Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pendleton Sport Shirt (1952)

Print advertisement, 1952

Pendleton, Oregon is a small (population is currently just over 15,000 people) city located about mid-way between Portland, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. U.S. Route 30, which has stretched all the way from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Astoria, Oregon since 1926 runs directly through town. Before that it was served by the Union Pacific railway line. The Pendleton Round-Up, a Nationally-known rodeo, was started in 1910 and now draws some 50,000 cowboys, cowgirls, and assorted others to the area every September. More recently, the Eastern Oregon Correctional Facility has drawn some attention to its host city on account of its Prison Blues line of clothing. But without the shadow of a doubt, Pendleton, is most well-known for the Pendleton Woolen Mills. 

Print advertisement, 1953

The mill existed before the 20th Century, but it was the acquisition of the facility and its subsequent rejuvenation by the Bishop family of Salem, Oregon in 1909 that is the real first chapter in this story. Eastern Oregon at the turn of the last Century was sheep country and more than a little rough and tumble. The Bishops made their living manufacturing Indian blankets, selling to both to the local tribes (Utatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla) as well as those the Southwest. But within fifteen years they expanded their product line to include their first men's shirts, which developed into a full line of men's clothing by 1929. Both were innovative at the time, mainly due to the rich colors and patterns that the company incorporated into its clothing, an anomaly particularly in the world of outdoor and work wear of the time.

Print advertisement, 1954

Pendleton shifted all of its production during the Second World War to supply the military and contribute to the war effort at home. At the conflict's end, production of consumer goods resumed and expanded in 1949 to include its first woman's line of clothing. There was also a tremendous shift after the war, that attempted to move away from it's workwear/outdoorsman image and court the mid-century spirit of leisure that was beginning to pervade so much of the United States. This only increased after the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953, both in terms of the types of items found in the men's line as well as in the spirit of the company's advertising campaigns. 

Print advertisement, 1955

Some time during this era in the company's history, they introduced their Sport Shirt, more commonly known today as the Board Shirt in deference to West Coast surf culture's adoption of the garment in the early-1960s (more on that in a moment). I have yet to pinpoint the exact time of introduction, but the earliest print ad I have seen making mention of the Sport Shirt is 1952. This makes sense from a stylistic perspective, in that the sport shirt clearly draws is main design inspiration from the men's casual shirt of the mid-to-late-1940s style widely manufactured throughout the United States but very often so referenced as "California Style" and frequently made in gabardine. Incidentally, Pendleton's older shirt design was re-christened as its Regular Shirt to differentiate the two. A third style, the Sir Pendleton was introduced a short while later in the middle of the decade.

Print advertisement, 1959

What sets the Pendleton Sport Shirt apart from any other manufacturer of this style of shirt is not only its use of its trademark bold woolen plaids but the fact that the Pendleton Sport Shirt stayed in fashion long after men's casual wear moved onto to other styles and trends. In fact, the shirt has pretty much remained in production by Pendleton since the early-1950s and can be bought new today in 2012 for pretty much the same price (adjusted for inflation, of course). Perhaps even more remarkable is that it has done so with only slight concessions to the changing times. One could of course detail the differences between this year's model and the inaugural version, but in a larger scheme of things, they are remarkably similar. Another small miracle is not only how the Sport Shirt has usurped all prior versions of the same style casual shirt, so much so that many for decades have equated this style shirt with Pendleton; but also how it has become known to nearly as many as simply "a Pendleton." 

Gerry Mulligan, Los Angeles, 1953, photo by Bob Willoughby

In addition to the typical man of leisure the shirt was marketed to, the Pendleton was quickly adopted by the West Coast Bohemian set. Jazz musicians as well as the emerging Beat Generation that they influenced can be seen in the soon-to-be ubiquitous Sport Shirt throughout the 1950s. The fact that Down Beat could be running a photo of Gerry Mulligan blowing his bari roughly around the same time that Pendleton was opening a retail shop in Disneyland, also speaks to the somewhat egalitarian status the shirt was reaching. A quick side note: the Pendleton shop located in Frontierland in the original Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California was open for nearly 35 years (July 1955 through April 1990)!

Brew Moore LP, 1956, Fantasy Records 

That the shirt was at both ubiquitous and hip is what I suspect is behind its appropriation by Southern California surf culture in the early-1960s. Much of that youth culture was a mix of the suburban and Bohemian, drawing inspiration from equal parts Venice Beach boho and Hawthorne prefab. Of course much has been made of the early-Beach Boys moniker The Pendletones, as well as the photos of the group in Pendleton Sport Shirts on 2 of its first 3 LPs from 1962 to 1963. But it was truly part of the West Coast surfer uniform at the time. But why would a wool shirt be worn in a region known for the warmth of the sun? Well, as anyone on a coast will tell you, the ocean breeze blows cool and getting out of the water can be a bit of a shock to the system. And as noted surf culture historian, Domenic Priore, pointed out to me, surfers are up at 5 AM and in the water by 6 AM. The beach is cold that time of day! And let's not forget that good virgin wool breathes with the wearer making it fairly versatile and suitable for all but really warm days.

