Category Archives: Seventies

Turner Classic Movies Is My New Best Friend

As a child I used to love to read movie monster magazines, especially Famous Monsters of Filmland. I used to look at the pictures of all the old horror movies and think how much I’d love to see them. Every Saturday night Chiller theater would play two or three old horror movies, and while I was always hoping for a classic, it seemed more often than not I got The Monolith Monsters.

One of the movies I really wanted to see was a black and white film called The Island of Lost Souls. It was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. In 1977 Dr. Moreau was remade with Burt Lancaster and Michael York. I got to see that one when it hit HBO and even got to read the Marvel comics adaptation, but The Island of Lost Souls was still just a dream for me. It was even at one point considered a lost film due to the censorship it had faced back when the Hayes Code was in effect for movies.

Another string of films I really wanted to see, but that continuously avoided my viewing pleasure, were the silent film classics of Lon Chaney Sr. I got lucky enough to catch The Phantom of the Opera on PBS one time back in the days of their Matinee At The Bijou program, but never any of the other films that earned him the name “man of a thousand faces”.

About two years ago I started doing a podcast, Cinema Toast Crunch, ( http://www.cinematoastcrunch.libsyn.com )where I would get together with family and friends to watch a movie and immediately review it. It was a lot of fun even if our number of listeners never climbed all that high. After a bit I decided that I would like to try and do a second podcast on movies. This one would concentrate on the Oscar nominated best pictures from each year. As luck would have it, Turner Classic Movies was playing a lot of Oscar nominees and I was able to catch rarities like The Racket and The Crowd that had been nominated at the first Oscars. I also wanted to catch some of the films from this time period that had not gotten nominations just to see what the competition had been like. This required constantly checking the listings for TCM to see if any of these gems were playing.

One night as I was scanning through the upcoming films, a title jumped out and grabbed me. Turner was playing The Island of Lost Souls. The “lost” film from my childhood was going to be playing on my TV after a nearly 50 year wait. I sat my DVR with sweet anticipation and then also found that The Most Dangerous Game was also playing. It joined the list as well.

When I finally had the chance to sit back and watch the movies I was captivated by them. They were everything I had hoped for even if The Most Dangerous Game had never been as huge of a draw for my attention. I was so happy to have finally caught The Island of Lost Souls and scratched it off my movie bucket list. Then Turner decided to help me knock off a few more films by playing a Lon Chaney marathon. Here was my chance to finally see The Penalty, The Unholy Three, Laugh Clown Laugh, and several others.

As much as I love DVDs, and trust me, I love them a lot, Turner Classic Movies has become my new best friend. Many of the films they have offered are not available on DVD, and even many of the ones that are aren’t readily and easily available. The only problem is I don’t have as much time to watch movies now as I did in my youth, and sadly I have a harder time staying up and watching them without falling asleep. If only TCM and DVRs had been around when I truly had free weekends and a 3 months long break every summer. I might never have left my house at all.

Let’s Talk About Racism

Brad Paisley and LL Cool J have a new song out called Accidental Racist. I don’t know that the song is getting much airplay, but it is heating up the news channels. Race has been a hot button topic for a long time, but looking back to my youth there was one big difference to my mind. When I was a kid the “N word” was just another word. Most people wouldn’t think twice about saying it. The word was used extensively in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor used the word in several of his album titles and activist/author Dick Gregory used the word in the title of at least two of his books. You could even use the word freely on television. Yes, the word wasn’t supposed to be said by white people in racially mixed company, but even that happened from time to time. Sometimes there were fights because of this, but it just led to some fists flying and a whole lot more uses of the word in question. No one seemed to fear the word.

