Wednesday, December 10, 2008

5 Comic Superheroes Who Made a Real-World Difference

the mag
by the mag

new-einsteins2.jpgEditor’s Note: To promote the mental_floss Holiday Subscription Special, I’ve asked co-founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur to select some of their favorite mag articles from 2008. Today’s story comes from Mark Juddery, a regular here on the blog. And if it puts you in a subscription-giving mood, here are the details.

by Mark Juddery, from the November-December issue

If you think superheroes do amazing things in comic books, you won’t believe what they can do off the page. For starters, Superman brought down the Ku Klux Klan, Donald Duck raised ships from the ocean floor, and Spider-Man transformed the American justice system.

1. Superman Defeats the Ku Klux Klan

superman0.jpgIn the 1940s, The Adventures of Superman was a radio sensation. Kids across the country huddled around their sets as the Man of Steel leapt off the page and over the airwaves. Although Superman had been fighting crime in print since 1938, the weekly audio episodes fleshed out his storyline even further. It was on the radio that Superman first faced kryptonite, met The Daily Planet reporter Jimmy Olsen, and became associated with “truth, justice, and the American way.” So, it’s no wonder that when a young writer and activist named Stetson Kennedy decided to expose the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, he looked to a certain superhero for inspiration.

In the post-World War II era, the Klan experienced a huge resurgence. Its membership was skyrocketing, and its political influence was increasing, so Kennedy went undercover to infiltrate the group. By regularly attending meetings, he became privy to the organization’s secrets. But when he took the information to local authorities, they had little interest in using it. The Klan had become so powerful and intimidating that police were hesitant to build a case against them. Struggling to make use of his findings, Kennedy approached the writers of the Superman radio serial. It was perfect timing. With the war over and the Nazis no longer a threat, the producers were looking for a new villain for Superman to fight. The KKK was a great fit for the role. In a 16-episode series titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” the writers pitted the Man of Steel against the men in white hoods. As the storyline progressed, the shows exposed many of the KKK’s most guarded secrets. By revealing everything from code words to rituals, the program completely stripped the Klan of its mystique. Within two weeks of the broadcast, KKK recruitment was down to zero. And by 1948, people were showing up to Klan rallies just to mock them.

2. Popeye Helps America Survive the Great Depression

popeye0.jpgEveryone knows Popeye’s secret. Whenever the cartoon sailor is on the verge of losing a fight, he squeezes open a can of spinach, pours the greens down his throat, and uses his supercharged muscles to pummel opponents. But fewer people know that the U.S. government is directly responsible for his dependence on canned vegetables.

In the 1930s, America was mired in the Great Depression, and the government was looking for a way to promote iron-rich spinach as a meat substitute. To help spread the word, they hired one of America’s favorite celebrities, Popeye the Sailor Man. It was a smart plan. In all of the comic strips to that point, Popeye’s superhuman strength had never been explained. But with the government’s campaign in place, Popeye was suddenly more than willing to share the secret to his strength. Sure enough, soon after Popeye took up spinach, American sales of the mighty veggie increased by one-third. Better still, American children rated it their third favorite food, right after turkey and ice cream.

But it wasn’t just spinach the government was endorsing. They were also pushing the merits of canned food. U.S. officials wanted Americans to know that cans were the perfect way to stock up on emergency rations.

While Popeye should be applauded for persuading a nation to eat its greens, he did mislead people a bit. The government’s enthusiasm for spinach was based in part on the calculations of German scientist Dr. E von Wolf, who’d discovered in 1870 that spinach contains iron. When calculating the results, he misplaced a decimal point, thereby making it “official” that spinach had 10 times more iron than it actually did. Not until years later were these figures rechecked. But by then, everyone was downing their spinach, hoping to be as tough as Popeye.

3. Captain Marvel Jr. Saves the Bad-Hair Day

capt-marvel-jr.jpgLike most American kids in the 1940s, Elvis Presley fantasized about growing up to be like his favorite comic book superheroes. But it turns out that The King might have been more interested in their fashion statements than their special powers.

