INTERVIEW: Charles Phoenix

Charles Phoenix is a humorist, entertainer, archivist and author, he has become a popular personality known for his retro slide shows, field trip tours and books.

He has been collecting other people's vintage 35mm family and travel slides in thrift shops for years which soon became an addiction.

He began sharing his passion for mid-century American culture with slides developed into crowd-and-critic-pleasing live slide show performances.

At the 2003 New York Fringe Theatre Festival, Phoenix’s GOD BLESS AMERICANA: THE RETRO VACATION SLIDE SHOW TOUR OF THE USA was awarded "The Most Unique Theatrical Performance." In Los Angeles he has performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Redcat Theater and American Cinematheque/Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. In February 2004, Phoenix was invited by Roy Disney to be the "opening act" at the meeting in Philadelphia.

Recently Phoenix has added tour guide to his repertoire. His Los Angeles based, Retro School Bus Field Trip Tours are fun-filled urban adventures.

Southern Californialand: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome, his newest book, published by Angel City Press, will be available in June 2004. His other colorful books celebrate 50's era American road trips, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Southern California and the Pomona Valley east of Los Angeles.

ASG: What got you interested in the unique hobby of collecting old slides?

CP: I found a box of old slides marked "trip across the USA 1957" in a thrift shop and was hooked immedietly and then soon became addicted to collecting them. That was twelve years ago.

ASG:How did you come to put together a public show of it?

CP: After collecting many more abandoned collections of other peoples old slides I really wanted to share them so I decided to see if I could do a retro vacation slide show at a local map and travel store here in Los Angeles. At first the owners of the store said "no way!" They thought that nobody would want to see other peoples old vacation slides but I knew people would enjoy them. At first I was totally serious in my commentary but then the audience started laughing at everything. I never thought my slide shows were going to be funny.

ASG: What would you consider some of the most off-the-wall, unique or stand-out slides you have in your collection?

CP: That's impossible. There are SO many! Recently I found some great slides from the 1939 New York World's Fair. Disneyland's original Tomorrowland when it was the "world of 1987" are always great to find. I found some bizarre slides from a 1957 Christmas Bondage Party where the woman were bound and gagged. A 1950s guy smoking inside the American Cancer Society, there are so many!

ASG: In your show you have a lot of background information on each slide. Do you deduce the information solely from the time period it was taken, or do you have other sources for your information (i.e. relatives of the people, written notes on the actual slides, etc)?

CP: Looking at all the other slides in a collection I'm usally able to get some back-story on the people. I never make anything up about the people -- that wouldn't be too interesting to me. It's more fun to tell the truth about them.

ASG: What would you say the average audience demographic is for your shows?

CP: 9 - 90. All ages seem to enjoy it.

ASG: Are you only interested in slides, or are you into vintage 8mm home movies and other media as well?

CP: Oh, I collect home movies too. But that's another story all together.

ASG: What would you state your mission statement or goal or your show is?

CP: To see and share as many amazing 1940s 1950s 1960 1970s as I possibly can and to share the most spectacular ones in books, and sldie shows etc.

ASG: Would you say you are living the vintage/retro lifestyle? And if yes, how so.

CP: Well I've never driven an new car, Currently my daily driver is a untouched factory original 1960 Ford Fairlane 500. Nothing in my apartment is new. I prefer everything to be between 40 and 60 years old.

ASG: In your opinion what is the difference between "kitsch" and "vintage".

CP: Anything old is vintage. Kitsch is extreme and exaggerated and always pushing the limits of good taste.

ASG: Are we over-romanticizing the past?

CP: Not everybody does, but I certainly do. My version of it is almost a fantasy. It's not because I tell the truth, But I leave the negative aspects out.

ASG: Tell me about your book. Is it a good substitute for someone who would not be able to see your show in person?

CP: My new book SOUTHERN CALIFORNIALAND: MID-CENTURY CULTURE IN KODACHROME, is exactly that. It's a coffee table book that shows what California is all about. But, is is really nothing like seeing one of my slide shows because I have a way of inflecting tone into my voice when I commentate a show and there is really no way to include that in a book. My books and slide shows are totally different. They are such different media.

ASG: Anything else you'd care to add that was not mentioned.

CP: Yeah, thanks. Please check out my website and If any of your readers have any old slides that they want to get rid of, I'm inteested. They can contact me thru my website.


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