Let's call this a fictional story. Now, with that out of the way one situation has been slightly altered for a more accurate feel and better understanding of the memoir. The chapters are excerpts and semi-edited versions with an attempt at a PG-rated read. Any future book will, of course, be unabridged; and in parts will be an R-rated read that pulls no punches at a faithful legacy, a history if you will, of an era gone by. Most readers will certainly want all the details and ambiance of those times to be portrayed as they were- and they are and will be.
The people's names in this memoir, unless famous, and place names, have been rewritten, but only just enough to conceal personalities, residences and businesses. The nicknames, though, have remained unchanged.
It is the aim of this memoir to pay homage to those times, the town's characters and movies the theater played.
And last but far from least, to honor Pop T, Mr B and Mrs. Dot
Dedicated to the GRACIOUS ONE
Around this time we began showing double feature late shows. In the beginning these often consisted of horror movies from England starring those two late, greats, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Tales From the Crypt is one I remember. A cult film now, The Wicker Man is another. The naked maidens running around the maypoles on one of the Scottish Isles, ahem, stands out in my memory for some reason on the latter film.
A double feature I recall well because they were so outrageous and funny are The Groove Tube and Flesh Gordon. The former movie has hilarious and satirical skits on seventies commercials and television shows. The public service announcement by Safety Sam on the dangers of venereal disease near the end of The Groove Tube, almost had the young folks rolling in the aisles from belly ripples, myself included.
The scene starts with a long shot of what appears to be a puppet of weird appearance seated on a park bench discoursing on the facts concerning the horrible scourge; then slowly the camera tightens up into what soon becomes apparent as ...well, let's just say something usually covered up by men's underwear -- which has the, er, "thing" up-side down, with strategically placed eyeglasses over bulging eyeballs, an elongated nose with one nostril, and a tapping cane held out by a fake spindly arm..
The other film, made by the low-budget but interesting production co. Crown International was the 1974 release Flesh Gordon, and boy was it high satire on the old serials. It has love-making rays sent by the evil Emperor Wang, which pervade a commercial jet-liner in the beginning of the movie with the, ah, unsurprising chaos at Himalayan heights.
There's also a wonderfully suave and conceited clay-animated giant ogre -- conjured to life by Wang -- roaming about in the last reel, chasing Flesh, Dale Arden and the scientist guy.. One of the funniest lines in the chase has the giant ogre flipping the bird to Flesh while uttering " Up yours...Gordon". Both these movies have clips that can be watched on YouTube. Cheap but charming is a good way to describe them, perhaps.
Pop T decided to do something cool for promo purposes with the late show horror films. To get patrons in the right mood, he hired a strange fellow we later nicknamed the Vampire Clown to lay in a white crushed velvet lined coffin set-up on some benches in the lobby. He then did a peculiar brand of Dracula shtick.
Vampire Clown was driving. The guy had a small, strangely shaped, oblong skull, which probably didn't help matters any. He was also around thirty years old, with a slender physique that held within its midst a sunken chest atop a bloated belly. The man's job at the show was to lie in the coffin with his handy fangs, cape, and make-up on, then slowly rise up and try to spook people. This worked well on the women and occasionally on their male companions, because he really was a strange-looking dude, even without the added freaky cosmetics he liberally applied from a big case.
Folks from his neighborhood told us that on a fairly regular basis, Vampire Clown would don his Dracula cape late at night and run around streets and yards, apparently thinking he was a neo-King of the Night or something. Nowadays, of course, he would probably be arrested very quickly; but even with the oddball life he led back then, prancing through his neighbors' property past the witching hour, those people knew he was a harmless and kooky fantasist and just took it in their stride. Maybe some of them even got a nightly dose of humor out of his caped adventures before Mr. Sandman's arrival..
One evening as we were talking in the lobby, he informed me that he was going to be interviewed the next day on the local radio station. According to him, he was president of an organization called Clowns International. Dressing up like a clown was his second favorite get-up after the Dracula one, so it seemed feasible to me. He was very precise about the time it would air and insisted I listen. I did, in my car, but shut the radio off after ten or fifteen minutes of what I believe was an hour interview. It was simply boring is the reason why.
