Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper ’89 and Brian Bellmont ’90 chronicle the lost toys, tastes & trends of the ’70s and ’80s in their book Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? Among their recollections is the Generation X dog hero, Benji.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Fashingbauer Cooper and Bellmont’s book, Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?, published in June 2011. Their second book, The Totally Sweet ’90s, will be published in summer 2013.

Casey Kasem on “American Top 40”

Today we can choose from thousands of songs with a click of a mouse, but when we were kids, we let Casey make the call. With his raspy, melodic tones and distinctively measured – and family-friendly – delivery, “American Top 40” host Casey Kasem spoke volumes.

It was appointment radio. We’d clear our preteen schedules, settle in by the stereo with a bag of Bugles, and get our weekly fix of songs like “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” “Pass the Dutchie” and “Come On Eileen.” But Casey didn’t just spin records – he spun yarns. It was as if we were all sitting around a big, cozy fire and listening to Casey tell the stories behind the songs – with guest appearances by Men Without Hats and Quarterflash.

Even prerelationship grade-schoolers got the poignancy of his heart-tugging “long-distance dedications,” usually about a lost love. They all started like they could be a letter to Pent­house (“Dear Casey, A few summers ago I moved from Atlanta, Georgia, my lifelong home, to a small town in rural Wisconsin …”), and ended with something like “Casey, will you please play ‘99 Red Balloons’?” He’d close every show with his trademark reminder to “keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars,” and dammit if we didn’t try to do just that.

X-TINCTION RATING: Gone for good.
REPLACED BY: Casey also voiced memorable cartoon characters like Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy, which are still all over TV. But his legacy is on the radio. After Casey retired from AT40, Shadoe Stevens and then Ryan Seacrest eventually filled his chair, but they never filled his shoes.
FUN FACT: Casey’s married to Jean Kasem, better known as dimwitted Loretta Tortelli on “Cheers.”

Free to Be … You and Me

A boy who loved his doll, a girl get­ting chomped by tigers, and a dog fixing a sink? Where do we sign up?

A record album, illustrated songbook and 1974 TV special, triple-threat media powerhouse “Free to Be ... You and Me” was created when “That Girl” star Marlo Thomas wanted to teach her young niece that it was OK to break gender roles, in careers and life. And looking at today’s world, with its stay-at-home dads and doctor moms, there’s little doubt that she helped make that happen.

Kids who got this book or album probably had never heard of women’s lib except as a punch line on “Maude.” Many of the major points sailed over our heads; other parts seemed “no-DOY” obvious. No one likes housework. It’s all right to cry.

Boys can bake cakes, girls can bait hooks, and whatever gen­der you are, divorce sucks. But the songs were darn catchy, and the book engrossing, featuring dreamy pencil sketches, snappy cartoons, and one story told in handwritten notes on torn notebook paper. Its most memorable song? “William Wants a Doll,” sung by Alan “Hawkeye Pierce” Alda. Its best story? Shel Silverstein’s hilarious “Ladies First,” in which a demanding little girl is eaten up by tigers.

The book even addressed issues kids didn’t know were issues, such as how you shouldn’t dress your cat in an apron but should, if he so desires, let your dog be a plumber. Heather Has Two Mom­mies gots nothing on this.

X-TINCTION RATING: Revised and revived.
REPLACED BY: A 35th-anniversary edition of the book came out in 2008. And in fall 2010, Target released a back-to-school ad prominently featuring the “Free to Be …” song.

“The Facts of Life”

“The Facts of Life” theme song urged viewers to “take the good” and “take the bad,” and true to form, the show dished up plenty of both. Among the good? Tootie meets Jermaine Jackson. Natalie hires an incompetent Blair for a job at a taco joint. Late-sea­son housemother Beverly Ann has a Twilight Zone-style nightmare where the girls are all horribly murdered. (Seriously!)

Among the bad? A first season featuring approximately 80 million classmates, all of whom get two minutes of airtime, even Molly Ringwald. George Clooney’s mullet. Annoying Australian Pippa. The random ’80s-ness of the musical guests. (El DeBarge? Stacey Q?) The preachy issue-oriented episodes, covering everything from book banning to breast cancer. The groaner punch lines from comic Geri Jewell as Blair’s cousin.