Disneyland, 1959

Fast forward fifty years and the Pendleton Sport Shirt (or Board Shirt) is still part of the conversation on cool. It's consistent production and relatively low cost has made it a thrift store staple for decades, ensuring its perpetual inclusion in the wardrobe of hipsters both young and old. It's egalitarian nature has been preserved and folks ranging from bearded Brooklyn youths to web-posting connoisseurs of 20th Century Classics ensure that it's legacy lives on.

Thanks to the gang over at The Roll Call on Facebook for the inspiration. For further reading, I highly recommend checking out the archival entries in Pendleton's own weblog. For vintage Disneyland photos, one can do no better than Gorillas Don't Blog.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vertigo (1958)

The legacy of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo looms over the city of San Francisco - particularly for those of us with an interest in cinema, the 20th Century, and popular culture. For example just the other day this article ran in our local daily And, as you can see, there is no shortage of controversy over a seemingly simple matter - a facade that was preserved on celluloid for a mere few seconds. And yet, it manages to rile emotions to rival any other issue at hand. So what with that and Sascha Gervasi's Hitchcock opening in select theaters this Friday, I thought I would take another look at Hitch. More specifically, let's take another look at the opening title sequence credited to the great modern designer Saul Bass.

It's an impressive piece of film. Here is the sequence in stills, courtesy of Christian Annyas. The visual brilliance of Bass is married perfectly to the musical brilliance of Bernard Hermann.

Vertigo title sequence still, designed by Saul Bass, 1958

Or at least it is credited to Saul Bass.

One rabbit hole I recently went down led me to the Vortex concerts that took place here in San Francisco in 1957. While the concerts certainly deserve an entry of their own, in short the concerts took place at the Morrison Planetarium in Golden Gate Park, sponsored by KPFA and the California Academy of Sciences. The concerts were put together by Henry Jacobs, who I know of through his side-splittingly hip disc, The Wide Weird World of Shorty Petterstein on World Pacific Records (1958). I had re-listened to the disc on the way to a gig recently, when my interest in Jacobs was rekindled and I spent some time following what online leads there were on him.

A Chicago-native, Jacobs moved to SF in 1953. He was part sound collagist, part comic, and all hipster (in the best sense of the word). His "spoken word" recordings really deserve repeat listenings as they truly get funnier and funnier. His musique concrete works are admittedly over my head a bit, but still of interest. It is with the latter that he collaborated with visual artist Jordan Belson on the Vortex concerts. Jacobs was intrigued by the Planetarium's surround-sound which consisted of 38 speakers positioned throughout the auditorium. He saw the potential in such a system for musical performance and the visual aspect was a natural partnership. It was a successful happening and performances continued throughout 1959 (including a 1958 appearance at the World's Fair in Brussels). Folkways Records released a compilation of some of the music and remains in print. By all accounts, the performances were innovative precursors to the sound and light shows rock music would adopt in the late-1960s (not to mention "laserium" shows decades later).

Highlights of Vortex, Folkways LP, 1959

During the run of the Vortex series, Jacobs and Belson drew from the talents of several additional artists. On the musical side this included Bill Loughborough, whose shortlist of accomplishments included co-writing "Better Than Anything" (popularized by the great Bob Dorough) with room-mate and Kingston Trio bass player David "Buck" Wheat and playing percussion for Chet Baker's combo for several years in the mid-1950s. The group of contributing visual artists included two Southern California-born brothers named John and James Whitney.

John and James Whitney, c.1955

Both brothers were experimental film-makers whose abstract visual collaborations stretched back to 1939. John was born in Pasadena, California and went to college at the nearby Pomona College in Claremont (which among other things is where I wasted away a good portion of my high school years over copious amounts of Earl Grey tea!). Upon graduation he spent a year in Paris studying music with René Leibowitz. Liebowitz in turn had studied with both Maurice Ravel and Arnold Schoenberg and instructed Whitney in the latter's 12-tone system of music. But upon his return to California, Whitney shifted his focus to the visual arts often in partnership with his brother.

Variations on a Circle, John & James Whitney, 1941-1942

The imagery was linked back to music, certainly in the artists minds, but later more explicitly in the soundtracks the brothers selected for each. Early films were analogue in a true sense of the word, with the images being manipulated by hand for the camera. In this, the brothers were very successful. They continued using this method for just over a dozen years and just about as many films. Both worked on their own projects in addition to their collaborations. John even did 3 films for UPA. But some time in the early-to-mid-1950's the brothers hit upon a notion of how to use machinery to better articulate their goals. Using surplus military parts, John constructed their first "computers" which they used to make their animated features. Several years later, John explained for a documentary team:

Computers: Challenging Man's Supremacy, 1976

By now, I am pretty sure you can see where I am going. Well it turns out that one of John Whitney's side projects was a full-blown collaboration with the design firm of Saul Bass. The result of this collaboration? Why the title sequence to Vertigo of course! Several reliable sources confirm that the two produced the piece together, although Bass solely received the credit onscreen. What is perhaps most interesting when one takes another look at the sequence after ploughing through this weblog entry is how closely tied the titles are to the other work of the Whitneys. In fact, add Hermann's strikingly modern score and it is not a world away from what one may have experienced at the Morrison Planetarium in 1957 or 1958 at one of the Vortex concerts. And considering that Hitchcock was in San Francisco filming at that very time...well, let's just leave it there for now. A little suspense never hurt anyone and something tells me this is not the end of this story!

Catalog, John Whitney, 1961