Friday, March 25, 2011

Wisdom from the silver screen

World knowledge gained from the silver screen

I was fortunate to get an early start on study of the history of the world. Every Saturday night mother took my sister and I to a double-feature at the one-aisled Queen Theater on Brownwood’s Center Avenue.

Out on the Brady highway Camp Bowie was in full swing and the town was full of young troopers, especially on Saturday night. While dad cut hair we enjoyed the movies. Then we all rode home together in our 1936 four-door Plymouth. Evidently the new military camp did not have good barbers, for dad’s shop never closed before nine-thirty on Saturdays.

I do not know if dad bought the Plymouth new or used. According to an old 1936 newspaper ad the new ones sold for $510. (In those days dad hardly cleared forty to fifty dollars a week – but then, a dollar was worth a dollar.)

Brownwood’s Center Avenue alone had six movie houses in those days. (For more on the subject see my book, “Along the Way.”) Also the Grenada, owned by movie starlet Jennifer Jones’ father, was a block off Center. All this and two drive-ins.

It is evident that I had plenty of places to do research in my early years. Research from the silver screen planted in my heart and soul what the world was all about.

Recently a friend took a holiday to Morocco. His trip may have been a good one, but for me he wasted his money. He did not see either Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman. In my ignorance I ask about the famous Casbah and learned it was in Algiers. But I really believe Hope and Crosby ran through the Casbah in their movie, “The Road to Morocco.”

My knowledge of the rest of Africa was reinforced with the Tarzan movies. I did additional research on Edger Rice Burroughs’ hero from his 1918 “Tarzan of the Apes.” (I still have six of the series, published in 1918 and the 1920s. They are insured.)

It took a while but I finally saw all 52 “official” films of the Tarzan legend. Johnny Weissmuller, won five Olympic gold medals and set 67 world records in the 1920's, was my favorite Tarzan. Among the many who played Tarzan were Herman Brix (later wisely changed his name to Bruce Bennett); Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II, the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles he won a gold medal in the 400 meter freestyle setting a new world record); and handsome Lex Barker (Born Alexander Crichlow Barker, Jr).

The Queen double features also had a 15-minute serial every Saturday. When the serial was not about the Lone Ranger (where I learned much about Texas) or Flash Gordon (space knowledge), it was an episodic Tarzan serial. These always left the hero in a horrible fix facing death. But the hero always got out of it the following Saturday.

Since this is being published in Texas there is no need to relate all I learned about this great state and the West. Randolph Scott was born in Virginia, but, to me, he was a Texan. It was a long time before the Indians ever won a battle in cowboy pictures. They were depicted as less than human; rampaging savages and fiends as all of America’s enemies are depicted. See “Sands of Iwo Jima” or any John Wayne war film whuppin’ up on “Japs.”

The spaghetti western, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” had a message, but my poor Italian kept me from knowing what it was. Good prevailed and the good guys with the white hats won out against the bad guys in the last reel. (Buck Jones; William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy; Bob Livingstone (one of the Three Musketeers) and Alabama’s Johnny Mack Brown, who was most valuable player in the 1926 Rose Bowl upset of the Washington Huskies.

Certainly I would be as dumb on world affairs as Michelle Bachmann, had it not been for the cinema. Happy April Fools Day.

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