But the four main girls had a friendship that felt real, and the fact that dowdy Natalie, for one, didn’t exactly fit the Holly­wood star mode only lent to the show’s charm. And although Mrs. Garrett’s advice was corny, she was still a way cooler mom figure than Carol Brady. Still, it was fairly obvious she was running some scam. One wrecked school van does not eight years of indentured servitude make.

X-TINCTION RATING: Gone for good.
REPLACED BY: An embarrassing Thanksgiving reunion special aired in 2001, sans Jo. Seasons of the original show are slowly trick­ling out on DVD.

Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific

Shampoo really let its hair down in the ’70s and ’80s. Body on Tap incorporated beer! Lemon Up had a lemon-shaped top! Fabergé Organics wanted its users to tell two friends and so on and so on and so on. But the crown­ing glory of the shampoo aisle was Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific.

The name sucked you in. Few products made an entire sentence their name, and such a goofy one to boot. There was no Gee, I Think Your Butt Looks Smaller for jeans, or Gee, Your Breath Doesn’t Smell Quite So Rank for mouthwash. The pop-art packaging, with its deep-pink bottle and chubby mul­ticolored letters, further encouraged the purchase. And the scent sealed the deal. It smelled kind of like a combination of your sis­ter’s perfume, an opium den and the hanging air freshener in your older brother’s Chevy van. Put together, it smelled of the ’70s.

X-TINCTION RATING: Revised and revived.
REPLACED BY: GYHST, as its friends call it, is still made and can be ordered online through The Vermont Country Store. Looks – and smells – just like we remember.

“The Electric Company”

When you’d outgrown “Sesame Street,” you turned on the power with “The Electric Company,” which ran from 1971 to 1977 on PBS. It was entertaining, educational and more than a little freaky. Who didn’t want to punch the kids named Whimper and Whine for obvious reasons? Ditto for plaid-clad J. Arthur Crank, with his voice set to the annoyance level just below “power drill.” And why, oh why, was that giant anthropomorphic lollipop follow­ing that poor little girl?

But most of the show was irresistible. We longed to join the singing group the Short Circus, swing on vines with Jennifer of the Jungle or foil the Spell Binder with Letterman. Some skits were both addictive and crazy-making – the live-action Spidey skits were often the hit of the episode, but it was unnerving that the web­slinger had apparently been rendered mute, speaking only through squeaky word balloons.

Later in life, EC fans felt as if they’d played minor-league ball with a lineup that went on to become superstars. Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Gene Wilder and Joan Rivers, we knew you when. HEY, YOU GUYS!

X-TINCTION RATING: Revised and revived.
REPLACED BY: A completely new version of “The Electric Com­pany” began airing in 2009.
FUN FACT: The show’s soap-opera spoof, “Love of Chair,” had a famous catchphrase, “But what about Naomi?” The Naomi who inspired the line was an “Electric Company” producer, Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, now mom to actors Jake and Maggie.

John Hughes Movies

Maybe your high school didn’t actually look anything like the cush suburban worlds of John Hughes’ movies. But that didn’t mean he got things wrong. Sure, we may never have been stuck in Saturday detention with a girl who made art from her dandruff, or given our underwear to a geek.

But Hughes set up universes we could all relate to. The vil­lain in your life didn’t have to sneer like James Spader. Maybe it was the sour-faced cheerleader in your Spanish class who was never going to drop her grudge. And you might not have had a best friend as cool and yet impressively geeky as Duckie, or as neurotic and moody as Cameron. It didn’t matter.

The hearts of Hughes’ characters – their loyalty, wit and that killer Ferris Bueller ingenuity – these were things we recog­nized and responded to. Who hasn’t felt as forgotten as Samantha in “Sixteen Candles”? Or like the one ragamuffin in a school of Vanderbilts, like Andie in “Pretty in Pink”?

Hughes’ movies nailed it: Even the pretty girls and the jocks sometimes slogged through the day as if it were a bowl of wet cereal. The song that rang through the halls of detention in “The Breakfast Club” might as well be every teen’s anthem: “Don’t You (Forget About Me). Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t.”

Hughes’ movies didn’t, and neither did he.

X-TINCTION RATING: Gone for good.
REPLACED BY: Hughes died far too early, in 2009, at just 59. He can’t be replaced, only imitated.
FUN FACT: Asked by favorite star Molly Ringwald which of his characters he was most like, Hughes said he was a cross between Ferris Bueller and Samantha of “Sixteen Candles.”