During his early teen years, Elvis was obsessed with Captain Marvel Jr., known as “America’s most famous boy hero.” A younger version of Captain Marvel, the character sported an unusual hairstyle that featured a curly tuft of hair falling over the side of his forehead.

Sound familiar? When Elvis set out to conquer America with his rock ‘n’ roll ways, he copied the ’do, thus making it one of the most famous hairstyles of the 20th century. But that wasn’t all. Captain Marvel also gets credit for the short capes Elvis wore on the back of his jumpsuits, as well as The King’s famous TCB logo, which bears a striking resemblance to Marvel’s lightning bolt insignia. Of course, Elvis never tried to hide his love for the Captain. A copy of Captain Marvel Jr. #51 still sits in his preserved childhood bedroom in an apartment in Memphis, and his full comics collection remains intact in the attic at Graceland. Plus, the admiration was mutual. Captain Marvel Jr. paid tribute to The King in one issue, referring to the singer as “the greatest modern-day philosopher.”

4. Donald Duck’s Scientific Breakthrough

donald-duck-0.jpgIn 1966, Danish engineer Karl Krøyer developed a method for raising sunken ships off the ocean floor by injecting them with polystyrene foam balls. However, when Krøyer tried to license his invention with the Dutch patent office, he was denied. Donald Duck had beaten him to the punch by 22 years.

Indeed, Krøyer’s concept could be traced back to a Donald Duck comic conceived by Carl Barks. In addition to being the most celebrated artist of the Donald Duck comics, Barks was known for his scientific prowess. So in a 1944 story, when Donald got a bump on his head that turned him into a genius, the duck managed to mumble, “If I mix CH2 [a methylene compound] with NH4 [ammonium] and boil the atoms in osmotic fog, I should get speckled nitrogen!”

Although it sounded like nonsense, it wasn’t. In 1963, chemists P.P. Gaspar and G.S. Hammond wrote a technical article about methylene that included a reference to the Donald Duck story. The final paragraph read, “Among experiments which have not, to our knowledge, been carried out as yet is one of a most intriguing nature suggested in the literature of no less than 19 years ago.” A footnote revealed that “literature” as the Donald Duck comic. It seems the web-footed children’s hero had deduced the chemical intermediate long before it had been proven to exist.

But why were these top American chemists looking to comics for inspiration? Apparently, Dr. Gaspar had been a lifelong Donald Duck fan, and he’d rediscovered Donald’s early reference to methylene while collecting old copies of the classic adventures. Gaspar never disclosed how much his work owed to Duckburg’s most famous resident, but then again, how many scientists would confess that they used comic books to bolster their research?

5. A Spider-Man Villain Keeps Folks Out of Jail

kingpin.jpgIn a 1977 edition of Spider-Man, Peter Parker has the tables turned on him. The villain, Kingpin, tracks down Spidey using an electronic transmitter that he’d fastened to the superhero’s wrist. Although Kingpin loses in the end (he always does), one New Mexico judge saw beauty in his plan. Inspired by the strip, Judge Jack Love turned to computer salesman Michael Goss and asked if he could create a similar device to keep track of crime suspects awaiting trial. In 1983, Goss produced his first batch of electronic monitors. Authorities in Albuquerque then tested the devices on five offenders, using the gadgets as an alternative to incarceration. Today, the transmitters are a common sight in courtrooms across the country, usually in the form of electronic ankle bracelets. Most famously, Martha Stewart donned one while she was under house arrest in 2004. Perhaps she would have felt better knowing that the gadget had once nabbed Spider-Man, too.

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Steve Jobs key to selecting tunes for Apple ads

By AppleInsider Staff

Ever wonder how those catchy tunes find their way into Apple's iPod commercials? You'll have to look no further than the ear of chief executive Steve Jobs.

In a SongFacts interview with the Asteroids Galaxy Tour, beatmaker Lars Iversen explains how his band's hyperkinetic track "Around The Bend" was selected as the jingle for Apple's second-generation iPod touch television ad.

