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Schmoozing The Movies

Story ID:165
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Period Piece
Location:Tacoma Wa. USA
Year:1940
Person:Kathe
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Schmoozing The Movies

Schmoozing The Movies
by Kathe Campbell

Her makeup and coiffeur were perfection. His as well. Her black silk gown was cut high in the front, slinking scandalously low just beneath the hollow of her back. Their voices smoldered in breathless dialog. Her full lips and bedroom eyes beckoned a sizzling lure as she murmured, "Darling." He drew her close and they caressed and kissed passionately, not just once, but twice. As the music swelled and screen faded, four traumatized pre-teens sat with mouths agape perceiving God only knows. Lust had flown off the screen to conjure up all sorts of fantasies . . . sigh!

Corny? Maybe to today's generation, but this was just about all that the codes of decency allowed back in the dark ages. Nudity, gore, foul language and double beds were nixed. That's not to say a little murder, mayhem and passion didn't occur on or near respectable sofas. But letting young imaginations take flight probably sold more movie tickets than all the bubble gum and comedies combined. We were watching the history of cinema in its innocence and wouldn't fully appreciate it for decades to come.

Yes, I was one of those star-struck youngsters who swooned long before Elvis was invented. A bunch of us got together on Saturday or Sunday afternoon to part with two-bits from our allowance. We rode the bus downtown to the corner of Ninth and Broadway, home to the Rialto, the Music Box and Roxy theaters. These were Tacoma's premier show houses featuring velvet seats and roped-off loges, wrap-around balconies, uniformed ushers, and chock-full snack bars. Matinees and evening fare played for one week before the bill changed on weekends. The theater facades lit up the sky with colorful running neon tubes and great white globes encircling the features. It always seemed as though the gaudy deco art on the outside defied the nice appointments within. Straight out of the can came the dramas, musicals, comedies, romances, thrillers, adventures, the cartoons, and ofttimes a rip-roarin' western.

Occasionally my father escorted me and mother for dinner and a movie at the 5th Avenue in Seattle. Oh my, what a lavish place that was, and still is decades later. It was post depression and World War II double feature culture at it's finest, played by the greats of the day. Gable, Garfield, Garson, and Grable. Lavish musicals, zany comedies and white knuckle war stories were at their height. The public demanded romance, handsome flyers and war heroes in Sgt. York, Random Harvest and A Guy Named Joe.

Two of the most popular and memorable pictures of all time were released within months of one another in the late thirties.
The Wizard of Oz had me captivated and hooked forever. Both the Oz and Gone With The Wind were held over in most cities, their popularity never waning these 65 years. Similarly, everybody's darling, Shirley Temple, sang and danced our worries and cares away at the end and beginning of two frightful eras. And will any of my compatriots ever forget Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire? I think not.

It was at the 5th Avenue where I was introduced to the original Broadway stage show, South Pacific, starring Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin. According to some, the movie versions ruined the stage plays, but my youthful critique soared in high praise when Carousel and Oklahoma followed on the silver screen. I may have forgotten much in my antiquity, but I've never forgotten the music and lyrics of the Rodgers and Hammerstein hits. The film musicals like Singin' In The Rain, Meet Me In St. Louis and The Sound of Music were equally popular.

Tingles pierced my spine watching the Pecks, Grants, and Gables of the 40's, seductively persuing the Bergmans, Turners, and Stanwycks. Of course, my idea of love-making at twelve was a closely held caress and American kissing. The blatant consuming of one another's faces, as my husband put it, would have been censored and rated X. Required amounts of passion befit most good stories, and they did it so well in Casablanca, A Place In The Sun and The Fountainhead. Nor did movie goers ever forget the stir the Lancaster/Kerr beach scene made in From Here To Eternity.

