Rocketman – Wish I Left Singing

Rocketman - Leave Singing

Rocketman – Wish I Left Singing

After the excitement while watching Bohemian Rhapsody, we were ready to see Rocketman, the Paramount-produced Elton John story.  We thought we would leave skipping and running to the car to listen to Elton’s (born Reginald Dwight) music.  That we would carry that enthusiasm, not just that day, but for days.  Elton John was a childhood favorite.  I know the words to almost every song.  Fun awaited.

Also, a childhood crush was Bernie Taupen; Elton John’s writing partner (I go for the sensitive, creative types.  Chip, the scientist, is now cringing).  Well, Rocketman was excellent, but it was a story with many tense moments and new learnings on Elton John.  In fact the first speaking part of the movie has John in a meeting within his addict safety circle.

Give My Regards to Broadway

Before I go too far into the movie’s yays, I need to do one nay.   The movie opens with a big chorus-type ensemble singing and dancing through a carnival.  Not sure why they were at a carnival.  To me, it was contrived and didn’t add value to the story or kickoff the main idea.  As soon as I saw it, I thought, this was written to go to Broadway eventually

This movie is kicking off a marketing, merchandising and licensing effort.  Once I got passed that, I was able to enjoy the show.  However, a few points in the movie, I said Well that costume will look good on stage.

Elton John Is a Musical Prodigy

Yes, Elton John is a rock genius, but he was a child prodigy; a true musical virtuoso.  Starting from 3 years old, he could play any music he heard.  No matter how complex the song was, he could play it in seconds.  

This amazing talent won him a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music when he was 11.  You’d have thought he’d have gone complex classical music, but nope.

At 11, I was playing badminton in my backyard with my brother’s friends.  My piano teacher was not impressed in my choices over practice time.

The young actor, Kit Connor, played the young Elton.  Not only was it great casting from a look-a-like perspective, but he had perfect pitch.  When he sang, you’d be in awe.  And, his voice is appropriately sweet.  You feel the youth and innocence as well as loneliness and longing.

The Royal Academy of Music

… is a UK college with Undergraduate and Graduate programs. 

The whole school only trains 700 students at a time.  Their student body is from 50 different countries. 

This is the best of the best internationally. 

Elton John was 7 years younger than their first level students.  No wonder he looked scared to death when he first arrived and was thrown immediately into his studies.

Our Rocketman Was Admittedly Gay From The Get Go

Because, he was married; I thought he realized his orientation during his marriage. Another thing I was wrong about is … I thought he was married to Kiki Dee.   He was actually married to record producer, Renate Blauel.  Throughout the movie, she is the only person who was shown in a single dimension.  A kind person, who gave only love and support to John.  

As soon as he began playing backup music around England, he was expressing his sexuality openly.  Maybe not publicly, but openly.  

I have seen many movies and shows with gay, likable characters. 

In this movie, was the first time I ever saw a gay love scene equivalent to what you may see in the HBO versions of Sex in the City. 

It was tasteful, meaningful and a needed part of the story to show the true intimacy of his relationship with Jack Reid. 

It may have been done before, but I have never seen something like it.  It was a breakthrough moment in film.   

As my relatives in Italy say, “Love is just love.” 

His Search for Love

Other than his grandmother, John’s family was disengaged and unemotional.   The whole family lived practically on top of each other in a compressed two-story home.  His mom flaunted her infidelity.  John’s dad disappeared from time to time.  When he was home he was cold, strict and stoic to the point that I wondered if he was sadistic.  His dad remarried after his parents divorced.  He had two sons and treated them with love and support.  A shock and hard for John to accept.

All little Reg wanted was a hug from his dad and some non-gratuitous attention from his mom.

However, if John wrote a song, his grandmother thought it was fantastic and encouraged for him to play it when they were in pubs or other random places where there was a piano.  John was frequently reluctant and sometimes ridiculed.  More often than not, people came around.

Bernie Taupen – A Good Guy

A record talent scout and producer put an adv out looking for song writers.  After some mixing and matching, the producer paired Taupen and John.  They met for a bit in a coffee shop.  During that long, exhilarating chat, they decided to write music together via mail.  Bernie would send lyrics and John would immediately put them to music.

However, they did struggle some making their way.  Someone suggested all the great writing pairs lived together.  So they found a flat and immersed themselves in friendship and music.

Once their work got some traction, it became wild fire.  They created a brotherhood.  One of unconditional trust.  This carried through their lives, rise to success, John’s overcoming addiction; and reuniting to write together to this day.  

Watch the movie, you’ll probably agree, Taupen was the only normal person in his life.  

Why Do Many Famous People Get Used

During the movie, John gives his trust to a man named John Reid.  They were lovers for 5 years; then, client and manager.  Reid became incredibly controlling of John.  Almost to the point of isolation.

I wish I could remember how many stories exist like this.  Someone gets famous and someone close to them isolates them and exploits them.   Then, boom, the star sees the light and kicks the manager out in an abrupt action.