The Danish band is represented in the United States by a little-known company called Synch, which managed to get in touch with Apple and arrange for a sit down meeting with Jobs himself.

While listening to some of the songs suggested by Synch, the Apple co-founder reportedly slammed on the brakes during a sample of "Around The Bend," declaring, "This is it, this is the new track for the iPod Touch."

"Apparently he just loved that track, but we never saw it as one of our singles," Iversen said. "We have some other songs that we thought would be great singles, and that would work cool on for the radio, but he really loved that song."

Iversen noted that the selection was made ahead of the September introduction of the new iPod touch, and therefore everything was kept hush, hush. The band was even kept in the dark about some edits Apple made to the flow of its song, which it wasn't too thrilled with initially.

"They keep it under wraps up to the release of the new product, so we were just told: 'You guys are going to be in this ad, and you have to be happy and smile about that,'" he said. "I kind of like it now when I've seen it a few times, it sort of works well with the pictures - you see two hands playing with the iPod and all these silly computer games and so on."

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Biel stripper trailer !

Here we have your first look at POWDER BLUE, also known as THAT MOVIE WHERE JESSICA BIEL WILL PLAY A STRIPPER. In the movie, four Los Angelenos - a mortician, an ex-con, a suicidal ex-priest, and a stripper - are brought together on Christmas Eve by a mixture of circumstances. Jessica Biel plays a stripper. Lisa Kudrow, Forest Whitaker and Ray Liotta are also involved. Most importantly though, Jessica Biel plays a stripper.

Hit up to check out the screencaps. Somehow she doesn't do a thing for me, but don't be ashamed to print them out and paste them all over your walls. I'm certain Dave Davis has already. In fact I'm pretty sure if you kicked his door down it would look like John Doe's place in there.

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Is Bill Murray NYC's New Party Boy?

Why is 58-year-old actor Bill Murray popping up unannounced at Williamsburg house parties and hanging out with twentysomething hipsters? Sarah Horne explores the mystery of the scene's most unlikely, late-blooming It guy.

The actor joined a table of comely young strangers (from left: Jessica Haigh, Sophie Donnelly and Sophie Ellis) at Chelsea's Half King pub in October.

Photo: Sophie Ellis

The actor joined a table of comely young strangers (from left: Jessica Haigh, Sophie Donnelly and Sophie Ellis) at Chelsea's Half King pub in October.

At around 3:30 on the morning after Halloween, two dozen twentysomething hipsters linger at a loft party in East Williamsburg. The kegs are dry, but die-hard stragglers are still dancing drunkenly in the main room. Dave Summers, a 29-year-old grad student at the Bank Street College of Education and one of the party's hosts, has dressed as a cloud for the night—his baby-blue T-shirt and baseball cap covered in dozens of white cotton balls. While several guests have come as Sarah Palin, one is in a furry yellow duck costume. Another is Bill Murray's character from the 1980 film Caddyshack.

Suddenly, one of Dave's guests runs over to tell him: "The real Bill Murray just walked in the door."

"You're joking," Dave scoffs.

"No, really, he's here."

Bill Murray with his ex-wife Jennifer

Photo: J. Vespa/WireImage

Bill Murray with his ex-wife Jennifer

Still not entirely convinced, but worried the actor might leave if there's no booze, Dave runs to a nearby bodega to grab some beer. When he returns, the shopping bag breaks in the hallway. As errant bottles roll across the floor, suddenly there's Bill Murray—leaning down to help collect the beer and even sticking one in his shirt pocket.

Soon the 58-year-old actor—dressed as himself, Dave and his friends presume—is trading quips with fresh-faced Ivy League grads in the loft's hallway, while drinking a bottle of Modelo Especial. Eventually Bill even hits the dance floor and displays some decent moves. "It wasn't like he was John Travolta or something," said one observer afterwards, "but it wasn't embarrassing."