With their “it slices, it dices!” rapid-fire carnival-barker nar­ration, K-tel commercials sold music the way door-to-door sales­men once sold appliances. And no wonder, since the company was started by … a former door-to-door appliance salesman. Canadian entrepreneur Philip Kives figured out that high-energy TV com­mercials were a perfect way to pitch records, and sold hundreds of millions of “super hit” compilations with names like Pure Power, Starflight, Disco Fire and Street Beat.

The yell-y, fast-talking narrator hawked hits from Peaches and Herb! Jigsaw! And Molly Hatchet! They were available at Sears! Kmart! and Woolworth’s! Once we kids were exposed to the barrage of groovy animation, reverb, song clips and photos of the bands, we were convinced every collection was a must-buy, and begged our parents for a ride to the mall. (Did Stanley Ku­brick get the idea for the freaky, fast-cut brainwashing scene in “A Clockwork Orange” from K-tel? Discuss.) It wasn’t until we got the album home that the hypnotic spell wore off and we real­ized we didn’t really care for most of the songs, particularly those by England Dan and John Ford Coley.

Too smart to fall for that in-your-face sales pressure? Check your record collection. We’ll bet you the latest hit from the DeFranco Family you’ll find a K-tel logo or 10.

X-TINCTION RATING: Still going strong.
FUN FACT: K-tel’s most popular album was “Hooked on Clas­sics,” which featured catchy classical tunes set to a disco beat and has sold more than 10 million copies.

Sassy Magazine

Tiger Beat hyped celebrities, and Seventeen was heavy on makeup and clothes. If those three things weren’t the mainstays of your teen existence, the magazine rack was a pretty frustrating place. Until 1988, when Sassy Magazine blasted onto the scene.

Here was a teen magazine that didn’t speak only to the cheerlead­ers and homecoming queens, but reached out to the burnouts, the brains, and every girl who didn’t believe that a new mascara would change her life. Sassy not only celebrated indie music, but con­vinced girls that they just needed a garage and a guitar to start their own band. It reviewed zines and got alternative rockers to offer dating advice. Certain stars (Michael Stipe, and onetime Sassy intern Chloë Sevigny) were favorites, but there was no kow­towing to the vapid celeb of the moment. (One article was head­lined “23 Celebrities Not to Dress Like.” Helllooooo, Seventeen fave Whitney Houston.)

Reading Sassy felt like talking to an über-cool big sister, and the writers encouraged that feeling by signing their articles with just their first names. Jane, Christina, Mary Kaye and Margie didn’t seem like ivory-tower editors in a Manhattan skyscraper, but like trusted pals. When Sassy was sold (humiliatingly, to the company that published Teen) and eventually shut down, it wasn’t like a magazine ended. It was like letters from your coolest friend simply stopped arriving.

X-TINCTION RATING: Gone for good.
REPLACED BY: No modern magazine is as cool, but Sassy’s alums, and those it influenced, are everywhere – running blogs, rocking out in bands, writing books. It was honored with a 2007 book, How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time.
FUN FACT: In a recurring “Saturday Night Live” sketch, Phil Hartman played a Sassy editor who hosted a talk show and used the word “sassy” in as many ways as he could.

Lip Smackers and Lip Lickers Lip Balms

Bonne Bell Lip Smackers first showed up in 1973 and quickly pushed their way to mouth-moisturizing dominance. Some brilliant marketing mind had the inspired notion to sign deals with soda-pop and candy companies, resulting in wacky flavors such as 7-Up, Tootsie Roll and Orange Crush. Forget the lip-soothing aspect, these were practically snacks.

Bonne Bell also successfully hawked them as jewelry. Large Lip Smackers came with a plastic hoop on one end and a plasticky rope so they could be worn around the neck or swung at pesky little brothers.

Competing Lip Lickers by Village Bath seemed to be designed to appeal to the kind of girls who carried Pride and Prejudice with them everywhere and thought Gunne Sax dresses were too reveal­ing. They just looked old-fashioned, with their cool little gold metal tins with sliding lids and elaborate designs of fruit and flowers lavished on the tops. You pushed down on the lid until it clicked, then slid it open to reach the gloss. Once you were there, it was almost impossible to resist digging down into the balm and creating a tunnel that went all the way to the bottom of the case.

Thankfully, neither Lip Smackers nor Lip Lickers actually colored your lips. Girls gunked them on so heavily that if they had imparted any color, they all would have looked like recent gradu­ates of Clown College.

