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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.

What Was I Thinking?

I’m sure that when a lot of you read that title you expected a post describing some new crisis I was dealing with caused by a bad decision on my part in the first place. Nope. I was being reflective a few days ago about my childhood and started wondering about what I was really thinking at certain points in my life. Watching my granddaughter as she discovers new things and seeing her eyes grow wide and a smile form on her face or a giggle escape her mouth, I wonder what she is really thinking. How is her brain processing that toy that makes a rattling sound when you shake it or that sweet taste that she gets from Gerber apples? Then I got to wondering what I thought about certain firsts in my life.

I remember my mom, my aunt, and my cousin telling me about this time when I was a toddler and they took me to Shoneys with them and I demolished the Shoney burger my mom had gotten to eat. I think it was a Shoney burger. It might have been a Big Boy or a Slim Jim (two other sandwiches from that time). My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. But as much problem as I have now trying to remember the style of the burger, I have an even great er problem trying to remember the actual incident in question. I was so young that my memories of the incident are all second-hand even though I was the person they involved. I remember hearing of it happening, but I don’t actually have a single memory of the event that is my own.

Even going further on to things I do have a very basic memory of happening, I don’t truly have some of the all important memories of what I was thinking because I wasn’t really thinking for myself. I was parroting what I had heard or I was saying what I thought I was supposed to say and what the other person wanted to hear. I remember a conversation I had with my mom that somehow got on to the topic of nudity in movies at the time. Keep in mind that this was when I was in grade school. I hadn’t seen any nudity in movies or much of anywhere else, but it was a topic that had been on the news and there were forces crying about the new permissiveness. If you missed those reports, wait a few months they still pop up all the time, and I’ll let you in on a secret; they’re still B.S. More on that later. Anyway, we’re having this conversation because of some report on the news and I in my wisdom as a pre-teen stated that they don’t even call it what it really is. They call it making art. At this point my entire knowledge of making art involved finger painting and glueing macaroni to construction paper. So why did I say that? Obviously I had heard someone on television make this argument and I also figured that my mom would be anti-nudity since she always insisted that I wear clothes. I have no idea what I really thought about the subject, but I had perfectly parroted what I had heard and said what I thought my mom would want to hear.

Before I move on with the original point, let me clear up what I stated about the “new permissiveness” being B.S. If you study the past you will find tons of nudity and sexuality in Greek and Roman times. The British had things like The Pearl and a serialized story called My Secret Life. The French had nudie postcards. Yes, you say, but America is going down the tubes in regards to our movies. There’s so much more filth in them today. So who’s familiar with Can’t Stop The Music? It’s a 1980 film about The Village People and it features a dance number in a men’s shower with a shot of full frontal male nudity and some bare female breasts. It’s rated PG. Logan’s Run has a naked Jenny Agutter and is rated PG. These days a film gets a PG-13 for French kissing. I used to go to the drive in a lot with my mom, my sister, and her family. It was nothing for a trailer for an upcoming film to feature nudity and be played in between two family films like Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Big Jake. Movies today are if anything more conservative than in the past unless you go back to the height of the Hayes Code. We now continue with our regularly scheduled remembrance.

So I look back on my life and I wonder which emotions were real, which thoughts were my own? How much of what I know about my childhood is really how someone else remembers my childhood and their interpretation has become canon? There is one childhood memory that just happens to tie into both the subject of movies and nudity that I truly do recall what I was thinking. In 1974 a movie came out called Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry


...not to be confused with Dirty Sally

…not to be confused with Dirty Sally


There was also a television series around that time called Dirty Sally which was a spin-off from Gunsmoke and concerned an old woman and a stubborn mule. I think it was on Fridays on CBS. My mom and I loved it. When we saw the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry we figured it had to be similar to Dirty Sally. Even though the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had nothing to do with the old West and featured Peter Fonda driving fast cars and running from the cops, it had to be something close to Dirty Sally. It had the word Dirty in its title… twice. Further proof to this theory was that I had one time seen an ad for a movie called Dirty Dingus McGee and it appeared to be a western. So with dirty in the title twice, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had to be some sort of modern western comedy. I just didn’t know why they weren’t advertising the crazy old mule which was the funniest part of Dirty Sally. Mom and I were all set to go see the movie when my older sister intervened. She explained to my mom that the film contained some female nudity and she probably didn’t need to be taking me to it. My mother always took my sister’s advice (or so it seemed to me) and so my hopes of seeing Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry were shot down by a meddling older sister. To this day I still remember the anger I felt at my sister and the betrayal I felt when Mom told me that we weren’t going. Had she taken me, I would have seen a film that had absolutely nothing to do with an old woman and her mule. I would have been disappointed, however, I also would have at least had some basis for my next opinion on nudity in movies.

