Thursday, March 18, 2021

Deely Bobbers

John Belushi as a "Killer Bee" on Saturday Night Live.

     My column in the Sun-Times is limited to 719 words, unless I get special dispensation for something longer, and often tangents must be stripped away to get the column down to the proper length, like a wrestler wrapping himself in a mat to make weight before a bout.
     For instance. Wednesday's bit of fun about St. Patrick's Day originally contained a deep dive into the history and etymology of "deely bobbers," which I first remembered as "deely boppers," those plastic headbands topped with a pair of springs holding a variety of festive trappings: stars, balls, or, in my mind most definitively, shamrocks. They seem a necessary part of the clueless mis-celebration of Irish culture: the pints of green Miller beer, the grass green "Kiss Me I'm Irish" t-shirts, the painted faces, the deely bobbers.
     Fashion often disappears into the mist. But deely bobbers are quite specific, at least according to Wikipedia:
Stephen Askin invented the original deely bobber in 1981, inspired by the "Killer Bees" costumes on Saturday Night Live....Askin made prototype Deely Bobbers in his kitchen and test-marketed them at the Los Angeles Street Fair of summer 1981, selling 800 at $5 each. He sold the invention to the Ace Novelty Co. of Bellevue, Washington, which launched it in January 1982 at the California Gift Fair. The name "Deely Bobber" was suggested by the wife of John Minkove, an Ace marketer; it had been her schoolfriend's placeholder name for "thingamajig". It was previously a brand of toy block sold 1969–1973.
    I remember the "Killer Bees" as being a recurrent theme on Saturday Night Live. There was something inherently funny about seeing John Belushi in this ridiculous bee costume, and he would show up from time to time, almost randomly, dressed as a bee, and the sproingy deely bobbers bouncing around his head were part of the overall effect. 
     In looking at the clips for deely bobbers, I noticed an early New York Times story of June 7, 1982, "A New Fad Invades: Martian Antennae" which is distinctive in that it completely misses both the origin of the novelty, a TV show of some note broadcast not terribly far from the Times newsroom, as well as the headdress's actual name.  Yes, it's easier now with the Internet. But still. It couldn't have taken that much effort to figure out where they came from.
      And here I thought the general cluelessness of the Times cultural coverage is a recent deterioration. I have to remember that Spy magazine had no trouble in the 1980s running a densely-packed monthly column cataloguing the Times' flaws and follies. 



  1. yes deely bobs a term that I have used all my adult life having no idea what it meant or where it came from . I must use it fairly frequently as my eldest son now 24 uses it in the same context mostly accompanied by thingamajigs. if ive thought about this at all previously it would be as a verbal tick. something I say about an item(s) who's official name escapes me for a moment or is insignificant and since we're both looking at it know exactly whats meant or being referred to.

    had no idea deely bobs were an actual thing. . lived through the 80s, barely. dont remember much about them . Margot Kidder?

  2. Your column was my first awareness of the name Deely Bobbers. The springs gave the decorations a bobbing effect, so it makes sense, but I had never heard it as other than Dealy Boppers. That also made sense as the decorative bits would bop the wearers head in reaction to sudden movements, and upon first view of the thingamajig one would ask "what's the deal with that". I never saw a print reference before your column.

  3. Ray Walston had antennas when he played a Martian on the TV show, My Favorite Martian.
    His could retract into his head, obviously a special effect.

  4. Anyone else remember the street fair (they called it an art and music festival) along the 2200 block of Lincoln Avenue every June? Huge crowds. You could barely walk through the throngs of beautiful Lincoln Park people. One summer in the early Eighties (probably around '83, give or take a year), the deely bobbers just popped up on countless heads, seemingly out of nowhere. Everybody had them, or wanted to have them. Vendors walked around selling them, or they were available at pop-up stands. The other big Lincoln Avenue street fair (north of Fullerton, and usually held in July), also had them for sale for a number of summers.

    And then one day, they went away. Just like all fads and crazes do. Occasionally, you'll still see somebody wearing them. Eighties nostalgia. And now it's four decades later. Forty years! It all went by so fast!

    1. I remember. skanking lizard reggae band, Phil in the blanks, dal al!

  5. FWIW, Belushi didn't much like the bee bit and would grit his teeth whenever anyone on the street said "Hey, it's the bee!" Luckily, he and SNL outgrew that phase.

  6. If you are even older you might recall that CARS had deelyboppers hooked to the front bumper to signal when they were close to another car or the curb during parallel parking. Some trucks still use them in the back. The cars, of course, used them in the 1950s along with the doorknob shaped attachment to the steering wheel so the driver could use one hand to turn the wheel, while the other arm was supposedly around his date's shoulders. (My uncle's knob had a pinup girl under the plastic cover.) People had fun in those days!


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