The theory I have is that gaining that level of fame is overwhelming.  The star needs a buffer; space to breathe.  This person creates a false safety.


Elton John was about every kind of addict you can be … alcoholic, drug, sex, eating,  but not gambling.

Addiction was the anchor of the movie.  All the stories bounce off his confessions in his addiction meetings.

The tongue-in-cheek part of the movie was how he would confess in a meeting something like …. Bernie and I never fought.  Then they would show scenes of them disagreeing.

The songs also bounced off these stories; in many instances, it seems as if Taupen was writing his observations of what was happening in John’s life.  Almost a passive way of giving him advice.

Although the songs are high-energy and his stage presence so elaborate, behind the glitz was a very different man with many struggles. 


As the movie works it’s way through John’s young life to the present, you see this sadness and not a celebration of his success.

The Magic Ending

Because there was so much darkness in the Rocketman story, I couldn’t decide if I really liked Rocketman or not.  It was a good story and I learned a lot about different lifestyles; music and loves.

However, all of a sudden you see a moment building and it happens.  I won’t tell you what it was, but the whole story comes together in this one moment and event.

Then, I loved the movie; was touched by the story, felt sad that any human had to go through his challenges.

Usually, I have no problem telling the key moment of a movie, but this one is an experience.   You have to see and feel it yourself.  

Time to Sing

Rocketman is a surprise.  But I don’t think it’s “going to be a long long time” until it goes to Broadway.


Oh … One Last Thing

When I was in junior high, I got the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album for my birthday.  My brother took it and gave it to a girl he liked.  I ran into her a few years ago; she still has it and offered it to me.  I said thank you but she should keep it.   That’s also been a long. long time.

If you like this post, please share it.  Or, tell us what your favorite Elton John song is.



Panda Penny Slot Love?! Is it Possible?

Panda Penny Slot Love Without a Fanny Pack

Is it possible to develop a love for penny slots when you don’t mean to?  The answer is, Yes.  Well if you like Pandas.  During my recent, first, casino-gambling experience, I learned the Panda penny slot machine has a simple magic to it.  Spoiler alert … there is penny slot love without a fanny pack.   

Hopefully Not Budding Gamblers

Chip and I are not gamblers.  We have only been to a casino to hear music.  But, last week, we were looking for someplace new for dinner and ended up at the local casino.  After dinner, we split $20 and thought we’d try penny slots. 

Criteria and Utopia

Our criterion (mostly mine) was complex.  It had to have a cute picture on top, bright colors and have fun music.  Then we found the utopia of penny slot machines —  Panda China Shores (made and distributed by Konami).  Do you hear the angels singing?

We said we’d play until we lost the money and go. 

Chip played and bid 30 cents a game.  I played 1 or 5 cents a game.  A man next to me gently said, “You need to play at least 30 cents to break even.”  My naivety glowing, I smiled and said, “I will most likely be here playing and you will already be home and in bed.”  We laughed.

Over the night, the gentleman kept coming over and checking.  He couldn’t believe we were still there. 

Apparently, he didn’t go to bed that early.

The Winnings 

I made my $10 last 6 hours and we left with $175.  So, it covered dinner, drinks, slot costs and parking with $60 left over.

The Magic of Sights and Sounds

If you have never played slots, it’s actually kind of fun.  The hardest part is trying to figure out how you win. 

You see the lights go crazy and your bank fill with anywhere from 2 cents to 30 cents.  Then you look at the screen and there are turtles, bears and yin yang signs with arrows pointing from one end of the screen to the other. 

Then it happens.  A crazy pattern occurs and confetti flies across the screen with this music that sounds as if from a peppy, sophisticated circus. 

Your eyes open wide and you think. “I must have completed an amazing fete no one has ever completed.”   A ton of coins go into your bank.  

So, you keep pressing the little button to go on.  Then another unexplainable pattern happens and you hear a loud gong. Then another one, and another.  The machine takes over; because you have won free spins.  

You sit there watching the machine work on your behalf.  Now you’re watching more closely trying to figure out patterns and watching the bank fill even more.  Chip believes turtles are the lucky character.  He chants for them.  I really can’t figure it out.

But, at some point, you have to say when.

People Around You

If you watch TV shows, they show people with fanny packs, ready to swoop if you move a muscle or go near their machine.  We had the exact opposite experience.  Everyone near us, were sweet as pie.  And, no one had a fanny pack.

Since we were there for 6 hours, we had plenty of people rotate through the machines near us.

People told us different approaches to play; the best ways to rub the machine for luck; and, touching the screen when you see icons you like in hopes the machine will stop them where you like. 

Before I was told this was a luck thing, I thought they were touch-screens and I just wasn’t fast enough.   

Some told us about why they like the slots and which machines to try. 

The casino has a smoking area and non-smoking.  A woman next to me just had her hair done and asked me to smell it to see if walking through the smoking area was a bad idea. 

It was a bad idea.

And, really, no one had a fanny pack.

You Lose Track of Time

The way the casino environment works is they manage the environment: lights, drinks passed around, non-alcoholic stations around (they want you hydrated) and happy music from the machines, it’s easy to see how there is no reason to leave.

