Posts Tagged ‘invention’

Thing One and Thing Two — An analytical epitaph for a man forced to give in to the one thing in life he couldn’t browbeat in to doing his will

October 6, 2011

Thing One: I don’t understand the uproarious, showy displays of grief such like, “Oh, the surprise of this unexpected thing, how stunning,” going around over Steve Jobs’ unfortunately succumbing to his illiness. Like, you knew he was dying, people, first of all. How is this shocking? Totally sad for his loved ones and his company, yes. Shocking, no. Good lord, no.

But what galls me most is what might piss you off really badly when I say it. I think this messianic technological heroism they’re touting is nearly imaginary. Visionary for sure but not exactly Edison on the invention side, here, dudes — he had a whole lot of help. The giant-ness of the attention is deserved, but the track is wrong for me. I’ll explain.

Besides being a notorious, egomaniacal hellbeast of an overseer, Jobs did not “invent” iPods and the like. He was just the admittedly sadly ailing, ever-thinning public face of those products. He was good at making geniuses work for him, and signing off on ultimate marketing decisions that were really the culmination of the work of thousands of other people, which he had a big hand in directing but not generating the content of.

He was a trench-educated, old school techie and a hell of a businessman — but he does not deserve all this solo credit he’s getting left and right for products made by the entire staff of the huge company he ran. Okay, so I’d like to see less credit for inventions in pieces on his passing, and more credit for innovations.

Thing Two: For me, his real magic power, good or bad, the truly remarkable about him for which his merit should be forever remembered is again not technical invention, but business innovation — when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he did not just turn profits.

He ate the competition for breakfast and shit them back out as money.

He took Apple away from its image of a quirky, hip-cognescenti alternative to the big, straightforward Goliaths of PC corporations, and put the company on its present path, whereby its highly-publicized and ultra-high-conceptual-design products are virutally unupdatable, and this is accepted completely by consumers. Built-in obscelence has become not only expected but anticipated.

That is the kind of skilled marketing genius that makes IBM and HP look like retired guys with their belts up under their bitch tits taking a big ol’ handicap at the golf course.

People camping out in lines for the slightly newer version of a product they already own, knowing full-well that within a few years there will be another slightly newer version of that thing? And then arguing with me about why it was super-necessary and how I just don’t understand (I don’t, so they have me there)? That is Jobs’ legacy.

This path was so successful that every company now follows it in its production of handheld devices and, increasingly, notebook PCs. Since notebook PCs are likely to cause the phase-out of desktops, moving understandably and beneficially to cloud computing but cleverly plotting the ever-evolving releases of mobile devices with which to access the cloud, Jobs’ model is the plain old Future. Even the most diehard home-cobblers will eventually have to cave in order to meet the technical demands of what society will expect them to be able to do if they want to work and interact with others efficently. Get mad, but Jobs started it. Yes, he did.

Its users may still include ponytailed bluegrass fans and flannel-sporting skinny-jeaned twats with ironic facial hair, but Apple is categorically not the scruffy gang of misfit scamps, all earnest and adorable, trying to beat the rich kids across the lake so Old Man Withers can keep Camp Wannahumpme anymore. They are the rich kids across the lake.*

You might be thinking, Jeezy creezy, E. What’s wrong with making money? You’re right: nothing. Good for the guy making it. For me, the guy spending the money? I say, Dang, man. Fuck those dudes making money. They suck.

It’s a petulant, childish attitude, yeah: what do you expect from a woman who writes chiefly about comics and boobs? Do I strike you like I got a plan to make money? (I don’t.) Of course my criticism is in large part sour grapes masquerading as mild Marxism: all Marxism is. Except Engels’. He was in it for the pussy.

I am sorry for Steve Jobs’ family, very much, and, marginally, for his company. Grieve the man. Yes. The loss of any human life is genuinely sad, especially the loss of complicated, particularly brilliant stars like Steve Jobs.

But the rest? About what a major and important place of honor Apple holds in our culture, and what glorious tools of divine perfection Jobs delivered to our hands by the grace of God or whatever, like the Lady of the Lake giving Arthur frigging Excalibur?

Not so much for me. I flatly disagree with the openly money-seeking strategies of the mobile device business model he has wrought. I know Steve Jobs was famous for saying negative people upset him, but, if that’s so, then he and Carl Sagan will just have to sit in the turtleneck department in Heaven and shake their heads over my lack of getting it. (Carl will only be playing along to humor the new guy — he loves me.)

I admire the shit out of his business sense, even as I dislike it, and I feel bad for his family. But I do not hold him up high for putting a new iPhone in your hands every thirty minutes. Not sorry for saying it. Go jerk off in back of the Birkenstock outlet and boo-hoo about it. I’ll be out here, reflecting on the loss of a major figure in how world business works.