As a matter of fact, it was getting to the point of barely being able to stand him with his freakish ways. For example: the man would not dispose of his deceased dog in a normal or accepted manner, but took it out in the country, placed the carcass under a thin layer of rubbish, and then checked on it daily at one pm sharp, every afternoon, with no exceptions, till its body rotted away to a pile of bones. One ride with him on his inspection trips was enough for my nose to know it didn't want a second olfactory experience at the deceased doggy site.
Rather astonishingly, maybe not so surprising, I was to later discover there was no such thing as a real Clowns International. He had invented the whole rigmarole up only to impress me. The scary late show format wasn't doing all that great a business and only lasted maybe five or six months, after which it was goodbye to Mr. Vampire Clown. He wasn't a bad or evil person, though, and I hope life worked out for him okay.
It was around this time an event happened that made the front page in the town's daily newspaper. Up several businesses in the strip mall there was a place Mr. Trimble liked to go and eat hot dogs during the day. You can count on your fingers the number of times he showed up at the cinema during the night. Anyhow, the place was called something like Floyd's Party & Pool Shop.
It was your typical seventies bar and snack place. One weeknight after work, I went there to have a few tequila sunrises and play a little pool. Being a teenager was no problem, as at the time the legal drinking age was eighteen in that particular state. At some point, not long after arriving, a fellow nicknamed Snake entered the establishment, walked right-up behind a friend of his, and then quickly put a .38 caliber bullet into the back of his good buddy's head. No Gimme Three Steps via the Lynyrd Skynyrd song for this poor fellow.
The sound of the gunshot caused everyone to drop to the floor of Floyd's place like a big stone in water would fall - which is quickly. Snake, appearing satisfied with his handiwork, calmly laid the Saturday Night Special aside and then sat down beside his former bro -- whose upper body was slumped over the counter -- and then asked someone to call the town's police for him.
While he waited he ordered up a Budweiser beer from a trembling female bartender. Scuttlebutt later had it that the reason for the killing had something to do about the deceased threatening to beat Snake up over one thing or another. Other than gambling arguments, or getting caught red-handed having a fling with someone's wife or girlfriend, this was generally why these unfortunate life-ending events occurred for young men in that county and, along with drunken or petal-to-the-metal car wrecks, I suppose most other areas nearby and about as well.
Earlier in the year, an amazing gentleman named Mr. Boswell started showing up at the Flick. He was from Memphis, Tennessee, on the mighty Mississippi, and was the former vice-president of one of America's largest movie equipment suppliers. Bob Trimble had worked under him as a salesman and then later on as a district manager, until the company folded in the industry wide shake-up and downturn of the late '60s and early '70s.
Mr. Boswell was to later tell me what happened when he and the head of the company, a Mr. Greene, were going through potential candidates for a district manager position. Bob Trimble's name had come up, and, the president had said no way did he think he could do it, having a shortened leg from polio caught as a child, that gave him a limp, and from not finishing college as he had volunteered for the army during WW 2 in his sophomore year. In the army he was the Sergeant in charge of entertainment for the GI's in Selma, Alabama, and pretty much went straight to work for the company on being discharged.
But, Mr. Boswell talked Mr. Greene around and Pop T got the position. Once when I was helping the Trimbles clean out their basement, I discovered business letters that had page after page of Mr. Boswell writing to Mr. Trimble this: congratulations Bob, number one; congratulations Bob, number one, on and on, month after month. Pop T turned out to be the best damn district manager that company ever had. With that genuine golden smile of his, how could anyone ever say no? But of course, there was a great deal more to the man than just that.
At some point, before the company went out of business, Mr. B had gone into partnership with Mr. Trimble and a few others in multiple drive-in and indoor movie shows throughout several states. In 1976 I started to chauffeur Mr. B, as he preferred to be called, and Pop T, as we had begun to affectionately call Mr. Trimble, on their rounds of different places where the drive-ins and a few other indoor theaters they had a percentage in were located.
On one trip it was just Mr. B and myself. I asked him why he went into the theater owning business with Pop T. His reply was, "Because Bob Trimble would never steal a dime!" Admirable and true, but as I was to learn later on there were other reasons as well. As a matter of fact, it was to become obvious as time went on, and I got to know him better, that he kind of looked on Mr. Trimble as the younger brother he never had. He couldn't have chosen a more decent or finer sibling..
Mr. B was a septunagarian at the time, a bit below medium height, and had a little paunch. His facial features were somewhat like comedian, Golden Age movie star, W.C. Fields; a large nose with sparkling little blue eyes, and, with very little hair left on his head. His demeanor was a cross between a lovable Dickens character and though I haven't seen the film yet, what I imagine is a bit nicer Gordon Gekko of the movie Wall Street.