The whole scene is kind of goofy and light-hearted until a young male guest approaches Bill, who is probably his dad's age, and says, "I think you're making bad life choices." It is as if someone has told the emperor he isn't wearing any clothes. After the dancing, and the beers, and a weird conversation with Dave about the joys of sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows (inspired by the cotton ball cloud costume), the Oscar-nominated star cordially thanks his hosts and slips away into the night. The next day, guests trade photos of Bill on the dance floor. Everyone, including the Hollywood star, pretty much looks wrecked.

Later, Dave found out that Bill had been party-hopping with the band MGMT, the hot Brooklyn duo featured on the November cover of Spin, after attending their concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg that night. "There he was in my apartment, just having a good time like everybody else," Dave says now, still amazed. "I felt something between excitement and incredulity that he was there—and that my party must be pretty fun
because he didn't just leave."

Bill Murray alongside old party pal and SNL castmate Dan Aykroyd.

Photo: NBC/courtesy Everett Collection

Bill Murray alongside old party pal and SNL castmate Dan Aykroyd.

But the weirdest part of the experience is not that Bill showed up at some random ragtag Halloween party, but that it's only one of several out-of-place encounters New York City hipsters have had with the actor in the past few months. From hanging out with rock bands to hitting on twentysomething women at bars, Bill seems to be going through his own unique midlife crisis. He's not a boozy, sweaty party hound who gets caught on camera cheesing it up with pretty young girls (see: Mel Gibson, Bono); rather, he's more like a ghost in the night, who shows up out of nowhere, engages in utterly random conversations and then exits gracefully—leaving witnesses to wonder what the hell just happened. Deadpan, detached and seeming a bit lonely, Bill Murray is NYC's most unlikely new party guy.

This has been a rough year for the actor. In mid May, Jennifer Butler Murray, Bill's wife of 11 years and the mother of four of his young sons (he has two more boys from his first marriage to Margaret Kelly), filed for divorce on the grounds of his "adultery, addiction to marijuana and alcohol, abusive behavior, physical abuse, sexual addictions, and frequent abandonment." In divorce papers obtained by, Jennifer went on to claim that one of America's most beloved comedic actors had hit her in the face during a November 2007 argument and said she was "lucky he didn't kill her." Their divorce was finalized on June 13 and Bill remained at the couple's home in Palisades, New York, about 20 miles north of the city.

Bill foreshadowing his real-life future in a scene from Lost in Translation

Photo: Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection

Bill foreshadowing his real-life future in a scene from Lost in Translation

In recent years, the star who honed his comedic chops on Saturday Night Live, and in madcap films like Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day has entered a darker phase of his acting career. And while his slightly offbeat broad comedy established him as a bankable Hollywood star, it's Bill's more recent "blue period" that has truly earned him credibility. In the Wes Anderson films Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Bill gave unsettling performances, playing weathered misanthropes (or, to put it another way, bastards).

Sometimes that edge has benefited him: His mournful performance as the washed-up movie star Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation earned him an Academy Award nomination. Three years ago, Bill told a reporter for The Guardian in Britain that that movie had resonated with him: "You are always away from home, as a film actor....You can't sleep, you put on the television in the middle of the night when you can't understand a word, and you make phone calls back home which don't really give you the comfort they should. I know what it's like to be that stranger's voice calling in." In a scene from that movie, Bill's character follows Scarlett Johansson, playing a young stranger who he has just met in a Tokyo hotel, to a karaoke party filled with Japanese scenesters half his age. He does shots and croons Roxy Music's "More Than This."

Now, with his real-life marriage in tatters, Bill seems to be perpetually stuck in his own version of Groundhog Day meets Lost in Translation—involuntarily repeating that excruciating yet endearing party scene, trawling for serendipity in the New York night.