They Don’t Make Movies Like That Any More

When I was a kid movies were a big part of my life. Mom took me to a lot of movies, I saw a lot of advertisements in the morning paper, and I caught tons of trailers on TV or in front of the movies we went to see. I don’t go to as many movies these days partly due to high prices and partly because I work 6 days a week. Newspapers don’t have the big ads any longer. Most of the ads, if there are any ads, either only list the movies by title or they list the theater’s web site. The only thing that has remained constant is that they still run trailers on TV and in front of the movies. Of course these days they also run trailers on the front of DVDs and on the Internet.

As much as the advertising of movies has changed, the types of movies they make have changed as well. When I was a kid there were several types of movies that were very popular that have almost all but disappeared these days.

1. The Car Chase Movie
The drive-ins and theaters were filled with these for several years. The classic formula was evident in films like The Gumball Rally, The Cannonball Run, Eat My Dust, and Vanishing Point. Some car chase movies tried to add a little more in the way of plot elements and took out some of the cars. This led to films like Smokey and the Bandit, Death Race 2000, and Race with the Devil.

There have been a few recent car chase movies, but they don’t have the heart that these movies had. The Fast & The Furious is more about showing off the cars rather than any actual sustained chase. The Death Race remake was more a Nascar version of a car chase movie.

2. Nature Documentaries
It seemed like every month there was a new nature documentary when I was a kid. Most of them were extremely low-budget and produced by some small independent company. Many of them were “four wall” pictures where the distributer would rent the theater (all four walls) for two or three weeks and keep all the ticket receipts while the exhibitor kept all the concession sales. These films were always advertised as being in town for “One Week Only!” until the week was over and then it was “Held Over For One More Week!”. Keep in mind the distributer and the exhibitor already knew that the theater had been rented out for that second week before the first day the picture opened. Films like this included Cougar Country, North Country, The Outdoorsman, and The Ra Expedition. The only recent examples that I can recall are March of the Penguins and a couple of Disney films. Of course Disney made plenty of these films back then as well. They called them True-Life Adventures and had titles like The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie, and The African Lion.

3. Sexploitation Films
These were a staple of the drive-ins of my youth. There were movies about stewardesses, cheerleaders, teachers, and in a subgenre all to themselves, women in prison. There was a wonderful book written about these films a few years back and Something Weird Video has rescued many of these films from obscurity and released them on DVD. I watched the Harry Novak classic The Pig Keeper’s Daughter on one of their double feature DVDs a few years ago. These movies weren’t much on plot or acting. There was the flimsiest of plots to keep the story moving, but there was always lots and lots of full frontal female nudity. The closest thing we have these days are made for cable or direct to video stinkers where the women are as plastic as the Mego action figures I grew up with. At least in the days of the drive-in they used real natural women.

Childhood Dreams

I recently found a box of papers that I thought had been lost in one of my moves throughout the years. It contained some small books from grade school book fairs that I had adored, some pamphlets from early trips to Illinois to visit my sister and her family, a paper bag from King’s Island when the characters on the bag were Scooby Doo, The Funky Phantom, Hair Bear, and Dick Dastardly, and other childhood treasures including a notebook full of old Virtue of Vera Valiant comic strips that I had clipped from the Charleston Daily Mail. The crown jewel in this box was my very first scrapbook.

My mom had bought me a large notebook at either Hecks or Arlens or G.C.Murphy. It featured a typical late 60s early 70s age of Aquarius design of the sun with the signs of the zodiac circling it. I had initially taken pen to blank paper and drawn a bunch of pictures in it. I must not have been too thrilled with these pictures because I soon began covering them up with movie advertisements from the Charleston Gazette. Many of these were ads for Disney movies that I had seen or wanted to see. There’s a cartoony looking drawing of Buddy Hackett staring lovingly at Herbie, the Volkswagen, in an ad for Disney’s new movie The Love Bug. Another ad touts “The Greatest Adventure Of Them All” over a drawing of a pirate attack from Walt Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson in Technicolor Panavision (Starts Wednesday at the Kearse).

