The Sweet Taste Of 'Pop' Culture Nostalgia A new book celebrates the forgotten bits of 1970s and 1980s pop culture dear to kids who grew up in that era — from John Hughes movies and Pop Rocks to encyclopedias, Stretch Armstrong dolls and Fantasy Island.

The Sweet Taste Of 'Pop' Culture Nostalgia

The Sweet Taste Of 'Pop' Culture Nostalgia

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Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont encourage readers to pop back to the past in 'Whatever Happened To Pudding Pops?'.
Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures
Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont investigate retro lunchboxes and other blasts from the past in 'Whatever Happened To Pudding Pops?'.
Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures

Brian Bellmont is an award-winning food writer and Gael Fashingbauer Cooper was named one of USA Today's Top Pop Culture People in 2002. Perigee Trade hide caption

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Perigee Trade

Brian Bellmont is an award-winning food writer and Gael Fashingbauer Cooper was named one of USA Today's Top Pop Culture People in 2002.

Perigee Trade
Whatever Happened To Pudding Pops?
By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont
Paperback, 240 pages
Perigee Trade
List Price: $12.95

Read An Excerpt

Do you have the Eight is Enough theme music burned into your brain? Do you fall into a Proustian reverie at the fizzy punch of Pop Rocks? Are you old enough to remember carrying a metal lunch box to school — and clobbering your friends with it?

Then you're the perfect age to appreciate a new book called Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes & Trends of the '70s & '80s. It's a catalogue of things designed to make you smile and say, "Oh yeah, I remember that!" Candy cigarettes, Fantasy Island, encyclopedias, and Stretch Armstrong dolls all make an appearance.

Co-author Gael Fashingbauer Cooper tells weekend on All Things Considered host Rachel Martin that she wanted to preserve bits of pop culture that slipped away without anyone noticing.

"The speed of change gets lost sometimes, when we're in the middle of it, and I think looking back is something we don't always do enough," she says.

Cooper, who wrote the book with Brian Bellmont, had another, more personal reason for writing the book.

"I'm the youngest of seven, and all my brothers and sisters are baby boomers," she says. "Their pop culture ... dominated my life. And so to look back on my own was kind of a fresh experience for me."

But why pudding pops? Cooper says the sweet treats embody the experience she's trying to capture in her book.

"They were here in the '80s, thanks to the Bill Cosby ads, everyone knew about them, and then they vanished for a while," she says. "And then they very quietly came back in about 2000 or so."

Cooper says purists complain that the rebooted Pudding Pop doesn't taste the same, but they're still a welcome sight in the freezer case.

"The joy that you would see in a person who would be like, 'Pudding Pops are back?' That was kind of like why we wanted to do the book," she says. "To tell them, you know, so many things from your childhood may be back. They may have different names or different formats, but a lot of this can be found, and we're gonna tell you where you can find it."

Excerpt: 'Whatever Happened To Pudding Pops?'

Whatever Happened To Pudding Pops?
Whatever Happened To Pudding Pops?
By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont
Paperback, 240 pages
Perigee Trade
List Price: $12.95

After School Specials

As preachy as Sunday school and as subtle as Gallagher, After School Specials tackled the juicy social issues, from divorce to date rape, that public schools in the '70s and '80s couldn't talk about. Watching these shows was like peeking at those books the people you babysat for kept hidden high on a bedroom shelf. But because they were dubbed "educational," you could watch completely guilt-free.

A Martian could figure out the plots from the titles alone: "Schoolboy Father." "Andrea's Story: A Hitchhiking Tragedy." "Please Don't Hit Me, Mom." "The Boy Who Drank Too Much." Who wouldn't rush home after algebra to tune in to these tawdry tales?

Hilariously, the scripts could have been written by a nun who didn't get out much. Every social issue was treated with the same amount of gravitas, be it shoplifting or Satanism. But the casts were like an all-star team of teen favorites. Rob Lowe and Dana Plato made a baby! Kristy McNichol couldn't get along with her stepdad! After School Specials were like the mall for kid actors: Eventually, you saw everyone there.

X-tinction rating: Gone for good.

Replaced by: Made-for-TV movies come close, with titles like Death of a Cheerleader, Too Young to Be a Dad, and Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? But you can relive the real thing by picking up the original After School Specials on DVD, complete with school bus- and Trapper Keeper-shaped boxes.

