A whole lot of fascinating stuff has happened to the world since I got here.
The way we travel, dress, eat, all changed. Dramatically. What was a Sci Fi movie when I was growing up is laughably dated. Buck Rogers doesn’t even have his own century any more.
But for me, that past is still amazing.
This first story was handed down by my father, and, not surprisingly, it has to do with radio, since that particular area sort of ruled his world.
This particular memory seems to predate even the use of the name RADIO. Dad talked instead about the family gathering around the kitchen table in order to listen to some very poor transmission coming from a bunch of earphones tossed into a crystal bowl.
“Well,” my father said “the thing is we had always used earphones for listening up to this point. But then somebody, somewhere, figured out that by putting several pairs of earphones into a cut glass bowl, they could raise the sound to a level where a whole family could listen at the same time!”
He reckoned “early 1900” as the time of this wondrous discovery. Now, since I am working in today’s time I can say with some certitude that the year was around 1910. Google knows everything.
By the time he shared this particular bit of history, we had been dealing for quite a while with a rather over sized cabinet style hunk of furniture which served as our “RADIO” that took up a good part of what we referred to as our “Parlor”.
That word – Parlor – has disappeared from casual usage,…it’s sort of a Downton Abbey kind of word, meaning the room the family stayed out of most of the time so it would always be sparkling clean when a guest arrived. Mom seemed to feel that her reputation depended on it.
Once radio moved into everyone’s home, the audience started drifting outside for entertainment…So we got vaudeville and silent films. And then there were TALKING PICTURES.
Actually, “Talking pictures” were already a fact of everyone’s life by the time I joined the crowd that spent every Saturday at the movies. By the time I became aware of films and theatres, Al Jolson was already singing his heart out about his “little Mammie”.
No more did the beautiful damsel in distress have to rely on raised eyebrows and typed-in dialogue. And handsome heroes like Tarzan of the Apes could yodel their way though the jungle to save poor frightened, but always loyal Jane, from the evils lurking there. Subtlety was not big on screen
All this was available for a nickel and a Saturday spent at the moves was really a WHOLE Saturday. Typically we’d get to see a weekly serial like Flash Gordon, and a News reel and then either a double feature or a live vaudeville show. Which usually included a clown and maybe some magic tricks and some dancers. None of it was very good, but we had nothing to judge by so it was all considered great.
I remember one Saturday when my sister Jackie and I went to see Nelson Eddy and Janette McDonald in “Rose Marie.”
My sister aspired to becoming the next Janette, so we stayed to see the movie three times. I, the alto in the family, really hated Janette MacDonald but Jackie was the older sister and I wasn’t allowed to walk home without her – so there I sat fuming.
I stubbornly refused to change my mind about Janette, until one time, many years later, I was at a live theatre show and so was she… seated in the audience like a regular person!
The show was about two and a half hours long, and never once did she curl into the back of the seat, but casually sat, ramrod straight, for the entire performance. Now that was a performance I could admire, but when I tried to achieve it, all I got was a major pain in the neck.
Personally, I think films did themselves a disservice by revealing the magic-like special effects of automobiles flying off cliffs and soldiers killing each other…some with a sinister smile on their faces and some just sad depending on whether they were the bad guys or us.
We could (almost) believe that the noble men we were watching were actually dying to save us all, or that the really rotten bad guys died when their brakes gave out and they sailed off the end of the earth! And when Florence Nightingale and her nurses marched into those hospital wards, I could just imagine me leading the women into battle. Brave. Unflappable. And pretty – even in war!
I remember going to see a short film about how Hollywood could create robot-people, or blow a random planet filled with terrifying aliens right out of the sky. Or, on a happier note, bring us singing mermaids and mice turned into horses for Cinderella.
Now we give prizes for the most successful Special Effects. Which is probably as it should be, but I really enjoyed the thrill before I knew everything was faked – an illusion.
Among my father’s many talents was that of magician. He had nothing but respect for the concept of illusion. I have to disagree with him here. My feeling is more in line with the Hungarian novelist Arthur Koestler (a contemporary of my father’s time) who said:
“Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion”
Mr. Koestler probably meant some big life-illusion, like love-lost but I really miss the days of watching those stalwart mice, Jac and Gus turning into horses and waiting on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.
See you at the movies – or not.