Tube City Almanac

April 22, 2005

I Wish My Brother Public Domain Was Here

Category: default || By jt3y

I was in a new discount store in Edgewood yesterday called "A.J. Wright." Apparently it's a spinoff of T.J. Maxx (which is kind of funny, since T.J. Maxx was itself a spinoff from Zayre Corporation, which was a chain of discount stores). The Edgewood location is at the site of the old Office Depot.

Anyway, they had a big stack of TV Guide DVDs of old TV shows --- 48 episodes for $5.99. Ran the gamut from a couple of old "Dragnets" and "Ozzie and Harriet" to "Jack Benny," "Andy Griffith," "Life of Riley" and "Twilight Zone." OK, for six bucks, I figure, what the hell. I had never actually seen the TV versions of "Jack Benny," "Burns and Allen," or "Life of Riley," so it was worth it for those.

The episodes seem to be intact, but they're grainy transfers of old 16-mm prints, like the kinds that were sent out to small-town UHF TV stations years ago. (In the case of the older shows, they definitely look like kinescopes.) It's like watching Channel 22 when I was a kid, but without the snow and ghosting. If only Eddie Edwards would break in every so often with a "Community Calendar" announcement, the effect would be complete.

The funniest part, however, is that TV Guide has very badly dubbed over the opening themes and credits with generic production music and amateurish SFX applause. I suppose they were worried about music clearance. They also have a very youthful announcer reading the credits who sounds nothing like a classic TV announcer; he also stumbles over some of the names.

In the case of a show like "Ozzie and Harriet," where the theme is not that memorable, it's annoying, but not jarring. But it's weird to see the credits for "Jack Benny" and not hear Don Wilson and "Love in Bloom," and it's positively hysterical to watch Andy Griffith and Ronny Howard stroll down to the ol' fishin' hole to the accompaniment of bad generic public-domain whistling!

(The worst offender in this box set, besides "Andy Griffith," might be "The Beverly Hillbillies." I loathe and despise "The Beverly Hillbillies," but cued up the episode just to see how they avoided using "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." They dubbed it over with generic fiddle music and made no attempt to explain that while the old mountaineer was a-shootin' at some food, up through the ground come-a bubblin' crude.)

The "Andy Griffith" episode, by the way, features the 1962 episode called "The Loaded Goat," which I will not spoil for you if you haven't seen it. Suffice to say it must rank as one of the funniest "Andy Griffith" episodes.

The Benny program features special guest star Liberace. I haven't seen footage of Liberace on TV since his death, but watching him with Benny last night, I couldn't help but wonder why people were so shocked to learn that the man was gay. (For cripes' sake, did he need to wear a big flashing neon sign?) He was also very funny, and he holds his own with Benny. The episode revolves around Benny (in his usual role as the world's stingiest man) visiting Liberace's mansion and being stunned at the lavish decorations. (Liberace, naturally, has candelabras on everything.)

The strangest part of the whole TV Guide collection is that on several shows, they left the end credit music intact. "Jack Benny," for instance, uses "Hooray for Hollywood," and I suspect that's still copyrighted.

Anyway, I suspected that for $6, I wasn't going to get pristine remastered TV shows, and I'm not disappointed.

As for "A.J. Wright," it's somewhere halfway between a Dollar General and a Wal-Mart. In other words, it sells junk that no one in their right mind would want. There were big signs over several displays that said, "Remember Mother's Day!" Yes, nothing says "I love you, mom" like a box of no-name chocolates from Guatemala and a purple and pink jewelry box shaped like a sofa.

My friend Dan, who was with me, neatly summed up the selection at A.J. Wright: "This must be what they find in the dumpster behind Big Lots."


Also new at Edgewood Towne Center, the vacant space once occupied by Phar-Mor has been replaced by a Busy Beaver. (Motto: "Still in Business.")

It's a little-known fact that Busy Beaver considered buying out Phar-Mor when the drugstore chain went bankrupt. Ultimately, negotiations broke down when it came time to pick a name for the new company: They couldn't decide whether to be "Phar-Busy" or "Mor-Beaver." (Rimshot.)