But Bogey and Bacall made the greatest steamy thrillers on and off the screen, their romancing barely skimming propriety. He was so macho and she so seductive, my heart raced in anticipation of that "whistle." Then Bogie and Hepburn, as Rosie and Mr. Allnut, perilously maneuvered us down the Nile in the African Queen. Such relief when at last she addressed him with a quivering, "Dear!" But Tracy and Hepburn remain my most beloved, pairing romantically and comically in over a half dozen hits. As a kid dining with my family in a swank Victoria B.C. hotel, Spencer Tracy and his family were seated mere feet away. My mother quietly sighed and remarked, "Be still my heart," as we made every effort to leave them to their meal.

Wiling away lazy snowy afternoons to The Song of Bernadette, A Farewell To Arms, The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Lost Weekend, I wondered how long these original masterpieces will be around. Forever according to the guild that preserves the greats. I curl up and laugh and cry no matter how many times they appear on my dish. I'll bet I've seen The Grapes of Wrath, Leave Her To Heaven and The Bells of St. Mary's a dozen times, always spotting something new.

It's no wonder I married a cowboy of sorts, for the shoot 'em up westerns have always suited me well. As a grade school kid, my darlin' and his pals paid a dime to slouch down in the front row of their local no-frills theater. Hopalong, Gene, Gabby and Roy showed up every Saturday to screams and whistles after Bugs Bunny and the coming attractions. I doubt if he ever saw a grown-up movie in a big theater until he went into the service.

He enjoyed Moby Dick, Double Indemnity, Gas Light and Mildred Pierce, but his heart belonged to John Wayne for 40 years. If anything needed doing around our house, it waited while the Duke killed the bad guys, halted a stampede, or bushwhacked a band of renegade Indians. Wayne amassed 178 movies as a wagon master, a cowboy, military brass, The Quiet Man, and Rooster Cogburn. In-between, I claimed dibs on Giant, Duel in The Sun, Treasure of Sierra Madre, High Noon and Shane.

I'm in good company, having experienced cinema changes as a big city school girl of the 30's, 40's and early 50's. But was it necessary to keep re-upping the Titanic? Like clockwork, every ten years brought us another version. I still believe the best movies were written, directed and acted better in my day. A few exceptions include The Godfather, Dirty Harry, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, Dances With Wolves, Guess Whose Coming To Dinner, On Golden Pond, and The Shootist, all superb.

Everyone agrees that nothing could keep his audience on tenterhooks like director, Alfred Hitchcock. His genius gave us Rope, Spellbound, Notorious, North by Northwest, Vertico and Psycho. It was equally fun watching for the plump movie maker to stroll casually through each of his films, often a mere shadow. I saw them all and rush to see them again in my own living room where the master of suspense is always welcome.

The older I get, the funnier some of the silents and early talkies seem. The antics of Keaton, Chaplin, and Oliver and Hardy conveyed honest and pure humor. They were just a tad before my interest in movies, but it didn't take me long to appreciate their buffoonery. I almost decided against showing my grandchildren a treasured collection of my Oliver and Hardy shorts, lest a lot of rolled eyes and groans. Surprisingly, they were genuinely amused and wanted more.

Well folks, my musings may not play well to the younger crowd, and I know a few old fogies who can out-reminisce me. Many stars and roles are mentioned and I'm truly sorry if I've left your favorites in movie morgue dust. However, I feel the need to mention some beloved players who complimented the stars and brought such life to the screen. Also starring were Marjorie Main, Hattie McDaniel, Edna Mae Oliver, Spring Byington and Jane Darwell. Percy Kilbride, Victor McLaughlin, Arthur Treacher, Barry Fitzgerald, Ben Johnson, Jay Silverheels, and a whole lot more.

It's a sign of our times, for modern films are made mostly for the kids and young adults. Everything is rated R and I don't need R. I've been there-done a lot of that, and watching somebody else do it is a terrible bore. It tickles me to pieces that I can take any of my great grandchildren to see the latest animated features for excellent stories, good narratives and special effects. We can actually all enjoy the same thing together in the twenty-first century. Maybe there's hope for me yet.