When we left’ we had no idea; we had been playing for 6 hours.  Think about it, we sat, put money in an opening and pressed a button.  And, that occupied us for 6 hours.  6 hours!!

Are we Gambling Addicts?

As we were leaving, we said, “Hey, that was fun, maybe we will do that again.”

So, of course, I was now concerned we were gambling addicts.

But how could a cute little Panda with gongs and confetti harm us?

The iPhone Was, Again, My Friend

Driving home, I wanted to know the patterns that win on the Panda China Shores penny slots.  

First thing I learned is that, this is a power slot machine.  I guess that means something. 

And, it is fun for the whole family.  Don’t you have to be at least 18 to gamble?  Maybe they mean a family of people 18+.

Quick summary:

  • Bunch of Yin Yangs in certain patterns get you free games and confetti rain.
  • Enough of them can get you a super layer of thousands of dollars or 500+ free spins.  
  • Panda is the wild card
  • The Chinese Symbol is the biggest payout (we had none of those)
  • There is also a Hi Lo Jack, sub game.  These can win by matches or sequence in a play line.
  • There is also something about the number of lines you play and how icons connect.  That’s above my pay grade for now.

Seven Surprises of Slot Machines

An MIT professor, Susan K Perry Ph.D., came up with a list of 7 things about slot machines you didn’t know.  

She believes in this concept called, “Machine Zone.” 

Not sure if being in the Machine Zone is different than being in the zone when playing basketball or Battle Ship, but she may.  

Here are the 7 Surprises:

  1. For the player, slots gaming is not about the money. Some players admit winning a jackpot interrupts “the machine zone.”
  2. Penny slots are now the largest source of income for most casinos.  
    •  Low risk, just fun 
  3. Machines with buttons and credits, instead of pull handles and coins, allow hundreds of games, rather than a few games, to be played in a minute.
  4. Addiction can happen in a year with video gambling devices rather than three or more with other forms of gambling.
  5. When multiple lines are played, say 25 nickels at a time, you may win a few nickels back with each button push. That positive reinforcement hides the fact that you’re losing.
    •  Ahhh … it doesn’t.
  6. The video game penny slots  are now legal in 40 states, and under consideration by others.
  7. Modern slot machines are designed precisely to do what they do: take your money by putting you into a glassy-eyed trance so you won’t walk away while you have a single dollar or credit left.

Dr. Perry’s work is serious.  She spent 15 years researching her topics, sub topics, data and analyses.  The summary doesn’t present it as a longitudinal study.

With respect to all that … the first thing that popped into my mind when I read this summery was … she spent 15 years in Vegas studying penny slot players? 

I know people who would think it’s a great way to get a tax write-off.  Hmmm.  

Quick Thought on Brain Dopamine Rewards

Dopamine is the “Kim Kardashian” of brain chemistry/molecules.  Really just read this

Since it is designed to make and meet what your perceived or presented needs are, you get a thrill when you come across it. 

Parents stop your kids from reading this next part.

The easiest way to describe the Dopamine effect is the exhilaration you feel with an orgasm.

Soooo, it’s more than gaming that creates dopamine rushes.  Exercise, Facebook, Pinterest, getting a tattoo can all boost your Dopamine level.

Dopamine takes something you like and develops triggers to set it off and makes a reward.  It can be a sight, smell, touch or other activity.  

Silicon Valley is exploiting this to find ways to bind you to their products. 

There is now startups called Dopamine Labs and another called Boundless.  Their goals are to find pathways to increase the speed you bond to a product or technology. 

They use artificial intelligence creating behavioral pathways to boost Dopamine more quickly.  

If it does what it is trying to do, its tech customers will build loyalty from consumers; and block out competitors who aren’t using this approach.  

All I want to do is have fun.  Why is everything so complicated?

The Science Behind Slot Machines

Everything electronic now is about algorithms.  

The word on the street is that slot machines are run by a “Random Number Generator” implying that it’s a game of chance.  There are no patterns.

But as it turns out, Random Number Generators are algorithms based on triggers.  

According to . “

“A Russian mathematician from St. Petersburg named Alex has quite the talent: he reverse engineers the pseudorandom number generators (PRNGs) that govern how slot machines behave. His team of field agents roams casinos around the world and “milk” the machines whose algorithms they’ve cracked.”  

After interviewing Alex on the record, Koerner, a writer for Wired Magazine,  tells the story of this programmer-turned-hacker and what he views as his Robin Hood-like crusade against the global gambling industry.

He does this by taking an initial number, known as a seed, and then mashing it together with various hidden and shifting inputs—the time from a machine’s internal clock, for example. Writing such algorithms requires tremendous mathematical skill, since they’re supposed to produce an output that defies human comprehension; ideally, a PRNG should approximate the utter unpredictability of radioactive decay.”

Whoops, it isn’t random. 

If you know how to understand the penny-slot patterns, playing a few hours a day at a casino, you can win $250,000 per week.

