Not-So-Famous Firsts: Halloween Edition

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Whether you're taking some little ones out trick-or-treating or going to an adult party dressed as a radish, we join you in the spirit of Halloween and offer up a few not-so-famous firsts related to the holiday. Oh, and please have your kids save their Necco Wafers, Good 'N Plenty, Circus Peanuts and other "ick" candies for my dad, who never met a sweet treat he didn't like!

First Costume of the Costume King

If you grew up in the 1960s, 70s or 80s, you're no doubt familiar with the $2.95 Halloween costumes-in-a-bag that featured an illustrated smock and a plastic mask. Those mass-produced costumes were manufactured by Ben Cooper Inc., a Brooklyn, New York, company founded in 1937. The trick-or-treating for candy tradition was gaining serious steam at the time due to the Great Depression, and Cooper (a theatrical costume designer with a keen business sense) capitalized on the trend by producing inexpensive costumes fashioned in the likenesses of popular characters of the era. His crack legal team purchased the licensing rights first to several Disney characters, and then Spiderman, the first Marvel character to be thusly immortalized in reflective plastic. During the next 50 years everyone from Farrah Fawcett to the Beatles to Rubik (of Cube fame) to the various Smurfs were represented in the Ben Cooper line. As for the company's founder, the very first Halloween costume he ever wore was a little Devil suit at the tender age of seven.

First Visit by the Great Pumpkin

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was first broadcast on October 27, 1966, on CBS (it pre-empted My Three Sons). It was nominated for an Emmy award and has been re-broadcast every year during the Halloween season since. Charles Shulz was pleased with the positive response to his cartoon with one exception: thanks to Charlie Brown's trick-or-treat lament "I got a rock," bags and boxes and mountains of candy were forwarded to his studio from all over the world earmarked for Charlie Brown. The Great Pumpkin TV special was, of course, inspired by Schulz's daily comic strip; the first mention of the benevolent Halloween gift-bringer was mentioned in the October 26, 1959, Peanuts strip.

First Incident of Tainted Candy

Rumors about razor blades and other sharp objects found inside random apples and candy bars are as old as the tradition of trick-or-treating, but in actuality there had been no official reports of random candy tampering anywhere in the United States. That is, until October 31, 1974. That was the night that Timothy O'Bryan of Deer Park, Texas, returned from trick-or-treating and was viewing his "loot" on the living room floor of his family home along with his sister and a few friends. Timmy's dad, Ronald, announced that it was bedtime and each child could have one piece of candy before retiring. At the ruge of his father, Timmy chose a jumbo sized Pixy Stix, and after a few mouthfuls he complained that it tasted bitter. Ronald fetched Timmy some Kool-Aid to wash down the bad flavor. Moments later, Timothy began vomiting and convulsing. His parents rushed him to the hospital, but he died en route. An autopsy revealed not only that Timothy had died of cyanide poisoning, but that the poison had come from the Jumbo Pixy Stix in his trick-or-treat bag. Area parents panicked at the news and an exhaustive police investigation was launched to find the home that was allegedly distributing tainted candy. The evidence eventually pointed to Ronald O'Bryan, who was heavily in debt and had recently taken out sizable insurance policies on his children. Child killers rank very low in the prison hierarchy, so The Candyman (as he was derisively nicknamed by his fellow Death Row inmates) had to be kept in protective custody for nearly 10 years before his execution on March 31, 1984.

First Trick-or-Treat Charity

To be honest, in my youth I saw more orange UNICEF collection boxes on TV Public Service Announcements than I ever saw in the real-life hands of my fellow trick-or-treaters. (That doesn't mean that I didn't know a few unscrupulous children who called out "Trick or treat for UNICEF!" while begging in an attempt to scam some spare change.) The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was created in 1946 as a way to collect donations to provide for emergency relief of children in countries that had been devastated by World War II. Six years later Mary Emma Allison, a minister's wife in Philadelphia, was concerned by the inherent "greediness" in collecting candy from strangers and aimed to somehow turn trick-or-treating into a selfless act of charity. She'd recently seen UNICEF posters soliciting donations in order to provide powdered milk to malnourished children overseas. Allison enlisted her husband to announce a humanitarian alternative to collecting candy on Halloween – he urged church members to have their children use the specially decorated milk containers provided to collect pennies and nickels for UNICEF. That first year the Allisons' effort netted $17, which they sent off to UNICEF along with a detailed explanation of how the money had been collected. Three years later UNICEF actively began promoting the "Trick or Treat for UNICEF" program and provided millions of orange collection boxes to trick-or-treaters across the U.S. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson officially declared October 31st to be "UNICEF Day" in the United States.

First Prime Time Network Appearance of KISS

Maybe it's just me, but the wise-cracking centerpiece of Hollywood Squares never really cried out "Halloween!" But on October 29, 1976, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special was broadcast on ABC. The mind-boggling-ness of this show can be described by the guest stars: Margaret Hamilton (Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West), Billie Hayes (H.R. Pufnstuf's Witchiepoo), Betty White, Roz Kelly (Happy Days' Pinky Tuscadero), and Donny and Marie Osmond. Somewhere in the grand scheme of things they sandwiched in heavily painted hard rock band KISS, who'd achieved a measure of success on the radio the previous year with their live version of "Rock and Roll All Nite" and who were promoting their latest album, Destroyer. "Beth" had just recently entered the Billboard Top 10 (a first for the band), so the band figured a network TV appearance would help to accelerate the momentum instigated by the single and would help sell more albums. Young hecklers in the audience need to remember that back in 1976 there was no MTV or major national outlet for musical artists other than talk shows, variety shows and network specials, and even then the spots were limited and up-and-coming rock bands weren't at the top of any guest coordinator's agenda.

Feel free to share any and all of your Halloween memories, whether it be the time your mom dressed you in an embarrassing costume or the neighbor that actually distributed toothbrushes instead of candy. Oh, and BOO!

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October 30, 2010 - 7:17pm
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