The word people tended to fear at least to my young eyes was one that started with an “F”. When someone said that word, you knew they meant business. It was never heard on television (at least until HBO came around). It was not used as frequently in the movies. It was never used as the title of a book or movie or record album to my knowledge. It was the Voldemort of words. Everyone knew the word, but most of us didn’t say it. Soldiers and sailors said the word, but mostly when fighting or surrounded by other soldiers and sailors. I was in second grade when I first came in contact with the word. It was written on the wall in one of my classrooms by a fellow student along with the word “ass”. Now I knew what “ass” meant, but this other word? I had no idea. One of the students said it was when two people “bumped their butts together”. Being an inquiring young boy thirsty for knowledge, I simply asked the teacher. She told me that it was a word only a very dirty person would know and didn’t provide me any sort of definition. I asked my mom when I got home and even she wouldn’t tell me what the word was supposed to mean.

Since the word was not used in Disney movies of the time, I was left to ponder the meaning of the strange word for several years before I finally got clued in as to its meaning. Or at least one of its meanings. The word had power back in the day. The other word, the one that started with an “N”… not so much. Over time the “N word” and the “F word” started changing places. HBO gave comedians, who apparently had been using the word quite successfully in their nightclub shows, a national stage on which to yell this little four lettered word at the top of their lungs. Films began using it more frequently (of course this might also be because I started seeing films like Animal House instead of 101 Dalmatians). The world didn’t end upon repeated utterances, but the word did start to lose its power. Once George Burns said it in Going In Style there was no fear left in the word. And yes, the scene where George Burns said the curse word to end all curse words did end up getting cut from the film, but just knowing that the man who played God had said this word was all it seemed to take. These days we don’t even call this word the “F word”. We call it the “F bomb”, even if it’s more like the “F firecracker” or “F sparkler” than an actual “F bomb”.

Songs started using the word. I remember the first time I heard Harry Nilson sing it in “You’re Breaking My Heart” I lost it. It was the early 80s by then and the “F” word was free. One of the highlights of going to the Roaring Twenties nightclub to dance was that point in the night when they would break out “The Rodeo Song” and watch the crowd go wild. But as this four letter term for fornication shed its trench coat and sunglasses, the “N word” picked them up and put them on. Social consciousness was sweeping the land; slowly in some places and not in all areas or interactions. And while activists would have a long road to travel before they would see a black man in certain neighborhoods in America, much less in the White House, one simple step that they all seemed to silently agree upon was that they would stop using the “N word”. White guilt or shame or perhaps just peer pressure slowly made the word less accessible. While the “F word” was starring in hit movies and waiting for the birth of the Internet where it would truly shine, the “N word” was becoming persona non gratis. White people were expected to have stopped using the word cold turkey. When we want to ask for one of those early Richard Pryor albums on CD our heads nearly explode. Even words that are close to the offending word give us trouble. Many of us listen as black people tell us that we are no longer allowed to use this word. Richard Roundtree’s blaxploitation western is now simply “Boss”. The last word in the title is missing and it won’t even show up on the side of a milk carton. (Do they still put missing children’s pictures on milk cartons?)

So the next step in the life of this word is for the black community to “take it back”. All of a sudden after a few years of the word being underground or in witness protection, it shows up as a term of affection used from one black person to another. Usually the last two letters have been replaced by a single letter “a”, but this is the equivalent of putting Groucho glasses on the Batman. You still know it’s the Batman, and if you say the wrong thing to Batman or about Batman, Batman is going to kick your ass. Now we have a word that is off-limits to a large segment of the population while simultaneously becoming heavily used by another segment. This creates a covetous attitude in many white people. Why can’t we say the word? Why is it okay if they say the word? I don’t like being denied my opportunity to sing along to Jay Z songs if I want to. Now the word has enormous power. If a white person says the word, he is almost always immediately branded as a racist (except for Quentin Tarantino, he seems to get a pass from much of the black community). The idea that a white person must never be allowed to utter this six letter word seems almost codified as national law which makes people who would normally never want to use the word, want to use it all the more. It’s like not smoking pot or obeying the speed limit. Even those that follow the law have thoughts about breaking it, and a lot of them will if they think no one is watching (or in this case listening).