The patterns are highly complex.  I don’t want to underplay that.

Gambling Addiction is a Real Thing

The Oaks Treatment Center keeps statistics on addictions.  They report that 2.6% of the US population (~10 million people) have some form of gambling issue.  And, 750,000 are between the ages of 14-21.  Eeks!

If you have any of the tendencies below, you can call for help.  National Council on Problem Gambling helpline is open 24-hours-a- day … 800 522 4700.

  1. Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. Your feeling others won’t understand or that you will surprise them with a big win.
  2. Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, you can’t walk away.  You may even up bets looking for the big payout.
  3. Gamble even when you don’t have the money.   Willing to not pay bills, pay for your kids activities and miss them, miss work, etc.  Maybe even commit a crime to get more money to gamble.
  4. Have family and friends worried about you.

Gambling changes your brain’s behavior and chemical balance.  This can create other problems or build on existing problems such as depressions, obsessive compulsive disorder, PSTD,  anxiety and other addictions.  All these conditions have a relationship with Dopamine.

Quick Confession

When I was 17 (in the 80s), my dad took my cousin/friend Julie and I to look for Bruce Springsteen in NJ.  (We were on vacation at the Jersey shore and he was a great dad)

Passing Atlantic City at 2 pm on a Wednesday, my dad decided to take us to a casino.  He gave us both $20 (and the casino boss 20 to let us in).  Had us get a cup full of coins and said we will leave as soon as the money was gone.  Twenty minutes later we were back on our way to Asbury Park.  As we left the casino, my dad said, “let that be a lesson, gambling doesn’t pay.”

And, no, we didn’t find Bruce.

Back to Our Panda Penny Slot Machine

Pandas are known for how they are independent and territorial.  The moms watch their young and nurture them and little by little set them free even though they keep a watchful eye on them.

So, the Panda Penny Slot Machine lives in a, sometimes, territorial environment that isn’t always hostile.  The machines are nurtured and eventually set free.  

The name makes a lot more sense now.  And, just saw we can play online for free.  Yay!

If you have never tried the penny slots, it can be fun.  Just have set criteria for machine type, be able to walk away and think of it as pure entertainment.

If you have a favorite slot machine or game, tell us about it.

Please share this post.

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Underdog – The Unsung Superhero

Underdog Security

Underdog – The Unsung Superhero

Underdog is among the greatest of superheroes; but it appears, that not coming from a Marvel series has him, and his good deeds, overlooked. Recently, a website security question, asked who is my favorite superhero. In the box, I wrote Underdog. The site’s auto-response did not accept it. ” it is an in valid answer.” I tried two more times; and had the same result as well as being given examples of more acceptable super heroes names … Batman, Spiderman, Superman. How could anyone or business overlook Underdog? How did this good-will-based canine become Underdog – The Unsung Superhero?

Time to Defend Underdog – That’s What He Would do for Me

As, “there is no fear, because Underdog is here.” Hard to believe a shy, shoeshine pup had the ability and kindness to jump into a phone booth, take his secret energy pill to transform into a Superhero whose powers, when ignited, can burst the phone booth into pieces while he immediately trajects into the air.

Underdog’s mission is to chase and fight the likes of mad scientist and orphaned Simon Bar Sinister or, his sometimes side-kick, Riff Raff.

Both villains focus on trying to harm poor, Sweet Polly Purebred as well as others. Many times these scoundrels would hide their identities to try to trick Underdog or Polly.

Polly is very naïve and unaware; which made her an easy target. In her frequent perils, she would sing “oh where oh where could my Underdog be.” She knew she could count on him.

A subplot to it all is the demure relationship between Polly and the shy Underdog and the shoe-shine boy who loved her. However, the writers made sure the first cartoon romance to ever air was clearly platonic.

Righting Wrongs

You would think with such determination to right wrongs, protect and restore good, Underdog would be harsh and speak with aggression, but not true. Underdog spoke mostly in rhymes.

That’s pretty impressive in its own right. Try it … you are in a discussion or trying to solve a puzzle and you have to innately speak in a rhyme through the whole conversation. Not easy is it?

Each episode also ended in a cliff hanger with the narrator saying, “Looks like this is the end! But don’t miss our next Underdog Show!” And, Underdog delivered in the next episode too.

His altruism was also second to none.

From his first moment on TV, he was an instant hit.

Throughout his 124 episodes, he protected the world in space, from evil, bubble-headed creatures, robots, from Riff Raff’s gang of mis-deed doers.

Remember Sandy the Safecracker, Spinny Wheels (who always drives the gang’s getaway car), Dinah Mite (the underworld’s greatest bomb-tosser), Nails the Carpenter, Needles the Tailor, Smitty the Blacksmith, and the Witch Doctor?

They were a bunch of no good so and sos (trying to keep language in the time-period).

And who knows how much more he did without cameras or animators present.

Oh can’t forget Chumley. Tennessee Tuxedo’s slow side kick

Underdog’s Power

It would be wonderful to write that Underdog came from the evolution of a lost species of pooches who lived among buried magic crystals to give him powers.