*Open contest for the name of the rich kids’ camp in the comments, if you’ve got one.

Valentine Vixen – Kim Farber, Miss February 1967

February 25, 2010

Besides being possessed of arrestingly modern looks (it is truly startling how easily this photoshoot could have been done in the cheap-and-chic, Ikea-styled apartment of some sweet young hipster last weekend), Kim Farber is also unique in the pantheon of vintage playmates because she worked nights as a “Theater Bunny” at the Chicago Playboy Theater before being selected as Playboy‘s Miss February 1967. To my mind, that gives her a very special position in the empire’s history.


Photographed by Stan Molinowski.

Playboy opened the sadly short-lived Playboy Theaters — notable for screening not exclusively the racier content you might expect, but also rare classics, indie flicks, and films that had been met with censorship in their attempts at playing nice with other distribution channels — in only a scant, lucky few cities.

So far I have only chased down for sure the origins and present doings of the sites in Chicago (more on that in a sec) and New York, where the theater was in Manhattan on W. 57th street.

I had a false lead in Corpus Christi, TX, but I went ahead and called and, believe it or not, one of the town’s own officially sanctioned websites has mislabeled the Harbor Playhouse Theater as the Harbor Playboy Theater: the venue is not now and has never been a Playboy Enterprises property. Simple typo which the city of Corpus Christi has yet to notice or rectify, but it gave the guy I asked about it earlier this afternoon a good laugh.

I ironed out the discrepancy (a google search turned up the town’s link to the theater under the name “Playboy” but yellow pages and all other sources called it “Playhouse;” I couldn’t let mysterious sleeping dogs lie!) by straight-up calling the theater and asking them myself. As I said, the guy I spoke to laughed heartily and said no way. I didn’t bother explaining that there were, at one time, Playboy Theaters, as the difference between cinema and stage work sometimes makes people whose life passion is working for actual factual live theaters a little uppity and superior about plays vs. movies, plus, why interrupt the flow of happy karma? I laughed too and thanked him for his time.

That’s not the only telephone digging I’ve done this week, actually. Several days ago, I also called San Diego Rattan to ask if there was any chance they were ever known as “House of Rattan,” the shop run by the mother of Miss February 1969, Lorrie Menconi (answer: again, no). The very confused woman on the other end of the telephone assured me the store had only been called “San Diego Rattan” throughout its history.

I then asked in as friendly and “sane” a way as possible if she had any idea what had ever happened to the House of Rattan (she did not, as she moved to San Diego from Redondo Beach in 1999 and had never heard of House of Rattan).

I said my Girl Scout leader grew up in Redondo Beach, and her daughter (my dear Sarah-fina) was born in Torrance; plus, a sorority sister from college was from nearby Rancho P.V., so we talked briefly about Redondo, the merits of Rancho Palos Verdes vs. Palos Verdes Heights — or “PVH,” as the cognoscenti call it — and how Girl Scouts used to have so many more badges for water sports. (Not the sex-and-urine, super-kinky kind, but rather the kayak-and-diving, woman-against-the-sea kind). She was mainly very confused and almost concerned, it seemed at the start of the conversation, about my rattan line of questioning, so I felt like I needed to regain emotional lost ground with friendly, “aren’t-I-so-normal,” bantery small talk.

She was not annoyed — she was very friendly and even apologetic for having no answers to my left-field queries — but I am pretty sure she thought I had some extra-special Things Going On upstairs. I did not drop the magazine’s name at any point in the discussion, keeping the conversation on a strictly wicker-outdoor-furniture, geographical-social-casting, and oh-these-Girl-Scout-times-they-are-a-changin’ basis, so maybe rabid rattan fans are a Thing and she was initially afraid she had one of them on the phone. I’ll never know!


It is part of human nature, observed an 18th Century British writer, that great discoveries are made accidentally. (“Ticket to Success.” Playboy, February 1967.)

Though many people have made remarks along similar lines, my guess is that the uncredited author of Ms. Farber’s write-up is probably referring to the Reverend Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832).

Rev. Colton more specifically said, “It is a mortifying truth, and ought to teach the wisest of us humility, that many of the most valuable discoveries have been the result of chance, rather than of contemplation, and of accident, rather than of design.” (Many Things in Few Words: Addressed to Those Who Think. Colton, Rev. C.C. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green. (p. 39). via that there ol’ google books. take it for a public domain spin!)


Proof of this maxim is our valentine Playmate, Kim Farber, who was steadfastly taking tickets at Chicago’s Playboy Theater when she was pointed toward a gatefold appearance by a Playboy staffer who had gone to the theater and discovered that its prime attraction was not on the screen. Kim gratefully consented to pose for Playmate test shot. “Of course, I’d always wanted to be a Playmate, but once I got settled in my Theater Bunny routine, I never thought I’d get closer.” (Ibid.)