There are lots of non Disney ads as well. Cougar Country (In Color) was Coming Soon one ad exclaimed. Another ad promised “The Greatest Hunting and Fishing Spectacular Ever Filmed” in an ad for The Outdoorsman (Now! at the Capitol). Yet another ad touts the “Authentic True-To-Life Adventure” of North Country (In Color). Apparently in 1971 it was still necessary to advertise the fact that your film was in color. As you can tell most of the movies I was interested in were about animals. I remember when my mom took me to see The Outdoorsman, she was afraid I would be upset about all of the animals that were being shot and killed by the big game hunters, but for some reason I didn’t pay any attention to that. I just liked seeing the big horn sheep and the bears.

Not all of the ads were for films that I got to see. I have an ad I clipped for K. Gordon Murray’s Rumpelstiltskin that I don’t recall seeing in theaters or anywhere else for that matter. There’s also a pair of ads for the double feature of Sssssss and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (one for its run at the Valley Drive In and one for its run at the Trail Drive In). I loved monsters almost as much as animals, but there was zero chance of Mom taking me to see these movies even though they were both rated PG.

What’s amazing to me is the number of movies that you hear nothing about anymore as well as the number of theaters that I had forgotten existed. Browns Theater in Cabin Creek? Not a clue, but there it is alongside the Marmet (in Marmet) and the Roxy (in Clendenin) under the more prominent Kearse and Cinema 21 in another larger ad for North Country (Now Showing! One Week Only! In Color!). Does anyone else remember Hang Your Hat On The Wind? or Smith starring Glenn Ford? And where can I find a copy of Journey to the Beginning of Time with its “Authentic Re-creation of Prehistoric Times” not just in color but “In Full Color”?

Of course just like Facebook is not only pictures of cats, my scrapbook was not just movie ads. There were pictures of animals, celebrities I liked (or had at least heard of), obituaries for classmates that died way too young, and other items. There is a wonderful ad from Kmart for Halloween costumes during their “Million Dollar Discount Sale”. You could buy a pirate or a bunny for only 87 cents. If you wanted to dress up like Major Matt Mason or one of the Banana Splits however, it would set you back almost double that; $1.67.

The scrapbook also became the repository for the pictures off of my old Aurora monster models. I was keeping all of my old model boxes, crushed down flat and under my mattress. Mom thought I was crazy for saving them and they were starting to create a bulge in the mattress as well. She convinced me to soak the pictures off of the cardboard and glue them into my scrapbook. Eventually I gave up on trying to soak them off and just glued cardboard and all into my scrapbook.

Not only is this scrapbbook a wonderful trip down memory lane for me, but it reminds me of how much things have changed since I was a kid. They don’t make movies like Cougar Country, North Country, or The Ra Expeditions any longer. At least not with the frequency they made them back then. There are no more drive-ins and no stand-alone theaters in the area. There are more screens, but they are all located in four buildings. Newspapers don’t publish huge ads for new movies with artwork. Movie companies no longer try and produce art style posters for their films. Photoshop has killed the modern one-sheet in most cases. Figure models like the Aurora monster model kits are a thing of the past except for higher priced specialty kits from Moebius and other similar companies. And if you want to buy one of these kits, you won’t find it in your local Walmart or Target. Even the hobby shops have a very limited selection if they have any at all.

Of course one other stumbling block to a scrapbook like this is the slow death of print media. The Gazette and Daily Mail are both still around, but they just aren’t the same as they were. I miss the old days when I would wake up on a cold morning, crawl out of bed in my footie pajamas and plop down in the living room floor in front of our gas fireplace with the morning paper and a bowl of cereal. I started out just looking at the movie ads, but I soon started reading the comics. By junior high I had ditched the footie pajamas for pajamas and slippers and had started reading James Dent’s column The Gazetteer along with Ann Landers. By high school I was actually reading the news as well. I loved to read, and much of that was thanks to the morning newspaper, a family that read to me as a baby, and comic books (which is a topic for another post).