LIP SMACKERS: Still going strong. Current flavors include s’mores, buttered popcorn, and cookies and cream; Lip Smackers has also cut deals with Jell-O, M&M’s, Kool-Aid, Skittles and other brands.
LIP LICKERS: Gone for good, though other balms use similar sliding tins.
FUN FACT: Lip Smackers were originally designed as an unfla­vored gloss for outdoor types, until the flavor chemists got ahold of them. Strawberry was the first-ever flavor.

“Schoolhouse Rock!”

The concept sounds horrible: Hey, kids! We’re going to pep­per your Saturday TV time with learning! But if a whole generation knows the Preamble to the Constitution or the order of the planets or that fat cigar-smoking cats shouldn’t be allowed in pool halls, they can thank the happy little family of videos called “Schoolhouse Rock!”

As with the “Brady Bunch” siblings, certain members of the family were overhyped. “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill” overshadowed the Jan-like charms of kangaroo-adopting, pro­nounhawking “Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla” or the dreamy ice skater in “Figure Eight.” And “Schoolhouse Rock!” created as many ques­tions as it answered. What kind of camp sent kids unpacking their adjectives near a hairy, scary bear? Was that youngest Lolly really old enough to be slaving away in an adverb store? Who got beat up worse, the football player in “Interjections” who ran the wrong way, or the Poindexter who cheered, “Hurray, I’m for the other team”

Still, the tunes sank into kids’ brains like grape jelly into Wonder bread, and we would be a better nation today if older folks, too, had their own versions. Imagine “Schoolhouse Rock!” songs for such topics as “Floss! That’s What’s Happening’” and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adjustable Rate Subprime Mortgages Here.” Well, maybe not that one.

X-TINCTION RATING: Revised and revived.
REPLACED BY: The original creators helped put out a 2009 envi­ronmentally themed collection, “Schoolhouse Rock! Earth.”
FUN FACT: The late jazz singer Blossom Dearie was the voice of “Unpack Your Adjectives,” “Mother Necessity” and the haunting “Figure Eight.”

Shrinky Dinks

Invented in 1973, Shrinky Dinks brought into play the one appliance that mom never really wanted you to mess with: the oven. In fact, the whole Shrinky Dink process seemed kind of like a joyous, don’t-tell-the-parents experiment. Melting plastic on a hot cookie sheet without getting yelled at? Sign us up!

Shrinky Dinks never looked like they were going to work. You colored in the shape, be it a Smurf, Mr. T or a rainbow-maned unicorn, threw it on a cookie sheet and hoped for the best. Watching through the oven door, you were convinced you’d done it wrong and nothing would ever happen, when suddenly it started to curl up like an old sheet of fax paper. It twisted, and then it fixed itself, and the end product was tiny, bright and colorful, and thick and strong. As with Homer Simp­son and his Flaming Moe drink, fire made it good.

Few kids really knew what to do with Shrinky Dinks once they were shrunky dunk. One can only have so many zipper pulls, key chains and napkin rings, after all. But no one ever thought about that when they were watching the plastic writhe in its little kitchen torture chamber. Sometimes, the journey is indeed way more fun than the destination.

X-TINCTION RATING: Still going strong.
FUN FACT: In the 1970s, superheroes were the best-selling Shrinky Dinks theme; in the 1980s, it was the Smurfs.

Sitting in the Way Back of a Station Wagon

Back in the days before safety was invented, the most sought-after seat in mom’s faux-wood-paneled Country Squire station wagon wasn’t shotgun in the front. It wasn’t in the back, either, crammed in with your sticky siblings. It was the “way back” – vehicular Valhalla. While the rest of the family faced front, the luckiest kids scored the best seats in the house, the col­lapsible ones with a view out the rear window. Seat belts? Who needed ’em? When dad took a hairpin turn, you’d roll around like a pop can.

But dang, what a ride. It was our own little space, like a tiny office or a Pullman bunk on a train. And the best part was that it put you as far away from your parents as the engineers in Detroit could possibly figure out. You were on your own little vacation, and if you wanted to stick your tongue out or make faces at cars behind you, who would know? Even though you were 8 years old, you were still ahead of the poor slob driving behind you – who no doubt had his own kid facing out the back, making faces at yet another frustrated driver.

X-TINCTION RATING: Gone for good.
REPLACED BY: With the introduction of minivans, station wagons’ popularity crashed.

Atari 2600

If you could go back to the 1980s and show an Atari 2600-addicted kid a modern screenshot of Grand Theft Auto, it’d be like escorting Amelia Earhart onto the space shuttle.