Of course with blacks having their “off-limits to all but us” word, other groups hopped on board. Women despise the “C word” and gay people have fought to get their least favorite “F word” treated the same way that the “N word” is treated. They can say it. We can’t. So far they haven’t tried removing the last two letters and replacing them with the letter “A”. I really hadn’t noticed how much they had done to eradicate the use of this term until I was re-listening to an old Eddie Murphy stand up act and I realized how jarring it now seemed when he used the word in question. I couldn’t concentrate on the jokes any longer because I was trying to process how a comedian could get by with using this particular word these days. It couldn’t be done, but then this was an album from the early 80s.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I just write a blog because I enjoy sharing my thoughts in a printed format albeit an electronic one. I do know that we need to start talking to each other and explain the linguistic problems that we have. For example, to keep from offending the currently preferred racial label is African-American. Many don’t like to be called black and they certainly don’t like negro or colored, both of which conjure up more images of a less enlightened time. But America is not the only country with black people. Is Lenny Henry, the British comedian, an African-American? No. So is he an African Brit? What about Nelson Mandela? Is he an African-African? Black just feels like the most accurate and least racially insensitive term that can be used, but I’m open to ideas and enlightenment myself.

How Did We Know What Was Going On Back Then?

My wife and I were driving down the road today talking about various things when we got to discussing making a “junk journal” for the kids. I have a lot of crazy stuff that I have held onto through the years. Some of it looks like nothing to the untrained eye, but to those in the know, there are stories and history in these various items. I have an old pill tin that my dad carried around with him. I have a pocket knife that he won for my mom and that she carried around with her from then on. To my kids these items are just a small green tin and a pocket knife. They don’t understand the family history attached to these pieces. I also have books and toys that have a special place in my life or DVDs that are out of print and worth a pretty penny. These are things the kids need to know before boxing all this stuff up and taking it to Goodwill after they put me six feet under.

The fact of the matter is that none of them have the attention span to remember everything about all of this mess. There’s also the problem with me forgetting lots of details as well. For example, I can’t remember what it was that Dad used to carry in that tiny pill tin. I remember Mom telling me about it, but I can’t remember the full story. Since Mom passed away several years ago I can’t ask her any longer. My sister or my cousin might remember, but I need to get the facts down where the kids can find it when my time finally comes to an end. Of course they will also have to wait for my wife to pass before they truly get to run free with my things but never the less.

So in the midst of this conversation I mentioned to my wife about how certain toys were special to me growing up. The Mego Planet of the Apes action figures were some of my favorites. I had the full set of them and their accessories. Most of the expensive pieces were Christmas gifts left under the tree by Santa or given to me by my Aunt EI. The actual figures however were ones that I got at Kmart and Murphy’s Mart and Hecks department stores. There were two waves of the action figures as I recall. The first batch was based on the movie. The second batch was based on the television series. I still remember playing at my Aunt Tress’ one day as a kid, and it just came to me that the new figures should be out. One of my cousins might have seen them and mentioned it or it might just have been a psychic premonition, but I begged me mom to stop on the way home. She agreed to stop and sure enough there they were.

When the Kenner Star Wars action figures actually came out (my mom refused to buy me the Early Bird IOU that was offered) we just ran into them in the store. I think the first ones we bought might have actually come from Krogers grocery store in Saint Albans. The thing was, I didn’t have the Internet to tell me these things were coming out. We didn’t have toy magazines to prepare us for new toys and toy lines. We found out the old-fashioned way; we bumped into them.

Sometimes I learned about new toys by ads in my comic books. I remember the big two page spread for the Haunted Mansion action model kids or the Strange Change models. I recall ads for Evel Knievel, the Six Million Dollar Man, and lots of different cars and bikes like Hot Wheels and Matchbox. Today kids and collectors know exactly when each wave of the new action figures are going to start shipping. They know which figures are going to be hard to locate and eBay helps make that search easier as well. Some how this just doesn’t seem as exciting as going into the toy department and finding the new additions to the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes model kit line. Silly as it sounds, I think I liked our way best.

Remember The Plastic Pop Top?

