By the time Naughty by Nature took over the stage around 5 p.m., the crowd had swelled, and the smell of marijuana hung thick.
“What do I miss about the ’90s?” said Timmy Johnson, 26, a fashion designer who was channeling Mel B. from the Spice Girls in a leopard-print cape and platform sneakers chunkier than a dictionary. “Uh, everything?”
Her friend, in a D.I.Y. Ginger Spice outfit, sighed and summed it up. “The innocence,” she said.
Ahem. So this happened:
Speaking for myself, the thing I miss the most about the 90s is the music. Most of my favorite records are either from that decade, or I discovered them during it. How about you?
Kids who grew up in the northeast in the 1980s were pretty invested in a fad that might have gone unnoticed in warmer parts of the country. Cajoling their parents at department stores during shopping trips, hundreds of thousands of them came home sporting a pair of Freezy Freakies—thick winter gloves that came with a built-in parlor trick. When the temperature dipped below 40°F, an image would suddenly appear on the back part of the material.
Swany America Corporation, which made, marketed, and distributed the gloves, released more than 30 original designs beginning in 1980. There was a robot, a unicorn, rocket ships, ballerinas, rainbows, snowflakes, and various sports themes, though the “I Love Snow” image (below) may have been the most popular overall. At the height of Freezy mania, Swany was moving 300,000 pairs of gloves per year, which accounted for about 20 percent of their overall sales.
“Boys loved the robot design,” Bruce Weinberg, Swany’s vice president and a former sales director for Freezy Freakies, tells Mental Floss. “Above 40 degrees, the image would disappear.”
The secret to the $13 Freakies was thermochromic ink, a temperature-sensitive dye that's been used in mood rings and heat-sensitive food labels and can appear translucent until it's exposed to warmer temperatures. Swany licensed the ink from Pilot, the Japanese-based pen company, after Swany CEO Etsuo Miyoshi saw the technology and thought it would be a good fit for his glove-focused operation. (Though they experimented with making luggage in the 1990s, Swany has predominantly been a manufacturer of higher-end ski gloves.)
Weinberg isn’t sure how Miyoshi settled on the “Freezy Freakies” name—the president is now retired—but says Miyoshi knew they had a hit early on. “After a few seasons, they could tell they had a winner product,” he says. Swany even put advertising dollars into TV commercials, a rare strategy for glove-makers not named Isotoner.
Pilot was able to adjust the temperature at which the ink would become transparent, or vice versa. If kids were impatient, or if it happened to be during the summer, Weinberg says it wasn’t uncommon to find Freezy Freakies stuck in the freezer so they could materialize their art design. “At trade shows, we’d do something similar with some ice or a cold soda,” he says. “All of a sudden, some ice cubes would make it change, and buyers would think that was really cool.”
The Freakies were such a hit that Swany licensed jackets and considered changing the name of the company to the same name as the glove. It’s probably just as well they didn’t: While Freakies lasted well over a decade, by the 1990s, things had cooled. In the new millennium, Swany was down to selling just a few hundred pairs a year. Color-changing ink for coffee mugs or beer cans was more pervasive, wearing down the novelty; knock-offs had also grabbed licensed cartoon characters, which Swany was never interested in pursuing.
The brand was dormant when a company named Buffoonery approached Swany in 2013 to license Freezy Freakies for a crowdfunded revival. This time, the gloves came in adult sizes for $34. The partnership has been successful, and Weinberg says Buffoonery has just signed an extension to start producing kids’ gloves.
“Parents will probably want matching ones for their kids,” Weinberg says. And both might still wind up in the freezer.
But what did these Gladiators do once they hung up their patriotic spandex and returned to the real world? Well, here's what we know:
1. DERON MCBEE (MALIBU)
Fans of B-movies might remember McBee's appearance in 1997's Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, where he played the half-equine warlord Motaro (he was joined by fellow Gladiator "Sabre," who played Jax). McBee, who trained at the Billy Blanks World Karate Studio, has also appeared in more than 30 other movies, including such blockbusters as The Killing Zone and Enter the Blood Ring. Curb Your Enthusiasm fans might remember McBee's guest appearance during the second season as former pro wrestler Thor Olson, who Larry becomes convinced slashed his tires after the two men got into an argument.
2. MARISA PARE (LACE)
After appearing in 59 episodes from 1989-1993, the ironically Canadian-born Pare, or Lace #1 to American Gladiator fans, made one appearance on the TV show Renegade with fellow former Gladiator Michael Horton. According to IMDb, she resurfaced in 1997 on an episode of Clueless, again playing Lace. Pare, whose birth name is Roebuck, married actor Michael Pare in 1986. In 1987, she appeared as a fashion show coordinator in The Women's Club, a movie in which her then-husband starred, before the two were divorced in 1988. Pare was one of two Gladiators to pose nude in Playboy.
3. MICHAEL HORTON (GEMINI)
Creatively named for his split personality "calm one minute, violent the next," Horton served as team captain of the American Gladiators during his 80-episode stint on the show, which spanned four years. His greatest claim to fame since hanging up his spandex, besides his aforementioned appearance in Renegade, of course, was his role as the security guard in Night at the Roxbury. What is love? Pounding the living daylights out of a contestant with a foam jousting stick.
4. RAYE HOLLITT (ZAP)
The Wilkes-Barre native played a reporter in 1997's Letters From a Killer, starring Patrick Swayze. She has scored several other small roles in movies and television shows, which, coupled with her 1996 appearance in Playboy, make Hollitt one of the more ubiquitous American Gladiators. She also has a (slightly NSFW) website where she details her new projects, such as screenwriting and photography, though it doesn't seem to have been updated in a while.
5. DAN CLARK (NITRO)
Danny Clark's been one of the busier Gladiators since the show went off the air. He's appeared in TV shows and movies like Walker, Texas Ranger; Ellen; Saved by the Bell; and Equilibrium, and in 2008, he served as a consulting producer on the American Gladiators relaunch. He even wrote a book about his glory days in 2009 titled Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption. After surviving a heart attack in 2013, Clark wrote another book called F Dying, which was released in 2017. He also put together a competitive mud run called The Gladiator Rock’n Run, which currently raises money for the military charity Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes.
6. CHERYL BARLDINGER (SUNNY)
Barldinger is like the Chicago Blackhawks of this original six in that she kind of disappeared after suffering an injury during her first and only season, as seen in the video above.