A few weeks before Halloween, on the night before the October 7 New York premiere of his film City of Ember, Bill popped up again, seemingly adrift, at the Half King, the West Chelsea pub co-owned by author Sebastian Junger. Sophie Ellis, a petite brunette 22-year-old in town from London for journalism work-study, and two pretty young friends were having a quiet drink, when the actor walked in and unexpectedly joined their table, buying them two bottles of champagne. As Sophie remembers, "I suppose he was slightly flirtatious, but really, it was more like he obviously wanted a bit of a chat. He seemed a little lonely. We started talking about Mexican food and he said, 'Right, later this week I'll take you all out for Mexican food. I'll send you the best avocados in the mail so you can make fresh guacamole.' He was very gentlemanly, even though he looks quite grumpy—like a granddad." At the end of the night, he walked the girls out to the curb and hailed them a cab. "It was surreal," Sophie says. "I was like, 'Why are you here, talking to us?' " Before they parted ways, she and her friends posed for a photo with the actor.

Bill Murray living it up in Chicago in March

Photo: Will Byington

Bill Murray living it up in Chicago in March

Back in his SNL days of the late '70s, Bill used to hang out with his castmates at the Blues Bar, a NYC dive owned by co-star Dan Aykroyd. "[I would] stay until the sun came up. You had to blow off a lot of steam [after taping the show]," he told authors Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller in the book Live From New York. Still, his partying was never as outsize as his comedic compatriots of the time, and since leaving SNL in 1980, any bad-boy behavior has largely stayed under the radar—at least until recently. In August of 2007, Bill was pulled over by police for allegedly driving a golf cart while under the influence of alcohol in Stockholm, Sweden. The actor had been in town for the Scandinavian Masters, and took the cart, which was parked outside his trendy hotel for the week, on a joyride to the Café Opera disco. The previous fall, he landed in Britain's tabloids when he followed a 22-year-old female university co-ed to a house party in St. Andrew's, Scotland, where he had been playing in a celebrity golf tournament. Students told the papers he helped them do the dishes when it turned out there were no glasses left to drink from.

Of course, the actor has never been your typical, guarded, Hollywood VIP. On the red carpet the night after hanging out with Sophie and her friends, Bill was taken aback when reporters asked him how he felt about Scarlett Johansson's new marriage to Ryan Reynolds, and he gave a typically uncensored answer. "If I were Scarlett, I would have hung on a little longer. She's probably been having a good time dating until now," he acerbically opined. "I wish she'd have called me. I'd have talked her down." Bill is also notorious for being one of the rare movie stars to work without a publicist or agent; scripts and interview requests are handled by his lawyer, and often go unanswered. If someone really wants him to do a movie, he has said, they'll find him. (Through his lawyer, Bill turned down an interview request for this story.)

Says Ben Widdicombe, an editor at large for Star, "He's witty and candid in his answers while his more Hollywood-ized colleagues merely repeat boilerplate about how great some director is." As for Bill's reputation for being gruff with reporters, Ben says, "I used to think he didn't like talking to journalists, but then I realized he just prefers talking to journalists who are 22 years old and working heels and a push-up bra." As for why Bill's suddenly become everybody's favorite party guy, Manhattan psychotherapist Rachel Moheban has an answer: "After divorce, some men just want a whole new life. It sounds like a midlife crisis, but I don't think it's worrisome. After being married for a long time, sometimes men just like to have some fun and feel free."

Whatever the reason, Bill's new proclivity for PYTs seems to be working in his favor lately. One 30-year-old magazine editor who lives in a fashionable building in the West Village says that when he took his dog for a walk at around 7:45 a.m. on Election Day, he spotted Bill—in a tennis visor and sunglasses—emerging from his lobby. "He looked like he'd spent the night in the building," speculated the source. "Despite his getup, I recognized that adorable doughy jawline, and thought, 'Hey, Bill Murray just banged my neighbor!' It was totally a booty call." For weeks after the encounter, the source eyed up every attractive woman in his building, wondering if she was Bill's latest conquest.

