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ThaWilsonBlock Magazine Issue58 (December 2017)

Does anyone personally know 'The Little Old Lady from Pasadena?"


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The origins of "The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)" stem from a hugely popular ad campaign that the Dodge automobile maker debuted in early 1964. Starring actress Kathryn Minner, the commercials showed the white haired elderly lady speeding down the street (and sometimes a drag strip) driving a modified Dodge. She would stop, look out the window and say "Put a Dodge in your garage, Hon-ey!". The song soon followed and she enjoyed great popularity until she died a few years later.

"The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)" was a folk archetype in Southern California in the mid-20th Century. Early in the century, many people, especially couples from the Midwest had moved to the region, in particular to Pasadena. The trend was accelerated by the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II. Since men tended to die earlier, Pasadena became known for its high percentage of elderly widows. As political columnist and language expert William Safire has noted, the phrase "little old ladies in tennis shoes" was used in the 1960s to refer to social and political conservatives in Southern California.

Part of this lore was that many an elderly man who died in Pasadena would leave his widow with a powerful car that she rarely, if ever, drove, such as an old Buick Roadmaster, or a vintage 1950s Cadillac, Ford, Packard, StudebakerDeSoto, or La Salle. Used car salesmen in California, so the story went, would tell prospective buyers that the previous owner of a vehicle was "a little old lady from Pasadena who only drove it to church on Sundays," thus suggesting the car had little wear. This joke became part of the material of some comedians based in Los Angeles (notably Johnny Carson, who often used it on his frequent trips to tape The Tonight Show in L.A. before settling there permanently), and because of television, the phrase "little old lady from Pasadena" became familiar to a national audience.

From this premise came the comic song, about a little old lady from Pasadena who had a hot "Super Stock Dodge" in her garage. (These vehicles had low production number "Max Wedge" (Maximum Performance Wedge Engine) lightweight race specials built in 1964 for drag racing and are highly collectible today.) The song's twist was that, unlike the subject of the usual story and joke, this little old lady not only drove the hot car, but also was a peerless street racer on Colorado Boulevard, the main route of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

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