My parents never held back when it came to providing us with a variety of cultural experiences. One of these was exposure to movies. From the time I was able to sit up on my own in a theater seat, and not cry, I suppose, I saw movies. Movies of all kinds. If it was something they wanted to see, regardless of content, my folks had us there.
It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford babysitters. My grandparents were awailable to fulfill that duty should a night out on the town beckon. No, I think they really wanted us to be exposed to everything they wanted to see.
For instance, we never missed an Elvis movie. My mom was a big Elvis fan, my dad I think not. But as in the choice of my name, I’ll venture my mom won the Elvis debates handily, without rebuttal.
We all loved James Bond and Clint Eastwood’s gunfighter with no name in the famous Spaghetti Western Trilogy, and there was no question that any war movie my dad wanted to see would be seen whether my mom wanted to or not. That was one debate my dad never lost. My mom absolutely did not want to see The Quick and the Dead, so my dad took just me, end of argument.
Some was movies were gimmes for Pop. My mom did want to see Gregory Peck in the The Guns of Navarone, and she did like Steve McQueen, so we saw The Great Escape. My dad didn’t have to argue their worth at all.
It was because of Zulu that my mom fell in love with Michael Caine. She swooned when he yelled “Fire.” She made a very odd comment about being thrilled that she could see the gold fillings in his rear lower molars. Kind of kinky, don’t you think? From then on we dutifully went to see all the Harry Palmer movies and Alfie as well.
Do you see a pattern with my mother and movies, like with actors she, ah, finds attractive for some reason? I’m not sure, but there may be something there. Just a theory, mind you.
My dad loved Zulu as well. I don’t think specifically because of Michael Caine. My dad was more of a Stanley Baker kind of guy, or maybe Nigel Green, who plays Colour-Sergeant Bourne. He loved it so much, in facr, that one day he picked me up after school and decided to take me to another showing of it.
Again, treating my sister and I as mature adults no matter how young we might be, when I was very small and immature in the extreme, and by that I mean way TOO young, they took us to see The Fly. I swear, it was months before I could go to sleep without fearing I heard a fly foot being dragged around outside the bedroom door, and my sister and I looked for the fly under our beds. The words, “Help me, help me” still run through my mind in odd moments, that high pitched whine, the little scream just before the rock comes down SPLAT.
I miss all the old theaters, it’s the Palace Theater, the one that used to sit on the corner of Beretania and Ke‘eaumoku, I was most sorry to see finally come down. Every time I would drive past it, and when I pass the gas station that stands there now, I remember some of the greatest movies I ever saw.
Back in 1965, the Palace held a revival of old movie musicals. My mom, a big fan, took us to see every one of them. Some I remember were The Merry Widow with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevlier, Macdonald and Nelson Eddy in Naughty Marietta and Rose Marie, The Student Prince with Mario Lanza and Ann Blythe, South Pacific with Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi, Gigi with Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan, and the one above all of them that enthralled me most, Brigadoon, with Gene Kelley, Cyd Charisse, and Van Johnson.
I was so enraptured, so mesmerized by the beauty of Cyd Charisse, as wholly smitten as a fifth-grader could be, and by her elegant, steamy dances with Kelly, I asked my grandmother to take me to see it again. We rode the bus all the way there and back. Maybe she enjoyed it; we never critiqued it together.
The funny thing is, that although I loved the movie, the dancing and the music, the more I thought about it in the years afterward, the reason why I’m so drawn to it even today, is finally because of Van Johnson. Johnson is the representative figure of all of us, the audience. He is the one who remains behind in the real world, destined to grow old, while Kelly escapes into Brigadoon, the village that appears only once every hundred years, merely a single day in the lives of the townspeople. In effect Charisse and Kelly live forever, while Johnson and we live our lives out in real world time and then pass on.
That message, no matter how often I see Brigadoon and revel in the music and the dance and Cyd Charisse, is the final take away for me. Maybe it’s that bittersweet quality that affects me most. I get the feeling, after 66 years, that I’m drawn to the bittersweet in art.
Well, I definitely caught the musical bug thanks to my mom. In addition, she took us to the likes of West Side Story, Flower Drum Song, My Fair Lady, and just about every other one that came out during those years.
When I was too old to go with my parents, I still made it a point to see every musical I could, from Hello Dolly and Mame, to Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and beyond.
My love of musicals led me to audition, with my dear sister’s encouragement, for the Diamond Head Theater production of Oliver! Being in that play was an experience I’ll never forget. It was a huge hit at the time, adding two weeks by popular demand to a six-week run, six days a week. All the boys in the cast played dual roles as both workhouse orphans under the strictest control of the cruel Mr. Bumble, and as the street savvy juvenile delinquents led by the avaricious Fagin. Yvonne Elliman was a stage hand, and Dean Pitchford, who played the Artful Dodger, went on to write the title song lyrics for Fame as well as come up with the idea for Footloose, writing both the script and most of the lyrics for that hit movie.
I’m sure Oliver! has been surpassed, but we were number one in box office receipts ever to that point. Never had a play received such gushing reviews by every critic. It was a heady, acting bug inducing experience all the way around to be sure.
I went on to try out for the King and I at HIC right afterward without luck, but I did also try out, again with my dear sister’s urging, for the Honolulu Children’s Opera Chorus. I made the cut, and was thrilled to participate in numerous operas with the Honolulu Opera Theater.
Of all the ones in which I appeared during my three years with HCOC, my favorite opera was Tosca. I enjoyed the music of La Bohème most, but, you guessed it, Tosca starred an absolutely gorgeous soprano named Jean Fenn. I would watch her and tenor Frank Poretta from the wings, and I would imagine that I was Poretta, holding Fenn in my arms and making passionate melodic love to her.
Frank Poretta, sadly, passed away five years ago at 85, but oh, what a lucky man he was.
Jean Fenn is still alive. I see she is 90 years old. Ah, that she had waited for me to catch up, and we had escaped into the mist to grow old together.
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Aloha #WriterWednesday. Today’s #WritingPrompt is several
Use any to inspire a piece of writing, and then post that piece somewhere I can read it. I would love to see what you write : )