Charles Phoenix is the ambassador of Americana. He is a showman, tour guide, food crafter, and author known for his live comedy slideshow performances, madcap Test Kitchen videos, “field trip” adventure tours and colorful coffee table books, all celebrating classic and kitschy American life and style. Be prepared for your national pride to swell!
Charles appears this season as a judge on Cake Wars: Christmas. He’s also guested on Storage Wars, Conan, Queen Latifah and Martha Stewart, and he is often heard on National Public Radio. Los Angeles Times said, “Call him the King of Retro.” And LA Weekly anointed him the “Kodachrome King.”
Growing up in Ontario, Calif., in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Charles was educated at theme parks, shopping malls and his dad’s used car lots. As a teen he discovered thrift shops, which led to a lifelong vintage shopping spree. He calls thrift shops “schools of style, museums of merchandise and the perfect place to study the underbelly of our mass consumerism culture.”
After moving to Los Angeles and enjoying careers as a fashion designer and then a classic car dealer, his life changed forever — in a thrift shop — when he discovered a shoebox full of vintage Kodachrome slides marked “Trip Across the United States, 1957.” Collecting orphaned vintage slide photography soon became an obsession that inspired his retro slideshow performance career. His first retro slideshow happened in Los Angeles in 1998. He calls his found vintage Kodachrome slides archive the “slibrary,” and he even employs a “slibrarian.”
Charles’ retro slideshow performances are supercharged, spirited, laugh-out-loud celebrations of retro American pop culture. Fans from coast to coast enjoy his keen expertise, gracious wit and sharp eye for oddball detail.
He covers a dizzying array of subjects and themes, often projecting both vintage Kodachrome images and contemporary photos documenting his retro road-trip discoveries. No two shows are ever the same. Most performances are tailored specifically to highlight the region he’s performing in, inspiring newfound appreciation for unsung and undiscovered local landmarks, unique attractions, old-school mom-and-pop businesses, extreme architecture and much more. His Retro Holiday Show, celebrating all the holidays, has become an annual tradition.
The Charles Phoenix Test Kitchen “puts the kitsch in kitchen,” with festive, eye-popping, original recipes made with classic American brand-name products. Among his crazy cakes, meatloaf sculptures and other crafty culinary creations is the jaw-dropping Cherpumple, a three-layer cake with a pie baked into each layer: cherry, pumpkin and apple. Frosty the Cheeseball Man, sculpted in Velveeta, entertains party guests by melting into cheesy queso dip, and the Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree is the ultimate edible holiday centerpiece.
Charles’ popular “Disneyland” Tour of Downtown Los Angeles proves the heart and soul of the city is like a great big theme park. Touring vintage landmarks and themed environments — including Old Chinatown, Olvera Street, Clifton’s Cafeteria, Angels Flight, Bob Baker Marionette Theater and Carroll Avenue — he proves “Southern California doesn’t have one Disneyland, it has two!” He also leads tours of Palm Spring’s iconic midcentury-modern architecture.
Charles is the author of several colorful, collectible coffee table books celebrating midcentury Southern California, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Kodachrome road trips and his native Pomona Valley.
Southern California in the 50s: Sun, Fun and Fantasy
Southern Californialand: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome
Fabulous Las Vegas in the 50s: Glitz, Glamour, and Games
Leis, Luaus and Alohas: The Lure of Hawaii in the Fifties
Cruising the Pomona Valley 1930 thru 1970
God Bless Americana: A Retro Vacation Slide Show Tour of the USA
Americana the Beautiful: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome
Look for the Charles Phoenix Test Kitchen Cookbook soon!