile than the previous.

Eventually, Burr challenged Hamilton to the duel in June 1804 and they agreed to meet in Weehawken, N.J., the exact spot Hamilton’s son had been killed in a duel three years earlier. The time was to be 7 to 7:30 a.m. on July 11 and both men were using modified pistols of over .50 caliber, more lethal than World War II heavy .50 caliber machineguns.

These guns were designed for killing, not dueling!

Hamilton was hit in the lower right side, fell, was carried to a boat waiting in the Hudson River and taken back to a friend’s house in New York. He died 36 hours later and his funeral was very impressive – a procession of his coffin on a carriage and his general’s uniform proudly on top. It was a memorable date, July 14, Bastille Day, and the 15th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Burr was indicted for murder, but never tried. In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson dropped him from the presidential ticket and Burr’s career careened into a deep spiral, his honor tarnished forever.

The infamous code duello had claimed two more victims.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

As America Played, Europe’s Dictators Set Stage for World War II

This 1939 edition of New York World’s Fair Comics, featuring a blond Superman on its cover and graded CGC VF/NM 9.0, sold for $25,300 at a July 2002 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Spring 1939 was a season of triumph for Europe’s trio of new dictators. Francisco Franco finished up his work in Spain at a cost of 1 million dead. Benito Mussolini seized Albania and Adolf Hitler marched unopposed into Prague and claimed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain and his Munich Pact would be enshrined in the hall of naïveté for eternity. Another diplomatic fantasy dashed.

War fever was ratcheted up a notch, but most of the world pretended not to notice.

In the United States, people sought escape in entertainment, particularly in New York, where the flashy World’s Fair offered them a glimpse into “The World of Tomorrow.” The pavilions of 33 states, 58 countries (minus Nazi Germany) and 1,300 companies filled the imaginations of visitors with modern marvels like television, nylons, robots and man-made electricity.

The popular General Motors “Futurama” exhibit drew 28,000 visitors daily and featured their vision of life in 1960, where everyone would be fit and tan, take two-month vacations and drive cars powered by “liquid air.” Visitors left with a button reading “I have seen the future” — wandering the 1,200 acres like members of a congregation that had witnessed a divine miracle.

The 1938 film Love Finds Andy Hardy marked the second pairing of the popular Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

In June, the King and Queen of England came to America and their parade in New York attracted over 3 million people (second only to Charles Lindbergh) and another 600,000 in Washington, D.C. Eleanor Roosevelt famously served them genuine American hot dogs when they finally made it to the White House.

Fantasy also reigned at the movies, where Walt Disney in 1937 introduced his first full-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and was hard at work on an animated paean to classical music, Fantasia. But the hottest box-office draw in 1938 was the freckle-faced teenager Mickey Rooney and his small-town exploits as Andy Hardy. Then came the most anticipated event in movie history, the premiere of Gone with the Wind and its epic romance in Civil War Georgia.

Awash in fairy tales and cartoons, science-fiction and nostalgia, people had little patience for bad news. However, when it started, there seemed to be no end. A surprise agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union and on Sept. 1, 1939, the killing began. After a faked Polish invasion of Germany, they unleashed 1½ million German soldiers in “response,” backed up by the most powerful war machine ever known to man.

Fantasy time had ended.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Martial Artists with Supernatural Powers Proved No Match for Eight-Nation Alliance

The 1963 film 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven, dramatized the siege of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion.

By Jim O’Neal

August 14 is an important date in Chinese history.

In the turmoil of the late 19th century, it was almost predictable that governmental efforts would be mounted to try and alleviate the growing dominance of the West in internal commerce policy. The Imperial government made some late-ditch efforts that all proved ineffective and the chaos came to a climax by yet another internal revolution that was dubbed the “Boxer Rebellion.”

This was an effort mounted in 1899 by a semi-secret society known as “The Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” whose singular goal was to expel foreigners. It was composed mostly of young men with martial arts skills and a remarkable belief they had supernatural powers that would make them impervious to bullets and weapons of the enemy.

The Imperial government was variously opposed and supportive, uncertain whether it represented a means of salvation or a risky provocation of the foreigners. After the Boxers’ fists proved to be vulnerable to bullets, they had their answer. The Eight-Nation Alliance (Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France, the United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary) was successful in crushing the rebellion – invading and occupying Peking on Aug. 14, 1900 – and proceeding to extract more trade concessions and over $300 million in reparations.

In 1963, Charlton Heston and a boozy Ava Gardner appeared in a mediocre movie, 55 Days at Peking, that did not do well, even though it still shows up occasionally on cable. One interesting tidbit is that it was filmed in Madrid and the casting called for 6,200 Asiatic-appearing actors. Oops … there were only about 2,000 in proximity so over 4,000 were recruited from Seville, Toledo and at least three cities in France. Many of them were owner-operators of Chinese restaurants and when they shut down to be in the movies, a major shortage of Chinese food quickly developed.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Fun Facts: Tarzan of the Apes, Satchel Paige, Mickey Mouse

This Tarzan of the Apes one sheet for the 1918 film featuring Elmo Lincoln sold for $19,120 at a November 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Some random tidbits for a Friday:

►The first adult actor to play Tarzan in the movies was Elmo Lincoln (1918) in Tarzan of the Apes. (Gordon Griffith played him as a child in the same movie and actually appeared first on screen). Lincoln was in two later Tarzan movies in the 1940s, both uncredited, and then died of a heart attack in 1952 at age 63.

A 1948 Leaf Gum Co. Satchel Paige #8 card realized $38,240 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

►On Sept. 25, 1965, Leroy “Satchel” Paige officially became the oldest player in MLB by pitching three innings for the Kansas City A’s. Paige pitched a one-hitter with Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox getting the only hit off the 59-year-old Satch.

A Mickey Mouse stock poster (Celebrity Productions, 1928) realized $101,575 at a November 2012 Heritage auction.

►In 1929, Mickey Mouse (previously Mortimer Mouse) speaks for the first time in The Karnival Kid. Carl Stalling subbed for Walt Disney and provided the voice for that first line – “Hot dogs … hot dogs” – as Mickey played a hotdog vendor for the first and only time.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].