Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Savoy Theatre


 
In 1958 my dad drove me and my friend Paul to the Savoy Theatre in downtown Ferguson. We were both ten, and this was the first time our parents let us attend a movie without adult supervision. Dad let us off in front, making sure we knew when and where he would pick us up. The movie was “The Blob” and according to friends, it is was “really good” and “really scary”.
 It was the first show of the evening and a long line of kids stood waiting outside to buy tickets.  Paul and I went to the end of the line. Most of the other kids towered over us. Some girls standing next to us talked with each other excitedly and Paul and I noticed they smelled like perfume. Some of the boys up ahead looked dangerous, with hair greased back, short sleeves rolled up, shirt fronts partly unbuttoned and collars flipped up in the back. They were smoking cigarettes, talking loudly and pushing each other around.

The line in the lobby for snacks was long too, but we had plenty of time before the movie started. We bought candy, soda and shared a popcorn. I don’t remember what kind of candy Paul got, but I bought a big chunk of fudge, not the best choice for this particular movie. By the time we made it to our seats, the theater was nearly full and filled with the sounds of talking and laughter. A theater custodian patrolled up and down the aisles. As soon as he disappeared through the curtains and into the lobby, the air was filled with flying popcorn and crumpled candy wrappers. The concrete floor under our feet was sticky from spilled soda and under the arms of the seats were petrified wads of chewing gum.

The movie opens with a young couple necking in a convertible. It was Steve McQueen’s first movie role and he received $3,000 for his performance. The girl was Anita Corsaut, who would several years later play Helen Crump, Opie’s teacher and Andy’s girlfriend on the Andy Griffith Show. The couple notices a meteor cross the night sky and crash to earth. They take off in Steve’s powder blue 1952 Plymouth, to try to find it. But an old man, who lives in a cabin nearby, finds it first. The old man pokes the small meteor with a stick and it opens to reveal a small, round, reddish blob. He then pokes the blob and lifts it up to examine it. It now looks yellowish and oozy like a big disgusting glob of snot. When it jumps from the stick onto the old man’s hand, a collective gasp ripples across the theater. The old man tries to shake it off, but can’t. He stumbles out onto the highway and Steve and Miss Crump nearly run him over.

I watched parts of the movie on "you-tube" in order to write this blog-post, and compared to today’s horror films, it’s terrible. It’s poorly written, the actors definitely would not win any awards and most importantly, to today’s kids, it would not be the least bit scary. In the 50s “cheap teen movies” were made for the drive-in movie market. “The Blob” was released as a double feature along with “I Married a Monster from Outer Space”. But in 1958, the entire audience of kids, even the “cool” rowdy kids, were transfixed by the suspense, many hiding their eyes and scrunching down in their seats.

Paul and I voraciously ate the popcorn, drank the soda and I was working on my big hunk of fudge right when the blob oozed through the ventilation grates and into the on screen movie theater. I had to leave my seat, run up the aisle and out the exit to upchuck by the side of the theater. But I didn’t want to miss any of the action, so I ran back in and continued watching.

          No one could figure out how to stop the blob until a fire broke out and some of the fire extinguisher fluid accidentally sprayed it. When it recoiled, our hero, Steve, remembered it recoiling earlier from an open freezer door and put two and two together. Steve's teenage friends and the cops grabbed all the fire extinguishers they could find and were able to temporarily freeze it. In its frozen state, the blob was airlifted by an Air Force heavy lift cargo plane to the Arctic and sent parachuting down onto the ice. In the final dialogue of the movie, Policeman Dave says something like, “the blob is not dead, but at least it has been stopped.” To which Steve replies, "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold." And if you’ve been listening to the news lately you’d know that the Arctic ice is melting at an unparalleled rate. Paul and I survived our first unsupervised outing at the Savoy. On the way out we noticed Hercules was coming next week. We could hardly wait.

The last film I remember seeing at the Savoy was “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards.  It was the summer after I graduated from McCluer High School and my last date with Marley before entering the Army.


The Savoy Theatre opened on Christmas day 1936. In 1966 it was purchased by the Wehrenberg chain of theatres. The inside was completely gutted and remodeled to become the Crown Theatre and ran  newly released films. In 1993 the Crown closed and the building became the Savoy Banquet Center. 
 