And the actor isn't limiting his lothario ways to NYC. On November 14, Bill dined at Sepia in Chicago with 27-year-old Crystle Stewart, the current Miss USA (also known as the unfortunate contestant who tripped during the Miss Universe pageant this July). The former model, who has said she "wants to dedicate her life to international philanthropy," obviously cheered him up. After the dinner, he sweetly kissed a gaggle of female fans outside the restaurant, seeming to bask in their affections.

Then again, perhaps he's just toying with us all. There's an urban legend that's gone round until no one is sure who it happened to, or if it happened at all. It was late one night, a few years ago, when a young man was walking through Union Square Park. He suddenly felt someone behind him, their hands over his eyes. When he turned in surprise, there was Bill Murray, his creased face leaning in close. Bill whispered, "No one is ever going to believe you," and then just walked away.

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Kid Rock's Outlaw Blues

by Blender Magazine in The Blender Burner

So you're Kid Rock. Your job: Rocking! Which of course involves the occasional bending or breaking of various laws, some involving controlled substances, some involving gratuitous use of old Lynyrd Skynyrd riffs, and some just a violation of the natural order of things, or at least ladies underwear. But the question is: When you've bent or broken the law, and you're Kid Rock, what should the punishment be?

At least that's the question Kid Rock raised this week on his website, when he beefed about a Dekalb County, GA, judge who wouldn't let him do his community service by playing for the troops in Iraq.

Here's the background: Last year Kid Rock got into a 5 AM dust-up in a Waffle House in Atlanta. Nothing that would have been too out of place in your high-school lunch room--assuming they served chicken and waffles at your high school at 5 in the morning. Just some guys exchanging words, then punches, and breaking a window. But the police were called, a brief interlude behind bars ensued, and in the end Kid Rock got 80 hours of community service.

Kid Rock knew he was in for it even before he went before Judge Alvin T. Wong, so much so that scheduled a fund-raiser for a Dekalb County homeless shelter in advance of his court date. (He played a waffle house--of course!--and raised 20 grand.) He plays the part of the nihilistic rock rooster to the hilt, but the guy really does care, as that charity date and his life-changing trip to the Middle East to play for the troops two years back both attest.

But wait a minute! A few years back, Snoop Dogg tried to count coaching youth football as community service and ended up scrubbing toilets. Even Naomi Campbell had to haul trash when she clocked her maid with a cell phone. Judge Wong sniffed at Rock's request to credit his upcoming Iraq trip as his community service ("completely defeats the punitive purpose of performing community service"). Sorry, dude: You don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

Cheech and Chong spark up a new tour

A felony and a divorce help bring the two together after decades working apart

Tommy Chong (left, backstage with Cheech Marin in October) says of getting back to-gether, ''I would ... look at Cheech and know that I looked just as bad. It cracked me up.'' Tommy Chong (left, backstage with Cheech Marin in October) says of getting back to-gether, ''I would ... look at Cheech and know that I looked just as bad. It cracked me up.'' (Cheryl Senter for the Boston Globe)
By Nick A. Zaino III

HAMPTON BEACH, N.H. - It was early October when Cheech and Chong's "Light Up America" tour rolled into the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, but it might as well have been 1980. The room was packed for the second night in a row, a healthy line forming to buy $40 "Dave's Not Here" T-shirts, fans carrying perfectly preserved copies of Cheech and Chong albums.

Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong haven't been on the road together in 27 years, and there have been no new movies or albums, but it was clear that their appeal hasn't waned much. (The tour, which the duo says they will continue until they get tired of it, comes to the Orpheum Dec. 11 and 12.)

Most of the audience members in Hampton Beach weren't old enough to have seen 1978's "Up in Smoke" - about two guys trying to drive a van made of marijuana from Mexico to the United States - in theaters, or to have waited in line at a record store for "Big Bambu," the 1972 album that includes the classic "Sister Mary Elephant" bit. But they've become fans nonetheless.