The Bad News Bears

In the movies, kids were often portrayed as insufferable saintly little twits. Not so in The Bad News Bears. These foulmouthed brats much more closely resembled your own playground foes. Mouthy Tanner called his own teammates every slur in the book. Engelberg chomped chocolate while he was playing catcher. Ogilvie was a benchwarming nerd and Timmy Lupus an unabashed "booger-eating spaz." Add in lone girl Amanda, rebellious jock Kelly Leak, and alcoholic pool-cleaning coach Buttermaker (Walter Matthau, in the role he was born to play), and you had yourself a team.

The swearing, the slurs, and, best of all, a drunk Buttermaker driving the kids around, seat belt–free, ensured that this 1976 movie would never fully meet with parents' approval, making kids love it all the more. Who wouldn't want to be cigarette-smokin', Harley-ridin' Kelly Leak?

And the fact that the Bears lose it all in the end struck a true chord with your average bench-riding viewer. When Tanner tells the victorious Yankees to take their apology and their trophy and shove it, he's speaking for every fat, mouthy, booger-eatin' spaz in the audience. Play ball!

X-tinction rating: Revived and revised.

Replaced by: The film was remade as Bad News Bears (inexplicably dropping the The) in 2005, with Billy Bob Thornton in the Matthau role.

Fun fact: Reportedly, Kristy McNichol, Jodie Foster, and Sarah Jessica Parker were all considered for the role of Amanda, the part that went to Tatum O'Neal.

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour deserves a spot in Gen X heaven just for giving puppetmaster brothers Sid and Marty Krofft their start. Cartoon kings Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera hired the Bros to create costumes and sets for their psychedelic freak-out of a show about a gorilla, a beagle, an elephant, and a lion who hung out in a Laugh-In-styled clubhouse and sang horrifyingly bad bubblegum pop.

When not riding around in the kid-coveted "banana buggies," the Splits introduced cartoons including The Arabian Knights and The Three Musketeers (sadly, not about the candy bar). Live-action serial Danger Island may have been optimistically named — the villain wore a not-so-threatening pink-polka-dotted bandana, and the only "danger" involved a cream-pie fight.

Banana Splits was most remembered for its bizarre catchphrases ("Uh-oh, Chongo!") and a seriously kickass theme song that was later covered by Liz Phair with Material Issue.

X-tinction rating: Gone for good.

Replaced by: The original Banana Splits aired only from 1968 to 1970, but they keep showing up on TV. Cartoon Network revived it briefly in the 2000s with an even creepier costume for Snorky the elephant, and reruns pop up on Boomerang.

Dixie Riddle Cups

How do you know the elephant's been in the refrigerator? The footprints in the butter, of course. Where do cows go Saturday nights? To the mooo-vies.

Corny? As Kansas in August. The knee-slappers on Dixie Riddle Cups may have been lame, but they're the reason we all know that when you tell a mirror a joke, it cracks up—and the best way to talk to a monster is...long-distance.

Sometimes Riddle Cups would show up in kitchens, where kids would have to fill up about a dozen of the thimble-sized buggers to wet their whistles. Mostly, though, they were staples in bathrooms across the country. We were supposed to use one of the tiny cups each time we brushed, but we'd often yank them all from the dispenser, quickly digest the comedy, then stack them back inside, blissfully anticipating the really awesome riddle that would pop up later in the week.

At the peak of the cups' popularity, in the '70s, Dixie expanded the line to include Dixie Riddle Plates and Bowls. Mmm — dinner and a show.

X-tinction rating: Revised and revived.

Replaced by: The cups went to the big wastebasket in the sky in 1977. In the mid-'90s, Dixie reintroduced the concept, inviting kids to submit new jokes.

Dr. Demento

What kid didn't love novelty and comedy songs? When a radio station would sneak "Purple People Eater" or "The Streak" onto the air, it was like discovering Mom had slipped a Snickers into your lunch box. How fabulous, then, to stumble across The Dr. Demento Show, a full two-hour Sunday night radio romp, where goofy led into ridiculous led into somewhat risqué followed by just plain silly.

The gentle-voiced Deeeeeee-mento (real name: Barret Hansen) was the lunatic running the musical asylum, honking horns and holding court with a pile of wacky sound effects. There was probably a rubber chicken in there somewhere. But there was method to his madness — he organized songs by themes, featured witty guests, and wound up each show with the most-requested tunes.