That would explain how any animal can have such ability and fortitude.

Does any dog have super-strength, x-ray vision, atomic super-breath, superspeed, supersonic flight, cosmic vision, ultrasonic hearing (that’s how her heard Polly in Peril), supersonic high-pitch hi-fi voice and an instantaneous calculating brain?

No; and, no Marvel superhero has all these skills.

Although I long for an idyllic superhero such as Underdog is portrayed, it is, alas, not the case.

Underdog was actually a 1958 figment to sell General Mills cereals. An Ad agency called Dancer Fitzgerald Sample created him. They, with Underdog cartoons, helped sell Lucky Charms, Trix and Coco Puffs.

I loved Trix the most. Frankie liked Coco Puffs, but later moved to Count Chocula. Thought you’d like to know.

How Did Underdog Come to Be – Inspired by I Love Lucy

In a quest to find content to attract children and make them hungry for cereal, one of Underdog’s creators, Chet Stover, found his muse in an I Love Lucy rerun. The episode is “Lucy and Superman.”

In that episode, Ricky manages to get Superman (played by George Reeves, of course) to show up at Little Ricky’s birthday party. Lucy grows concerned that the Man of Steel might not show. In a panic, she dons her own makeshift Superman suit and goes out on their apartment’s ledge in order to make her entrance through the window.

And, the idea of a hapless superhero was born.

Making Underdog Relateable

Joe Harris then designed a canine superhero in a red baggy costume and oversized blue cape.

The Underdog color scheme was intentionally designed as the reverse of Superman’s costume in an attempt to mix cute and cuddly with a serious crime fighter.

Underdog’s occupation of shoeshine boy came about as a result of Wally Cox (Underdog’s original voice) saying it was a fitting occupation for a character who spoke softly and slowly.

For the other major characters on Underdog, Harris looked to the big screen.

Underdog’s romantic interest, Sweet Polly Purebred, was inspired by none other than Marilyn Monroe.

His arch nemesis, Simon Bar Sinister, not only took his appearance from Lionel Barrymore in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, but his voice as well.

His other arch nemesis, Riff-Raff, was inspired by George Raft and other similar movie gangsters.

Underdog Message is About Integrity

In many respects, Underdog taught children of the Sixties and Seventies more about what is right and wrong than cartoons that proliferated the Eighties.

Chet Stover and producer W. Watts “Buck” Biggers wrote nearly all of the scripts and provided Underdog with much of his mythos. Biggers would also write the famous theme song.

The scripts were original and imaginative, going beyond simple superhero parody. Perhaps that’s the reason Underdog remains loved by so many. It’s the fact that, it was driven very much by its complex characters. It is also a Saturday morning cartoon- character appeaing to parents and kids alike.

Despite his great power and the fact that he speaks with a lower voice than Shoeshine Boy, Underdog isn’t really that far removed in personality from his alter ego.

Both have a strong sense of right and wrong; both seek to live their lives with honor; both are compassionate to other; and both lack any sort of narcissism whatsoever. They are humble.

The stories didn’t lack backdoor humor. Remember, “look it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s a frog?” Who could mistake Underdog as a frog?

Animation Miracles on a Budget

The animation was not done here in the United States, but at Gamma Studios in Mexico. It was said, if they did it in the US they could not even afford to buy paint for the animation cells.

Due to the shoestring budget, Chet Stover, W. Watts Biggers, and Joe Harris worked a good deal of magic by using filters and camera angles to show motion when none was present.

But, the character had quite a run. From cartoons, lunch boxes, videos, fan clubs, cereal toys, portrait artwork, books, comics, radio shows, ComiCom participation, YouTube channel, several games (board and video), tee-shirts, frisbees, stuffed figurines, plastic figurines, major motion pictures, and international acclaim with syndication. It even sparked the creation of an animation studio opened by the advertising team who created Underdog.

International Syndication

The first 24 episodes ran in 10 minute shorts. Each half-hour had Underdog followed by Tennessee Tuxedo followed by the Sing-along-family. I remember Mr. Tuxedo, but not the Sing-along-family.

The syndicated version of The Underdog Show consists of 62 half-hour episodes. The supporting segments differ from the show’s original network run from 1964 to 1967. The syndicated series, as shown in the United States, ran until 1973 on NBC and CBS.

By the way, Underdog was one the first syndicated shows ever and started in syndication before it was done filming. Another first.

Other cartoons that were part of Underdog intermissions were Go Go Gophers and Klondike Kat, and Commander McBragg.

The final two syndicated Underdog half-hours feature two one-shot cartoons that were originally part of an unsold pilot for a projected 1966 series, The Champion (Cauliflower Cabbie and Gene Hattree),

NBC and CBS; Then A New Beginning

For many years, starting with NBC’s last run in the mid-1970s, all references to Underdog swallowing his Super Energy Pill were censored-out of fear that kids would see medication that looked like the Underdog pills (red with a white “U” on them) and swallow them.