I was fiddling around with the lid to my Diet Pepsi bottle the other day and got to thinking about the old plastic pop bottle tops. This was an item that was probably in every home up until about 30 years ago, but has now disappeared almost completely. Back in the seventies pop was sold in bottles with metal bottle caps that had to be popped off using a bottle opener. Once the bottle cap was removed it was unusable for resealing the bottle. Leaving the bottle uncapped allowed the carbonation to escape and the pop went flat. In order to fix this problem a simple little gadget was invented, a plastic reusable bottle cap.

bottlecaps

Some of the caps were used as promotional items and had the name of the bottler painted on it. Other caps were sold in packages at department stores in their housewares department or at grocery stores in their pop aisle. There were plain round ones and then there were ones with “tails”. The tail was a thin strip of plastic connected to a plastic collar that was placed around the neck of the bottle. This allowed the consumer to open the plastic top without fear of losing it.

The plastic pop top was made obsolete by the screw top pop bottle. Every cap was now a resealable bottle cap. In addition to the plastic pop tops, “church keys”, the bottle openers that popped off the old caps or poked holes in the old pre-pull tab cans depending on which end you used also soon went missing. The market tried to sell a redesigned bottle opener that fit down around the twist off caps and assisted in twisting them off. This didn’t last too long as the caps became easier to unscrew and people learned to use pliers on the bottles that remained contrary.

I miss those days. I also miss the old metal pop tops that had a thin layer of cork inside them as well. Drinks just seemed to taste better coming out of these bottles. The bottlers also used to place removable plastic liners inside the metal tops with game pieces or prizes on them. Now days the information is printed directly inside the screw off cap or on the back of the thin drink label wrapped around the bottle.

Why Did We Lose Our Common Sense?

I saw an article the other day about a father whose young son shot himself in the stomach with a gun the dad had stolen. The child’s mom had dropped the boy off earlier that day. When the father was awakened by the gunshot he grabbed his son and rushed him out of the home screaming to his neighbors to get help. When the cops arrived, the man took off back inside. One of the cops tried to save the young boy while another pursued the father. Inside the residence the father was caught with not only the stolen weapon that had killed his son, but with a large amount of drugs as well. It’s a horrible story.

As I read this article I began thinking about what the aftermath would end up being. This little boy is dead no matter what else happens, but there are plenty of questions. Did the mother know the type of life the boy’s father was living? If she did, then why would she leave her son in his care in the first place? If she didn’t, then why didn’t she? It didn’t appear from the way the article read that he was hiding his lifestyle choices from anyone that entered the residence. It goes without question that the father will be charged with something, likely many things. But what about the mom? Should she be charged with child endangerment or a similar offense for placing the child in such a dangerous environment?

After thinking about this case for a few minutes my mind started thinking about how something like this might have gone down when I was in grade school. Split parents were not nearly as common back then, and locally we never really heard about a lot of theft or drugs. The fact that the situation was nearly unthinkable just forty years ago made it impossible for me to fathom any answers, so I tried to come up with a similar scenario that seemed more realistic for the early 70s. In this revised scenario the father would have been drinking perhaps and fallen asleep on the couch. The mom would have been gone only to run to the local store to pick up some bread to go with their dinner that night. The gun would not have been stolen, but would have still been left out instead of put away properly. The father in this version would still have been just as negligent about leaving the loaded gun out and the mother would have left the child with a father whom she knew had been drinking and who might pass out. Now what would happen? What would happen is the family and their friends, family, and neighbors would have mourned the death of the child. The father and the mother would not likely face any legal charges even though they would both be similarly negligent. The general consensus would be that they had suffered and been punished enough by the loss of their child.

Then I started thinking about other differences. We had playground equipment at our school. The drive-ins had jungle gyms, slides, and merry-go-rounds as well. We loved playing on them. If we fell off of the monkey bars and broke our arm that was our own damn fault. We chose to play on them and we failed to hold on tightly enough. There was no thought toward suing the school or the drive-in. We went to the doctor and got a cast and dealt with it. These days most everyone is looking for a personal tragedy payday. If someone breaks their arm while playing on the monkey bars at the school, the parents will sue the school. They may even sue the manufacturer of the monkey bars. Then what happens? The school’s liability risk goes up as long as they have the monkey bars. This means their insurance goes up. And it won’t just be at this one school. It will be at any school with a jungle gym because some other kid with sweaty palms might slip and land on his elbow. It’s cheaper to just remove the playground equipment, all of it, because someone could just as easily break a leg jumping out of a swing.

