How Movies Molded Me

“Ah, come on. Pu-lease take me with you. Pu-lease!”

I begged whenever my brothers, Keith and Bill, went to the movies back in the early 1930s. They ignored me. Well, you know the definition of a big brother: a large pain in the household. Finally one day Keith and Bill said, “Okay. You can come.”

I heard them say the movie was about a fellow named Frank. We split some popcorn, watched the Pathe News and a cartoon, then the main attraction. It turned out that the movie was Frankenstein, and the plot revolved around this strange creature Dr. Frankenstein created.

I can give folks a quick impression. I don a dark sports jacket backwards, collar up. Then I stalk about growling and muttering. This works if you run out of candy on the Fourth of July. Frankenstein’s creature made a lasting impression on me. And the strategy of my brothers worked: I no longer begged to let me join them at the movies.

Horror Night! Halloween party or movie night event flyer vector design with terrified vintage man face afraid of something creepy, comic book style portrait with light from belowWe moved into an apartment in South Denver, just four blocks from the Mayon Theatre. My mother let me go solo to the Saturday matinee. It was cheaper than hiring a baby sitter, and the apartment stayed much neater. In addition to, say, Tom Mix, the newsreel, and a cartoon, we got to see, instead of eat, a serial. It was about fifteen minutes long, and each one ended with a damsel tied up and stretched out on railroad tracks, or engaged in some other life-threatening predicament. What’s more, the theater also conducted a prize drawing each Saturday. We signed in during June and the manager took down one name for that week’s prize.

“You won’t be going to the movies this Saturday,” my mother announced early in the week.

“But why not?” I asked.

“They’re showing a movie called Captain Blood and it just sounds too gory for a boy your age.”

I didn’t know what a “gory” was, but I begged and pleaded, to no avail. The movie starred Errol Flynn, Olivia de Haviland and Basil Rathbone. Later, I learned that some critics called it the best pirate film ever. And that was the Saturday my name was drawn. The prize? A new bicycle.

I finally forgave her—47 years later. I had to go without wheels for four more years, until I got a paper route.

We moved to East Denver. I joined a throng of kids in Cheeseman Park for an Easter egg hunt. I found one that included a ticket for the Ogden Theatre. Three nights later I went on my own to see The Hounds of the Baskervilles, a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The hound looked more like a bear. It did terrible things to idiots who walked in those muddy, murky, mushy moors. I didn’t waste any time covering the nine blocks home. This was before street lights and no one could afford to leave their porch lights on. It seemed like every other house had a dog that barked, growled or snarled in a hungry way.

Looking back, I must credit Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc for their positive influence. Jones was the director and creative force for most of the Bugs Bunny cartoons, and Mel Blanc supplied the v-v-v-varied v-v-v-voices. If it hadn’t been for them, I never would have developed an interest in classical music.

From the Barber of Seville there are those classic lines: “Welcome to my shop, Let me cut your mop, Let me shave your crop, Daintily, daintily.” Then there’s that call to action, “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”

I learned about history with The Magnificent Ambersons and Gone With the Wind. I soared aloft with heroic Errol Flynn in Dawn Patrol.

I discovered Mother Nature can be a witch as the walls came tumbling down in San Francisco in the 1906 earthquake.

But Hollywood provided relief from the monsters and mayhem. Remember Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and the soothing balm of the Wizard of Oz in which we learned “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

Plus we discovered—all together now—“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

Ted Fuller is the author of six books, including a memoir, plus a children’s picture book. From 1997 to 2002 he wrote a “Senior Scene” column for weeklies distributed by the Contra Costa Times, and is a former member of the Central Contra Costa County Senior Coalition and the Pleasant Hill Commission on Aging.