When she finally returns Stateside, Miss February hopes to pick up the thread of an apprenticeship in fashion coordination and design (“If I had my way, I’d drape the whole world in bright orange”), which she interrupted to become a Playboy Theater Bunny. “Before I commit myself to a career,” the dark-haired beauty explains, “I want to get some traveling out of my system.” (Ibid.)

I’ve got sadly no idea where the sweet and doe-eyed young gamine’s travels took her, in the end — Ms. Farber has either changed her name or vanished off the face of the earth, because if you have learned nothing else from my ramblings I hope you at least agree that I’m pretty all right with that there ol’ research — but I can happily tell you both the backstory of its inception and the denouement of what eventually happened to the Chicago Playboy Theatre. It’s an involved but very interesting story. Go potty now and smoke if you got ’em, cause here we go!

The Playboy Theater in Chicago was located at 1204 N. Dearborn Street. It began its life as the Dearborn Theatre in 1913. It was remodeled two decades later in 1934 by William and Percival Pereira. William, who ascribed the sterile and stark look of his architecture to his interest in science fiction, would go on to design the distinctive pyramid-shaped Transamerica Building in San Francisco, one of the most recognizable — and, next to the Lucy Coit tower, my personal favorite — features of The City’s skyscape.

The theater was sold, expanded, and given a much-needed facelift, when it re-opened as the Surf Theater in the 1940s. The new cinema boasted a seating capacity of 650. It remained the Surf Theater until September of 1964.


This is my favorite shot of the spread.

The Chicago Playboy Theater opened its doors at the end of September, 1964. Chicago was the home of Hef’s fledgling empire, and, in its heyday, was bustling with bunnies. There were Playboy clubs, hotels, restaurants, and the Theater, all along the famous Loop.

Besides being known for the unusual films it screened, the Playboy Theater was one of the hosting venues in the early years of the Chicago International Film Festival.

The theater changed hands in 1976, a year after Hugh himself blew irretrievably once and for all out of the Windy City in the wake of the dissolution of his long relationship with Barbi Benton. It was renamed the Chelex, and famed Chicago Sun critic Gene Siskel once wrote a scathing review of a film he saw screened there, concluding that the venue itself was so distracting that it made the film even worse; he said he sat near the back and had to keep his coat, hat, and even his gloves on during the movie because it was so goddamned cold.


This is another really, really good shot in my book.

The theater then changed hands again in 1979, and was renamed the Sandburg Theater, after Chicago native son and poet Carl Sandburg (“came in like the tide on little cat feet,” you know, that guy?). A well-regarded arthouse cinema-spot, as you might guess from the lofty name, the Sandburg mainly screened repertory and indie films.


My partner Albert Berger and I re-opened the Sandburg Theatre as a repertory house showing double features of classic films on May 22, 1979. Our opening week was a festival of Alfred Hitchcock movies. Although home video was starting to appear back then, most of these films could not be seen at that time except on television. We leased the theatre from famous Chicago real estate mogul Arthur Rubloff, who had developed much of the Magnificent Mile among other properties. (Bill Horberg. March 8, 2008. Internet post retrieved February 25, 2010.)


The theatre was shuttered when we took it over and in very poor shape. It still had the bunny logo design carpeting from the days when it operated as The Playboy, and a marquee with disco style lighting. (Ibid.)

When the tenure of the ambitious and admirable Misters Horberg and Berger came to a close in 1982, the theater was sold, condemned, and demolished. A Walgreens (another longtime and homegrown Chicago tradition) now stands on the spot.


I do believe that is Ms. Farber to Hef’s right, viewer’s left. Yes?

It was the 1,000th Walgreens to be opened and there was quite the to-do of it at a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony held at 9:00 a.m. on September 6, 1984, presided over by James Thompson, the governor of Illinois at the time. Interestingly, the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony was Cary Grant, whose own movies had often been screened in the Old Dearborn and Surf Theatre days of the 1930’s-40’s.

Grant graciously agreed to be present and speak because he was a family friend of the Walgreens (the article where I read this factoid lists his connection as being to “Betty,” but I think they meant Mary Ann, as no Betty as ever been an heiress or married to an heir of the Walgreens chain). Like Mr. Grant, Mary Ann Walgreen (née Leslie) has since passed away. She was very active in Chicago-area charities well before the time of highly visible CEOs and public relations folderol, which means she had no obligation to be so involved, and did it out of the goodness of her own heart. R.I.P. to them both.

Final fun fact: Before it closed its doors in 1976, the Chicago Playboy theater’s final booking was a double feature of Mel Brooks’ The Producers and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (“Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?”) Sounds to me like an excellent way to close the place down — if they were licensed for beer, to boot, then I need to get on time traveling, stat. That’s all for tonight, and I sure hope you’ve enjoyed this lengthy foray into the Playboy past.