The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XIV

Every Monday, mental_floss ventures into the archives of The New York Times to find first mentions worth mentioning. If you have a suggestion for next week's installment, leave us a comment.

Digital Watch

July 21, 1973

A Watch That Takes the Hard Time Out of Telling Time
pulsar1.jpgNow there's a new toy for the man with a collection of watches. The digital watch, which is operated by a sort of tiny computer, takes all the guess work out of time reading by flashing the hours and minutes in numerals on its face.
* * * * *
Sales are brisk although the Pulsar is not a thing of beauty compared to many good watches. The watch itself is thick, to accommodate its computer and battery, and weighs about four ounces with its metal strap. Until its "command" button is pressed, it shows nothing but a blank, dark-red face and looks like a dead television screen. But that, presumably, is the fun of owning one. Ask the Pulsar wearer what time it is, and without saying a word, he presses the button and you know it's 9:42.

Prozac

March 20, 1986

prozac-molecule.jpgDow Down by 1.92 in Slow Trading
Eli Lilly rose 7 7/8, to 67 1/8, on volume of 2.1 million shares. The gain was attributed to reports that its new anti-depression drug, Prozac, might also be useful as a weight-loss formula.

Keep reading for The Legend of Zelda, Super Bowl commercials, George Costanza and The Hoff.

The Legend of Zelda

December 21, 1989

The Games Played for Nintendo's Sales
zelda.jpg It takes work to avoid Nintendo. There are Nintendo television shows, a cereal and a magazine, as well as T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, pins, pajamas, beach towels and school lunch boxes.

Once Nintendo has snared a consumer, Mr. Main makes sure not to let go. Nintendo employees use hand-held computers at toy stores to monitor sales. Names of Nintendo Power magazine subscribers are added to a four-million-name data base. As many as 120 ''game counselors'' answer telephone calls from puzzled players of Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers 2. All of the information is searched for clues to marketing decisions: what products to make and how many to make of them. What does a fickle consumer, aged 8 to 15, want now?

George Costanza

May 24, 1992

Here's One Loser People Really Look Up To
costanza.jpg George Costanza is situation comedy's Job, for whom life is one continuous push into a steaming bowl of soup. He is so incompetent he can't move cars from one side of the street to the other without a crash. His social acumen is such that he wears a wedding band to entice single women. His paranormal abilities foretold only that he would be bald.

George may be a loser, but Seinfeld is not. Last week, NBC announced that the quirky sitcom will keep its Wednesday slot (at 9 P.M.) on the fall schedule.
* * * * *
George is not merely a sitcom loser or simply a quantum leap beyond other TV unfortunates like Barney Fife of The Andy Griffith Show, Mel Cooley of The Dick Van Dyke Show or Cliff Clavin of Cheers. He is the shlimazl who stirs the Seinfeld drink, the downtrodden super neurotic who suffers the worst misfortunes of the show's four single, fretful characters.

Super Bowl Commercial

January 15, 1967

A Super 60 Seconds Costs $85,000
AFL-NFL.jpg The Columbia Broadcasting System has sold its 18 minutes of Super Bowl commercials at a rate of $85,000 a minute to its advertisers. This is an increase of $15,000 from what the sponsors paid to CBS during the network's television of the National Football League's regular season games.

The National Broadcasting Company, which televised the American Football League's season games, has sold its 18 minutes at a $70,000-a-minute rate.
* * * * *
Both networks paid $1-million each as their share of the dual color telecast of today's clash in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Pop-up Ads

May 7, 1998

The American Way of Spam
Pop_up.jpg The term spam, taken from the name of the spiced lunch meat relentlessly doled out in Army rations, morphed into an epithet when Internet denizens adopted it to refer to unsolicited promotional messages. So negative is the connotation that Hormel Foods, which holds the trademark for Spam, sent a cease-and-desist letter to one publicity-minded spammer who held a press conference surrounded by cans of the pink product.
* * * * *
Spammers are fond of pointing out that AOL itself bombards users with infuriating pop-up advertisements touting such offers as ''easy 1-step photo scanning'' every time they log on. And as mainstream advertisers and nonprofit and political organizations contemplate using bulk E-mail as a way to get their messages out, just what qualifies as spam becomes increasingly murky. The Democratic Party in California, for instance, plans to send E-mail to thousands of voters with a slate of endorsements and information on the party's candidates this year.

"It's hard to get a fixed definition of spam," Ms. Mulligan said. "You know it when you see it."

David Hasselhoff

March 24, 1979

Stars of the Soap Operas Playing the Mall Circuit
hasselhoff.jpg The fans surged against restraining chains and hung over the balcony in the split-level, enclosed shopping center, to get a glimpse of their favorites. Most of them were women, including many in their 20s and 30s who had brought their babies along in strollers. There were also a number of women in wheelchairs and working women who had called in sick for the day.
* * * * *
"Soaps Alive!" was founded two years ago by Harriet Epstein, a 35-year-old soap opera addict and mother of two from Paramus, NJ. Since then, she said, she has provided soap opera stars for appearances at 101 malls.
* * * * *
Among the stars who have taken part in "Soaps Alive!" programs are Jed Allan of Days of Our Lives, Gerald Anthony of One Life to Live, David Hasselhoff of The Young and the Restless...and Victoria Wyndham of Another World.

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Recall Alert: Swiss Rolls And Bread Sold at Walmart and Food Lion Linked to Salmonella
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons // CC 1.0

New items have been added to the list of foods being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. According to Fox Carolina, snack cakes and bread products produced by Flowers Foods, Inc. have been pulled from stores in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The baked goods company, based in Georgia, has reason to believe the whey powder it buys from a third-party supplier is tainted with salmonella. The ingredient is added to its Swiss rolls, which are sold under various brands, as well as its Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread. Popular chains that normally sell Flowers Foods products include Walmart and Food Lion.

The U.S. is in the middle of a salmonella outbreak. In June, Kellogg's recalled Honey Smacks due to contamination and the CDC is still urging consumers to avoid the brand. The cereal has sickened dozens of people since early March. So far, there have been no reported illnesses connected to the potential Flower Foods contamination.

You can find the full list of recalled items below. If you have one of these products in your kitchen, throw it out immediately or return it to the store where you bought it to be reimbursed.

  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Food Lion Swiss Rolls
  • Baker's Treat Swiss Rolls
  • Market Square Swiss Rolls
  • Great Value Swiss Rolls
  • Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread

[h/t Fox Carolina]

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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