Pop Philosophy

And God created swinging

If you lie awake at night wondering whatever happened to Jane Asher, the British actress who nearly married Paul McCartney, or Lulu, the singer of "To Sir With Love," I've got just the remedy for you. No, it's not a free trip to the loony bin; it's Swingin' Chicks of the '60s, a well-researched, lovingly designed, where-are-they-now book by Marin County's Chris Strodder. Released late last year, Swingin' Chicksprofiles 101 of the shagadelic decade's primo females, from sex symbols like Ann-Margret to one-role wonders like Tina Louise (Ginger on Gilligan's Island). The tome has been reviewed in Playboy, National Enquirer, and the pre-"Sundays will never be the same" Chronicle, and has gotten Strodder interviewed on E!, A&E, and Joe Franklin's radio show. Recently his Web site, swinginchicks.com, made further news by drawing attention to and eliciting support for the cancer plight of former bikini-flick queen Deborah Walley (who has since passed away).

Why is a North Bay fellow suddenly the world's biggest authority on swinging chicks? Because of Angela Cartwright.

In 1965 Strodder developed his first crush watching Cartwright play Penny Robinson on Lost in Space. Thirty-five years later Strodder found himself at the precipice of the millennium, wondering what had happened to the silver-suited love of his childhood.

"I did some digging -- not stalking or anything, just libraries and the Internet," he says via phone from his office in San Rafael. "It turned out [Cartwright] was doing great. She owned a store in Hollywood and had lived happily ever after. So I wrote up a biography and circulated it to a few people, who [then] fed me more suggestions of names they remembered from the '60s that they were interested in knowing about."

In July 1998 Strodder put the 35 bios up on his Web site. A week later Yahoo hailed it as a "Cool Link," and site traffic soared from 500 to 50,000 hits a day. Soon after Strodder inked a deal with local publisher Cedco for the book, a wall calendar, and a daily desk calendar.

I asked him what he thought was so special about the women of the '60s. "They were beautiful and really talented and they were leading this revolution," Strodder says. "Before them, you didn't have women who were stars of the movies or leading the rock bands or famous writers or supermodels."

While Strodder's view of history may be a bit cloudy, the book does move beyond the usual sex kittens to include groundbreakers like Cosmopolitan Editor Helen Gurley Brown, miniskirt designer Mary Quant, and, um, cartoon character Veronica Lodge. Strodder also did his best to highlight lesser-known actresses and figures whose lives haven't been documented elsewhere.

"Some of the cult favorites had been lost," he says. "A lot of women in the book weren't that famous -- they had one album and then faded, or were on one TV show. I tried to fill in the gaps with the not-so-famous ones."

To that end, we learn that Capucine, the French beauty from The Pink Panther, named herself after a plant that decreases sex drive; Judy Carne, the British "sock it to me" girl from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, ended up singing in Mexican nightclubs after cockfights; and one-time local singer Grace Slick planned to slip acid into Richard Nixon's drink when she was invited to the White House. It's that mix of jolly gossip-mongering and loopy detail that makes the book so charming.

"The big discovery throughout [the researching] was how diverse their backgrounds were and how diverse their lives had become. Most of them went on to do really terrific things: write children's books or run a company or raise large families. There's this stereotype of '60s people as total casualties that burned out and died of overdoses, but most of them went on to these productive lives."

"The topic is so fun and so interesting," Strodder continues. "People ask me all the time ... "What happened to this person?' or "Did you ever see that old movie?' And this book appeals to that."

I, for one, am dying to find out whether Veronica ever got "three-dimensional" with Betty.

Over there they call it the "American Rebellion"Awhile back I mentioned this great London club night called "Radio4" ("The difference between "naff' and "wack,'" April 25). Since the club is run by Alan McGee, former head of Creation Records and a man obsessed with conquering the Colonies, it makes sense to bring "Radio4" to the U.S. Having chosen S.F. as one of five North American locales to visit, the carrot-topped Scot will spin discs and drain pints on Wednesday, May 30, at the Make-Out Room. Local band Oranger, which is signed to McGee's new label Poptones in the U.K., will perform. Call 647-2888 for information.

 
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