Charles Phoenix is a showman, tour guide, food crafter, and author. He is known for his live comedy slide show performances, madcap Test Kitchen videos, “field trip” tours, and colorful coffee table books, all celebrating classic and kitschy American life and style. On TV, Charles has appeared as a judge on Food Network’s Cake Wars: Christmas. He’s also guested on Storage Wars, Jay Leno’s Garage, Conan, and Martha Stewart, and is often heard on NPR. The Los Angeles Times says, “Call him the King of Retro,” and LA Weekly anointed him “the Kodachrome King.”
Growing up in Ontario, California 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 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 slide show performance career, beginning in 1998. He calls his found, vintage Kodachrome slides archive the “slibrary,” and he even employs a “slibrarian.”
Charles’ slide show performances are supercharged, laugh-out-loud celebrations of retro American pop culture. Fans from coast to coast enjoy his spirited story telling, gracious wit and sharp eye for oddball detail. He covers a dizzying array of subjects and themes, projecting both vintage Kodachrome images and contemporary photos documenting his retro road trip discoveries. No two shows are ever the same. Many performances are tailored specifically to highlight the region he’s performing in, inspiring newfound appreciation for underrated local landmarks, unique attractions, “mom-and-pop” businesses, and extreme architecture.
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, Carroll Avenue and more, he proves “Southern California doesn’t have one Disneyland, it has two!” He also leads tours of Palm Spring’s iconic mid-century modern architecture duing Modernism Week.
The Charles Phoenix Test Kitchen “puts the kitsch in kitchen!” Festive, eye-popping, original recipes are made with classic American brand name products. Among his crazy cakes, meatloaf sculptures, and other crafty culinary creations are the jaw-dropping Cherpumple (a three-layer cake, each layer stuffed with a pie: CHerry, PUMpkin, and apPLE); Frosty the Cheeseball Man (entertaining party guests by melting from a Velveeta scultpure into cheesy queso dip); and the Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree (the ultimate edible holiday centerpiece).
Charles is the author of many colorful, collectible coffee table books celebrating mid-century Southern California, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Kodachrome road trips and his native Pomona Valley. His latest is Addicted to Americana!