The logo that scared a generation....yeah right

Mike Brown

A pparently, they’re serious but, like so many things in our culture, its hard to tell where reality ends and parody begins.

A surprising hit video, which debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, seems to have a substantial number of people convinced that the scariest thing in America in the mid-1960s was a seven-second television logo which ran at the end of some of the era’s most popular shows.

“The S From Hell,” a 10-minute very professionally produced film makes the assertion that the Screen Gems logo terrorized an entire generation of children, caused nightmares, terrors and perhaps even actual trauma.

And if you look, you can find many websites devoted to other kid-terrorizing logos—led by Viacom’s “V of Doom.”

There’s even a name for the, uh, disease, “logophobia.”

Now I considered putting the Screen Gems logo in the upper right hand part of this column but decided against it for several reasons.

One. I don’t have Screen Gems’ permission. It’s still around, part of Sony Pictures. Two. There are people in this town perfectly capable of calling me up and saying “I saw that logo in your column and I went into a coma and it’s your fault.” (Shoot, there are people in my family who would do that.)

Three. There’s nothing there.

I’m not kidding. There isn’t anything scary in the Screen Gems logo. It is seriously nothing.

Two thick lines, more like parallelograms— those are tilted rectangles for all of you who didn’t take math from Zeke Alford at Rockdale Junior-High—appear at the top and bottom of the screen.

They start to twist around, the bottom one gets smaller and the top one larger. When they reach equal size they wrap around a dot to make a stylized “S” and the words “Screen Gems” appears at the bottom.

Eight notes of electronic music play. That’s it. Whole thing first lasted seven seconds, eventually shortened to five.

Exactly what was so scary? The documentary never really gets around to saying. But several former kids are interviewed and they remember being frightened out of their wits every time it came on. (Or say they do.) One even remembers hiding behind a couch every time the logo started.

He must have spent a lot of time behind that couch.

Screen Gems had literally dozens of television shows on the air in the early and mid 1960s and there were some tremendously heavy hitters.

Cultural icons like “The Monkees,” “Bewitched,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Partridge Family” were all Screen Gems properties.

So were at least 10 unbelieveably popular cartoons, ranging from “The Flintstones” to “The Jetsons” to “Yogi Bear.”

Lot of chances for kids to see the logo, obviously. Several persons in the documentary referenced the sudden change from happy cartoon to mind-numbing terror.

Really? I guess, but it’s so hard to believe. What was it about the logo which apparently scared so many kids?

Was the color? It was kind of an unusual color scheme, mustardy yellow background with deep wine-red lettering, very much like USC’s school colors.

(H’mm, I just realized about the time this was all going on I had a University of Southern California baseball cap in those colors. I don’t remember anyone being afraid of it except a cat.)

No, the people in the documentary say it was mostly the music, all eight notes of it in a combination of violins and a synthesizer.

Now this was the 60s, a time when kids were listening to acid rock and Jimi Hendrix was setting guitars on fire and throwing pieces into the crowd.

And kids were scared of eight notes on a synthesizer?

Logos, of course, have been around for a century and none are more recognizable than movies and television.

Think of MGM’s lion, Paramount’s mountain and Columbia’s lady with the lamp.

It’s ironic but Screen Gems spun off from Columbia and that lamp lady logo once provoked negative reactions of its own.

In his autobiography, famed director Frank Capra recalled some “elite” 1930s audiences would literally groan when the lady appeared before a movie since “poverty row” Columbia was, at the time, perceived to be synonymous with cheaply made, poorly received entertainment.

But I guess the ultimate question has to be this. Since when did anyone pay any attention to logos at all?

Did anyone, then and now, really care who produces and distributes a television show?

Wasn’t a logo just a signal in those pre-DVR days, to run to the bathroom before the next show came on.

Hey, maybe that’s it! Seven seconds didn’t give those kids nearly enough time.

Now, that’s scary.

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2013-04-18 digital edition

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