In 1994 the show was remastered. This was after the show started running on Nickelodeon starting in June 1992. This lasted until the later 1990s.

You’d think that would be it for Underdog. “Looks like this is the end! But don’t miss ….”

Per Wikipedia:

Underdog also aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation on February 18, 1966. In 1995, Biggers, Stover, Covington, and Harris (with General Mills) negotiated a sale of their creations to Saturday Night Live producer Lorne MichaelsBroadway Video, who later sold the rights to Golden Books. When Classic Media took over Golden Books, it acquired the underlying rights to Underdog. In 2012, Classic Media was sold to DreamWorks Animation, and ultimately became the property of the series’ current owners, Universal Television

Underdog is a money-maker; even 55 years after its release.

TV Guide ranked Underdog as number 23 on its “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time” list, and IGN ranked Underdog as number 74 on its Best 100 Animated Series list.”

In my humble opinion, that ranking is way too low.

A Major Motion Picture Filmed in Rhode Island

Surprised?! Rhode Island is a small place where most people think nothing much happens from a national standpoint.

However, it has many highpoints great restaurants, waterfront downtown Providence, beaches, yachting, mansions, and more. For my friends of Italian heritage, it has a piazza in a Providence section called Federal Hill. Parts of it you’ll feel like you’re in Italy. And, lots of Italian imported items. Come visit.

But it was in 2006; when they filmed the 2007-released non-animated film Underdog. So an actual, living, breathing dog, with superpowers starred in this movie. Maybe there were some special effects.

The film stars Jim Belushi, Peter Dinklage, John Slattery, and Patrick Warburton with the voice talents of Jason Lee, Amy Adams, and Brad Garrett.

The film was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. Shoeshine/Underdog, was played by a lemon Beagle named Leo, sporting a red sweater and a blue cape. Hardly an homage the real, undisputed Underdog-garb.

The only thing that would make this film better would be if my film-maker son produced it. He was 8 at the time of filming; but I still think he would have created a masterpiece. This isn’t only because of the multi-faceted characters and deep, thought-provoking plot; he would have molded it into the action-adventure it deserved to be.

The premise …. A normal, bumbling, everyday bomb-sniffing , unnamed, beagle gets exposed to a substance that gives him superpowers gained during a mishap at City Hall. Along with all the other superpowers, is the ability the speak. He is adopted by a security guard – an ex-cop, who’s a widower with a 12-year-old moody son, Jack Unger. He names the pupster Shoeshine. Shoeshine uses his superpower to protect his love and the citizens of Capitol City from the evil Simon Bar Sinister. Underdog dedicates himself to good, quickly becoming revered as a superhero for his unassumed acts of bravery, but ultimately it will take the combined efforts and understanding of Underdog, Jack, Dan, Molly, and Polly to defeat Bar Sinister and save Capital City from destruction. Phew, they do save the day.

The film grossed $65.3 million worldwide. Critics hated it.

Underdog – The Unsung Superhero a Macy’s Parade Balloon

Underdog is here, there and everywhere.

The Underdog balloon in the 1983 Parade.

Underdog had quite the stature: 63 1/2 feet Width: 34 feet Weight: 320 pounds Helium Volume: 8,000 cubic feet

The mild Superhero, first appeared in Macy’s Parade as balloon in 1965. One year after his television show started. He was accompanied by an Underdog float for his debut. There was also a skit performed in the parade judges’ circle in front of Macy’s 34th Street main store.

On NBC, following the broadcast of that Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1965, a special episode of Underdog was aired –“Simon Says…No Thanksgiving.”

He became an instant classic for the parade and flew for many more years even though his TV Show ended in 1973. The balloon was eventually retired in 1984. It made 20 parade appearances overall.

Over time, the balloon deteriorated beyond repair. There were also 8 mishaps with it. One, including it nearly flying away over Central Park.

But Underdog’s signature “U” still exists and is framed in Macy’s Parade Studio.

Macy’s would love to bring the beloved Underdog back to the parade. Its licensing company has no new Underdog balloon in the works.

But That Isn’t the Last of the Underdog Balloon

The balloon made a couple of appearances in pop culture.

In 1994, the first Thanksgiving-themed episode of NBC’s sitcom Friends centered around the accidental release of the Underdog balloon, which caused everyone to go to the roof to watch and get locked out of the apartment.

Underdog also appeared in a 2008 CGI ad for Coca-Cola, where he chases a Coke bottle-shaped balloon through New York City, along with a balloon of Stewie Griffin from Family Guy, a show that was never actually represented in the parade.

FYI … Family Guy is based in Rhode Island. More than meets the eye here.

A walk-round version of Underdog appeared on the “75th Parade Superstars” float, along with other characters who had balloons that had been retired, such as Popeye, Kermit the Frog, and Ice Skating Snoopy.