 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Childhood Slides

I’ve begun the laborious task of transferring all of my family’s slides to digital photos. The slides start in the mid-fifties and go into the early sixties. My dad took a lot of pictures, three shoe boxes full. In the nineties, after both of my parents had died, I went through the slides, throwing many away and putting the rest in little plastic boxes with labels on the top. Besides the family slides, we also have boxes of photographs out in the garage that need to be scanned sometime in the future.

I bought a slide scanner on line. It was cheap, made in China, but had more stars than the other scanners. One problem is that it cuts the pictures off on the sides. It's like watching a movie made for a newer rectangular screen TV on an old square TV. Sometimes you see two noses talking to each other with the rest of the two persons out of view. Most of the slides are not affected by this because the subject is in the center of the frame. But in a few pictures, where people were sitting around a table or in the living room, I had to decide whether to leave out the person on the right or the person on the left or shift the slide and scan the picture twice.

It was one of those “people sitting around in the living room” pictures that caused me to pause and seriously question this whole project. My Grandmother had two good friends, Elsie and Amanda. Neither of them ever married and they shared an apartment,  we called it a “flat” but I don’t know why.  I never knew the history of either of these women, but as a boy, they both seemed very old, in their old lady print dresses and big clunky black shoes. My Dad referred to them as the “high kickers” which my sister and I thought was funny. They were both very sweet ladies and always nice to us kids.

In the picture, Elsie was sitting on one side of the living room and Amanda on the other. I had to decide which one to cut out or whether to shift the slide and scan two pictures. Then it struck me. Who cares? Who will ever want to look at these pictures? My sister will enjoy looking at them, maybe once. But for some reason, I could not forever cut out either Elsie or Amanda. After all, they were always part of our extended family gatherings.  



Left to right- Grandpa, my sister Karen, Amanda, Mom, Elsie,
cousin Kurt, Uncle Merle, great cousin Marie and Aunt Edie 
On Christmas or Thanksgiving the family gathered at my grandparents house in south St. Louis. These were happy occasions. Grandpa Ben(died in 1959) sat at one end of the table and Grandma(not in the picture, either her or grandpa had to be cut) at the other. This picture shows only some of the family, but for me captures the essence of that fleeting time, which I thought was forever. 

I’ve seen these old slides so many times over the years, I can’t look at them from an objective viewpoint. Dad would set up the screen and projector in the living room, which seemed like a major deal and we sat mesmerized, looking at ourselves on vacation or at family functions. Dad had humorous comments for almost every slide and some of his comments were “off-color”. Mom would then say in a stern voice “Kenneth” and my sister and I would laugh. I even scanned a picture of a robin on our dead front lawn. Mom made such a big deal about what a crappy (my word not hers, she rarely used any bad language) picture it was, insinuating that it costs a lot of money to get slides developed, so don't waste them.

These are a few of my favorites. For me each one still captures some of the security, freedom and hope of my childhood, which seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way to adulthood.                                                                                                    

View on a snow day from our dinning room window

A big snow in Ferguson meant school was cancelled. In the morning, when I  first opened my eyes to the soft, reflected light of snow filling my room, I knew the day ahead had been transformed into an exciting adventure.
Flying down the street on my Royal Racer sled.




I was given a puppy for Christmas when I was three. I named her Cookie. She slept at the foot of my bed and went everywhere with me when I was a boy. She died when I was in Vietnam.












Me, Paul Brehm, Tom Woodard and Bob Chapman


At Ranch Royale, we camped and rented horses. We were allowed to ride anywhere on the  huge property, unsupervised.




 
                                                                        
One of my favorite trips, in 1958, was to Hannibal, Mo where we visited the boyhood home of Samuel Clemmons. The books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were my childhood favorites.
    


 



I had just gotten a new Brownie flash camera for my birthday.





When we toured the cave where Becky and Tom had to hide from Indian Joe, the tour guide turned out the lights. It was dark and scary.










Sometime my sister, Karen, went along on these adventures. 
My mom had a friend from work named Alma who owned a farm house down in the Ozarks. We went there quite a few times. In the winter I explored the woods with Cookie. I always had my BB gun, but never shot at any animals. I was afraid I might hit one.











In the summer I fished in the local stream and we swam in a large lake nearby. Alma was sometimes there when we were and she made big breakfasts--pancakes, bacon and fruit. She also cleaned and cooked the fish I caught.








Our team was sponsored by Barbay's Market,
a local Ferguson grocery store
Baseball was a big part of my life growing up. In the St. Louis area we had the Kourey League. One of the highlights of my boyhood was getting to play at Bush stadium in the Kourey League All Star game.




Perfecting my Stan (the man) Musial stance