The poster was hard to come by. It had taken much persuasion to get. The manager of the Lido Theater was obligated to return the ‘one sheet’ back to the studio after the special reissue of the film. Every day, for three weeks of the run, I’d park my bike against the Art Deco ticket booth and deliver another reason why the iconic poster had to be mine. I earned it at last with the promise to ‘Stop hanging around and leave me alone goddamnit!’
The Lido is a world of wonder. The wide arcing marquee with miles of neon stood as the guardian gate to my neighborhood. Built in 1938, the late Deco movie palace featured acres of Catalina tile work, wide seats and a huge balcony. When the house lights went down, sharks would appear on the walls, swimming somersaults in fanciful ocean currents under black light. It was magic.
Film, in a theatre, allows us to share an uncommon experience with our fellow man. In the dark, our inhibitions dim and emotions can flow freely. Together we laugh or cry in harmony. We are one. This was the magic of cinema.
[Of course, in the dark of the Lido, I can chart my history. As a kid, I established my maturity by laughing at all the dirty jokes in Woody Allen’s ‘Bananas’ that my parents thought I would never understand. A little older, free of parental supervision, we’d pull pranks, toss popcorn, smoke cigarettes and crank the usher. It was also the place that I first stretched a yawn and let my hand rest on a soft shoulder before it marched down to the web of a bra strap. Fond, fond memories.]
I didn’t grow up in Hollywood but I was surrounded by it. Newport Beach, just forty miles south of Tinsel Town, has always been a playground for movie folk. My Dad would recount tales of his youth when Errol Flynn and Jimmy Cagney would moor their schooners in the harbor and booze it up at Christian’s Hut.
Composer Johnny Mercer announced my conception at a cocktail party. I went to school with the last of John Wayne’s kids. We shared a maid with cowboy actor Andy Devine. As a hellion on bicycle wheels, I used to piss off actress Claire Trevor so much that she’d send her houseman to chase me away.
In the Seventies, when studio backlots were being razed to make way for condos and New Wave Cinema, a neighbor gave me the catalogue to a M-G-M auction. Each page fueled a fantasy and wrote a story. Costumes, suits of armor, brothel mirrors, props and model planes filled each page; it was better than the Sears Christmas Catalogue. This was when I first learned of my father’s cruelty and insensitivity: “Listen goddamnit, No! What in the hell ya think you’re gonna do with a thirty foot model of the Titanic?!”
Re-creation and illusion became a fevered focus. Who would have thought that the gigantic ape, snarling atop the Empire State Building, was in truth a twelve-inch puppet? When my pals were fashioning hot rods, I used my Legos to build miniature backlots. Hollywood and the Main Street of Disneyland taught me how to force perspective and edge an angle. If you didn’t like the dry heat on the dusty streets of Tombstone, you could turn a corner and stroll down Times Square in the chill of winter.
Wandering the globe for his ‘Travels in Hyper Reality’ Umberto Eco found his deep dish Mecca in Southern California, my backyard. From Hearst Castle to the north down to the San Diego Wild Animal Park in the south, re-creation was not a novelty but a fevered obsession; we had it all. Unlike Eco, I was not shocked by the crass tastelessness of the ‘Movieland Wax Museum and Palace of Living Arts’ in Buena Park; I was inspired. I ran home, made my own attraction and charged neighborhood kids a dime to witness the SHEER MAGNIFICENCE of it.
Sadly, I ditto Henry David Thoreau; I believe that most of us lead lives of quiet desperation. Film is the progress of escape. Film offers the ultimate relief, for it is the most passive. Unlike a book or a radio drama that invites one to create mental imagery, film is as invigorating as a warm couch and a bag of potato chips.
Film offers a better and wider world. Conflicts and relationships are resolved. Good and bad are clearly defined. Love is true and the agony of time is gladly compressed into ninety minutes. No matter how blue I may enter a dark theatre, I always stroll out with a spring in my step. The world becomes BRIGHTER! HAPPIER! WITH A SONG IN MY HEART!