Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? by Gael Cooper and Brian Bellmont

By SMW Staff

Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?“Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the 70s and 80s” is a pop-culture encyclopedia focusing on the lost items of our childhood, from After School Specials to ZOOM.  For each item, we offer up humorous and rich memories, history of the item, and also trace what happened to it – did it vanish completely (Freakies cereal), is it still going strong (Lip Smackers), or has it been revised, reintroduced or even completely replaced by something else?

(“Hannah Montana” is really a modern-day version of “Jem and the Holograms.”)

Our book is fun and light, but we also believe there’s a more serious undercurrent to its chronicle of change. Our culture is moving so fast these days, but yet the changes go almost unrealized when you’re in the middle of them. Kids today have DVD players in cars where we barely had seat belts. But although we were allowed to play outside all but unsupervised, a rare thing today, our playground equipment was practically sponsored by the tetanus-shot industry. Sometimes we get so focused on the new that we forget what we’re losing in the process.

Other times, we romanticize the past to the point where it resembles something it never was. Always a trade-off.


“After School Specials”

Preachy as Sunday school and as subtle as Gallagher, “After School Specials” tackled the juicy social issues, from divorce to date rape, that public schools in the ‘70s and ‘80s couldn’t talk about. Watching these was like peeking at those books the people you babysat for kept hidden high on a bedroom shelf. But because they were dubbed educational, you could watch completely guilt-free.

A Martian could figure out the plots from the titles alone. “Schoolboy Father.” “Andrea’s Story: A Hitchhiking Tragedy.” “Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom.” “The Boy Who Drank Too Much.” Who wouldn’t rush home after algebra to tune into these tawdry tales?

Hilariously, the scripts could have been written by a nun who didn’t get out much. Every social issue was treated with the same amount of gravitas, be it shoplifting or Satanism. But the casts were like an all-star team of teen favorites. Rob Lowe and Dana Plato made a baby! Kristy McNichol couldn’t get along with her stepdad! “After School Specials” were like the mall for kid actors: eventually, you saw everyone there.

X-tinction rating: Gone for good.

Replaced by: Lifetime movies come close, with titles like “Death of a Cheerleader,” “Too Young to be a Dad.,” and “Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?” But you can relive the real thing by picking up the original “After School Specials” on DVD, complete with school bus- and Trapper Keeper-shaped boxes.

Burger Chef

Fast food wasn’t always family-friendly. “Have It Your Way”? Have it our way or the highway, kiddo. Tykes who didn’t care for mustard or onions on their burgers were expected to suck it up — starving kids in Africa would have given anything to have some raw onion to chew on.

Into that bleak and grease-spattered world stepped Burger Chef, a chain that offered the “works bar,” where patrons could gussy up plain burgers with onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and the chain’s own “scrumptious sauce.” Want to deck your burger with a smiley-face of ketchup and a teetering ladder of pickle slices? Knock yourself out.

Burger Chef also earned points with kids by inventing the Fun Meal, a concept later borrowed by a certain clown-owned McFranchise. Their own mascots were the portly, bespectacled Burger Chef himself and his freakishly hyperactive … son? Life partner? Stunted-growth employee?

Irreparably dense young ward? Well, some short guy named Jeff, anyway, possessor of a giant cowlick and prone to shrieking things like “Burger Chef, you’re incrediBURGible!” We still miss the franchise, but at least Jeff finally shut up.

X-tinction rating: Gone for good.

Replaced by: Although the chain had more than 1,000 stores at one point, a 1982 sale of the company meant most became Hardee’s restaurants.

Fun fact: Many former Burger Chef buildings remain recognizable, despite being disguised as other restaurants or drive-through banks.

Check out NotFoolingAnybody.com for photographic evidence.

Visit their website at www.whateverhappenedtopuddingpops.com


Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is a Twin Cities born-and-raised journalist who now lives in Seattle with her husband, Rob, and daughter Kelly. USAToday.com named her one of the Top Pop Culture People of 2002. Her personal weblog, Pop Culture Junk Mail, dates to 1999. Entertainment Weekly named the site one of “100 Web sites you must know now,” and The New York Times has called it “one of the best places to explore pop culture online.” She didn’t exactly name her daughter after Kelly Garrett on “Charlie’s Angels” or Kelly Leak from “The Bad News Bears,” but there may have been some influence.

Former TV news reporter and producer Brian Bellmont is a public relations consultant in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Jen and daughters Rory and Maddy. He’s an award-winning food writer and aspiring novelist, and is a fan of all things pop-culturey, from horror flicks to comic books, Broadway musicals to beach reads, terrible sitcoms to The Backyardigans. Over the years, he’s interviewed pop-culture staples like Adam West, Barry Williams, Loni Anderson, and Davy Jones; contributed to msnbc.com and dozens of other media outlets; and written the copy on the back of a bag of yogurt-covered raisins.

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