He was also a master showman who knew human nature well. He delighted people by his simple but unique greeting gifts, like diamond nail files for the ladies, or anti-mugging whistles inscribed with "Bob Boswell thinks your great!" Mr. B's humorous antics and genuine interest in folks charmed nearly everyone he met. He eventually told me you always had to have a story behind these gifts when presenting them to people.
But there was also a blunt side to him at times. On his first visit to the Flick, he walked up to one young man working there at the time named Scottie, who had very long hair. Mr. B. looked Scottie right in the eye, and right in front of everybody blurted out, "What kind of kotex (sanitary napkins) do you wear?" Scottie, mad and embarrassed, disappeared for a while. Mr. B. was definitely old school when it came to long hair and other such new fashion-like statements. Once, he talked about a dust-up he had in the sixties when he and a salesman went head to head over the salesman's refusal to wear a hat anymore on his business calls.
After the box office disappointment of the youth- oriented horror and humor themed late shows, Pop T. decided to start booking a recently out of the closet genre of films: Triple X-rated. That is what they were called back then. These were a bit mind- blowing for the employees, as none of us, so far as I know, had ever beheld such sights before; indeed, haven't seen such things since in my case.
To put it as delicately as possible, there were scenes with height challenged African pygmy men climbing up stepladders to make whoopee with bent over blondish Amazon-sized women in sun-dappled fields of wheat. There was an enema given by a demented little doctor to a beautiful woman in a public bathroom (a close-up of the clean water egress was jaw-dropping by the way, more like a dam bursting), and so forth. As to the unforgettable restroom enema scene, it starred some bombshell named Desiree Cousteau in an Alex de Renzy film called Pretty Peaches, made in 1978 and considered a top classic from the Golden Age of Adult Films, which was roughly from the late 1960s through to the age of home video.
These adult films had a largely male patronage and did not do well at the concession stand (no surprise) or particularly well at the ticket counter. We had 365 upholstered rocking chair theater seats that on a good night, might have been a quarter filled to put it in to perspective as to how these kind of shows were doing. We also ran R-rated adult shows like the well-made and erotic Emmanuelle series starring the late Sylvia Kristel and, as a another example, a difficult to find one now made in Germany during the seventies called Madam Kitty, set during WW2. It concerned a working girl in the Madam's establishment who falls in love with a German officer turned anti-Nazi after experiencing the horrors done to the civilian population in conquered Poland. These films brought in more of the couples.
Superstar John "Johnny Wadd" Holmes was in quite a number of the triple X's. Some were raunchy and poorly made like Peanut Butter Freaks or something similar, but some were actually well made and rather erotic. Holmes seemed a fairly decent actor in and of himself and might have done well in mainstream B-pictures as a character actor - if he'd toned down the hamming it up and got some training, that is. Eruption, made in San Fran and Hawaii by the legendary director Bob Chinn, is a good example of this, if my memory serves on the particulars. But Holmes career didn't go that way -- pretty much ending, despite a comeback -- with that involvement in the infamous Wonderland slayings, cocaine, prison time and, an early AIDS death.
There are several women performers I remember from those adult show days, and one of them was a lady named Jennifer Welles. Jennifer was rather remarkable when she entered these R and X-rated movies in the mid-seventies; being in her forties, having an extensive background as a Vegas showgirl, New York actress, as well as a talented singer. Ms. Welles came across -- in many movies, to what today would be called soft-core -- as a beautiful and charming person. She even had a scene in the aforementioned Groove Tube with a pre-SNL Chevy Chase. Most of her films were decently made, and she has no regrets concerning her career choice.
The lady abruptly disappeared in 1978 after what many consider her crowning triumph called Inside Jennifer Welles. For 35 years the rumors and speculations ran rife. Jennifer finally broke her silence in 2013 with a wonderful interview on the Rialto Report. Seems a wealthy younger man, who was a major fan, made Jennifer an offer she couldn't refuse, so she married him into a life of luxury, for a while that is. He later left her for a younger woman just like Jennifer had told him that he would. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, that affair of his with the younger woman didn't last too long either.
