Growing up in a small town in Nebraska, there were only two things to do on the weekends: play baseball and go to the movies. I enjoyed both, so I kept busy each weekend. When baseball season was over the movies were available from 1 p.m. to late at night.
It was not unusual to sit through a movie three or four times during a Saturday if it was a good movie, and on a Sunday, after church. Needless to say, with all that exposure you soon became acquainted with many movies and memorized who was in each movie and the lines they delivered.
There were a couple of occasions where two famous movie stars became acquaintances: one from an invitation and one from tragedy.
My father was a Captain in the Army Air Corps. He arranged for Lt. Jimmy Stewart to have a soft drink with us and sign my scrapbook. Stewart was an accomplished pilot and was the first major Hollywood movie star to wear a military uniform in WWII. In our visit with him, he was delightful and chatty.
Dad was then assigned to become Provost Martial at Nike Air Force Base in 1941. We were attending a movie one night when dad was called out of the movie with no explanation. As it turned out, a twin-engine Douglas DC-3 carrying 14 soldiers, actress Carole Lombard and her mother, had crashed into a mountain near Las Vegas, killing everyone aboard. It was dad’s job to bring the bodies down with horses and mules. Clark Gable was waiting at the bottom of the mountain, as he was Carole’s husband. Dad had the unfortunate duty to tell Mr. Gable about his wife.
After this tragedy, Mr. Gable invited dad and our family to visit him on the set of a movie in which he was acting called “Honky Tonk.” We gladly visited him during his filming. He seemed to be distracted and he asked an aid to bring three chairs over to us. He cut the filming short that day and he retrieved a fourth chair and came over to talk to us. It was like old home week. He was one of the friendliest men I had ever met. He later excused himself and went to his dressing room only to return with a cast pistol he had used in the movie and presented it to me. It was the greatest gift any seven year old could have ever received. I still have it and I treasure it even more now.
The reason for this history lesson is to emphasize where my interest in film stems. I’ve been able to share that interest with my friends and fellow residents at Holly Creek (Retirement Community) by hosting movie nights in the Cortez Theater, the community’s theater.
The older films from the thirties through the fifties and even a few since that time period emphasized acting, fabulous set design and artistic impressions. Unlike today’s films, that seems to emphasize special effects, explosions and sensationalism, at the expense of acting, which has been de-emphasized.
One of the most frequent comments I receive after showing a film is, “Why don’t they make films like that anymore?” It is a tough question. It has to do with the current youthful movie supporters and their changing demands for sex, explosions and death rather than life experience’s enjoying the solutions learned. Remember, many film viewers have to be reminded to turn off their cell phones during movies. I’m not sure if today’s audiences have the attention span needed to let stories develop through quality acting.
Yes, that is only one explanation, but this post is not intended to be a psychological analysis of today’s film styles. It just exposes my preferences for films and exposure to acting and actors at a young age. I have done my share of stage work, which, in my opinion, is tougher than film acting. When you are on stage, you get one chance to get an idea or emotion across to your audience for each scene, no re-takes. You also experience immediate gratification or criticism—applause and acceptance or silence and rejection.
Entertaining audiences has always been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done and the movie nights I host at Holly Creek allow me to keep entertaining. On Monday evenings I present a film showing Broadway musicals and film musicals that appeared on the big screen. On Tuesday evenings I show a classic vintage movie that clearly demonstrates what I mean about more emphasis on acting, not on special effects.
As an actor, director, artist, former speaker, radio host and jack-of-all-trades, entertaining folks is in my DNA. I hope the movies that speak to me will also speak to the people in my community. The Monday and Tuesday movie nights I host have replaced the applause and instant gratification that I used to get from speaking seminars, doing documentary voice-overs and performing on stage. I’ve traded being on stage to sharing my favorite movies and stage performances on the big screen.
Teddy Roosevelt, a President I admire said: “On critics: It is not the critic who counts….The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”