So much of what I enjoyed as a kid, so many of the experiences we learned from as kids have been denied to this current generation because of lawsuits. And these lawsuits were filed because someone decided to be a victim rather than take responsibility. The same mentality has crept into other areas with equally dubious results. Children have been suspended for bringing the one inch long toy weapon that came with their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure to school or pointing their finger and saying “bang-bang” because the schools have a zero tolerance policy on weapons in the schools. Forget carrying a cough drop or some aspirin or Midol. Those are drugs and there is a ban on them as well.

It’s not just in the schools that society has lost its mind. Many kids have snuck around and played “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine”. Today if a child gets caught doing this they may be labeled as a sex offender. Yes technology has made it much easier to show your goodies to people, but trust me it was going on back in the sixties and the seventies too.

It just seems that we’ve lost our ability to use common sense. People don’t want to take any responsibility, and we’re paying for it with higher prices, unnecessary insurances, and fewer playgrounds. I would love to see this generation quit looking for a way to blame anyone but themselves. If you agree with me, start speaking up. If you don’t agree, well, the doctor changed some of my medicines last week, so it’s probably not me talking. It’s the meds the doctor prescribed, so blame him… or the pharmacist… or the drug company.

The Oscars Was My Childhood’s Super Bowl

I was a very unathletic child with asthma and coordination issues. There was no male role model in the house to drill the love of sports and loyalty to a sports team into my DNA. What I grew up with was a love of reading and of watching movies. I discovered the Oscars during the ceremony that saw Jaws nominated for best picture and lose. I didn’t actually stay up to watch the whole ceremony, but I flipped over and saw Jaws win a technical award and was pleased. I had probably caught a few minutes of some earlier broadcasts now that I think of it because I remember wondering why Million Dollar Duck wasn’t nominated or some of the other animated films I had seen that year. But I remember the Jaws ceremony as much more important to me. I was shocked that it didn’t win best picture.

It was a couple of years later that I became hooked on the Oscars. Star Wars had been nominated for best picture. I was certain it had to win. I had never seen a film that made me as happy as Star Wars did the first time I saw it. It was up against Julia, The Turning Point, Annie Hall, and The Goodbye Girl. Before the ceremony aired, I got to see The Goodbye Girl and Annie Hall. Annie Hall just didn’t connect to the 14-year-old boy living in Spring Hill, West Virginia. It had some funny moments, but I would need another year before I learned to appreciate Annie Hall, although I did develop a fondness for Woody Allen’s other films. The Goodbye Girl was a different story. I saw it at the old Saint Albans Twin Cinemas and immediately fell in love with it. If Star Wars didn’t win, I wanted The Goodbye Girl to take home the gold. I also wanted Star Wars to completely destroy Close Encounters of the Third Kind which at my young age I had decided was the most boring film in the history of the world. I reviewed it for my school’s newspaper and still remember the headline, “Close Encounters of the Boring Kind”. I really didn’t like it.

April 3, 1978 I stayed up late and watched until the final award of the evening was handed out. There were several things that made a huge impact on me that night. The first was Vanessa Redgrave’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. The next was Paddy Chayefsky’s rebuttal to her speech. This was also the night Bob Hope made a joke about the Oscars being referred to in his house as Passover that for some reason has stuck with me for all these years. By the end of the night Star Wars had pretty much beaten CE3K, but it still managed to lose to Annie Hall. At least Richard Dreyfuss won for The Goodbye Girl. One other memorable moment was watching favored nominee Richard Burton start to stand up to accept the award after only hearing the “Richard” part of it.

Ever since that night I have watched every single Oscar telecast live except for two. One year our cable was out and I had a friend and a family member both tape it for me so that I could watch it later. I followed the ceremony on the Internet using my AOL dial-up account. Another year I was just too tired to watch anything. I taped it and watched it later as well.

