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January 17, 2011

I Was Just Thinking: Gone, but not forgotten, Boomer icons


Daily Star

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Here's a real stunner. As of this week, and for many years to come, 10,000 baby boomers a day will turn 65 years old.

So what are the milestones that mark the passing years as we begin to creak and wheeze? I think melancholia seeps in for us graying geezers as we watch the familiar icons of our youth fade in our rearview mirrors. Here are a few of our old friends to whom we waved goodbye in 2010.

I grew up in a house with five sisters, and nothing created quite the frenzy as when my older sister Fran's Easy-Bake Oven arrived back more than 50 years ago. Our whole family (and a smattering of neighborhood kids) watched wide-eyed as Fran prepared a thimble-sized yellow-cake for us all, cooking it under the warming bask of a single light bulb. Ron Howes, the creator of the Easy-Bake Oven, was 83 when he passed away in February of last year. More than 16 million ovens sold serve as a culinary testament to this home economics pioneer.

I was only 8 years old when I realized what a "crush" was. And the object of my faraway adoration was the cutest, perkiest little blonde on television. Her name was Penny and she helped her uncle, pilot "Sky" King, round up the bad guys out in the wide-open spaces near their Flying Crown Ranch.

I would perch on our living room hassock with my head in my hands and my heart on my sleeve as Penny, coquettishly turned out in a fringe jacket and a cowgirl hat, would chirp her way through a half hour of thrills and spills. Yes, Penny and I had a thing going on, don't you know. Au revoir, sweet Gloria Winters, my "Penny," who left us in August of last year at the age of 79.

Today, experts applaud the innocent, shoes-tied-together lovability of the cartoon character SpongeBob. He is harmless, funny and, well, a little odd. The precursor to the porifera "who lives in a pineapple under the sea" was a wad of green/blue goop named Gumby who charmed kids all the way back to the mid-1950s. Mischievous, trustworthy and, well, a little odd, Gumby was a baby boomer sidekick for the ages. Art Clokey, who gave birth to Gumby, saddled up ol' Pokey and rode off into the Claymation sunset last year at the age of 88.

"Trick or Treat for UNICEF!" No Halloween night in my younger days was complete without that screech echoing throughout my old neighborhood. It was a time when we felt that Halloween had a purpose. How could scarfing down free candy ever feel this good? I mean, we were feeding the world's children at the same time, for gosh sakes! Thanks for the great idea, and those little orange coin boxes, Mary Emma Allison! She passed away last year at the age of 93. "Trick or Treat for UNICEF" has raised more than $150 million for the world's poor since Mary began it in 1949.

Long before Ramen Noodles became the dormitory staple, SpaghettiOs were a teen's best friend. The noodles were not really pasta, the sauce was nothing like your grandmother's, and the meatballs were more meat-like than meat ball, but, oh my, the goodness! I personally ate a warehouse full of the stuff between the ages of 15 and 18. "Uh oh, SpaghettiOs" sang sweet-voiced crooner Jimmy Rogers. Farewell to inventor Donald Goerthe, the "Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs" (yes, that is what he called himself), who died last year at the age of 88.

And a final tip of the coonskin cap to Fess Parker, Erich Segal ("Love means never having to say you're sorry"), to "Book 'em, Dano" and to Adam Cartwright. And goodbye to "Big Bad John" and June Cleaver and many more. And thanks, all, for the memories.

Oh, and let's not forget the international jazz legend Hank Jones, who died in May at age 91. Hank lived in Hartwick for many years. Some considered him the greatest jazz pianist of all time. But I still think the greatest factoid about this Grammy winner was that he accompanied Marilyn Monroe on the piano as she whispered out her sexy and unforgettable "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962. What a guy.

I'll catch you in two ...

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." Find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books, or contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com.