Americana is defined by Wikipedia as “artifacts, or a collection of artifacts, related to the history, geography, folklore, and cultural heritage of the United States.” And that is exactly what self-proclaimed Retro Daddy, Charles Phoenix, brings to the drop leaf coffee table: a love for the things from America’s past that demonstrate what life was like during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
Charles’s love of American kitsch started when he was just a boy growing up on his father’s used car lot in Ontario, California. He was mesmerized by the classic cars with huge tail fins, happiest when he was playing amongst them.
As a teen he fell in love with thrift shops, a love that continues to this day. He has called thrift shops “schools of style, museums of merchandise, and the perfect place to study the underbelly of our mass consumerism culture.” He’d spend hours going through racks of clothes and shelves of discarded items searching for treasure.
At the age of 30, he found the treasure of a lifetime: a blue shoebox marked “Trip Across the United States, 1957” filled with vintage Kodachrome slides. That box of slides changed the direction of his life. After that, he was hooked on finding and collecting old slides and photographs from people he’d never meet and decades he never knew.
Live Retro Slideshow
Once he’d been collecting Kodachrome slides for a while, a friend of his suggested that he put on a slideshow at the California Map and Travel Center – which he did. The next day a write up of the event appeared in the LA Times and his retro career was officially launched! The next slideshow event had over 300 attendees eager to experience a little piece of nostalgia.
“What I am about 100%, 100 plus percent, all I want to do is pay tribute to our culture, the gems of it, and find the humor in it,” Charles told “SoCal Connected” host Val Zavala in 2014.
Charles Phoenix’s retro slideshow is a “supercharged, spirited, laugh-out-loud celebration” of American pop culture. During each performance, Charles curates a theme for the slides he presents, sometimes centering them around a holiday, sometimes centered around the city hosting the show. But always on display are brilliant, colorful pieces of our uniquely American experience.
In addition to the live slideshow performances, Charles hosts bus and walking tours in both Los Angeles and Palm Springs, treating his tour guests to his own personal views of famous landmarks and architecture and stopping at some of the most iconic locations in Southern California.
He has also written seven coffee table books that feature parts of his 200,000 Kodachrome slide collection, as well as artifacts and other memorabilia he’s collected over the years. Plus, he has his very own Test Kitchen video segments where he creates larger-than-life creative confections while wearing blindingly colorful retro suits and accessories.
Charles has brought his kitschy charm and retro-inspired recipes to TV shows from “The Martha Stewart Show” to Conan to Food Network’s “Cake Wars: Christmas”. His eye for details (you’ll notice his outfit is always planned to work with the ambience), wry observations, and enthusiasm for the past are all part of the fun.
Take a step back into the past with the Charles Phoenix: This is Americana comedy slideshow. It’s a live vintage-inspired experience that harkens back to a time when Kodachrome captured the color of life and ruffled lampshades sported ric-rac trim.