For several years Oscar night was met with plates of snacks and a festive atmosphere. The wife and I would each write down our picks and see who did a better job at picking the winners. It was usually me. Many times she would choose with her heart or a gut feeling while I would study all the factors like a gambler at the horse track. Never the less, she still managed to pick several that I missed. This year we pretty much let the whole thing drop. I had just gotten over a bad bout with the flu. There was no talk of making snacks. I guess she was worried about what my stomach would be able to handle, and she was tired from dealing with a sick hubby for several days. She sat down with me for the red carpet pre-show, but before the first award was handed out, she had settled in under the covers in the bedroom with the lights out.

One other thing that was different this year was that my daughter decided for the first time to actually sit down and watch the entire ceremony with me. Both of my kids have made attempts at trying to feign interest in their dad’s yearly big night, but these normally end within a couple of technical awards when they remember that there was something they needed to check on in their room. That’s kid-speak for “I’m bored and going to go play video games”. I was happy to have my daughter there this year, but I missed not having the wife beside me. Hopefully next year things will work out better. As for my picks… this was my worst year ever. I had absolutely no idea in so many categories. I had only seen one theatrical film in the last year (The Avengers) and hadn’t managed to pick up any of the available nominees on Blu-ray. Maybe next year.

When I Used to Get Sick

I have been struggling with the flu for the last few days. It hit me late Wednesday night or technically early Thursday morning. At first I didn’t know it was the flu. My doctor had just changed my medicines and I was sure that was it. Or maybe it was something I ate. I had eaten some of Lays new Sriracha flavored chips and surely that was the culprit if not the meds. I checked my blood sugar and it was up. That had to be the answer. My diabetes was making me vomit my insides out. My wife being much calmer and well-reasoned, stuck a thermometer in my mouth and informed me that I had a temperature of 100 degrees. You don’t get a fever with high sugar, bad food, or new medicines. You get a fever with a virus.

When I was a kid the thought of getting sick didn’t bother me. If I was too sick to go to school, Mom called and told them I wouldn’t be there. If I needed to go to the doctor, Mom bundled me up and drove me to the doctor. If I stayed at home, Mom would fix me foods that my stomach would handle and that would comfort me. Usually this was toast with butter, or after I got to feeling a little better, peanut butter. One food that I always wanted when I was sick and that no one could understand why I would want was pizza. Not just any pizza, Geno’s frozen pizza or any of the other rather bland frozen pizzas on a crust that doesn’t so much pass for a bread product, but as an edible form of cardboard. She would top this off with 7-Up, ginger ale, or Coke. I got a lot of Coke over crushed ice also.

If Mom did have to take me to the doctor’s office, she would usually pick me up a few comic books to read on the way home, and I could usually get her to buy me a model kit as well. The model kit would give me something to do and take my mind off of my sick tummy. At least that’s what it was supposed to do. Often times I would get frustrated when certain parts didn’t fit together properly and it would backfire by making me more upset and agitated.

As an adult I can be on my deathbed and I still have to call in to work and tell them I won’t be there. I don’t feel like breathing, but I have to go through a 10,000 question automated system to alert work that I’m not coming in. Oh and if you do that three times in a 90 day period there will be severe consequences (unless they are FMLA covered). I do have a wonderful wife that always pulls through for me when I get hit by the flu bug. She fixes me food and makes sure I stay hydrated. But my body has decided that it no longer wants cardboard pizza on a sick stomach. Baked chicken and baked potatoes all just lightly seasoned tends to stay down best now.

Needless to say the treat of getting a comic book or a model kit for being a good boy at the doctor’s office doesn’t happen anymore either. For one thing, I would have to buy them for myself since I’m also the one that would end up driving myself to the doctor’s office (unless I’m really bad and we have to try and catch my son before he goes to work). And also because neither comic books or model kits are as easy to find (or as cheap) as they were back in the late sixties/early seventies.

I’m not sure who in their right mind gets nostalgic for the sick days of their youth, but compared to the sick days of adulthood, I’d trade for them in a heartbeat.