Tony Ciampa, a 44-year-old father of six, has been hooked since seeing "Up in Smoke" on cable. Likewise, 19-year-old Matt Johnson found the duo through their movies. But some, like 51-year-old Nick "ZZ" Misso, wearing a tie-dyed headband and "Baked Fresh Daily" T-shirt, have been fans from the beginning. "I had a smile on my face this big knowing I'm coming here," he said.

Cheech and Chong's legacy, of course, is bringing pot to pop culture, but to dismiss Cheech and Chong as stoner humor misses the point.

"We were middle-of-the-road dopers, and that's the norm," said Marin. "We're the norm. We kind of embodied where the country had shifted to."

The 'felimony' tour

Backstage before the show, Marin and Chong relaxed with tour manager Jimmy Root and Chong's wife, Shelby, a comedian opening for the duo on the tour. Chong's 70-year-old face is wrinkled, his hair and beard have gone gray; Marin, 62, has lost some hair and put on a few pounds. But the energy is still there. When the pair first got together for rehearsals over the summer at Chong's house in Los Angeles, they felt the old connection - and the years. "I would look over and look at Cheech and know that I looked just as bad," said Chong. "It cracked me up."

They challenged each other to remember their old material and sometimes wound up going back to the movies and YouTube as a reference.

So why reunite now, after so long apart? "It's the 'felimony' tour," Marin said, referring to his divorce and Chong's 2003 arrest and nine-month jail term for selling bongs and marijuana pipes. "His felony, my alimony."

Marin, who also lives in LA, has carved out a living as an actor on TV shows like "Nash Bridges" and in movies like "Planet Terror," while Chong has written two books and worked on his stand-up. Chong's new book, "Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography," tells his side of how the pair met in Vancouver in '68, where Marin had fled to avoid the draft and study pottery making. They first performed together in a strip club there, doing what Marin calls "hippie burlesque" with the dancers. Their act can be traced back to vaudeville comedy teams and early improv theater - two guys willing to do whatever it took to get a laugh, whether singing a song or wearing a silly costume. Fifteen years later, after many gold records and much box office success, they got sick of each other and called it quits.

Neither of them is surprised by their popularity today, but things did get a bit strange in their absence. "All of a sudden there were starting to be Cheech and Chong impersonators in Vegas," Marin said.

"Here's two right here," said Chong, and they both laughed.

Still smokin'

Onstage at Hampton Beach, the duo performed their greatest hits, with Chong doing stand-up in between. Fans cheered Cheech's familiar get-up - red knit cap, khakis, suspenders, and white sleeveless undershirt. Two chairs became a low rider as Cheech and Chong rode again, sharing an imaginary blunt. As old couple Harry and Margaret, they snuck into a pornographic movie, just like old times. Cheech donned his tutu and Mickey Mouse ears to sing "Earache My Eye"; Chong's Blind Melon Chitlin' played the blues.

After the show, Marin and Chong were greeted by a line of fans. "It was a rowdy crowd," said Marin. "They wanted to participate. It was going back to our roots, a really big beer hall."

The afternoon before the show, Root, the manager, sat in his hotel room with a pile of laundry, including Cheech's tutu and his wrinkled Margaret dress. Root, who worked with the duo back in their heyday in the mid-'70s, sees Cheech and Chong as "path-makers." "In an oddball way, the 25-year separation has actually probably been a good thing," he said. "I think that it just goes to validate how enormously talented they are, that it could survive."

Indeed, Cheech and Chong's influence can be seen in the recent popularity of stoner comedies, such as "Pineapple Express" and the "Harold & Kumar" series. But there's more to the genre of "doper movies," Marin says, than dope. " 'Napoleon Dynamite' is a doper movie," he says. "It has that doper mentality - a little hazy, a little off."

Clearly, the duo's hazy charm continues to resonate, and this tour may not be the end of the reunion. Marin mentioned a "Spamalot"-type theater project that would tell the history of how the pair became a team. Chong sees them picking up right where they left off. "The 'Up in Smoke' movie came from our live show," he said. "So what I see us doing is touring until we get tired, and then we say, 'Let's take this bit and make a movie out of it.' "

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