This is some Grade A (or Triple-A?) trivia about the Oscar-winning director Todd Field:
Soon they were experimenting in the kitchen of Candy Field, Todd’s mother, who still lives in the Portland, Ore., home where Big League Chew was pioneered. To imitate the brown color of chewing tobacco, Nelson ordered a root-beer-flavored, gum-making kit from a company in Texas, which he discovered in the pages of People magazine, and they sliced their first batch of homemade gum with a pizza cutter.
Better than the origin story of the shredded gum itself is the plot twist: Field feels he’s much better off not having found wealth, fame, and success as a teenager bubblegum magnate, as it would have wrecked his later creative career!
My mind was somewhat blown when I discovered that the Clash filmed the video for Rock the Casbah here in Austin, TX back in 1981 (go watch it, it’s on YouTube). It became a trivia game amongst my office of long-time Austinites to try to identify all of the various shots in the video, most of which are at businesses and hangouts long gone (you’ll see the original Posse at 24th & Guadalupe, the Alamo Hotel, the Burger King on the Drag, the gas station across from Oat Willie’s on 29th, the old City Coliseum music venue, etc.).
Before I go into the long Austin-nerd story below, I learned a couple of other amazing things about this video via this great read:
The director of photography was Barry Sonnenfeld, who would later go on to film Raising Arizona, When Harry Met Sally, and direct the Men in Black trilogy and The Addams Family.
The “Sheik” and the “Orthodox Jew” characters were played by amateur actors. The two of them hung out with Barry Sonnenfeld that night at the Liberty Lunch, and met a couple of young dudes in town scouting for a location for their first feature film: Ethan and Joel Coen!
Now onto the deeper trivia investigation…
One long-standing mystery was the quick shot of the armadillo traipsing in front of a Winchell’s Donuts (a chain that hasn’t been seen here in decades). I came back to this recently and asked for help from Twitter and Facebook friends, and the best clue came from this excellent post from Troy Dillinger about the early days of MTV-era punk rock, Joe Ely, and the Clash. That post cites the location as S. Congress & Oltorf, so I jumped over to Google Street View to confirm, and lo and behold I think I’ve found the shot, documented with the photo below.
But then controversy: multiple people wrote to me to say “no no, it was South Lamar and Barton Skyway!” or “I remember going to that place, it was on Duval near UT, close to the Posse East”. This kind of gnawing uncertainty has a way of festering in my trivia-addled mind, so I needed to confirm for sure. Also, my officemates were now even more perplexed.
I work across the street from the Briscoe Center for American History, which conveniently has phone books for many Texas cities dating back to the early 1900s. Disguised as a researcher, I had them pull the Austin phone books for 1979–1983, and I looked up Winchell’s Donuts. Only three locations were listed, none on South Congress or Lamar or even the implausible Duval. What the heck, yo.
Thankfully, my boss earlier pointed out the red DRUGS sign on the building in the background (early subliminal messaging in a music video?? ;). We couldn’t read the blurry hexagonal sign just behind the Winchell’s, but this drugstore sign was a great clue. The 1980s phone books listed a Revco Drugs at 2301 S. Congress, exactly the address where I took this Street View shot. The logo looks right, if you can imagine what the 1980s stylized version would be, with the outsized script R. Also, Revco was purchased in the late 1990s by CVS, which exists at that location today, and to my eyes it looks like they just swapped logos on the hexagonal sign.
Further evidence: another shot in the Clash video was filmed outside a Victorian-style house, which is now a Wells Fargo bank right across the street from this Congress & Oltorf location.
Hat tip to one Daniel Lugo for pointing out the identical 3 poles and fire hydrant, and to everyone else who wrote to share links or other anecdotes about 1980s Austin!
UPDATE October, 2015:
I’ve heard from a number of nice people with personal connections to this location and even with this video shoot, but a reader just now pointed out that I got so caught up on the Revco detail that I neglected to mention where the stupid Winchell’s Donuts was exactly!
That reader speculates that the location is where the Subway currently is (2315 S Congress Ave), and I believe that’s true. The double-poled Subway sign is likely yet another clue / confirmation. Unless you know otherwise!
This list has been making the rounds for a couple of weeks now, but I’m just getting to it. Pretty thorough, but Marsha was sad to see no mention of the Frugal Gourmet! If you need more ‘splainin’ about their allusive lyrics or samples, you might try the even more comprehensive BeastieMania Song Spotlight, which ought to keep you busy for a long, long while.
Why is it so much better that the name Jelly Belly can refer to either the brand of fancy jellybeans or the horrific disease pseudomyxoma peritonea, in which a tumor causes excess mucus production that swells the abdomen and compresses and endangers the various torso vital structures?
David Klein, the creator of the Jelly Belly (the candy, not the stomach cancer…), responded to the above post with the trivia that the bean’s name was inspired by the name of blues musician Lead Belly, which he’d heard on an episode of Sanford & Son. I’ll go one step further down the trivia chain: I assume he’s referring to the episode “The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection” (YouTube straight to the clip)!
This almost seems poetic: Klein named his candy business after watching a TV episode about a man unwittingly selling his valuable record collection, and later he himself met a similar fate, forced to sell his rights to Jelly Belly early on, for a significantly low value.