The crazy songs he played wriggled their way into our memories. Who could struggle through a miserable week at summer camp without muttering "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah"? And how daring did it feel to almost swear by singing "I stepped in a big pile of...shhhhh...aving cream"? Dr. Demento was a teacher, too, introducing us to legends like Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg, and most notably, to a young fan of his with giant glasses and curly hair, who became "Weird Al" Yankovic, undisputed king of modern parody tunes.

X-tinction rating: Still going strong, only not on the radio. Demento's syndicated show dropped off the airwaves in 2010, but he still streams episodes onto his website.

Fun fact: The doctor reportedly received his nickname after playing the bloody "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus, leading a listener to comment, "You've got to be demented to play that."

Fashion Plates

Today's kids can watch Project Runway and dream of being the next Gianni Versace or Vera Wang. In the 1970s and 1980s, wannabe fashionistas were more hands-on. Tomy Fashion Plates offered a pile of plastic stencils with raised drawings of various heads, bodices, skirts, pants, and shoes. You traced them in the holder provided and decorated your completed creation with colored pencils. The thrill of design without the stabby needles and tangly threads of sewing class!

Fashion Plates separated the Princess Dianas of the world from the Chers. Dianas carefully selected complementary plates, shading them precisely in muted, tasteful hues. Chers thought the whole point was to make an outfit only a blind person would wear. Who wouldn't want to combine a high-necked Gothic bodice with a paisley tennis skirt and roller skates? Pass the purple and orange pencils, please.

A fondly remembered variant, Flip and Fold Fashions, skipped the pencils entirely and offered real fabric to wrap around a Barbie-like figure. Tomy also offered the Mighty Men & Monster Maker. Junior Dr. Moreaus could deftly combine a square-jawed blond head and muscle-rippled torso with scaly, reptilian legs and a giant tail. If Superman and a Gila Monster ever ended up in the transporter from The Fly, this would be the result.

X-tinction rating: Gone for good.

Replaced by: There are similar toys today, but the originals are highly coveted for their bell-bottomy charms.

Flash Gordon

You know how when something's so bad, you say it's good? Yeah, Flash Gordon isn't that. And yet the 1980 flick, an homage to the comic strip and classic Buster Crabbe serials of the '30s, is so unapologetically silly and entertaining, it wriggled its way into millions of kids' memories like a handful of bore worms. Was it the pulsing score by Queen? ("Flash, aah-aaaah, savior of the universe!") The hammy dialogue? ("I'm not your enemy. Ming is! Let's all team up and fight him.") The scantily dressed — and, due to her thick accent, scantly understood — Princess Aura? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

How do you apply contemporary film criticism techniques to a movie that features a flock of hawk-men spelling out words with their bodies? That's an easy one: You don't. While we kids recognized a treasure when we saw one, most adults dismissed Flash as a campy lark. Pathetic Earthlings.

X-tinction rating: Gone for good.

Replaced by: The movie is available on DVD, and the Sci-Fi Channel tried to revive the concept as a series in 2007, but the attempt was short-lived.

The Watcher in the Woods

If you're inexplicably freaked out by mirrors, blindfolds, eclipses, and backwards writing on foggy windows, perhaps it's because you once saw Disney's most disturbing kid movie ever, 1980's Watcher in the Woods. It starred the girl from Ice Castles (Lynn-Holly Johnson) and a completely desiccated Bette Davis. In a fabulous movie coincidence, Ice Castles girl just happened to look like Davis's character's daughter, Karen, who'd mysteriously disappeared thirty years ago.

In one of the film's most-remembered creep-out scenes, Ice Castles girl's little sister gets all possessed and writes "NERAK" — "Karen" backwards — on a window. Her perfect backwards handwriting was so impressive that plenty of young viewers were inspired to attempt to do the same for weeks afterward on foggy school bus windows.

Many parents, lulled into security by Disney's blander live-action fare, foolishly let their kids see Watcher without realizing that nightmares would ensue. Forget mirrors and blindfolds, just staring at Bette Davis's sunken-in cheeks for an hour or so was pretty horrifying. Critics snorted that the movie never delivered, but (spoiler!) Karen comes back safe in the end, which is more than The X-Files can say for Mulder's sister.

X-tinction rating: Gone for good.

Replaced by: Sorry, Freddy and Jason, your murders are gruesome, but none of your films give us goose bumps the same way that Watcher did.

Fun fact: The DVD features two alternate endings.

Reprinted from Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont, with permission from Perigee Books, a member of Penguin Group USA. Copyright 2011 by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont. In bookstores everywhere.