In all seriousness, it's worth noting that Busy Beaver is a locally owned chain that has survived the arrival of Lowe's and Home Depot, and even appears to be prospering. On those rare occasions when I do need building supplies (I hate working around the house), I do make it a point to check Busy Beaver first.

I used to try to patronize 84 Lumber, which is also locally owned, but they've shifted from catering to do-it-yourselfers to catering to contractors. Since I rarely have the need for an entire pallet of bagged concrete mix, I don't shop their very often.

That brings up another interesting point, raised yesterday by Alert Reader Heather in reference to the closing of Chiodo's. She and Alert Reader Jonathan B. are wondering how many of the people bemoaning the loss of Chiodo's actually patronized the bar:

A few years ago, our neighborhood mom 'n pop True Value hardware closed. People wore varying expressions of shock and dismay (can I say maudlin?), their response to this, the last domino in the strip of local vendors to fall.

"Did you support the business?" I asked one neighbor who had been remodeling his home for, like, two years (can you say Home Depot?).

"No. *sigh*"

During their close-out sale (which was wildly patronized) I asked the owners if they would be taking a loss by eliminating their merchandise this way.

"We've been taking a loss for years."

I've been practically militant, over the years, in my support of Mon-Yough area businesses --- especially mom 'n pops and other independents. A big education in retailing for me came when I got my first real job and began buying my own clothes. One of the big fallacies people have is that large chain stores are always cheaper. So, I compared the prices at Kadar's on Fifth Avenue, Downtown, with the prices at Kaufmann's in Century III Mall.

Kadar's was selling silk ties at 2 for $25 and Arrow shirts for $17.99. Kaufmann's was selling the exact same ties for $25 each and Arrow shirts for $25.99. Now, either Kadar's was taking a loss --- which seemed unlikely --- or Kaufmann's was putting on one hell of a markup.

Shopping opportunities Downtown are rapidly dwindling --- Kadar's and Rubenstein's fought the good fight, but are gone now. Gala's moved to White Oak and Byer's Children's Shop finally closed. But I'm proud to say I shopped at all of them when I could. I even bought my first good camera at Photographics Supply.

Maybe the Almanac should start recommending good local independent businesses, as a public service. In the spirit of Heather's comments, I'll start by recommending one of my favorites --- Able Home Center True Value at Great Valley Shopping Center in North Versailles. No matter where you live in the Mon-Yough area, it's worth the drive.

The store doesn't look like much, but they've got a very deep and wide selection of oddball screws, nuts, washers and electrical and plumbing supplies. (It's the best I've seen outside of the late, lamented Levine Brothers Hardware in Homestead.) Able also carries a good assortment of building materials and fixtures that's priced competitively, and they're a Pittsburgh Paints dealer. It has a decent lawn and garden section that --- while not as broad as a specialty store --- stocks the most popular grass seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

Sometimes they don't have what you're looking for, but they're always willing to order catalog items, and they often beat the prices of the bigger chains. (And they have a great bargain section in the center of the store where they get rid of odd lots, mismatched paint, discontinued stock and miscellaneous tools.) They're also open on Sundays and late on weeknights.

I get no renumeration from that endorsement, by the way --- I'm just a happy customer. If you'd like to me to check out a Mon Valley independent business, send your recommendations to me at jt3y at dementia dot org, and I'll be glad to visit them.


To Do This Weekend: From a Penn State press release: "Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and Penn State McKeesport present Blood, Sweat and Steel, a play that dramatizes the lives of Mon Valley residents, where shared industrial and cultural experiences shaped communities and traditions. Members of the story groups included Betty Esper, Marlene 'Pumpkin' Robinson, Mike and Mary Solomon, Cecilia Sarocky, Pat French, George Czakoszi, Ed Salaj, and Ray Henderson, Roxanne Daykon, Melanie Brletic, Arlene Fath and Matilda Belan, all current or former residents of the Mon Valley communities of Homestead, West Homestead, Braddock, Munhall, Pitcairn and McKeesport." Performances continue at 7:30 tonight and Saturday in the Ostermayer Room in the Student Community Center at Penn State McKeesport. Tickets are $3 and are available at the door. Visit for more information.

Your Comments are Welcome!