Underdog Still Alive and Well in Pop Culture

Let’s just accept it. Everyone loves Underdog. Here is a quick list of other places Underdog has appeared:

  • The Robot Chicken episode Dragon Nuts featured a parody of Underdog who came to the rescue of a woman having her purse stolen, only to have everyone (including criminal) drop everything, awed over the fact that he was a talking dog.
  • In a 2005 commercial for the Visa Check Card a woman’s credit card is stolen, prompting the appearance of Marvel Comics superheroes. Dismissing the threat, the heroes leave, just as Underdog arrives.
  • In the Powerpuff Girls episode “Super Zeroes”, when Bubbles adopts the identity of Harmony Bunny, she parodies one of Underdog’s catchphrases.
  • In a Thanksgiving-themed Reba episode, Van is revealed to be a huge Underdog fan, owning the complete DVDs and ecstatic over the prospect of seeing the Underdog Macy’s balloon in the annual parade. Later his daughter Elizabeth is seen at the dinner table in a full Underdog super-suit.
  • It has been referenced in the movie Detroit Rock City
  • Episodes of In Living Color (a recurring line from the episode “Round and Round” occurs in a Handi Man sketch)
  • In 2005 his image was featured on the No 37 R&J Racing Dodge Charger, driven by Kevin LePage, for two Nascar races.
  • Will and Grace, Thanksgiving episode.

  • Craig McCracken has also acknowledged Underdog as one of the influences on The Powerpuff Girls.
  • It may also have been an influence on the Nickelodeon series Kappa Mikey
  • And the children’s book series Captain Underpants.

  • Dennis Miller has given regular guest Jake Tapper, ABC News Senior National Correspondent and Senior Political Correspondent, the nickname “Tap Tap The Chiseler,” a reference to an Underdog villain that was only explained to Tapper on the May 6, 2008 installment of Miller’s nationally syndicated radio talk show.

Celebrating 55 Years of Underdog

Even in its earliest years, the cartoon produced a large number of merchandising tie-ins. These are all alive and well today. I couldn’t find the current or past amount of money made on Underdog cartoons and merchandising. They do currently have clothing and other items available at Walmart and JC Penny.

If you Google Underdog merchandise, there are pages and pages of goods to buy.

Here are the people who brought Underdog to life and may also get some royalties.

The Voices of the Characters – Some Nostalgia

George S. IrvinNarrator -Broadway Actor, All in the Family Producer and Heat Miser from the Santa Claus Rankin/Bass animations.

Wally CoxUnderdog – Was a well known comedian of slight stature. He was a personal friend of Marlon Brando and a regular on Hollywood Squares. He’s been the voice of Mr. Peepe; and had roles on the Beverly Hill Billies and The Cosby Show.

Alan Swift Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff – Swift was the first host/performer of WPIX TV Ch. ll NYC’s “Popeye Show” weekday evenings from Monday, September 10, 1956, to Friday, September 23, 1960. He hosted the show as “Captain Allen”.

Norma McMillanSweet Polly Purebred – was a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, She’s the voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost and Pokey on the “Gumby Show.” MacMillan was also the voice of John-John and Caroline Kennedy in the 1960’s recordings of the “First Family.” Her daughter Alison Arngrim, played Nellie in Little House on the Prairie (1974); and her son, Stefan Arngrim, played Barry Lockridge on the short-lived 1968 television show Land of the Giants (1968).

Bradley BolkeChumley – He was an actor, known for The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), Diary of a Bachelor (1964) and Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963). His name was also assigned to worker on Pawn Stars.

A couple other quick mentions – Don Adams from Get Smart fame was the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo and Larry Storch – Agarn from F Troop and was voice of Phineas J Whoopie.

Series Produced by 

W. Watts Biggers producer (124 episodes, 1964-1967)
Treadwell Covington executive producer (124 episodes, 1964-1967)
Joseph Harris producer (124 episodes, 1964-1967)
Peter Piech executive producer (124 episodes, 1964-1967)
Chester Stover producer (124 episodes, 1964-1967)

Big Business – Time to Recognize Underdog as a 1st-Teir Superhero

Hopefully this lineage of success, populous love; and him still going strong, is enough to persuade businesses to add Underdog to their approved superhero list. I’m hoping I do not need to boycott these businesses for the cause.

And, really, Underdog is all about security; it’s only natural to add him to the acceptable answer list.

If you share a love for Underdog, please tell us about it.

If you like this post, please share it,

Freddie Mercury – What a Surprise

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury – What a Surprise

Bohemian Rhapsody produced by Fox came out around the same time as A Star is Born. Chip and I went to the theater to see ASIB and it was playing later than we thought. So we bought tickets to Bohemian Rhapsody. Then changed them back to a ASIB. When I finally saw Bohemian Rhapsody on Netflix, I fell in love. I would actually go as far as say obsessed. I have been reading everything I can on Freddie Mercury and Queen. If it was somewhere playing on a big screen, I would go immediately. And, I’m still regretting changing tickets … huge mistake.

Why it is So Great?

Bohemian Rhapsody’s theme wasn’t about decadence (even thought there was a lot). It was about living by three moral codes.

