They were the icons that figured prominently in my childhood, filling my days with good old fun and adventure. Take Dumbo who was ridiculed by the other elephants because of his gigantic ears. He was separated from his mum who, in the eyes of the circus people, was violent because she was stomping and becoming wild as she protected her little one from the jeers of the crowd. Up to this day, I find it hard to watch Dumbo without getting all lachrymose – fortunately, the ending is a happy one.
Dumbo was resurrected at the National Museum of American History, as part of the rotating exhibition of the National Treasures of Popular Culture section located on the third floor, west side. The Dumbo on display was the Flying Elephant ride or Dumbo Car that flew at Disneyland several decades ago.
On display alongside the adorable pachyderm at that time I visited, which were the months of August – September, was the Cat woman costume seen in the Batman TV series that starred Adam West. While the rest waited for the two crime-fighters to defend Gotham city, I was waiting for Cat woman to purr her way into the city and wreak havoc. The role of the sexy feline baddie was played by Julie Newmar who was very svelte to have slipped into the black body suit that was matched with long black gloves with metallic claws stitched to each finger. Her eyebrow-raising outfit was completed by a gold mesh belt with a medallion of a roaring lion and headband. At a young age, I felt a certain affinity with the dynamic duo’s nemesis because of her confidence, derring-do and unruffled demeanour under pressure. Cat woman made intelligence a sexy trait in women.
Another icon of my childhood that was on display was the group of the early Muppets, Sam and Friends. Kermit was already a part of the group. That little green frog filled my weekends with laughter and great fun with The Muppet Show, not to forget the witticisms of Kermit and Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Fuzzy the Bear. [Aside: That really worked wonders in mastering the English language.]
The last three icons I looked at were not part of my generation, but their memories lived on because I’d heard their names from my parents and their friends during their gab sessions and perused them in magazines and books. First was Judy Garland that I always remembered as the mother of chanteuse Liza Minnelli and who starred as Dorothy in the movie adaptation of the children’s book The Wizard of Oz. I only got to watch the 1938 movie this year after I got a friend to get me a DVD, and now I understand why Garland’s name was on everyone’s lips. Ignore her drinking binge and just focus on her singing, which was awe-inspiring. She made singing seem so effortless and that put me on ease, as the worse feeling that an audience can feel is for the singer to bust a vocal cord anytime in the middle of her song. On display at the museum was not a wax figurine of Garland but what she wore at the blockbuster movie – the famed ruby slippers that were made out of carefully sewn sequins. [Aside: For my school’s play version of the movie, our ingenious set design and props team opted to sprinkle red glitter on the shoes.]
The last icon was the late Julia Child, TV’s legendary chef. On exhibit until fall at the museum was her entire kitchen – enclosed in glass – that included the gadgets she kept in the drawers and cabinets, as well as the copper pots, pans, appliances and even the sink. It was if the word passion was written in big red letters on the walls. I could just imagine the vibe that surrounded the kitchen as she whipped up easy-to-make French dishes, which, dovetailed with passion and determination, easily made her the undisputed TV chef. Close on the heels of that thought was the number of hours she spent perfecting her culinary skills, which probably numbered around 10,000. That’s the number, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, which spelled the difference between an expert and a mediocre. Bill Gates and Beatles clocked that many hours in perfecting their skills.
I know there are still a lot of those icons that figured well in my childhood. I can’t really remember them at this point, but I’ll take it as a sign that I need to travel again to the museum to see their latest instalment. Would they have anything from the Electric Company show?