To clarify—I wasn’t talking about people just patronizing Chiodo’s, but rather, someone actually buying the place to ensure that it remained the monument it was.
A lot of hotshots with the cash and connections to buy the place blew a lot of smoke about wanting to buy it, and none of them did. But Walgreens did.
In our “free” America, everything is bought and sold and owned. And the moment we forget that truth, we are very rudely reminded of it.
Jonathan Barnes - April 22, 2005

And let’s face it—a lot of local establishments have been sold/gone out of business over the years, with nary anyone shedding a tear. Part of me wonders if a lot of the hipsters who made Chiodo’s famous in its waning years are selective in their nostalgia.
Jonathan Potts (URL) - April 22, 2005

Ah, welcome to the world of “public domain” TV releases. This is similar to what happened in the early and mid-1980’s when companies began releasing anything cheap they could find (including old kinescopes from the 1950’s) to stimulate the market for pre-recorded VHS tapes. Back then, though, the industry wasn’t as savvy about music clearance rights for home video (since there really wasn’t a market yet), so most of the shows I have from that period are intact, including a handful of priceless Abbott & Costello kinescopes from the original, live “Colgate Comedy Hour.”

The problem with these el cheapo DVD’s is rather like Forrest Gump’s observation: you never know what you’re gonna get. “Return to Gilligan’s Island” (the highly-rated TV-movie sequel where the castaways are rescued) is out on DVD as well, but they must have borrowed that print from Channel 22, too. Ugh.
Al Kebong - April 22, 2005

Mr. Barnes: Yeah, Jason sort of took us for a ‘spin’ with that one. Your point had never really been patronage, but misplaced media attention, etc. I WAS a little concerned that my analogy would blur the message in your response.

Not to the point that I thought I would be quoted on it, though…....

Wow. I’m published. Who knew?
heather - April 22, 2005

A lot of hotshots blow a lot of smoke about a lot of things, but when it comes to put the old pen to the checkbook, well … ask Augie Carlino, Charlie McAllister, Russ Gibbons and others how much trouble they’ve had getting funding to restore the Carrie Furnaces. Everyone thinks it’s a wonderful idea, great, superb, but won’t cough up with the loot.

I didn’t mean to give short-shrift or “spin” anyone’s comments, BTW. I thought they spoke for themselves, and that anyone interested would go and look at them. The larger point, to me, is that people often bemoan the loss of the local grocery, or bar, or old-fashioned diner, but when you ask them “Well, how often did you shop there?” the answer is “never.”

As for Mr. Kebong’s comments, I realized that for $6 I wasn’t getting high-quality digitally remastered discs, to be sure. I was just surprised that they cleared the rights to some pieces of music, but didn’t on some of the most famous theme songs in history.
Webmaster (URL) - April 22, 2005

Wow, you mention Pitcairn as a Mon-Valley town, even if it was in your “To Do This Weekend” section. A lot of people forget about the little towns like Pitcairn(in which I was born raised and still live) Wall and Wilmerding. The only time it gets recognition in the press is if someone dies horribly or there’s a major fire. I was also suprised to see almost a quarter page article about the race for Pitcairn Mayor in Wednesday’s print edition of the Daily News. Maybe things are changing!

Sorry I was off the subject of what the rest of you were talking about, but I’m damn Proud :)
Different Derrick - April 22, 2005

No apology is necessary for your outburst of unabashed chauvinistic Pitcairnism. We welcome civic boosters of all of the Mon Valley’s communities.

Anyway, Pitcairn is a nice town. I used to cover Wall and Wilmerding (aka Wilmerwall and Wallmerding) for the Daily News and the Trib, along with Turtle Crick, East Mickeyport, North Ver-sigh, East Picksberg, etc., so I got to know Pitcairn reasonably well.

And of course, some of the infrastructure that supports is right down Route 130 in Trafford. Pitcairners are certainly welcome here in our little Ecumenical Temple of Mon-Youghism.
Webmaster (URL) - April 22, 2005

As to 84 Lumber, you don’t shop their what very often?

Perhaps you meant “there”?
Derrick - April 22, 2005

Don’t forget that Wall has a TV station.

And after alllll…you’re my Wilmerwallll…
Oh Isis - April 24, 2005

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