Today, it’s easy to snort at Atari’s pixilated Pitfall Harry, swinging from a mighty jagged line. Pac-Man appeared to have been hastily copied from the legendary arcade version by a kid with no depth perception. But remember, until the 2600 came out, the pinnacle of home gaming was Pong, a black-and-white game in which small vertical lines beat up on a tiny square. The 2600 felt like the future.

The great Atari games have passed into legend: Space In­vaders. Asteroids. Frogger. But it’s the bizarre ones that are forever burned into our brainpans. In Chase the Chuckwagon, you guided a dog to his product-placed Purina kibble. In Plaque Attack, you protected teeth by shooting toothpaste at invading food. In Journey Escape, you guided members of the band Jour­ney past groupies and crooked promoters to get them to their … spaceship?

Atari didn’t go down easy. The 2600 was fourteen when it was officially retired in 1992. Back in the 1980s, its TV jingle de­manded to know: “Have you played Atari today?” No, not today, but sometimes we think we would give up our HDTVs, our iPhones, even our hybrid cars for just one more hour sprawled on the living-room floor, helping that damned frog cross the road.

X-TINCTION RATING: Gone for good.
REPLACED BY: Intellivision, Super Nintendo, Xbox – take your pick. But the 2600 was so beloved that consoles dubbed “Atari Flashback” have been released, with original games and the same cheesy fake-wood paneling of their grandfather.


Every generation has a dog hero, but leave it to Generation X to eschew purebreds like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin and fall in love with a mutt. Benji was every kid’s dream dog, from his melty chocolate eyes to his constantly wagging tail. In his eponymous 1974 film, the little pup foiled kidnappers, befriended cops, and even opened metal pudding cups.

Once the first Benji movies hit the big screen, every kid in the country wanted a Benji dog – or a Benji lunch box, record, coloring book, or paperback. The accessories were available, but since Benji was a shelter dog, no one knew how to replicate his floppy looks. A TV show tried, though: 1980’s “Here’s Boomer” took a similar pooch to the small screen for two sad seasons.

Sure, some mocked the five Benji movies for their sheer in­nocence. The pooch had none of the snarkiness of Snoopy or the slobbering doltishness of Scooby-Doo. But in a world of war and Watergate and R-rated everything, the family friendly series was an oasis for grateful parents and easily scared kids. And they might not admit it, but even toughershelled viewers gave a relieved sniffle when the little mutt saved the day. Man’s best friend, indeed.

X-TINCTION RATING: Revised and revived.
REPLACED BY: Although no modern movie dog is quite as fa­mous as Benji, from Beethoven to Marley and Me, Hollywood dogs keep on barking up the right tree. The creator of the Benji movies, Joe Camp, says a new Benji movie is in the works.

Wacky Packages

Wacky Packages combined three of kids’ favorite things: goofy commercial mascots, paint-peeling stickers, and really, really lame jokes.

Wacky creators never went for the subtle. Silly Putty became Killy Putty! Peter Pan peanut but­ter? Peter Pain! Spam? Cram! It’s like the Simpsons episode where Marge suggests a pile of names for about-to-be-born Bart and Homer is ready with a stupid taunt for each. (“Marcus? They’ll call him Mucus!”)

But kids were not exactly looking for Thomas Pynchon. Obvi­ous ruled in Wackyland, and Gross shared the throne. Who could resist a bucket of the Colonel’s finest when it was renamed Ken­tucky Fried Fingers? Crest toothpaste became garlic-flavored Crust. A horrified housewife shrieked as she cooked up a batch of Minute Lice.

Let that nice girl next door gussy up her notebook with Snoopy and scratch ’n’ sniff strawberries, you were rebelling against the advertising establishment, even if you weren’t quite sure what it was. Pass the Frosted Snakes.

X-TINCTION RATING:: Revived and revised.
REPLACED BY: Wacky Packs are back, Jack! Topps is once again cranking out new parodies (“Dead Bull no-energy drink”), while also paying homage to their retro legacy. Wacky Packs Old School features new stickers parodying old ’70s products, while Wacky Pack Flashbacks reprint actual ’70s Wackys.


About the authors: Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is a journalist who writes the nationally recognized pop-culture blog Pop Culture Junk Mail. Brian Bellmont is a former television reporter and producer who now runs a Twin Cities public relations agency.

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