One customer in particular continuously caused us trouble during these X-rated shows. He was a smallish, thin, upper middle-aged man, who rode a bicycle and had a small protuberance between his shoulders - hence, the nickname we gave him, Humpy. Did I just write small protuberance -- well, shoot a monkey. That's an old Southern saying meaning "damn it!"
By the way, this book is written like it was, and the '70s didn't have much PC. To state it bluntly, the guy was near being a serious hunchback. I don't know the proper term for the unfortunate condition nowadays, but the medical one is kyphosis; and I wish we could have been more charitable in nicknaming the fellow, but he was really rude and had a cynical attitude towards people and life. Humpy never missed a new adult feature, always eagerly arriving early on his bicycle-with-a-basket.
He also had the bad habit of sitting in the chair nearest to the right side double doors, where every time someone opened those doors, letting a little light in, they caught sight of Humpy - well, let's just say raising his flag to full mast for the rank and file. When we asked him to desist from this behavior, or at least find a less conspicuous seat, his answer was always, "I pay my money, I do what ever I want!"
Joel, the other co-manager besides myself, finally solved the zipper problem one night. He opened up one of the projector window's a little to the left of the offender's seat, and then reached out and poured a large cup of warm water down on Humpy's lap. One problem solved as he moved down front and out of sight right away, and continued to do so in the future after that effective and disapproving little demonstration.
Another problem was that church groups had started picketing around the movie show marquee up by the busy street during the day; and that headache, along with the basic decency of Pop T., eventually put an end to these kinds of films. We soon discovered, however, two surefire late show box office goldmines called kung-fu and the often cheaply made but profitable films called blaxplotation. The African-American oriented ones tapered off pretty quick, but the kung-fu's continued their run until things like HBO and home video came on the scene.
The two Dolemite movies starring comedian turned actor, Rudy Ray Moore, stand out in my memory on the Super Fly and Shaft type- genre. Clips of the first Dolemite movies and Rudy's most famous comedy routine, The Signifying Monkey, can be viewed on YouTube. These kind, and the karate ones, proved incredibly profitable for us and we ran the kung-fu ones until the new mass marketing technologies ended their reign. But my gosh, what a reign they had on our silver screen.
Carrie, a book by Steven King, came out in theaters that October and was an immediate smash hit. This was Sissy Spacek's debut for theatergoers and what a great debut for the talented actor. Probably anyone who's ever been picked on mercilessly at school could relate to this tale of a socially outcast girl with the power to fire things up when pushed too far. The final scene at the prom is unforgettable, as is the film in general. John Travolta even has a small part in Carrie's final humiliation and subsequent wrath. According to wiki it's still the most popular Halloween movie for teenagers to watch as well. If the reviews are anything to go by, the recent Carrie re-make doesn't hold up to the original by a long-shot.
Other pictures the Flick played in 1976 were: The Enforcer with Clint Eastwood (third in the Dirty Harry series); Smokey and the Bandit with Burt Reynolds; Smokey did big box office and was an audience favorite. The Pink Panther Strikes Again (an absolutely awesome picture and probably the best in that series for laughs); Logan's Run (no television show or re-make in my opinion, will ever surpass the amazing original); and Swashbuckler with Robert Shaw of Jaws fame that tanked at the box office with a pirate chest 'round its neck.
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea starring Sarah Miles and Kris Kristofferson, was an unusual film; and there were some very explicit photos of the two stars in Playboy Magazine that year of 1976 to promo it.
A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand did very good biz and the male lead was first offered to Elvis Presley. According to Ginger Alden, Elvis' last lady love, the real reason Elvis didn't take the part, was that he just couldn't dig why his character would commit to killing himself, and, during a meeting with Barbra and the producer/director, Jon Peters, the director yawned at the meeting, with that act convincing the King he wasn't the right person to helm the production. Another rumor has manager "Colonel" Tom Parker nixing the idea, much to the King's disappointment. (Could it be with what's coming out now about the "Colonel" holding Elvis in his power by some kind of evil Svengali-like hypnotic spell be the true answer?)
And last but far from least was an unexpected sleeper at the end of 1976 that turned into a truly monster-sized seventies blockbuster; that film was, of course, Rocky. Nobody, except perhaps Mr. Stallone himself, expected this movie to do much business. Pop T sure mined a record- breaking nugget of gold with this film pick. It's hard to remember how every one took Rocky on first viewing it; but the crowds built quickly as word of its charm and originality spread throughout the town.