  1. Good thoughts; Good words, Good deeds.
  2. The expansive definition of family.
  3. Everything isn’t how it appears.

The Movie Premise

The movie starts and ends with the Live Aid concert from 1986. It takes you through a journey of Freddie Mercury and the whole band … Queen. The story took the band members from kids to men with largest focus on Freddie Mercury. But this really isn’t about the movie.

Freddie Mercury Back Story

Who’d have thought the flamboyant and exotic Mercury would have come from a traditional Tanzanian, loving family with a focus on doing the right thing? And, he was incredibly quiet and shy. He let few people into his true life. The mantra from his father was simple … good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Throughout the movie you see this ideal come to light whenever Freddie was faced with a situation where the high-road was the best road.

And, he could sing like no other.

The Rest of the Band

The members of Queen aren’t a bunch of kids trying to make it in the world. They are a team of intellects … an astrophysicist, a dentist and an electrical engineer. Not just by eduation, but their day jobs before Queen became a viable band. They all were also traditional in their ways. Family first.

Queen Dynamic

It was a true collaborative group, who were different but bonded. They appreciated each ones special value to the whole. No one could produce their quality and creativity of music without having their idea challenged and added to. They considered themselves family.

But Why Freddie Was Freddie

There were three points in Bohemian Rhapsody that made me become extremely respectful of Freddie Mercury. First when you could see he had to change his name to transform to the needed persona of lead signer of Queen. Again, when you see him lonely in his home with no one to share his accomplishment and joy. Finally, the conflict of his love for Mary Austin (his ex fiancé) and his love partners.

Creativity galore
Kind man amazing talent

In fact, the last point is the one that won my heart. Since seeing the movie, I have seen some candid shots of Freddie Mercury within the non-public portion of his life. He comes across, gentle, kind and vulnerable. In the traditional part of his heart, he was bonded and married to Mary.

The other part that demonstrated his loyalty and kindness is seen in how he distributed his estate. Every person in his life is remembered in very different ways. His bequeaths, working solely from memory (can’t find the article I got this from), The majority of his wealth was split between his family and Mary Austin. One quarter of his royalties are split between the remaining members of Queen. His three primary lovers were each given a home and $500K. His manager was made the executor of his estate and control over all his money and given a substantial pay for doing this.

And, just a FYI … the success of Bohemian Rhapsody is expected to generate about an extra $150 million for his family and Mary Austin.

How Can an Introvert Become Such a Vivid Performer

This is something I had to research some. From what I read, there are a couple reasons. The one I have applied to Freddie Mercury is that his introversion and vulnerability made it easy for people to relate to him. Another I read noted that because these performer are shy, the only way they can have a voice and be authentic is through their music. The other is that they have unusual lives or life-histories and performing creates a way to escape and become someone that can be liked and accepted.

After getting this sense of his introversion and privacy, there are parts of his life that really get to you. There are times when he is pressed by the media to discuss his possible illness and partner preferences. In addition, he had to watch a confidant betray him in a public venue. Any person would be overwhelmed at such personal intrusions.


This is a tough part to write about because it shifts the emphasis from the person to something different. I will suffice it to write …

From an interview with Brian May (Queen lead guitarist) , he reports that in Freddie’s last days he was more concerned with others comfort with his weakened condition; and he even apologized for his appearance. Many sources say that he wanted to make music until the very end; which is exactly what he did.

And, most sadly, just months after his passing, the medical community found ways to control those with HIV/AIDS to preserve and prolong their lives.

Things to Watch and Read

Queen Live Aid Performance I watch or listen to this almost everyday now.

BBC Documentary

According to the Tampa Bay Times in October 2018, here are a handful of Queen documentaries to watch.

  1. Becoming Queen (2004): Amazon Prime features a host of free Queen documentaries offering broad looks at the band, a la any generic, hourlong TV special
  2. Becoming Queen (2004): Amazon Prime features a host of free Queen documentaries offering broad looks at the band, a la any generic, hourlong TV special
  3. Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender (2012): A sequel of sorts to Days of Our Lives, this Emmy-winning doc
  4. Inside the Rhapsody (2015): The song Bohemian Rhapsody is practically a movie in and of itself, so why shouldn’t it get its own documentary?
  5. Queen: Rock the World (2017):

Facts That I Kinda Loved

  • In Bohemian Rhapsody, they give a list of many of the bands on the Live Aid playbill. The list is actually a list of all Freddie Mercury’s friends in the music industry.
  • During Live Aid, Freddie had a throat condition and doctors advised he not perform, but he did. Thank goodness. I remember watching that performance.
  • After one bad MTV video, Queen lost it’s US audience willing to accept new material, but they had numerous charted songs around the world for years after 1986. Who knew?
  • Queen music is everywhere. It’s in commercials, background to radio shows (even NPR), on video games, in elevators, etc. How could I have missed it before?
  • Freddie Mercury wrote over 70 songs
  • As I was writing this, I got a text from Chip of something trending on twitter about Freddie Mercury … what the f*** facts

Let us know if you liked Bohemian Rhapsody and if it renewed your interest in Queen. watch the movie. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching YouTube again.